The Sweetest Burn

Page 4

But when I looked at my phone, I let out a groan. The front of it was smashed so badly, I could see the plastic casing behind it. Memories of the minion’s fists explained how that had happened. My ribs hadn’t been the only thing he’d bashed as he’d tried to kill me.

“Do you have a phone?” I asked, breaking my new silence.

His mouth tightened. “No.”

“Who goes anywhere without a cell phone?” I muttered.

Adrian’s features closed off, as if this was somehow a sore subject. “I’ve been having issues with mine.”

We walked in silence for several moments. The sun was almost fully up, and I felt bad for Brutus flying in those rays while taking the demon far out over the ocean, even though I was ticked at Brutus for sneaking behind my back to see Adrian.

“Do you know the worst part of staying away from you these past months?” Adrian asked. “I thought it would be remembering everything that had happened between us, but instead, it was thinking of everything we didn’t do.”

I still said nothing. If he’d missed me so much, ignoring me for months was a real unique way of showing it.

He moved closer, until his big body blocked the wind. I still didn’t look up at him, but kept staring straight ahead as if I could will myself back at Costa’s with sheer mind power.

“I showed you terrible places when I should have shown you beautiful ones,” he went on, his voice deepening. “Told you horrible details about my past instead of letting you get to know the person I’d become, and I taught you how to wield that slingshot instead of teaching you a thousand different things that we would’ve enjoyed much, much more.”

The way his voice caressed that last part made his meaning explicitly clear. Surprise combined with a rush of heat as a treacherous part of myself started imagining what those things might have been. My lack of experience meant I didn’t have a lot to go on, but my mind seemed up to improvising. Then, with a mental slap, I forced those thoughts back.

“Too late now,” I said in a crisp tone.

Adrian caught me to him, his hands closing like warm steel bands around my arms.

“Ivy, listen. When we met, I didn’t think I could beat my fate. That’s why I kept pushing you away, why I didn’t tell you who I was at first and why I didn’t tell you what I felt until, yes, it was almost too late. But it’s not too late.” He stared at me until his gaze felt almost palpable with his intensity. “I know what I feel for you, and it’s stronger than any destiny. I told you the last time I saw you that I’d make you believe in us again. I meant that, and regardless of how mad you are at me, if you had a hard time resisting me when I was fighting my feelings for won’t stand a chance now that I’m not.”

My jaw dropped as pride chased away the dangerous warmth that had caused me to sway the tiniest bit closer to him. I’d practically thrown myself at him the last time circumstances had forced us to spend time together, and what had that gotten me? Betrayed and dumped. Damned if I’d let history repeat itself.

“Don’t be so cocky,” I said, pulling away and starting to walk again. “I’m not the same person, either, so save your efforts. My panties aren’t going to fall off just because you’ve finally decided that you want them to.”

His laughter chased after me, sensual and challenging. “Oh, Ivy, they don’t need to fall off. I’m happy to tear them.”

I let out a frustrated sigh. Adrian wasn’t leaving and he wasn’t listening to me; I may as well be reliving the first time we met. Back then, he’d saved me from a minion kidnapping while opening my eyes to my “hallucinations” being real. Whether I liked it or not, if history was repeating itself, then his presence meant my life was about to irrevocably change.



SINCE ADRIAN WASN’T going away, I decided to make him pull his weight. When we reached the spot on the beach where I’d grappled with the minion, I gestured in the general vicinity of where I’d spotted the demon realm. I didn’t see anything now, but that wasn’t a huge surprise. My lineage meant that I was most attuned to hallowed objects, so at best, I only caught random glimpses of dark ones even when I was right on top of them. Adrian’s lineage meant that he was most attuned to dark objects, and a demon realm gateway was about as dark as something could get.

“The realm gateway was over there. Do you see it?”

He walked to the spot I’d indicated. Then he held out his hands as if feeling for a doorway, which, in essence, he was.

“It’s strange,” he said after a pause. “I see the realm and I do feel something, but it’s not as strong as a normal gateway would be. Instead of a door, it feels more like...a crack.”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” I said with a fresh sense of dismay. “With the walls between demon realms and our world weakening, cracks are probably turning up all over the place. If it gets worse, those cracks will turn into gaping holes and realms will spill out into this world. And then...”

I stopped speaking because I didn’t want to say what would happen next. The only thing worse than knowing was being the only person who could do something to stop it. That’s why I’d spent the past two months splitting my time between training and trying to get my sister, Jasmine, through the post-traumatic stress of being a former demon captive. You’d think with all that, I wouldn’t have had the energy to focus on Adrian, yet I had. A broken heart was the slowest wound to heal, it appeared.

“I think we’re safe for the moment,” Adrian said, not addressing my unfinished sentence. “The crack doesn’t feel strong enough to let anyone else through. Maybe the sunlight is weakening it.”

For now. I rubbed my right hand where the outline of a braided rope ran from my finger all the way up to my elbow. The remains of the ancient, hallowed slingshot no longer burned in that odd way, but touching it was a tangible reminder that Adrian and I had destinies to fulfill: me to possibly save those trapped in the demon realms, and him to probably betray me.

“All right, well, minions are dead, the demon’s gone, Brutus should be back any second and I’m almost home, so you can leave. Now,” I added.

A scoff preceded his response and the silver rings around his dark blue eyes seemed to gleam.

“I’m not going anywhere, Ivy. Ready or not, I’m back in your life and I’m here to stay.”

“But I don’t want you to,” I said, fighting the urge to thump him over the head so the words would sink in.

He only smiled, dazzling and so arrogant that I spun around so I didn’t have to look at him anymore. “Yes, I heard you, but while you might not want me—yet—you do need me.”

Then, with his lightning quickness, he appeared in front of me, shoving a small box into my hands. “Speaking of things I didn’t get to do before, happy birthday, although one day late.”

Shock made me stand still and stare at the box. Twenty-one was a milestone, but no one else had remembered. Not my sister, who was also my best friend, or Costa, my roommate who’d become as close as a brother to me, or Zach, the Archon who sorta mentored me and had supernatural knowledge of just about everything. Only Adrian, and I’d never told him when it was.

I couldn’t stop myself from opening the unexpected gift. Then I let out a little gasp when I saw the round stone suspended at the end of a long gold chain. The jewel reflected the first rays of sunlight back at me in a rainbow of colors that were so bright, I had to squint while looking at it. Unless it was the most sparkly piece of glass ever, Adrian had just given me a diamond the size of a large marble.

“There’s no way I can accept this,” I almost stuttered, adding, “Did you steal it?” because how else could he have gotten something that cost as much as several high-end cars?

Hints of darkness colored his laughter. “Former demon prince, remember? I might have left all that behind me, but I didn’t leave empty-handed.”

“You’re not a demon, you were just raised by them,” I muttered.

He shrugged. “Honorary demon prince, then. Either way, I can afford it. Besides, you lost your other necklace because of me, so don’t say you can’t accept this one to replace it.”

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