I found Kagan sitting at the bottom of the stairs waiting for me. I motioned him to follow, and we made our way back up to our bedrooms. The door to the room he and Nakoa were sharing was locked, quiet coming from inside. I invited him to wait with me. He sat on the chocolate colored settee at the foot of my bed, flipping through a book that had been left behind when I had ran. I leaned against my windowsill, watching clouds move across the sky. We had nothing but time until whatever time in the night that Darian sent someone for us. There was time enough to inform them of what was happening later. Obviously, Kalea and Nakoa needed some time together. The stress alone from having their wedding celebration ruined was enough, but to add in that she had been roughly abducted, our chase to get her back. Anyone would need solace after that. That was without the stress and fear of not knowing if they were going to get out and back to their families, their life.
Thinking about that fear in my friends rejuvenated my anger, my determination to get them out. I needed to make sure that they were safe, and then I needed to find out the reason behind why people were being taken. What would happen if the general public knew what was going on? Puritans were a vain lot, but they weren’t as a whole a bad people. Was this something that was happening in just this city? Or was the country as a whole participating in whatever malicious act this was?
And then there was Darian. I was having a hard time reconciling the man I met today with the boy I used to know. The boy who used to tease and torment me in school, and the man who claimed to have helped me escape and stay hidden. It almost felt like he was two different people. I wasn’t sure why I had trusted him, why I had told him about where we had been taken, why I believed that he was going to help my friends. But I did. There had been something in his eyes, something that reminded me of when we were younger. Not him being cruel, but afterward. He would look at me like he was proud of me. Like he wanted to remind me of my strength. As children, that look was tempered with an apology. Today, there was determination instead of an apology.
“What are you brooding about?” Kagan asked. I looked over at him leaning back onto the bed on his elbows. His long, black hair falling like silk on the lilac blanket.
“My ghosts.” I smiled thinking about Grandmother’s advice. He did too briefly. His was a little sad. And then it was gone.
“Do you trust Darian?” his pale green eyes meeting mine.
“The last time I was in this room I learned that my mother had had it bugged so she could spy on me. So, if it’s something you think she shouldn’t know,” I let the sentence trail off, going to sit on the foot of the bed next to where he was on the settee. He nodded once.
“That doesn’t really answer my question.” Because why wouldn’t he be worried about me trusting my future mate.
I nodded to him, but said “I don’t know. He seems like a different person that what I used to know. I hope so.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me that you liked girls? I feel embarrassed that I kissed you now.”
“Do you think I can only like one or the other?” Amused, I smiled at him.
“Don’t you?” his face reflected the confusion in his voice.
“For some people, it’s that way. It certainly was for Elia, despite her current situation. Obviously, she would do whatever it took to have children of her own. And in our country, that is the only way. But no, I like both.”
“Why didn’t you ever say?” he asked.
“Kalea asked me too.” I looked down at flowers embroidered into the comforter. I hadn’t noticed them before as they were the same color, just different texture. I traced one with a finger, avoiding his gaze. “Fear, mostly. It is illegal here. We can actually be put to death for heresy if we were found out.”
“Your mother didn’t report you?”
“Of course not.” I met his eyes. “I’m her only child. I am her genetic legacy. Which is more valuable than this estate in our society.”
“Your genetics, but not you as a person?”
“My mother has never really liked me much. I was raised mostly by a nanny and my father. After my father died, I only ever saw my mother when she wanted something from me. Usually, it was to remind me of my duty to my country to be fruitful. Because to her, I was good for nothing else.”
“Why have children if you don’t love them?” he frowned in confusion.
“That’s the question, isn’t it?” I went back to tracing the embroidery.
“I was hurt that you didn’t tell me any of this.” He lifted my chin to look at him. “But I need you to know, none of it has changed how I feel about you.”
“I never allowed myself to feel anything for anyone beyond friendship while living in the Borderlands.” I swallowed past the lump rising in my throat, tears blurring my vision, breaking free of my lashes. “I felt like the truth made me hard to love. And I knew the truth would catch up with me eventually. I didn’t want anyone else to pay the price I come with. For Elia, that price had been her life. So I thought. And then I learned it was the other way around. I was the price she paid to get what she wanted. For Elia, for my mother, my country, my people, even for Darian, I am a commodity. One with a steep price. And I am simply not worth it.”
Disbelief flashed in his eyes before turning to something like anger. He got up and came around to face me, pulling me to my feet. His lips were on mine before I could form a thought. His hands in my hair, holding me in a way that was both heart-breakingly tender and claiming. My own slide up his back of their own volition, seeking to hang onto something as I felt myself tumble over a cliff into something I couldn’t afford to get lost in, but was anyways. When he had kissed me before, it was gentle, seeking to find an echo in me. It had found one, it was small and I had tried to bury it. This kiss was a brand. The echo was there, and now he was telling me he wouldn’t forget it. He broke away abruptly, resting his forehead against mine.
“Don’t you ever think for one moment that you aren’t worth everything.” He pulled back, looking me in the eyes. His burned with green fire. “I am sorry that I wasted three years not telling you how very worth it you are.”
Tears slid down my cheeks. He wiped them away, capturing my lips again. My heart was racing so fast, there was no way I would ever be able to catch up to it. Panting, heat suffused my whole body. This was different than anything I had ever felt before. My first time had been desperate defiance. Elia; I had been so eager to please her, to claim her as my own. I had never had anything that was mine and mine alone before. But I had never had desire flood me as sharply as it did now. I wasn’t being driven by selfish motives, mine or otherwise. I was being swept up in his embrace of who I was. Not for what I could do for or give him. But simply because of me and me alone.
