Prologue: Under the Goddess’s Eye
With your touch I renew, every kiss a prelude to rapture
With my soul I follow you, through every farewell I shatter
Selene looked around the Temple of Artemis, her eyes stopping on the marble statue of the Goddess herself, looking at some object far far away. The Goddess’s sight never deigned to fall on the unworthy mortals worshipping at her feet; her eyes were forever locked on the skies above.
How, then, did her followers expect their wishes to be heard? Why did they bring her offerings from their meager coffers as bribery, expecting her to repay their gifts manifold? Why did they prostate themselves beneath her dais, awaiting her blessings?
Selene was fully aware that her thoughts were sacrilegious and she was the last person in the world allowed to harbor such profane opinions. As the future High Priestess of the Temple of Artemis, her beliefs should be unwavering. And they used to be – Selene was once as blindly devout as all the other followers of Artemis, but her attitude had changed drastically in the past few months.
It had taken only one man to make a heretic of her, only one man to make her not only question but abhor the path that had been chosen for her. He was all she thought about now, all she dreamed about, all she cared about and all she wanted. He was all she will never have.
That hurt the most; the thought of not having Ajax. Not feeling the touch of his warm hands tracing her back, not feeling the touch of his lips trailing a path down her neck, not feeling the touch of his body pressed into hers from lips to toes. Not feeling his touch.
Anyone looking at her at that moment would see a perfect picture of stoicism and confidence. Inside, fear burned like hot coals in the vicinity of her chest, behind her ribcage, right in the center of her heart. She had come to Artemis’s Temple for answers, but only more questions plagued her.
Sophronius cleared his throat, interrupting her meditative mood. She turned to face her father – the man who had not only given her life, but had carved, chiseled and hammered her to fit into the destiny he had chosen for her as soon as she had left her mother’s womb. Her mother had been a mere vessel to bring into being the perfection that was Selene, discarded into a corner once Selene was weaned off her breast.
Her father was eyeing her with pride, filled with criticism – if that was possible. He always found things about her that he thought could be improved on; her posture, her clothes, her attitude – even her outward appearance, which could drive the most indifferent of men to their knees.
Her long auburn curls fell to her knees in a silken mass, her teal colored eyes were a swirling mix of dark blue and dark green, and her skin was the color of honey – golden, smooth and luscious.
At eighteen, she was too young and too old at the same time. She was too young to be a High Priestess when most had been well into their twenties, yet too old to be a wife when girls were married as soon as they had their first blood.
But the King had thought Selene the prime candidate to be exalted into the station of Artemis’s High Priestess, mainly because of her looks. Artemis was known as much for her beauty as her noble vows of chastity. And Selene’s beauty could stir men to battle.
“Tomorrow, daughter, all our hard work will bear fruit. You will finally be inaugurated as the High Priestess of the Temple of Artemis,” her father declared haughtily. “From the moment you entered this world, I knew you were destined to live beyond the commonplace life led by the insignificant common people. And tomorrow onwards, you will be revered by the masses. We will be beneath only the King. We will have the King’s very own ear and we will be truly untouchable.”
Selene inclined her head respectfully, showing no sign of the turmoil that burrowed like ice in the pit of her stomach. Her father had worked more than half his life and all of hers to make her worthy of the mantle of High Priestess, and she was expected to step into the role, docile as a lamb to slaughter, happy as a cat at a bowl of cream.
Yes, she should be Untouchable to all men – in all sense of the word – as High Priestess. But both father and daughter knew it was just a fable, a mockery of tradition. They both knew she was untouchable to all men save one.
The thought suffocated her, making breathing impossible. She wanted to run from the temple that will become her prison, run from the responsibilities that will become her chains, run from the father who had become her jailor.
“What are you thinking, daughter?” he asked in a sharp voice, as though her poisonous denunciations had escaped the confines of her head and penetrated his.
“Nothing, father,” she replied softly.
Her voice was steady enough, or so she believed. He still looked at her with suspicion in his eyes. Her father had always been more astute and wily than most people believed.
“You do recall how hard we have worked to be where we are?” he asked in a stern tone.
“Of course, father,” she said meekly.
“After six sons, your mother finally gave me the daughter I sought; more beautiful than any woman in the Kingdom, cleverer than any man alive, more enigmatic than the Queen, more charismatic than even the King. You are my gift from Artemis herself, made in her very image so you can guide her followers towards her! Never question your destiny, daughter, for Artemis herself will smite you if you stray from her path.”
“The path was your choice, father. Artemis had naught to do with it,” Selene said with a rare show of defiance.
He slapped her hard, painful enough to jar her teeth but not enough to leave a bruise. She was after all going to be initiated tomorrow, and the King will be most displeased if his chosen High Priestess’s beauty was marred even one bit. Sophronius knew the King was enthralled by Selene, and not him, therefore he showed nothing but admiration for Selene in the King’s company.
The King’s admiration though was neither virtuous nor chaste, and her father knew his intentions very well. After all, he had seen the King’s eyes run over Selene’s form with avarice that was evident when he was certain no one of any consequence was present.
She had felt his pudgy paw clasp her thigh suggestively too many times under the table, his thick lips wander too close to her ear in the pretense of sharing confidences. Even his tongue had once made a foray up her wrist when he kissed her palm during a meal.
Of course his five wives were never enough for him – and the idea of having the High Priestess fulfill the role of his mistress on the sly was twisted enough to spark his vile imagination. Her father, despite all the signs, pretended not to know of the King’s intentions for his daughter. Obviously, to him, it was a compromise worth making for the power that her new position entailed.
Her father’s ambitions had always been more extravagant than most people, and his eye had been trained on the post of High Priestess forever it seemed. The most powerful title after the King. Even the five Queens could not touch the High Priestess and that was the reason he had desired a daughter instead of the sons that most people sought after.
He spent his respectable fortune in educating his daughter for the sole purpose of achieving the most coveted position in their small and isolated monarchy, buying her an apprenticeship in the temple.
Of course thereafter, not much had to be done except to bring her to the King’s notice. Her exquisite looks did the rest – as her father had known, since everyone was aware of their monarch’s roving eye where beauty was concerned.
The backdoor to the temple opened, and in walked her brother. Evander, all of nineteen, was the only one who had stayed with Selene and her father. Her other five brothers had left them, taking along their mother, it seemed a long time ago to seek their own fortunes. That was what her father said, but both Selene and Evander knew they had run as fast and as far as they could from Sophronius’s venomous presence.
Selene was aware that Evander would have run too, if she did not need his protection. All her brothers, except Evander, hated her with passion. In their eyes, she was their father’s willing puppet – a crafty and manipulative girl, who used her wiles on people to get her way, whose existence had always been more important to their father than all six of his sons put together.
