A shudder rolled through my body and my chest labored for breath. I didn’t want to die alone on the cold, hard floor. I didn’t want to die at all. I blinked and when I reopened my eyes, the ceiling was fuzzy.
Nothing really hurt, though. Books got that right. There was a point where there was so much pain I couldn’t process it or I was beyond it. Probably beyond it…
The front door opened and a familiar voice called out, “Katy? Where are you? Something’s wrong with Daemon…”
My lips worked, but there was no sound. I tried again. “Dee?”
Footsteps crept closer and then, “Oh my God…oh my God.”
Dee was suddenly in my line of sight, her face fuzzy around the edges. “Katy—holy crap, Katy…hold on.” She moved my bloodstained hands away and placed hers over the wound as she looked up, seeing Will crumpled beside the fridge. “God…”
I worked to get out one word. “Daemon…”
She blinked rapidly, her form fading out for a second and then her face was in front of mine, her eyes glowing like diamonds, and I couldn’t look away. Her eyes, her words, consumed me. “Andrew is bringing him over. He’s okay. He’s going to be okay, because you’re going to be okay. Got that?”
I coughed out a response and something wet and warm covered my lips. It had to be bad—blood—because Dee’s face paled even more as she placed both of her hands over the wound and closed her eyes.
My lids seemed way too heavy and the sudden warmth radiating from hers ebbed and flowed through me. Her shape faded out and she was in her true form—bright and lustrous like an angel—and I thought if I were to die, then at least I saw something as beautiful as this before the end.
But I had to hang on, because it wasn’t just my life that hung in the balance. It was Daemon’s. So I forced my eyes open, kept them trained on Dee, watching as her light flickered over the walls, bathing the room. If she healed me, would we be linked? The three of us? I couldn’t wrap my head around that. And it wouldn’t be fair to Dee.
And then there were voices. I recognized Andrew’s and Dawson’s. There was a thud beside my head and then he was there, his beautiful face pale and strained. I’d never seen him so pale, and if I concentrated, I could feel his heart laboring like mine. His hands were shaking as they touched my cheeks, smooth under my parted lips.
“Shh,” he said, smiling. “Don’t talk. It’s okay. Everything is okay.”
He turned to his sister, gently pulling her stained hands back. “You can stop now.”
She must’ve responded directly to him, because Daemon shook his hand. “We can’t risk you doing this. You have to stop.”
Someone, it sounded like Andrew, said, “Man, you’re too weak to do this.” And then I realized it was him, and he was on my other side. I think he held my hand. I may’ve been hallucinating, though, because I saw two Daemons.
Wait. The second one was Dawson. He was holding Daemon, keeping him in an upright position. Daemon never needed help. He was the strongest—is the strongest. Panic blossomed.
“Let Dee do this,” Andrew urged.
Daemon shook his head and after what seemed like forever, Dee pulled back and took on her human form. She scrambled out of the way, arms shaking.
“He’s crazy,” she said. “He’s absolutely crazy.”
When Daemon slipped into his true form and placed his hands on me, there was only him then. The rest of the room slipped away. I didn’t want him to heal me if he was already weak, but I got why he didn’t want Dee to do it. Too risky, not knowing how or if it would link the three of us together.
Heat flowed through me and then I wasn’t really thinking. Daemon’s voice was in my thoughts, murmuring reassurances over and over again. I felt light, airy, and complete.
Daemon… I said his name over and over again. I don’t know why, but it was grounding to just hear his name.
And when I closed my eyes, they didn’t reopen. The renewing warmth was in every cell, easing through my veins, settling into my muscles and bones. Heat and safety pulled me under and the last thing I heard was Daemon’s voice.
You can let go now.
When I opened my eyes again, a candle somewhere in the room flickered and danced in the shadows. I couldn’t move my arms and I didn’t know where I was for a second, but as I dragged in a deep breath, an earthy scent surrounded me.
“Daemon?” My voice was hoarse, dry from panic.
The bed—I was in a bed—dipped and out of the darkness came Daemon. Half of his face was bathed in shadows. His eyes glowed like diamonds.
“I’m here,” he said. “Right beside you.”
I swallowed, keeping my gaze fixed on him. “I can’t move my arms.”
There was a deep, throaty chuckle and I thought it was terrible that he would laugh when my arms couldn’t move. “Here, let me fix that for you.”
Daemon’s hands felt around me, finding the edges of the blankets. He loosened them. “There you go.”
“Oh.” I wiggled my fingers and then slipped my arms out. A second later, I realized I was nude—completely nude under the blankets. Fire swept over my face and down my neck. Did we…? What the heck was I not remembering?
I clasped the edge of the blanket, wincing as skin pulled over my chest. “Why am I naked?”
