Caleb led me through his living room and down the hall to a door at the end, water dripping onto the rich hardwoods from our drenched clothes. As we stepped into his bedroom, his familiar, heady scent slammed into my senses like a tidal wave crashing against the beach. My lungs opened wide to draw it in.
During all the time we’d spent together, I’d never been to his room—and that was probably a good thing. I would have given in weeks ago.
The warm brown, gold, tan, and green color scheme continued here as did the collection of plants. A colossal bed had been built into an actual tree with the trunk as a headboard and thick roots cradling the sides. Branches twisted above to create a canopy over the plush pillows.
Caleb pressed his finger under my chin to close my mouth. “So, you like my bed?”
I angled toward him as he dropped his hand, catching his signature smirk that didn’t annoy me as much as it used to. “It’s inside of a tree. That’s not something you see every day.” I pointed to the barren branches. “No leaves?”
He shrugged and marched through another solid wood door that must have led to a connecting bathroom. Recessed lighting spotted the tray ceiling, and a decorative glass globe hung from the center, spilling golden hues over the forest paintings on the tan walls. A soft green rug ran across the floor that reminded me of velvety grass in springtime.
The framed picture on the table next to a plush leather chair caught my attention. I walked over and picked it up, a smile curving my lips at the young Caleb in the photo. He couldn’t have been more than nine or ten with messy waves of midnight and silver hair pouring around his grinning face. At first, the large male fae with his arm wrapped around the young prince shocked me—until I realized it wasn’t Lachlan caught in a laugh.
The fae king didn’t laugh unless it was one of those evil mastermind chuckles, and this guy was full-on cracking up.
“Lorcan had taken me to one of those haunted houses humans love so much.” Caleb’s voice right behind me made me jump.
I shook the nerves off and angled toward him. “They love those during Halloween.”
“We couldn’t stop laughing at all the hideous witches.”
I jabbed my elbow into his ribs. “Funny.”
He skimmed his hands down my back and gently squeezed my hips. “Don’t be offended, Rose Thorn. We were only laughing because we knew most witches were beautiful, and any human there would fall over themselves to be with one.”
“Well, that is true.” I tapped the glass. “How old were you?”
Caleb grabbed the frame to study the image while a sad smile pulled at his mouth. “I was ten, and Lorc was fifteen.” He reached over me to place the picture back on the table. “That was a long time ago.”
My throat closed, and I fought to bring air into my lungs as guilt settled on my chest. Caleb’s face remained impassive, but the sadness of losing his brother dimmed the light in his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
He wrapped his arms around my waist and pressed a kiss to my temple. “It’s not your fault, Rose Thorn. You weren’t the witch that killed him.”
“Nope.” Caleb pinched my lips closed. “Don’t even go there. You can’t blame yourself for every bad thing your coven and that evil bitch Ellexia Scarlett has done. I won’t let you feel guilty for what happened to Lorcan.” He grabbed one of the towels he’d dropped on the bed and passed it to me.
I sighed and took the towel, searching for another topic to erase the sorrow still lingering in his expression. “Your apartment is so different than what I’d imagined when we first met.” That frosty, angry fae had seemed like the type to live in a cold museum, but I knew him better now.
“It reminds me of where I grew up.” Caleb didn’t elaborate—he rarely talked about his life before Nightworld—and trailed to a dresser that was large enough for me to climb inside.
As he rummaged around in the drawers, I wiped my face and wrung water from my long strands that hadn’t been such a vibrant shade of purple since I ran away from Illyria. All the black dye had faded, and there was no point in coloring it anymore. Maleor Suprema knew exactly where I was. They also knew I was under the protection of King Lachlan of the Unseelie Court.
I could only imagine the grand witch’s face when she discovered I was hiding out with her biggest enemy. Did Lilian have the unpleasant task of divulging that news to Ellexia? The grand witch probably took her anger out on my mother, especially after finding out that Lilian had allowed Caleb and me to escape.
“Why are you grinning?” the prince asked as he handed me a T-shirt. “Are you fantasizing about getting me under the sheets?”
I ignored his question and took the T-shirt. “Why couldn’t I have just gone to my room to get some clothes?”
“And take away your opportunity to steal another one of my shirts, Rose Thorn?” He winked as he kicked his boots off. “I know you love to sleep in them.”
I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore the burn in my cheeks. If a shirt was lying around his living room, my sticky fingers went to work. I was addicted to his scent, and having it wrapped around me while I slept was sometimes the only thing that kept my nightmares away.
“Whatever, Tinkerbell. At least give me some shorts.” I didn’t want to flash my underwear all night.
Caleb’s silky chuckle made my stomach tighten. “I doubt they’ll stay on for long.”
