Pretender to the Throne - Page 58



Just like everything with Xander.

Perfect pleasure. Perfect pain. Perfect misery mingled with joy.

When she came back to herself, his arms were around her, and he was holding her tight against his chest. She realized she was shaking. Sobbing.

Because of him. She pushed away from him.

“Xander, I can’t...”

“You don’t love me?”

“Why do you think you love me?” she asked, even though she didn’t want to know the answer. Didn’t want to hear any more. “No. Don’t answer that. I can’t...I can’t breathe, Xander. I can’t.” She started hunting for her clothes, tugging them on as quickly as possible.

“Why not?”

“I thought I could...” She was gasping now, panicking. “I thought I could do this. But do you know why I cling to my contentment? Because at least if I don’t...if I don’t love anything, if I’m never excited, or overjoyed, I can’t go back to the low place again. If I don’t care about my looks then I can’t be destroyed when people call me names. If I don’t love you I can’t fall apart when you leave. I can’t fall into depression, and that...fog, Xander, that horrible fog. I won’t do it again.”

“I’m not going to leave you, Layna,” he said, walking forward, gripping her arms. “Ever. I made a promise. And I will keep it.”

“You didn’t mean it, though. You still went to your father and told him the truth, even though it might mean you would lose this. Lose me...”

“I don’t have to be king to have you, but I do need you to be a good man. I need you. You don’t understand.”

“That’s just it! So what happens when you don’t need me anymore? And you run.”

“You don’t trust me at all, do you?”

She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold it all, hold herself, together. “I don’t trust in anything. Not you...not...”

“God?”

“Don’t. You don’t know what it’s like. Fine if you have a trauma, you just get to run and run. But the rest of us are left with nothing. I couldn’t run from my pain, Xander it was in me. And you don’t know what that is!”

“Oh, I don’t?” he growled. “Because throwing my life away on drugs and drinking and sex wasn’t a horrible existence? It was, Layna. It was. It was every bit as dark, and every bit as rock-bottom.”

“I don’t suppose you ever thought about killing yourself. Because I did. I thought about it a lot.”

“I never thought about it,” he said. “I just assumed that running toward death at full speed like I was would eventually amount to it. One day you drink too hard, you take too much of the wrong thing, and you don’t wake up again. I was sort of hoping for that day, just too much of a coward to pursue it with any kind of real dedication. Or maybe it was the ties here. But for whatever reason, I didn’t. Still, I know that place you’re talking about. I know that kind of darkness. But I walked up out of it for real today and I want you to do it, too.”

She shook her head. “I can’t. I can’t do it again, Xander. And I’m sure you think that I’m weak. And maybe I am. But I used up all my strength already and I can’t possibly put myself at risk like this again. I can’t just...put myself out there. All of me, and risk being pushed down into the darkness again.”

Xander looked down at the desk. The desk where they had just made love. He was still naked. And he didn’t seem all that concerned about it.

“My father told me that I was his son. No matter what the paternity test might say.” He looked up at her. “He’s my father no matter what.”

“I’m happy for you. I’m happy for...you don’t have to have a wife now, do you? Not one like me. You’re accepted and your people love you. And I’m the Zombie Princess. You don’t need me, Xander.”

He hauled her against his chest, holding her to him. “I do need you, Layna.”

“No, Xander, you don’t. And more than that? I’m starting to hurt things for you. At first...at first maybe people loved you for sticking with me, but now I’m just a burden. An embarrassment. It’s going to be...I’ll be ridiculed by the world. Kyonos will be.”

“Whether the people approve of you, or me, or not. I need you because you are the only woman for me. Because I love you beyond words. Because you have reached down deep inside me and shined a light on the real me. Made me look at myself and see who I am, and who I want to be. Because back when I was a selfish, entitled, wreck of a man, you were the only woman for me, and no matter what life has thrown at me in the meantime, at the end of it all, you’re still the only woman for me.”


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