Daemon stared back at me. One second passed and then two, three. “You don’t remember?”
It took a moment or so for my brain to process everything and when it did, I sat up and started to jerk the blanket away. Daemon stopped me with his hand. “You’re fine. There’s just a tiny mark—a scar, but it’s really faint,” he said, his large hand surrounding mine. “Honestly, I doubt anyone would notice it unless they were looking really close, and I’d be perturbed if anyone was looking that close.”
My mouth worked without sound. Around us, the candle threw shadows along the wall. It was Daemon’s bedroom, because my bed wasn’t nearly as comfortable or as big as his.
Will had come back. He had shot me—shot me right in the chest and I…I couldn’t finish that thought.
“Dee helped get you cleaned up. So did Ash.” His eyes searched my face. “They put you in the bed. I didn’t…help them.”
Ash saw me naked? Stupidly, out of everything, that made me want to crawl back under the covers. Man, I needed to get my priorities straight.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” He reached to touch me but stopped, his hand lingering an inch or so from my cheek.
I nodded. I’d been shot—shot in the chest. That thought was on repeat. I’d come close to death once before, when we’d fought Baruck, but to be shot was a whole different ballpark. It was going to take me a few moments to fully comprehend that, especially since it didn’t seem real.
“I shouldn’t be sitting up and talking to you,” I said dumbly, peering through my lashes. “This is…”
“I know. It’s a lot.” He touched me then, placing the tips of his fingers on my lips reverently. He let out a shaky breath. “It’s really a lot.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, soaking in the low hum and warmth his touch brought. “How did you know?”
“I felt short of breath all of a sudden,” he said, dropping his hand and inching closer. “And there was this red-hot feeling in my chest. My muscles wouldn’t work right. I knew something had happened. Luckily, Andrew and Dawson were able to get me outside without causing a scene. Sorry, no chicken fried steak.”
I didn’t think I’d ever eat again.
A smile appeared on his lips. “I’d never been so scared in my life. I had Dawson call Dee to check on you. I…was too weak to get here myself.”
I recalled how pale he’d looked and that Dawson had been supporting him. “How do you feel now?”
“Perfect.” He tilted his head to the side. “You?”
“I feel fine.” Only a dull soreness lingered, but it was nothing. “You saved my life—our lives.”
“It was nothing.”
I gaped. Only Daemon would think something like this was nothing. And then another new concern rose. Twisting on the bed, I searched out the bedside clock in the dark. Digital green lights showed that it was only a little past one in the morning. I’d slept for about six hours.
“I have to go home,” I said, gathering the blanket around me. “There has to be blood and when my mom comes home in the morning, I don’t—”
“It’s all been taken care of.” He stilled me. “They took care of Will and the house is fine. When your mom comes home, she won’t know anything happened.”
Relief was potent and I relaxed, but it didn’t last long. An image surfaced of standing in the kitchen, smiling at Will and goading him, sending a shudder through me. Silence fell between us as I stared into the darkened room, replaying the evening over and over. I kept getting caught on how calm I had become, how cold I’d felt when that part of me decided I was going to have to…have to kill Will.
And I had.
A bitter taste filled the back of my throat. I had killed people and that was even counting the Arum. A life was a life, Daemon had said. So how many had I killed? Three? So I’d killed four living creatures.
My breath rose and got stuck around the quickly rising lump in my throat. What was worse than the knowledge that I had taken lives was my acceptance of doing so. I’d had no qualms about what I did when it happened and that wasn’t me—that couldn’t be me.
“Kat,” he said softly. “Kitten, what are you thinking?”
“I killed him.” Tears welled up and spilled down my cheeks before I could stop them. “I killed him, and I didn’t care at all.”
He placed his hands on my bare shoulders. “You did what you had to do, Kat.”
“No. You don’t understand.” My throat tightened and I struggled for breath. “I didn’t care. And I should care about these kinds of things.” I laughed hoarsely. “Oh, God…”
Pain flickered in his bright gaze. “Kat—”
“What’s wrong with me? Something is wrong with me. I could’ve just disarmed him and stopped him. I didn’t have to—”
“Kat, he tried to kill you. He shot you. You acted out of self-defense.”
It all sounded reasonable to him. But had I? The man was weak and frail. Instead of goading him, I could’ve disarmed him and that was it. But I killed him…
My control slipped and broke. I felt twisted inside, balling up into so many knots I thought I’d never be straightened out again. This whole time I had been so convinced that I could do what was necessary, that I could easily kill and when it came down to it, I had killed, but Daemon had been right. Killing wasn’t the hard part. It was what came afterward—the guilt. It was too much. All the ghosts of those who’d died by my own hand and those who had passed on who were tied to me appeared, surrounding me and choking me until the only sound I could make was a hoarse cry.