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I kissed Luke then. I kissed him. Like I hadn’t kissed him in more than a week – since before London, since before Hollythwaite, since Barcelona: when we’d been just a regular couple on a city break, wrapped up in each other. Through the kiss I heard his sigh, the release of emotion. And then he pulled me to him, onto his lap, and I kissed his lips, his jaw, his collarbone, his shoulder, and he kissed my lips, my earlobe, my neck, my –
My robe had slipped, exposing my back, and I struggled off him and wrestled with the fabric entangled at my waist.
He stood up. Put his hands on my shoulders. Said my name with so much tenderness that I had to stop. Had to look at him. The room was steamy, the glass doors occluded. No one could see. Only him.
‘Trust me,’ he said.
Slowly, he turned me. I steeled myself as he took it in, the brand I now wore. Non Serviam. I will not serve. Emblazoned on my back in the form of angry, jagged scar tissue.
When I felt his lips on the nape of my neck, I jerked in shock. But his hands on my hips held me still as he traced the path of the scar, one kiss at a time, from its very top to its termination just above my bikini bottoms.
‘Beautiful,’ he said.
I turned to him. He smiled up at me.
Sinking down so that we were both kneeling, I said, ‘How could you…?’
‘How could I not?’ was his answer. ‘I was there, Scarlett. I saw what you did for your mother. That scar: it’s beautiful.’
‘But it’s a punishment, Luke. Because I sinned. That’s not beautiful. It’s dark. Wrong.’
‘No! Don’t you say that. Trying to save your mother – that could never be wrong. If I’d had the chance, I’d have done it. My mum, my dad, Cara… I’d have saved them all. And you. I would always save you.’
His eyes were glistening, and I lunged for him and hugged him hard.
‘So stop hiding it from me,’ he finished, his voice muffled in my hair. ‘Please. Because I love that scar on you so goddam much.’
I nodded into his shoulder and he squeezed me.
It was calm in our little haven. Still. Warm. Nothing existed but Luke and me. We held each other for a long time, drifting in the haze.
And then Luke sat back and said, ‘So, you and me. We’re good?’
‘We’re good,’ I told him. Then I frowned and added: ‘For now. You know, Gabe, the Fallen: I have no idea what we’re getting into.’
‘Me either.’ He reached out a finger and drew, in the condensation on the glass door, a little lightbulb. ‘But whatever lies ahead,’ he said, ‘it has to be better than living in the dark.’