He frowned. “You’ve never given yourself enough credit or believed in yourself enough. As long as I’ve known you, I’ve never felt threatened by what you can do.”
The tears that rushed to my eyes threatened to spill forth, and I was seconds from crying as if I’d watched a marathon of Hallmark movies.
“You’re not evil, Layla. You never have been.” His smile was tremendous, snaking its way through my heart. “And I believe that if I kissed you right now, you wouldn’t take my soul.”
I gasped as I started to lean back. “Don’t you dare try it! I can’t—”
“Relax,” he chuckled.
My muscles were tense. How could I relax after his saying something like that? As much as I cared for and cherished him, I’d wither up and die inside if I was the cause of his demise. The very thought of that made me want to move to another zip code.
Zayne lifted a hand, running his fingers through the ends of my hair as his gaze tracked over my features. He tilted his head and before I could figure out what he was doing, he pressed his lips to my neck, against my wildly beating pulse.
My senses became hyperaware as his firm lips traced a hot, tiny path to the sensitive spot beneath my ear. My brain whirled as everything registered. I felt his hair tickling me under my chin, the softness of his lips and the tiny flick of his tongue, as if he were tasting my skin. I recognized the sudden tension in my body, the liquid heat and the force of the emotion swelling in my chest. But there was more, there was that foreign quality again. When he curved his hand around the nape of my neck, under my hair, it only grew stronger. There was a masculine edge to it.
As understanding seeped in, I placed my hands on his face. He lifted his questioning gaze. I couldn’t figure out how, but I knew deep in my bones what was happening.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, trailing my fingers over his face. “I get it.”
His brows rose.
“I can feel you. I can feel your emotions.”
That was obviously not what Zayne was expecting me to say. He stared at me with those luminous blue eyes, confusion playing across his handsome features.
Feeling his emotions sounded crazy, but it made sense.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I pulled my hands back, curling my fingers back into my palms, and almost immediately, that virile need faded away. “I can feel what you’re feeling,” I repeated, stunned by the realization. “I don’t understand how and this isn’t the first time, but I just didn’t recognize what I was feeling before.”
He leaned back against the couch. “You’re going to have to give me more details.”
“Every time someone has touched me—skin on skin—I get these faint traces of emotion that don’t belong to me.” I thought of Stacey and when she’d touched me while she’d been talking to me about Sam. I’d felt hope—hope that hadn’t belonged to me. Then again with Roth, with Zayne, and even when I’d walked down the street and bumped into people the night I’d been trying to see auras... My eyes widened. “It started when I stopped seeing auras! Like pretty much immediately afterward. Holy crap.”
“Damn,” he said, shaking his head slightly. “So, you could feel what I was feeling when I was touching you?”
“Faintly. Like a rush of emotions. Nothing too strong.”
His lips tipped up in a small smile. “Well, I’m glad, then. Because if you’d been feeling everything I’ve felt when we’ve touched? That would get really embarrassing considering all the feels I had going on.”
I laughed even though my cheeks burned. “Yeah, I guess that would be awkward.”
“Kind of.” He swallowed, and then placed his hand on my cheek. “What do you feel now?”
“I don’t know.” It was hard, trying to decipher between my own jumbled emotions and what could possibly be coming from him, but there was one that I thought might be his. A constant thread that wove its way around my trepidation. “Happy?” I whispered, curling my fingers around his wrist. The warmth increased, like basking in the summer sun. “Happiness.”
His smile spread, reaching his eyes. “Yeah, that’s about right.”
I tried to make sense of how losing my talent for seeing souls had somehow triggered the ability to feel others’ emotions. I dropped my hand and started to move off his lap, but his hands moved to my hips, securing me in my place. I raised a brow at him.
Zayne’s grin oozed boyish charm. “What?”
“You know what.”
One shoulder rose in a shrug. “Focus on the important stuff here. The whole emotion thing. We know that a succubus or incubus feeds off emotions, right? And Lilith was considered a succubus in some texts. Maybe it’s an ability that you’ve always had that’s just coming out.”
In other words, a demonic ability. “You know, why can’t some Warden abilities start manifesting?”
“Does it matter?” He tapped his fingers against my hips.
“It should. To you.”
That grin slipped into a frown. “It doesn’t. Feeling someone else’s emotions isn’t evil. Probably would come in quite handy.”
I supposed, but it was just another thing that made me so different from Zayne and uncomfortable in my own skin. A thought occurred as my body relaxed and I folded my hands between us. “Do you think the Lilin can feel emotions and see souls?”
“I don’t know.”
I didn’t even know why I wondered. Maybe it was because I wanted to know how similar my own DNA was to this creature’s.
Zayne shifted and I slid forward an inch. “I know what you’re thinking.”
He nodded. “You’re thinking about that coven and when you can find out more about the Lilin.”
As usual, he was pretty spot-on. “Well, my reasons are purely selfish. The more we know about the Lilin, the quicker we can find it.”
“And the crone won’t be at this club until a full moon?” he asked after a few moments. “That’s still a few weeks away—December the sixth, I think.”
I nodded absently. Demons, gargoyles, witches and their full moons.... “So, you’re okay with me going?”
“Not really, but I figure you’ll find a way to go anyway and I’d rather be supportive of it than be in the dark.” Tipping his head back against the couch cushion, he watched me from behind lowered lashes. “And I’m assuming Roth is thrilled about the prospect of going to this club with you.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
“I get that the witches don’t want me there, especially those kind of witches, but I’m going to go with you that night—at least as far as I can go,” he continued. “And, as much as it kills me to say this, going in there with Roth is a good idea.”
