“And I don’t think that’s a genuine apology.” He tilted his head to the side slyly and held my arm between us. “Your father is very frightening. I put my arms, my legs and my balls out on the—”
“Oh, my God.” I laughed. “Unnecessary information, Dez.”
“Look, you just need to know what’s at stake.” He tugged my arm, scooting me forward. “I have a feeling I’m going to need my—”
I swung at him with my other hand, but he caught that too. “You are definitely not going to be needing them any time soon.”
“I strongly disagree.” A wicked look flickered in his eyes a second before he tugged me out of my chair and into his lap. He clamped his arms around my waist as I started to wriggle away. “Jas,” he said, his voice dropping low. “You should stop squirming.” Then he paused. “Or not. I’m kind of partial to it, honestly.”
I froze, hands planted on his shoulders. Warmth crept over my cheeks. “You’re terrible.”
“I’m a lot of things right now.” He lowered his head to mine and inhaled deeply. “I bet you can figure out one or two of those things.”
My mouth went dry, and I didn’t dare move. Bad thing was that I wanted to, and the knowledge made my skin stretch too tight. “How can you be gone for so long and act like you haven’t been? Like this was the way it always was between us?”
“How can I not?” he said, and then shook his head a little. “That answer probably doesn’t make sense to you.”
He smiled slightly as he ran a hand up my arm and then back down. “When your dad announced that he wanted us to mate, I was happy, Jas.”
So happy that he’d promptly disappeared for three years? I kept my lips sealed shut.
His hand slid up again, but this time he guided my head to his shoulder as he spoke. “You were too young then, but I... well, I knew you wanted this and so did I.”
“You have a strange way of showing that,” I muttered, but in spite of my words, I relaxed into his embrace.
“I know. I messed up when I left.” His other hand settled over mine. Slowly, he lifted my hand and threaded his fingers between mine, squeezing gently. “I should’ve said something to you and I didn’t. I can’t change that.”
I wanted to ask him why he hadn’t, but Dez had always been evasive, even when he was younger, so I went a different route. “Where did you go?”
Dez shifted, settling me in his lap so that my legs dangled off his. “Many places.”
His chest rose against my arm. “I went south—to Florida and then to Texas, up the Midwest and finally to California.”
The significance of the last location didn’t pass me by. “You went home?”
He hesitated and then said, “Yes.”
A sharp pang hit my chest. “You went to the house?”
“It still stands, but it should be... torn down,” he said, and I peeked up. His gaze was fixed on the darkness outside my bedroom window. “The place is just a burnt-out shell. Couldn’t even go to the second floor.”
My father had told me what had happened to Dez’s clan. The demons had set fire to their home after the attack, leaving Dez for dead. It was a miracle he’d made it out alive. He never should’ve gone back there alone.
“The cities out West are teeming with demons, so I hunted.”
He continued, telling me about the cities he’d been to, but he never once told me why he left. I wasn’t sure he would ever willingly divulge that information. And while I knew that one day I could forgive him for leaving, I also knew I wouldn’t forget and I wasn’t certain that was something either of us could truly get past. For that reason, I couldn’t accept his claim. If I did, our relationship would become a bitter, sad thing.
But I couldn’t deny the rightness of being in his arms. I wasn’t naive enough to believe in soul mates or any of that childish nonsense that I had once clung to, but there had always been something tangible between Dez and me, and even after his absence, it was still there, stronger than before.
“I could hold you for a lifetime,” he said, so low, so quick I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. “But I’ve got to go.” He sighed, sliding his hand back down my arm. “There’s one last thing, though.”
Lifting my head, I met his gaze. “What?”
His lashes lowered, hiding the sudden vibrancy in his blue eyes. “We haven’t completed your condition.”
I tensed. “You’re talking about your condition.”
“I am.” His hand moved from my arm to my cheek, and my heart jumped, betraying how badly I was looking forward to his condition. “Just a kiss.”
“Just a kiss?”
He nodded, smiling slightly.
A tremor coursed through me when he bent his head and his lips grazed my temple, then followed the curve of my cheekbone. “That’s not a kiss,” I whispered.
“Yes, it is.”
Even with my limited experience, I knew better. “No, it’s not.”
“It’s the beginning of a kiss,” he explained, spreading his hand behind the nape of my neck.
“The beginning?” My eyes fluttered shut as my anticipation rose in spite of the resolution to end these seven days with a resounding no.
His lips pressed down on my jaw, a tiny, hot little brand. He moved to one corner of my lips and then the other. Air caught in my throat as he slanted his mouth over mine, kissing me softly. It was such a sweet, tender kiss, little more than a brush of his lips. Still, the contact sent a rush of fire through my veins, and then the kiss deepened, as it had when he’d returned. The pressure of his mouth increased, and he flicked his tongue along the seam of my lips, causing me to gasp. He was quick to take advantage of the opening, kissing me in a way I’d only dreamed of. His tongue slid over mine, patient and coaxing; a slow seduction that demanded a response. A soft sound rose in my throat and the kiss captured it, but somehow he sensed it.
Dez’s hand moved from my neck to my waist, pulling until I was flush with his chest. I wanted to be closer, but the position made it impossible. The kiss lingered until he retreated, nipping at my lower lip.
I swayed when he drew away—swayed like a damn reed in a windstorm—and probably would’ve toppled right out of his lap if he hadn’t tightened his arms around me.
The male pride in his face was so evident when I opened my eyes that I wanted to pick up something heavy and smack him upside the head with it.
“Don’t even say it,” I warned, flushing.
“What?” An infuriating half grin appeared on his lips. “I wasn’t going to say a damn thing.”
The memory of his kiss lingered on my lips long after he was gone and well into the following day. I had no idea a kiss could hold that kind of power, and maybe that wasn’t common, but with Dez it remained at the edge of every thought, thoroughly distracting me.
I spent the better part of the morning pretending to learn the fine art of healing with stinky herbs before giving up. Since my homeschooling had finished, Claudia was now trying to impart what she’d believed was a more important education. Other girls my age were going off to college. I was learning the difference between witch hazel and lemon thyme.