Dray, Luka, and I were all smiles and covered in glow in the dark paint when we stumbled into the manor. The servants couldn't hide their distaste at our messy state, but were way too polite to actually say anything. We laughed and parted ways, only having just enough time to shower and change before dinner.
For what seemed like hours at the dining table, Dray and Luka talked about nothing but the splatter drumming and the shoot. Yana pursed her lips the whole time, muttering about not being invited. When I teased her about getting her precious Gothic Lolita outfit dirty, she blanched and we all laughed. Demitri wanted an invite too, but he quickly forgave me when I told him he might be next on my shoot list.
The compliments Dray and Luka lobed my way almost felt undeserved. I couldn't remember the last time I'd blushed so much. And because of their praise, everyone wanted to see the pictures. Even sourpuss Calixta. Keeping an I-mean-business look on my face, I shook my head. No one would get to see them but me until the Spring Showcase. The pictures for the project were sacred.
My jaw almost fell off when Luka defended me. He said something about how he wouldn't show any of them a new song until it was ready. This they understood and I was pretty much left alone until Phoenix pestered me about her own shoot. She had some ideas, that girl. I told her I'd let her know when inspiration struck me then excused myself from the table, claiming work.
Before I made it all the way out of earshot Dray launched into another tale of his splatter drumming experience. I remembered watching Luka through the viewfinder pour paint on each of the drums as I instructed him, adjusting the focus. He had whispered something to a serious looking Dray. The mad scientist drummer nodded once. Luka ran back to my side. When I asked him what he told Dray, he just said to watch. So, I gave Dray the signal and it was like fireworks. He executed a complicated drum solo. The paint muffled the pounding but the splatter was spectacular. The explosion of color almost made me forget I was supposed to take pictures. For the first time since meeting him, Dray didn't have his eyes closed. He looked straight at me, a sexy smirk on his lips. Like he enjoyed himself beyond words. It warmed my heart immensely that I was able to give him that experience.
A constant grin stretched my lips all the way back to my room. Not wanting to stall my productive momentum, I went straight for my laptop and plugged in my camera. Small splatters of paint still clung to the shutter release and lens. I waited until all the pictures were downloaded.
One down, eight more to go—the tenth being the composite. I felt good about myself and where the project was going. I already had a couple of new ideas swirling in my head for the other band members. I crossed my arms, as I scanned through the photo gallery. Luka might be the toughest one only because of my attraction to him. I knew I wanted him. My body clenching every time I got a mere whiff of him told me so.
Thinking fast, I made the decision to save him for last. I'd take care of Demitri and Phoenix first because they were less of a mystery than their band's bassist. I should have known from the time he played hard to get at Sacrifice that Luka would pose the biggest challenge. Not that I minded. It only pushed me to become better. This meant good things for the project and everyone won in the end—especially me.
By the time I stretched and leaned away from my laptop screen, the mini clock on the sidebar blinked midnight. If I counted, I may have slept a total of two hours today. Not good, even for an insomniac like me. Stifling a yawn, I rubbed my eyes and got out of my seat.
I stumbled to the bedroom straight for my bed. Its sheets called to me. I flicked the mint aside and let my body fall. The second my head hit the pillow, I was out.
I hated this part of the dream.
I lay on my back spread out on the damp, cold ground, kicking and screaming. A hard slap from one of the large hands lands across my face. Pain explodes on my cheek, swelling the skin almost immediately. Dark spots pop before my eyes. Still I struggle. Kicking, scratching, screaming. He whispers that no one will hear us. This is the first time I hear his voice—deep, gruff, ugly. He straddles me. I feel the bulge between his legs and try to aim a punch or a hard kick at it. If I can get up, I can get away. Something in my gut tells me he doesn't have the strength to keep coming after me if I take off again.
The bodice of my dress rips, exposing my breast to the cold night air. I scream again, twisting to my side—any way away from him.
That's when the glint of a knife caught my eye.
I gasped awake, cold sweat covering my brow. I reached up for my patch, but it wasn't where it was supposed to be. Small prickly balls of panic bounced around in my chest. I pushed away from the sweat drenched sheets. On my hands and knees, I patted around. My good eye useless in the darkness. A horrible whimper escaped my lips. My throat closed. I couldn't take it. Where was the damn patch.
