I stayed out in the hall, trying to sift through the mess of thoughts in my head.
Wow! Darius was going to ask Aphrodite to accept his Warrior’s Oath. Jeesh. A vampyre warrior and a human prophet of the Goddess. Huh. Who knew?
On an equally freaky note: Stark could feel my emotions if they were strong enough. Well, I had a
Stifling a sigh, I opened the door quietly. The only light was coming from one of those tall prayer candles—the kind you can find in the grocery store that have really weird religious pictures on them. This one wasn’t so weird. It was pink, had a pretty picture of Mary on it, and it smelled like roses.
I tiptoed over to Stark’s bedside.
He didn’t look good, but he also wasn’t as pale and awful as he had been not long before. He seemed to be asleep—or at least his eyes were closed—his breathing was regular, and he looked relaxed. He didn’t have a shirt on, and the hospital sheet was pulled up under his arms so that I could just see the white top of what must have been a huge bandage covering his chest. I remembered how terrible the burn had been and wondered if, even considering the possible ramifications, I should make a cut in my arm like Heath had done for me, and then shove it against his mouth. He’d probably latch on to it automatically and, without thinking, drink what he needed to heal. But would he be pissed when he’d realized what I’d done? Probably. I knew Heath and Erik certainly would be.
Crap. Erik. I hadn’t even begun to deal with him yet.
I jumped and my gaze instantly went to Stark’s face. His eyes weren’t closed any longer. He was watching me with an expression that was somewhere between amused and sarcastic.
“Stop psychically eavesdropping.”
“I wasn’t. I could tell by watching you gnaw your lip that you were stressing yourself out. So, I guess Darius talked to you.”
“Yeah, he has. Did you know about all that went along with giving me your Warrior’s Oath before you did it?”
“Yeah, mostly. I mean I’d read about it at school, and we talked about it in Vamp Soc Class this past year. It’s different to actually experience it, though.”
“Can you really feel what I feel?” I asked hesitantly, almost as afraid to know the truth as to not know it.
“I’m starting to, only it’s not like I can hear your thoughts or anything crazy like that. I just feel things sometimes, and I know they’re not coming from me. I mostly ignored it when it first happened, but then I realized what was going on and paid more attention to it.” He started to smile.
“Stark, I have to tell you that kinda makes me feel spied on.”
His expression went totally serious. “I’m not spying on you. This isn’t about me following you around with my mind. I’m not going to invade your privacy; I’m going to keep you safe. I thought you—” He broke off, looking away from me. “Never mind. It’s not important. You should just know I’m not going to use this thing between us to be like a creeper and mentally stalk you.”
“You thought I what? Finish what you started to say.”
He let out a long, exasperated breath and met my eyes again. “What I started to say is that I thought you trusted me more than that. That’s one of the reasons I decided to give you my oath, because you trusted me when no one else did.”
“I do trust you,” I said quickly.
“But you think I’d spy on you? Trust and spying don’t go together.”
When he put it that way, I could see his point, and some of my initial freak-out started to fade. “I don’t think you’d do it on purpose, but if my emotions are blabbing at you, or whatever they do, then it would be easy for you to, well…” I trailed off and fidgeted, not comfortable with the whole conversation.
He nodded and the movement made him grimace in pain, but his voice was steady when he answered. “Everything except what I need to know to protect you.”
Without speaking, I reached out slowly and took his hand.
He didn’t pull away from me, but he also didn’t say anything.
“Look, I started this whole conversation wrong. I do trust you. I was just surprised when Darius told me about the psychic thing.”
“Surprised?” Stark’s lips tilted up.
“Okay, maybe completely freaked is a better word. It’s just that I have a bunch of stuff going on and I guess I’m stressing.”
“You’re stressing for sure,” he said. “And by
I sighed. “Sadly, I do.”
He laced his fingers through mine. “Those other guys don’t change anything. My Oath binds us.”
For a second he sounded too darn much like Heath, and I had to force myself not to fidget again.
“I really don’t want to talk about them with you right now.”
“I got ya,” he said. “I don’t feel like talking about those punks right now either.” He tugged on my hand. “Why don’t you sit by me for a little while?”
I sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, not wanting to jostle him too much or hurt him.
“I’m not gonna break,” he said, giving me his cocky grin.
“You almost broke,” I said.
“Nah, you saved me. And I’m going to be okay.”
“So, does it hurt really bad?”
“I’ve felt better,” he said. “But the creamy stuff the nuns gave Darius to spread on the burn helps. Except for my chest being all tight, it’s mostly numb right now.” But even as he spoke he shifted restlessly, as if he couldn’t get comfortable. “How’s it going out there?” He abruptly changed the subject before I could ask him any more about how he was feeling. “Did all the Raven Mockers take off with Kalona?”
“I think so. Stevie Rae and the guys found three of them dead.” I paused, remembering Stevie Rae’s weird reaction to Dallas telling her that they’d put the bodies in the trash.
“What is it?” Stark asked.
“I don’t know exactly,” I answered him honestly. “There’re things going on with Stevie Rae that are worrying me.”
“Like?” he prompted.
I looked down at our joined hands. How much could I tell him? Could I really talk to him?
“I’m your Warrior. You can trust me with your life. That means you can also trust me with your secrets.” I met his eyes, and he continued, smiling sweetly at me. “We’re Oath-bound. That’s a stronger tie than what happens between an Imprint or even between mates. I’ll never betray you, Zoey. Ever. You can count on me.”
For an instant I wanted to tell him about my memory of A-ya, but instead I blurted, “I think Stevie Rae’s hiding red fledglings. Bad ones.”
