Pure, p.17
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       Pure, p.17

         Part #2 of Covenant series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
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Page 17


  We weren’t allowed to have pets on the island. Some pures could use compulsion to control their actions, which meant so could a daimon. It was rare and took an extremely powerful pure to do so, but it was a risk no one ever took. I’d always wanted a pet growing up—a cat.

  “Mom believed they did,” I said. “She said animals could sense we were different from the mortals, especially cats. ”

  He was silent for a few moments, and I was sure his brain was turning. Putting together some sort of puzzle. “Did your mother like cats?”

  I shrugged. “I think it had something to do with my father. Whenever we’d come here, we’d always ended up here right before we left. ” I glanced over my shoulders, nodding at the weathered benches. “We’d sit over there and watch the cats. ”

  Aiden shifted closer, but didn’t speak.

  I turned back to the pen, smiling. “It was the only time Mom would talk about my father. She never really said much about him. Except that he had the warmest brown eyes. I wonder if he had something to do with animals, you know?” I curled my fingers around the wire mesh of the fence. “Anyway, the last time we were here was when she told me he was dead and told me his name. She named me after him, did you know that? I guess that’s why Lucian hated it when Mom called me Alex. After a while, she started calling me Lexie instead. My father’s name was Alexander. ”

  Several moments passed where neither of us said anything. Aiden spoke first. “That’s why you like the zoo so much. ”

  “Yeah, you got me. ” I laughed self-consciously.

  “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, to want to be close to something that reminds you of your loved ones. ”

  “I didn’t even know him, Aiden. ”

  “Still,” he said. “He was your father. ”

  I watched the bobcat for a few more seconds. It prowled the edge of its pen, no longer curious about our presence. Its powerful muscles flexed under the spotted coat. There was something amazingly graceful about the way it moved.

  “I hate to do this, but we need to head back, Alex. ”

  “I know. ”

  We started walking back through the park. Aiden was a lot quieter this time around—lost in thought. It didn’t take nearly long enough to reach the front gates. Thick trees gave it an almost surreal quality as we strolled back to the Hummer.

  Before I knew it, I was sitting in the passenger seat, and Aiden had just put the keys into the ignition, but he hadn’t turned the car on. He twisted in his seat, facing me, and the expression on his face caused my heart to falter in my chest.

  “I know how brave you are, Alex. But you don’t always have to be. It’s okay every once in a while to let someone else be brave for you. There’s no loss of dignity in that. Not for you. You’ve already proven that you have more dignity than even a pure-blood can muster. ”

  I kind of wondered where that had come from. “You must be high off sugar or something. ”

  Aiden laughed. “You just don’t see what we see, Alex. Even the times you’re being utterly ridiculous about something or when you’re just standing around, doing nothing, it’s hard to not notice. As a pure-blood it’s the last thing I should notice. ” His eyes flickered shut, long lashes fanned his cheeks before his eyes reopened to reveal intense silver. “I don’t think you have a clue. ”

  The world outside the car ceased to exist. “What don’t I have a clue about?”

  “Ever since I’ve met you, I’ve wanted to break every rule. ” Aiden turned away, the muscles in his neck tensing. He sighed. “You’ll become the center of someone’s world one day. And he’ll be the luckiest son of a bitch on this earth. ”

  His words created a mad rush of strong emotions. I was hot—so incredibly hot. I really did think the world ended right then. Aiden glanced over at me, his lips parting. The intensity in his gaze, the hunger in his eyes left me dizzy. His chest rose sharply.

  “Thank you. ” My voice sounded thick. “Thanks for doing all of this for me. ”

  “You don’t need to thank me. ”

  “When am I ever supposed to thank you?”

  “When I do something that is truly worth thanking me for. ”

  Those words struck a deep chord in me, and I don’t know who moved first. Who leaned over the center console—who was the first to cross the invisible line between us? Who broke the rules first? Aiden? Me? All I did know was that we both moved. Aiden’s hands were around my face, and mine fell to his chest, to where his heart beat just as fast as mine. In an instant, our lips met.

  This kiss was nothing like the first one we’d shared. Its rawness left us both breathless. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation or indecision. There was just want and need and a thousand other powerful, crazy things. His lips scorched mine, his hands dropping to my shoulders, sliding down my arms. My skin burned under my sweater, but oh, this was so much more than just a kiss. It was the way he touched the deepest parts of me. My heart and soul would never be the same. It was nearly overwhelming to realize something as powerful as that and it brought a sense of urgency that pushed me into the unknown.

  Aiden pulled back, resting his forehead against mine. He was breathing heavily. What came out of my mouth next was not something I’d planned. The three words just bubbled up my throat, barely even audible.

