A hiss radiated from Roth. “Iron.”
“Yeah.” He pressed down with hands I barely felt.
I took a shallow breath. “I think...I think I’m dying.”
“No,” Roth said fiercely, as if his words alone could prevent the inevitable. “You are not dying.”
“She’s in bad shape,” Cayman said. “The bloodroot has been in her system for a while.”
Wrapping his hand around mine, Roth shifted closer to me. As he spoke to Cayman, he didn’t pull his gaze away from mine, and that was good, because somehow it was anchoring me there. “I hadn’t been able to get in touch with her for three days. I thought she was avoiding me again.” He looked stricken. “I texted and called but...”
I wanted to tell him that there was no way for him to have known, but it was Cayman who spoke those words as he withdrew his hands. “This isn’t good.”
“No shit,” snapped Roth. “I know that, but we need to fix this.”
He shook his head. “She can’t heal, Prince. Do you understand what that means? This wound is deep. She may only be part demon, but the iron is doing its thing, and if she were human, she’d be—”
“Don’t say it,” he snarled, his golden eyes becoming iridescent. “There has to be something.”
Cayman stood, retreating into the shadows as if he was giving us space...giving Roth privacy. I opened my mouth, but blood seeped out. Roth was quick to wipe it up and then he cupped my cheek carefully.
“I won’t let this happen. There has to be...” His eyes flared bright and then he looked over his shoulder. “What if she feeds? Could that help?”
“I don’t know.” Cayman’s voice reached us. “Couldn’t hurt.”
“Find me someone. Anyone,” he ordered. “I don’t care who, just do it now.”
“No,” I croaked. Drawing on energy, I forced my lips to move. “I’ve already done enough damage. I won’t...feed. No matter...what.”
Frustration twisted Roth’s face. “You need to. You’re going to. I don’t care how much you object. I won’t let you die.”
It seemed weird that he’d fight this so much considering he’d been sent topside to take me out if I proved to be the cause behind the mess, but now wasn’t the time to figure him out. My chest rose sharply. “Don’t do this to me. Please. Please...don’t make...me do this. Please.”
He shook his head. “Layla—”
“Don’t...do this to me.”
His face contorted, skin thinning, and I realized he was close to shifting. He leaned in, pressing his forehead against mine as he took both of my hands in his. “Don’t make me sit here and watch you die. You don’t do that to me.”
Sorrow rose in my throat, nearly overcoming me, and although his words knocked me off-kilter, there was nothing I could do. I may not know how I’d taken the other souls, but I was not going to actively harm anyone else.
“Do you want to die?” he asked quietly. “Is that what you want?”
“No. I don’t want to, but I won’t damn another...person to Hell...so I can live.”
A shudder rocked through Roth and he drew in a ragged breath. “Oh, Layla,” he said sadly. “I can’t let this happen. You can hate me when all is said and done, but you’ll be alive.”
My heart tripped and I started to protest, but Cayman spoke. “Wait. There may be something else.”
Roth straightened, looking over his shoulder. “Details. Make it fast.”
“What about the witches?” he said, coming closer to the bed. “The ones who worship Lilith. They may be inclined to do something to save her daughter.”
Roth’s eyes widened. “Do you think they’d have something?”
“Who knows what those freaks are capable of, but it’s worth a shot.”
“Go,” he said hoarsely. “Give them anything they want if they can help her. Anything.”
Cayman hesitated for a moment. “Anything?”
And then Cayman was gone. Poof. No more. Roth turned to me. “If this doesn’t work, I will bring someone in here and you will feed.”
I started to argue, but as my eyes met his, I knew there was no point. So did Roth. If the thing with the witches failed, there wouldn’t be time to do anything else.
Roth’s chin lowered and he drew in a breath as he raised my hands to his lips, pressing a kiss against each knuckle. “Your hands are so cold.”
I blinked slowly. There were so many questions I wanted to ask him, but each breath I took required a lot of energy.
“How did this begin?” he asked, raising his tortured gaze to mine.
“Zayne...Zayne kissed me,” I whispered, and watched his eyes dilate. “He’d done...it before, and nothing happened then, but...”
His mouth worked. “So because the idiot kissed you, they accused you of attacking him?”
I closed my eyes, focusing on my words. “It’s more...than that, but Zayne...he’s okay. Now.”
“To be honest, I don’t give a shit about him right now.”
I would’ve laughed if I could.
“Open your eyes, Layla.”
It took longer this time to do that. “I’m...tired.”
He swallowed hard. “I know, baby, but you need to keep your eyes open.”
A small smile appeared, more like a grimace than anything. He brought my hands to his lap, holding on tight. “You said he kissed you before and nothing happened?” When I nodded, he swore under his breath. “I should’ve known.”
I wasn’t really following that part.
“Bambi.” Understanding flickered across his face as he glanced to where the snake was curled beside my hip. “I knew she had bonded with you as a familiar. That’s what I wanted from her, so she could protect you if necessary, but I didn’t know she’d do so on that kind of level. But it makes sense now. You can see souls again, right?”
“It’s because of her. She’s not on you now, but when she was, she bonded with you, she changed your abilities and affected them. Familiars can do that, and I imagine even more so for half demons. I thought she would only make you stronger. I didn’t know she could affect your ability to control taking a soul.”
I closed my eyes as that sank in. So it hadn’t been my feelings for Zayne preventing me from sucking out his soul like some kind of cosmic love shield. It had just been Bambi—a demonic familiar. Disappointment was a fierce knot in my stomach, but at least now I knew how it had been possible for me to kiss him. And it explained why my abilities got wonky. At least, for the most part. Maybe Bambi’s powers had also warped my feeding, enabling me to take the souls of Dean and Gareth. It made sense, especially since I hadn’t gotten sick after feeding off the woman at the club, but felt it afterward with Zayne. The only difference was when Bambi was on me and when she wasn’t. And with what happened to Maddox and the windows—it could’ve been Bambi affecting my powers again. Or it could’ve been what Abbot had feared, that my powers were simply changing anyway. And that would mean there was no wraith at the compound, and I guess that was good news.
