“So, let me see if I have this straight.” Halo scrutinized the man sitting across from her as she organized her thoughts.
His name was Zane and she had only known him for a week yet, from the moment they first met, there had been this spark between them. The way Zane had looked at her – like he wanted to possess her – made her melt on the spot. He walked towards her, his eyes locked onto hers as though she was his prey and he was on the hunt. Halo wasn’t one to let herself be swept off her feet by a man but, Zane exuded such confidence, such domineering masculinity that she could not resist. And now she had found out why – in a coffee shop of all places.
She cleared her throat. “You want to keep me and, I’d want to be kept.” What a disaster that would be, she thought. However, she already knew she was going to say yes.
“Exactly." Zane’s eyes glowered with salacious hunger.
Just that one word caused Halo to shiver in anticipation. She could feel a growing wetness spreading between her legs. Her teeth caught her lower lip as she waited for him to continue.
“I will make you know pleasure like you have never felt before.” He slid around the booth until he was sitting beside her and rested his hand on her thigh. “All I ask is that you be mine and mine alone, that you give yourself to me wholly and completely.”
Halo tried to stay focused. She knew she had to think about this logically but Zane’s voice, his mere presence was not making it easy.
“Ah… Is it really necessary for me to sign a contract?” she asked.
“The contract is for both of us. It will determine what can and cannot be done. You will have more control than you think,” he reassured her. “You will determine your limits, the constraints in which I must work. I will have to govern my actions around your wants and needs, although, I think I have a reasonable idea of what those needs are.” His hand moved higher up her thigh, slipping under the hem of her short, black skirt. Halo gasped and her cheeks flushed crimson. Zane chuckled. “You’re adorable,” he breathed into her ear. “So innocent, so pure.” His fingers brushed against her hot mound and she jumped.
Her heart hammered in her chest and her eyes darted around, trying to see if anyone was watching. Part of her wanted to tell him to stop. It was just too embarrassing. If only it didn’t feel so good. She gasped audibly as he reached a finger into her panties and ran it up her soaking slit. Then, quick as a flash, he ceased his attentions, withdrew his hand and sucked her wetness off his finger.
Her face was on fire, except now, she wasn’t sure anymore if it was from embarrassment or lust. She drew a shaky breath, trying to calm her agitated nerves. Zane watched her with that dark, sultry gaze of his.
“Do you accept?” he asked silkily.
Swallowing around the lump in her throat, she whispered the words that would seal her fate. “I accept.”
Zane smirked at her. “Welcome to my world.”
Later that night, Halo knelt before Zane as he placed a beautiful collar around her neck. A shiny, silver chain attached the collar to his wrist. He stood before her, a devilish prince holding her in his power.
“Come,” he ordered, pulling her to her feet.
Halo obeyed, staring at him wide-eyed. Just what had she gotten herself into?
Copyright: Chanelle Joy
30th July 2017
We two should never have met. Some quirk of cosmic happenstance caused paths to cross that day. I was looking for the best linguini money could buy. You weren’t looking at all. Our collision at the corner of 5th and Tambour took us by surprise. I wanted to wallop you for not watching where you were going.
Then I saw your eyes. They held that curious shade of cloudy blue, like summer skies on the prairie before a thunderstorm. My heart gave leap as I heard my voice respond “It’s OK”, at your hasty apology.
But it was not OK. Not then. Not now.
Despite the sparks at your first touch, when offering a hand to steady me, nothing more should have happened – nothing beyond a nod and curt response to send us on our ways.
But paths had crossed, contact was made, and fate would have her due.
We schemed to spend free seconds feeding our infatuation’s hunger, learning every secret that new lovers want to know.
Mere two weeks in I realized the folly of my choice. Nothing real could grow between us. I, hard charging towards my dream had little time for you who lazed content, taking life without a care. Oil and water mixed better than we two.
