I stared at the pile of bills and mail on the kitchen counter just waiting for me to open them. They demanded my attention away from what was truly on my mind. I picked up an envelope and slid my finger under the fold to tear it open.
“Ouch.” I stuck my finger in my mouth before investigating to see how bad the paper cut was. A small, red mark was visible. It hadn’t started bleeding yet.
I set the envelope back down with a sigh. I’d deal with these later. Right now, I had to unravel my thoughts. So much had happened in the past month.
I push open the door to my room and survey the space I used to call home. Now, it just made me claustrophobic. I supposed I would have to get used to it. The statue of Eros and Psyche was complete. It was done.
I let my hobo bag slip from my shoulder and crash to the floor.
My mind swam with confessions.
I drowned in the admissions.
My heart had crashed with the truth.
Without thinking, my fingers found the silver bands still hanging from my neck.
That was all we had.
That memory was what I had taken away from Caliburn Estate. I had to remind myself that I had been the one to walk away. At the end of it all, I chose to leave. There was a good reason for it.
I was bound.
I was ensnared.
I was contracted in blood to the man I thought I could trust.
Avalon’s confession came a week after he had risen from the dead, quite literally. A week of bliss, celebrating, and planning was ruined by Lancer’s slip of the tongue. I refused to believe it. It was so outrageous it couldn’t be true.
The truth had been what Avalon tried to tell me before I gave myself fully to him, but I had ignored his attempts. Now that I knew it, knowing the danger I was placed in, I felt used. Completely and utterly used. Everyone seemed to know my fate better than I did. Well, that was over.
If I closed my eyes and drifted long enough in the darkness, I could feel Avalon’s fingers on my skin. I could taste him on my tongue. Spice, whiskey, and mint wafted in faint wisps, teasing my nose. He still surrounded me.
That horrid day a month ago, though, tainted my memories of a man I swore would protect me against evil. He couldn’t even protect me against himself.
One month before …
“Lancer, what is it? I have to get back to work. Avalon is busy plotting a gala for when it is finished.” I let him lead me into a side sitting room.
His normally kind forest eyes were hard. He didn’t speak at first, which worried me. Whatever he was going to say wouldn’t be good.
“Do you know anything about a contract?” His words started very slowly, taking his time to form them in his mind before speaking.
My brows knitted. “Just the one I signed to work for Avalon. I haven’t signed anything for Mordred.” I smirked. “I’m hoping I won’t have to now that His Grace is well again.”
Lancer’s jaw tightened. “You don’t know anything more? Do you remember anything strange that happened when you signed Avalon’s contract?” He studied my face.
I didn’t like where this was going.
“What are you getting at, Lancer? Just come out with it.”
He ran fingers through his already wild brown air and grimaced.
“Has Avalon tried to tell you something? Something he said was important before you…” He made a stabbing motion with his hand.
I hesitated before giving a light laugh at the description. I ran my fingers along the back of a silken embroidered chair.
“He did actually. The night before that entire ordeal, we were talking in his room, and he tried to tell me something.” I shrugged.
A confused look crossed over Lancer’s face. His eyes tightened, and his lips pursed. I met his gaze for only a moment, guilt washing over me.
“Why didn’t he tell you?”
I jumped when he touched my hand. I shook my head, swallowing hard.
“We started arguing like we always do. He forgot.” I needed to turn this back on Lancer. He was too close to knowing what really deterred Avalon from telling me. “Why do you ask? Do you know something that I don’t?”
I played coy.
He didn’t buy it, but he nodded.
It felt like a lead weight dropped to the pit of my stomach.
“What do you know?” I took a step closer to Lancer.
His eyes detached from mine, and he sucked his teeth. “I will tell you the truth, if you tell me your truth, Alexandria.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t lie to me, Allie! I know what you and he have done! I know!” He looked toward the open door and lowered his voice. Inches from my lips, he whispered, “I know you spent the night before with Avalon in his bed. Don’t deny it.”
The hurt in his gaze at knowing my truth cut like a thousand swords. I opened my mouth to speak, but a voice in the back of my head told me not to lie to myself anymore. I bit back my worst fears and faced Lancer head on.
A sound erupted from his chest like a wounded animal. He backed away from me with his hand over his mouth. I stood there, waiting for the shouting to come, but it never came. All he did was hold a wooden chair and hang his head.
After a moment, he sniffed, “What am I to you, Allie? A toy? A waste? Am I not good enough?”
“NO! No, Lancer you are good enough. I …” There was no way I could fix this. “I do love you, but we are not together. You wanted space. Even when we saw each other again, you never brought it back up. Did you just take it at face value that I would fall back to being yours again?”
“Yes!” he roared, causing me to rear back. “You are mine! You and I, you and me! We are supposed to get married, have a family, grow old, and die together. I want that with you, Alexandria, so damn badly. But this … this isn’t you.”