If that was the case, then if Bambi had never bonded with me, none of this would’ve happened. I couldn’t be mad, though. Bambi had saved my life that night with Tomas. What I didn’t understand was why Roth had wanted Bambi to bond with me.
“I would’ve forced you to keep her if I’d known,” Roth said quietly. “I would’ve never let you leave that elevator if I had known the full extent of how Bambi was affecting you.”
Surprised, I looked at him. He sat back with an honesty in his gaze that hadn’t been there before.
“Damn,” he said in a low voice. “I’ve made a complete mess out of this.”
Cayman suddenly popped back into the room, and Roth eyed him intensely. “Please tell me you have something.”
“I do.” He approached the bed, and in his hands was a small vial. “There’re no guarantees, but this was the best they could give me and you don’t even want to know what I had to promise to get this.”
“I don’t care what you had to promise.” Placing my hands gently on the bed, Roth rose. He took the vial from Cayman.
“Oh, you’re probably going to care later. But that’s something to talk about when it’s water under the bridge, right?”
Unease formed in my belly, but Roth had already unscrewed the vial. “What is this?” he asked.
“Some kind of concoction that will reverse the effects of the bloodroot and should, technically, kick her body’s natural healing into high gear.” He paused. “They said it will make her sleep and not to fear if she slips away.”
Roth nodded as he sat beside me again. If this was some kind of trick from the coven, it really didn’t matter. I was growing more and more tired, and quickly. I felt a stab of cold terror because I knew I was seriously dying. And I really didn’t want to die. I let Roth raise me enough that he could pour the contents of the vial down my throat.
I gagged. The stuff tasted like warmed over death, but Roth kept it to my lips, rubbing his thumb up and down my throat, forcing me to swallow it all. “I’m sorry. I know it tastes bad, but it’s almost over.”
When it was all gone, he laid my head back on the pillow.
“If this doesn’t work, I will take out the entire coven.” A muscle thrummed in Roth’s jaw. “I hope they are aware of that.”
“I think they are.” Cayman retreated once again as Roth turned his attention back to me. “I’ll go make myself...uh, scarce for a while.”
Roth didn’t acknowledge him. Instead he shifted and stretched out beside me. My legs felt like lead had fused to the bones. My head turned slightly and my gaze met Roth’s. I could see that he was thinking the same thing I was.
Maybe Cayman and the coven’s witchy brew had been too late.
“I just want to hold you right now.” His voice was gruff. “That’s all I want.”
My chest squeezed. If this was it for me, that’s what I wanted, too. I didn’t want to go out alone. It was more than that, but I could barely process what that meant. My lips formed the word okay, but it took too much energy to speak.
He wrapped his arms around me and his body was pleasantly warm. After a few moments, I could no longer keep my eyes open. Fear eased off as a smooth, rolling peace washed over me. If this was dying, it wasn’t so bad. It really was like falling asleep.
Roth’s arms tightened around me as he curled his body around mine, tucking my legs between his and my head under his chin. He drew in a breath. I took the next one and slipped further into the darkness.
I wanted to respond, but I was beyond answering. The void beckoned and there was no denying it.
“Can you hear me? I want you to know something,” he said, his voice hoarse and thick and sounding so very far away, but full of urgency. “I love you, Layla. Do you hear me? I’ve loved you since the first moment I heard your voice and I will continue to love you. No matter what. I love you.”
Coming out of the void was a process of epic proportions. My fingers twitched at my sides. My toes curled. The sweet scent of something spicy and wild floated around me. From the moment my brain started churning to when I opened my eyes, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had taken hours.
I blinked and found myself staring at a broad chest. A na**d chest. A na**d male chest. My thoughts were fuzzy about everything, but I had a general recollection of everything that had gone down. Had I died? Because this wasn’t really a bad afterlife. But no, the deep, steady ache in my body warned me I was very much alive.
My hands were tucked against a hard stomach, resting near the head of a beautifully scaled green dragon.
One of his arms was draped over my h*ps and the other was under my shoulders. His hand was buried deep in the mess of my hair. His chest rose and fell steadily. I could feel Bambi on the other side of me, stretched out. What an odd...sandwich to be a part of.
No matter what. I love you.
A tingling heat swept over my cheeks and cascaded down my neck. That had to have been my imagination throwing those words at me. Demons didn’t love like that. Not even ones like Roth, who could pull off some very un-demonlike things. But I remembered the sound of his desperation.
I lifted my head just a little. Thick dark lashes fanned his cheeks. His lips were slightly parted. As he slept, there was a youth and vulnerability in his features that were never seen while he was awake.
He looked like an angel.
I didn’t know how long I lay there and stared at him, but it was probably enough time to certify me as a total creeper. The time was useful, though. I was alive and other than the soreness in my body, I had the sense I was fine. The bloodroot was out of my system; the wound in my stomach had healed for the most part. I’d be up and kicking around in no time.
But everything had changed.
So much so that I couldn’t really even grasp how different my life would be from this moment on. There was no way I could go back to the compound. I didn’t want to, not after what Abbot had done to me—the cage, the warehouse downtown. No way. And if Nicolai and Dez hadn’t intervened, I would’ve died...and that was what Abbot had wanted. Like my real father, he, too, wanted me dead. Yeah, that stung and the bite lingered. But I couldn’t dwell on it.