The nightmares made Vanessa a light sleeper. They had ebbed off over the past few weeks, slowed to a stutter, but her sleeping patterns hadn’t. So when her bed shifted unnaturally - as if someone else had touched it - it woke her. Slowly, painfully, her eyes opening barely a crack to see nothing but a shadowed silhouette.
With an uncharacteristic huff, she rolled over to the other side, squeezed her eyes shut, and tried to will herself back to sleep. “Go away, Stanton.”
It took a moment. It took a few, but then her eyes snapped opened this time as she stared at the wall, mind and pulsing racing a mile a second. His deep chuckle filled the room, and she could just picture the smirk on his face.
“You could just turn around and see it for yourself.” Definite amusement in his tone, barely biting back a laugh.
“This is indecent. You’re indecent.” Vanessa pulled the blanket tighter around her, ducking her head underneath of it.
“I never said I was decent,” he reminded her.
“I don’t want you here,” she muttered. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for him to leave, for the space in her mattress to undip and smooth out again. Instead, the springs creaked as he moved. She felt a hand at her side, the mattress dipping further.
If she turned and looked now, he would be hovering over her.
He couldn’t hurt her, she knew that. Stanton was unable to, she reminded herself. Because she had saved him, and because she hadn’t really been able to. His fingers touched the edge of her cocoon, slowly peeling it back. She thought about the way his hands had felt on her before, and the gentle way he had looked at her for the briefest of seconds.
No. No, Vanessa couldn’t go down that route. She couldn’t think about this creep this way, a guy who’d let a girl hurt herself over him for amusement, a guy who used girls like napkins in a fast food joint. A guy who could read each and every thought that passed through her mind, whether it was angry or caring or any number of things his continued presence brought on to her. Most importantly, she couldn’t think about a guy who was her enemy. Who would hurt her friends. Who could turn her over to his.
“I’m right here, you know.” His breath tickled her ear. During her inner turmoil, he’d pulled the shield down to reveal her face, at least. He brushed back strands of golden hair, threading his fingers through it.
It was almost reverent.
It always seemed to be these nights, as if he couldn’t quite wrap his head around her.
“Stanton,” she pleaded. Finally, she turned her head to look up at him. A mistake, she knew. His blue eyes were infinitely darker than her own, like staring into the night sky. They were different that way, night and day. “I have school in the morning. And this is really inappropriate.”
But the look on his face said he didn’t care. It was the same thing she’d been saying the past couple of nights, when she woke up to find him watching her in her sleep. Some people would find that romantic; she felt more like a fly trapped in a spider web.
“I’m not doing anything that would be inappropriate. Unless you mean the fact that I’m in your bed.”
Leaning up on her elbow, she sighed softly. It was an action born out of acceptance of the situation until she realized how much closer it had brought her to his face. Warm breath ghosted over her lips. “That’s exactly what I mean,” she managed to stutter out.
Her face grew warm as a blush settled on her cheeks, molecules vibrating intensely. In embarrassment, in anticipation, in fear.
He could have leaned in for the kill, she thought, but instead he watched her with that infuriatingly beautiful smirk of his, drinking her in. It was nearly the same every night. The same protests, the same smile, the same gradual acceptance of letting him stay here in her bed until she fell back asleep again, his hand wrapped in her hair. When she woke up, he’d be gone.
“Don’t you have places to be?” she finally asked him as she sat up, sat away from him. It was easier to breathe here, with this kind of distance. Being near him could be fatal, she thought. Not even Michael could do that to her.
He leaned back against her headboard, legs stretched out in front of him. He’d taken off his shoes, she noticed. Something about that made her want to protest. He wasn’t welcomed here. Couldn’t be. Even now, the glow of her amulet stretched the shadows in her room, and she watched him flinch as she picked it up and shoved it into her tank top, where its light would be mostly muted.
“You mean, don’t I have other women to harass, hope to steal?” Stanton asked instead of answering her, one eyebrow arching up high.
She blushed furiously again. Stupid mind readers, stupid thoughts. “I’ve seen the way girls throw themselves all over you.”
When her lip curled in disgust, it was honest. She wasn’t jealous of those girls; she pitied them. Even if she didn’t know Stanton that well, she had seen enough of him to know that he didn’t care about those girls, that no matter what they did, it would be in vain as he toyed with them. Unbidden, thoughts of Cassandra surfaced in her mind, the way the razor bit into her skin.
Stanton’s eyes darkened. “That’s low, for a Daughter.”
“I thought you didn’t care,” she pointed out. Did he? Did he regret letting her do that to herself over him? Did he regret not paying attention or the effects that he had? Did he feel regret?
“I don’t,” he muttered, closing his eyes.
“It’s not low for anyone. Don’t listen to my thoughts if you don’t like them,” she snapped.
“I’d have to care to not like them,” he protested.
Her lips parted, a lick of anger sweeping through her. He was so frustrating, like a petulant child.
“I can’t explain why I’m here,” Stanton said after a lapse of silence.
She picked up her gaze, catching his. She should have been afraid of that, of being tugged into his mind again, but the only trap here was her own. “Have you been ordered to make me join you?”
“We’re all ordered to do that.” There was a firm set to his jaw, the corners of his lips tugging down in something that could have been annoyance. “Why, are you planning on making it easy for you?”
