He glanced up at her, “Sure.” He had no idea what she wanted to know, but the silence was killing him. He didn’t want to ignore what had happened. He wanted to kiss her again, but he couldn’t—allowing that small infraction was foolish enough.
“Why do you have runes on your chest?” Her voice was soft. She asked him like it was a question that she had no right to ask. She lowered her lashes, and didn’t look him in the eye. The answer was bad. She could sense it, but she didn’t know why. She’d tried to piece it together since they’d met, but every answer only led to more questions.
It felt like he was sucker-punched. Will momentarily lost his breath, but recovered quickly. Instead of answering, he glanced at her. Her fiery red hair was hanging over her shoulders, hiding her gaze like she was shy. Kahli was anything but shy. He reached for her chin with his clean hand and tilted her face up. Grinning he asked, “And how would you know I have runes on my chest?”
But she didn’t grin back. Instead Kahli lifted her chin out of his grip and looked away. “The night I stabbed you, I saw them.” She glanced at him from the corner of her eye, “Did the Bane have the same betrothal ceremonies?”
He shook his head, his blue eyes haunted like he was remembering something he wanted to forget, “No. They’re not what you think.”
“Maybe they’re not wedding runes, but they bound you to someone, didn’t they? I mean, isn’t that what runes are for?” She stared at him, asking more than she should, but she couldn’t help it. Kahli didn’t understand him. She didn’t know how he could serve two adversaries without either noticing. It made her wary of him and she didn’t want to be. The runes might explain it. The runes could be used to bind his loyalty, assuming they were like wedding runes.
Will didn’t answer for a long while. Instead he grabbed a bowl of water that he had set on the table and lifted Kahli’s hand. Taking a cloth, he dipped it in the water and then let the water drip over her bloodied fingers, filling her palm, and then slipping over the sides of her hand and back into the bowl. Swirls of orange and red quickly filled the basin. He repeated dipping, and gently wiping away his blood. He didn’t want her to have to do it, and for some reason she let him.
Finally he said, “Some things are best not answered.”
Kahli’s face pinched. She knew he was struggling, deciding whether or not to tell her. “But I could help you. I could—”
He cut her off, “You can’t even help yourself, Kahli. You don’t know what life is like here. You don’t know what it means to be Bane and survive in this place. You don’t know what it’s like to be Bane and survive anywhere. I would have never told you what I was if I thought I’d see you again.” He swallowed hard and took her other hand. Kahli pressed her lips together so she wouldn’t speak. His words stung, as he meant them to, but he was too harsh. This was the world she wasn’t supposed to see. He softened his voice, “Besides, there’s nothing you could do. There’s nothing I can do. It’s the way it is. Just accept it and be glad for little moments like this—where I’m just Will and you’re just Kahli—where there’s no vampire or human, no forced survival where one threatens to destroy the other.” Her hands were soft and smooth again, her fingertips warm. “There. Looks like it worked.”
Kahli wanted to press him, she wanted to know what he was hiding. She wanted to read his runes and see what his true name was. That was the only thing powerful enough to control a person anymore. Compulsion was too weak to use without a birth name to go with it. Biting her lip, she looked over the table at him and nodded, not asking the questions that burned in her mind. “Feels like it, too.”
Will met her eyes. He couldn’t move. His hands were on Kahli’s, his thumb stroking her soft skin. Her gaze absorbed him so that he was nothing, no one without her. The ache inside his chest eased when she was near. Her voice, her touch, her kiss—all those things made him want to be everything she could ever want, everything she needed—but he couldn’t. That wasn’t the life fate had carved out for him. No matter how much he wanted her, Kahli was not his destiny—she was just a bright spot on a road of eternal night.
When Will broke their gaze, it felt like he was cutting off his arm. He didn’t want to release her hand, but he did. This is getting too hard, he thought to himself. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Gaze vacant, he cleared his throat and looked up at her. “Better start on the rest. It’s late.”
Several days passed in silence. Kahli hadn’t seen Will. Somehow he managed to stay away unless the Queen had her bidden for a tasting. It irritated her that Will seemed to withdraw after their kiss. He said nothing as he pricked her skin with the golden needle, forcing blood to drip onto the ornate serving tray.
