I bent forward and pressed my lips against his, a tiny moan slipping out of me as I whispered his name. My whole life he’d watched over me, tried to protect me and keep me from harm even when Cassava controlled him with the ring. He’d trained me to be an Ender, helped me grow as a fighter and pushed me to my limits at times.
Under all that was this truth: I loved him because he pushed me to be my best. He never let me wallow in my self-doubt.
Tangling my hands into the short strands of his hair, I held him to me as our hands and mouths began a hungry perusal of one another. He tugged at my vest, then slid my thin undershirt over my head, before shedding his own top.
I slid back onto the bed, the sheets soft against my bare skin. “The door.”
He spun, locked the door, and was on me in the space of perhaps a single heartbeat. A laugh slipped out of me. “Eager much?”
“You have no idea,” he whispered into my ear. His teeth grazed its edge as his hands explored my body and I returned the favor. I helped him remove his pants and then mine. Our bodies were hard with muscle, scarred and bruised, yet I felt none of that as he slid into my warmth.
Home. This was home.
Our hearts beat in time with one another, our mouths breathed as one, our bodies tangled until there was no telling where one of us began and the other ended.
In all my years, even with Coal, nothing had prepared me for this feeling of unity. Of knowing the person I was with would always stand with me. Even when he didn’t agree with me. Maybe even more so in those moments.
Trust. Love. Faith. They were all bound in the heat between us.
Ash was one of the few people in my life who knew me, and my secrets, and loved me still.
I linked my fingers with his, reached above our heads and pressed our joined hands against the wall. “Don’t stop.” The words from my mouth in a whispered plea.
The cadence of our joining never faltered, never became frantic as we stared into each other’s eyes. A glimmer of possibility spun in front of me, and I knew it for what it was, even if I didn’t understand it wholly.
Spirit wove through us, showing me what could be if I stayed. If I forsook my father and stayed here, with Ash.
Laughter, love, a home.
A child with golden eyes and blond hair who carried his father’s smile as he held my fingertip with his tiny hand.
Ash’s hands . . . he would fight for me, hold me tight when I fell, lift me in the dark hours. A companion who would never turn from me, or the battles I chose.
The Rim, empty of life, desolate and barren. Our family wiped out.
That last confused me. What would happen if I didn’t stay? If I went after my father? The question spun out another possibility.
Blood pooled on the dead soil, the tip of my spear buried in it to the wooden haft.
Bodies littered the ground.
My father’s face twisted with anger.
Standing alone in the middle of the Rim.
My people alive, battered and bruised, but alive.
Survival for my world even while I lost all I held dear.
I closed my eyes, but the images were there. They started a flood of tears I couldn’t hold back as I reached my peak. Climax of the body, and a piercing of the soul at the same time tore a cry from my lips. I untangled my hands from Ash’s and wrapped my arms around him, clinging to him as I sobbed. He spoke, but his words were the buzzing of a bee’s nest in my ears as Spirit throbbed through me, ebbing as though a tide receding on the sand.
“Larkspur, look at me.” Ash’s voice was hard and finally cut through the emotional storm raging inside.
I blinked several times and did as he asked. He’d rolled us to our sides, his right arm tucked under us as he kept me pulled tightly to him. “I’m sorry, it . . . it was Spirit.”
His turn to blink several times, confusion clouding his eyes. “What do you mean?”
“It showed me a possibility.” I made as if to move away from him and he tightened his arm around me.
“No. Talk to me, Lark. Any problems we’ve had have been because of piss-poor communication.”
Mother goddess, how could I tell him what I saw? It would only reinforce that he was right and I should stay. The problem? I saw all too clearly the child with his father’s smile and golden eyes. Yet that path would lead to the destruction of the Rim.
As would the second; though it at least left life to start again.
“I think I saw what would happen if I stayed. And if I left.” I paused and he touched the side of my face.
“Neither option ended well.” I trailed a hand down the side of his face.
This. I wanted this and I wanted him. I wanted the little boy who would call me mama. My heart felt as though it would burst. Ash dropped his lips to mine.
“I don’t want to lose this, Lark.”
“We won’t.” I had to believe I could have it. To believe I could go after my father and have the fairy tale of Ash at my side and a future together.
A soft scratching at the door turned my head.
Peta spoke as though she had her mouth pressed against the wood. “Lark, you and Ash better get your clothes on. Cactus is on his way.”
His name shot through me, reminding me that my heart was torn in two, even if at the moment it leaned precipitously toward Ash. Scrambling to get my clothes on, I noticed Ash lying on the bed, stretched out like some sort of languorous cat who’d filled his belly with warm milk. Almost like he wanted Cactus to catch him.
Damn man. Damn me for sleeping with him.