I shook my head while fighting back a smile and pulled my boots off, placing them against the wall. “You are such a cocky bastard.”
“I’m that way for a reason.” He tossed me a pair of boxers and then whipped his shirt over his head, proving his arrogant statement correct.
My gaze raked over the delicious expanse of tan, corded flesh inked with intricate vines and fae runes. I didn’t break away as his fingers flicked the button on his jeans, and he shoved them down his hips.
A fiery punch slammed into my gut. Shit. Why the hell wasn’t he wearing underwear?
I was tossed back to the steamy night in that stranger’s bathroom as Caleb roughly took me on the counter. Heat crawled up my throat and into my face while those memories assaulted not only my mind but my body. I could still feel him all around me, inside me. The bruises his fingers left behind throbbed again as if they had returned.
“Are you okay, Rose Thorn? You look like you might pass out.” His tongue flicked over the piercing in his lip. “You need some help getting undressed?”
Even his taunting words weren’t enough to extinguish the fires raging in my core. I turned my back on him and struggled to fill my lungs with more air perfumed by him. “I’m fine.”
His laughter caressed my skin as I tugged my wet shirt off.
I hate him.
My conscience called me a liar. And she was right.
Hate was not the word I’d used to describe my feelings for Prince Caleb Blackwood.
“Sure you don’t need help?” His presence formed against my back as his fingers lightly ran over my shoulders, making my pulse jump.
I glanced back, thankful he now donned a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt. “Nope.” The word came out in a breathy whisper, and I winced at the desire riddling it.
He flashed a crooked grin. “I’ll get some snacks. You stay in here.”
“Why? What are we doing?” A hint of panic sliced my voice. The longer I stayed in his room, the more I’d want to throw in the towel on our little game.
“We’re going to watch a movie.” Caleb pressed a kiss to my temple before slapping my ass. “Now get out of these wet clothes, or I’ll undress you myself.”
The prince swaggered out of the door as a television emerged from the back of his massive dresser.
What kind of movie did he have in mind? I was not watching some violent action flick where the male lead had to save the helpless damsel from the evil foreign mastermind.
I peeled my jeans off and tossed them into the basket where Caleb had dropped his. Our dirty clothes were now sharing a space. What was next? Would he clean out a drawer for me?
A snort slipped out. Yeah right. We weren’t even dating. Neither one of us knew what we were doing.
I marched toward the other side of Caleb’s bed and grabbed his shirt, shoving it over my head.
“I hope you like scary movies.” He returned, balancing several items in his hands. “And if you don’t, you’re more than welcome to snuggle up to me so I can protect you.”
“I’ll be okay against some fictitious killer or psycho ghost out for revenge.” I grabbed the boxers he’d left for me and pulled them up my legs. “What are we eating?”
Caleb began spreading the snacks across the bed. “We have chips, popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, a cheese platter with some crackers and grapes. And a big bowl o’ honey, of course.”
He grinned. “We can’t have a snack without it.”
The prince had totally turned me into a honey addict.
I climbed on his bed and reached for a chip. “Don’t keep me in suspense. What’s the movie, Tinkerbell?” If someone had told me a few months ago I’d be stretched out on the fae prince’s bed about to watch a movie like we were besties, I would have called them loco.
“Friday the Thirteenth. The original one.”
Did he drag that out of a time capsule? “That film is like a hundred years old.”
He scoffed. “It’s a classic! And it’s not a hundred years old.”
“You probably just want to watch it for the naked chicks.” I dunked a cracker into the bowl of honey.
A crooked grin curved the prince’s lips. “If I wanted to see the naked female form, I’d just get you undressed.”
I rolled my eyes. “Such a cocky bastard.”
As Caleb started the movie, I settled into the mountain of pillows. Several inches separated us, but he might as well have been pressed against me from the way my body reacted to his presence. Blood rushed through my veins, and my skin hummed like I was surrounded by static electricity.
“Do you have any ideas of where we should look next?” I asked to distract myself from the wicked thoughts trying to burrow inside. “Our last lead was a bust.”
The prince and I had been combing the city in search of information on these so-called relics. All we had to go on was Caleb’s theory that the other two ancient items had to be something from Faerieland and Illyria. We also had to be sneaky about it. If Lachlan caught wind of our plan, he’d want to throw his hat into the race for the relics. The fae king with all the power that created the other realm doors in Nightworld would be almost as bad as the grand witch. Cyria would be the third in the running for the worst person to take the Conclave.
Speaking of the demon queen… she was still MIA after double-crossing Hugo and us and turning my sweet human friend into a demon.
My fingers curled into fists, crushing the cookie in my palm. I hadn’t seen Aiden since that night in the decrepit basement of Mercy Hospital. If Cyria tried asking the council for leniency, I’d be there to ruin any chance she had.
