I start to slow down when I hear Devon waking up. Her pale face starts cringing and her hand softly taps against my chest. It’s around another mile until we reach the camp and we have enough time until the sun sets.
“Ugh. I should have known that you’d abduct me.”
I smile down at her. “Are you okay? Are you in pain?”
“I need to pee.”
I don’t know why I look around first but I check all directions before I tip her to the ground. She stumbles for a moment and holds a hand to her head.
“How long have I been sleeping for?”
“Six hours,” I say.
“Those drugs are hardcore.” She yawns and rubs her eyes with one hand before heading behind a bush.
I circle around some trees while I wait for her to return. It takes her a while, mainly because she’s only got one arm that is working correctly. I can’t tell her just how sensitive my sense of smell is but I’ve travelled at least twenty feet from where she left me. I can still smell it no matter where I am. I’ve never been a fan.
She wanders back and finds me gone. Her eyes look around in confusion before she sees me and slowly makes her way over.
“You didn’t have to wait so far over here,” she says amusingly. “I’m not that bothered if you accidentally look.”
“That really wasn’t the reason,” I say. “Are you okay to walk?”
“I haven’t fallen over yet.”
She observes the top of her arm as we walk, becoming fascinated by the small hole through it. She’s slowing me down but I don’t complain, out loud anyway. I keep glancing at my watch, we only have a few hours until sunset. How do I explain to her that I have to leave her again? What if she wakes up in the night and tries to search for me like she did the night she was shot?
I had to drag her across the ground by her ankles just to stop her without hurting her. I know that I need to try and explain what’s going on but keeping our secret safe from humans has always been my kind’s number one priority. It was drilled and conditioned into Kiara and I since we were children.
I trust that Devon wouldn’t run and tell anyone but there’s no way to know how she’d truly react or how any human would react if they saw the transition with their own eyes. I doubt that anyone would even believe her but if the humans already suspect that something isn’t right with these woods then it might be the fuel to start a hunt.
I am all she has in the world and the last thing that I want is for her to be afraid of me but inevitably that is what’s going to happen. This curse has taken everything from me and it’ll take her too.
“So how long until you throw me away to fend for myself?” she says as she swipes a few leaves from a bush. She picks them apart as she drifts behind me.
I sigh. I was fooling myself to think that I could actually let her go. I wasn’t planning on leaving her alone completely. After finding her shelter, I would have stayed close, watching her for however long she needed me to even if she didn’t know about it. But then how is this any different to that? They’ll find us together no matter what I decide to do.
She can’t go home. I know that much. I heard her tell the hunter to shoot her the other night rather than be captured by him so I know that she’d choose death before ever leaving these woods. The thought of her being harmed makes my stomach sting uneasily. I replay the moment I attacked Lyle over and over in my head and it still doesn’t feel like enough. His screams might have been enough, violation of his body like he violated hers would have been enough.
If by any chance I am privileged enough to look him in the eye again then I will not leave things unfinished.
“You can stay,” I say.
I turn around as I hear her stop. She stares at me for a moment before she breaks out into an excited run. I freeze as she wraps her arm around me and places a kiss to my cheek.
“Thank you. Thank you so much,” she says.
She has no idea that her kiss is making the animal within writhe with frustration. I try to speak but the words are muffled. I have no voice. I have nothing. She stands just a little back and smiles at me. Our eyes lock and I have never felt like this. I hear her heart beating slowly in her chest and her scent is causing all of my senses to go wild.
“You are going to heaven.”
“I am definitely not going to heaven,” I whisper.
She laughs to herself and walks away. I stare after her, my senses gradually coming back down to earth. Can’t she feel that too? That. . . pull? It is so strange. I haven’t been a slave to the mating bond since before the curse was implemented. I’d forgotten how good it feels. How. . . simple it is. As easy as breathing.
I didn’t know what it was at first when I saw her dying underneath that tree because I was almost certain that I’d never feel it again. I put that instant connection down to not seeing a human girl in a while. Or any girl.
But the more time I spend with her, the longer I look into her eyes, the surer I am that the bond is back into the world again.
I wonder if it’s true for the others too but Lucias would have mentioned something if it was. Maybe Devon being descended from a nutcase witch is just one of fate’s heart-breaking twists and we are the only ones affected.
She even looks like her crazy ancestor in some ways but they are different in so many others. I always imagined how I’d react if I ever met one of the witch’s descendants. I always thought I’d kill them.
“I recognize these parts,” she says. “The camp is just-”
I take her hand and I pull her in a different direction. “Not that way.”
“Bodies. Well, what’s left of them.”
I can smell the corpses and I can also smell the scent of the bears. I killed the hunters but something else finished them off. I want to prepare Devon for the wild but that’s not a sight I ever want her to see. I make a mental note to remove and bury the remains later.
I’ve placed the image into her head and her face turns a paler white as she dwells on it.
“Don’t feel bad for them,” I say. “Do you think they would have felt bad for you when they tied you up and delivered you to be raped and beaten?”
“I guess not.”
“I’m going to have to kill every hunter or human that comes near this camp. Do you understand that?”
She nods slowly. “Can I still feel bad about it?”
“Yes, but don’t expect me to.”