“I might not like it, but I’m a Daughter of the Moon, and there’s no way I’d do that,” Vanessa told him, gritting her teeth.
He leaned forward, one finger tracing along the line of her jaw. “Dea.”
She wasn’t sure if he was agreeing or trying the word out, but either way, it sent a shiver down her spine that she couldn’t even begin to think of suppressing.
“There’s something about you that I can’t figure out,” he said. “I don’t like that.”
Vanessa blinked at him, pulling back so that his finger dropped from her skin. There, that breathing thing again. It was so much easier again. “You keep waking me up in the middle of the night because you’re… confused?”
Not that she even really understood why. There wasn’t a lot to get about her. She was nice and pleasant and scared and kind of a mess and--
Stanton’s hand laid gently across her mouth, and even though she hadn’t exactly been talking, she got the hint. Her thoughts died off where they were, shoulders slumping.
“I’m not confused.”
She pried a couple of fingers away from her mouth, talking between the space. “Not understanding me is called being confused. That’s why you don’t like it.”
His fingers curled around hers, their hands entwined as it dropped into her lap. Her heart skipped a beat. Were they holding hands? Had he consciously made the decision to do that? Did Followers even hold hands?
And why did she care? Why did he make her pulse race like this when she was perfectly fine with Michael? Happy, even. He was normal and perfect for her and the right kind of anchor in her messed up world.
Stanton’s eyes darkened again. “You saved me.”
“I tried to, in any case,” she agreed, her thoughts brushing away once again. “You keep coming back to that. Is that why you’re confused?”
He didn’t answer, but the way his lips pressed together was enough for her to understand. “In my world, you don’t react without having some intention in mind. You show me kindness, and suddenly I’m indebted to you.”
Despite the situation, the corners of her mouth tugged up into a smile as she watched him. He was struggling, and there was something cute about it, like the little boy from so long ago was still inside of him.
“I’m not asking for you to pay me back, Stanton. That’s not how - I don’t want anything from you! You’re my enemy, not…” She wasn’t really sure what else he was. Not a friend. Just a creep. A predator and her enemy and the scared little boy who had clung to her. He was the man who had kissed her tears away, and the boy she had cried for.
She looked away from him again, at the way his hand covered hers, the roughness of his fingers against her smooth skin. Pale against her tan.
“You’re all that I think about,” he told her. His voice broke through the silence, his tone somewhere between frustrated and interested, like he couldn’t quite figure out why she was there and didn’t want her to go.
“I want you to go,” she said. When she looked back up at him, it was with a stern look. She let go of his hand, pushing it back toward him. “I want you to leave me alone.”
“No you don’t.”
“I do!” She shoved at him suddenly, that flare of anger moving through her again.
Stunned, he nearly fell off of the bed. They sat there, watching each other, waiting for the next outburst, and she wondered what he’d do to her when he laughed. And she winced, remembering that her mother was only down the hall and how would she explain this infuriating, inappropriate, beautiful laughing man lounging on her bed and telling her that she was all that he thought about?
With a groan, Vanessa buried her face in her hands.
His hands slid over hers, his forehead bumping against the top of her head as he moved closer again. As if he couldn’t take the hint. As if he didn’t care. As if he’d seen the disparity between her words and her thoughts. Because she liked the way he felt against her, and she liked the way he smelled, and she liked his hand in her hair while she slept.
And she liked him being there, like a dark angel that kept the nightmares at bay.
She liked the way her pulse raced and how dry her mouth could get and how captivating he could look.
“You don’t want me to go anymore than I want to go,” he whispered into her hair.
“You should go,” she said instead.
“You should really want me to go.”
He was dangerous, she knew that. He could easily take her hope, her soul, and she liked that, too. Liked how close she could let him and see how far she could go and wonder where the edge of that cliff was. She couldn’t play that game with Michael.
“Maybe you’re attracted to me,” Vanessa laughed, her hands dropping from her face. “Maybe you’ve never felt that before.”
‘I’m definitely attracted to you,” he teased. His hands guided her face until her head was tilted and she had to look at him. “Beautiful, pure, dangerous.”
She gave him a bemused smile. “I’m not dangerous.”
“I’m not dangerous. You’re dangerous.”
“We could be dangerous together,” he whispered, his mouth hovering over hers.
She wanted so desperately for him to kiss her, to taste him and put the idea to rest, to get him out of her system and send him away and really mean it. Her molecules trembled, ready to split at a moment’s notice. Heat rolled over her.
His lips pulled into a wicked grin, and she couldn’t help but think of how many other women had seen that smile before. How many he had seduced and persisted in chasing and how many of them were goddesses. How many had been weak and how many had been stronger.
This time, she clamped her hand over his mouth. Confusion flashed through his face first, then split-second anger, and finally resignation.
“You can’t kiss me,” Vanessa said firmly. “You can’t kiss me unless I give you permission, and I don’t. I’m not a toy, Stanton.”
He kissed the palm of her hand anyway, another act of rebellion from a prince who thought himself above the rules.
She could punch him, she really could.
“Maybe I’ll have figured you out before then and won’t need a kiss.”
Her face went red again, this time with indignation. “Get out!”
This time, he listened, melting away before she really could hit him.