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"Maybe." He sighs, and then moves his foot off his knee and to the floor. "I'd like to believe the future can be changed, especially since we're trying to do that with the star and the portal."
"What if it doesn't change?" I whisper. "Then what?"
"Depending on how strong she is, she could survive the torture for up to a few years without it driving her mad. But once she loses her mind, the Queen will have her killed."
"The Queen of the Dead. She's in charge of everything that goes on in the Underworld. After a prisoner goes insane, they no longer produce the right kind of fear for her people to feed off of, so she gets rid of them."
I feel like banging my head on the window, but my body is too drained to move toward it. "That's the most ruthless thing I've ever heard."
"You have to understand that most of the creatures we send down there have committed horrible deeds," he explains. "The kind of crimes that haunt people's nightmares."
"Well, considering the Death Walkers have killed me over and over again in my nightmares, I can understand that comparison," I say.
His head gradually turns toward me, but he doesn't look at me. Instead he looks over my shoulder at the window. "You never mentioned before that they killed you."
I sit up straight and move my face into his line of vision, trying to get him to look at me. "I didn't think I needed to give you the details."
"I always want you to give me the details," he says and closes his eyes. "Always."
Why won't he look at me? "You don't think my nightmares are visions, do you?"
"No, that's not even possible for a Foreseer to do." He opens his eyes and continues to stare over my shoulder at the window. "They have to have the power of the crystal to channel the psychic energy. But Gemma, I'd really like you to give me the details of the nightmares you keep talking about."
He's acting strange, like it hurts him to look at me and be in the car with me. "Well, I want you to give me details, too. About you."
He glances at my face, but then swiftly looks back at the window. "There's not that much to know."
I inch toward the edge of the seat and place myself in his line of vision. "I don't believe that for one second and I have a great idea. You can start off by telling me why you won't look me in the eye."
He blinks several times and finally meets my eyes. "Because I don't like the calm, sleepy look in your eyes."
I rub my eyes with my fingertips. "I'm just really tired. I haven't slept in over twenty-four hours."
"It's not from tiredness." He sighs. "It's from Laylen. He put the look there and I don't like it because you look content and you hardly ever look content."
I drag my bottom lip into my mouth and press my knees together, avoiding his accusation. "Alex, I want to know something about you. Something real. Like maybe why you're so hot and cold all the time? It confuses me."
He shakes his head. "I can't tell you that yet."
"Then tell me something real." I practically beg, because I need things to feel real at the moment, instead of feeling like I'm drowning in a sea of illusions.
He places his hand beside my leg, not touching me, but close. "The first time I saw you, I was scared."
That isn't what I expected. "You seemed p.i.s.sed."
"I was p.i.s.sed, too." He scoots forward and our knees brush. "But p.i.s.sed at myself for feeling the way that I did-the way that I do." His jaw tightens and then his hand moves to my hip. "I was taught not to feel that way."
My muscles constrict beneath his touch and every ounce of the comfort Laylen put in me singes into ash. "To feel what way?"
His lip part, then he shuts his eyes tightly. "Out of control. Lost. Confused. Terrified. I'm not supposed to let those things get to me." His eyes open and I suck in a breath at the rawness they emit. "You want to know something real about me, Gemma? I'm empty. Dead. Completely numb inside, except for when I'm around you. I'm hot and cold because I try to fight my feelings, because that's what I'm supposed to do-that's the right thing to do."
I think about what he said earlier: what's right and what he wants. "Do you want to feel those things though?"
"I want to feel a lot of things." His fingers burrow into my hip and I shudder as heat caresses my skin. He bends his elbow and with one hand pulls me across the seat toward him. When I'm near enough, his free hand grabs my waist; he lifts me up and sits me down on his lap so I'm straddling him. My chest heaves erratically as he traces his finger up my cheekbone and tucks a strand of my hair behind my ear.
His lips dip toward my neck. "Whenever I'm around you, I forget everything else." He doesn't explain if that's good or bad, and I don't get a chance to ask him because his teeth nip at my neck and I forget how to speak.
I bring my hands up to the back of his neck, then slide them up and tangle them into his hair. His mouth opens and his tongue rolls along my neck. I draw his face closer and lift my hips up and his mouth nears my collarbone. I'm completely ready to go back to the feeling I experienced on the bed in the cabin. I want him to explore me further. I want him to touch me all over, but he gives me a quick kiss and then pulls back. I'm about to object when he picks me up by the waist and I nearly smack my head on the ceiling of the car as he lays me down on the seat. Then he covers my body with his and kisses me hard, stealing my breath away.
