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“Alina.”

She woke to the soft brush of Mal’s lips on hers, the barest touch to her temple, her eyelids, her brow. The light from the guttering flame on the bedside table glinted off his brown hair as he bent to kiss the curve of her throat.

For a moment, Alina hesitated, confused, not quite awake, then she wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer. She didn’t care that they’d fought, that he’d kissed Zoya, that he’d walked away from her, that everything felt so impossible. The only thing that mattered was that he’d changed his mind. He’d come back, and she wasn’t alone.

“I missed you, Mal,” Alina murmured against his ear. “I missed you so much.”

Her arms glided up his back and twined around his neck. He kissed her again, and she sighed into the welcome press of his mouth. She felt his weight slide over her and ran her hands over the hard muscles of his arms. If Mal was still with her, if he could still love her, then there was hope. Alina’s heart was pounding in her chest as warmth spread through her. There was no sound but their breathing and the shift of their bodies together. He was kissing her throat, her collarbone, drinking her skin. She shivered and pressed closer to him.

This was what she wanted, wasn’t it? To find some way to heal the breach between them? Still, a sliver of panic cut through her. She needed to see his face, to know they were all right. She cupped his head with her hands, tilting his chin, and as her gaze met his, she shrank back in terror.

Alina looked into Mal’s eyes— his familiar blue eyes that she knew even better than her own. Except they weren’t blue. In the dying lamplight, they glimmered quartz gray.

He smiled then, a cold, clever smile like none she’d ever seen on his lips.

“I missed you too, Alina.” That voice. Cool and smooth as glass.

Mal’s features melted into shadow and then formed again like a face from the mist. Pale, beautiful, that thick shock of black hair, the perfect sweep of jaw.

The Darkling rested one gentle hand on her cheek. Alina pushed him away and crawled to press against the back of the bed.

“I thought—“

“You thought I was your tracker?” He tilted his head as he stared at me from the end of the bed. “Is he who you want, Alina?”

Alina didn’t know what to say to that. While she cared deeply for Mal, she also felt something for the man before her. It was wrong, but it was thrilling. Adrenaline coursed through her veins, and the thought of being so close to him sent a chill down her spine. Moments ago, she thought she was kissing Mal, and she thought that was what she wanted.

Her fingers touched her lips gently.

“I know that I don’t want to play your games,” Alina spoke softly, but firm.

“I wouldn’t have to,” he stepped around the side of the bed, moving closer to her. Alina crouched back against the pillows. “If you would just admit what you know to be true. That you and I are equals, that there is power between us.”

His hand reached out, and Alina let him cup her cheek. At his touch, she shivered. It wasn’t fear that she know she should’ve felt, but it was just as terrifying. Her heart was racing, and she leaned into his touch.

“When will you admit that who you really want, Alina, is me?”

Alina’s lips parted, but no sound came out. She knew what he said was true, though she doubted she could ever vocalize it. Here in his dark room, Alina felt more alive than ever. Without thinking about the consequences, Alina reached for him, her hands finding his kefta.

“I want this,” she said against his lips before she closed the distance.

The Darkling let her pull him down on top of her. He straddled her legs, his hands sliding up and down her side. Alina couldn’t stop the desperate moans that left her lips as his mouth touched her throat. Yes, this was what she wanted. Arching her back, she longed to feel him ever closer.

“Alina,” his cool voice said into the night. Rising up to look down at her, the Darkling looked as if he couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Surprise lingered in his eyes, and then they changed into a possessiveness Alina had seen before. His lips claimed hers once again, and this time Alina did not push him away.

His hands found her breasts, squeezing them roughly before pulling at the material of her dressing gown. Pleasure shot down between her legs as he bared her before him. His fingers untied the material, letting it fall loosely on either side of her.

“My Alina,” he said softly. “There is no going back.”

She shook her head, desperate to feel him claim her once again. “I don’t want to go back. I want you, I want to feel you.”

Something akin to pain flashed across his face before he pushed the kefta off his shoulders, letting it fall to the bed below. Alina could only watch as he removed the rest of his clothes. His body was just as beautiful as his face — hard, lean and muscular. Reaching out, she traced one finger down his stomach, settling on the waistband of his trousers. Tremors went through his body at her touch.

“Curious, aren’t you?” He cocked a brow, watching her as she unbuttoned his trousers and pushed them over his hips. Carefully, he slid from them and returned to cover her body with his. Warmth radiated around her, and Alina realized that she was glowing.

“So beautiful,” he smiled, leaning down to kiss her.

“Please,” Alina heard herself beg, unashamed.

The Darkling placed one long finger against her center, teasing her, gathering her wetness. Rubbing her thighs together, Alina whimpered as he pushed the tip of his finger inside of her. It wasn’t enough, however, and so Alina reached between their bodies, taking his cock in her hand. She knew what she wanted now, and she wouldn’t wait any longer.

“Hold still,” he told her as he lined up at her entrance, pushing forward slowly. Alina had never felt so invaded. He filled her inch by inch until he was rooted at the base. The Darkling rose up on his hands, and then began to snap his hips. Alina cried out, clenching around him.

“That’s it,” he beckoned her with his fingers, trailing soft circles on her skin. “Give in to me.”

Alina moaned as he slid in and out of her, all while kissing her skin. His mouth was at her throat, her jaw, and then he settled his warm tongue over her hard nipple. Pulling on the bud, the Darkling sucked and nibbled, drawing out sounds from Alina’s lips. She pushed against his body, wanting to take more of him inside of her.

Her hands pressed against the base of his spine and she rolled her hips to meet his. With every snap, every thrust, Alina lost more of her senses. This was wrong, but it felt so right. She couldn’t even be sure this wasn’t all just a dream, but if it was, then she never wanted to wake up.

The Darkling cradled Alina to him, his hands sliding under her to cup her bottom. He angled her body so that he could thrust further inside of her. He hit a spot just so, and Alina screamed.

His hand covered her mouth, and she bit down on the flesh of his palm. Alina looked into his quartz eyes as she came, longing to relish in this moment forever. Her body shook, and soon the Darkling followed her over the edge, whispering her name against her ear.

Alina felt limp, and allowed him to roll onto his back, taking her with him. She laid half on top of him, her eyes heavy. His hand slid softly up and down her arm.

“I’ll come to you again,” he said.

Alina nodded, and felt herself drift off to sleep. When she opened her eyes to find sunlight pouring in the room, he was gone, vanished like he’d never been there at all.