We watched the rebellion develop for a few minutes longer, our attention clouded by the mesmerizing anarchy. Only when Eran suddenly rotated toward me, cleared his throat, and straightened his jacket in a manner that was completely opposed to his typical calm demeanor, was I able to pry myself away. He was already speaking when I looked up at him to find him nervous, more than I’d ever seen.
“I-I have something to tell you. Admittedly, it may not be the best time but…that point…that point may never come.” He drew in a long breath before continuing, which gave me time to realize I would need to let him finish speaking before responding because whatever it was he was about to tell me was clearly significant.
“When we met long ago in Germany I had a sense of the kind of person you were…a remedial sense. I can…I can liken it to spotting a rainbow but only seeing one color of the spectrum while knowing there are more. And then…then as I spent time with you, acting as your unwarranted guardian, I learned who you were and my respect for you grew. By the end of that brief life on earth, I had developed devotion…” He considered that word for a moment. “Not devotion, it is too pale a word. Honestly, I’m-I’m not sure I can sum it up in a single word. But what I felt for you then grew stronger in London when I became your appointed guardian. From then, I-I recognized that my feelings for you…” He paused to rephrase for emphasis and continued. “I knew my feelings for you had gone beyond that of a guardian.” Nervous, he paused to look out the window at nothing in particular before returning his eyes to me. “I’m not sure how it happened. I tried to prevent it; ignored myself, for the most part; dedicated myself to the single objective of protecting you. That dedication gave me purpose and…and alleviated some guilt in being your guardian while feeling the way I do…And still…” He looked down, appearing to be hopeless, when he was actually searching for understanding. “And still it is not enough. What I feel for you is not dissipating. It is growing, intensifying.” He stopped again, this time to summon the courage to add to what he’d already said, taking a moment to draw in a staggered breath and run his fingers through his hair. I was already captured, immersed in his confession, riveted with emotion, even as his mannerisms grew calm, quiet, and tender and he so confidently said the words I had waited to hear him say. “What I’m trying to tell you, Magdalene, is that I am in love with you.”
Swimming with emotion, I stared into his eyes, leaning every muscle in my body toward him, wanting nothing more than to throw my arms around him and pull him to me. But I couldn’t. I found myself imprisoned in my own body as the prickle of excitement racing across my skin began to blend with the hairs standing on the back of my neck.
What followed was more painful and more disturbing than the panic now sweeping through me. It was the look of unbelievable heartbreak, of the belief that he’d been misled for years by signals that I might feel the same, of the unbearable shattering of illusion in the trust that had taken so long to build.
“I understand,” he said, turning away from me, toward the window. “You-You don’t feel the same.”
“No, it’s-” I began but couldn’t continue. The sudden, throbbing heat at the back of my neck told me that the Fallen One had arrived.
The subtle rush of appendages emerging from someone’s back was barely detectable over the chants from those in the streets rising up. The smell of aged skin mingled with the odor of fire from the structures below. And the vibration of heavy, determined footsteps rattled the metal door handle, which had loosened over time.
I had already turned toward the door by the time it swung open.
The launch of it brought Eran back to his fighting demeanor, spinning to face the abrupt invasion into the once silent room, his sword already in hand, his shoulders rolled forward to release his appendages.
Eran’s voice dominated my annoyed senses, bringing me back to him, and through my sensations, I detected that Annie and Charlie were obeying his command as they rushed to his side.
Eran was now glaring at the intruder who I didn’t immediately recognize. When I’d last seen the man he was submissive, cowering in fright, and staring with hopeless dread as he passed on into death.
Who stood before us was no longer that boy. He was now a hardened, dark soul with hostility in his eyes.
He strolled into the center of the room, his fingers wrapped around the handles of the scythe-shaped kama blades at his waist.
“Draw them and I will attack,” Eran cautioned.
“Reserve your words. I am not here to speak with you,” he said with detest before shifting his ominous contempt toward me. “It’s good to see you again, my love.”
Disgust carried bile to my throat as I recognized the distinct differences summoned in me between when he spoke with affection and when Eran did. “I am not your love.”
He dipped his head to stare at me from beneath his eyebrows, a hint of pain flashing in his eyes before they turned cold and mocking again. “That is not the welcome I deserve, not after giving my life to protect you…”
“I did not ask that of you.”
“What is done…is done. I no longer fault you.”
“Fault me?” I laughed through my repulsion.
When I felt Eran’s warmth on my hip, placed there by his fingers, it both calmed and, oddly enough, stirred me.
“These years that have passed,” Marco said, sidelining our previous subject, “I traveled far – the Orient, the colonies in America, throughout the Muslim territories – and I experienced many women. Some willing…others not as much.” He shrugged. “But, what I found was that my affection for you has not subsided. I still long for you, Mademoiselle. And with my new-found…abilities…Eran will need to step aside.”
Eran released his hand and bent forward, mocking laughter rolling from his belly. Once it settled, he explained, “That is not going to happen, Marco.”
“Then I will kill you and she will come with me,” he replied unemotionally.
“Marco…she doesn’t love you,” Eran stated.
“That’s right. I don’t. I’m in love with Jacques.”
That last part threw me off-balance a bit, because it was unintended, entirely from the heart.
Eran rotated his head toward me, as stunned as I was, and blinked. “But that’s my name.”
I stumbled then, because the reality of my confession – the truth that I was in love with Eran, deeply, unconditionally in love; a fact that had been buried beneath the surface until I was faced with someone who challenged that love – I could not openly validate it. I had used the name he’d chosen when he’d come to this side and this had been an unconscious gift. Revealing my feelings for Eran directly would only endanger him more.
“I could never love you, Marco. My heart does not belong to you. It belongs to another.”
He shrugged and appeared to be bored with the conversation. He then withdrew his weapons as he explained, “Simply having you by my side will do just as well.”
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