Estimated reading time: 34 – 56 minutes
“What’s In A Name?”
Innocence leaves like a breath.
Desire colors them both.
Tragedy has been given life.
Southeastern United States
“My name is Mikhail DeMontier. What’s yours?”
They were only seven words.
Seven separate thoughts that became a harmless, yet friendly, greeting between strangers. How could something so benign be anything but one of a million passing moments?
Unless these seven words themselves were one a million…
One in a million tears.
One in a million regrets.
One in a million possible lives.
Echoes from another time, another fate, had tried in vain to keep this tragedy from occurring, but only one knew of the seven words that would destroy their useless façade.
“She’ll be safe. No one will ever think to look here. The DeMontiers will never be able to harm her. Why are you so silent? We’ve done it. We changed what’s to come.”
“Nothing ever grows from deceit except more lies.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. But it’s enough that I do.”
So until those seven words had found life, Mikhail DeMontier was simply a sovereign running away from his crown.
And until those seven words had found life, Katherine Merror was simply a seventeen-year-old girl fighting to be common.
Therefore, until those seven words had found life, both could pretend to be something other than what they really were—pawns in their own misbegotten game of reincarnation.
Years later, lifetimes afterwards, both would wonder how seven words could have so much power. But in this moment, in this existence, seven words had never been so innocent.
“My name is Mikhail DeMontier. What’s yours?”
Oblivious to her fate, Katherine drew to an awkward stop. A living wave continued to course around her, impatiently burbling to reach a consumer’s destination of clearance items and reduced prices.
Why is someone standing in front of me? Wait. It’s a guy and he’s TALKING to me.
The stranger was tall, towering over Katherine by nearly a foot. Her assessing eyes quickly traveled up the youthful chest, noting the strength peeking from beneath a baggy blue shirt. She felt the pounding of his heart long before she saw the fluttering in his neck.
He’s so nervous. Because of me?
Curiosity stretched forth an insistent claw and pierced Katherine’s neutral state. Her mind suddenly hungered for a connection. Prodded by desires she couldn’t control, Katherine found herself unable to dismiss this boy named Mikhail DeMontier.
I want to know him. Just a little. I won’t go that far. I just want to see what he feels. Anyways, I haven’t done it to anyone for over a year. But it isn’t right to just do this…is it?
An indescribable sense of longing stirred the shadows in her heart. Katherine grappled between her temptation and conscience, wondering again how she came to be.
It wouldn’t be so bad if I had psychic powers that could actually DO something other than leave me drained and filled with emotions that don’t even belong to me. What a waste. It’s almost not worth using. Almost.
Once, Katherine believed she was normal, that everyone could see what was felt. However, silence and blindness became her legacy when she’d overheard her parents whispering THE word.
“Empath. It says here they’re persons gifted with extraordinary perception of human emotions.”
“We can’t tell anybody about this. Not even Pastor Davis.”
“Because I think the Church would say it isn’t a divine gift but rather a curse from the devil.”
Maybe it was true. After all, most people would rather burn into nothingness than allow Katherine to violate them.
She didn’t speculate. She knew.
“Do you think that Kathy is possessed?”
“Possessed? Why…why are you asking? Did something happen?”
“No, but the more I think about it, the more I feel this just isn’t natural. She knows things that she shouldn’t.”
“I know. I hate to say it, but sometimes it just makes me uneasy to have her around.”
“Could this be why she was given up for adoption? Do you think that somehow her birth parents KNEW?
Katherine shook off the perpetual sadness related to Carolyn and Kevin Merror. Instead, her reddened mouth smirked in reckless glee.
I’ll never be a saint so why deny myself the pleasures that come with Hell? I want to know him and know him I will.
Katherine focused her entire being on Mikhail DeMontier. The living river surging around them immediately disappeared. Only the occasional brush of clothing or laughter gave clue to its existence.
Talk to me, Mikhail DeMontier.
Katherine watched in giddy pleasure as colors pulsed brilliantly to life. Her eyes glittered with euphoria as vibrant tints carefully layered themselves in a language only an Empath could understand.
Red for passion, gray for confusion, yellow for embarrassment, and myriad shades between defined a familiar collection of adolescent emotion. She blinked once. The world returned to its neutral palette, making Katherine regret her forced emotional myopia. However, she knew all she needed in less than a moment.