In truth, Selene wished she was as crafty and manipulative as her brothers believed her to be. Then she may have been able to run as well. Away from the man who pulled all her strings, from the King whose designs on her were pure evil, from the people who wanted to put her on a pedestal she least deserved.
Evander came to stand next to her, and frowned at her face. His expression turned hard; obviously, her father’s folly had left some telltale sign on her. Even if only for the short term.
“Lenie, are you alright?” he asked anxiously. His dark red hair was windblown and his light brown eyes carried a worry that never left his handsome face.
“I have told you not to call her by that flimsy name, Evander,” their father inserted angrily.
“I like Lenie,” she countered immediately.
Her father glared at her, annoyed that her defiance had not been beaten out of her yet. “You will be the High Priestess tomorrow. I think it hardly dignified to be addressed as Lenie.”
“Dignified?” Evander snorted in disgust. “And you think it dignified to have your daughter play the whore for the King, so you can bask in her reflective glory? What do you call a man who pimps his own daughter for power?”
Her father’s face bypassed all shades of red, and turned purple. He raised his fist, but Evander stopped the blow before it could reach him.
“I am no longer a small child you can pummel into the dirt,” he warned his father. “Heed my words, Sophronius. Do not try my patience or Gods help me, I will perform patricide with relish and suffer any punishment with a gloating smirk on my face.”
Evander had stopped calling their father by anything but his name as soon as he turned fifteen, and grew to his sizable height of six foot. Now he held his father’s wrist in an unbreakable vise.
“Evander, release him, I beg you,” Selene beseeched.
He slowly released his father’s arm, who flung his robes behind him and left the temple in a soaring rage.
“You should not incense father, Evan. He has the King’s ear, and can cause you much harm in many ways that will not besmirch him at all.”
“He will have the King’s ear only as long as you are his to command, Lenie. We can leave, you and I. We can start anew elsewhere,” he appealed to her.
“The King will never let me go. His fascination with me has reached fanatical heights. If I vanish, he will seek revenge against those I cherish. He will destroy father – and maybe he deserves it, but the King will also go for mother, and Darrius and Lucas, Hector, Leander and Theadore. He will kill all our nieces and nephews out of spite, Evan. All those precious, innocent little babies…”
Evander gritted his teeth. He knew every word she said was true, he knew there was no escape for his sister, and his heart clenched in agony every time he imagined the life Lenie was doomed to lead. He foresaw her vibrant beauty diminishing with every passing day, like a flower suffocating amidst a bramble of thorny bushes, torn slowly and heartbreakingly to pieces.
She would not think twice when sacrificing herself for those who despised her; that was his Lenie’s nature. And there was nothing he could do to save her. He was doomed to bear witness to the tragedy of her life, like a spectator in a theatre. And that was what enraged him most – being helpless.
Lenie will pursue martyrdom to save her family, and he could only watch her march bravely towards her own destruction. Which was ultimately more excruciating, but maybe that was to be his punishment.
He watched Lenie, his brave and foolish sister, turn away from him, leaving through backdoor of the temple and he knew with utmost certainty that his life was as doomed as hers.
Lenie walked through the bustling market, where stalls dominated the sidewalks around the square. There was a huge crowd, but people stepped out of her way in deference. Even in a crowd, she was a lone soul. She had no friends. No one would walk up to her to gossip or chat about inane things, no one would dare jostle her even in their hurry to get to some important assignation. And that made her most unhappy; isolation in the name of veneration. Were all Gods as lonely as she was?
Out of nowhere, she felt a hand grab her wrist and pull her into a small side alley. Her mouth was covered before she could scream, but she quieted down as soon as she smelled sage. He always smelled of sage.
“Greetings, love. How fare your day?” Ajax asked mischievously in her ear.
She looked up into his grey-green eyes, which were shaded by the dark mahogany tresses that fell over them.
“My day had been delightful, thank you. Until you decided to scare me out of my wits,” she returned sarcastically.
He gave a brief laugh. “It is your misfortune that you cannot receive male callers, Lenie, as decreed by your father. What other fashion is there for us to meet, except like thieves?”
The faked enthusiasm slipped from his voice, like water over marble. It pained her, this pretense that they were merely ordinary young lovers, sneaking off into small alleyways of the market to steal kisses. Both their paths had been laid out ahead of them from the moment of their births – in conflicting directions.
Although Ajax’s family only came into the area four months ago, they had managed to ensconce themselves into the highest social circles. After all, money was a huge deciding factor when it came to being accepted by the rich and illustrious. And Jax’s family was loaded with it.
When Jax had seen her for the first time, he had immediately requested an introduction. However, the King and her father had made it clear to him and his family that Selene was off limits, having been chosen as the next High Priestess. His family had been relieved to hear it, not too keen on their son’s interest in her.
But neither the King’s decree, nor his family’s disapproval had deterred Jax. He courted her clandestinely, sent her gifts in secret and waylaid her heart with his intrinsically passionate nature. Selene had been fully aware that there was no future for them, but she still embarked on the tumultuous affair with him despite her own reservations.
His perseverance had won her over and she had never been more glad to lose that battle. When she was old and haggard with nothing to look forward to you, she will look back at the three short months of her life when she had been happy. She will remember this man that she loved with an all-consuming passion – who, unbelievable as it may be, loved her just as madly.
“Oh, Jax. How I’ll miss you,” she whispered, memorizing his gorgeous face.
“I have made all arrangements, Lenie. We can leave tonight, at midnight. I will sneak you out of the city before sunrise, shrouded in the veil of darkness, invisible to all eyes but mine,” he said fervently.
“Jax, you know I cannot…” she breathed torturously.
“And why not? You love me, do you not?” he asked uncertainly.
“Oh Jax, love is too feeble a word for what I feel for you. But as it is the only one we have, I will declare a thousand times that I love you. I will always love you, through eternity, even when our bodies no longer belong to each other. My heart and soul shall always be yours to command.”
“I do not want your heart or soul, not without your body attached to them. I love you, Lenie, more than life. I want you beside me forever. Have courage – leave with me. I can protect you, my clan will shield you.”
“Your clan will hate me, Jax. As long as I live, I will be a source of great danger for them and for you,” she protested.
“We will go to Persia, no one can hurt us in my homeland,” he said with confidence.
“What of my family, Jax? What of Evan, and my parents, and my other brothers and their families? You know the King will kill them all just to punish me,” she said.
“What of me, Lenie? Is it fair to me, watching the woman I love suffer pain and humiliation? Being forced to do things no woman should have to?”
“Is it fair to me, Jax? Watching my whole family die and having to bear it on my conscience for as long as I lived? Do you think we will be happy – sleeping on the bed of my family’s carcasses?”
He made an angry and helpless noise. “We will remove them all. We will get everyone out.”
