Cursed - Page 37

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“But that’s just a plant. It’s different. I can’t—”

Hayden kissed me.

Chapter 24

His lips barely brushed mine, as if he wanted to test out what would happen. I didn’t dare move. Because nothing happened, he pressed forward. Gentle and soft, then hard and hungry as the kiss deepened.

My world exploded.

Little shivers of pleasure and panic shot through me. I needed to stop, but I couldn’t pull myself away, couldn’t focus on anything other than how wonderful his lips felt against mine.

And when he pressed me onto my back, I was lost in this madness. Any memories of kissing were blown away. My body sparked alive; my heart swelled and thundered. Blood flowed to every part of me.

A fine tremor shifted through Hayden, but he kept kissing me. His hand slipped to my shoulder, slid down to my hip. I wasn’t thinking anymore, just acting. My hand crept from his chest to the back of his neck. I pulled him closer.

He made a strangled sort of sound against my mouth and jerked. A heart-stopping second, and then all the strategic parts of our bodies met, and whatever control I had left snapped. Both of his hands had dropped to my hips and I wrapped my legs around him. My pulsed pounded and my skin burned, but I didn’t mind.

Twenty seconds of kissing, of touching, maybe a little more.

Then it happened.

Hayden tore his lips from mine and reared back, breaking my hold. Veins bulged and pulsed on the exposed expanse of his neck.

“Hayden…?” My breath came out in short gasps.

He shook his head and rested his hands on his knees. “I just… need a minute, okay?”

I nodded and wrapped my arms around myself. The poison in my touch still had gotten to him. Plants were one thing, but humans must still be up in the air. Then something else struck me. “Why didn’t you drain my touch?”

His hands unclenched. “I won’t do that…. again.”

“Dammit, Hayden. I could’ve killed you!” I came to my knees in front of him. “God, I’m… sorry. I shouldn’t have let you do that.”

“No. Don’t be sorry. I’m not. We… we just have to be… more careful.”

“You want to kiss me again? After that?”

“Yeah, I want to do it again. This… all of this is progress.” He stopped, a small smile spreading across his face. “Maybe I could. I mean, it took a while for your touch to kick in. And you didn’t kill the plant.”

“Well, I could concentrate then.”

Hayden laughed softly. “Maybe one day you’ll be able to.”

Concentrating on anything other than kissing him while, well, kissing him, didn’t seem likely.

“Anyway,” he said, grabbing my arms and pulling me right up against him, chest to chest. “For now, we’ll just work around it.”

Before I could even ask what that meant, Hayden kissed me again. This time he pulled back every couple of seconds, leaving me breathless. Soon, I realized he was timing the kisses, pulling away before my touch kicked in. He exhibited far more control than anyone, including himself, ever gave him credit for.

Hayden sat back, pulling me into his lap. “This is working.”

I looped my arms around his neck, careful to not touch his skin. “Mmm-hmm.”

He chuckled deep in his throat, and then put his mouth on mine again. He pushed it to the limit, stopping only after the first tremor racked his body, and God, it was like sweet torture. Just when I thought I’d come right out of my skin, he’d pull back, breathing just as heavily as me.

“Em, do you know how long I’ve wanted to be this close to you—to kiss you?” His voice was rough, thick.

I pressed my cheek against his chest, inhaling his scent. “As long as I have?”

“Longer,” he murmured, working his fingers into my hair and tipping my head back. “You’re so beautiful to me.”


“Yes,” he said so seriously. “Your lips, your cheeks, your eyes… I find everything about you beautiful. Your strength, the way you care for your sister…” His gaze dropped, and I shivered. “I admire your control. Your willpower. Everything. I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”

My heart seemed to take over everything. I crushed my mouth to his, immersed in the thrill of his lips against mine. I don’t know how long we did this or how many different places his lips touched before he’d pull away, take a moment, and then start all over. I felt feverish, alive, and… and something far, far stronger than anything I’d ever felt in my life.

Sometime later, I was wrapped in the bed sheet and Hayden lay beside me, that clever mind of his finding a way to hold me without really touching. He stayed above the covers, one arm and leg thrown over me. Every so often, he’d brush my hair back and I’d snuggle in closer.


Tipping my head back, I opened my eyes so I could see him. He looked terribly serious. “What?”

“I really am sorry for not believing you,” he said quietly. “I won’t doubt you again.”

“It’s all right. It’s over now.” But it really wasn’t over. Phoebe may’ve been responsible for the stuff in the locker, but she hadn’t been behind the accident that started all of this. But right now, curled up in the closest thing to being in Hayden’s arms, I didn’t want to think about that.

* * *

“When’s Santa coming?” Olivia asked for probably the hundredth time in the last hour. Phoebe glanced up from her magazine, actually smiling.

