The vampire council's private jet, a giant cocoon of white leather and exotic wood trim, hummed a false lullaby around us, trying to lure me into sleep. But even though I was warm and safe within the arms of the only boy I'd ever loved, I couldn't give in to the exhaustion dragging at my body. Not yet. There was so little time left to enjoy this doomed illusion of peace and perfect happiness. I needed to fight the urge to sleep as long as I could.
Beside me, Tristan Coleman had already lost that battle. He sat slumped in a corner of the sofa we shared near the rear of the cabin. Though his chin with its dusting of three-day-old whiskers rested awkwardly on his chest, a slight smile deepened the corners of his lips, and his arms, so solidly wrapped around me, never budged. Trying to protect me even while he dreamed.
I should have been protecting him instead.
Despite the soft leather beneath us, Tristan had to be uncomfortable. After all, unlike me, he was human and his body could only take so much abuse. When his eyelids had first begun to droop hours ago, I'd tried to convince him to move to one of the reclining chairs or to at least take the entire sofa for himself so he could stretch his long body out properly. But Tristan had refused, insisting on sleeping upright so we could continue to sit close together.
Knowing what was coming for us, I'd given in. Selfish though it was, I didn't want to let go of him yet, either.
One stray golden-blond curl, rebellious like its owner, flopped over his forehead. Carefully I reached up and smoothed it back, forcing my eyes to look past the sharp contrast between my pale skin and his rugged tan.
In a few hours, even the right to that small touch would be lost forever.
I tried to memorize every detail of his face, normally so hard with determination or blinding everyone nearby with one of his infamous grins, now softened at the edges by sleep and his mistaken belief that everything was okay. He had no idea what sacrifices I'd made to get the vamp council to release him after they had used him and his powerful, magic-laced Clann blood to test my self-control. Handcuffed to a chair in a cement-lined interrogation room next door, he hadn't heard the torturous promise I'd made to that circle of cold beings. A race I was slowly but surely turning into.
I could have told Tristan the truth after the council released us from their Paris headquarters. But I hadn't, partly because I was dreading his reaction, but mostly because I wanted to be with him, as happy as possible, every last second that we had left together.
The muscles in my chest tightened, refusing to let my lungs expand fully, and another tear slipped down the side of my nose. Stupid tears. My eyes hadn't stopped leaking for more than a few minutes at a time since Tristan and I had safely exited the council's underground labyrinth of tunnels.
Knowing what I had to do for Tristan's own safety once we returned to our hometown in Jacksonville, Texas, I feared the tears would never stop.
There were so many perfectly logical and good reasons why I was all wrong for Tristan, why I had to do as promised and stop seeing him. My mind understood. Why couldn't I make my heart agree?
Dropping his head back against the sofa, Tristan sighed and snuggled me closer. And though I knew I should move away, keep him safe by putting physical distance between us, I gave in one last time to my heart. Closing my eyes, I nestled my forehead where his neck and shoulder met, a curved space of heat and strength that seemed to have been sculpted especially for me. Drawing in a deep...