I refused to dwell on Elijah or Abbot anymore.
School? That was gonna be a no-go. With or without Bambi, it was too much of a risk. I couldn’t take the chance of infecting anyone else, especially when I still had no idea how I was doing it. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I couldn’t stay here. The Wardens would be after me. So would Hell once it got out that it had to be me behind it all. And the likelihood of ever seeing Zayne again seemed slim, and that tore me up, as if I’d been stabbed all over again. I could barely remember a time without him and now I’d face however long I walked this Earth without seeing him again, and that...that was going to kill me, especially knowing what I had done to him. The only thing I could hope for was some real confirmation that he was okay. Everything about my life had changed, but somehow I would survive. I would have to.
Roth’s lashes fluttered and then they swept up, revealing golden orbs that were bright with relief. He opened his mouth and then wet his lips, but he didn’t speak. We stared at each other, and in that moment and in that bed, locked in a tight embrace, it was just us and nothing else.
Then he lifted his hand from my hip, placing the tips of his fingers against my cheek. “The claw marks have healed,” he said. “There’re just faint pink lines. Who clawed you?”
There was no way I was telling him.
In the silence, he drew the tips of his fingers down to my neck, causing me to shiver. “The chain left a mark.”
“Yeah,” I whispered.
His nostrils flared. “I will kill them all.”
I believed he meant that. Reaching up, I wrapped my hand around his wrist. “I don’t think that’s...necessary.”
“They did this to you.” His lip curled up. “I think it’s completely necessary.”
Lowering my hand, I shook my head and started to tell him that I was okay, but in reality, I was far from it. Yes, I was alive and breathing, but okay wasn’t in my dictionary.
“The stuff that the coven...gave us? Did I hear Cayman right?” I asked instead. “Is something owed to them now?”
One dark eyebrow rose as he moved his finger to the curve of my collarbone. “There isn’t one ounce of my being that gives two shits about that right now.”
A surprised laugh escaped me. It sounded dry and hoarse. “All right.”
“I’ll deal with that later.”
Then he was staring at me again, in the same way he had when he opened his eyes. I found that my breath caught and the muscles low in my stomach tightened. My response confused and even frightened me, because I’d fallen into that stare before and barely resurfaced.
But he was the first to look away. “Want to try to get up?”
I cleared my throat. “Yeah. I could...I could clean up.”
That needed to happen. My clothes were soiled and clinging to me. God only knew the last time I’d showered. Roth helped me sit up after shooing Bambi away. She crawled her way up to the head of the bed and watched us. Once I had my legs pitched over the edge of the bed, Roth froze.
He was standing, his hands on my arms, and then he was suddenly on his knees in front of me. Concern spiked. “Roth—”
“I’m all right.” He closed his eyes as he slid his hands down to mine. “I honestly didn’t know if what the witches gave us would work. I thought when you closed your eyes...” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t know if you’d ever open them again.”
A knot formed in my throat and all I could do was squeeze his hands.
He shook his head. “All I could think of were all the lies I’ve told you and that you were going to die not knowing the truth.”
I thought of those words I’d imagined and my heart stumbled. I opened my mouth, but he leaned in. Letting go of my hands, he did something I’d never expected.
Roth placed his head in my lap, much as Bambi had done earlier, and let out a weary sigh.
My hands froze above his head. Tears welled up in my eyes and I wasn’t sure why. I lifted my gaze to where a sliver of daylight streamed underneath the blinds, casting a halo over Roth’s back.
“When I returned topside and went to the compound to speak to the Wardens, Abbot met me outside first, before you came out.”
This was nothing new, but I sensed there was more.
“Abbot warned me off before I even opened my mouth, before I could even tell him why we were there,” he said, his voice quiet and flat. “Not from his property, but from you. And you know, I got that. I could understand why he wouldn’t want you around me. After all, I am the Crown Prince of Hell, not the kind of guy who’s welcomed into homes. Particularly a Warden’s home.”
As he spoke, I lowered my hands to his head, sifting my fingers through his hair. A deep emotion stirred in the center of my chest, tightening my throat.
Roth turned into the caress like a cat nuzzling, seeking more petting. “But it was more than that. Abbot knew then what was happening with you, or what could happen after Paimon’s ritual. He thought my influence would aid that process along, that I would bring out the demon side in you. And I think...I think he knew I’d never be able to do what I was sent to do. He didn’t want you with me—he didn’t want us together.”
Inherently I knew together wasn’t us being in the same room, but more—deeper and intimate. My fingers stilled. “What...what did he do?”
Another sigh rose from him. “He told me not to even think about pursuing anything with you and at first I laughed and I told him that wasn’t going to happen. From the moment I was pulled from the pit, I was coming for you and not because I was ordered to—not because of what you’d think. Abbot’s threat meant nothing, but...”
My chest rose and fell sharply.
“But he knew...he knew how to get me to stay away.” Anger edged his tone now. “He didn’t threaten me. He threatened you.”
“Oh my God...” I pulled my hands back, pressing them to my lips. Obviously I knew Abbot was so not a friend now, but even then?
“He said that he would...he would take you out to keep you away from me.” At the sound of my sharp inhale, he cursed under his breath. “He meant it, Layla. And I wasn’t willing to risk it. Those things I said to you that night...I didn’t want to say them.”
I stared at his bowed head, mouth working behind my hands, but there were no sounds. There were so many things Roth had said to me since he’d returned—vague statements that didn’t make sense until now.
He lifted his head then, staring up at me. “And I sure as Hell didn’t use you to ease my boredom, Layla. Nor did I want to push you away, but I couldn’t be the reason for you to get hurt. I wouldn’t be.”
“Oh, Roth...” I whispered. This...I never expected this to be the reason why Roth had done a one-eighty when it came to how he felt for me.
