After delivering about nine different job applications—seriously, my feet were killing me—Jareth and I headed back toward the apartment, each of us quiet and pensive, no doubt due to the emotional conversation we had last night.
The dynamic between us had changed a bit this morning. Jareth seemed torn between needing constant physical contact and giving me my own space. He tended to reach for my hand and then immediately pull back. The one time he did finally follow through and grab my hand, his intense staring to gauge my reaction caused me to avoid his gaze altogether. Within moments he had released my hand, and I got the sinking feeling he thought I was rejecting him.
It’d been like that all morning long, and I was starting to hate the sadness that dampened his aura and energy. After he’d taken another long, disheartened look my way, I finally sighed and broke the oppressive silence between us.
“Jareth, this may sound stupid, but I think we both need a hug.”
No sooner had I said it then his arms were completely encircling me. He pulled me flush against him and buried his face in my neck.
“I’m so glad you said that. I understand your confusion concerning our relationship and your need for…uh…personal space, but not being allowed to touch you this morning has caused me more physical and emotional pain than I’ve ever experienced.”
Jareth’s transparency when it came to his feelings was always such a surprise. No mind games with this one. And while I appreciated the honesty, I wasn’t sure I liked the fact that my feelings mirrored his own.
“I never said we couldn’t touch each other. In all honesty, I was struggling more with the idea that I’m Fae. As far as our relationship goes, I’m simply too scared to consider it.”
He pulled back, sadness shrouding his features again.
“If you don’t feel the same way, Crysta, I will understand, though I think it impossible due to the fact that we are fated mates.”
I moved away, shaking my head and running both hands through my hair in frustration.
“Being in a relationship with you would be absolute heaven, Jareth, but the human realm is my world and I’m not leaving it. Your world is with the Fae, and one day you’ll be their ruler.” He opened his mouth to protest, but I hurried on. “You are going to leave me. Don’t you see that? This attraction, this…whatever this is between us…it can’t last.”
“The very definition of a fated mate is an eternal one. With everything you’ve had to learn and understand about your inherent nature and heritage, this is one of the most important. I am yours, and you are mine. I am never leaving you.”
“That’s quite the declaration, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe that.”
He looked bewildered by that statement. “You think I am lying?”
“No. I think you truly believe in fated mates and that there is a possibility that this…er…phenomenon between us signifies some destined love match, but we don’t really know for sure, and this isn’t Hollywood, okay? Love at first sight? That type of thing doesn’t exist. It isn’t plausible. It’s a terrible long-term plan.”
“Crysta, you make it sound as if feelings and affections are things that one can prepare themselves for. You were a complete surprise to me. A most welcome one, but not a situation I expected. I’ve been alive for over two hundred years and my experiences with women have been plentiful and varied, but overall, completely predictable. Yet you have surprised me at every turn.”
“Whoa,” I said holding up a hand. “I so did not need to hear about your plentiful relationships, thank you very much. And you’re how old? Over two hundred? I’m not even eighteen yet. You can’t be with someone who isn’t legal!”
He shook his head dismissively. “Such a ridiculous custom to put an age limit on fertility. Once a woman is capable of bearing young, she should have every right to marry and begin a family if she so chooses.”
I slapped my hand against my forehead. “Oh, my word. It’s like you’re incapable of recognizing what century this is. While that belief was popular a hundred years ago, these days most women tend to get an education before birthing children, which has nothing to do with why that law was created in the first place. No,” I said, preventing him from voicing another opinion on the subject. “Forget it. I’m not diving down that particular rabbit hole with you.” I started walking again, my emotions spiraling out of control.
He muttered something about my rabbit hole reference, but wisely chose to shut up afterward.
We were so different. This could never work. Hadn’t every single conversation we had up to this point proved we were wrong for each other? I may have had feelings for this guy, but the more I learned about his past, who he was—his age, for heaven’s sake—the more complicated everything became.
He caught up with me and grabbed my arm to stop me, turning me to face him.
