He lifts his head; the deep brown of his irises is almost obsidian in the barely-lit foyer. They remind me of the earth at Thornchapel—near-black and wet, filled with secrets. His eyes could eat bones.
They’re already eating mine.
He draws in a breath. “You knew,” he says in a juddering kind of voice, “because you always know. Do you know that I don’t want to leave? Do you know that I want to go back upstairs with you? Do you know that I’d let you do anything to me right now? Anything you wanted, Auden, anything at all.” He steps closer, his lips parted, his hands slowly turning so his palms face me in offering.
Outside, I hear the trees lashing and fretting in a sudden, gusting wind.
“Anything,” I echo.
His pulse thrums just above the collar of his borrowed shirt. “Anything.”
I could have him now. If I wanted.
If I pushed, he’d break. If I pulled, he’d fall. All I have to do is say yes to this churning, crashing need inside me, and I could have him at my feet, I could have him on his stomach and I could be inside him with my palm against his throat and this blazer crushed between us.
And he’s looking at me like we’re sixteen again and about to kiss in a bed of flowers, like we’re starting over at the very beginning and there’s nothing between us, nothing but delirious, innocent lust—I could have him.
I could have him.
But having and loving are only sometimes the same thing.
I take a step back. “You’ll be late if you don’t go now,” I say. The words come out gentler than I feel them; they feel like razor-wire leaving my mouth.
“Auden . . . ” he says. Pleads. “But I—I miss you.”
He says it like I don’t miss him in return. He says it like I’m the bad guy here, like I’m the one who left, and maybe this is the hardest part of loving someone, maybe this was always the test. Not letting him leave, but making him go.
I take his hand, wrapping my fingers around his so that my thumb rests on the Guest family ring. My hand is shaking. My entire body is shaking.
Outside the trees are thrashing and behind my eyes it feels like all I can see is forest and rain. I drag in a breath, forcing the feeling down inside me, as if I can tamp whatever it is back into my belly, as if I can pretend that I don’t want to run and chase and hunt. I’m not a king, I’m not so twisted up in Thornchapel that even the trees feel my lust and my pain. I’m just a London boy with a non-Smythson bag and good hair. I’m just a friend and a brother and I’m going to do the right thing, because I’ll pay any price not to have St. Sebastian look at me like he did at Lammas.
Because I’ve finally, finally learned that I can’t choose us for him.
He has to do it on his own.
“Listen,” I say. “You and Proserpina will always be my air and my water—the very things that make up my blood—and that hasn’t changed, because it will never change, it can’t. I can’t.”
I put my free hand against his stomach, pressing the ejaculate-damp shirt into his skin. Mine, the gesture says. My own thing.
“This is me. But you are you, and I love you as you are, and don’t you see it? Don’t you feel it? You were right about me. A few minutes alone with me, and I have you dressed like a doll and wearing my cum, and if you spend the night with me, I’ll have you shivering and spent and marked all over. If you come back to Thornchapel, I will never stop looking and reaching and wanting. I can’t be trusted.”
He’s shaking his head, even though I’m only repeating his own words from Lammas back to him. “You can’t be trusted,” I remind him gently. “You had your reasons for leaving. Have they changed so much that you can abandon them all now? Truly?”
He’s stopped shaking his head now, and he’s staring up at me with a look so hopeless I can’t stand it.
This is what no one told me about love, about being the Thorn King, about everything.
You can be broken, and still you must let people break you again and again.
You must help them break you, if necessary.
You must allow your own sorrows, your own torments and regrets, to be subsumed in the face of their own.
You must cut yourself apart piece by piece and plant those pieces far and wide in the lives of those around you, and then you must not lament when they don’t take root. You must cut yourself apart and do it all over again. As many times as it takes.
As many times as it takes.
“Go, St. Sebastian,” I say, letting go of his hand. I can still feel the worn crest of his ring against my thumb. The G surrounded by twining, twisting thorns. “Just go.”
He swallows. Whispers, “I’m sorry.”
And then finally, mercifully, he turns and opens the door. I watch him take the steps with the vague stagger of a dying man, and then I watch him slope off into the night, shoulders hunched forward and head down.
I think he’s crying.
I know I am.About the Author: Sierra Simone is a USA Today Bestselling former librarian (who spent too much time reading romance novels at the information desk.) She lives with her husband and family in Kansas City. Connect w/Sierra Simone: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sierra-Simone-497450453680395/?fref=ts Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SierraSimonesLambs Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheSierraSimone Amazon : http://amzn.to/1PDR4K4 Goodreads : http://bit.ly/1oo9WEh Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/thesierrasimone/ Website: http://authorsierrasimone.com/ Subscribe to Sierra’s newsletter: sierrasim.one/getmyemails