Sucking in a sharp breath, I leaned back against the cushion as Stacey turned to me. “You were clawed in the face?”
I clamped my mouth shut as I stared at her, refusing to look at Zayne or even Roth, but I didn’t need to spare even a brief glance in their direction to know the two had locked eyes. When Zayne had kissed me, and I had inadvertently started to feed on his soul, he’d begun to shift and had clawed me in an attempt to break the connection. There was not a single part of me that thought he’d meant to truly hurt me. Roth had to know that, too.
Stacey’s eyes searched mine, and she must’ve seen the truth, because as impossible as it seemed, an even greater sadness filled her gaze.
“I will never forgive myself for that.” Zayne’s quiet voice broke the terse silence, and I whipped around to face him.
Roth tipped his chin down. “Neither will I.”
“Stop it.” I clenched the end of the table. “Talking about that isn’t getting us anyplace. It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter,” Roth replied. “Because no matter what, I would never, ever hurt you.”
Zayne jerked back as if he’d taken a fatal blow.
“But you have.” My knuckles were starting to ache. “You have hurt me.”
Maybe not physically, but Roth had hurt me in the past. Words could cut just as deep as sharpened claws, and while the skin could heal, the wounds words left behind never faded as quickly. He might’ve been trying to protect me, but that hadn’t lessened the sting one bit.
Roth’s gaze met mine, and then his thick lashes lowered, shielding his eyes. Silent, he sat back and folded his arms across his chest. Zayne stared at the tabletop, a lock of blond hair falling in his face. Tension seeped from both of them, and my skin felt like it was stretched too thin.
Stacey’s phone rang and she dug it out of her bag with a shaking hand. She started to stand. “It’s Mom.” Glancing at me with watery eyes, she looked years younger. “I can do this.”
“You can do this.” I reached out and squeezed her arm through her sweater. Her eyes had a wild, panicked look about them.
I heard her answer the phone as she walked over to the entry door and slipped outside. My gaze tracked her as she started to pace behind an empty bench. I just wanted to crawl under the table and rock for a little bit. I figured that couldn’t be too much to ask.
Zayne cleared his throat. “You know this, but you can’t go back to the compound. There’re places that you can stay, where you will be safe.”
“I have a place to stay,” I told him, taking a sip of my now-lukewarm hot chocolate.
His jaw hardened. “With him?”
Surprisingly, Roth remained quiet, which made me feel like I needed to check if he was alive. I set the cup aside and rested my arms on the table, more than just exhausted. More like weary to my very core. “It’s a place that’s safe,” I said. “And yes, it’s with Roth and Cayman.”
Zayne opened his mouth, and then closed it. Several seconds passed and they felt like the tick of eternity. “What are you going to do, Layla?”
The question carried a lot of weight, because I knew it went beyond just where I was staying for the night or the next couple of days. There was so much I didn’t know the answer to. School was up in the air. Where I would be living was completely undecided. How we could defeat the Lilin or save Sam’s soul still unknown. I had no idea what was going on when I shifted today. And there was more—there was Roth and Zayne, two very different guys that I had loved and fallen in love with.
Stacey returned, saving me from having to answer the question. Her mom was in hysterics, as expected, and Stacey needed to go to her aunt’s house.
The four of us headed out into the chilly air. Stacey and Roth walked ahead, but I stopped and turned around. With my heart beating fast, I walked back to where Zayne stood behind the bench Stacey had paced near. Stretching up, I wrapped my arms around him. There was a moment of hesitation, and then he returned the embrace, holding me so tight that my cheek pressed against his chest.
The hug felt good, more than good. It was like coming home after a long day, and it was hard to break away from that.
“When will I see you again?” he asked, his voice thick.
“Soon,” I promised.
His arms tightened around me. “Please be safe, Layla. Please.”
“Of course, Layla-bug.”
I looked up into his eyes. “I never blamed you for the claw marks, so please don’t blame yourself for something that I don’t even need to forgive you for.”
* * *
Roth and I didn’t talk on the drive back to the house across the river, in Maryland. I still had no idea how they’d come into possession of the McMansion, only that Cayman had acquired it at some point, and I figured it was best that I didn’t ask too many questions.
I’d spent several hours with Stacey and her mom and little brother at her aunt’s ginormous home while Roth lingered outside doing...demon things or whatever. It was late, almost midnight, by the time we’d left her house and made it back to this one.
I didn’t know why Roth was so quiet, but I appreciated it, because I didn’t have the brainpower to hold a conversation or to really think about anything.
Roth parked the vintage Mustang in the garage, and the house was dark and silent when we walked in. The place was toasty warm, but there was no sign of Cayman. I climbed the spiral staircase and dragged myself down the hall to the bedroom I’d woken up in after they’d first rescued me from the Wardens.
When I reached the closed door, I tucked my hair back behind my ear as I glanced over my shoulder at Roth.
He stood a few feet down the hall, leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets and the back of his head pressed against the wall. “I’ll take the room here,” he said, not looking in my direction. He’d stayed with me while I’d been healing, but now there really was no reason to be...bunking together. “If you need anything, the door will be unlocked.”
My hand tightened around the doorknob. “Thank you.”
I had no idea if he knew what I was thanking him for, but he nodded. Neither of us moved for a long moment. He continued to stare at nothing while I stared at him. Finally I pushed out, “Good night, Roth.”
He didn’t respond.
Turning the knob, I pushed open the door and immediately headed for the bedside lamp, flipping it on. The room was huge, the master suite, and furnished with stunning antiques.
I’d never felt more out of place as I gathered up the pajamas Cayman had brought me a few days ago and quickly changed into the cotton bottoms and loose shirt. At least the nightwear was nothing like the other clothing he and Roth had picked out for me. I was half surprised that they hadn’t given me a skimpy nightie. I padded barefoot into the bathroom, one much larger than the bathroom attached to my bedroom back in the Wardens’ compound. Well, my old bedroom. Definitely not mine anymore.
Nothing in that house was mine anymore.
The light in the bathroom was harsh and bright as I brushed my teeth and washed my face, leaving little puddles on the marble basin and droplets on my shirt. I was so messy when it came to these things. More than once I’d ended up with toothpaste in my hair and looking like I was entering a wet T-shirt contest.