He straightened, gripping my shoulders with a painful force. “This isn’t you because it isn’t you.” He forced his lips over mine, pulling me flush to him. “He’s done this to you.”
Too shocked to react and too dumbfound to pull away, I stood there. I stood there and listened to Lancer chant in a mantra how Avalon had spelled me. How he had blood bound me.
“What do you mean blood bound?” I shoved him off, and my heartbeat took off at a gallop.“What blood contract? Spells? What are you talking about, Lancer?”
Cupping my face in his hands, he looked so sorrowful, so pitiful. “When you signed that contract, you cut your finger, and you bled. That parchment was spelled. It was spelled to bind you to Avalon.”
Everything around me faded. I heard nothing. I saw nothing but that day last spring when I signed my name above Avalon’s.
That was why he had been so concerned.
That was why he looked terrified that I had bled.
I had sealed my own fate with my clumsiness.
Avalon had tried to tell me but decided to indulge in me instead.
I felt exposed and naked, and I didn’t like it.
The man I ran to when no one else was there had lied to me.
He stole my soul.
“Wh-what does that mean?” My voice was small, afraid to learn more.
“It means that if Avalon died that day instead of being resurrected, you would have lived for eternity. You would take his place wandering the Earth. You would have taken his curse.”
Those words were like nails in a coffin.
I stumbled to sit down before my legs gave out on me.
This was all a lie.
Avalon wouldn’t do this to me.
He would never wish this on me.
Which was why he won.
He had to.
This was his regret.
That revelation caused me to choke on a sob.
“What the bloody hell is all the screaming for?” Avalon’s voice made my blood run cold. His footsteps came closer. I could sense his body heat. I smelled his skin.
I wanted to peel my skin off. He had been inside me. He had spilled inside me. He and I were inseparable now. And he had lied all this time.
I saw his hands reaching for me, but I swatted him away.
“Don’t touch me.”
I heard his words catch in his throat.
“Lancer, what is wrong with her?” He had no idea what I had just uncovered.
“Your lies have caught up with you, Your Grace.”
Was that satisfaction in Lancer’s eyes?
I couldn’t tell. “I have to go. Allie, should you need me, call.”
I couldn’t look up. Looking up required I see Avalon, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t look into the eyes of the man I held so close to my heart. He had been winning my heart! How could he do this to us?
Avalon’s thoughts were so loud I could hear them. He still had no idea.
“Alexandria, stop this now. What the hell was he talking about? My lies? What did he say?” he demanded. It had been a while since I heard that sharpness to his voice. It made me loathe him and want him at the same time.
“You lied to me, Avalon, about something very important.”
“If I have, then please tell me. Allow me to explain.” He moved toward me in a tidal wave of power and ferocity.
God, why was he made of blood and heat?
Why did such an innocent touch illicit such desire?
“If you had died, slept for eternity, you would have left me behind.” I finally gathered the strength to look into his eyes of gray and bursting emerald. “You blood bound me, Avalon. You damned me, and you didn’t even tell me.”
The betrayal finally hit me, and tears slid down my face.
“After all I’ve done for you, this is how you repay me? This is how you show your love for me?” I swiped at my cheeks with the back of my hand. “You would rather have sex with me than tell me the truth. Is that it?”
His face swam with a variety of emotions before settling on one.
I had been right.
This was his regret.
He nodded. “That is true. You are bound to me. But may I explain?”
I held up my hands.
I stood, shaking my head.
This was all too much.
“No, I don’t want your stories. I don’t want any more lies. You promised, Avalon, there would be no more lies!” Anger boiled in my blood, thickening and thinning. “You told me you loved me. You gave me our wedding bands, but you never told me the truth. Never.” I shook my head. “From day one, I’ve been an unknown pawn in your game. Your curse may be partially lifted, but mine never will!” I was screaming now. “How could you do this to me? Haven’t you done enough?”
Silence fell between us.
I could see him desperately trying to find a way to make me see, make me understand his view. I wouldn’t allow it.
“Alexandria, I have been searching for a way to rid you of it. I never wanted it!” His voice was raw with emotion. “I do love you. I love you so much, and I need you.” Strong arms wrapped around my shoulders. “My love, I need you. But I swear I have been searching every avenue to free you of this.”
“Why, Avalon?” I sobbed into his chest. “To me?” I was so tired of being pulled by extreme emotions. My mind snapped, and I ceased my tears soon after I started.
I stepped away from him. “I will complete the statue. Once I am finished, I will leave. You will find a way to lift this from me. It will be the last thing I allow you to do. Do you understand?”
I was so cold. I had to be.
His eyes swam with tears, his face crestfallen and decimated.
“Alexandria …” His voice hitched. “Are you leaving me?”
I spoke from my head, ignoring my heart completely. She would only bring me more sorrow should I follow her. “Yes.”
He was able to compose himself but just barely. His chin trembled. He pushed hands through raven hair.
Clearing his throat several times, he let me go and stepped back. “As you wish, Alexandria. Thank you …”