Just about to flip the sheets off the bed, my fingers brushed against the velvet hardness of the small dome that kept my secret safe. Like what I did with my camera, I held the patch to my chest until my breathing stopped sounding ragged to my ears. If my body didn't need sleep, I wouldn't ever allow my eye to close ever again. The longer I stayed awake the safer I was from my dreams.
Still shaking, but breathing less erratically, I crawled out of bed. In case someone was in my east wing quarters, I covered my eye with my hand, my patch still held in the other. I scrambled across the living area, cursing the distance of the bathroom from the bedroom. Heading straight for the sink, I pushed the tap up and slashed cold water on my face. I didn't see myself sleeping for the rest of the night. I made the mistake of looking at my reflection in the mirror. My stomach twisted violently.
Face still dripping, I fell to my knees over the toilet and heaved. The seven course dinner I was beginning to get used to at Lunar Manor came up the way it went down. Bitter acid burned its way up my throat into my mouth. I coughed, unable to breathe. Tears streamed from my good eye. A couple more wretched heaves followed, bowing my torso.
Feeling spent, and twice as exhausted, I flushed then rinsed out the sourness in my mouth. For good measure, I avoided the mirror and grabbed a towel. After patting my face dry, I returned the patch to its rightful place. Only then did I face the mirror. Feeling a hundred times better, I grabbed my toothbrush.
Minty fresh breath later, I padded out of the bathroom, prepared to get back to work. When I got to my desk, my gaze wandered to the terrace. My heart constricted before it doubled its beats. A figure sat with his back to my room on the banister. If he decided to push off, it would be a one story fall. The best he could do was break a leg or an arm.
I chuckled. In what universe would Luka ever contemplate killing himself? As far as I was concerned, he had the life. Famous. Rich. Gorgeous. What more could he ask for?
Leaving my laptop, I opened my terrace doors and leaned against the doorframe the way he did the first time he escorted me to dinner. I crossed my arms, not minding my bare feet on the cold stone.
"Don't you ever sleep?" I asked as a joke.
He shrugged, his long fingers curling around the banister behind him. "Don't you?"
"When Deidra said we'd be sharing the east wing, I didn't think you'd be harassing me the whole time."
"I don't mean to be a bother."
The sadness in his statement confused me. I meant to tease, not to hurt. Unable to help myself, I pushed away from the doorframe and joined him.
Luka looked up at the sky, his flaxen curls gleaming gray in the darkness. Our only light came from inside my quarters. When I reached him, my heartbeat sped up for a different reason. Had he seen me run to the bathroom?
"Are you sick?"
His question crushed my insides. "No."
He twisted toward me slightly and touched my forehead. I didn't back away even if I wanted too. Maybe the shock of how good his calluses felt against my skin kept me from moving. His blue eyes scanned my face as if searching for something. For a second, I wondered how that hand would feel squeezing my breast, his thumb teasing my nipple to life. Thank goodness he dropped his hand before my thoughts scrambled and I completely forgot myself.
"You don't seem sick to me," he finally said, returning his attention to the sky.
"It's because I'm not. What are you looking at anyway?" I looked up with him. This far away from the city, the stars shined brightly above us. A blanket of diamonds in the sky.
"It's not what I'm looking at." He sighed. It must have been the saddest sound I'd ever heard from the way my heart jerked inside my chest. I would have teared up if I hadn't already wasted my quota for the day in the bathroom. "It's what I'm looking for."
I swallowed. "What are you looking for?"
"Answers," he whispered. "They say, if you look up at the stars long enough, you will find answers."
"All of life's questions."
How did we get philosophical all of a sudden? For the first time, no matter how beautiful Luka looked, I didn't want to take his picture. I was afraid that if I went inside to grab my camera he wouldn't be here when I got back.
I couldn't be sure what drove me to ask, "Any specific questions you're looking for answers too?"
He turned to face me again. His hand brushed over the banister until his fingers touched mine. My lips parted slightly when he took my hand and placed a soft kiss over my knuckles. Not once did he remove his gaze from mine. I willed myself not to blink, not wanting to miss a moment of what Luka was doing. My breath hitched when he turned my hand over and kissed the center of my palm. The tip of his tongue darted out and traced my love and life lines. My own tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, the inside having gone dry. Then Luka spoke into my palm, his hot breath drying the wetness he'd left behind.