“That cannot be done. Even if Evander agrees to go with us, my other brothers will not. They are all settled and have comfortable lives here that they will not abandon. How can we ask that of them, to start anew at a place with no friends?”
“You are willing to sacrifice your life for them. Is it too much to ask for them to make a small concession for you?” he demanded angrily. “Least of all, you will all be unharmed and sheltered.”
“My Jax, you know how they hate me and they have a right to. Father was horrendous to all of them. They were his big disappointments, while I was his sole success.”
“You did not ask to be his sole success, Lenie,” he countered.
“And they had not asked to be his failures. But they had suffered his wrath, while I suffered only his ambition. In their eyes, he hurt them while he honed me. Everything I was given in life was at their expense,” Selene explained.
“So you will give up on us, become the formal High Priestess – and informal King’s mistress,” he said derisively.
She flinched at his harsh words. “Jax…please.”
“Because that is what you will be! And I will not bear it! Never!” he hissed furiously. Grabbing her by the upper arms, he shook her in anger. “I will kill you myself before letting that fate befall you, Lenie. Gods help me, I will.”
“Death at your hands will be preferable to life in the King’s hands, Jax. Maybe you should just slit my throat here – I swear to the Goddess I will not utter one single word of reproach. I shall die in your arms, with a smile on my lips…”
He pulled her to his chest, her body flush against his with nothing to separate them save the clothes they wore. His lips covered hers in anger, and then in hunger and finally in defeat. His wet eyes searched her face, and found her resolute towards the disastrous course her life was to take. He turned away from her in disgust, and stalked off.
She watched his beloved profile vanish down the alley with unbearable longing, knowing it will be last time she ever laid eyes on him. At that moment, her heart left her chest, following him wherever he chose to go. Tomorrow, the King will be exalting a heart-less and soul-less body.
The temple was full, every person from the small city was ordered to attend Selene’s initiation. The priestesses of the temple had spent the sunrise hours performing cleansing rituals on her – bound herb bundles dipped in olive oil were used to brush her skin to a perfect sheen, her hair had been soaked in milk infused with rose essence and her face scrubbed with grated almonds soaked in watered down honey. She had never looked more beautiful or more haunted.
Now, she sat alone in the small house built behind the temple for the sole use of the High Priestess. She was bedecked in a white toga tied across her right shoulder, leaving her other shoulder and both arms bare. A heavy gold chain studded with precious stones, a gift from the King, was wrapped around her ribcage, holding the gown together beneath her bosom before allowing it to cascade down to her feet in a vast pool of silk.
Her hair was left down, falling to her knees in shimmering red-brown waves. Her head was bare – as was custom – until the King laid the coronet on it. Then she will be a slave to his whims, his very own personal plaything. She will be out of her father’s protection, questionable as it had been.
Most people assumed she was sitting in her new residence, feeling superior and thrilled about her new status. However, it was terror that was dominating her emotions. In a short while, the priestesses will be here to fetch her – her equals who will become her servants.
She knew most of them loathed her for it, since quite a few of them were older and had been priestesses for much longer. What they did not know was that she would have given over her position in a trice if it was within her power to do so.
Something caught her attention, some noise coming from the back entrance. Was someone loitering around? Frowning, she listened hard. There it was again – heavy footsteps and scratching noises. She headed to the opening to the garden, to see what was happening. When she moved the heavy curtain out of the way to take a look outside, something dark engulfed her. Her scream was trapped in her throat, unleashed.
Her world turned upside down when she was lifted off the floor and thrown across someone’s shoulder. She could hardly breathe within the confines of the blackness, her fear escalating rapidly as she gathered that she was about to be abducted right from under the King’s nose. She did not know if she should feel happy about this turn of events or simply panic.
“Stay quiet, Lenie. It’s me.” She would recognize that voice anywhere and she could not believe his recklessness. If he were caught, he will be executed in public without trial. No matter how rich his family was.
She stayed quiet, because she did not want him to be caught. She will reason with him once they were in a safer place or escape if he did not listen to her, and return to her duties as soon as possible. But her plans became futile when she heard raised voices coming from behind, following them.
He ran faster, her weight did not seem to be encumbering him at all. She on the other hand was getting dizzy from the jostling, especially since she had not eaten since last morn.
“Jax,” she wheezed. She was certain she will be casting up her insides, pain clutching her midsection.
“Only a little further, love. We will be safe, then,” he said calmly. Impossibly, he was not even breathing hard.
“I feel sick,” she said to herself softly.
“Hold on just a moment longer, Lenie, I beg you,” he said in return.
She could not fathom how he heard her in the commotion that surrounded them. With a profanity, he stopped suddenly in his path and turned another way. After a short while, he dropped her softly somewhere on the floor. “Wait here, Lenie.”
“Jax?” she called, but he did not reply. She heard his footsteps heading away from her.
She worked her way out of the dark sack, and blinked in the light. She was in an alley somewhere, and Ajax was probably trying to lead the pursuers away from her. The thought that he may be chased down, hunted and killed chilled her bones. She stood up and tried to find her way out of the labyrinthine alleys – she will give herself up before letting any harm befall him.
Raised voices guided her to the place she was sure Jax would be, putting up a gallant fight on her behalf. A battle that will be a lost cause for both of them.
She rounded a corner and found herself facing a scene so horrendous, her mind refused to decipher it into a cognizable tableau. Blood was everywhere, and mangled bodies littered the small alley. Bodies of the King’s guards. And a massive golden lion with a light mahogany mane was the sole source of the destruction. His jaw opening and closing, his paws rising and falling again and again, maiming and mangling the men around him.
Selene could only watch in sheer horror – impotent and powerless. Her eyes searched for Ajax, fearful that his body lay amongst the fallen. Instead, amidst the chaos, she saw Evan standing at the opposite side the street. Her heart clenched in fear, and the same fear was mirrored on Evander’s face when he saw her, alone and helpless.
Without hesitation, he ran towards her while withdrawing his sword. However, to reach her, he will have to put himself directly in the path of the rampaging lion. Selene’s heart lodged itself in her throat, blocking her warning from leaving the confines of her body.
The lion, scenting danger from another direction, reared to meet her brother’s gaze. Her brother brought his sword up, bravely facing his adversary. The lion growled a warning, but for some reason, did not attack her brother as he had done with so many already. Her brother swung his sword at the lion, and the lion jumped out of range. He growled at Evan again, angrier this time.
Evan, on the other hand, was intent on protecting his sister. He attacked again and again, hoping to bring down the beast or injure it enough so that he could carry his sister out. They parried, the lion getting more and more furious.
Hoping to distract the lion so her brother could land a fatal blow, Selene ran into battle. Evan shouted angrily at her to back away, at which the lion turned its massive head in her direction. She stopped, caught in its intense gaze. It growled a warning at her, but her distraction had worked. Her brother’s sword pierced his side.
