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Defiance rising, p.30
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       Defiance Rising, p.30

           Amy Miles
 
TWENTY-NINE

  Sunlight warms my face through the window overhead. I raise my arms and stretch, blowing out a contented sigh. I feel warm and safe.

  A soft snore by my ear startles me and I glance over, shocked to find Eamon sleeping peacefully beside me. Loose curls tumble over his forehead, glowing bright gold in the morning light. I watch, hypnotized by the rise and fall of his chest.

  How did I miss his transformation from a boy into the stunning man lying next to me? A faint blush rises on my cheeks as I realize how attractive he really is.

  “Like what you see?”

  “Oh!” I smack Eamon on the arm as a grin stretches across his face. “You were faking!”

  Rising up on his elbows, he smirks. “I think that’s the first time you’ve ever fallen for that. Must have had a lot on your mind.”

  He wraps his arms around me and pulls me back down. My hair fans the pillow as he hovers over me, his gaze searching mine. “Are you mad?”

  “Surprisingly no.”

  “Really?”

  I laugh at his obvious shock. “Really. This is nice.”

  He smiles and tugs me closer. As I rest my head against his chest, I feel him breathe out a sigh of relief. “I like the sound of that.”

  I listen to the noises that come and go outside the cabin door, the usual morning hustle and bustle. The frigid cold must have broken for so many people to be out and about. “They let us sleep late.”

  He nods. “Kyan probably told everyone to give us some time alone.”

  “How long have you been up?” I crane my head back to look through the clear plastic covering the window. It’s hard to tell where the sun is located. All I can tell is that it is probably overhead.

  “Several hours,” he admits sheepishly.

  “Why didn’t you wake me?” I look up at him to see a blush seeping into his cheeks.

  His smile falters and he closes his eyes. “Honestly? I didn’t want this to end. I was afraid when you woke you would leave.”

  I’m not sure what to say. Being this close to Eamon feels good, but I fear it will end badly. I have perfected the knack of keeping him at arm’s length, protecting my heart, but the harder I try to preserve my love for Bastien the deeper I wound Eamon.

  “I do like this,” I admit truthfully. I trace a finger over Eamon’s chest, marveling at the difference a few months has made. Eamon’s skin quivers under my touch and I hesitate. His hands tighten around my waist and I feel his struggle for restraint.

  “Maybe…” he pauses to clear his throat. “Maybe we could try this again sometime.”

  I sigh and lift up on my elbow to meet him eye-to-eye. “I don’t know if that is such a good idea.”

  Eamon groans and falls back onto the cot, his arm thrown across his eyes. “You are driving me crazy! I’ve tried really hard to be patient, but this isn’t working. You need to decide if you’re going to be with me or not. I can’t take this hot and cold thing anymore.”

  I look away, ashamed. He is right. None of this has been fair on him and he has been exceedingly patient with me. “I want to be with you,” I whisper.

  “Really? ‘Cause you’ve got a real funny way of showing it!”

  I blink back the tears that threaten to fall. “I don’t know what you expect from me, Eamon. I’m trying.”

  “What I expect?” He repeats, his brow furrowing as his arms falls away. “I don’t expect anything.”

  I shake my head, exasperated. “Of course you do. You’re a guy!”

  “Hey now,” Eamon protests, pushing up into a seated position. The blanket falls away to reveal his bare chest and I find myself struggling to look away. “This is me we’re talking about. I’ve never tried to come on to you or push you for anything and you know that.”

  I sit up and cradle my knees to my chest as he gently cups my face with work-hardened hands. “I have loved you since we were children. There was never anyone else and there never will be. You are the only one who can infuriate me and make me ache to kiss you in the same breath.”

  “It’s not that I’m not attracted to you…it’s not even that I don’t love you…” I trail off as my gaze drops to his chest. I reach out and gently run a finger down the curve of his bicep, wrapping my fingers around his forearm. He flexes unconsciously at my touch.

  Eamon seems pleased with my closer inspection. “You look at me like this is the first time you’ve seen me.”

  I nod absently, tracing the corded muscles down to his hand. He twines his fingers with mine. “I think it is.”

  He stares at me with such open yearning that I have to suck in a breath to remember to breathe. “I’m a wreck right now, Eamon. No matter what I do, I keep hurting you and that’s the last thing that I want. You deserve better than this, better than me.”

  “Shh,” he whispers, pulling me closer. “You’ve been through a lot. I know that and I don’t blame you. I just need to know if there is a chance we can be together. If you say no, then I will walk away and let you be, but if there is a chance, even the slightest hint of a desire to be with me, then tell me.”

  “I…” I pause, swallowing hard. “I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. It feels like there is a wedge between us that I can’t get past.”

  Neither of us verbally acknowledges who that wedge is, but I know we are both thinking it.