I planned that night to tell you over dinner. Platitudes rehearsed themselves to soothe your disappointment – a sort of salve for heartbreak, fully encouraging you to move on to better things.
Imagine my surprise arriving home to find a note, tacked upon my door. It read:
"I’m gone – for good. You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be."
Shivers walked up her bare arms. She sat up and hugged herself, a small smile on her lips. The smell of him still on her skin, in her hair. She turned to look at him but found his pillow indented, the sheets rumpled where he'd slept.
Her feet hit the floor. She snatched up the shirt she'd worn last night and put it on, buttoning it as she left the bedroom.
"Peter?" She came to the kitchen, scanned the counter tops and sink for evidence of their night together. Everything gleamed.
"Peter?" Her heart stood against her ribs, its wild hammering brought on a headache. She pressed her temples with her thumbs and padded around the corner to the living room, the place where it all began.
The throw pillows and blanket they'd knocked to the floor were folded and replaced on the sofa. The cream vase full of lilacs, that she'd kicked over when the kissing and touching got out of hand, stood upright in the center of the coffee table, empty.
Maybe he had to go to work after all.
Her eyes skimmed every surface of his apartment for a note. Nothing. She twisted the edge of her shirt and thought.
She went to the coat closet near the door and pulled open the door. Her stomach plummeted. Silver strapbacks, black pumps, a pair of hot pink sandals with cork wedge heels--her favorite shoes--lined up on a wooden shoe rack next to her worn, white running shoes. Not a single pair of Peter's shoes. She ran a hand over the coats hung there: faded hoodies, windbreakers, her black pea coat with its striped scarf looped around the hanger, but nothing of Peter's.
How did her things get here?
An envelope slid under the door and skittered across the tile to a stop near her feet. It was addressed to her.
She retrieved it, then ripped it open. A tremor rippled through her as she read the letter.
Melissa, your rent is 60 days past due. I've been very patient because of your circumstance, but I can't let you remain for free. You have one week from today to move out.
Sincerely, Harry Blackwell (landlord).
Circumstance? Her body flashed hot then cold. She grabbed her purse from the chair and dug through it for her cell phone. Receipts and gum wrappers fluttered to the floor. She turned her phone on and several text messages popped up on her screen. All from her mother.
Mel, you can't hide in that apartment forever. Come have lunch with me today.
Honey, call me please. I'm worried.
Several more with a similar, concerned tone. She scrolled through them with her thumb to the last one. The sender's number was unknown.
You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be.
What the hell?
She tossed her phone into her purse and bent to pick the scraps of paper off the floor. She didn't remember chewing so much gum. Her phone beeped. She tossed the handful of wrappers in her purse and pulled out her phone again.
Enjoying the taste of your new life?
Anger and fear fizzled up her throat. She swallowed hard and texted back:
Who is this?
A moment later the reply came. Call me Cypher.
Her thumb hovered over the power button, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to turn the phone off. She set it on the coffee table and picked up two receipts she'd missed. The date on the first one was dated two months from now. She straightened it.
The Stone Cellar Restaurant. She'd never been there. Peter had mentioned it last night when he was running his fingers through her hair in bed after...
She bit her lip. The other receipt was for a bed and bath shop also dated two months from today.
What was going on?
Her phone beeped again. A strangled breath escaped in a small cry. She looked at the screen, still holding the receipts.
Figured it out yet?
She needed a smoke. She dumped her purse on the chair and hunted through the contents for her pack of Camels. A minty aroma assaulted her nose as she tossed aside three packs of gum, a tube of lip gloss, two sets of keys, numerous receipts that she didn't have the courage to read, and a crumpled card still in its envelope. She pulled out the thin cardboard and frowned at the cheery cartoon house on the front with the greeting: Welcome Home! Inside, a message penned in neat block script said:
"Take this key. It's to OUR apartment."
She moved her finger to read the endorsement at the bottom.
"Love, Peter. Happy 6 months! I knew you could do it!"