The lion roared, his growl a hellish sound of fury that heralded swift reprisal. He pounced in attack without delay, prepared to tear his attacker apart. The deadly jaw found a prey – but not the one it intended. Selene had launched herself between her brother and the lion, without thought or hesitation. His teeth punctured her chest, huge incisors buried to the hilt inside her soft breast.
As soon as he realized that his mouth was not closed around Evan, the lion let its victim crumple gracelessly to the hard pebbled ground and jumped back. And then he howled, his tormented voice eclipsing Evan’s shout of agony.
Evan dropped his sword and fell on his knees next to Lenie’s head. Slowly, he lifted her body and cradled her to his chest. Pressing his hand against the holes in her chest, he tried desperately to stop the blood from leaving her body. If he could only keep the blood inside her, she will be fine. She was meant for greatness – she was unique and powerful. Her death was not a possibility.
The lion stood above them, but Evan had no more will to live. It would be a mercy to kill him now – the lion should just go ahead and claim his final prize. Evan had no fight left in his weary body. But the lion seemed as defeated as Evan; maybe he too recognized that he had damaged something pure and precious. He was whimpering now in distress.
Evan looked at the terrifying animal’s eyes, and found them locked on Lenie. The lion had tears in his grey-green eyes. They fell in rivulets against his fur, dripping onto Lenie’s face. She was looking into the lion’s eyes, too, but not in fear. Her face was alight in amazement and love.
“Jax,” she whispered reverently, the last word to adorn her lips. And the light left her teal eyes – forever.
Man and lion sat beside the body of the girl they both loved. Their shared laments of sorrow rang through the blood-drenched alley for a long long time…
Life is going on, as normal as it can be for me. Here I am, listening to my parents lecturing about spending the past night at my boyfriend’s place. I sit and listen to their monologue because …er…. I have to. Like I have a choice.
“I’ve never been more worried in my life. I don’t understand how you can be so irresponsible. We leave you alone for the first time ever overnight and you spend it in your ex-boyfriend’s house, without our permission…” mom said.
“Or even our knowledge,” dad interjected before I could refute the ex-boyfriend comment.
I keep quiet. What is there to say really? I can’t just blurt out ‘Dad, mom, I was attacked by a bunch of soul-sucking creatures, almost kidnapped by one of them, saved in the nick of time by another one of them, donated blood to my NO-LONGER-EX-BOYFRIENDdespite my abject fear of needles, brought him back from the jaws of death and all. I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I was too exhausted to come home to bed?’
Nope, sir. I can’t tell them any of that, so I sit mutely and endure being victimized for being a victim of circumstances beyond my control (or even comprehension). Well, I could’ve stayed in the guest bedroom instead of climbing into bed with Ariston, but NOTHING happened. And they don’t even know about that. Yet. So why am I being harangued?
I sigh over this internal dialogue I’m having with myself and mom thinks I’m sighing at her. That brings on a fresh set of lecture. I dispense all my energy avoiding any more accidental sighs/yawns from erupting; otherwise we’ll be here for another few decades.
“Okay, honey, here’s the deal.” Dad finally says something that seem to be about to bring an end to my torment. I perk up immediately. He frowns. Great, so my enthusiasm is being taken for impertinence now. “From today onwards, you’re grounded for a month. Only places you can go to are school and work.”
“What!” I shrieked. “But it was only one night of irresponsibility! You can’t ground me for a month!”
“I just did, sweetheart,” he said, giving me a stern look. Even the ‘sweetheart’ had an ominous ring to it. As I was having an internal debate about whether or not to argue his decision, dad’s arched eyebrow dared me to push my luck.
“Okay,” I mumbled, giving in with poor grace.
“Also, your cell phone is confiscated and your car is delayed for another month,” he went on. I was mad, but not enough to defy him further. It won’t be of any use anyway so why squander away my limited font of energy.
“Anything else?” I said tightly.
“Yes. Do not break any more rules or we can also take away your phone privileges,” he added.
“And I’m taking away your binoculars,” mom said her bit.
I flushed. So she was going to dangle that over my head forever now, was she? It was justthat one time I used them for spying through my neighbor’s windows, AND I got caught, too! And now I am grounded with my cell phone and binocular privileges revoked.
Not that I minded her taking away the binoculars all that much. Being subjected to hours of confinement in my bedroom with only binoculars for company, I might just go crazy and start thinking my neighbors were psychotic killers like in that movie with Shia Labeouf who spies on his neighbor because he’s on house arrest and has nothing better to do.
Only difference is that his neighbor was a psychotic killer and mine have huge potential of becoming just killers. Oh wait! One of them is already a killer (he decimated a number of Friaries already – that should count towards murder, right?), one is not yet but has potential to be (because he is totally upset he couldn’t participate in the Friary slaughter fest) and the third might just be (though he hasn’t displayed any tendencies to massacre yet, but who knows about the future).
“Fine,” I muttered mutinously and handed over my brand-new cell phone, which I had proudly owned for a total of three days. I walk up to my room sullenly and slump in my bed.
School tomorrow, I thought with dread. After the fiasco at last night’s party, I wasn’t sure I really was up to going to school. Ever. I even considered asking my parents if I could be home-schooled, much like my boyfriend Ariston had been till he came to Ryon’s Creek and joined my High School. The point is I can’t really confess to them that I had indulged in a moment’s weakness and almost broke our school slut’s finger. Oh well, at least I got my boyfriend back.
I looked at the ceiling dreamily, thinking about Ariston. Just thinking his name makes me all weak in the knee department. In the whole body department actually, including the organ encased in the upper compartment that ceases to function properly where he is concerned. Otherwise, I’d never have gotten into a catfight with Nora Card – not over any other guy for sure.
Having lived through the most taxing weekend of my short sixteen years, I was basically just glad to be alive and kicking. My only worry at the moment was Ariston – again. I fretted over his injuries, and then pondered if he was feeling good enough to go to school tomorrow, because I honestly wasn’t prepared to face anyone without him. Since my cell phone was gone, I was afraid to call him from the home phone, lest my parents go even more ballistic. They were quite mad at him at the moment.
Even though I saved his life (literally) by giving him my blood, his family also didn’t seem to have warmed up to me much. I cringed on remembering the expression on his mother’s face when she came into his room this morning and found me curled against him – in his bed.
Iliana would have gone even more berserk if Ariston hadn’t intervened. I guess being the future King, he has some sort of leeway where parental authority is concerned. Yet, her subtle reminders on how I could have aggravated his injuries during the night were definitely on the hostile side.