I got all your pretty colors.
Katherine smiled secretly beneath her serious stare.
He’s attracted to me and scared I’ll turn him away. I probably will but…
Katherine never finished her thought. Instead, she looked up. And just like that, the silken cord of Fate wrapped itself around her little heart. With only a minuscule whisper, Katherine Merror’s entire world came tumbling down.
High cheekbones, dark brows, and an almost delicate jaw came together to form a picture of arresting male beauty. Blond hair kissed his pale temple, continuously falling forward to draw attention to his exotic eyes. Bright like jade, they stared into hers, whispering the question asked only seconds before.
My name is Mikhail DeMontier. What’s yours?
“Katherine Merror.” She found herself saying the words without conscious thought. Frowning, Katherine felt the emotional currents between them change course. Suddenly, she saw what others wouldn’t.
He almost doesn’t look human. Her heart thudded at the prospect. What if he’s not? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve come across someone like that…
Empath. Devil. Unholy.
“Katherine. It’s a good name. I like it.”
A faint accent curled his vowels. She found it as pleasant as she found his arrogance irritating. Thoughts of his possible genetics vanished beneath a slow burn of anger.
“Well, it’s nice to know you approve of my name.” When provoked, Katherine’s soft, girlish voice could be as menacing as any scream without raising one decibel.
Superiority was just the impetus to provoke her.
Prick. Who does he think he is?
Something passing for mirth lightened his verdant orbs. Katherine watched his hand slip into his jeans pocket and come back empty. Although his expression remained the same, indescribable sadness brushed across her skin like a physical whisper.
What was he looking for that made me feel as if his heart just broke?
With the tragic emotions surrounding Mikhail, she expected him to drift away and become just another anonymous ripple lost in the river flowing around them. Instead, Mikhail DeMontier did something feel people could.
He surprised her.
“Would you like to get something to eat with me?”
Katherine’s lips parted. She could taste Mikhail’s manic joy. Her insides warmed, burning away the tragic melancholy of before. Katherine hummed with displaced giddiness. None of the emotions were hers. She liked it.
There’s something about Mikhail that makes me feel less lonely…
Katherine looked away but her voice managed to betray her.
“I don’t know you.”
It wasn’t a rejection and they both knew it.
“I know. That’s why you should let me buy you something to eat.”
His beautiful but cocky smile laid painless waste to Katherine’s defenses. Whereas his mannerism still irked her, it now made her want to smile too. Katherine’s stomach trembled with a sensation beyond hunger.
What an odd little boy I’ve found today. He’s different. Like me. Why?
She lifted her hand and pointed in the direction of the Food Court.
Notes of pure happiness left his throat, calling to Katherine has potently as any siren. She looked at him once before walking ahead.
I want to know his secrets and then I’ll let him go.
The seven words succeeded all too well.
Innocent to the ruthlessness of Fate, Mikhail followed her lead, content with this small but important triumph.
She said yes. Thank you, God!
Mikhail’s body radiated proprietary intent as he walked behind Katherine. He’d already spent the last hour following her; it didn’t seem like a burden to continue. However, if Katherine thought his method odd, she did well to hide it. Her legs cut an elegant swath through the crowd, leading Mikhail with an unconscious dominance he found extremely desirable.
She’s strong. Good.
The anonymous crowd flowed, picked apart and discarded of threat by the instincts of this hidden predator. Mikhail let the overwhelming rhythms of life wash over him before focusing on the brilliant beacon a few paces ahead.
There! I hear Katherine’s heart. It’s singing to me.
His large body trembled with acute fascination. Mikhail leaned forward, sniffing her delicately. He bit his lip and immediately suppressed a whine. Her scent made him dizzy inside. Innocence whetted his lust but there was something else too.
What happened to make you feel so empty?
Compassion only strengthened the indescribable bond he felt for this little girl. Burnt amber pulsed in time with each step, turning Mikhail’s stare into a covetous canvas.
Katherine looked over her shoulder again. Mikhail simply dropped his gaze and smiled.
My blood is too close to the surface. She’ll know what I’m not.
Reaching the Food Court, they chose to stand away from the claustrophobic crush of bodies.