She dropped the card. It wasn't possible.
She snatched her phone off the table and opened her social media app, thumbing through post after post of selfies with captions about quitting smoking, her next date with Peter, and several posts had pictures of her and Peter together; his sunny blond head tipped towards her dark brown one both facing the camera wearing rapturous grins. Each post had been set to private. Her profile picture was a black and white selfie, her long hair covering one eye. Was it supposed it be sultry or angsty? She didn't remember taking it.
She went to Peter's profile picture. Her mouth went dry. A mystery girl was kissing his cheek. Me and my wife, he'd titled it.
Peter was married. Well, she knew that. Didn't she? She'd blotted out the image of the pale band around his finger when he touched her hand for the first time. She'd turned a blind eye to the photo that fell from his wallet when he offered to pay for her drink in the bar. She went home with him anyway.
Her phone beeped, making her jump.
This is your future. When you chose him, you also chose me.
Who the hell are you? She texted back. While she waited for an answer, she looked again at her own profile picture. Something about it bothered her. She scrolled down to read the caption. Today Peter left me. Went back to his wife. I have no life to return to. No job. No money. Only an apartment I can't afford.
Her phone beeped in her hand, bringing Cypher's final reply.
I'm your secret.
Here’s to Staying at Home Kid
Nina pushed the cobwebs out of her face, and adjusted her light. The attic was disgusting. She estimated that there was at least three generations worth of junk up here. She wished her grandmother had taken more time to go through it all before she passed. Now, with her mother in the throes of grief and the bank closing in on the old house there wasn’t much time to look through the attic for hidden treasures. Nina prayed she could find a Picasso or a Monet hidden amongst the junk. Anything really that could be sold off to help her mother keep her childhood home would be great.
After about an hour, she had a pile of items set aside to go to auction. She stood up quickly from her stooped perched and slammed her shoulder on to the edge of a hat box. The box toppled over, spilling its contents across the floor revealing a stack of letters. Curiously Nina picked one up and opened it noting it to be addressed to her Grandfather.
Scanning the letter briefly, she read the words, "You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be." Intrigued, Nina scooped the stack back into the hat box and headed downstairs. Washing her hands of dust and grabbing a snack she headed in to the formal library. She flicked on the light and settled into her favorite reading spot.
You are without a doubt the greatest man I have ever met. When I am with you I feel safe, loved and protected. Which is why it is so difficult for me to tell you that I must turn down your marriage proposal. I wish I could tell you in person, but I don’t know when I would see you again. You have returned to the Army base after your furlough, and I have just found out that I will be leaving for the United States for my next film. I was just cast as a lead in a movie called Casablanca John, a lead! The fact of the matter is, that if I married you, You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be. What an utter tragedy of lost potential. I could not possibly give up now on my dreams of being and actress. I know that lifestyle is not for you John, and I respect you too much to allow you to compromise your dreams for me.
Ever Your Darling,
Nina’s mouth dropped open. No, it couldn’t be. Could it? She knew the movie well, having watched it hundreds of times with her grandfather. She flipped over the envelope and saw the return address for the first time. Miss Ingrid Bergman. The address was from Sweden. A quick perusal indicated that the entire pack was letters written by the World War 2 starlet.
Nina let out a strangled shout. She looks up towards the sky, “Thank you Poppa” she whispered, and ran out of the room to show her mother.
You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be.
Professor Henry Boson stared through his kitchen window, replaying the words in his mind. The entity, for lack of a better word, was unlike anything he had encountered, and being a man with insatiable curiosity, he had seen his fair share of anomalies.
"Donald fucking Trump!" He moved back to the island stove, twisting the gas off. The water from the boiling saucepan had flooded the bench top. He yanked a tea towel, laid it flat on the surface, but coiled his arm. "Shit!" He ran towards the sink and flicked the tap full blast.
The phone beeped.