I honestly hadn’t planned on falling asleep in his room, but being chased around by Friaries and donating a few pints of blood is bound to toll the brawniest person. I am, but a fragile female. I mean somewhat fragile, compared to Weres and Friaries.
I wish Iliana could be more understanding of my dilemma, but they all seem to have blinders where I’m concerned. Just thinking about Ariston’s family’s animosity towards me is distressing enough to cast me into depression for life.
I managed to fall asleep after a lot of speculation and conjecture, and was awoken rudely by my mom banging loudly on the door. Without my permission, morning crept up much earlier than usual. It felt as though I had just fallen asleep, and now I had to wake up. Groaning in my pillow, I took a moment to reorient myself with my situation.
I have pissed off the Three Furies (‘piss off’ being the understatement of the century), so they’ll be out for my blood (though I don’t have much left) one way or another. The football team captain cum my neighbor cum…er…Connor still seemed to be infatuated with me (despite my getting back with Ariston), my best friend Ethan is mad that he missed all the action with the Friaries (so now Connor is a hero and he’s…not basically) and Ariston is bedridden (so he won’t put his big arms around me to protect me from everyone).
No, I didn’t want to go school, but I have no doubt my door will be dismantled if I didn’t haul ass. I sleepwalked through my morning routine; bath (thoroughly), brush teeth (vigorously), dress (nicely), breakfast (heartily so dad doesn’t think I’m on a crash diet now that I’m back with Ariston).
My routine was disrupted when the doorbell rang; I sat up straight with my heart hammering away wildly. Could it be Ariston? Did he come to try to win over my parents like last time?
“Morning, little kitten,” Connor drawled as soon as he walked into the kitchen.
Slumping back into my chair, I prepared myself for an onslaught of suggestive commentary. When I reach the end of my tether, he’ll be taking a flight down my bedroom window again. Not that it had much effect on him the last time.
Being part tiger, not only can he jump from much higher distances without injuring himself but after being sent out of a room, he can STILL hear the most personal (and humiliating) conversations that my parents insist on having with me. Poor souls are under the delusion that our lives are private, little aware all three of our neighbors are Were-tigers privy to all our secrets.
Connor’s electric blue eyes were alive with mischief as usual, his platinum-blonde hair was windswept as usual and his mouth was curled up in a smirk as usual. So what’s new? Nothing. I glared at him, as usual.
Ethan followed him, looking sulky, so I guessed that he still hasn’t gotten over the fact that his brother had fought a bunch of Friaries and he was left out (see what I mean – a total potential murderer). The detail that Ariston had almost lost his life and Connor had been lucky escaping unscathed has not penetrated his thick skull yet. Fighting must be in the genetic makeup of Weres. They all go into raptures at the thought of a good brawl.
“Hi, Ethan,” I said, smiling brightly at him.
“Hey,” he replied morosely.
“What’s wrong?” mom crooned, picking up on Ethan’s mood immediately.
Sometimes, I think my mom doesn’t have one child, but three. And Ethan has always been her most favorite one.
“Nothing,” he said sullenly, and gave me a dejected look with sad pewter gray eyes. His golden blond waves were falling softly against his eyebrows. “I should’ve gone to the party.”
I looked heavenwards and asked god to help me curb the urge to murder my best friend. I wasn’t too keen on acknowledging my own potential as a murderer..
“Yes, you should have,” dad agreed. “Then our idiotic daughter wouldn’t have spent the night out of the house without us knowing.”
“Connor was there as well,” I said irately. “By the way, why aren’t you grounded? You spent the night away from home, too – without prior notice,” I asked Connor.
“But I am over eighteen. And I stayed to protect your virtue. You were just so excited to have him back, I worried you’d do something you might regret, kitten,” he said in mock exasperation. I glowered at him.
“Connor!” dad said in a shocked voice. “We will not discuss this issue anymore. And Sasha is grounded, just so you guys don’t make any plans involving her for a month.”
“And stop calling me kitten,” I told Connor angrily.
His eyes raked me from head to foot. “Ready to go, kitty,” he grinned.
“Urghh!!!!’ I groaned and got up. “I’ll cycle, thank you very much.”
After quite some time, I was dressed more or less like my usual self – tattered jeans, crewneck knitted top and a thick parka, my glasses perched on my nose. I had dressed down today with the express purpose of not sitting in the same car as Connor Macho.
I was still mad at the traitor for tattling on me to dad. When dad called his cell to check on me (since I didn’t pick up mine), he cheerfully told them that we were both at Ariston’s place – chilling out.
Maybe it was also sort of my fault for not keeping an ear out for my phone, but I’d only had it for a couple of days. And the Harry Potter theme song for the movies, while catchy blasting out of our surround-sound system, just doesn’t have the same audible quality when coming out of a cell phone buried in a satchel.
And now I am grounded – because Connor couldn’t be bothered to make up some plausible excuse to save my hide. I mean shouldn’t friends (or ex-best-friends) totally have your back in such delicate situations? Obviously Connor did not adhere to the same BFF manual that I did – not that we’re BFFs anymore, but I think the same etiquettes should apply to ex-BFFs.
With my nose in the air, I headed out the backdoor and was about to climb on my bicycle when I was physically hauled off the ground and thrown across a muscular shoulder. My proud nose was now facing the ground; how degrading. And then my glasses fell off. I saw Ethan’s hand fly out to grab them before they hit the ground.
“Put me down, you jackass,” I hissed at him.
“Connor, let her down,” Ethan’s worried voice added.
“Don’t worry, I will,” Connor replied casually.
“I’ll kill you, you bigheaded, over-muscled, small-brained jerk!”
Right when I started to thrash around, he threw me unceremoniously on the backseat of his car and closed the door. Ethan climbed in from the other side with an apologetic expression. Connor got into the driver’s seat fast as lightening and the car was already on the road. All this took place within three seconds. I was left with my jaw hanging. Ethan, after shutting my mouth by slapping me lightly beneath my jaw, placed the glasses back on my nose.
“How?” I said in awe.
“We can move pretty fast if we want to, but it won’t look very human, will it?” Ethan explained.
“Huh!” I exhaled. “Why am I being abducted?”
“Not abducted, kitten. I’m just depositing you from home to school in one piece; for your own safety. Since you’re on the Friary wanted list, we can hardly take any chances now, can we?” Connor informed me.
“I doubt they’ll be waiting around the corner to exterminate me.” I rolled my eyes.
“You never know,” he said, then tuned me out by whistling loudly.
I was fuming, and Ethan was rubbing the back of my neck to soothe my temper I suppose. It felt pretty good, so I let him. The short journey to school took place in silence – I refused to be the one to break it and Ethan and Connor were probably just glad that I wasn’t ranting and raving like a lunatic for being kidnapped.