“Do you know what you want?” he asked, delightful accent curling around each syllable.
“Not really.” She turned her head, not wanting him to see the effect his voice had on her. Katherine’s eyes skimmed over the garishly lit signs. A familiar green, white, and red banner saved them both from indecision. “Maybe pizza?”
“I like pizza.”
Pleasure danced along the surface of her invisible skin. His intense emotions were penetrating the wall she kept up.
I need to be careful. I could get so used to this.
Sobered by her thoughts, Katherine briskly stepped into line and kept quiet. She felt him take his place behind her, just a tiny bit too close for her comfort. Katherine looked over her shoulder, mouth ready to drop a subtle warning, when she crashed into his gaze.
The world turned upside down once more.
His eyes kept her locked. They were beautiful in a vicious sort of way. Kindness lit his eyes to a blinding emerald but Katherine just knew they could turn to chips of green ice on a principled turn. Mikhail was dangerous to her and her way of life. He was too many colors. He was the frenzy of fireworks blazing across the night sky, leaving her eager to see it all and not miss a single shattering display.
Mikhail was dangerous. If she was smart she’d walk away. Right. Now.
“What?” she whispered in lethargy.
“The line is moving.”
“I know.” She refused to look away and dared him to do it instead.
This time confusion watered down the color of his eyes. “Do you want something else?”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Okay, let’s just get out of the way then.”
“No.” Katherine turned around and stepped forward to place her order. Her mouth spoke the dull, utilitarian words, but her body hummed with dark delight. She couldn’t help dipping into his crayon box of emotions and coming out with greedy hands filled to the brim.
She could paint with him for hours and still not be done.
But what held more importance was this—Mikhail was unsure of her yet unwilling to walk away.
Unwilling to walk away. No one feels that for me. Ever.
“Okay, your total is $4.85.”
Katherine dug into her pocket, ready to pull out her money, when Mikhail passed a bill over her head. Looking up at him, she insisted, “I had it.”
“No, I asked to buy you something to eat. Not to watch you buy something to eat.”
Katherine pursed her mouth, looked away, and shrugged. “Okay. Works for me.”
She dutifully slid down, crimson tray beneath damp fingers, all the while listening to Mikhail place his order.
What am I doing here with him? This is crazy, crazy, crazy! I don’t know him at all…he could be a serial killer, rapist, psycho…
A hiss of plastic against steel warned her too late that he had once again encroached upon her space. Mikhail’s arm brushed against hers and the world ignited into vivid color once again.
Confidence…protectiveness…lust…curiosity…I feel so good, so very, very good. I feel like I do anything. I feel free. I feel new and clean. I feel like running far, far away only to come right back again. I feel like fucking until I can’t move…I feel all this and none of it’s me.
Katherine slid away, breaking her dizzying connection with Mikhail. She kept her distance, moving a fraction of an inch in tandem with him. She accepted her plate and drink before dashing off.
I’m losing myself so quickly in him. I’ve never felt such a connection with anyone this fast. It’s like I’m him and the scary thing is that it feels so right.
The pavilion suddenly seemed claustrophobic. There were too many people and too many emotions burning through her. Katherine needed to get outside. Without noting if Mikhail would see where she went, Katherine forced her feet to walk calmly through the nearest door.
Fresh air vied with perfume, smoke, and body odor. Katherine sucked it all in anyways. The deep breaths cleared her mind. Her fascination waned with distance and she wondered if she should just dump her food and leave. She stared at the parking lot with something akin to longing and disgust.
I’m not a coward and that’s exactly what I’d be if I run away.
She spied a dingy cropping of tables and displaced chairs. Walking to one furthest away from the crowd, Katherine sat down. She had no sooner looked up when Mikhail pulled back a chair across from her.
Katherine took the proffered rectangle and murmured her thanks. The pizza slice no longer looked so appetizing. Still she made an effort to take a bite while making a bigger effort to ignore the man staring at her.
Why is he staring at me? Doesn’t he care how rude that is? Or is something else?
Temptation struck. All she had to do was drop the veil and she’d know exactly what was hidden beneath that pretty face.
The world already looks that much grayer than it did before I saw him…and that’s why I can’t do this. I should hurry up and eat so I can go without being too much of a bitch.
