The clock on the nightstand blinked 3:00 a.m. Two and a half hours had passed since we made it back to Pagan's house. Conversation had been minimal. I told Luke I was tired. It wasn't true—honestly, I didn't know what to say to him, and I was having a hard time meeting his gaze.

My body trembled every time he walked close by—and still not in the good way it had before. A fear was now rooted deep within me. Fear of a guy who never wanted to hurt me.

I kept telling myself that it was only part of the ritual. Neither one of us had a choice—we had to go through with it. I hoped if I repeated that fact enough times in my head, I would stop being afraid of the only ally I had.

Luke had offered to sleep next to me again. I'd declined in a way that was not so gracious and obviously hurt his feelings. I could see the pain I was inflicting by shying away from him, but I couldn't seem to stop myself. Coming so close to death and seeing the other side had unnerved me in a way I couldn't really put into words.

I had hoped that by shutting myself away in Pagan's bedroom, I would be able to close my eyes and convince myself it had all been an unpleasant nightmare. But I lay there in the dark, tossing and turning, unable to fall asleep. Every time I was on the verge of sleep, I felt the sensation of his hands grasping my neck, tightening slowly and painfully. Each time it happened I bolted upright in bed, my heart pounding and tears streaming down my face.

Finally, I decided to give up on sleep. I wrapped a blanket around my shoulders and headed toward the kitchen. It would be daylight in a few hours. We would go to the market and get supplies and then spend the day resting before the next ritual. The next ritual. At the thought, my trembling hands tightened around the blanket.

Light from the fire cast shadows around the room. I could just make out the living room furniture and sidestepped my way around the couch and into the kitchen. I opened the nearest cupboard and pulled out a tall plastic glass, then moved to the sink and filled it. I was raising it to my mouth when a hand suddenly reached out of the darkness and grabbed my shoulder.

The glass dropped and bounced against the floor as I spun around, panicked. The overhead light flicked on. It was Luke standing beside me. At the sight of him, I instinctively took a step back.

"Sorry, did I wake you?" I asked, my breath coming out in a rush.

Luke moved toward me. "Another nightmare?"

I took another step away from him. "No. I couldn't sleep."

One more step in my direction and he had me cornered against the counter. My heart pounded in my chest.

His hand reached out, and he gently brushed a tear from my cheek. "I'm sorry I hurt you."

I tried not to shy away from him this time. I took a deep breath and met his gaze. "It's okay. I'm fine."

He squeezed my arm. "You're not fine."

"I am. I wish you'd stop fussing over me."

"You know I would never hurt you on purpose." His voice was low, and concern filled his eyes.

"I know you wouldn't," I answered, trying to keep the fear from my voice.

"But you're afraid of me?" Anger now filled those dark eyes.

"I don't want to be," I whispered.

He turned and started to walk away, but then spun on his heels and reached for me. He pulled me hard against him. His lips crushed down on mine.

For one moment the fear inside me was replaced with something more powerful. A need, a desire filled me, and as he kissed me again I found my lips answering his. I hadn't meant to kiss him back, but once I started, I couldn't stop. My arms came up and encircled his neck. The kiss deepened. His tongue was like velvet against mine. It felt so good to be in his arms. His hands came to rest at my back, and he pulled me closer.

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