  “I’m still your best friend,” he whispers, reaching up to brush my hair out of my eyes. “No matter what happens, that will never change.”

  “A part of me wants to be with you…”

  “And the other part wants Bastien,” he finishes.

  I bury my head in my knees, ashamed and broken. After all this time, my pain is just as raw as the day Bastien first walked away from me. He remains in my thoughts, in my heart.

  Eamon’s touch is light as he lifts my head and leans in close. “I know you love him, Illyria. I’ve always known.”

  “But I love you too,” I whisper, shifting toward him. I unfold my legs and press against his side, my shoulder against his chest, our lips mere inches apart.

  Eamon leans in, his lips brushing past mine to my ear. “I need you to be with me, completely. I can’t keep wondering if you’re thinking of him when you’re with me.”

  His breath washes over my neck and I close my eyes, forcing Bastien from my mind. Eamon deserves that much. “Please choose me,” he whispers.

  Memories of all the years we’ve spent together filter through my mind──the laughter, pranks and challenges during training. Every memory I have of Eamon, before Bastien arrived, is filled with happiness. I need to see past my longing for Bastien to remember who Eamon has always been to me.

  I search deep within myself for a shred of the girl I was when Eamon fell in love so long ago. So much has changed. I have changed.

  “Why do you love me?” I ask, pulling back to see his response.

  “Because you are beautiful in every sense of the word. I love the way your hair drapes down your back, shimmering in the sunlight.” He runs his fingers through my hair, releasing it just over my shoulder. “I love your smile, how soft your cheeks are against my chest, how they flush when you are embarrassed.”

  He grins, stroking my cheek as it flames on cue. “I love how graceful you are, yet strong and confident. I love watching you hunt, the way you move and sort through problems. I love that you’re not afraid to face challenges.”

  “But you always scolded me for those things,” I protest.

  “Of course,” he smiles, lowering his hands to hold mine. “I was worried I would lose you.”

  “And now? What about the Shadow? I know you’re afraid of it.”

  He cups my hands in his and draws them up to his lips. “I know you won’t let it take over.”

  “How do you know that?” I ask, arching an eyebrow.

  “Because evil and love can’t mix.”

  Mayb
e he is right. Maybe that is why Bastien can talk me down, because love is the only thing keeping the Shadow at bay.

  “What if you get hurt again?” I ask, averting my gaze. I don’t want him to see how terrifyingly real my fear is of that happening.

  Eamon places his finger over my lips to silence me. “It’s a risk I’m willing to take if it means I get to be with you.”

  “I don’t think I could bear to harm you again.”

  “Then don’t,” he murmurs, inching forward. He pauses, inches from me, waiting for me to make the first move. I hesitate, wishing that this could be simple, that I wouldn’t feel guilt over kissing him.

  This is what Kyan says I must do…but I don’t know if I can.

  Eamon’s shoulders droop as he begins to pull away. “I’m sorry. I know you need space.”

  Reaching out my hand, I wrap it around the back of his neck and lightly brush my lips against his. “I choose you.”

  I know there is no going back now and that scares me more than I hope Eamon can tell. He holds still, giving me complete control as I slowly trace my lips along his jawline and back toward his ear. “Illyria,” he gasps, his hands tightening on my arms.

  His breathing becomes haggard as I kiss the corner of his mouth. I wrap my hands around his neck as I shift, trying to maneuver around the tangled covers to get closer to him.

  “You’re going to be the death of me,” he gasps.

  “Is that such a bad thing?”

  Eamon groans. “If you don’t want this to happen, then pull back now before I lose control.”

  I lean in and press my lips firmly against his, squirming as his hands splay across my back, molding me to his chest. Eamon plunges his hands into my hair, tugging loose the tangled curls so that they fall in waves over my back. I dance my fingernails across his neck, sinking deeper into the kiss.

  The door behind us creaks open and I flail backward, landing painfully on the wooden floor. Pain shoots up from my tailbone as I look up, ready to bark out my annoyance at the intruder, but I stop short.

  Bastien stands in the doorway, his hands violently shaking as he tries to cover a gaping wound in his stomach. His gray shirt is dripping with blood.

  “Bastien!” I shriek, scrambling across the floor toward him as his legs give out. “What happened?”

  I slide to a halt beside him, lifting his head into my lap. His skin is pale, his breathing labored as he coughs up blood. His eyes squeeze shut as tears cascade down his cheeks.

  My head jerks up as shouts rise from all corners of the camp. I gaze out through the open door as Caldonians scramble from their cabins, armed with charged laser guns. Terrified, I glance back down at Bastien and notice his blood has begun to pool on the floor.

  His head lolls to the side and glossy eyes meet mine. “They’re coming,” he gurgles. Then Bastien’s body falls limp in my arms.

 
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