The silver-haired man cursed as he reached for the wall, fumbling with the casing. The phone hit the floor half a second later, shattering into four pieces, each battery flying out, one into the crevice sandwiched the floorboard and dilapidated fireplace; the other had disappeared.
“Fuck!” He scrambled on all fours, picking up the pieces as he moved from corner to corner of his kitchen.
The second battery clicked in and the phone beeped again with renewed rigor. Whoever it is, he thought, it better be important or someone’s going to get their head bashed in!
"This better be fucking life or death,” Henry said into the mouthpiece. There was a long pause. His eyebrows furrowed unevenly as gravity sank in, ousting his anger, drawing concern. "I'll be right there. Don't do anything before I get there!"
The doors leading to the reactor housing’s ante-chamber flew open, the senior particle physicist stomped through, nearly collecting a few technicians as they scrambled out of the way. People were clamoring about like headless chicken, checking, double and triple-checking readouts, assuring everyone from family members to the media, military superiors to the President herself. Carnage was an apt description, but an inadequate adjective of the chaos. The stale stench of humid air permeated the nostrils of everyone within the room and any living thing, human or otherwise.
"What's going on?" Henry barked at the half-dozen lab coats at the table. "I thought we had the core stabilized?"
"It was," one of the assistants, Phil, replied, "but there was a blackout."
"A blackout?" Henry paused, glancing sideways at his protégé, his eyes flaring. "Goddamned useless idiots! We were guaranteed uninterrupted power to this site. The morons let us down again!”
Phil’s meter-wide frame looked a tad diminished. “It wasn’t the Japanese this time,” he said, bracing for the next verbal barrage.
“Well, who was it then?” Henry asked as he flipped through the clipboard, digesting the events of the last four hours in piecemeal fashion.
“It was an aftershock, sir.”
Henry closed his eyes and soften his posture. Lily, the youngest and only female member of the academic team, relaxed her stiffened shoulders while Sven, the oldest, with his thick-framed spectacles and droopy shoulders, let out a sigh.
"Doctor," Phil said. "What are we going to do?"
The professor paced from one end of the table to the other—one hand perched on a hip, one hand meshed through his hair, already damp from sweat—tethering the gazes of his university’s brightest minds.
He stopped. Phil was directly in front. "I need to go in," he finally said.
It took him less than fifteen minutes to put on the radiation suit; the least attractive aspect of his role as Chief Atomic Officer of the crack team of scientists assigned to the disaster-stricken nuclear power plant. It wasn’t because he couldn’t interact directly with the immediate world (dexterity always suffered when having to use gloves of any type); or having to hear the gush and rush of air through his breathing apparatus; or that every step and gesture had to be premeditated (exacerbating mental fatigue). No, it was that his frail, vulnerable, fleshy body hadn’t adhered quick enough to Darwin’s process of natural selection. Sure, there were surrogate robots that could do what he wanted, but that took away the edge of the experience; it made things less real.
Of course, he knew it wasn't his fault per se, but that didn't mean he accepted his species’ shortcoming. On the contrary, it fueled his obsession to seek perfection, and Doctor Henry Boson had an inkling that she was the key to unlocking his true genetic potential.
The words precipitated into his consciousness, trickling from a cacophony of inaudible whispers into reverberating voices. He lost his footing, the sleeve of his suit nearly catching on a pipe fitting.
Doctor, the same ethereal voice continued, are you alright?
Was I too potent?
“Just slightly,” he said. Henry was now standing before the reactor vessel, head turned away, with both hands held up—as gauges— so he was as close as possible to the surface. His face was already weeping and his breathing laborious. “You need to cool down,” he said with a strain.
A flitter of surprise bubbled into his thoughts. The mercury plummeted within seconds and the human bipedal was regaining his strength. Soon, he was upright on his feet, the beads of moisture all but evaporated.
Is this better?
“Yes,” he replied, “much. Thank you.”
I apologize for the discomfort. The wattage was non-existent. I had to self-catalyze.
