His dark hair had grown out since the night of the attack so that it was now long enough to cover his ears. She secretly liked the new look and the way the silky strands felt sliding between her fingers when she groomed him. She’d kept his beard shaved for him, though, relishing every moment she was allowed to spend touching him.
His long body made him look thinner than he really was, though he had lost a lot of weight. Muscles that had grown hard with centuries of use had wasted away inhumanly fast, making him appear shriveled.
Grace still thought he was beautiful, especially his pale amber eyes that followed her wherever she went. Moving his head had become increasingly difficult for him, but his eyes rarely left her, making her feel self-conscious and alluring all at the same time.
She sat on the edge of the bed, taking his hand in hers, even though she knew he couldn’t feel it. “I wanted to talk to you.”
She shook her head, feeling her curls bounce around her shoulders. “Not really. I just . . . need to leave for a little while.”
“I need to take a little time for myself, maybe take a trip to see the ocean. I’ve always wanted to see the ocean.” She’d probably never get to now, but the best lies were those bathed in the truth.
“That’s good. You should go.”
Even as his words encouraged her, his eyes told another story. After so many months of seeing each other every day, he’d probably grown as used to her visits as she had. She was going to miss being able to touch him.
“I don’t want to leave you,” she told him. At least that part was true.
“I can’t go.”
“I know. I’ll miss you.”
A faint smile lifted one side of his mouth. “Too fun to miss me.”
“I could never have that much fun.”
His eyes slid over her features and she wondered if he’d lose his ability to see, too, if this thing she was going to do didn’t work.
“What?” he asked. “Something bothering you.” His speech was more broken today. More halting.
“It’s nothing,” she lied. “I’m just worried about my brother. He’s having some issues in his classes. It’s no big deal. I’m sure he’ll work through it.”
“Wish I could help.”
She stroked his hair away from his forehead, committing the feel of it to memory. She’d always have the memories of touching him to keep her company.
“You’re going to get better,” she told him, meaning every word. “You’re going to help so many people, you won’t even be able to remember all their names.”
“Grace,” he started. She knew where he was going and refused to let him. “Chances—”
“No. I don’t want to hear about the chances you’ll never get better. I believe in miracles. I have to. You were mine.”
“Hero worship. Useless.”
She did smile then. A real smile. “My case of hero worship has kept you shaved and fed. Don’t knock it.”
His eyes slid over her cheek and centered on her mouth. “Never.”
Grace knew if she let herself, she’d stay here and put off what she knew she had to do. It was time.
Time to say good-bye.
“I’m going to change your sheets before I go to work my shift in the kitchen; then I’m going to hop in a car and drive until I see the ocean.”
“Bring me a shell?”
“Two, if you’re good.”
She had mastered changing the sheets with someone lying in the bed while caring for her comatose mother. Torr was a lot heavier, but Grace had gotten stronger and managed it without trouble.
She was going to miss that strength.
While he was lying on his side, she slipped the palm-sized, pronged disk from her pocket and pressed it into his skin, right over the scar left by the creature that had paralyzed him. A drop of blood slid over his back, but she wiped it away on the dirty sheets.
On anyone else, the sharp, barbed prongs on the disk would have hurt going in, but Torr never felt a thing.
She finished her work and got Torr looking comfortable again. “Want to watch some TV?”
“I’ll close the curtains, then, so you can sleep.”
She pulled them shut over the sliders, dousing the room’s only source of light. A thin strip of sunlight slipped under the curtains, guiding her feet.
Grace went back to Torr’s side, and before she lost her nerve, she leaned down and kissed him, telling him without words how much she loved him. How much she was going to miss him.
His lips were cool, and she could feel him struggling to move them against hers—trying to deepen the kiss.
She didn’t let him keep struggling. The wound to his pride would be too painful, and she didn’t want that for him.
“Soft,” he whispered, slurring the word.
Grace smiled down at him, committing his handsome face to memory. It was the one image she wanted to take with her and hold close.
“I love you,” she said. She hadn’t meant to admit it, but the words spilled out, the feeling too big and powerful to be denied a voice.
His pale eyes widened and his mouth moved as he started to say something.
Grace turned and ran. She didn’t want to hear him tell her not to love him, that he could never love her back. She didn’t want to hear him tell her that they had no future together. She knew that. She knew that he was an ancient warrior from a strong, magical race and she was a mere human. She knew she was a fleeting moment in his long life when he was the center of her short one.
She knew all these things and still couldn’t stop herself from loving him.