"Like if I wanted to kiss you, will you let me?"
The muscles in my abdomen quivered. I heard no hint of teasing in his question. I cleared my throat before swallowing.
"But you're already kissing me," I said, admonishing myself for the tremor in my voice.
As if to prove my point, he kissed my palm again, open-mouthed this time. "That I am. But this isn't the only place I want to kiss you."
Squaring my shoulders, I took the dare in his tone. "Where else?"
He moved his lips to the sensitive skin on the inside of my wrist. "Here." He licked the cluster of veins there. I couldn't stop the shiver ravaging my body even if I wanted to.
I shook my head. "Go on. Where else."
Keeping his eyes on mine, Luka trailed kisses until he reached the inside of my elbow and nipped the skin there. I twitched from the pleasure pain of the contact. He licked the spot before running his hand up my arm until he closed it behind my neck. He pulled me closer and I stopped thinking. My tongue darted across my lower lip, waiting, wanting what happens next.
"Can I kiss you here, Dakota?" He ran his thumb along the exact same path the tip of my tongue took earlier.
I dipped my chin once, unable to really nod because of the brace his hand behind my neck created.
"Say it," he whispered. "Tell me what you want."
"Yes." It came out more breath than word. "I want you to kiss me."
Excruciatingly slow, Luka leaned in, never adjusting his seat on the banister. One mistake and he would fall. But the consequences were the furthest from my mind. In fact, I barely had any coherent thoughts. Luka took my bottom lip between his teeth and pulled me toward him. I didn't resist. I was beyond resisting.
I took his face into my hands and crushed myself against him, plunging my tongue into his mouth. With a groan, he moved his hand from my neck to the small of my back. He pressed me against him. My nipples pebbled almost immediately inside my bra upon contact with his chest. His heat enveloped me, banishing the cold of night.
As I ravaged his mouth like it was my first drink of water after a yearlong draught, I noticed Luka only held me with one hand. He kept the other holding onto the banister. It struck me as odd at first because I wanted both his hands on my body, but I stopped caring when my tongue slammed against the metal stud in his mouth. God Almighty! A tongue ring. I whimpered, shaking. I couldn't get enough. His spicy sweet scent extended into his taste. I didn't care that I lapped at him. This kiss was sloppy, messy, and all kinds of sexy. At some point I forgot to breathe and got light-headed. I needed air, but not even the Jaws of Life could rip me away from Luka's delicious mouth.
Vaguely, I felt Luka's hand climb back up my spine to my hair. He closed it around the strands and pulled. At first, I thought he was trying to keep my mouth against his. Seconds later he tugged harder than what was considered sexual. I had to detach myself from him to keep from having my scalp ripped off.
"What are you doing?" I stared into his hooded eyes. I barely caught the blue in them. His long eyelashes created shadows against the tops of his cheekbones.
He breathed just as hard as I did when he finally met me stare for stare. Untamed desire colored his irises black. I noticed then how hard he was shaking. His knuckles knocked against the base of my skull. I whispered his name, my own desire morphing into fear. My heart hammered in my ears.
He closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath. "You better go."
One by one he opened his fingers, his knuckles popping from the effort. They were so tight against my hair that the pain pulsed from the roots. I actually hissed.
"Just go!" he growled.
"Not until you tell me why," I demanded. I had to be angry because the alternative was far more frightening.
Luka looked away from me and rubbed his hand over his face. "Because if you don't go, I don't think I'll be able to stop myself."
I shifted, trying my best not to massage the spot where his hand last touched my body. "What if I don't want you to stop?"
He shook his head and sighed. "Wrong fucking question, Dakota. Just leave before this goes to a place you will surely regret."
I opened my mouth to argue, but my gaze dropped to his hand back on the banister. His knuckles were so white I didn't think any blood circulated there anymore. Unable to understand what had gotten into him, I backed away slowly. I knew when to cut my losses.
Eventually, I would get to the bottom of this. I promised myself that.
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