Monday morning arrived like a freight train with its brakes out. I’d tossed and turned all night, feeling euphoric about my progressing relationship with Jareth one moment and then freaking out about the way he would most likely turn from me once my mark failed to show up. I even had a dream where Jareth kissed me, waited for my mark to appear, and when it didn’t, shrugged his shoulders and disapparated from my life forever.
Needless to say, sleep had been an elusive dream.
The only thing that dragged me out of bed that morning was my nine o’clock class with my ballet instructor, Ms. Vivian, a Russian tyrant who had migrated over to the States thirty years ago to dance professionally. After twenty years of a highly successful career as a dancer and choreographer she decided to open up her own studio in the San Diego area. She was a strict, no-nonsense type of teacher, and I thoroughly enjoyed her despite the fact that she scared children and parents alike.
Now that I was preparing myself for this audition, she had added some private lessons to prep me. I wouldn’t say I was her favorite. She really didn’t play favorites, but early on in my training she had taken a special interest in me. She was probably harder on me and expected more from me than any other student at the moment, but that’s how I liked it.
I wanted to be the absolute best when it came to technique, musicality, and gracefulness. I wanted to dance just like my idol Monique, and my plans of becoming a prima ballerina would not be jeopardized by my otherworldly heritage.
As I stumbled out of bed and stretched my arms high in the sky, Nala circled my legs and rubbed her midnight fur against my calf muscle. Naturally, the first person in the apartment entitled to breakfast was my short-haired feline, and don’t think I didn’t miss the fact that I considered her a person. She did too. I looked at my doorway, expecting Jareth to either be sitting there or making loud noises in the kitchen.
The apartment was silent. I might have assumed he decided to sleep in, but that seemed fairly out of character for him. He didn’t like to sleep in Jami’s room, and he was definitely an early riser. I checked my digital clock.
My stomach knotted at the thought that maybe Jareth had had a change of heart in the middle of the night, and decided his feelings for me weren’t as strong as he believed. I left my room and crossed the hall, peeking into Jami’s room just in case Jareth had decided to sleep in her bed.
The room was dark and empty, the bed made, and the curtains drawn.
I walked down the hall and peered into the living room.
The kitchen was equally devoid of life.
Maybe he went to run a few errands?
But I couldn’t think of anything he might need to do or retrieve that he couldn’t simply make apparate into existence. Why would he leave me? It was so unlike him? Wasn’t I still in danger? Had he taken care of the threat to my safety and left me for another assignment?
Another female mark?
My insecurities were getting the better of me. This thought spiral had the potential to completely undermine my concentration. I had to focus if I wanted to survive my ballet class today.
I took a quick shower and then changed into my ballet leotard, tights, and leg warmers. I threw my toe shoes and ballet slippers in my dance bag with a bottle of water, some rosin, foam tape, toe pads, and a lightweight jacket. With my hair in a tight bun, my bag in my hand, and a bowl of fruit ready to go, I stood in the middle of my living room waiting for Jareth to magically appear out of nowhere just like he had the very first time I met him.
After twenty minutes of staring at the coffee table, willing his form into existence, I finally had to accept the fact that Jareth was gone.
And he was never coming back.
“Sorry I’m late,” Jareth said behind me.
I jumped in surprise and whirled around. A mixture of irritation and relief fought for supremacy as I eyed his blue jeans and white T-shirt.
“Why are you dressed like that?” I asked.
He gave me a once-over and raised an eyebrow. “I could ask you the same thing. I don’t remember you saying you had a ballet class today.”
“Oh, well, I do, and I need to get going. I was ready to leave without you.”
Jareth did not appear pleased with that response.
“Didn’t Nuallan tell you I would be back by 8:30? I had to travel to the faerie realm and do some further investigating into your background. I couldn’t allow anyone to know I had returned. That invisibility spell was not easy to use undetected. I also looked into the identity of your human parents and the accident they were in.”
I blinked at the loaded information he shared. I wasn’t sure what to address first, so I went with the easiest one.
“I haven’t seen Nuallan all morning. Why did you feel the need to investigate my background? I could have told you the names of my parents and all the information I have about the car accident.”
“Nuallan isn’t here?” Jareth search the living room in agitation. “I don’t understand. I left him here with explicit instructions to watch over you until I returned. This is not good.”
“So you didn’t leave me,” I whispered before I could stop myself.
Jareth’s eyes snapped to mine and narrowed.
“You awoke to no one in the apartment and thought I had abandoned you to whatever threat still hangs over your head,” he stated. The pain in his eyes made me feel guilty and uncomfortable. He sighed. “Crysta, what must I do to convince you that I’m yours forever?”
He pulled me in for a comforting embrace and I eagerly accepted it. The turmoil and pain my previous thoughts had caused disappeared in the warmth of his touch.
“I know my feelings seem irrational to you, but my experiences haven’t given me much cause for trust or confidence in relationships with others. I’m not accusing you of anything, but it will take some time for me to accept this opportunity for happiness. It just seems too good to be true.”
His hand gently caressed the curve of my back, and I relaxed even further in his arms.
“Well, I suppose I have all of eternity to convince you. To prove myself to you.”
I looked up at him and smiled. “I suppose you do.”
His eyes dropped to my lips and remained there for a moment. He inched himself closer until they were nearly touching mine. I knew it was probably best to avoid our first kiss until the threat to my safety was no longer an issue and Jareth and I could spend more time together, but at that particular moment, all of my logical reasons for avoiding the warm touch of his lips pressed against mine didn’t seem nearly as significant as they had before.
Fortunately, Jareth’s self-control was much stronger. He let his forehead rest against mine for a moment and then he released me with a groan.
“Once you finally allow me to kiss you, I probably won’t stop for a very long time,” he whispered.
A tingling sensation rippled along my spine. My lips quirked into a smile and I moved to the door before I gave in to the compulsion to throw caution to the wind.
“The easiest promise I’ve ever made.”
His heated look hinted at delivering the kind of kiss that set your nerve endings on fire.
“We’d better get going. Ms. Vivian will skewer me with her evil eye if I show up late to one of her classes.”
“Your ballet teacher is a basilisk? How terribly unconventional.”
“Slang, Jareth. Slang, although I’m seriously concerned that you just mentioned the word basilisk as if the creature actually exists.”
“Of course, it does. Why else do you think J.K. Rowling had such intimate knowledge of the beast? Some authors are willing to do the most outlandish things for the sake of research.”
I had to close my drooping jaw before I caught flies with it.
“Mind blown,” I said. “I think we better stick to discussing what you discovered about my parents…among other things.”
“We could just apparate to your dance studio.”
“Allow me some semblance of normalcy, please. Even if it is just an illusion.”
I walked out the door with Jareth’s amused chuckle following close behind me.