Grace raced all the way back to the empty suite she’d prepared. The key card she’d stolen opened the lock without incident. It would have been nicer to do this in her own bed, surrounded by familiar things, but she didn’t want her brother to find her. That wasn’t fair to do to him after the difficult life he’d already had.
A swelling wave of fear broke inside her, making her hands shake. For a brief moment, she let herself consider turning back from her course.
But where would that leave Torr? At the rate he was going, he wouldn’t even be able to swallow soon, wouldn’t be able to talk. What kind of life was that? He had so much to offer the world—so many people who needed to be saved the way he’d saved her and her brother.
She owed him this. Even if she hadn’t loved him, she had a responsibility to repay him for saving her and her brother’s lives. She had a responsibility to the countless others he would save when he was whole and healthy.
Hesitating was the most selfish thing she’d ever done and she knew it.
Before she could lose her nerve again, Grace positioned the matching disk, sticking it to the wall with a glob of putty so it lined up just right. She stripped off her shirt and bra, moved so the prongs of the disk aligned against her spine, and shoved back with all her weight.
The metal teeth sank into her skin, stealing her breath with the pain. It streaked through her, consuming her world. Then, after a few moments, there was nothing. No pain, no feeling at all.
That nothingness began to spread down her spine, into her legs. Fast. Much faster than she’d expected.
She stumbled toward the mattress lying on the floor, where she had food and water stacked within reach. She’d hidden so no one could reverse the process until it was too late, but because of that, she didn’t know how many days it would be until someone found her. It wouldn’t do Torr any good if she died of dehydration before this magical device had finished its work.
She pulled a sheet up, covering her bare breasts, but even that small effort had left her panting. So much for her plans to drink and eat. She knew now that the process was happening way too fast. Hopefully, it would finish before she died of thirst.
An odd, vibrating cold slid through her in the wake of the numbness. It climbed up her body, inching higher with every passing second. Soon, her ribs were gone, then her shoulders. Her arms were next, then her fingers.
Fear and satisfaction mingled together, causing Grace to panic even as she smiled.
It was working. Whatever had happened to Torr was being transferred to her through the device Gilda had given her. She was taking on his paralysis, freeing him.
She imagined the look of surprise on his face as the feeling came back to his limbs. He’d be weak at first, but he’d get strong fast. She knew he would. He’d be back to his old life, wielding a sword against the demons before her next birthday.
Tears slid from her eyes, wetting the hair at her temples. She was going to miss their time together so much. She’d never again touch him or hold his hand or stroke his hair.
And then she closed her eyes and saw his face and felt the silky texture of his hair sliding through her fingers when she washed it, the rough stubble of his beard when she shaved him. A hundred little memories were right there, waiting for her to call on them and calm the panic that weighed her down.
She might never walk again, never feel again, but she’d always have the time they’d spent together to keep her company.
Carmen had never quite gotten used to sleeping during the day, but she did her best to keep the same schedule as the Theronai did—waking at night in order to fight the Synestryn. Of course, they didn’t need nearly the same amount of sleep she and the humans did, and Joseph seemed to sleep even less than the rest of his kind. Whether it was because he didn’t need it, or because there was simply no time, she wasn’t sure.
It was late afternoon when she finally got the courage to seek Joseph out in his office. She knew he’d be awake and busy, but this was important.
It was time to suck it up, be brave, and let him read the note that Thomas had written nine months ago on the night he died. If it said horrible things about her, so be it. Carmen needed to move on with her plans, and this was the last thing holding her back.
She knocked on the open door. Joseph’s head came up, and when he saw her, he smiled.
“Is it time for our training session already?” he asked, frowning at his watch.
“No, I came to give you this.” She held the letter out to him. It was a small bit of paper, folded and smudged with a drop of dried blood. It was wrinkled and worn from the hours she’d spent holding it, trying to find some connection to the man who had changed her life. He was dead now, but she liked to think that part of him lived on in her.
She was determined to make Thomas proud, wherever he was, which was why she’d spent hours every week training to become a warrior. She’d never be as strong as the Sentinels, or have any kind of magic power, but she’d worked her ass off to learn to do the best job she could. After nearly a year of training, she felt it was time to move into the field and start hunting.
Joseph took the note. His long fingers slid over the drop of dried blood reverently, as if he were remembering his fallen brother. “Are you sure?”
Carmen nodded. “It’s time.”
He unfolded the paper easily. She almost laughed, considering how many times she’d tried to do that very thing, only to have her hands go still and start shaking. She’d told Thomas she’d let Joseph read it first, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t break that promise.