Brahm is angry with me, and understandably so. But his mother gave us no choice. She knew it; I knew it. The only one in the room unwilling to accept it was her son.
“I would rather be your illanté than Ian’s,” I point out.
“She couldn’t make you accept him.”
“Regina already explained how that works,” I say. “She would have threatened you, tortured you, done something to you, and I would have agreed to make it stop.”
“Better me than you.” He shoves his hand through his hair, disheveling the dark strands.
He looks ridiculously handsome when he’s agitated, and I’m bound to him now. But not as an equal.
In one fell swoop, his mother destroyed us. This morning, I asked for this, but now I’m scared.
“How did you know you could initiate the illanté agreement yourself?” he asks. “How did you know it would work?”
“I didn’t, but I remembered the first day when I spoke with you in your foyer, when I started to make that vow—you cut me off. I wondered if I’d almost initiated it by accident.” My muscles begin to tremble, and I suddenly go lightheaded. “I need to sit down.”
I lower myself to the floor, pressing my forehead into my hands.
“Alice!” Brahm drops onto his knees next to me, taking my shoulders.
“I’m fine,” I lie. “I just need a moment.”
Like I weigh nothing, he scoops me onto his lap, holding me tightly. “Somehow, it will be all right,” he says, though it sounds like he’s trying to reassure himself. “We’ll find a way to break this.”
“You said there is no way,” I say quietly.
Brahm’s answering silence tells me it’s true. We stay like this, clinging to each other.
“There must be,” he says suddenly. “Otherwise, I couldn’t promise it.”
“Death,” I say darkly. “Yours or mine.”
It all happened too quickly. How long was his mother here? Five minutes? It was ten at most.
Proof, yet again, at how quickly your life’s path can change.
But this contact feels good—it dulls the whispers of panic that flutter at my mind.
And I want more.
I turn my head to look at Brahm, hesitating only a heartbeat before I place a testing kiss to his mouth.
Brahm goes still, his arms like iron around me.
“I’m terrified,” I admit softly. “But I’m grateful it’s you, and I’m glad today wasn’t our last.”
I press my lips to his once more, slowly this time.
“Kiss me like you did when we fled into the night,” I say quietly when Brahm doesn’t respond, my words feathering across his lips. “At least for now, let’s focus on something pleasant.”
I expect him to refuse—I know this isn’t the right time.
But Brahm suddenly claims my mouth in a kiss that steals my breath. His lips move against mine, giving and taking, guiding and teaching, making me realize he’s far more practiced than I am.
I’ve never experienced this sort of intimacy before, feeling so close, so connected. Brahm’s lips and breath are hot against my still-cool skin; his jaw is smooth and firm.