When our bodies can't take it any longer, he pulls away and looks down at me as we both pant. I can feel it, just like he said, the numbness in me when I'm not with him being filled and I need more. I move my hands up his muscular arms and the longer I touch him, the more I let go because I let my emotions own me. When I reach his back, I try to force him to me, but he shakes his head in protest.
I frown. "What's wrong?"
His eyes shadow over with a look that sends my body into a fit. He kneels up and grabs my arms roughly. I let him because I want to and that's all that matters. In one quick motion, he pins my wrists together and restrains them above my head. Then he lowers himself back on me as his hand glides down my body. When he reaches the top of my dress, he jerks it down and my b.r.e.a.s.t.s spring free. Moments later, his mouth is devouring my nipple, licking it and biting it gently. There are too many emotions inside me; need, want, hunger, panic, fear, connection, serenity. It's potent and amazing to the point of overwhelming.
I arch my back up as my nipples harden and then let my legs fall open. His hand immediately slides down my stomach to the bottom of my dress, then his mouth moves upward, his breath soft on my skin and his lips wet. His other hand keeps my arms pinned up above my head as his fingers slip up my inner thigh. I want to grab him, dig my nails into him and let it all out, but I'm helpless and can only cry out.
"Oh my G.o.d." My neck arches as my body curves into him.
He moves his lips from mine and looks me in the eye as his fingers graze the trim of my panties. For a faltering second, I almost tell him to stop. I've never done this before. I've never done anything at all, except with him. I'm deprived in every area of human affection and it's terrifying to think that he's going to be inside me. As he slips his fingers beneath the fabric, the fear and doubt are immediately replaced by this need to find out what it feels like to be alive and connected. He waits long enough for me to stop him before he slides a finger inside me.
"f.u.c.k," he groans and he lowers his mouth to mine as he begins to move his finger.
My nipples brush against his chest with every ragged breath I take and I find myself wishing he had his shirt off so I can feel his skin touching mine. I moan and bite at his lips and he bites back at mine. It feels so good and my hips start to move against him. I can feel it again, the sense of freedom from a world of pain. It's almost within my reach. Right as I'm about to reach it he slips another finger in me and his mouth leaves mine. My lips part as my neck arches and my head tips back. He watches me fall blindly into a feeling I've only experienced with him and I want to stay there. Forever.
As I come back down, he slips his fingers out of me and releases my wrists. I leave my worn-out arms above my head as he props up on his elbows, one on each side of my head. I work to regain control of my breathing and he smoothes my hair back from my damp forehead.
He studies my eyes carefully with a small, smug smile on his lips. "There, now I can look you in the eyes again."
My lips turn upward, but I'm too tired, overwhelmed and drained to speak.
The smile erases from his lips and he lets out a slow sigh. "I'm completely f.u.c.ked."
I'm not sure what he means. "Why? Because of me?"
He traces my cheekbone with his finger and I will my eyelids to stay open. "Because I wasn't even supposed to become friends with you."
I've yet to understand what the term friend means on a personal level. "Is that what we are? Friends?"
He lets out a soft laugh as his hand strays to my jawline and then to my neck. Repositioning his body slightly to the side, he traces a delicate path down my collarbone to the curve of my breast and then the pad of his thumb grazes my nipple. "We're not even close."
My body quivers underneath his touch and he begins to lower his lips to mine again. G.o.d knows what the h.e.l.l we would have done next if the d.a.m.n bell on the store's door didn't ding. He jumps off me like I'm made of fire and grabs my arms to aid me upright. I reach for the bottom of my dress to pull it back over my legs and he grabs the top and covers my b.r.e.a.s.t.s.
I'm combing my fingers through my hair when the pa.s.senger door swings open and the interior lights click on. Aislin climbs into the car, carrying a pet.i.te silver box with delicate flower engravings on the frame of it.
"Okay, so we..." She trails off when she catches sight of us. "What are you two doing?"
"Sitting here, talking," Alex answers with a nonchalant shrug. "We had a bit of an incident inside and needed a time out."
She eyes me over with accusation. "Gemma looks flushed."
"That's because the accident involved her," Alex says with a blase att.i.tude and I realize just how good of a liar he is.
"Oh no." She sets the box down on the console. "What happened?"