Henry understood and had expected as much. The only problem was that he didn't know how to explain the phenomenon to his colleagues. An extraterrestrial sentient beings born from nuclear fission—communicating via telepathy and exhibiting empathy—was the reason behind the unusual agitation within the reactor; it was firmly grounded within the realm of science fiction or fantasy.
There is no need to explain, she said. You are a God among… ants. Interesting creatures ants are. Hive. Matriarchal. Each with specific functions—worker, soldier, princess, drone. Magnificent. Very fascinating.
“You read my mind…” Henry whispered, his heart was racing as a result, the imagery conjured during the interchange of subconscious cogitation was too life-like for his comfort.
Your insistence on verbal exchange of intent is… redundant. Release. Unresrain yourself. Evolve.
Relinquish your protective equipment.
Henry was plunged back fifty-two years into the past, to that moment he was barely one-day old, his entire body in contact with his naked mother’s. The experience though surreal, was played out vividly in his imagination; except it wasn’t something he’d ever thought about. Concurrently, his brain was not refuting the authenticity of the memory.
“Trust,” he said. “You want me to trust you.”
A nod of affirmation transcended his psyche. It was enough to nudge him beyond the boundaries of his doubt and consequently his reluctance.
With great care, Henry shedded himself, starting from his helmet and working down to his boots. He was down to bare cloth within minutes. Something struck him as odd—he had required assistance to don his suit given the pain in his fingers; but he felt nothing when he was taking it off. The man pulled off the bandages without second thoughts and discovered that the skin had completely healed.
“You did this?” he asked.
Yes. I could have influenced you in ways you could not even perceived. But I wanted you to surrender.
“Well,” he said. “I’m ready. What happens next?”
Henry’s jaw dropped a meter. His eyes nearly popping out. He took in a deep breath after several moments, forgetting to breathe. The pain in his hand returned. “My fingers,” he said. “What’s going on?” he looked back at the reactor, attempting to see through it.
“Are you there?”
“Hey!!” he yelled. “Are you there? Talk to me!!” He banged his fists on the massive carbon steel cylinder. “What’s going on? Where are you?”
“Doctor Boson!” a disembodied voice echoed from the speakers. “We’re sending a team in to get you out!”
It was useless. The radiation was beyond lethal. Already, the cells in his body were breaking down. It was only a matter of time. Henry slumped onto his knees, tears streaming down his cheeks. What went wrong? Was his the onset of dementia? There were no signs—apart from losing his keys every now and then—to indicate his failing mind. But It didn’t matter. He was a dead man on an expiring lease.
Two weeks later.
Henry peeled his eyes open and found himself gazing at a full blooded, exuberant, handsome younger version of himself, fast approaching his prime. The physics fraternity had yet to be graced by this genius’ presence.
“Phil,” he said. “It’s good to see you.”
“No,” Henry shook his head, his arms too weak to move. “Please, call me Henry.”
“Henry,” Phil smiled. “How are you feeling?”
“Never better,” Henry said with a poor attempt at humor. “Phil,” he continued. “I wanted to say sorry for my behaviour. The way I took out my frustrations at you, and the team, especially Lily, she was terrified of me…”
“It’s okay. It’s—”
“No,” Henry jerked his arms, causing his bed to tremble. “No,” he said with a softer tone. “Please let me finish. I know I was an angry old bastard, and this is probably what I deserve. I knew I was insufferable, and that I could’ve changed, but I was too proud to admit my flaws.”
“Henry,” Phil said firmly as he sat down, resting his hands on the older man’s arm. “It’s okay, despite the harsh treatment, we all knew you cared deeply for us. Even Lily.”
Henry smiled and was about to respond when a series of coughs plagued his frail body for ten whole seconds. “That’s good,” he said eventually. “Where are they? Lily and Sven.”
Phil’s cheeks pulled into a wide smile. “They went down to the hospital lobby to bring someone up to meet you. They’ll be here any moment.”
