It had been three days since Myra had died… and I felt suspended in time, unsure over what to do next.
After that night, I had arrived home and walked straight into the shower. The process had taken a while since I had needed to peel off all the clothes that had stuck to me; their condition no longer salvageable a tall and would need to be thrown out.
I‘d stood under the showerhead and watched as the hot water turned red all around me, washing away all the evidence of what I‘d done. But it wasn‘t enough. Even when the water had begun to turn clear, I started to scrub at my body. I scrubbed… and scrubbed… and scrubbed… until my flesh was almost as red as the water had been.
But even then, I could still see it. I could still feel it.
It hadn‘t been enough.
*I* hadn‘t been enough.
For three days, I‘d done nothing but lay in bed, barely eating or moving. It was all I could do.
My parents had tried to talk to me, but I didn‘t know what to say. I didn‘t even have it in me to lie and make them feel reassured like I might have done normally. Inside, I had now lost all sense of motivation t o keep going.
Since coming back, I‘d been working so hard to keep myself alive, to stop whatever impending doom was yet to unfold, but I‘d been so focused on saving myself that I‘d now sacrificed someone else for that cause.
And Thea? Well, if this was a game of chess, then I felt I‘d just lost one of my most important pieces. This whole time I’d thought Thea was playing as a king, ruling from behind the scenes and keeping safe. But I was wrong. Just like her ambitions in life, it seemed Thea was actually playing as a queen; able to adjust and change depending on the situation… and able to go the extra mile to strike or kill if necessary herself.
I shook the thoughts off instantly, feeling sick at myself. There I had been going again… thinking of others as pieces in my game of survival. This was exactly how I‘d gotten Myra killed. She‘d even pointed out to m e how I‘d been acting so selfish and yet, not even ten minutes later, I‘d sent her out to die for me. And she did so with a smile on her face, happy to be helping me.
Around my neck, I could distinctly feel the weight of Myra‘s necklace, now heavy with the guilt I carried. A t times I felt like it stopped me from breathing as if it would slowly crush me, but it was always just in my head. I was sometimes disappointed once I realised that fact.
And so, for the thousandth time that day, I traced my fingers along the stone embedded on the chain, consumed in my own thoughts, just as I had been every single day that had passed since her death.
So focused in my head that I almost didn‘t even notice the sound of knocking coming from the bedroom door.
But I didn‘t turn to see who it was. There was no point. It was either my parents or Lucy since everyone else had been told I wasn‘t taking visitors.
I stayed still, staring up at the ceiling, and waited for her to tell me whatever it was she had come to say.
Chapter Foily One
“Miss, you had another visitor today.”
That wasn‘t unusual. Apparently, Aleric had shown up yesterday to check in but my mother had explained that I still wasn‘t well. Several other people had also come by over the last few days, either out of concern or to ask more questions, but all of them were asked to kindly give me some space.
I wasn‘t sure why Lucy was still bothering to tell me.
“It was a boy,” she continued. “His name was… Caius? That Alpha heir from the Silver Lake pack.”
I froze up at the sound of his name.
I‘d been deliberately avoiding him this entire time because I didn‘t know how to face him.
Did he know what I‘d done? Had he heard about Myra‘s death?
“…What did he say?” I asked quietly.
“Oh… um,” Lucy started, probably taken aback that I was actually sounding interested for once. “He said h e wanted to check in on you. Apologies, there was no real message other than that.”
We‘d worked so hard to save Myra, almost dying ourselves in that process, and yet I‘d somehow managed to get her killed anyway. Did he hate me now?
But no, I knew that probably wasn‘t the case. I highly doubted anyone had told him that it was my fault yet since everyone was still under the impression that this was the rogues. There was no concrete evidence t o suggest that Thea was involved… and no one knew that Thea and I were connected.
I forced myself into a sitting position, my head pounding with the sudden movement.
“Miss…?” Lucy asked, surprised. “Are you getting up? Did you want anything?”
But I ignored her, throwing my legs over the side of the bed, and pinched at the bridge of my nose. I was needing to take a second to concentrate on calming the disarray inside my mind.