His easy smile vanished and he started to sit up, then sucked in a sharp breath and went totally white.
“No! You can’t get up!” I pressed his shoulders gently back.
“You have to tell Darius,” Stark said through clenched teeth.
“I have to talk to Stevie Rae first.”
“I don’t think that’s—”
“Seriously! I have to talk to Stevie Rae first.” I took his hand again, trying to will him through my touch to understand. “She’s my best friend.”
“You trust her?”
“I want to trust her. I have trusted her.” My shoulders slumped in defeat. “But if she doesn’t come clean with the truth when I talk to her, I will go to Darius.”
“I need to get out of this damn bed so I can make sure you’re not surrounded by enemies!”
He grinned. “Well, that’s different.”
I didn’t let him tease me out of being serious. “No, it’s really not.”
“Okay, I hear what you’re saying, but I’m still not okay with it. I don’t suppose I can get you to bring Stevie Rae here when you talk to her?”
I squidged my forehead at him. “No, not likely.”
“Then promise me that you’ll be careful and you won’t go off alone with her somewhere to talk.”
“She wouldn’t do anything to hurt me!”
“Actually, I’m assuming she can’t hurt you, being as you have control of five elements to her one. But you don’t know what kind of powers these rogue fledglings she’s hiding have, or how many of them there are. And I know a little something about being a badass red fledgling. So promise you’ll be careful.”
“Yeah, okay. I promise.”
“Good.” He relaxed a little bit back on the bed.
“Hey, I don’t want you to worry about me right now. You just need to concentrate on getting better.” I drew a deep, fortifying breath and continued, “I think it’s a good idea for you to drink from me.”
“Look, you want to be able to protect me, right?”
“Right,” he said, nodding tightly.
“Then that means you have to get well fast so you can. Right?”
“And you’ll get well quicker if you drink from me, so it’s only logical that you do.”
“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” he asked abruptly.
“Do you have any idea how tired you look?”
I could feel my cheeks getting warm. “I really haven’t had time lately to worry about stuff like makeup and doing my hair,” I said defensively.
“I’m not talking about makeup or hair. I’m talking about how pale you look. You have dark circles under your eyes.” His gaze slid down to where my shirt covered the long scar that stretched from one of my shoulders to another. “How’s your cut?”
“Fine.” With my free hand I tugged up my shirt, even though I knew none of the scar was exposed.
“Hey,” he said gently. “I’ve already seen it, remember?”
I met his eyes. Yes, I remembered. Actually, he’d not just seen my scar—he’d seen all of me. Naked. Okay, now my entire face felt hot.
“I’m not mentioning it to embarrass you. I’m just trying to remind you that you’ve almost died lately, too. We need you to be strong and well, Zoey.
“But I need you to be strong and well, too.”
“I will be. Hey, don’t worry about me. Apparently, I’m practically impossible to kill.” He grinned his cute, cocky smile.
“Keep my stress level in mind.
“I’ll try to remember that.” He pulled on my hand. “Lay down next to me for a little while. I like it when you’re close.”
“Are you sure I’m not going to hurt you?”
“I’m almost positive you will hurt me.” He smiled, making his words teasing, “but I still want you close. Come here to me.”
I let him tug me down so that I was lying next to him. Curled on my side I faced him, resting my head carefully against his shoulder. He reached across his body and draped an arm over me, pulling me more firmly against him. “I said I’m not going to break. Now relax.”
I sighed, and willed myself to relax. I wrapped my arm around his waist, being careful not to jostle him too much or touch his chest. Stark closed his eyes and I watched his face go from tight and pale to relaxed and pale as his breathing deepened. I swear within a minute he was sound asleep.
That was exactly what I wanted him to be for what I’d decided to do. I drew three deep, cleansing breaths, centered myself, and then whispered, “Spirit, come to me.”
Instantly I felt the familiar stirring within me, like I’d just understood something unbelievably magickal, as my soul responded to the infilling of the fifth element, spirit.
“Now, quietly, carefully, gently, go to Stark. Help him. Fill him. Strengthen him,
I’d only taken a couple steps when I realized I didn’t have a clue where I was going. I stopped and felt my shoulders slump. A nun, who had been walking with her eyes cast down, hurried past me and gave a little jolt as she looked up and our gazes met.
“Sister Bianca?” I thought I recognized her.
“Oh, Zoey, yes it’s me. It’s so dark in the hall I almost didn’t see you.”
“Sister, I guess I’m lost. Can you point me in the right direction to my room?”
She smiled kindly, reminding me of Sister Mary Angela, even though she wasn’t nearly as old. “Keep going down this hall until you come to the stairwell. Take it up to the top floor, and I do believe the room you’re sharing with Aphrodite is number thirteen.”
“Don’t you believe we make our own luck?”
I shrugged. “Actually, Sister, I’m too tired to know what I believe right now.”
She patted my arm. “Well, go on to bed then. I’ll say a prayer to Our Lady for you. Her intervention is better than luck any day.”
I headed in the direction of the stairwell. By the time I got to the top floor I was sucking air like an old woman, and the scar that stretched across my chest was burning and throbbing in time with the fast beating of my heart. I opened the door, went out into the hallway, and leaned heavily against the wall, trying to catch my breath. Absently, I rubbed at my chest, wincing because it was still really sore. I pulled down the neck of my shirt, hoping the stupid wound hadn’t broken open again. My breath caught as I saw the new tattooing that decorated either side of the raised red line.
“I’d forgotten about that,” I whispered to myself.
With a little squeal I let go of the front of my shirt and jumped back so suddenly that I bonked my head against the wall.