Henry’s forehead scrounged up. Someone, a stranger? His wife and daughter had passed on tragically in a car accident years ago. His family were estranged, but only because he had cut them off, shying from the fresh pain, reclusing himself to his work. He hadn’t even attended either of his parents’ funerals. Maybe it was his younger sister, Lee-Ann. If anyone were to still care about him, it would be her.
It was Lily’s voice. The renowned physicist perked up from his reverie. Standing in between her and Sven, was another young lady, no older than thirty.
“Doctor Boson,” Lily said. “May I present, Eliza Higgs. Your daughter.”
Henry was floored, even if his entire body was fully supported. The name, Higgs, was bizarrely familiar. The only person he could recall also in possession of that family name was a science journalist by the name of Marion Higgs. They had gone out for a few drinks, before he met his wife, and would be around the same time Eliza was born, thirty years ago.
“You are…” Henry began.
“...Marion’s daughter,” the woman finished. She stepped forward, hovering at the end of his bed.
“But I don’t understand,” Henry said, his voice stuttering. “We…”
“Henry,” she said. “You must unrestrain yourself. Evolve.”
“You’d want to keep me. I’d want to be kept. What a disaster that would be.”
It felt like a devastating blow to her ego that she might want to belong to someone, with someone. She had maintained her autonomy for such a long time, and relished her independence.
“I like the idea of it, but I don’t consider the likelihood of such a thing having any kind of duration. I sometimes fantasize about someone being in charge, but ultimately I’m a bit of a control freak.”
“Well, you’ll need to let that go. Control is an illusion. Ultimately, we are leaves on the wind.”
“Watch how we soar.” She breathed the words through a smile more than spoke them, though he heard her.
“Is that part of a poem?”
She turned to him, incredulous.
“I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar? You seriously have no idea what I’m referring to right now?”
“No. Should I?”
“I aim to misbehave?”
“Ooh, now that sounds fun.”
She bit her lip and turned away. This wasn’t going to work after all.
Before you I was someone with a clear cut plan about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to achieve and how I wanted to go about achieving it. I believed in concepts like "kaizen", about constantly updating and improving oneself.
But, once I met you - in my unprepared, progress-in-the-making state, you still accepted me, and said that I was perfect!
Oh dear, I know you like me just the way I am. That I don't need to change a thing.
With you I can stay this way forever.
Being with you, I start to think that maybe I don't need to change, maybe this right now is alright, that I am enough the way I am. With you thus, I don't feel like challenging myself or critic myself to see where I can improve.
Dear, you would like to keep me, and I would like to stay with you, but what a disaster it would be for my dreams to take over the world?
You'd want to keep me
I'd want to be kept
Oh, what a disaster that would be
If I let myself love you, I would only end up with pain
I'd be left with a fist-sized hole in my heart, with your name written all over it
And later you'd regret the trouble you brought me
Because you'd realize that it hurt yourself more than it hurt me
You never meant to do it
And you said you never would
Yet here we are
A disaster plaguing ourselves
Brought about by letting our hearts feel
She stared down at her shoes. There was danger in looking up.
"You're awfully quiet," he said to her, in that careless manner that suited him so damn well.
"You'd rather I be chatty?" she asked for the sake of asking. After all, goading him was easier and he did always complain about her inability to keep her mouth shut, so... Two birds, one stone.
He snorted. "I'd rather you act normal, that's what I'd rather."
She rolled her eyes. "I am acting perfectly normal, you jerk," she retorted, but there wasn't much fire to her words. She was treading on thin ice, after all; the last thing she needed was to get burned.
Gavin put his hands behind his head and leaned back. She was forcing him to think thoughts he wasn't ready to put into words just yet. There was too much at stake and he was far from a saint. Full disclosure? He could be best described as one of the things that went bump in the night, while she... she was doomed, wasn't she? From the very start, he had put her in harm's way. There was no chance in hell either one of them would come out of this unscathed, not anymore.