“Crysta, this is not an issue I take lightly. A fated mate is rare and remarkably wonderful in its power to seal souls together. Once we perform the ceremony, you and I will always be one. I’m never leaving you. Why do you continue to doubt the possibilities? Why would you not believe in this? In us?”
I squeezed my eyes shut, wondering how to help him understand my fears on the subject.
“Do you love me, Jareth?”
My eyes popped open. I should have expected that honest and blunt statement, but it shocked the hell out of me.
“Based on what? My sparkling personality? The similarity in our life goals, hopes, and dreams? Do you even know what I want to major in?”
“Major in?” His scrunched up features relaxed. “Oh, you’re referring to the educational systems at your ridiculous universities.”
“I swear to you, if you add primitive to that description you will not be allowed into my apartment ever again.”
He ran to catch up with me as I began hurriedly moving on.
“If you are interested in majoring in something, then I am proud of you and support you in this endeavor, but anything you want to learn you can learn in the Fae realm. There is so much your people could teach you. Your education would never end.”
“But do you even know what I want to study?”
“You’re immortal. Eventually you’ll study everything.” He was so casual in the way he delivered that atomic bomb, I laughed out loud in response. It was either laugh or have one crazed panic attack.
His eyes narrowed as my laughter increased.
“Did I say something funny?”
I wiped my eyes with the tips of my fingers. “Yes, Jareth. You’re saying I’m going to live forever, and personally I think that sucks. I’ve decided to actively reject immortality. I’d rather be human.”
His look was comical. “You can’t reject immortality any more than you can reject the fact that you are a faerie, Crysta.”
I was so majoring in dance, joining the San Diego Ballet Company, and eventually opening up my own dance studio, and there was no way I was going to let little things like the fact that I was possibly a faerie or immortal stop me. And I certainly wasn’t going to let some pompous Fae prince talk me out of it.
“Crysta, you may be able to walk away from who you are and where you come from, but you can’t walk away from me or what I feel for you.”
“You think you’re in love with me because you think I’m your fated mate,” I threw over my shoulder. I wanted to be done with this conversation and get to my apartment as soon as possible so I could walk into my bedroom and slam the door behind me. With my luck, Jareth would probably just appear in my room.
“I know you are.”
I snorted and shook my head. “People get bored of each other.”
“Bored? What are you talking about?”
“They get sick of each other. They start fighting. They nit-pick and find things they hate about each other or they get interested in someone else and the commitment they made to one another begins to fade. I don’t believe in fated mates or soul mates. I don’t think you can sit there and tell me you’re ready to commit to me and only me when we’ve known each other for three days. What happens when you finally realize that I’m not enough for you?”
He stopped me again and turned me around to face him. Then he reached for me, lifting my chin and bringing it closer to his tempting lips.
“I have always believed that a lifelong partnership can only be accomplished through fierce loyalty and a blind eye to the little idiosyncrasies each one of us possesses. I am fiercely loyal, Crysta. Of that, you will never have need to doubt.”
Pretty words, but I wasn’t about to give in and believe in this fated relationship he offered. It was too easy. Too perfect. It’s not as if we were going to ride off into the sunset together and never look back. There were serious barriers to our potential relationship.
“And where will we live?”
He looked at me as if the answer was obvious.
“In my palace, of course.”
“Ha! And I suppose you think I’ll simply give up my life here and go learn how to be a faerie princess just because you think we’re fated mates.”
“What life? You live in a hell hole and you spend your days barely eking out a living.”
I glared at him. Refusing to voice my hopes and dreams. Refusing to tell him about the dance academy I currently attended, the audition I had set for a few weeks from now, and how all of my rent money had gone to paying my tuition. He’d never understand it.
“And since I have nothing worth living for in this world, it only makes sense that I would jump at the chance to be the woman who stands by your side as you rule your kingdom for eternity.”
“Well…yes,” he said, though he was finally beginning to look a little uncertain. “Why wouldn’t you? I can give you anything and everything you want. A stable place to live with a family who loves and cherishes you. Not to mention, I’ll be giving you all of me.”