"I went into a vision," I say, noting the lingering breathlessness in my tone.
"What!" she exclaims so loudly a dog from one of the nearby yards starts howling. She lowers her voice. "You're a Foreseer."
I shrug, but Alex shakes his head. "I don't think so. I think it was the star's power that set it off. You know the divination crystal runs off energy."
"Yeah, but does the star radiate that much power through her? I thought it was controlled inside her."
"Who knows how it works, Aislin. You know nothing's ever happened like her. She's basically a mystery."
The moment of bliss I experienced just seconds ago vanishes as everything catches up with me again. I'm reminded of what I am, what I used to be. I'm reminded of the pain, the desolation, the betrayal. They continue to chat about me like I don't exist and, after a while, I kind of wish I didn't.
Laylen climbs into the car and then we're on the road, heading back to the house. I rest my head against the window and allow exhaustion to take my body as I shut my eyes. I drift to sleep, wondering what my dreams will hold.
I'm plummeting deeper into the murky lake; the water smothers my lungs and blinds my eyes. I kick my legs, trying to fight my way to the surface. I refuse to drown. I refuse to die.
"Gemma." A voice floats up from beneath my feet. "Hang on."
I kick harder and paddle my arms, attempting to doggy paddle.
"No, Gemma, down here," the voice comes from below me and I'm overpowered by a comforting feeling. I know whoever it is won't hurt me. I'm supposed to listen to it... I'm supposed to go to it. My legs and arms go limp and my dead weight carries me down to the bottom of the lake where tall gra.s.s encloses me.
"Good," the voice entices. "Now, I need your help."
For what? I think.
The voice responds inside my head. I need you to save me.
Just trust me.
I trust you. Bubbles float from my mouth.
Good. Now, whatever you do, don't panic.
A set of fingernails stab into my ankles and I'm being hauled downward again. I panic and claw at the water, but I'm drowning; useless, becoming part of the dead. For a brief, yet very important moment, I don't care.
Someone shakes my shoulder. "Gemma, wake up."
My eyelids snap open, I spring upright, and my head smacks into Alex's. "Don't touch me!"
"f.u.c.k, Gemma." Alex surrenders his hands up in front of him and I pant loudly and hug my legs to my chest. "Calm down."
I eye his hands, then glance around at the vacant front seats of the GTO and then at the shelved walls of Laylen's garage. The interior light is on and the car door is wide open.
"Where are Aislin and Laylen?" I stretch my arms above my head, curl my back in and stretch.
"They're already inside," he says as he reaches around the seat and flips the lever. "Getting things set up for Aislin's spell."
I yawn. "How long have we been sitting out here?"
He pushes the seat forward. "Awhile."
"Why didn't you just wake me up?"
"Because I knew you were tired and I thought I'd let you sleep. In fact, if you want, you can go lie down in one of the spare rooms." He ducks out the door and climbs out of the backseat.
"I think I will." I scoot toward the door and he offers his hand to help me out, but I decline, moving around it, and put my feet onto the cement floor.
"You're mad," he states. "At me?"
I cross my arms over my chest. "Why would I be mad?"
"I have no idea," he says as I proceed towards the steps. "That's why I'm asking."
I twist the k.n.o.b and push the door open. "I'm not mad. I was just painfully reminded of what and who I am to you."
His fingers encircle my elbow and he stills me. "And what do you think you are to me?"
I look directly into his eyes and utter the truth. "A star."
His fingers prod deeper into my arm, but he presses his lips together, not denying it. I feel my heart fracture down the middle and a tiny fragment chips off. Where it will end up, I don't know.
After I change out of the leather dress and back into my clothes, which Aislin washed, I go to sleep like Alex suggested. He makes me keep a knife on the nightstand next to the bed in case something happens while he's gone. I find images of cloaked monsters, a glacier world and an eerie lake haunting my head as soon as I shut my eyes and, soon I'm wide awake.
I lie in bed for a while before I force myself to get up. It takes me even longer to decide to go find Laylen, but, finally I tuck the small knife into the back pocket of my jeans and step out into the hall. The house is enormous and it takes a while to find him. He's in a small room with black walls, no windows and a corner lamp. There is a trivial bookshelf in the corner and a stereo is on top of it, playing the soft tune of "Into the Ocean" by Blue October. In the center of the room is a red sofa where Laylen is lying down, reading a book. I feel uncomfortable just walking in so I stand in the doorway, deciding the best way to interrupt him.