Connor parked in his usual place near the front entrance; being the football team captain has its perks. I climbed out with a mutinous expression on my face and shrieked in surprise when I was lifted off the floor once again from behind. Thinking it was Connor again, in his quest to deposit me safely from car park to classroom, I readied myself to elbow him in the stomach. I stopped when I smelled a familiar scent.
“Ariston!” I exhaled. He kissed my neck and without putting me down, he turned me around and kissed me into stupor.
“I missed you,” he crooned, his gold-green eyes twinkling. With an alluring smile playing across his lips, he ran his fingers across my mouth and I started to feel even dizzier.
He has that effect on me; immediate jumbling of all body parts – brain dislocates from head to somewhere in my feet (makes it hard to be coherent), heart moves up to throat (pulse roaring loudly in ears), stomach drops somewhere into the pelvic region (appetite affected indefinitely) and lungs…totally disappear (breathing becomes impossible).
“You came!” I exclaimed breathily.
“Of course. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see you after an excruciating twenty-four hour period,” he murmured.
“Are you feeling okay?” I asked anxiously.
I could see from the open collar of his shirt that his right shoulder was still bandaged. Just the thought of how close I had come to losing him was enough to make my chest tighten painfully.
“I’m fine,” he said, smiling broadly at me.
“You can put me down now.”
We were attracting a lot of attention. I think apart from the shock of seeing us together again, people were probably wondering how he was holding me a foot of the floor with just one arm – especially since I’m no midget. Carefully, he let me slide to the ground but took my hand immediately. Connor had disappeared, but I saw Ethan waiting for us by the main entrance.
“I see that you have kissed and made up already,” Amber said from behind Ariston in an accusatory voice.
“I groveled on my knees and Sasha decided to forgive me,” he said, a tad dramatically.
Amber made a rude noise and headed straight in Ethan’s direction. I frowned at her back. Ariston shrugged at me, propelling me towards the school building. At the lockers, I saw Connor and scowled at him when he winked. Laughing, he strolled off without a backward glance.
“I see that Macho intends on giving me competition,” Ariston mused.
“What?!” I choked out.
“I’m not a trophy!” I said angrily.
“Tell him that, sweetheart,” he said in an annoyed way.
“Hey, guys,” I heard Aishling’s voice.
“Hi.” I grinned at her.
“Time for class, lovebirds,” she said in an amused voice, her eyes on Ariston’s hand wrapped possessively around my waist.
“Change seats with me?” he asked Aishling on the way to class.
“Why?” she said suspiciously.
“I don’t think Nora will want to sit next to me after what happened Saturday night,” he said uncomfortably.
“Oh…sure,” she shrugged.
“Hey, guys. Ready to go.” Ethan joined us.
We walked to class together and saw that Ariston wouldn’t have to change seats with Aishling after all. Nora was sitting next to Brian Hill and from what I could see of her face, sniffling. That’s how fast news travels in our High School. We kiss at the door and everyone knows we’re back together. She looked up and glared at me malevolently.
“Oh boy, it looks like you’re on more than one wanted list,” Ethan murmured mischievously.
“It’s good then that I’ve got three Were champions willing to fight for me,” I announced.
“Three?” Ariston said with an arched eyebrow.
“Yeah, one, two, three.” I pointed at my three companions in turn.
“Oh, I’m counted as well?” Aishling cried in delight.
“Of course you are. These two can’t protect me in the loo, you know,” I teased.
“I doubt she’ll be able to give you as much as a scratch,” Ethan laughed.
“I guess not,” I shrugged, “but no harm in having some backup. Since she’ll never approach me without back up again.”
“So where do I sit now?” Aishling asked.
“You sit next to Sasha and I will sit with Ethan,” Ariston ordered immediately. I found this statement extremely suspicious, since he used to insist on sitting next to me in whichever class we had together in the past.
“You’re not sitting with the love of your life?” Aishling mocked, echoing my thoughts.
He ignored her and went to sit on the seat where I would be across the aisle from him. Aishling, however, decided that she would sit across the aisle from her brother and pushed me inside against the window. Okay, this was officially very strange (and annoying) behavior.
“What’re you guys doing?” I asked Aishling.
“My brother, his highness, is being a royal pain in my backside,” she clarified helpfully.
He gave her a disgusted look. Ethan looked the most uncomfortable, but I guess sitting next to the future King of his race could be daunting. It would be like putting me next to Obama or something. Although Ariston honestly has no airs, he still manages to aggravate all three Machos.
“Good morning class,” Mr. Finn said with flourish on entering the classroom. “Ah, I see that you’ve made new seating arrangements again,” he noted, looking at the four of us and then at Nora. We grunted in unison, no one bothering to give him any explanations.
Mr. Finn commenced his speech of the day and the whole class was transported into a state of inertia. The rest of the morning continued in more or less the same vein, and I was glad when lunch hour rolled in. Ariston was in an animated mood; talking, laughing and teasing me. For someone who had been grievously injured and was on the verge of demise just two nights ago, he was remarkably jubilant.
“Your Highness! How was your near-death experience?” Connor’s drawl came from behind me.
“Better than your living one, Macho,” Ariston retorted, injecting a suitable amount of distaste with a pinch of resentment in his voice. A commendable feat, really.
“Why, your highness, I thought some blood donation from a nubile young thing would’ve lessened your machismo and arrogance,” he snorted.
I inhaled sharply; they might just decide to settle scores today since a fight has been overdue where these two were concerned. I seriously couldn’t understand the animosity between them – they were both Weres after all and I would expect them to show more solidarity.
“I can still take you with an injured shoulder and a less than perfect leg, Macho,” Ariston said in a dispassionate voice.
“Can you now?” Connor sat down on my other side. “Hey, kitten, how’s lunch?” he said, after taking a huge gulp from my soda.
“You want me to get you another drink, sweetheart, since he just infected yours?” Ariston asked. I sighed. So they were going for one-upmanship today.
“No, it’s fine,” I said, waving my hand impatiently.
“Sash has been eating and drinking my leftovers since she was one. Trust me, your highness, she’s thoroughly infected already,” Connor grinned maliciously. “So if your sentiments are offended by the amount of my saliva that has penetrated her system, I’ll be happy to take her off your hands.”
“How magnanimous of you,” I exclaimed in a blasé voice before Ariston could lose his temper. “Are you planning to stay here and annoy us to early graves?”
“I’d love to, kitten, but duty calls,” he drawled.
“Your blockheads need help with their uniforms?” I asked derisively. When a huge grin split his face, I was immediately on high alert.
“Oh, I’m glad you know how good I am with clothing – helping people into and out of them. Let me know anytime you need help, kitty-cat,” he said in a particularly suggestive voice.