  “I love you. ”

  Aiden jerked back, eyes wide. “No. Alex. Don’t say that. You can’t… you can’t love me. ”

  I started to reach for him, but then pulled my hands back to my chest. “But I do. ”

  His face was tight, as if he was experiencing some terrible pain. Then he closed his eyes and leaned in, pressing his lips against my forehead. He lingered there a few moments before pulling back. His chest rose and fell as I stared at him.

  Aiden scrubbed the palms of his hands over his eyes and let out another ragged breath. “Alex…”

  “Oh, gods,” I whispered, facing the front of the car. “I never should have said that. ”

  “It’s okay. ” Aiden cleared his throat. “It’s all right. ”

  Okay? It didn’t seem okay. And okay and all right weren’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to say he loved me, too. Wasn’t that what was said after a declaration of love? Not okay. I knew he cared about me and he wanted me in the physical sense, but he wasn’t saying those three little words.

  And those three words were so important. They changed everything.

  I willed my heart to stop the aching it was doing. Maybe he was just shocked into silence. Maybe he didn’t know how to say it. Maybe he felt it but thought he couldn’t say it.

  Maybe I should’ve kept my big mouth shut.

  I fell asleep during the ride back, which served several purposes. I got one hell of a power nap, and I avoided what probably would’ve been the most awkward car ride of my life. I pretended to still be asleep while we crossed the bridges.

  Aiden kept it cool, like he hadn’t kissed me and I hadn’t professed my undying love for him. He even hopped out and opened the door for me before I’d even gotten the seatbelt off. He was such a gentleman—or he was just that eager to get rid of me.

  After a half-assed goodbye, I headed back to my dorm. I cut through the courtyard, hoping to avoid the more heavily populated areas of the quad. I kept replaying everything Aiden had done and said.

  Those kisses still sent shockwaves through my belly. The way he’d kissed me had to mean something, because people didn’t kiss like that. He had wanted to get away with me, and planned the whole zoo thing. He had to feel something—something powerful for me.

  But he hadn’t said he loved me. He hadn’t really said anything after I’d said it.

  I kicked a loose pebble, sending it flying into a nearby lilac bush. There was a good chance I was overreacting. I tended to do that a lot. Tallying up everything Aiden had done in the last few hours, his actions proved he cared and totally outweighed the fact that he hadn’t said he loved me.

  I moved on to the rose bush and broke off one bloom by the stem. Somehow the roses were thornless here. I had no clue how they grew that way, but hell, I hadn’t a clue about anything. I closed my eyes, inhaling its clean scent. Mom had loved hibiscuses, but I loved roses. They reminded me of spring and all things new.

  “Child, that rose ain’t going to ease your heart. Move on? Let go? Stay on the path your heart has chosen? Ain’t nothing easy when the heart has laid claim. ”

  My eyes popped open. “You have got to be kidding me. ”

  A dry, rasping cackle that sounded like it was one step away from death confirmed who stood behind me. I wheeled around. Standing in the middle of the walkway, bent over a gnarly cane, was Grandma Piperi—oracle extraordinaire. Her hair looked like it had the last time I’d seen her, like its enormous weight would topple her over.

  She smiled, stretching her way-too-thin skin. It looked a bit grotesque and crazy. “Do you know why a heart lays claim? Survival. That heart lays its claim to ensure survival of its kind. ”

  Once again, I was standing in front of the oracle and she was sprouting the craziest crap I’d ever heard. “Why didn’t you tell me my mother was a daimon?” I clenched the fragile stem of the rose in my fist. “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

  Piperi cocked her head to the side. “Child, I only speak in truths. I gave you the truths. ”

  “You told me nothing!”

  “No. No. ” She shook her head. “I told you everything. ”

  I gaped at her. “You told me a bunch of crazy crap that didn’t make any sense! You could have just said ‘Hey, you’re the second coming of the Apollyon. You’re mother is a daimon and she’s going to try to turn you. And oh, by the way, she’s going to try to kill your friend!’”

  “Isn’t that what I told you, child?”

  “No!” I screamed, throwing the rose to the ground. “That’s not what you told me. ”

  Piperi clucked her tongue. “Then you didn’t listen with those ears. People never do. Only ever hear what they want to hear. ”

  “Oh. My. Gods. Woman, you’re the reason my mom left here in the first place. She was turned into a damn daimon. If you hadn’t told her about me—”

  “Your momma wanted to save you—save you from your fate. If she hadn’t, you’d be nothing but a memory and a fear long forgotten. Just like all you who mix the breeds. What they want you two for, what they planned. ” She shook her head again and when she looked at me, sorrow etched across his face. “They fear you, fear what comes from you. I told you, child. I told you that your path was filled with dark things that must be done. ”

  I blinked. “Uh… okay. ”

  Piperi hobbled forward, stopping in front of me. She only came up to my shoulders, but I remembered how strong she was. I took a step back. She cackled, but this time the laugh ended in a wretched wheezing sound. Gods, I hoped she didn’t keel over right here. She lifted her head, giving me a big, toothless smile. “Do you want to know about love, child?”

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