I tell her to sit down and wait when we get back to the camp. I’m not surprised to find that it’s been ransacked. Fucking bears. Damn things are a nuisance. I’m usually around to warn them off but they took their chance in my absence.
I approach the hunter’s shotgun that he dropped when I was ripping his throat out. I pick it up as I go in search of his remains. His body was dragged at least fifty feet from where I heard it land.
I kneel down at the sight of the remains. The smell is fucking horrendous. I can barely stomach it. I hold my breath and keep an arm tight around my mouth as I dig through the hunter’s ripped and worm-infested pockets. His torso is pulled open, his organs spilled out into the blood-soaked ground. His entire face has been removed and he’s missing both of his arms.
The scent of the corpse is disguising anything else but I’m still putting my money on a very hungry bear. Either that or the wolves are getting braver but wolves wouldn’t have left anything behind.
I find the shells in his pockets and I load one into the shotgun. I carry it as I circle around the trees, following the trail of another vomit-inducing stench of death. I find the other hunter that I killed and I search the ground for his gun. It’s a type of handgun, small and carries more ammo.
Devon is sipping on a bottle of water with an apple in her hand when I return. I walk past her on the step and I stare angrily at the mess. Half of the contents of the table are on the floor, clothes are torn up, and the curtain has been dragged from the bed area and chewed up.
“Nature is brutal, right?” Devon says as she observes my reaction with light laughter.
“It was probably the cubs. You can’t be mad at something that cute.”
“Mm-hm,” I repeat as I try and arrange all my things neatly back onto the table.
The whole camp stinks of bear cubs. The good news is that they’ve finally pissed off somewhere else.
“This is ready and loaded,” I say, showing her the handgun. “If you run into any trouble tonight then don’t hesitate to use it.”
She swallows nervously. “Do you plan on sleepwalking again tonight?”
“I can’t control it,” I say. “It happens every night.”
“What if we tie you to something? That helped with my brother.”
I smile as I open the bag and remove the herbs. “That won’t work with me.”
I start crushing the tough plant into a bowl and I mix it with a little water, stirring it until it creates a thick paste. I wait until she’s finished eating her apple before I take it over to her.
“Do you want to do this yourself?” I say.
“No, it’s fine,” she says quietly. “I trust you.”
She pulls her shirt down slightly to reveal her chest. Her heartbeat is steady. She isn’t nervous at all. I scoop the paste up in my hand and I make a line across her chest. My finger lingers a little on her breast bone. She hisses.
“That’s the beauty of stainless-steel bottles.”
“Why does it have to be added to my chest anyway?”
“The skin absorbs it and it keeps your heart healthy. Your pulse was very slow yesterday.”
I look towards her arm, pressing my fingers into her wrist to turn it over. The bullet went clean through. I could have fit my whole finger through it yesterday but it’s almost closed now. She’s lucky the blast didn’t blow her arm off. If he was any closer than she might have lost it. I swipe the herb inside the wound and across her open flesh which she can feel and it makes her squirm uncomfortably.
“Do you need any painkillers?”
“No, I’m good. It doesn’t hurt as much.”
“I’ve never been shot before,” I say. “What was it like?”
“Painful,” she laughs. “I didn’t feel anything at first because I was in shock and I guess I just knew that I needed to find you to make sure that you were okay. But then that damn wolf stopped me and the pain made me pass out.”
“I need you to promise me something,” I say. She turns and looks at me. “Promise me that whatever happens, you won’t come looking for me. I can take care of myself. If the wolf is there then you go with him, even if he drags you.”
“How can you take care of yourself if you’re asleep?” she says.
“I could be asleep five miles away,” I say. “I don’t want you to come looking for me. I’m going to show you a cave tomorrow that is nearby. In the event of danger then I want you to run there and hide out until I find you. It's well hidden.”
“And you’re just telling me this now?” she groans.
I grin as I remove my hand from her arm. “I don’t usually reveal my secret spots to strangers. I had to make sure you were worthy first.”
“I’m not a stranger,” she says.
Her eyes lock with mine again and it takes my breath away. My hand moves without my consent and it touches the side of her face, trailing over to her hair. Her hair is thick like a bird’s nest. I could reject this feeling, it’s my damn right to reject it. So why can’t I?
She sits so still. Her heart beats a little faster as I move my fingers back to her jaw. She’s not rejecting it either. She could still be under the effects of the opiates and who knows what the bloody herb is doing to her.
The silence is deafening. She nudges a little closer until our legs are touching, as though she’s giving me permission. Her hand moves along my knee slowly.
“Devon, I’m not sure what’s happening right now but-”
I am pulled into her kiss without having the chance to tell her that we should put distance between us. I am getting a very clear signal that that isn’t what she wants. Her lips crush into mine as though she’s captivated by a frenzy. Her scent. Fucking hell, her scent.
I can’t cope with it. It’s the most amazing scent in the world. She smells of pure goodness and innocence. My nostrils become overwhelmed with distractions as my lips move with hers. I have to stop before I tear her clothes off.
I don’t just stop the kiss. I push her away and I shoot up from the step, charging towards the trees while I shake my head.
“Where are you going?” she calls.