Ariston grabbed his collar and I shrieked in alarm, sandwiched between them. It was a very uncomfortable place to be, smothered in the space filled with intense body heat and heavy antagonism. I placed my palms on both their chests to keep them apart. Thankfully, I could see Ethan, Amber and Aishling at the queue.
“Ethan,” I almost screamed and he looked over at me.
Ethan’s face blanched when he saw Ariston’s hands clutching Connor’s collar and Connor’s fingers clenched tightly around Ariston’s forearms. He ran over, much faster than a normal person, but no one really paid him much attention since all eyes were on Ariston and Connor.
Ethan pulled Connor away and I threw my arms around Ariston’s waist to stop him from following the Machos. Amber decided to follow Ethan. I was annoyed for a moment. So much for friends.
“That was uncalled for,” I said to Ariston angrily.
“That was over the line,” he hissed, pointing in the direction where the Machos had disappeared. His eyes were livid with anger.
“You know he just enjoys provoking you and you actually get provoked. Just ignore him,” I said desperately.
“He shouldn’t use you for that purpose. I don’t give a hoot what he says about me, but every time he says something,” he took a deep breath before continuing, “about you, I lose control.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just hugged him tightly. “I love you, you remember, right?” I whispered.
He inhaled sharply. “How can I forget that?”
“Good. So just bear in mind that no one can change the way I feel about you,” I vowed fervently.
“I thought you knew better than to pick a fight with Connor Macho in public.” Aishling sounded even more furious than me.
“I’m sorry.” He seemed resigned suddenly, tension leaving his huge frame. “It was stupid of me. I’ll exercise more restraint around him.”
“You know how dangerous it is if two Weres fight in public?” she pressed.
“Yes, I do. And I already said I’ll be careful, so back off,” Ariston said through clenched teeth.
Aishling stood trembling with fury for a while. I let go of Ariston and gave her a calming hug. She exhaled explosively. We sat down slowly, ignoring all the eyes that were arrested on us.
“So your parents are back already, huh?” Aishling asked, changing the topic.
“Yeah,” I said grumpily.
“I thought you’d be thrilled to have them back,” Ariston said.
“I’ve been grounded.”
“What! Why?” Ariston was stunned.
“Apparently, Connor told them I spent Saturday night in your house,” I admitted. “They tried to call me to check on me late Saturday night, but I wasn’t home. Then they tried my cell, which was I couldn’t hear so didn’t pick. When they couldn’t get through, they called Connor and he told them we were at your place – both of us.”
“That bastard,” Ariston spat. I stared at him in shock. I’ve never heard him swear. His eyes softened when he looked at my expression. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have. We’ve got about half an hour to go. Let’s go somewhere else,” he whispered.
“What about me?” Aishling argued.
“You can stay here and eat,” he suggested. “Your food is untouched.”
“So is yours,” she noted.
“Bye, sis. I’ll see you soon,” he said lightly.
Hand in hand, we exited the cafeteria. He led me towards the woods behind our school, walking too fast for my human limbs to keep up with. I half-jog along with him.
“Want me to carry you?” he teased. The sunlight was playing havoc in his titian hair, picking out all the different colors in turn – red, gold, caramel, blond.
“Where are we going?” I huffed.
“Where do you think?”
I realized that he could only have one destination in mind that was in the general direction we were headed towards. The cave he took me to once – to bind me.
“Do you have your flashlight with you?” I asked a bit apprehensively. The cave was extremely dark and you couldn’t even see your own hand in front of your face.
“The flashlight was for your benefit. I do not need it,” he clarified.
“What about me?” I said in a panicky voice. I won’t admit to claustrophobia, but not being able to see anything can be quite scary.
“Don’t you trust me to look after you?” he asked me quite seriously.
“Of course I do, but I don’t want you picking me up anymore – regardless of how much you seem to enjoy doing it,” I said sternly.
“My shoulder and leg are perfectly fine, just slightly sore,” he said this smugly.
“After the effort I put in to keep you alive, I’m not taking any chances where your health is concerned.”
“Would you like me to prove to you that I am perfectly alright?” he suggested devilishly.
“I could undress and show you.”
“Okay. Let’s see it then,” I replied.
He lost some of his brass and stood staring at me in an adorably bewildered manner. He obviously didn’t expect me to call him out for it.
“Well, I’m waiting.” I tapped my foot in mock impatience.
“You don’t seriously expect me to undress in the middle of the woods?” he said.
“You suggested it.” I shrugged. “Or are you just playing Mr. Tough Guy? Maybe you’re more hurt than you’re letting on. It would reassure me to actually see it.”
“Sasha, don’t be silly. I’m fine, really,” he assured me. He looked like an animal cornered. I laughed.
“That’ll teach you not to make statements you can’t follow through,” I said snootily.
“Okay. If you put it that way…”
He started to unbutton his shirt, with lightning speed I must add. Within two seconds, it was off and his bandages undone. There were just minor welts on his shoulders, like long faded scars. He was unbuckling his belt, taking his time this time.
“Want me to go on?” he mocked.
“Er…” I could not take my eyes off his fingers that were tangled in the belt buckle. Would he really go commando on me if I said yes? It was a very tempting thought and I did consider it for a few moments longer than I should have.
“No.” I exhaled at last.
“Don’t want to see the wound on my leg?” he teased. “It was worse than my shoulder if you recall.”
“I’m sure it’s fine, judging from your shoulder,” I replied quickly.
“I don’t mind, if you really want to see for yourself. Anything to set your mind at ease.”
He started towards me slowly, eyes sparkling. I backed away.
“I’m utterly, totally, thoroughly convinced that you’re perfectly okay,” I stammered.
“Ah. So I guess I’m no longer helpless enough to entice you?” he asked diabolically.
“Hey, I was just trying to distract you that night,” I protested feebly.
My back came up against a tree and he placed his hands on the sides of my head. I started to feel warm and tingly all over as his face lowered towards mine. I closed my eyes, waiting in anticipation. Although I was telling myself that because he’s so tall (six-six) and I am just average (five-six), it was taking longer than I could endure for his lips to reach mine.
My brow furrowed and I opened my eyes in impatience. He was looking at my face intensely, like he was trying to memorize it. After spending an incredibly long time staring at each individual feature, his eyes finally found mine.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured.
Blood rushed to my face in pleasure and I pulled his lips to mine. Only when I felt myself pressed against his body did I realize that he was not wearing a shirt, yet he was extremely hot even with the autumn chill quite prevalent in the air. I ran my hands across his chest and his shoulders, my fingers finding the faint scars on his right shoulder.
“Ready to go to our romantic spot?” he whispered huskily against my lips.
“Okay,” I whispered back jaggedly.
He picked up his shirt and bandage and with inhuman speed, put everything on. Picking me up with ease, he jogged towards our cave. I closed my eyes.