I slid my hands up under his shirt, feeling his warm skin slid against my own. He let out a groan deep in his throat that told me he liked it. His slid his up the back of mine as well, eliciting a similar response from me. I could feel him smile against my lips. If this was my last chance to have him, I wanted all of him. I knew it was selfish of me. But I wanted to have this at least once. I could make this memory last me for the rest of my life. Pulling away, I tugged his shirt up over his head, reaching next for his pants.
“Wait,” he grabbed my hands. “What about someone listening in?”
“Shouldn’t listen to what you don’t want to hear.” I pulled my shirt over my head. His eyes burned me as they traveled over my skin.
“Are you sure?” his eyes met mine again, searching.
“Let’s make the most of the time we have.” The words slipped out of me, just as honest today as the first time I said them years ago.
I stripped the rest of my clothes off as Kagan watched, carefully following suit. A soft blush colored his cheeks as I lead him to the bed, there was a surprising nervousness to him. I moved slowly, giving him a chance to refuse. But he didn’t hesitate in the slightest when he followed me up onto the pillows. We lay next to each other, running our hands along each other’s bodies, curious and exploring. He kissed me tenderly at first, seeking that echo again. Parting my lips, sliding my tongue against his, he moaned again. I pushed him back into the pillows, climbing astride him, leaning forward to kiss him. His eyes flared wide for a second when I slid him inside me. The fullness of him surprised me for a moment. I sat up, slowly moving against him, locking eyes with him. I didn’t bother trying to stifle the sounds of pleasure he pulled from me. His hands slid up my hips, following my movements. Then sliding up to caress my breasts. His exploration spurring me on, tipping my head back. I felt him sit up, sliding an arm around my back. He flipped me over, taking my place on top. My legs splayed, making room for him as he continued to move inside me with an agonizing slowness. His eyes burned into mine. He kissed me then, slow and deep, matching his thrusts. My hands stroked his back, pulling at his hips, trying to pull him closer as he picked up momentum. A tension was building in me, drawing me tighter and tighter the faster he went. He kissed down my throat, to my shoulder. A small bite to the tender flesh between my neck and shoulder had be shattering around him. He followed me right over that edge, my name on his lips.
We lay tangled together for a moment, catching our breath. When he finally moved from me, the cold that struck me in his absence was profound. It only lasted a moment until he pulled me close to him, wrapping me in his arms. A quiet settled around us. The kind of quiet that usually happens in the dead of night. I looked up at the window, reminding myself that it was still daylight.
“What are you thinking about?” he whispered, obviously feeling the same way.
“Ghosts.” I sighed.
“Still?” he breathed into my hair.
“No. Again. Saying goodbye to them.” I softly drug my nails down his arm.
“That’s good then.”
“What are you thinking about?” I asked. I rolled to face him when I felt him tense behind me.
“That I have never done that before.” A blush kissed his cheeks again.
“I had wondered.” I admitted. “But I’ve seen you with lots of girls.”
“There were plenty of chances, and a few close misses. It just never felt right before.”
“Did it now? Or do I need to apologize for pressuring you.” I watched his eyes carefully.
“I think that was always the problem before. None of them were you.” He kissed my brow.
“Why did you wait so long to say anything to me?” Him approaching me sooner probably wouldn’t have changed how I reacted to him when he finally did say something. But if he really had feelings for me for so long. Why didn’t he try sooner?
“At first you were healing, both physically and emotionally. I could tell. And then after, I wasn’t sure if you felt the same way. I was afraid of you rejecting me.”
“What changed?” I frowned, trying to think if I had said or done something to change his mind.
“It was a couple of things.” He shrugged with one shoulder. “It was seeing the culmination of the risk my sister took with Nakoa. And seeing how you looked at them. You were genuinely happy for them. But also, there was a sort of longing there.”
“So, you took a risk of your own.”
“I took a risk of my own.” He yawned then. “I decided that no matter which direction it went, I needed to know.”
“We should sleep.” My yawn echoed his. “Or at least try to.”
“It feels weird…” he trailed off.
“Sleeping in your enemies house?” I finished for him.
“Yeah. Though not to say that you’re the enemy.” He rushed out.
“I know what you mean,” I laughed. “My last memories of this house are not good ones. They are hanging heavily over me right now. And coupled with everything else? What we’re facing? But awake or asleep, right now it won’t make any difference.”
“Alright then,” he rolled off the bed, pulling the blanket down, waiting for me to crawl under it. Once I was under, he climbed back in next to me.
He laid on his back, holding out an arm for me. I slid in close, resting my head on his chest. I could hear his heart beating, his breath filling his lungs. I closed my eyes, focusing on that sound, letting it lull me. I didn’t really want to sleep. Everything about this moment was too close to what had driven me away. But the events of the last 24 hours were weighing heavily on me. Exhaustion muddling my thoughts, making my limbs heavy. Despite my fear of the parallels being prophetic, we were going to need to be rested for tonight. I don’t know what is going to happen. I just know that if we can’t think or move fast enough at a crucial moment because we didn’t take advantage of this time to rest, it had the potential to be deadly. So, I focused on the sound of his breathing, his heartbeat. They started to fall into a slow, steady rhythm. He had drifted asleep, and I was right on his heels. The lullaby of his breathing pulling me down with him.