“What?” Surprised, I stared at him. “Did you really just say that?”
“I’d like to peel Roth’s skin from his bones in a very slow manner. You know, like with an orange peeler.”
My nose scrunched up. “Ew.”
He flashed a quick grin. “But for the most part, you’re safe around him.”
I continued to stare at him. “For the most part?”
“He’ll protect you. Better than he did today.” The reluctance in his voice was glaring. “You’re just not safe from him.”
“No matter what he wants or what you think he wants, I’m safe from him. Trust me. He made it plain and clear that there was nothing between us except...”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
I coughed out a small laugh. “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, and after everything he’d confessed, I thought the apology was possibly the strangest thing ever from him, but that goodness was so inherently Zayne.
Circling his arms around me, he gathered me close, tucking me to his chest. I curled into him, closing my eyes and listening to his heart beat steadily against my cheek. With his arms folded around me, I found the kind of comfort that I could only find in his arms—that I’d always found in his embrace.
A shaky breath shuddered through me. There was a lot going on and a lot had happened in the span of a few weeks, but in those quiet moments, my mind drifted back to all those wonderful, beautiful things that I had only dreamed of Zayne saying to me, but that were now very much a reality. There were more important things I should be trying to figure out, but right now, this was the most important thing to me.
This development with Zayne was so unexpected. Lust was one thing. Caring for someone deeply was another thing, but those words...they seemed heavy with a different kind of meaning. The kind that sank into the heart, broke down walls, destroyed barriers and paved its own way.
As Zayne slid his hand up my spine, a sigh escaped my parted lips. “Comfy?” he asked.
He kept moving his hand, and I forced my eyes open, my gaze tracking over the dusty book spines lining the shelves. All of his words lay in the tiny space between us. I needed to say something, but speaking out loud about how I felt about Zayne had never been easy. I hadn’t even admitted to Stacey how I felt about him. My near-lifelong crush on him had been something I kept close to my heart, hiding it the best I could and protecting it with lies. But Zayne had laid himself bare and I owed the same to him.
“I have a confession,” I whispered.
Finding the courage still wasn’t simple. “I’ve always dreamed of you...saying those words to me, of you wanting me.” My entire being burned, but I forced myself to continue. Each word I spoke was a shaky whisper. “Probably ever since I understood the difference between boys and girls, I’ve wanted you.”
His arms tightened around me and when he spoke, his voice was gruff. “That sounds like a long time.”
“It was.” A ball formed in my throat and, for some reason, I wanted to cry. “And, it was so hard, you know? Trying not to show it and not to be jealous of Danika or any other girl who—”
“There’s never been any other girl, Layla-bug.”
It took a few seconds for those words to seep through my thick skull and when they did, I drew back and lifted my head. “Come again?”
This time it was his face that flushed. “I’ve never been with anyone.”
My mouth dropped to my chest.
“Do you need to look that surprised?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I can’t believe you haven’t... I mean, you’re you. You’re gorgeous and you’re kind and smart and perfect and girls check you out everywhere we go.”
He smiled. “I didn’t say the opportunity never presented itself. I just never acted on it.”
Zayne’s eyes met mine. “Truth?”
“I really didn’t know at first why I didn’t when...well, when I could have. It’s as though I’d never been interested enough to go through with it the whole way. It wasn’t until the past year that I realized why.” He paused, and my heart was picking up its pace again. “It’s because of you.”
“Yeah.” He picked up a few strands of my hair, twisting the length around two of his fingers. “I would get to a certain point and all I could think about was you and that seemed wrong. You know, to continue with someone else when I was picturing being with you.”
Oh my God...
My heart exploded into a gooey pile of Zayne mush and parts of my body got all kinds of excited at the fact that he’d been picturing me, thinking about me in that way for far longer than I could ever have known.
Zayne placed the strands of hair he’d been playing with on my shoulder, letting them slowly unravel. “So what are we going to do about it?”
My mind jumped right into the gutter and started playing happily with the idea of how we’d rectify our virginity issues, but I doubted that was what he meant. After sweeping the dirtier stuff out of my brain, I opened my mouth, but he placed a finger over my lips.
“You don’t have to answer just yet,” he said. “I know this isn’t easy. Nothing between us will be easy and I know you have a lot of fears. I don’t want to push you or push this, because I know...” Pausing, he nodded as if he was telling himself to say something. “I know you still care about him—about Roth.”
I drew back. “I—”
“I know,” he said solemnly. “It’s not something that I’m happy to say out loud or even think, but I know you do. You shared...shared a lot with him and he was there when I wasn’t.”
I knew he was thinking about the night Petr attacked me, when I’d tried calling him and he hadn’t answered because he’d been mad at me and he’d been with Danika. He still hadn’t forgiven himself for that. “Zayne, that night wasn’t your fault.”
“I should’ve answered the phone, but that’s not the point. He’s been there for you and he accepted you for who you were. Something else I haven’t always been really great at.” He ran his finger along my jaw and then dropped his hand. “Anyway, I know you still have feelings for him, but I’m saying we can give this a chance—we can give us a chance.”
My heart stuttered and then sped up. Zayne was right. As much as I hated to admit it, I still had feelings for Roth, but...but there was Zayne and there was our history together. There were all the years I’d spent idolizing and dreaming about him. There was everything he’d just said to me now.