“None of the fae I’ve talked to know anything about a special relic from Faerieland,” Caleb said, interrupting my downward spiral as he passed me a napkin to drop the cookie crumbs into. “I thought for sure Gerald would have something to offer.”
Gerald, a faerie living at the edge of fae territory, had to be over five hundred years old with a beard that touched the ground and a twisted cane constructed from a branch that looked like a wizard’s staff. But the ancient fae hadn’t known a thing.
“We might have to visit Faerieland.” Caleb rolled his shoulders as he considered our options. “I could get away with going, but my father wouldn’t be too inclined to let you leave.”
“What about the dagger of Astrix?” Even thinking about it had my shadows perking up.
The fae prince angled toward me, one eyebrow arching. “What about the dagger?”
“Maybe I could use it in a spell to search for the other relics or at least reveal what they are.” My body grew tense as I imagined connecting with the power of the demon knife. Part of me was terrified to be near the thing. The other wanted to keep it by my side forever.
Caleb studied me for several long moments. “We wouldn’t be able to get the dagger easily. After the vampires stole it, my father has it hidden and under lock and key with fae wards.”
I shrugged. “I bet we could find it. We’d have to eventually.”
“I don’t think using it in a spell is a good idea, Rose Thorn.”
My shoulders sank as I read between the lines. “You think I’d go all wicked witch if I used the dagger.”
“That knife is full of dark power from the Underworld,” he pointed out. “Even I can feel it. And the last time you had it, you couldn’t get rid of it fast enough because you sensed the danger it posed in your possession.”
I turned back to the screen before he noticed the slight watering of my eyes. Being in contact with that thing would be bad news. “You’re right.” I winced at the shaky whisper that betrayed the hurt roiling inside. “I shouldn’t be near something like that, especially when I’m already having a hard time controlling myself. I’m dangerous without the dagger.”
“That’s not what I meant.” When I wouldn’t look at him, the bed swayed as Caleb scooted over and captured my chin in his grasp, forcing my head in his direction. “I made it my job to watch out for you, and I don’t want you doing spells with that thing because it would put you in harm’s way.”
“It would put everyone in harm’s way.” I pulled his fingers from my face and bit my lip to mask the quivers in it. “You know I was going to kill that vampire tonight. My death raker side is taking over, and it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt, even you.”
His head snapped back. “You’re not going to hurt me, Thorn.”
Ugh. He had to use my real name.
I jerked my finger to the Arx talisman hanging beneath his T-shirt. “Not when you’re wearing that. Don’t ever take it off around me.”
Sharp lines cut into Caleb’s expression, hardening his features. “This talisman has nothing to do with it.” He reached behind his neck and unclasped the chain, holding the crimson stone. “This is not what’s stopping you from hurting me, Thorn. You are.” He tossed the necklace on his bedside table.
I shook my head as panic clawed at my chest. “I don’t have that much control. I could easily drain you. When my death raker side has taken over in the past, I’ve tried to. That talisman stopped me.”
He snatched my hand. “Maybe at first, but not now. Not after…” His words trailed off, but he didn’t need to say it for me to understand.
We’d been through a lot since Lachlan first forced us to partner up. After our big blowout over Jasper’s betrayal and nearly dying at the hands of vampires and then witches, something shifted between us.
The energy had changed. I didn’t agonize over wanting to be near him anymore or feel guilty or stupid for it. Caleb didn’t flirt with other girls—at least not in front of me. Yes, we still teased and tortured each other, but it wasn’t out of spite or anger.
“I trust you, Thorn.” Caleb’s words sliced my heart open.
I took a shuddering breath. “You shouldn’t. It’s a dangerous thing to do.”
A ghost of a smile tugged at his lips. “What can I say? I like living on the edge.” He brought my hand to his cheek, his humor evaporating. “You’d stop yourself from killing me.”
I choked back the lump rising in my throat as his form blurred from unshed tears. “I hope you’re right.”
How could the fae prince, my supposed enemy, have more faith in me than anyone, even myself? I was a danger to everyone, and yet Caleb risked his life just by trusting me.
“I’m always right.” He winked and pulled my hand from his face but didn’t release his grip. “Let’s watch a bunch of sexually charged camp counselors run from a psychopath. If you get scared, I’m ready to snuggle. I’ll protect you from the killer.”
A wry laugh slipped out. “Or maybe I’ll protect you.”
“As long as you stay right here all night.”
Why did my heart have to flutter so damn much around him? I should have pulled away and put more space between us. Instead, I scooted closer until our heads almost touched. Sometimes being near Caleb made me antsy, but now, his presence had a calming effect that made me feel almost normal—like I wasn’t an out-of-control witch with a deadly power.