“I wanted to be with you, but...”
He’d tried to protect me. A hole opened up in my chest, just as shocking as the wound that was now healed in my stomach.
“I’m sorry. It was all for nothing in the end, but I can’t undo it.” He tilted his head to the side as he watched me. “I know this doesn’t change the hurting I put you through. I just wanted you to know the truth and that I...”
I tensed, waiting for him to finish what he was saying and wondering if it would be those words I thought I’d heard him say before I’d slipped away, but he didn’t. He studied me as if he never expected to see me again.
And then something occurred to me and I had to ask. “Was...was Zayne out there when Abbot said these thing to you?”
His amber eyes churned a dozen dizzying shades of gold. “Does it matter?”
“Yes,” I whispered. It totally mattered if Zayne knew why Roth had turned away from me, if he had known the truth and hadn’t told me.
He didn’t answer for a long moment and a prickle of apprehension formed at the base of my spine. “It doesn’t change anything, Layla. Not really, because no matter what, he...he would’ve done the same thing if he was in my position.” A begrudging amount of respect filled his gaze. “I know that.”
Too much was spinning around in my head. I sat there for a few moments, absolutely dumbfounded. My brain was fried. Completely.
Roth smiled a little as he rose, taking a hold of my arms. “Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
I was officially on autopilot as he lifted me. My first step was a fail. My legs were wobbly, like a newborn colt’s.
“I got you,” Roth said, propping me up. “Always.”
Always. The word bounced around inside of me like a Ping-Pong ball. After guiding me to the bathroom, he left to retrieve fresh clothes from the bedroom. It was a nice bathroom—large with a garden tub and separate shower stall. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes were too large in my pale face. Zayne’s claws had left behind faint pink scratches. A bruise the color of a strawberry circled my throat. I peeled the clothes off and got my first look at the wound.
The patch of skin above my navel was healed, pink and puckered. If I’d been human, I would’ve bled out before Nicolai and Dez had intervened. Hands shaking, I peeled off the dirtied clothes, all of them, and turned on the shower. I stayed under the water until my legs started to tremble, which was only a few minutes.
All of the grime, sweat, blood and things I didn’t want to even think about had washed off. On unsteady legs, I wrapped a towel around me and tried to soak up most of the wetness from my hair. I gave up after a few seconds.
There was a knock. “Are you decent?”
Roth came in with a small bundle in his hands. “It’s a pair of my sweats and a thermal.”
He glanced over at me and his stare lingered until my ears turned pink. Running a hand through his messy hair, he turned and walked back into the bedroom. “I’ll wait out here. Let me know when you’re ready.”
Exhaling slowly, I changed into his clothes and was immediately enveloped in his scent. Roth returned, helping me limp back to the bed. I was so tired that by the time my head hit the pillow, I knew I wasn’t moving again for a while.
Roth sat beside me and pulled out a phone. “I’m going to order some food. You need to eat.”
I wasn’t hungry, but the offer was nice. I glanced around the spacious bedroom. It was elegantly furnished. “Whose house is this?”
He glanced up from whatever message he was texting on his phone. “You know, I don’t know who originally owned it, but it’s demon property these days. Sometimes I come here when I want to get away from the city. So does Cayman.”
A huge part of me didn’t want to know what had happened to the original owners. “Where are we?”
Tucking his phone into his pocket, he rubbed his hand across his bare chest. “We’re over the river—not near the compound. On the other side, into Maryland. We’re safe here. No Wardens will find us.”
Ugly and distressing thoughts crept into my head and I shook them out. “Where’s Bambi?”
“She’s currently wrapped around my leg. Thought you could use the space.”
“Oh.” I fiddled with the edge of the blanket. When I glanced up, he was watching me again. My breath caught.
Roth leaned over my legs. “The food will be here soon. Why don’t you rest for a little. I’ll wake you when it gets here.”
I was exhausted, but sleep would be evasive. “I can’t.”
He was quiet for a few moments. “What are you thinking?”
“Too many things,” I admitted, staring up at a ceiling. “I’m not going to be able to stay here.”
“You can stay here as long as you want.”
My lips pulled into a small smile. “Thank you, but you know...you know I can’t. I have to leave. I don’t know where, but I need to go somewhere...where I’m not around people or Wardens. At least until I figure out how I’m infecting people.”
“You tell me when and where you want to go, and we’ll go.”
My gaze swung to him. “You can’t go with me.”
Roth frowned. “And why not?”
“You’ve been ordered to take me out. If you leave with me, then wouldn’t that be putting a bull’s-eye on your back?”
He arched a brow. “Do I look like I care? Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ve already disobeyed direct orders from the Boss. And there’s no way I’m letting you run off by yourself. Hell no. You need someone with you. You need help.”
“Look, you’re not doing any of this by yourself. The mess you’re in is partly my fault. I wasn’t up front with you about a lot of shit.” His jaw jutted out. “And I know things are...screwed up between us. I know that. Even if you tell me you’d rather hump a Nightcrawler’s leg than forgive me, I’m still going to be there with you.”
I pushed myself onto my elbows. “You’re going to go against Hell—against your boss?”
He grinned as he shrugged. “Yes.”
“Why would you risk that?”
His eyes met mine. “You know the reason. Deep down, you know.”
It took another day and a half for my body to get back to normal. During that time, Roth became a sidekick of sorts. As was Cayman. The two kept me entertained while forcing me to stay in the bed.
I ended up watching every Will Ferrell movie there was.
The three of us talked plans about where to go from here. From what we could gather, I had to have been repeatedly around those affected since I obviously hadn’t been kissing any of them. That made sense for those who’d passed already that we knew about—Dean, Gareth—but not as much when it came to the lady from the Palisades and those who were nameless and faceless to us. A lot didn’t make sense, but who could we ask?