Shay’s eyes flew open and she shot up.
But somewhere in the midst, her arms become trapped behind her and she found herself suddenly tumbling towards the floor. Cool metal dug into her wrists as she tried to put her arms out to stop her fall.
Fingers closed around her upper arm inches before her face hit the ground.
She hung, suspended there for a moment and her breath was let out in a whoosh before the fingers jerked her back into the cushions of the couch.
She twisted, brown curls falling across her face as she looked to see who her savior was. Her body tensed, and her throat felt tight and dry when she saw.
Matt’s eyes were trained on the floor, and his jaw was set and clenched tightly. Shay could tell that he was struggling hard not to meet her eyes.
Shay leaned towards him a bit with her hands bound behind her back. “Matt?” she asked. “Matt, please look at me.”
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” he said, turning further in the opposite direction.
“You don’t have to say anything,” Shay told him. “Just listen. I never meant to hurt you. I loved you more than anything in the world. I still love you. It just took me losing you to realize it. You said to me once that sometimes you have to see what life would be like without something before you can truly appreciate it. Losing you . . . Matt, I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone. I love you. Will you please just look at me?”
Matt’s mouth opened, and he began to turn slowly towards her, but then a hiss from the corner of the room made him freeze.
“Did you forget about me already?” Rowan was facing the wall, but Shay could see a sardonic smile on the corner of her lip.
“Stop it,” Shay said, and Rowan started in shock, turning to face Shay directly. “Just stop it.”
“Do you want to make me feel guilty, Rowan? It’s a little too late for that. I’ve spent the last two months of my life feeling guilty,” Shay replied. “And maybe I deserved every second of it. But you are alive. You are here and you are alive. I know that I hurt you, and I know that you feel betrayed, but, Rowan, there’s nothing else I can say to you except that I am sorry.”
Rowan faltered for a moment, and then her eyes became narrow slits. “You left me to die.”
“Is that the only thing you can say to me?” Shay asked.
“I hate you,” Rowan spat.
Shay flinched as if Rowan had dealt her a physical blow. Tears brimmed in her eyes. “I’m sorry . . .” she whispered.
“You’re a liar. You don’t care about me.”
“That’s not true.”
“No one cares about me,” Rowan snapped. “No one has ever cared about me.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“Stop it,” Rowan said, and her hands flew up to cover her ears as she shook her head back and forth. “Stop it. You’re lying. You’re a liar.”
“Stop it!” Rowan’s fingers knotted into her hair, and she squeezed her eyes shut. “You’re a liar! I won’t listen to you! You can’t make me listen!”
“Rowan, if you’d just listen to me—”
“I said stop it!”
She bared her fangs in a snarl and shot up faster than Shay would have thought possible. She lunged across the room at Shay, who braced herself for the impact, but then suddenly Matt was there, knocking Rowan aside like a fly.
Rowan hit the far wall, twisting as she fell so that she landed in a crouch.
Matt sad down beside Shay and crossed his legs as if nothing had happened.
“After all this time,” Rowan hissed, “it’s still her?”
Shay held her breath.
“No,” Matt said. “After all this time, it’s still not you.”
Rowan straightened, and the words she threw at Matt were like daggers. Her fangs glinted in the living room’s light, and tears glistened in her eyes. “I stayed with you! I didn’t leave you!”
“I loved you!”
Shay’s mouth dropped open and her breath started up again in a gasp.
Matt ignored Shay and looked Rowan in the eye. He didn’t seem at all shocked by Rowan’s outburst. Slowly, he told her, “But I don’t love you.”
A tear slid down Rowan’s cheek, and then she tore from the room, the moan of a wounded animal following close behind her.
“She . . . loves you,” Shay whispered.
Finally, Matt turned to look at her, but he still wouldn’t meet her eyes. “Yes.”
“And she hates me.” Matt started to turn away, and Shay blurted, “Matt?”
He glanced back over at her, green eyes meeting hers, and then flickering down to the floor. “What?”
“Do you hate me?”
“You left me to die,” he said.
Shay swallowed as tears began to prick at her own eyes, warm and wet. She shook her head. “No, Matt. I never wanted that. And I know that you hate me . . . but I love you so much. And you can torture me and kill me, but I just need you to know that no matter what, I will always love you.”
A tear escaped from the corner of her eye and slithered down her cheek, and Matt sat, watching as it gathered on her chin, and then fell onto her shirt. He looked back up, eyes searching her face.
“You left me,” he whispered, although it sounded more like a question than a statement as he said it that time.
Shay shook her head again.
Matt opened his mouth to say something, but then he closed it again. His head tilted slightly to the side.
“I will never leave you again,” Shay whispered.
Matt reached his thumb out to brush away another tear on her cheek, and then it just lingered there, his skin warm on hers. His hand moved to cup her chin, and then his head bent towards her.
Shay reached for Matt’s mind the way she’d done with Cleo, and they were both cocooned in a soft light as his lips met hers.
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