“Are you going out with them?”
“I should, but I think before we got distracted, you wanted to talk. And right now that’s more important.”
As his words sank in, I realized he was putting me before his duty. He had been for seven days. Catering to me. Playing babysitter. Following me around while I did a whole lot of nothing, and he hadn’t complained once. Even enjoyed himself because he... he had been with me.
Lifting my gaze, I could barely speak around my pounding heart. “I wanted to say that these... these seven days have been amazing.”
I laughed. “Yes, even Herbert.”
Doubt crossed his striking features. “Even though you didn’t get to see DC or hunt a demon?”
“I was telling you the truth. Those things don’t really matter.” I stopped, taking a deep breath. “Maybe they did before, but I don’t know what I was trying to do. Maybe delay the inevitable? Because I—”
“Wait.” He held up a hand, stretching the cotton shirt across his shoulders. “Before you tell me what I know you’re going to tell me, I need to tell you something.”
“But how do you know what I’m going to tell you?”
He laughed dryly. “I know, Jas.”
There was such obvious resignation in his voice that I squared my shoulders. “What do you want to tell me?”
“What I should’ve told you the first night I came back.” He cocked his head back against the door. Several seconds passed. “I should’ve said goodbye, but I didn’t. That was a gigantic mistake—one I can’t fix. And I know I made another by not being honest with you when I returned. I just didn’t want you to know the truth.”
Those words were forbidding. “The truth about why you left?”
A shiver coursed over my shoulders. “Well, if you didn’t want me to know, I’m pretty sure I can figure it out. I mean, you were eighteen, so I assume you were out doing your thing.”
Dez lowered his chin and pushed off the door. “My thing?”
There was a note of warning in his voice. Sometimes I needed to just shut up. This was one of those moments. Of course, my mouth kept moving. “Yeah, you know. Hooking up. Sowing your wild oats. Getting laid. Whatever.”
“Are you serious?”
“There hasn’t been a single female I’ve thought about, let alone wanted to hook up with,” he said. “What I did when I left didn’t involve anything like that, Jasmine.”
I thought about the night in the hotel and my body flushed. He had to have experience, lots of experience.
“I wasn’t with anyone during that time,” he added.
I snorted. “Yeah, I’m not stupid, Dez.”
Anger flashed across his face as he stormed forward. “There’re a lot of things you could say about me, but I have never lied to you. I’m not lying to you now. I stayed true to you! This whole time! There has been no one else!”
I opened my mouth to argue, but his words sank in through the anger and confusion. My heart was like a balloon straining to float away. “Wh-what?”
Dez stared at me, his eyes now shining a brilliant blue. Two pink circles appeared on his cheeks and then he looked away, shoving a hand through his hair. “I haven’t been with anyone, Jasmine. Not like that.”
“Why?” I blurted out the question before I could stop myself, and the look he gave me said he wondered what was wrong with me. But I couldn’t comprehend that he had been with no one—no other female of our kind or human. It wasn’t as if he’d been hurting for attention. Females would cut off their left legs to be with him.
He blew out a deep breath as he dropped his hand. “I couldn’t.”
“You couldn’t?” I stepped closer.
“No. It wouldn’t have been right.”
I stopped, holding my hands pressed tightly against my chest as if I could stop my heart from jumping out of it. “Because mating with me was a duty, or—”
“Don’t put words in my mouth.” He prowled forward, stopping just in front of me. Air halted in my lungs as he dipped his head, his mouth inches from mine. “What is between us has nothing to do with duty or an obligation to mate and procreate. It’s only about us.”
My eyes widened. “It is?”
He placed a large hand on my cheek. “I wasn’t with anyone else because I couldn’t be. I didn’t want to be, because I always knew I was going to come back to you. There was never a doubt in my mind.”
“Never?” I whispered.
“Never.” He dropped his forehead to mine and breathed in unsteadily. His lips brushed my cheek, causing a shiver to rush across my skin. “I loved you the night you brought me pudding and stayed with me until I fell asleep. That was eleven years ago and my love for you has never faded, Jas. Not for one second.”
Oh, Lord, my heart escaped me, floating through the roof, up among the stars, but I didn’t understand. “Then why did you leave me without saying anything? Not even a goodbye?”
He closed his eyes, spreading his hands on either side of my neck. “I needed to find the demon responsible for attacking my clan—killing my parents.”
Stunned, I slipped free, the backs of my thighs hitting the side of the bed. “You went after the demon?”
His hands dropped to his sides. “I followed up leads, tracked the bastard across the country. He’d left California for a while, but that’s where I finally found him again.”
Placing my hand against my chest once more, I drew in a deep breath. “And you confronted him?”
“I killed him.”
My brain had stopped working. He’d spent three years tracking the demon responsible for massacring his clan? My father’s words made sense now. Dad had known what Dez was doing.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” I asked.
A slight smile appeared. “You would’ve tried to stop me.”
“Damn straight I would’ve!” For some ridiculous reason, I wanted to cry. “You could’ve been killed!”
“I could be killed any night, Jas.”
“But that was different! You were out there by yourself. No one had your back.” Tears burned the back of my eyes, which was so stupid, because he obviously wasn’t dead. He was standing right in front of me. “Why did you need to do this?”
The smile slipped away, as if it had never been there. “You know how I was. So full of hate and anger. I needed to clean it out.” He palmed my cheeks. “I knew if I told you why I was leaving and you told me not to, I wouldn’t have been able to go.”
I wanted to push him away and I wanted to grab him and hold him close. Forever. “My dad knew?”
“Yes.” He pressed his lips to my temple. “It’s why I never called you or told you when I got back. It’s not a good enough excuse—it’s a shitty one, but I knew you would want me to stop... and that once you knew what I was doing you’d think differently of me.”
I blinked my stupid tears. “It was a shitty excuse, but you could’ve called me. You not doing so made me think differently of you. Not because you wanted to avenge your clan’s murder. You’re an idiot.” I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do. “For three years I thought you ran to escape me.”