I yawned. “At the end of the parade, Olivia. You know that. It’s the same every year.”

She walked her Barbie doll over to where I sprawled across the floor. “I wanna see Santa now!”

“So do I.” I picked the doll up and inched it back toward her.

“Have you written a list for Santa yet?” Gabe asked, surprising the hell out of me. “You know, telling him what you want?”

Olivia whirled on Gabe, launching into a rather detailed description of the toys she wanted while I closed my eyes and replayed last night over and over again. Nothing could take the smile off my face or stop the somersaults that kept occurring below my navel.

Last night had been wonderful. Perfect.

And apparently, the happy feeling clouded any sense of judgment I had, because when Liz asked me to help her with the stuffing, I agreed.

We stood side by side at the kitchen island. I wished I’d had the forethought of tucking my hair back before sinking my bare hands into the mix of bread, egg, butter, and milk.

“Did you used to do this with your mother?” Liz asked after a couple of minutes.

I squashed my hands around, feeling egg ooze through my fingers. “Yeah, but we… we used to do it the night before.”

“And stuff the turkey then, too?”

I nodded. “I used to eat the stuffing when Mom wasn’t looking, but the last time—when I was fourteen—she saw me eating it. Said I’d get salmonella or something.”

She laughed softly. “Do you think it needs more onions? Bread?”

“Sure.” Not that I had a clue, really, but I think she asked to make me feel like I’d contributed.

Liz reached into the bowl—carefully avoiding my hands—and plucked out a small ball of mixed stuffing. She raised her brows at me.

“Want some?”

I stared at her a moment, then decided what the hell. I opened my mouth and she tossed the little ball. I missed the first one, second, and third. By the fourth try, when the ball actually went into my mouth, we both were laughing and stuffing slime covered my chin.

“You know,” Liz said, crumbling up chunks of bread and adding them in. “I think your mother hears you when you talk to her.”

I looked up from the bowl. “How do you know I talk to her?”

She smiled, fine lines spreading out from the corners of her sloe-colored eyes. “I’ve heard you a few times. I think it’s good you do that. She’s still in there.”

“Do you really think so?”

Liz nodded solemnly. “Yes, I do.”

“Think what?” Hayden asked, sauntering into the kitchen.

I froze beside Liz; all rational thought flew right out my head. I didn’t even need to look in a mirror to know my cheeks were turning a bright red.

“Nothing, just me running my mouth,” Liz said, laughing softly. “We’re making stuffing. Want to help?”

Hayden propped himself against the island, close enough that I could feel him smile. “I think you guys got it handled.”

I stole a quick glance at him. He wore a simple, black shirt and jeans, but he looked amazing. He nudged my leg with his, earning a grin.

A sudden squeal broke the silence, followed by, “Santa! Santa!”

I turned back to the stuffing, mashing it together. “That would be Olivia.”

Liz laughed. “I have to see this. Do you think you can finish it up?”

“Yes.” I nodded and blew a curl out of my face. It fell right back.

She hurried from the room, wiping her hands on her apron. My eyes followed her, silently acknowledging that she really did care for Olivia. “As much as it pains me to say this, she really is good for Olivia.”

“And who is good for you?” Hayden asked, moving behind me, trailing quick kisses over the curve of my shoulder.

My breath caught. “I think… you know the answer to that.”

Hayden placed his hands on my hips, pulling me back against him. “Hmm, maybe you should show me?”

“I’m making stuffing, so you better—” He placed lips against the side of my neck, then behind my ear. “Oh…”

He laughed and pulled away, leaving one hand on my back. “Need help?”


“Good.” Hayden tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.

We finished up with the stuffing, laughing and talking about nothing in particular. Every so often, Hayden became distracted. He’d stop, give me a quick kiss or brush my hair back. I think it took us a little longer than necessary to get it in the turkey.

I was washing the gunk off my hands and Hayden sat on the counter beside me when his father walked in. If anyone could kill my buzz, it was Cromwell.

“Liz tells me you two are making the stuffing. I really didn’t believe it.”

“What? I have a bit of the chef in me.” Hayden smiled.

Drying off my hands, I turned around. “He was helping.”

Cromwell raised a brow. “You can’t even boil an egg, son.” He paused. “Or toast bread without burning it.”

I couldn’t help it, I laughed. “Nice.”

Hayden frowned at me. “I can toast bread.”

“You tried to shove a fork in the toaster to get your bread out—that was only a few years ago.”

“Oh. Wow.” I grinned at Hayden.

“Thanks, Dad.” Hayden pushed himself off the counter.

Cromwell smiled at him as he walked to the oven, and I seriously believe he was checking out the stuffing.

Hayden tugged on my sleeve and nodded at the back door. He mouthed outside.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout Fantasy