Estimated reading time: 6 – 10 minutes
“I asked you to survive this for me. You promised you would. Would you add liar to fickleness as well?”
Lily tugged her arm but it remained imprisoned. “I don’t know what world you escape to in your head, Julian, but your sense of reality is completely warped.”
“I obviously disagree.” He let go of her arm only to ply his fingers to the back of her tiny neck. His gaze sparkled with maliciousness joy when Lily didn’t dignify his manhandling with a struggle. Instead, she bared her teeth in feral warning. It reminded Julian of a kitten trying to stare down a wolf. “I should’ve known better to expect a human, a damaged human at that, to have kept her word.”
Scalded pride caused her to gasp in outrage. “I don’t owe you anything. Not anymore.”
“Stop sulking.” Julian shook his head in false contrition. “I gave you a chance to back out and you didn’t. I told you once you began this game you would see it to the end.”
“I have. You win. I lose. Satisfied?”
“Not by the half.” Lily shifted violently in his hold. He tightened his fingers in warning. “You haven’t mentioned her by name yet.”
She froze; eyes wide with terrible vulnerability. “I don’t plan to. Now let go.”
“You like to give me orders, much like you did with Ian. Unlike him, I have a pair. I don’t take orders from anyone—much less someone like you.”
“Someone like me…I imagine. Since someone like me is so repulsive and unworthy of someone like you I think it’s in our best interest to never speak to each other again.”
Julian sighed. “Your childishness seems to know no bounds. I imagine if I let you go right now you’d stomp your way out my door with arms crossed.” Studying her mutinous expression, he added, “And perhaps break a dish or two along the way.”
“The thought had crossed my mind.”
He blinked once, seemingly surprised Lily would admit to it. A burst of laughter peppered the air. “Honesty is refreshing from you. It suits. You really should do it more often.”
“Back at you. When you said, ‘I’m going to fuck you tonight,” you should’ve been more specific. If you had wanted an audience I’m sure I could’ve scrounged a pervert or two to come along.” Lily’s heart bled from fresh wounds. She hated even mentioning what happened. It gave Julian power over her. It showed him how much he hurt her. It made him matter.
And he doesn’t even matter. Not really. I’ll get over it. I’m not even attached to him. It’s just Ian…
Breathing steadily became impossible.
“I take so much pleasure from your misery, Lily. I really do. Thank you for giving it to me.”
She startled. His fingertip scored her face gently. It came back wet. Lily shook with a mixture of impotence and humiliation. Helplessness did not become her. At all.
“I wasn’t crying because of you.”
“Of course you weren’t. Just as you had no real intention of making love with me tonight.”
“That’s what you call it? Didn’t look like it from where I was standing.”
“Oh, my little Lily. That wasn’t making love. That was a lesson just for you. One I’m sure will be repeated many times over until you understand what this is all about.”
Lily looked away. The tenderness in his eyes frightened her. It raped her anger, dissolving it into maddened disorder.
Julian caressed her cheek with his hand. He was pleased by her demeanor. It would’ve be rather upsetting if he had to hurt her physically. That comes later, he thought in lazy anticipation.
“Why?” The word eased out of her with hollow regret. “I don’t want to do this with you anymore. I don’t—” Lily’s voice cracked before settling back into a dull, colorless thrum. “I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone. That’s what you wanted. That’s what the point of all this was—I get it. Do you want me to apologize too? Fine. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever I did to you to make you hate me this much. I’m sorry to have loved you when you were someone else.”
“I’ve defeated you so quickly then? Disappointing.” He studied her downturned face. “Has the Spirit come back yet?”
“What makes you think she’s coming back?”
“Because she’s not done with you yet either.” When Lily didn’t reply Julian asked, “Do you even care?”
“Enough with the questions. You don’t care. Neither do I. Let’s leave it at that.” Despite the belligerence lacing each tautly spoken word, desperation called out to Julian.
“This is how grown-ups play, Lily, especially vampires. Don’t be upset. I’m doing you a favor. Now you’ll know your place. You’ll know where you belong.” He leaned in, mouth hovering over hers, hand keeping her trapped in place. “And now you’ll know beyond doubt that Ian was a lie best to be forgotten. I’m all that’s left. How you deal with it is up to you.”
Julian released Lily. Her neck burned. She drew her shoulders back, tilted her chin up, and found a way to make her mask mobile. She smiled brightly and whispered, “Good night, Lord Douglas. I don’t expect to run into you again so enjoy your stay. Remember if the status changes with the woman above, don’t let it lead back to Vickery Hill.”
She ignored the mockery twisting his lips. Without another word, Lily turned away, uncaring that she exposed her back to him. What did it matter? He already proved how much he could hurt her if he wanted. There was nothing she could do to stop him. Not now. Maybe never.
“Where are you going?”
Lily forced herself to stop. She answered him with breezy politeness, “Home.”
“Not alone you’re not.” Julian pulled out a set of keys from his pocket while walking towards her.
“What are you doing?” Brittle panic cracked the illusion of comfortable courtesy.
“Taking you home.”
“No!” Lily skittered away from the kitchen and away from him. She walked in a fast clip for the front entrance.
“Don’t be silly, darling. You can’t walk back. You’ll ruin your shoes.”
“I’ll be fine!” she yelled while grabbing the ornate door knob. She needed to get away from him. His kindness, his graciousness was doing what his callousness couldn’t. Lily’s stomach clenched with vicious pain. She winced, feeling the world sway before her.
I can’t get sick. Not now. Not here.
Hurtling through the door, Lily ran around the sidewalk with neatly ordered beds, and began the arduous track up the steep drive. She soon heard the steady tap of dress shoes behind her. It spurred her to abandon all decorum.
Adrenaline aided her mad run. Lily slipped several times, once falling forward and scraping her palms on the asphalt, before righting herself to keep distance from the approaching steps climbing behind.
Her eyes prickled, surely only from the wind, when another cramp seized her stomach. This time the pain was so intense Lily missed her footing completely and tumbled sideways. She cried aloud, horrified to have let her enemy see her so vulnerable. Before Lily could scrabble upright, Julian plucked her from the ground.
“Look at what you’ve done to your pretty dress.” Holding her struggling form easily in one arm, he grabbed a flailing wrist and turned her palm upright. Blood peppered the shredded skin. “Lily, stupid doesn’t even begin to cover this.”
“It’s not your problem. Stop pretending like it is.”
“You are my problem, idiot.” He sighed in irritation. Carrying her back down the drive, Julian tightened his arms in warning. “Stop struggling or I will drop you. It will hurt. And I’ll still get my way.”
Lily’s body shook. She arched her back as panic, shame, and pain vied for domination. “I don’t want to go back with you. Let me go.” She remembered how receptive he had been earlier when she asked nicely. “Please. Please put me down.”
He considered her. A knowing gleam sparkled in his blue, blue eyes. “No.” Julian smelled the terror and agony overlaying her scent like cheap perfume. “Not until we get you cleaned up.”