You’d better watch who you trust in this town…
The breath catches in my chest and every nerve ending in my body goes crazy. The music surges, and this night suddenly feels too big for me to breathe.
“I’m not lying down and taking a fate I didn’t ask for,” I manage. My fingers cling hard to Ian’s shoulder. I can feel the muscles beneath his clothes tense and tighten.
And suddenly I’m back to the days at his cabin, when he’d come walking out of the shower with only a towel and I pretended not to look. I know what his bare skin looks like, and suddenly I’m craving another glimpse.
“They won’t care about a show of good faith,” he says. “Do you have any idea what this party is even for?”
My silence is his answer.
“They throw this party once a year and offer massive amounts of alcohol so that people won’t remember the blackouts that come from behind fed on.”
My eyes dart to that door at the back of the room. The blood on the woman’s shoulder. The blood in the corner of the man’s mouth.
“They’re feeding on the party attendees,” I say.
Ian nods. His scratchy cheek brushes mine. “The bite numbs and makes you forget, but people tend to realize they blacked out. A party like this with this much booze, you brush it off. It’s the one time a year they feed freely upon the townspeople. It’s the only way to keep people from asking too many questions.”
It’s terrifying and horrifying, and I’m suddenly wondering if the man was asking me to dance as my turn to be fed upon.
“It’s bad, but I have to do something Ian,” I breathe.
“Walking into the fire isn’t the way to do it,” he whispers into my ear.
I back away just slightly, just so I can look into his eyes. There’s intensity there.
Enough of it to melt me clean through.
“It isn’t your job to protect me,” I say quietly as my eyes drift down to his mouth. “I saw you that night. You were supposed to be sleeping. But you were watching over me. You can’t keep doing that.”
“I can’t seem to help it,” he says as his brows furrow.
The music starts to swell toward the end. It’s the last song of the night. Everyone seems to know it. I can feel it. Surging and surging, pushing me to an unknown finish.
“I have to do this,” I say. I start to step away from Ian, toward the Royals that aren’t Royals. “I won’t be pushed around.”
“Stay,” he breathes.
“I can’t.” I take one step back, turning away from Ian.
“Liv, don’t,” Ian pleads. “Just look at me.” Not too gently, he pulls me back toward him.
And suddenly his arms are around me, pulling my center to his and our bodies explode in human passion as they collide and his mouth is on mine. And all the fighting and training and bantering we’ve been doing climaxes into something I can’t explain and don’t ever want to come to a conclusion.
Ian’s lips part and so do mine. Even as his breath gathers to say things I can’t do.
“Just leave with me. Now. Just walk away.”
I give him one final kiss, feeling more alive than I ever have before, yet feeling like a sinking ship. And I pull away. Because I know I cannot give him what he wants.
“I have to do this, and you have to let me.” A million emotions are running rampant in me and I’m not prepared to deal with a single one.
Because Ian and I have been circling one another in close orbit. We have gravitational pull on each other that can’t be explained by logic and reason. And I’ve always known, from the moment Ian decided not to kill me, that one day we would collide.
Sometimes fate deals you the horrible and the incredible. We can’t run from either. I take a step away from him, but Ian holds onto my hand. I take another step, and millimeter by millimeter, our fingers slip apart. Then I’m gone, and Ian is still standing there in the middle of the ballroom, watching me run into the middle of a pack of wolves.