Kahli watched a splash of crimson fall from her finger, and then another. Her blood beaded up into little drops. Will’s lips passed over her finger, sealing the cut. He moved methodically, not pausing to speak. His lips slid over her skin like she meant nothing to him. Trying not to shiver, Kahli pushed away the thoughts that swam to the front of her mind. Thoughts about his lips on hers, the scent of his skin, the way his hair felt in her hands. The events of other night remained a mystery. Neither of them wanted to admit what happened. For Kahli, it was beyond deplorable. If someone suggested she would ever want to kiss a vampire, she would have laughed. But now, now she could think of nothing else.
Clearing her throat, Kahli pulled her hand away and asked, “Why hasn’t she done a feeding, yet?” Cole mentioned it, saying that he was suspicious that they hadn’t feed from her. She began to wonder why. Instead they called her for tastings, only taking a little bit of blood from her. Kahli understood more why Cole was suspicious of her. The whole situation was strange. She needed to know even though she didn’t think it was something that she’d want to hear. Keeping her expression neutral, she looked up at Will who finally turned to glance at her.
His hands drifted off the trays he was readying, his lips parted as he stared. They remained like that for a moment before Will found his voice, “They have their reasons.” Kahli crinkled her brows at him.
“Wow. That was helpful.” Will didn’t respond. Instead he turned to the trays and finished preparing things to the Queen’s liking. The crazy Queen. Rising, Kahli stepped behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. She spoke his name softly, “Will.”
Will jumped like he was being killed. Breathing hard, he rounded on her and clutched her wrists in his hands. Kahli’s heart raced, slamming into her chest like she’d run a mile. Part of her wanted to defy him and rip her hands away, but she forced herself still. He was acting like a spooked animal. Those eyes, the way he looked at her—they were normally cautious—but now they were beyond apprehensive.
Will snatched her wrists and held her firmly. Yanking her body closer to his, he looked into her face hoping she could sense that she needed to stop talking. There were eyes and ears everywhere, especially in the tasting room. Especially when Kahli’s blood was involved. He said nothing, practically ripping her hands off and staring at her. When she stopped asking questions, he released his grip and took the tray.
Will left the room without a backward glance.
Cassie sat on her bed with her back against the wall, her feet tucked under her. Missy and Gene were absent. Kahli was staring at a book, pretending to read but she was really fuming. She’d been there for weeks and the others had been to feedings several times. Why weren’t they using her blood? The thought sent chills over Kahli’s skin. The reason had to be something horrible. When she couldn’t stand Cassie’s eyes burning a hole into the side of her face for another moment, Kahli slammed the book down and asked, “What?”
“Nothing. It’s just… you seem out of sorts. You’re quieter than usual. I can tell something’s bothering you, but you’re not talking.” Cassie was sweet. She just wanted to help.
Laying back on her bed, Kahli stared at the ceiling. “Okay. Let’s talk.” Briefly, she wondered if she should dance around the question, but she was too irritated to be cautious. Without another thought, she blurted it out, “How many times have you been to a feeding since we met?”
Cassie looked confused, like someone asked her to rewire the security gate on the front lawn. “I don’t know. Three. Maybe four times. Why are you asking?”
“Guess how many times I’ve been to a feeding?” Cassie shrugged. “Zero. None. Not once.” She pushed herself onto her side.
“So. Maybe she’s saving you for a special occasion, like a bottle of antique wine.” Cassie grinned, “I hear you’re a rare vintage.”
“Cassie, I’m serious. Everyone has gone several times—everyone except me.”
“It’s not like I want to go. You can take my turn next time. I don’t get why you’re mad about it. It’s not like feedings are fun.” Her hand touched her neck like she was remembering something.
“That’s not what I mean.” She had to reword this so Cassie understood her concerns. Right now they still felt like premonitions, little warning bells that flared to life with no logical explanation. But there had to be a reason. After all the vampires went through to get her and hold her, they had to have something planned. She wanted to know what it was. “I’m not jealous. I’m wondering why they bothered to catch me if they aren’t going to feed from me. I thought that was the entire lure of finding a wild human—that she could restore them to their former power?” Cassie was nodding along like she agreed, “Okay, so then why has no one had more than a few drops? Answer me that. Why would they hold back? It’s like they have something else planned…”
Cassie finally caught on, “Something worse… something where they want your blood to be pure.” Her brows pinched together as she thought. “They didn’t heal you with vamp blood either, right? They let you heal on your own when they brought you in? Then they did the same thing after the Purging.”