With that glum decision made, Katherine focused on everything but Mikhail. On some level she knew she was still coming off as a complete bitch, but it couldn’t matter.
No wonder I’m a head case. I can’t even deal with normal interactions. Why am I making such a big deal out of this?
After several agonizing minutes crawled by, Mikhail apparently felt comfortable enough to take the plunge.
“So how old are you?”
Katherine looked away from the milling crowd. She wondered again for the hundredth time what she was doing with this stranger.
Why did I say yes to coming with him? I don’t even know this guy.
“Okay, that’s a pretty nosy question, so how about I tell you how old I am first?” Receiving no response other than a slow blink, Mikhail gamely plowed ahead, uttering the first of many future lies. He ignored the fact she was obviously uncomfortable with him. “I’m twenty-four.”
Great. Now I’m really going to come off as a baby.
Katherine played with the straw in her soda. Nervously, she pushed down the bits of ice, hoping to find the courage to extract herself from this awkward situation. Despite her frosty façade, she did care about what he thought. She didn’t want Mikhail to walk away and think she had just used him for a free meal.
I should give him back his money. I’ll do it before he leaves.
Mikhail cupped his chin with his hand and leaned forward. “How about I guess your age?” Not waiting for a reply, Mikhail took on the appearance of a man deep in thought. “Hmm…now how do I go about this? If I guess too low you’ll think I’m a perv, but if I go too high then you’ll slap me right out of this chair.”
Katherine smiled and a bubble of laughter fought its way free.
He is kind of a perv to be talking to me.
His green eyes twinkled with delight. “I CAN make you smile. Now, if I can get you to talk to me, then my day will be complete!”
She cleared her throat and the burgeoning grin melted away. Katherine’s fingers continued to fiddle with the plastic straw.
This is so embarrassing! Why can’t I even answer a simple question! Argh!
“Oh, no. Quick, Mikhail—think of something. She almost laughed at the threat of your bodily harm. If you do something incredibly stupid and get hurt, maybe she’ll smile again.” Looking around him, he spied the metal railing a few feet away and came upon a solution.
Katherine watched him rise in determination. She realized Mikhail’s reckless intention of following through on his words. “Seventeen!” she cried as she rushed to her feet. “I’m seventeen.”
A crimson blush immediately flooded Katherine’s face. However, she held his penetrating gaze with her own, wordlessly daring him to mock her for her age.
A playful smirk graced his lips. It enchanted her despite the blatant masculine triumph it obviously represented.
“Good. I was right.”
She frowned and sat down. “How’d you guess?”
“I didn’t. I just knew.” He resumed his seated position. “Now that the dreaded first conversation has just taken place, do you want to eat now?”
Katherine’s lip curled in a combination of befuddlement and admiration. “Actually I do.”
I feel like such a load has been taken off me. I can hang out with him. What was wrong with me before—making such a big deal out of nothing? There’s no rule that says I can’t spend time with Mikhail, right? After all, it’s not like he’s proposing marriage. He just asked to buy me something to eat. No biggie. Calm down, Katherine. Just do whatever you’d normally do at home. Eat like a pig and pass out.
Conscience satisfied, Katherine took a large bite and moaned, “Oh, this is so good.” She devoured the rest and sucked down every bit of soda before leaning back with a happy sigh.
Mikhail reached forward with napkin in hand. “You’ve got some sauce on your face.”
She was too content and relaxed to move. Her eyes shut and she bit her lips to keep in a yawn. “You mind getting it for me?” He didn’t answer but Katherine soon felt a brush across her chin. “Thanks.”
“Do you want me to get you some ice cream?”
“No, maybe later.” She slit an eye open. Mikhail’s face was split in an infectious grin. She was unable to keep from returning it. The previous circle of doubt and dismay had vacated her spirit and Katherine found the unusual freedom intoxicating.
“Do I bore you that much, Katherine?”
His teasing inspired her to smile again. “Nope. I’m just full and sleepy. Let me just rest a bit and I swear I’ll be good as new.”
“Do you mind if I switch seats?”
She waved a hand. “Feel free, Mikhail.” She closed her eyes again and leaned her head back. A chair scraped against the concrete before another repeated the same sound. Katherine’s right arm tingled in pleasure. She didn’t have to look to know he had moved next to her.