“Please get me something to wear, Lucy… I‘m going out.”
She hesitated for a moment in shock before quickly rushing to the wardrobe to do what I‘d asked.
I knew someone needed to tell Cai the truth. He was her friend too, after all. If it were me, I‘d want to know.
After only an hour later, I found myself outside the door of where Cai was staying. I‘d enquired about which house he was currently occupying from the managing office that oversaw the guest residences. Given my rank, they thankfully gave the information over quickly.
However, I‘d been staring at his front door now for five minutes and still hadn‘t worked up the courage to knock. Was I making a mistake? Should I just leave and pretend I was never there?
No, he‘d be able to smell that I‘d been here. I‘d been standing outside for so long now that I was sure that he‘d know I‘d come to see him, regardless of what I decided to do next.
I took a deep breath and went to knock… but the door then opened before I could make contact.
Cai stood on the other side, looking stunned to see me. I could see his eyes had faint traces of dark circles under them and could only assume this was due to the news of Myra‘s death.
“I thought that was you,” he said. “It was that or I‘d gone insane being able to smell your scent for the last few minutes. Have you actually been standing there the whole time?”
Always trying to make light of a situation. Even at a time like this.
But as I met his eyes, I could only feel that I‘d made a mistake in coming here.
I felt I wasn‘t ready to face him yet and my body began to shake, tears starting to water at my eyes.
“I‘m sorry, Cai,” I whispered, turning my face away when I couldn‘t look at him anymore. “I‘m sorry. It was my fault.”
He instantly realised that I wasn‘t okay and rushed forwards, trying to comfort me. It took a few moments before he finally spoke again.
“Come on. Come inside and sit down,” he said, gently grabbing my hand to lead me through the door.” Then we can talk about whatever it is you‘re on about.”
I walked into the little house that consisted of a bedroom, living room, bathroom and small kitchen area. The guest houses were purposely self–contained since we had the means and budget to offer that within the Winter Mist.
He walked down the hallway and sat me down on the couch, throwing a blanket around my shoulders ash e misinterpreted my shaking.
“Alright, talk to me,” he said, sitting down next to me.
It took a while before I could trust my voice enough to not completely waver.
“I‘m sorry… I‘m sorry about Myra,” I said, tears falling down my face. “I couldn‘t save her this time. I couldn‘t… I sent her to do something and she was killed because of that. Because of me. Because I‘d stupidly let her go near her.”
He was silent for a few seconds, trying to process what I‘d just said, before finally speaking.
“...You‘re saying Myra wasn‘t killed by the rogues?”
I shook my head. “No… maybe… I don‘t know. It was a girl named Thea. Probably working with the rogues, for all i know. But no one believes me. No one believes me that it was definitely her. And I knew Thea was shady and I still let Myra go talk to her. It‘s all my fault, Cai… I‘m so sorry.”
He paused again, clearly still very confused. “… Did you know she was that dangerous? That she might physically harm Myra?”
Thesitated. “No… but 1–,”
“Then it‘s not your fault,” he said plainly. As if that was enough to make it all better.
“But, Cai, I was–,”
“Aria,” he said in a now serious tone, interrupting me once more. He rested his hand on my cheek to make me meet his eyes. “It‘s. Not. Your. Fault.”
I could feel as a part of me broke down at his words, s**s overcoming me as I gave in to my grief. He pulled me into his side and held me as I cried against his chest. I could feel as his comforting presence tried to soothe me inside while allowing me to get it out of my system.
I wasn‘t sure how long we stayed like that, but soon I could feel myself begin to calm down inside once more; the numbness starting to freeze itself back over as the seconds ticked by. It was a now familiar feeling I was becoming accustomed to. Something that felt better than the pain at least.
But, as my mind began to clear, I became painfully aware of the fact Cai and I were still touching.
He felt warm…warmer than anything I‘d felt in the last three days. Three days where inside I‘d been devoid of anything that felt living. And so, as I looked up into his incredible golden eyes that always burned like
Chapter Fifty One
molten ore, a part of me started to wonder if there was an alternative to this torpid state.
