“What things? You’ve never asked me for anything.”
“And I never will. It’s just not right.”
“What’s not right?”
His jaw bunched and he looked away, deliberately ignoring her.
Something snapped inside Nika and let free a wave of anger so strong, it nearly made her sway with the force of it. She grabbed the front of his knit shirt, shoved her fist into his hard chest, and yelled, “I won’t let you ignore me. I won’t let you treat me like I’m not here. I matter, damn it. I may be crazy, but I matter.”
He blinked in shock at her outrage. “Of course you matter. What the hell made you think you don’t? You’re one of the most important people on the face of the fucking planet. I’d do anything for you.”
That last part doused her anger, stopping it cold. “You think I’m important?”
“Why the hell do you think I try so hard to stay away? There’s some man out there somewhere who is going to find you and give you a kind of power you can only dream about—he’s going to give you the power to take back what the Synestryn have stolen from you. I can’t be the person who gets in the way of that, and if you don’t get away from me, you’re going to die before you can find him.”
“What if you’re that man? You’re the only Theronai who I can stand to touch me. When you’re around, I feel like myself—sane and safe. No one else makes me feel that way. Why can’t it be you?”
Madoc’s eyes closed in regret. She saw his throat move as if he was having trouble swallowing. He held out his hand, showing her the luminescent ring he wore. Gently, he wrapped his fingers around the fist she had tight around his shirt. The other ring—the cold black one—irritated her skin, but she ignored it.
“See?” he asked.
Nika looked at the ring. It was pale, almost white, and the few strands of color within it moved so slowly she had to stare hard to tell they were moving at all. “What am I looking for?”
“A change. Color. A feeling. Something. Anything. I’ve been looking for it since the day I met you and haven’t seen a thing.”
“So, that means we’re not compatible. I can’t help you.”
“Are you sure?”
He gave her a solemn nod.
She didn’t want to believe him. She didn’t want to imagine her life with another man—any man. She wanted Madoc.
“Maybe Gilda or one of the Sanguinar can fix it.”
“There’s nothing to be fixed. It’s just the way things are. You have to accept it and move on.”
“That’s what Andra said about Tori. Sometimes, the way things look is not real. If I accepted that Tori was dead, then I’d be giving up on her, dooming her to die alone in the dark.”
“Sometimes that’s the way things are.”
Nika shook her head. “Not with me, they aren’t. I’m not giving up on Tori, and I’m not giving up on you.”
“If you don’t, I’m going to hurt you. I don’t want to, but I will.”
Nika shrugged. “Then I get hurt. It won’t be the first time.”
“And that is why I can’t stay here. I can’t stick around and make it easy for you to destroy yourself.”
“If you leave again, I’ll follow you. There’s something wrong with you. I can see it. Something dark is growing inside you. Hurting you. You need me to protect you from it.”
Madoc’s green eyes widened and he took a long step back, wrenching her hand from his shirt.“You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t see anything.”
“I do. You can lie to yourself all you like, but I see the truth. You need me, and I’m not going to let you go.”
He held up his hands and continued to back up. “Stay away from me. I mean it.”
“If you leave, I’ll find you.”
“I go places way too dangerous for you.”
“I’ll still follow.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Nika stood her ground. This was too important to let go. “Try me.”
Madoc didn’t dare risk that Nika would follow through on her threat. He was still going to leave, but not until Andra knew the score. He’d make sure Andra kept her locked up nice and tight, where nothing could hurt her.
Something dark is growing inside you.
How could she know that? How could she see it?
Maybe the better question was, how could everyone else not see it?
Madoc reached for his cell phone, only to realize it was lying in pieces at the bottom of a garbage disposal in Nebraska. Fortunately, his freakish memory allowed him to have memorized every phone number he ever saw.
He went to the phone hanging on the wall in the kitchen and dialed Paul’s cell phone. No answer. He dialed Andra with the same results, refusing to leave a message.
“They’re gone,” said Nika. She’d curled up on the couch, tucking her legs under her. Her pale hair fell just to her shoulders, sliding along the slim column of her throat.
She was heavier now than she had been months ago, her skin less pale. The distance he’d put between them had clearly been good for her. She’d filled out, was no longer a walking skeleton, and seemed lucid and healthy.
If he didn’t get away from her soon, he’d do something to fuck that up and she’d be stark raving mad again before he could stop himself from making the mistake.
“Where did they go?” he asked.
“Check on the fridge. Andra always leaves me a note.”
Madoc hadn’t noticed the note before, but he found it, read it, and wanted to pound his fist into the stainless steel. “A little girl went missing last night in Ohio. Andra had to leave immediately to find her.”