The minutes slid by in companionable silence. She was more fatigued from traipsing through his emotions than inhaling a humongous slice of pizza. Obviously, it wasn’t on the share category of conversations.
He probably thinks I’m odd either way. Rather be thought of as a pig than a freak. Although, there was something not quite human about him…so I guess I wouldn’t be the only freak here.
Katherine’s neck rolled to the side. She peeked at Mikhail, somewhat expecting him to have fallen to the lure of a quick nap. Instead, his eyes were scanning the sidewalks and parking lots in methodical succession. Her gaze slid down. Mikhail had moved his chair in a way that effectively blocked her in the corner.
He turned to her with a smile. “Yes?”
“You looking for something in particular?”
“No. Just looking.”
Katherine sat up. She didn’t even have to make an effort to read him to know he was lying.
He’s got secrets. He’s not exactly like them but more like me. Interesting.
She reached for her cup and shook it. She sipped the last bit of melted soda ice with a frown.
“Here. I still have lots left.”
Katherine eyed the drink in his hand. Sharing germs wasn’t usually the first option between strangers—not that she’d mind consuming another piece of him.
All right, girl. Show ‘em what you got.
“Thank you.” She took the plastic cup without hesitation or wiping off his straw. Katherine kept her gaze trained on his. Mikhail didn’t disappoint. After she handed him back his drink he placed his lips exactly where hers had been.
Katherine’s cheeks flushed rose. Not out of discomfort, embarrassment, or any one of a plethora of emotions ready to assault a teenage girl. Instead, something else made its ubiquitous home deep inside. Desire motivated Katherine’s coloring, making the profane exquisitely possible.
While in high school she had heard girls gossiping about sex and had usually listened with more than a polite ear. She hadn’t been immune to the giggles and sighs that drifted from behind the bleachers or in the far back of the library.
However, Katherine hadn’t ever truly been tempted to go there with any guy during school. She’d had a few dates with friends wondering if there could be more. Not surprisingly those ended with the obligatory, “I had a nice time/Yeah, me too,” kind of moments but nothing else.
Until now, Katherine had been content with just focusing on her life and problems, always rationalizing her issues were more than enough to keep busy.
Now was an entirely different creature.
Now was the clichéd apple, garden, and serpent all rolled in one.
Now was the moment Katherine could chose to run, make him run, or choose an option that had never been on the board before.
“I don’t have to be home for a couple more hours, Mikhail. Do you want to hang out here with me until then?”
Mikhail glanced down for a moment. His mouth drew in on itself. He blew out a discreet puff of air. Lust clouded the air between himself and Katherine. His wolven nature demanded he press the young girl to give him what her body was so prettily displaying.
Easy boy. Different time and different rules.
He blinked once. His blood receded as did his teeth and claws. Instinct made peace with logic, knowing in the end they had to work together to get Katherine.
She doesn’t know what she’s offering and I won’t be bastard by taking advantaging of that.
“Sure. Any place you want to go to first?”
She shook her head. “Nah.
“All right.” Mikhail stood up and pulled her chair back. He stepped aside so Katherine could pass. He hoped she hadn’t noticed his instinctual need to protect by placing himself between her and the crowd milling past. “Here, let me get that,” he asked while taking the tray from her hand. Mikhail noted her tiny smile and found himself eager to be responsible for many more.
After throwing away their trash and depositing the trays, Mikhail walked back to Katherine and lightly touched her back. He prayed she’d receive his touch favorably. Her small shudder did not go unnoticed for it echoed his.
She’s already inside me. I want her so badly.
Katherine looked over her shoulder. Her golden eyes darkened into what he knew as lust. “You ready?”
“Lead the way, Katherine.”
Mikhail kept pace with her, fingers itching to do more than rest on the middle of her back. Her skin scorched his, imprinting the truth of her scent and essence upon him. Mikhail’s gaze burned with conquest and adoration.
She’s so…I don’t know. Her moods are impossible to track for long. She’s inexperienced but more. Skittish and bold.
They continued walking, an attractive young couple watchful of their step and considerate of others. Civilized, polite, normal.
And a complete fabrication.