"You suck at lying," he said. "How you're gonna pull the wool over everyone's eyes beats the fuck out of me."
She frowned and set her jaw. "I'll manage," she bit out through gritted teeth. Gavin had a knack for bringing out the worst in her. Part of her was grateful for the diversion; anger could help reset her focus. As long as he kept pushing her buttons, there was a chance they would get through this after all.
The young man tutted and wagged his finger at her. "Temper, temper..." he teased, secretly delighting in the slight flush of her cheeks. She held her tongue, but he knew that, mentally, she was cursing him out.
In the beginning, he had tried to get her to hate him. It never stuck.
Though there was nothing much to getting under her skin, she wasn't the type to hold grudges. By nature, she was far too kind to do the right thing and follow the plan. Instead of looking down her nose at him like she was supposed to, she rarely greeted him without a smile. Even now, after everything, she had somehow managed to move past the hurt just enough to keep trusting him. Was it any wonder, then, that she had softened his every edge?
"Whatever you may think of me, I don't have to walk into that room and lie my way through,"she hissed. She faced both him and her fate head on, with shoulders pulled back and chin held high. So much for being cautious and looking down at her shoes... "When I go in there," she persisted, "I will be taking my rightful place."
Gavin's lips quirked. Someone like her would undoubtedly make a fine ruler. The thought alone filled him with an unfamiliar sense of pride, but it also made his chest hurt. The moment had come for him to learn to let her go, as promised.
"You're ready, then?" he asked, holding out his arm for her to take.
Her chin quivered. "Are you?" she threw back in his face. Her eyes - big, beautiful, brown - sought his for an honest answer, the kind he would never give because, of course he wasn't. No man is ever ready to die.
His fingers wound themselves in her hair, which was funny because he couldn't remember closing the distance between them, let alone raising his hand. The problem was that she had too much power over him. And his body? Simply put, it had a mind of its own.
With a light touch at the base of her neck, his wandering, treacherous fingers tilted her head up. Her throat... He could slit it in less than a heartbeat. He could put an end to everything and, in so doing, fulfill his own destiny. Except...
"I promised, didn't I?" he whispered, meeting her gaze without flinching.
She closed her eyes and performed a magic trick: she smiled without meaning it. Love was bitter as lemons, cruel and unkind.
In the smallest of voices, she recited an unholy incantation:
"You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be."
Her words were a warning and they rung loudly in his ears, but all of a sudden he was past caring. Because fuck fate and fuck responsibilities and fuck the greater good! Because the moment was theirs and he would be damned if he let anything or anyone steal it away. Not this time, not anymore.
"Open your eyes, Violet," he commanded. He felt her shudder and heard her breath catch. "Please..." he insisted. His voice cracked and his courage wavered.
Her eyelashes fluttered, tears stubbornly clinging to them. "You can't keep me," she murmured, shaking her head in a final act of defiance.
"I know," he agreed, his easy acceptance making her flinch.
Startled, her eyes shot open. She looked at him as if seeing him for the first time."I can't keep you," she spat out and her voice shook, the truth making her come undone.
Wordlessly, he pulled her closer. He needed her so much closer.
"I can't..." she repeated. His breath ghosted across her face and her knees knocked together. "Gavin, we can't..."
He moved around and against her. He crowded her space. He filled up her mind and her heart. He pressed his lips to her ear and whispered secrets into it. "I know," he told her, "but I'm done caring. Are you?"
She could have stopped it. She could have pretended to misunderstand him and his intentions. She should have pushed him away, but she let him kiss her instead. She succumbed to personal tragedy willingly: the heir to the throne and the leader of the rebellion certainly couldn't fraternize, much less play for keeps. The trouble was, they couldn't keep their hands to themselves either. Besides, he had practically dared her, hadn't he? And she was not about to go down without a fight.