Nika nodded. “This happens all the time. I doubt we’ll see her or Paul for a day or two.”
Too long. That was way too long to stick around. He was going to have to find her another babysitter. “Who watches you when they’re away?”
Her body stiffened in indignation. “No one. I am an adult.”
“What about Grace?”
“She hasn’t needed to take care of me for months. I’m better now, Madoc. Certainly well enough to take care of myself.”
“So I keep hearing.”
“Maybe you should listen.”
Not likely. He’d seen what happened when Andra wasn’t around—what that Theronai had done to her. The ice pack he’d made her covered the angry red blisters that fucker had left on her arm, but he still knew they were there.
He started forward, intending to lift the towel and check the damage, when he caught himself and stopped in his tracks. He was the last person on the face of the planet who should play nursemaid.
“I’m going to go talk to Joseph.”
“Talk to him all you like. It won’t change a thing. He can’t make me stay here any more than you can. I’ll go where I want, when I want. I have a lot of living to catch up on after all those years in the mental hospital.”
“You’re not going to catch up on anything if you get yourself killed.”
“Then I die, but I’ll do it living life my way. I deserve to make my own choices.” She rose from the couch, yawning and stretching. The top of her shirt pulled up, exposing a narrow band of skin above her jeans.
Madoc’s eyes were riveted to the sight. A faint shadow slid down the center of her stomach, deepening as it reached her navel. Her pants were loose on her hips, and he was sure that if he gave them the slightest tug, they’d go down without a fight, baring her so he could touch and taste. His mouth started to water and his hands lifted toward her before he realized what he was doing. He knew without a doubt that if he touched her, he’d lose control. He’d strip her naked, lay her out, and take her before anyone even had time to respond to her screams for help. For all he knew, people were used to her screaming delusions and wouldn’t even bother to respond. He’d have all the time he needed to slake his lust and ease some of the pressure throbbing inside him.
The idea had way too much appeal, and part of him began calculating his odds of getting away with it. To hell with his honor. What good was it, anyway? It sure wasn’t going to ease his pain, save his life, or keep his soul from dying.
A line of sweat broke out along his brow as he fought to remember what Iain had told him when he joined the Band of the Barren. Pretend to be noble. Pretend you give a shit. It’s the only way to keep from being sent to the Slayers.
Would someone who was noble be figuring out how long it would take to get her naked? Would he be thinking about whether her screams for help would be answered before he could get off inside her?
The cold, dead spot where the last leaf of his lifemark hung on his skin seemed to buzz in irritation.
Maybe he should just rip the black ring Iain had given him—the one that slowed his soul’s death—from his finger, and let the end come. He was so sick of fighting it, sick of keeping up with all the lies.
Iain had told him it wouldn’t be easy, but he’d been pretending to be one of the good guys for years, and no one knew except those he’d recruited into the Band. He’d fooled everyone.
Maybe Madoc just wasn’t cut out for this playacting shit. He was a walking menace to everyone around him.
Her voice barely filtered through the lust and anger pounding in his system. “Talk to Joseph if you want. Hunt down Andra. Do whatever it is you think you need to do. I’m too tired to stop you and not interested in wasting my energy. I need to rest up.”
“For when I leave my body to find Tori. I’m going to try to talk to her again after I’ve slept.”
Leave her body? Hell, no. “You’re not going to do that thing again—that thing you did in the graveyard.”
“It’s cute you think you can stop me. Feel free to stay if you like and watch over my body.”
Yeah, right. He knew exactly what he’d do to her if that happened. His dick was hard already, just thinking about it. “Not a smart idea,” was all he could manage to choke out.
Nika gave him a sad smile. “Then go. I need to sleep.”
Sleep. That was a good thing for her to do. Safe. So much better than leaving her body—however the hell that happened.
She moved toward him. Madoc moved out of her way. She shook her head in irritation as she passed him to throw the wet towel into the sink. “You really are afraid of me.”
“I’m afraid for you. There’s a difference.” One he’d have to go into graphic detail to explain to her, so he really hoped she didn’t start asking questions.
He should have fucked a whore before coming back here, like he’d planned, but the notion of Nika on the road alone had nagged at him, forcing him to follow in her wake in case her car ran out of gas or she got arrested for driving without a license.
Besides, no matter how many times he used a hooker, the pain would always come back. Relief was fleeting and tainted by the knowledge that the pain would return for him at any moment. Fearing that pain was sometimes worse than suffering through it. The best he could hope for was a distraction, and Nika certainly provided that.