Mikhail bent his head and took several deep, yet discreet, breaths. Katherine’s delectable flavor invaded his senses, threatening to decimate the human façade he wore.
I want to taste her, stretch her until she’s filled with me. I want to make her cry, make her crazed, make her anything I want her to be. I want to fuck her into submission and worship her for letting me do it. I want it all.
Katherine shook inside. His touch enthralled her, throwing her into the middle of an explosion of sensation. She siphoned off his emotions, letting them ricochet inside her until she had difficulty distinguishing his from hers.
He fills me up till I feel like I’m going to burst. And I still want more.
Katherine bit her lip, pinching it with languorous pressure. Desire, thick and heavy, flowed between them in indivisible strands. Madly, she wondered if she could be one of those girls to take him to a hotel room. Katherine smothered a spurt of nervous laughter.
I can imagine it now—“Mikhail, I’m so hot for you and I know you are for me too. How? Oh, never mind that. Say, why don’t you like take me to a Holiday Inn and fuck me until I can’t walk. Sound good? Cool!”
Katherine looked about her with a heavy-lidded gaze. The mall pulsed with color. It was a riotous feast for her starved senses. She hummed with giddiness, wanting to reach out and sample a bit from everyone, despite being engorged with Mikhail.
She giggled as she passed by a small child. The little girl’s joy in her rapidly melting ice cream infected her, making her remember simple happiness. Katherine skipped past a scowling old woman. No, no need to skim through that one’s negative emotions. Instead, she lighted on the next couple. They seemed so happy and cheerful. Katherine wanted a little taste. Although she walked past them within a second, she wanted to wallow in their pleasure so allowed her arm to brush by the woman’s.
Katherine immediately clasped her hands over her mouth and laughed.
Oh, my God! They’re lesbians! I just thought they were friends! Now I know what it’s like to not be able to wait to go home and have sex with my girlfriend! I never knew a woman’s stuff could be so beautiful.
She risked a glance over her shoulder and noted the small signs of their intimate relationship.
“What is it? Did you see somewhere you want to stop at?”
Katherine’s panicked gaze shot up to Mikhail’s. She had been so intent on indulging herself she had forgotten he was still there. Her feet stumbled to an inelegant stop. “Uh, no, no. I just thought I saw someone I knew.”
Mikhail’s eyes narrowed and his mouth pulled a bit. “Really?”
“Hmm. Yeah.” Katherine didn’t need to dip into his feelings to see the doubt and confusion cluttering his mind. Feeling guilty at being caught in a lie, she started castigating herself for being so reckless.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Now he’ll think I’m just some big liar who can’t even tell the truth…which is true. I can’t ever really tell the truth.
Katherine blinked and her emotional membrane shrunk back into gray. Lights out. Color gone. She retreated inside herself, neatly severing her connection with the world and with Mikhail. Katherine managed a smile despite the void spreading like an ink stain over her psyche. “Did you have somewhere you wanted to go?”
“No.” His eyes darkened with enigmatic emotion, taunting Katherine to open herself back up.
“Oh, okay.” She walked away and turned the corner, unsure if Mikhail still followed. Her back ached from the lack of imprint from his large hand. Katherine resisted the urge to wrap her arms around her waist. The loss of sensation was worse after experiencing the sweetness of touch. To say Katherine was starved for affection was a sad, pitiful understatement.
My parents sure as hell won’t touch me, not even when necessary. They’re so afraid of what I’ll see and feel. They’re afraid of what I’ll know. Just like those women would feel if they had any clue I knew what they did at home. What I do is wrong.
Katherine gritted her teeth. She rooted around, looking for some sliver of emotion that could fuel anything other than self-loathing. She came up empty. Her haunted stare flitted over the living stream of people flowing past. She cursed herself for being so alien. Once more Katherine wondered if Empath was the correct moniker. She considered herself to be more of an emotional succubus. She fed off of others but no matter how much she consumed it never filled the vacant wasteland inside.
I feel everything and nothing.
It was no wonder Katherine didn’t allow herself to do much of the first and lived everything in the second.
I was right. Mikhail’s dangerous to me. He makes me think there’s a chance for me to be a little normal. I’m not. I’m a freak.
