Bitter Sweet Love (The Dark Elements 0.5) - Page 3

Listen Audio

And from that night on, we were inseparable—at least for the next eight years.

Everywhere he went, I followed, and vice versa. He had been with me the first time I flew high above the mountains, and I had been with him the first time he had finally broken down and mourned the loss of his clan—his entire family. When I had snagged my wing for the first time and cried like a fat, angry baby, it had been Dez who’d guided me back to safety and taken care of me. I watched him learn to drive when he turned sixteen, and when I turned fifteen he said we’d always be together, no matter what.

Now I was eighteen, and he would be twenty-one, and he’d broken that promise in the most heartless way.

“You can’t stay up here all night,” Danika reasoned calmly. “He’s waiting for you.”

I turned quickly, causing her to jump back. “I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”

“But you love him.”

A soulful pang hit me in the chest. “Loved,” I whispered back.

That much had been true. I had loved him since the moment he’d taken the pudding from me. When my father had announced on Dez’s eighteenth birthday that he supported a match between us, I’d never been happier than I was in that moment. I was young. And stupid. When Dez had disappeared the very next day, I experienced a heartache that I thought would swallow me whole and never spit me out. He’d been more than a crush. He had been my best friend, my confidant and my world.

Danika tucked long strands of hair behind her ears as she leaned against my bed. “Will you tell him no then, when your seven days are up?”

I stood, surprised my legs would hold me, and took a step forward. The dress swished around my legs in a way that made me yearn for my jeans. “I can’t forgive him.” My hands balled into fists. “And for him to just show up? Announce that he wants me after what he did? Screw him!”

Danika arched a brow. “You haven’t talked to him yet. You don’t know why he left.”

My eyes narrowed on her. “Like that matters? Whose side are you on anyway?”

“Yours. Come on. Let’s get this over with then.” Pushing away from the bed, she herded me out of the room and into the long hall. “This is going to be so awkward. Glad it’s not me.”

“Thanks,” I muttered. My heart was pounding like a big drum.

“You look beautiful,” Danika said, giving me a not-so-gentle push toward the stairwell.

Did I have time to run outside and shove my face in mud? The last thing I wanted was to look special for Dez. Nervousness caused my breath to catch as I gripped the banister. Or maybe it was the dress? I couldn’t breathe either way.

Voices from the first floor floated up to us, and I strained to pick out who they belonged to as I made my way down the stairs. Blood roared in my ears, and my mouth dried as I reached the second-floor landing. I started to lean over, to take a peek, but Danika caught my arm and all but dragged me down the remaining stairs.

I couldn’t even remember the last time the entire clan had gathered in one room together, especially at this time of the evening, when most would be preparing to leave for the nightly hunts. The crowd was enormous to me in that moment. The males tall and broad, dressed in dark leather pants. A few females were among them, trying to wrangle the children. One of them, a little boy no more than three, rushed across the atrium. Under the sky dome, he phased out of his human form. Halfway. Horns sprouted among his blond curls. Gray wings grew from his back, thin and uneven. One arched into the air and the other drooped to the side. He giggled as a large male stepped out and swooped him up into his arms.

Danika elbowed me forward.

I tripped, sending her a dark look.

“There she is.” My father’s voice was like a clap of thunder, heavy with pride, and I felt as if I was trussed up for the auctioning block.

An older Warden with gray hair and a heavily lined face grumbled, “It’s about time, Garrick. None of us are getting any younger.”

Hands fisting once more, I kept my eyes trained on my father as I forced my legs to keep moving. The crowd parted as I walked in a numb daze. I couldn’t look at any of the faces I passed. My stomach twisted and ached.

My dad said something and he was still smiling, but I couldn’t follow the conversation. Every muscle in my body locked up as he stepped aside. Against my will, my gaze moved to the spot he’d stood in.

And there he was.

My heart skipped a beat and then sped up.

Dez stood before me, taller and broader than I remembered. He was the same in so many ways, but so much had changed. His hair was a deep auburn and when he’d been younger, it had been cropped short on the sides, the middle a spiky Mohawk. Not anymore. Now his hair fell in soft waves, barely brushing his shoulders. His eyes were the same—pale blue framed by heavy, thick lashes. The lack of the Mohawk wasn’t the only change. The rest of him? Nothing of the young man who’d left three years ago remained in the face that was both a stranger’s and familiar.

The round boyishness of his face had been smoothed away in the last three years and replaced with hard lines. His jaw was cut, cheekbones broad and high. There was a slight hook in his nose, as if it had been broken and not set correctly. His brows formed graceful arches over his eyes and his lips appeared fuller than before. A traitorous thought seeped in: Were his lips as firm as they looked? Those lips weren’t pulled into a smile, and Dez had always smiled for me. They were parted now, and as I dragged my gaze to his, I realized he wasn’t the boy I’d fallen in love with.

Dez stared back at me, pupils slightly dilated and starting to stretch vertically. Shock splashed over his striking face, and I couldn’t understand why he was so surprised. I hadn’t changed in the three years he’d been gone. Well, I wasn’t as naive as I’d been then and my br**sts were most definitely bigger. So were my hips.

His gaze dipped for a fraction of a second, and my eyes narrowed. Irritation pricked at my skin. Was he seriously standing here checking me out? But my annoyance warred with a sense of heightened awareness that I was unfamiliar with. Warmth flooded my veins as his gaze met mine. Electricity sparked in the air between us as our stares locked.

Dez moved so quickly that I didn’t even have a chance to prepare myself. One second he was a foot from me, and the next, his hand cupped the back of my head, his fingers threading through my hair.

My heart leaped into my throat when I realized what he was going to do. I opened my mouth to protest, but it was too late.

Dez kissed me.

Chapter Three

Astonishment poured into me, shorting out my senses. Part of me was too taken aback to do anything but stand there. My fist burned to connect with his jaw. How dare he kiss me after all of this? Without even saying hello, for crying out loud? But the feather-light brush of his lips stunned me.

The roar of many voices swirled through the atrium, deafening me to everything except the sound of my own heartbeat. In the back of my head, I knew that was also a part of the tradition. A kiss to seal the claim before the entire clan, but the last time I checked, I hadn’t accepted crap. That snapped me back to reality.

Dez tightened his hold around the back of my head and snaked an arm around my waist as I started to pull away. The pressure on my lips increased when he pulled me against him. Every thought scattered. His chest was rock hard and broad against mine, his arm a steel band even I couldn’t break. Heat pooled low in my stomach at the profound sound rumbling up his chest. My pulse thrummed when the kiss deepened. Somehow my hands ended up on his shoulders and I wasn’t pushing him away.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy