“Then what do you want?”
“For you to stay safe, Aisling.”
I tried not to let my suspicion show on my face. Mrak had saved me. He seemed to be, on a whole, not much of a threat to me personally. But I’d seen what this power he’d given me could do, a fiery magic that had burned so many vampires there that day, and I just knew it was only a small portion of his power.
Mrak, whatever he was, had incredibly powerful magic. So no, I was pretty sure my safety wasn’t the only thing Mrak wanted. But I couldn’t easily question that and get a straight answer. And Mrak so very much loved to deflect by arousing my mind and body.
“We’re just going to a bar,” I argued, holding my own. Mrak might have been tied to my presence, but this was my body. Not his. No matter what our pact said. “I’ll be there for a drink, maybe two, and then I’ll come home. I promise.” I turned away from the mirror as if I could actually turn my back on the demon or monster or whatever Mrak was. “Besides, you said we killed many of the vampires who might’ve been involved with Lazarus and his feeding community, right? I’ve nothing left to be afraid of. Not with you around.”
That was, of course, what Mrak had said. I hadn’t’ entirely been conscious the entire time to prove that all of the vampires involved with Lazarus had died. I knew Lazarus was definitely dead. The rest…
Only one year had passed since that night. Had I not had Mrak, I was convinced I’d be a mess. But with him around, I was safe, and in that safety, I’d been able to reconnect with Willa and start working. Slowly, I’d taken on customers. I’d been difficult—and still was—to talk to many people or be in a crowded space, but overall, I’d been able to start living life again.
“What I want,” Mrak started as I felt the sensation of his arms wrapping around me once more. They felt like human arms, but something about his overall presence felt way more monstrous. “Is for you to realize that just because those vampires met with the justice they deserved, other vampires still exist. Werewolves. Demons.” As he talked, it felt as though his fingers had trailed up my arms to hold my face. “Amongst other monstrous things.”
I swallowed hard. I couldn’t help it. A part of me wasn’t sure how I felt about Mrak’s existence being tied so closely to my own that he might have actually possessed me. But another part of me loved the way he could so easily light a pool of warmth within me without actually laying a single finger on my skin. It was like being blindfolded around someone twenty-four-seven, never knowing exactly where they were or what they were doing, only feeling them in the present. And gods, did I really need to focus on the present only right now. Not the future, and definitely not the past. Or the fact that I was pretty sure Mrak was the kind of demon Lazarus and his elite vampires had been worried about.
I personally didn’t see why they’d been so worried.
“And where do you fall on that list of supernaturals?” I asked him.
A touch I couldn’t see compelled me to tilt my head sideways. His fingertips traced light circles there before I felt warm lips on my skin. I inhaled sharply, a cool chill sweeping through me as Mrak’s presence always did. Reassuring—but nearly empty. With the way he could touch my body or arouse sensations within it, his presence was undeniable. But it was never whole, not really.
My body didn’t seem to care, reacting immediately to his incorporeal touch. A moan nearly teetered from my lips.
“I told you,” Mrak said as the sensation of lips moved against my neck. “You’d learn more about me in time.”
“It feels like you’re sharing my body,” I said, my voice so low, I might as well have whispered. “The least you can do is tell me exactly what you are. What I summoned that day.”
“Protection,” he murmured as he kissed my neck again. Deflecting, as always. “And a way out.” His ethereal fingers gently circled my neck for a brief moment before sliding away to my breasts. “I provided both, and now you will let me stay at your side until what I seek is found. That was the deal.”
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