A warm hand grasped her arm. It pulled her into a hallway, out from the crush. Katherine allowed herself to be maneuvered against the wall. She noted how Mikhail shielded her with his large body. He feathered his fingertips against her rounded cheek. She blinked in apathy.
“Katherine, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t lie to me.” Despite the brusque command, his hand continued to pet her. “I know something’s wrong. Did I do something to offend you? If so, I apologize. I’m very sorry.”
Katherine shook her head. Pity unfurled, finding a way to break through the barren landscape Katherine had retreated. “No, you didn’t do anything, Mikhail. You’ve been wonderful.” She realized with a bit of surprise she meant every word. “I’m sorry.”
“What’s the matter then? Did someone else offend you?”
She shook her head.
Mikhail ducked closer. His hand dropped to her shoulder, fingertips still caressing invisible patterns into her skin. “Then what is it?”
Katherine blinked owlishly, unsure of how to respond without lying. Oddly enough she found she very much wanted to respect his wishes for honesty. “Sometimes I get sad…I can’t say for no reason…but I can’t explain why.”
Mikhail’s beautiful gaze softened. “Oh, Katharina. I understand.”
She missed the lovely rolling syllables of his new name for her. “Yeah, right.” Katherine’s cheeks flushed with hot color. She didn’t mean to sound so spiteful and ungrateful but the thought that he understood was impossible. She risked touching his chest for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
Mikhail accepted her apology with a poignant smile. “Sorrow is an oppressive mistress to keep. She takes everything, never satisfied with living in a part of you—she wants it all.”
Bemused, Katherine found his speech odd in a wise, delightful way.
“She consumes you, letting you gather just enough strength so she can steal that away too. She keeps everyone away. She perches on your heart, making you think no one will ever be able to see YOU. She infects you until you cannot look around you without see HER.”
“Yes,” she breathed, fascinated.
Mikhail sighed. “She taints your view, making you feel like the stranger in a happy world that you can never be part of. Sorrow is addictive, oppressive, and terrible in her power.”
“How do you let her go?”
Mikhail shrugged. He trailed his fingers across her neck. “I don’t know.”
Katherine’s sight bled at the corners. She swallowed back the thick burn seeking to rob her of speech. “Sorrow seems to be a bitch to you too, Mikhail.”
He suddenly seemed too old and tired to continue standing, much less comfort her. “Let’s just say I’ve been acquainted with her for quite some time.”
Katherine sprinted out of her safe habits and poisoned comfort zone. She ran without fear, determined to be new with this beautiful boy who could be an old man. She arched up and kissed his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered with gratitude. Cheeks flushed, eyes shiny, she stood there daring Sorrow to intrude on this moment with Mikhail.
He stared at Katherine in astonishment. His hand lifted away from her to touch his cheek. “You’re welcome.” He smiled and Katherine knew her world would never be the same.
Her heart thudded in anxious beats. Transfixed, she kept her gaze trained on his. She had wondered if he was the same as her, unwanted and on the fringe of the world. She had allowed herself to be distracted from the question. Now, she knew.
Green and gold pulsed in time with her heart, flickering back and forth in an unnatural position of dominance. Katherine was positive Mikhail had no idea what secrets his eyes were giving away.
What are you?
Katherine crept forth from behind her shield. She moved forward, feeling the pull between them take on epic proportions. “Mikhail, I’m so glad I met you.” The words fell from her lips with a whispered promise of many more just like it. “You’re amazing.” Nervous laughter trailed the statement, but Katherine didn’t give into the urge to look away.
Mikhail’s stare edged out the verdant color, leaving it to shimmer gold.
Much like Katherine’s golden eye color.
The hum of the outside world provided the backdrop for secret world existing in plain sight. She didn’t have to muster up the courage to touch him again. He cupped the back of her head, tilting her chin up for what had to be a kiss.
Excitement claimed Katherine. She embraced folly, eager to know Mikhail’s true face and hoping to see hers. No longer content with ghostly sentiments, she entered his mind and saw he was so much more.
Forests, deep and gilded with age, rose up. Air heavy with animal, nature, and power entered his lungs. Running…always running.
Katherine’s lungs ached. Mikhail’s long, loping strides became hers.
A bevy of faces, exotic, memorable, and loved stared back. Their tongues lolled in happiness, flitting between humanity and animal.
