Once upon a time, I thought love was a fairytale.
My prince was a Beast with blood on his hands and ice in his veins. My family offered to save me. The only price: leaving the tattered pieces of my heart behind.
Our love was irrational. Cruel. Unforgiving. Nothing like the storybooks said it should be—but it was perfect.
The longer we were apart, the more I lost myself. He was vicious and domineering, but I craved the submission. Together we were destructive, but I was addicted to the devastation. Still, I thought titles mattered. To my family I was princess, and to the Beast I was slave. I was too naïve to understand that even though he’d been my captor, he’d broken the shackles on my soul.
Once upon a time, I thought love meant happily ever after.
Now I know better.
My heart was in my throat as I hurriedly tried to wipe blood from my hands. The harder I tried to clean them, the more dirt and blood smeared the skin. With a shaky breath, I looked beyond the small copse of trees that shrouded me to the reason my palms were stained red, the reason I’d killed someone. Pacing back and forth, talking on a phone, his features blurred from the distance. Every few moments he paused and stared into the trees.
I sucked in a sharp breath—it was like he could see me even though I was cloaked in darkness. My hands stilled and I stopped trying to clean, paralyzed by his stare piercing the shadows. In the month since I’d escaped, the stubble on his jaw had grown to a beard. It made him wilder, more Beastly.
“What have I done?” I whispered, breaking the spell and putting my head in my hands. An instant later, I tore them away. The blood was like maple syrup against my cheeks. I quickly jumped up and moved as far away from the body as I could, resting against a thin tree. Anteros resumed pacing, though occasionally he looked back and I each time had me swallowing what felt like golf balls.
There was just one building around for miles and only the anemic glow of one faraway street lamp cast light on the empty lot. Windowless with one door, it looked like some kind of abandoned concrete factory, but inside all kinds of debauchery went on. It was a club owned by the Beast, but not like the one he’d taken me to, not mainstream. This was underground, a place for the dark and dirty.
A walkie-talkie blared static, angry, white noise next to the body and even knowing I should leave, knowing my minutes were numbered, I couldn’t. This was the closest I’d gotten to Anteros since I’d escaped. It had been so long since we’d been in the same vicinity that I’d nearly forgotten the carnal pull, the tug, the yearning. How I was utterly powerless, even before he spoke.
The first day I’d searched for him I went back to the penthouse and sat outside, hidden, waiting for him to come out. I did that for a week before I realized he didn’t live there anymore. I should have given up.
Instead I became obsessed.
A dark part of me hoped he couldn’t go back to the penthouse, the same way I couldn’t stop looking for him until I found him.
As I watched Anteros, I tried to ignore the throbbing between my thighs that matched the heartbeat thrumming in my ears. Leather pants curved around thick, muscular thighs. Weapons glimmered in the night and a muscle shirt dirtied with blood captivated me, glued me to the spot. It all somehow enhanced Anteros, made him sexier, more dangerous. I hadn’t thought it possible for him to be more dangerous.
I was transfixed by the way Anteros was only in a tank despite the bitter air, lingering on how his skin rolled with his muscles. Involuntarily, my tongue darted out to wet my lips. The Beast had always been lethal, but now…he was mythic.
I was so engrossed watching him I didn’t realize I was fingering the diamond rose pendant he gave me. I should have thrown it away the moment I was free. I thought about it. I thought about it every day for almost two weeks, but could never do it. Now the diamond was getting bloody as I rubbed it.
Bloody because I killed someone.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But then, I’d never really considered how it would happen. I’d just listened to the need tugging at my gut, the one that threatened to rip me apart if I didn’t follow. And when I’d finally found Anteros, someone had found me first. It was instinct. One minute there, the next gone.
I killed Big O.
It all happened so fast. I’d been in the trees, staring at the lone door, and then out of nowhere hands were around my neck. Before he could yell for help, my knife was in his side and blood ran down my palm, my wrist. It was so bright, but dark too. Like summer cherries. I could have left Big O. I could have run and he would have been alive and I wouldn’t have been a killer. I hadn’t even planned on using my knife; the only reason I kept it was because Anteros’s dried blood was still on the blade.
I could have left.
But a rush of adrenaline, like fire in my chest and buzzing, crackling electricity in my veins, had filled me when the blade broke his skin. So I slid the knife into Big O again. And again.
What does that say about me?
The weight of the memory was too much so I fell to the ground, hand scratching against the bark of the tree as I descended. I wasn’t about to throw Big O a funeral, but I was a good girl. I returned my library books. I was a good girl.
Anteros stopped talking on his phone and stared into the trees again, one hand clasped behind his neck pensively, bicep bulging. Even yards away, his gaze stripped me of my clothes. Just when I was certain he could see me, he looked down and pulled his cell back out. Long, tan fingers slid across the glass surface.
That thing happened—that uniquely Anteros thing—where my body got viciously warm and even in the winter I thought I would boil alive. His fingers had been one of the first things I noticed about him. Elegant. Rough. Dichotomous—like him. I couldn’t help but remember how they had curled inside me. A slight breeze tickled what little skin I had showing on the cold night and I rubbed my neck. When I brought my hand back, blood streaked the palm. My eyes flashed to Big O and I swallowed a rock.
I’m so fucking fucked up.
Snapping twigs echoed around me and I quickly got to my feet, eyes going to the patio—empty, only yellow light to make the cement glow. Hair flew into my face as the breeze kicked up and I quickly wiped it away as my hand went to my blade.
By the trees, where the street lamp couldn’t reach and the moon’s light was suffocated. At first, it was nothing more than a shadow, but my heartbeat stuttered and my breathing ratcheted. I wondered if he could sense me all the way by the door the way I felt him now. The air vibrated when we were in the same vicinity, like being too close to speakers at a concert.
I should have run away, but I was prisoner to my needs and only he held the key to set me free.
“Come out,” I said, voice shaking. I’d just killed someone but simply the phantom of the man had me trembling.
Anteros emerged, form made monstrous by the night, and I sucked in a breath that got lost in my lungs. His eyes gleamed, the same bluegreen that had haunted my dreams, except here it was real. Our eyes locked and for a brief moment, I felt him—felt everything. It was like quitting a drug and jumping back in at the full dosage; heady, unstable, dangerous. I had the urge to get on my knees. To beg for forgiveness for leaving him.
His gaze flicked to the dead, exsanguinated body of Big O. Surprise flashed in his bluegreen depths and vanished just as quickly to be replaced with something else: satisfaction. I wanted to tell him he had it all wrong—I didn’t plan this—but his red lips curved in a cruelly sensual way and when his eyes flashed back to mine, they were hard and merciless, making my core ache and weep.
I remembered reading about the prediction of a great earthquake that was going to shake California. It hadn’t happened yet, but everyone kept waiting for it. That was what I saw in his eyes: a cocksureness at my return, smug even as the earth shook beneath us.
Anteros walked over the stained red concrete, mouth twisting up in a deadly grin as he reached me. My heart thumped so fast, so heavy, I wondered if it would bruise my ribcage. The smell of pine in the air was suddenly too thick. The night too dark. The ground too wet. I couldn’t breathe. If I touched him, I was fucked. But as our stares collided, I realized I would never escape him, could never escape him, because my heart beat inside his chest.
I closed the distance, reaching for him.
Still with a wicked grin, Anteros reached for the pendant and lifted it from my neck. His touch was cataclysmic, the heat of his fingers at my collarbone tearing through me. My breath was sporadic, staccato, leaving my parted lips in short gasps.
“You’ve made me wait,” he said, gripping the silver chain of the necklace. “You’ll pay for that.”