“You don’t want me here, do you?” I said from out of nowhere.
With a loud grunt, Damon took another step, pulling his left foot up immediately after it touched the ground. Two days before, that foot had been swollen up like a rotten cantaloupe, but now it had started working, though apparently still hurt like hell.
He settled down a little, resting his weight on the ball of his injured foot, to stretch it out a little. Then it struck him that I’d talked. “What? Did you say something?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I – no, you know what, it’s just me being dumb and insecure. Don’t worry about it. You have more important things on your mind.”
The tenderness on his face when he looked at me took me by surprise.
Damon shook his head, eyes wide open. “No I don’t. Whatever’s bothering you, tell me. That’s how this works. That’s how it worked when we were,” he paused to swallow. “You know, back then.”
“You barely ever talked to me,” I said. “But I always knew you were there for me. Always willing to listen to whatever silly thing came across my mind.”
He grabbed my hands, steadying himself on his good leg. “I wanted to open up, Lily. I wanted to tell you everything, but, I couldn’t. Trying to believe what was happening to me was one thing, but involving you? That’s… it wouldn’t have been right.”
“You’re too nice to me,” I whispered. “After all the stuff you’ve been through in the last week, you’re telling me to unload on you. What is this man I’ve fallen in love with?”
Well there it was, hanging right out in the open. To Damon’s credit, he didn’t laugh at me or give me that squinting look that said ‘are you sure you meant to say that?’ or make some obnoxious Freudian slip joke. He watched my eyes for a second, and then grabbed my hand, holding it tight in his.
“If it weren’t for you, Lily, do you think I’d even be here?” His face was very serious, his voice very soft. He stroked the back of my hand with his thumb. The twitching fingers on my shoulder told me he wanted to touch my cheek, tilt my head back and ravish me with a kiss, but he was afraid of losing his balance.
“I guess not,” I said quietly, looking down and averting my eyes. Truth is, I’m ashamed of my almost constant self-doubt, but I don’t know what to do about it. “I’m sorry. I’m so selfish. I just don’t know how to turn it off.”
“Turn what off?” he squeezed my hand and grunted in pain, but got his hand to the side of my neck anyway. His fingers curling against my neck and right below my ear sent a little chill through me. “Whatever you’re feeling is okay, Lily. We’re all scared – I know I am for damn sure. Tell me what’s on your,” he grunted again, wincing in pain. “Actually can you, uh, help me down first, and then tell me?”
I eased Damon to the ground, and he used his hands to get into a halfway comfortable position. At first I stood over him, then I crouched, and then he grabbed my hand and pulled me onto his lap.
“Oh hey!” I giggled. “Watch where those hands are going! Hurt or not, fresh is still fresh.” He smiled and poked my cheek where my left dimple popped up, but only when I was really serious about smiling.
“Tell me,” he said. “What’s got you twisted up?”
I didn’t want to. I really, really, didn’t want to tell him that I was a dumb girl in love with a guy I screwed up a relationship with. Especially not with him hurt this badly. I fought it with every shred of willpower in me, but then it all came out anyway.
What a surprise. Me with my heart on my sleeve, even when I thought I was so good at being guarded and closed off. Well, maybe with anyone else, sure, but not with Damon.
“How do you continually make me admit things that I’d never admit to anyone else?” I asked, absently stroking the side of his neck with two fingers.
“Would you accept ‘werewolf magic’ as an answer?”
Damon’s smile, I thought with a giggle, needed to be licensed as a lethal weapon. God, those cheeks! I wanted him so bad to grab me in his big arms and squeeze me and kiss me and ravish every inch of me with affection. I wanted him to kiss all over me, throw me against the wall and have his way with me, I – really needed to calm down.
“Remember,” I said, desperate for something to break the tension between us, “when you forced me to leave the house and go to the sophomore prom?”
A smile danced across Damon’s face. “It was the least I could do. You were so upset about your parents, watching you hurt just killed me.”
“It was just so sweet… you brought me those lilies because you’re a cornball and you had that dress I bought right before my meltdown. I’d never had anyone do anything like that for me before you.”
“You have no idea how much it hurt when you left. I deserved it though.” He looked away for a moment. “I mean, I never blamed you. I know it was my…”
I touched his lips with my fingertip. For a moment, we just stared at each other. The flush on my cheeks was painfully obvious, but luckily it’s hard to see blush in a cave light only with a campfire.
“Anyway,” Damon whispered, breaking the silence. “What’s bothering you?”