Her skin itched, almost as if a coat that needed shedding.
Pride and responsibility. A beautiful but worn woman kneeling on the floor. A child kneeling with her. Sadness and regret staining his face with countless tears.
Katherine’s heart twisted with misery. It stained her, never leaving.
A fortress, burnt and abandoned, flashed crimson with the blood of hundreds. Children lay sprawled in the debris, still stuck between transformation. Their haunches dark with fur and rank with blood. Kinsmen slaughtered. Everything in ruins.
The memory spoke of imagination, but its likelihood of reality kept her held deep with unimaginable grief. “It’s my fault,” she whispered aloud, echoing the silent words embroidered across the scene.
“No, never,” Mikhail whispered back. Obviously, he believed she referred to her own private pain, never guessing she gave voice to his.
Another estate, newly made but not viewed with joy. Dark shapes throwing shadows across the manicured grass. Their legs human, their shadows not. Mikhail standing before them, eyes gold like sunrise, spirit darkening like sunset.
The multitude of people bowed their heads in respect. The moon rose overhead, full and luminous with power. Wolves dotted the landscape, heads thrown back with piercing howls. He surveyed them, hearing their adulation and knowing he was unworthy of such devotion.
He was not the Alpha werewolf they needed.
“Oh,” she breathed in child-like wonderment. Katherine stumbled out of his mind. She shook like a proverbial leaf in the wind. The knowledge of who and what Mikhail were obliterated the plain, colorless world. Nothing could ever be the same again. Katherine refused to let it. His precious adored face continued to descend, emphasizing that Katherine had spurred through this memories like a bullet—in less than a heartbeat.
She pursed her lips, anticipating his mouth to seal her fate to his.
You make me dizzy. You make the world sing in color. You’ve turned me inside out, upside down. I’m crazy to trust you but I know that I can. I’ll never betray you, Mikhail DeMontier. I’ll never let you know what I know. I’ll play pretend with you, believe in your secrets, and let you live a lie because I know all about that.
Mikhail pressed his mouth against her forehead. The skin tingled in a way most pleasant. Katherine turned her body into his, needing to keep his touch centered on her. A lifetime passed within a moment and then he pulled away.
His eyes, green with dull normalcy, peered into hers. “I want to see you again.”
Katherine’s fixation returned back to his mouth. She yearned for it, needed it without shame or guilt. She knew that mouth, those lips, his breath belonged to her. “Tomorrow.”
“When?” he repeated, needy and demanding.
She wanted to peel back his lips. She wanted to see his teeth, to see if the fangs of his heritage were hidden beneath. She wanted to feel those teeth scraping against her bare back and everywhere else. She wanted to be devoured by those fangs, picked neatly apart so she would always be part of him. “Breakfast. Across the street. Buffet.”
“What’s your number?”
“Here. I’ll write it down.” Katherine’s fingers fumbled with her purse. She soon had her number written on a scrap piece of paper. She passed it to him before yanking it back with a frown. “You can’t call me yet though.”
“Well, what time should I pick you up?” he asked in curiosity while prying the paper from her tightly clenched fist. She melted at his touch, leaving him to smile in subtle masculine appreciation.
“No.” Katherine tore her attention away from just how that lovely mouth came together and apart.
She shook her head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to come to my house just yet.”
Mikhail bit back his frustration. “Okay, but you’ll meet me at the restaurant?”
Katherine wanted to follow through on her temptations of nuzzling his throat with her nose. She never realized how sexy a man’s neck could be. Exposed to all. Vulnerable. “Absolutely. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Mikhail’s gaze flashed once more. He stepped back, lessening the crowding of his body on hers. “I’m hungry again. What about you?”
Katherine smiled. “Absolutely. Food Court?”
He returned her gesture. “Sure.” Mikhail held out his hand to her, wanting Katherine to make the next move.
She stared at it for a moment before carefully placing her fingers in his.
It feels so right. He feels so right…
Katherine naively allowed herself to believe something that felt so right had to be. She was too young and inexperienced to know differently. Mikhail wasn’t, but instead of naivety, he clung to blindness. As tightly as he clung to her hand and she to his…
Image Credit: kandy13 @ Stock.Xchng