Page 39 of The Demon in Him

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Completely unsubstantiated.

This seriouslycan’tbe real.

But the things I saw in Mike’s place last night when he was facing off with Tate, the way Tate’s touch made my skin crawl, and the scars… thescarsthey both shared, I realized now it was foolish of me to think they were anything normal. What could create scars like that? Matching scars that wound around both their arms and bodies as though bound together and torn apart.

Perhaps they were.

What do I know of demons?

I rubbed my temples, and my mind reeled.

Mike cleared his throat, and I looked up. He didn’t quite meet my eyes as he handed me a plate with a couple of sandwiches, mumbling something about limited choices. When he sat on the opposite side of the couch, I scooted away from him slightly, realizing that my movement was anything but subtle with how his gaze found me, watching until I stilled. But he didn’t quite meet my eyes, instead opting to focus on a spot around my collarbone. I remembered the feel of his mouth in that exact spot—hot and needy—and felt my cheeks flush. Mike cleared his throat again but said nothing.Could he read my thoughts?Fuck, I hope not.

We ate in silence, none of the awkwardness from this morning having dissipated throughout the day. If anything, it was worse now. I took a moment to study him, his thick lashes covering his eyes as he looked intently at his plate, every movement calculated. I felt that, like me, he wasn’t really hungry but was eating more for something to do. He didn’t seem to be enjoying his food as he had the steak we had together on our date, and I couldn’t help but remember the cute humming sounds of approval he’d made on that night as he consumed the meal. I’m not even sure he was aware he was doing it, and he certainly didn’t do it at the fancier restaurant.

There was a tug of sadness in my chest.

He was sweet.

He really was trying.

It was clearer now, the image of the man in front of me.

He was burdened with so much guilt from his past. Hell, who of us didn’t have things we regretted? But I understood more now because he wasn’t only holding himself responsible for his past, he was trying to pretend he was human. Constantly hiding beneath a mask and tryingso hardto deny what he was. Every move he made was calculated, every word he said, and the business, suits, and car were all part of an image he created because that’s who he wanted so desperately to be but knew he never would.

Did all demons feel this way? I thought about Frank, and he didn’t seem to be suffering with the same burden of self that Mike was.No, it can’t be all demons then. Ray also embraced her nature, throwing herself around and all but proclaimingI am what I am.

But Mike, he was troubled, constantly tortured by his nature.

“I’m sorry,” he muttered.

My head snapped up, pulled from my thoughts. “What?”

Mike raised his head then, and the pain behind his gray eyes was like a punch in the gut, and I had to restrain the urge to slap my hand over my mouth to hide the trembling of my lip, feeling his pain with him.

And worst of all, I still wanted to help him.

He was the beast, lost and misunderstood like a goddamn fairy tale.

“I’m sorry about this… all of this. I never wanted you to be involved.”

“Hell, Mike, when you talked about your crazy ex, I never imagined…” My lip twitched, almost a smile, and Mike caught the movement, and something that resembled hope flickered across his eyes before it was gone, replaced once again with guilt and self-loathing. I held his eye contact, and he let me, maybe sensing I needed this. The longer I looked into his gray eyes, so full of emotions and conflict, so human, it became harder to correlate the man in front of me with the beast I knew lay underneath.

I was sure I’d lose my mind before the end of the night.

“Can I see you?” I whispered.

Mike’s hand shook as he took my empty plate and placed it with his on the ornate coffee table. “What do you mean?” He’d broken eye contact again, and I stared at him until he looked at me.

“I think you know what I mean. I want to see you, therealyou.”

Mike took my hands and stoked my palm with his thumb. “This is the real me,” he muttered.

“The demon—”

“No,” Mike interrupted me. His grip on my hands increased, and his words were punctuated by a growl. “The demon, that’s not me. That’s not who I ever wanted to be. I can’t change what I am, but I can choose who I am. Don’t take that away from me. Please.”