Because he was close. So close. Close enough that I could see every line and detail on his face… his eyes… his cheek… his lips.
Close enough that I was able to feel his breath as my own body gravitated up towards him, being lured in with the promise of feeling something other than this frozen internal nightmare. That if I just reached out and grabbed it, I would be filled with something impossible to breathe life back into me.
I paused right as our faces were just an inch apart, right on the cusp of being able to stop right there without consequence… and right before I decidedly went against my better judgment… and hesitantly brought my lips up to softly meet his anyway.
Inside, I could feel the immediate relief of tingles upon contact, rushing through my stomach towards my core. It was something different. Something new. Something I‘d never experienced before yet was something I could feel myself beginning to crave.
I knew he could feel my uncertainty as let me lead; my own unsteady conflict within me having to take a moment to drink in the new sensation, of learning how he felt against me. How his lips were just as warm as his hands were… hands that were beginning to press ever so gently into my back and waist as he brought me closer.
I responded in kind, deepening the kiss, now needing more. I needed those sparks… that flame… that raging fire that could maybe make me feel alive again.
And as I gently reached out towards him, I could feel how I could get addicted to this so easily. How, when I moved my hand slowly up against his chest, I could eventually feel his heart racing under my palm. A reaction that made me realise my own was reciprocating the same way.
He immediately felt the change in my body, taking my more confident movement as confirmation that I wanted this too, and cupped my face in one of his hands, bringing his warmth closer to my body as he drew me near.
It was so different to everything else I‘d experienced before. In the past with Aleric, his touch had never been loving and our alone time had always been extremely clinical. There had been no need for real intimacy since, after all, he was just performing a duty to produce an heir. My needs had never come into i
But back then, my only pleasure during those moments with Aleric had been the artificial sparks forced by a mate bond. And yet this was something completely different. It didn‘t feel involuntary or pressured… it felt real.
With shaky hands, I then weaved my fingers through his dark brown hair, needing more of whatever this was. Needing more of him. And, as I did so, I wondered… if I gave myself over to him completely right then, would he devour me in that heat of his… or save me instead?
‘Neither,‘ the old me whispered quietly inside. ‘You are poison to him. We are poison.‘
The shock of the sudden words in my head forced me to pull away, leaving me to stare wide–eyed at Cai i n front of me.
‘Every time that we‘ve given our love to someone, it has only left suffering in its wake,‘ she continued.
“...Aria?” Cai asked quietly, sensing my abrupt change.
‘We made a vow,‘ she said. ‘When our head was about to lay on that stump before the sword, we declared that the only mistake we‘d ever made was loving anyone. Myra‘s death was a result of making that same mistake once more.‘
I instantly felt sick and realised that I was now endangering Cai next for my own needs.
Chapter Fifty One
“I can‘t…,” I started to say aloud but wasn‘t sure how to form the words.
“...Are you okay? What‘s wrong?”
Cai‘s expression had changed. He looked over me with distress but it barely registered in my mind.
I shook my head, shakily trying to stand back up. He tried to reach out to me but I flinched away and moved my hands up in a defensive gesture to say he should keep his distance,
“I shouldn‘t be here. I can‘t be here,” I said, “I need to go.”
“Aria, wait, talk to me. Is it something I did?”
“No… no… I just. This… this isn‘t right. I made a mistake,” I managed to say disjointedly.
I started walking towards the front door, not really seeing anything in front of me, but his words stopped m e as I reached out to the handle.
“…Is this because of Myra? Because you‘re still blaming yourself for her death? Because you don‘t feel like you deserve to be okay?”
I felt my heart jolt inside my chest.
“…Because that wasn‘t your fault, Aria,” he continued. “You need to stop thinking that it was. Myra‘s death i s not on your hands.”
I wanted to turn back and look at him, but I knew if I did, that I would find it too difficult to leave. And so I spoke lowly to the door instead, almost as if I was jusi saying it to myself
“… You don‘t know anything about me, Cai.” And I left without waiting for even a second longer.