Playfully, I shook my head. “I’m learning to believe a whole lot of wild stories, but I think that might be stretching it even for my newly open mind about all this Fox Mulder stuff.”
I laughed a little. “Not much for 90s television?”
Damon twirled a lock of my hair around his finger, pulling just a little. That little tug sent a thrill creeping down my back. I needed him to get this all over with, no matter how embarrassing it was to admit, or I’d be the world’s biggest mess.
“You’re not going to get out of this, pretty lady.” Damon pursed his ruby red lips and kissed me right in the sensitive spot behind my ear.
I could have straight up died. The ache between my legs had me so hot that I was a vaguely afraid of jumping his bones and breaking this giant of a man in two with over-eagerness.
“Talk,” he whispered into my ear then sucked my earlobe gently, clipping his teeth together when he pulled away. “Or I’ll torture you until you do.”
I purred. I never purr. “I bet you would. But are you sure that’s a good idea with you all busted up?”
Damon let out a loud laugh, followed immediately after by a groan and a wheeze. “Oh God, yeah probably not. I can still tease you though, right?”
The last time you lost me it was because you wouldn’t even go that far. Or was it me?
Taking a deep breath, I said, “Is the only reason I’m here because I have to be? For… destiny or whatever it is? Or is it because you actually want me here? You can be honest. I’d rather know the truth now than have it come out later when—”
He kissed the question right off my lips. With his tongue slowly exploring my lips, then diving down and running behind them, there was nothing I could do. I was utterly, completely powerless to this man, and even if he didn’t know it, I sure as shit did.
“Damon,” I said softly, “I… I don’t know why I gave you up the first time.”
“Because I was scared of going too fast. I was afraid that if I really fell for you, and we did all this stuff back then, that I’d become, well, this.” He gestured down his body, indicating the thicker-than-normal hair on his muscled legs.
“Poko says you’re going to be in control of it,” I replied. “He says that once you go through the big transformation ordeal, you’ll be able to shift back and forth and that’s how you’re supposed to,” I swallowed my words before I said ‘fight Devin’ because I really just didn’t want to admit that reality to myself.
Damon shook his head, taking a second to kiss me again before he did. “I just don’t know. But back then, I was really scared. I didn’t have anything to go on. My dad told me some stories, and then just kinda left me to figure it out on my own.”
I opened my mouth to protest, which Damon stopped with another deep, sweet kiss.
“He didn’t do anything wrong. That’s how my people work. They raise me, and then they give me over to the elder. Poko told you all that stuff though. I’m not sore at my dad or anything. Anyway, that’s not what we were talking about. We were discussing you, I think?”
His fingers curling against the back of my head was just so comfortable, so right. I never wanted him to stop.
“I just,” I trailed off, massaging his shoulder. “I don’t want to ruin it again. I’ve got you, and I think that’s what I want.”
“You’ve got me, yeah,” he said softly. “Can I admit something to you?”
I ran my fingertip along the razor-thin scar that stretched almost all the way between Damon’s eye and his top lip. “Anything.”
“I thought you were going to leave.”
“Why would I –”
He put up a hand. “You seemed spooked by that whole fated destiny, soul-mate business, and I couldn’t blame you if you were. When I went berserk, or well, one of the times I went berserk, I was panicked. I thought for sure there was no way you’d stick around. And you know what? I wouldn’t go after you.”
“But Damon,” I protested, “if what Poko says is true, that’d be the same as dooming yourself to these uncertainties, to shifting back and forth and all that. Why would you endure that kind of torture?”
Damon let his hand fall from the side of my face to his shoulder, and he pulled me close against his chest. “Because I would never hurt you Lily, not even if it meant losing my humanity. I’d rather live in the constant agony of waking up cut to pieces and not remembering what I’d done or where I was than cause you a moment of pain.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but my breath and my voice caught in my throat.
Finally, I answered. “I don’t know what to say to that.”
“Then don’t say anything.” He stroked my hair, tucking it behind my ear and kissing my cheek before turning my face to his and staring straight into my soul. “You don’t have to say anything. I’ve always loved you, Lily. From the second I saw you when I moved here, I knew I’d either have you or I’d have no one at all. This whole werewolf business just got in the way.”
Kissing his lips, then his chin, I rested my head against his chest. “Only you, Damon King,” I said smiling.
“Only me what?”
“Only you could be casual and flippant, and somehow unbearably sexy when you talk about turning into a wolf. And one other thing.”
“The only reason I didn’t run?”
I twisted in his arms, turning to face him. I drank in his eyes, his face. I wanted to remember every single detail.
“Is because it’s you.”