“You know someone might see you running like that,” I said worriedly.
“I didn’t feel any presence or hear anyone close by.”
“You can feel presences?” I asked curiously.
“Yes. We more or less can tell when people are around, if we listen carefully.”
“Then how come you and Connor didn’t realize I was eavesdropping on you guys that day at your house?”
“I don’t know,” he frowned. “I can usually feel your presence like a vibrant throb in the air, but I didn’t feel anything that day. And neither did Macho I guess. He would have stopped the discussion if he knew you were anywhere close by.”
“Is that strange?” I ask uneasily.
He entered the cave ahead of me this time. I was no longer so astonished to see that he could wriggle through the small opening. Of course being part lion, his bones were quite pliable. I followed after him and found myself in absolute darkness. He picked me up again and I gasped when I saw his gold-green eyes shining in the dark.
“I can see your eyes,” I commented stupidly.
He chuckled. “They do glow in the dark.”
“Ah,” I said, feeling moronic.
“You’re not scared, are you?”
“I could never be scared with you around.”
“I meant you’re not scared of my eyes, are you?” he asked anxiously.
“Ariston!” I said in an annoyed voice, tracing his face with my fingers. It was tense. “You’re serious?”
He put me down slowly on a big rock and sat on the floor next to my feet. I saw his beautiful eyes in the dark and nothing else. Honestly, it might’ve been extremely unnerving if not for the familiarity of the color and the love I could still see in them for me. He was waiting for me to say something, to reassure him that this other form of his did not scare me.
“You’re a part of me now, Ariston Kavanagh, the most cherished and vital part. I’d be scared of myself a hundred times over before I could ever be scared of you. And how can someone who loves me so much ever scare me?” I said softly, my eyes going moist involuntarily. How could he ever even assume that I would feel anything, but love for him?
He placed his head on my lap and wound his arms around my hips. I felt his heart beating at an extraordinary speed against my leg. I buried both my hands in his silky hair, feeling the perfect texture of the strands running through my fingers.
Slowly, I ran my hands to his neck, molding my palms to the shape of the smooth muscles running from his neck to his shoulders, feeling the strength encompassed in his huge arms, the veins prominent in his biceps and the tendons of his forearms. After I had explored all the parts I could reach, I touched his face tenderly. He sighed.
“Are you okay?” I asked him.
“Just trying to reconcile myself with the fact you might just love me as much as I love you,” he said softly.
I managed to give one short laugh before I was pulled onto the floor. There was something that felt suspiciously like a mattress underneath me. He pushed me down on it and I saw his eyes hovering over my face. He started to kiss me again and I lost all conscious thoughts, abandoning myself to his lips working magic against mine.
His warm, large hands ran rampant over my body – my face, shoulders, arms, midriff, hips, sides. The parts he neglected burned for his touch, and I wriggled beneath his ministrations, frustrated that he stayed away from the sorest parts of my body. He stopped after a while and I looked at his eyes with an inquiring expression.
“What?” he asked curiously.
“I’m not wearing Connor’s necklace today,” I said as way of explanation.
“Sasha,” he exhaled, resting his forehead against mine.
“You still want to bind me, right?” I asked, feeling a bit worried about his answer.
“Do you want me to? After all that you found out about Weres? After Naomi’s attack?”
“Yes.” I was glad to note that my voice was full of conviction.
“Sasha, I can’t bind you until everyone accepts you,” he said softly.
“Accepts me how?”
“As my Queen.”
“Oh no!” I gasped.
“You know who I am.”
“Yes. The future Were King.” My voice was a bit awed. He laughed softly.
“You know there’s no going back if I bind you. You’ll be stuck with me for life,” he warned. I chewed my lower lip.
“I was hasty the last time when I tried to bind you. I was reckless and inconsiderate of the consequences for you. The worst the Were-people can do to me is dethrone me, but there is no other who can ascend as King so they won’t do that. Chaos will ensue if there is no ruler. So the only other way to…” he stopped.
“The only other way to remedy the situation would be to kill me,” I said with fake bravado.
“I’ll never let that happen,” he said fiercely.
“And I’ll never again put you in a situation where you might be hurt because of me,” I countered angrily.
He sighed. “At least we are agreed for the moment that we can’t bind. Let’s take things one step at a time. I’m sure we’ll find a way to tackle all the hurdles.”
“Okay.” I was feeling quite depressed suddenly. “I guess we’re in a deadlock right now, huh?”
There was no way his people will ever accept me. Yet to think beyond our current status of a teenage couple in love seemed kind of presumptuous of me. How do I know that he won’t fall out of love with me in a couple of years, or even months? Is that why I want him to bind me, so I could give our seemly fragile relationship permanence? These thoughts did not sit very well with my conscience.
“I feel you wearing my token,” he interrupted my mental self-flagellation in an affectionate voice.
“I never took it off, not even when you…” I stopped myself, swallowing loudly.
“I’m sorry. I never should’ve done all those stupid things.”
“It was me,” I replied in an ashamed voice.
“Let’s forget about that.”
“No, I need to explain why that happened.”
“I’m really not bothered about it anymore, but if it’ll make you feel better, go ahead.”
The incident of Ariston finding Connor kissing me in front of my house that day was another heavy weight on my conscience. And only Ariston understood me so well as to know that I had to get it off my chest.
“Naomi had attacked me the night before, in the park. I was upset with you, for not trusting me with your secret. Connor saved me from her and he knew I was upset about the whole thing. He was just trying to hold me together since I couldn’t tell anyone about what happened. And I don’t how it happened, but he confessed to me that he…” I hesitated.
“That he loves you?” Ariston guessed.
“Yes,” I whispered in a miserable voice. “And before I could recover from the whole Connor-is-in-love-with-me shock, he kissed me. I know I should’ve pushed him away, done something, anything, but I was just too stunned at that point in time. A part of me was in a huge turmoil and another part was drowning in pity for him. I don’t want to hurt him, Ariston, but he seems so hell bent on hurting himself over me. And you guys being at loggerheads all the times doesn’t help matters much either.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll try to be more civil to him. But my self-control is not unflappable, Sasha. He purposely gets on my nerves. And his attempts at luring you away from me are so…unpalatable,” Ariston said irately.
“I think we should go back now. It’s getting late,” I said suddenly. I so didn’t want to dwell further on Connor’s feelings for me and his loathing for my boyfriend.
“I’ll just like to add that I might not kill him simply because he saved you from Naomi,” he said.
“And you from dying,” I pointed out.
“Sweetheart, you’re so naïve. He had to save me. I’m the future King, and my death would affect him and his brothers more than you can imagine,” he said in a voice that made me want to smack him.
Before I could decide to act on my impulse, he picked me up and started to run to the cave exit. I was just glad it was too dark for me to see much.