He was so obtuse.
In most cases, yes, but honestly what an idiot.
Everything was black and white with this guy, but learning I was a faerie hadn’t changed my plans and it certainly hadn’t changed my personality. It merely gave me an explanation as to why I’d always been such a freak of nature. I wasn’t really human.
Oh, mercy, I’m not even human.
Time to visit that shrink.
“You weren’t listening to me, Jareth. Would you be offering yourself to me if you didn’t believe we were fated mates? If that fractured light that always appears between us had never shown itself would I even be alive today?”
I started walking again only to be stopped a bit more forcefully this time. I sighed and turned to face him.
“Yes,” he stated.
“Because you didn’t scream when I first appeared in your apartment, and when I told you I was there to kill you, you didn’t even flinch. Those deep blue eyes of yours took me in with zero fear and an unhealthy amount of curiosity. If anything, you behaved as if you expected that something like this might happen. Like the idea of life and the opportunity to live it was simply too good to be true, and then you asked me to feed your cat once you were gone. It was by far the strangest reaction to death I’d ever encountered and it made me want to know you.”
I had no idea what to say to that. I guess I had believed that it was all too good to be true. It was, after all, the day I’d found out about the audition, and it was also the day I’d found out that my roommate was planning on kicking me out of our apartment because she couldn’t understand why I’d paid my tuition instead of paying my share of the rent.
I guess I’d just assumed that I could sleep in one of the bathrooms at the school if it came right down to it.
“I am not easily intrigued by anyone or anything, but your behavior drew me in and suddenly I couldn’t get enough of you. I wanted to touch you, hear you speak, watch you move, understand your bizarre mode of speech, and protect your person at all cost. That first day with you was unlike any other, and I’m not too proud to admit that you taught me several important things that day and every day since.”
I looked at him in wonder.
“You’re over two hundred years old, Jareth. What could I have possibly taught you?”
“Compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.”
I shook my head, barely understanding how I’d managed to pull that off.
“Eddie,” he said as if trying to jog my memory. “I was prepared to kill him for laying his filthy hands upon you. For threatening your life even though I had done the same thing not an hour earlier. You were merely a mark in the beginning, and within a short amount of time you’d become so precious to me that I was ready to strike down every male who dared touch you.” He shook his head and rested his hand at my waist. “And what did you do when I stabbed him in the chest? You begged me to spare his life. To take him to a hospital. This man who had caused you so much grief and pain should have suffered for his crimes, but you chose mercy, and if you hadn’t chosen that, I never would have realized that he was in thrall to your natural state. I would have killed an innocent man if not for your kind heart and tender feelings.”
I lowered my eyes, unable to take in such a remarkable compliment. I really wasn’t used to praise. I had no idea how to handle it.
“Fine. I impressed you with my decision, but that doesn’t mean you love me.”
“I may not know everything about you, but I don’t need to know every detail of your life to determine if what I feel for you is permanent or fleeting.”
I hated that I cared so much for this stupid, selfless, exasperating faerie, and that he’d managed to reduce me to tears even though I wanted to continue to argue and fight and possibly deny having similar feelings of my own that definitely leaned toward the more loving side of things. Jareth was decent, kind, loving, tender, compassionate, smart, and…and damn persistent. Didn’t he know how much I wished he’d just give up already and leave me alone?
“Can we just go home, Jareth? Please?”
He wrapped me in his arms and allowed me to rest my head against his firm chest.
“Yes, sweet Crysta. I’ll take you home now.”
The compression was less nauseating this time, and I didn’t lose my balance once the transition from pavement to carpet was complete. I slowly lifted my head from its resting place and looked up at him tentatively.
The concern in his face, and the soft tender look in his eyes made me realize that even though this relationship was most likely doomed to failure, and I was probably going to get my heart handed to me on a silver platter, experiencing love from Jareth on any level for any length of time would be better than never having experienced it at all. And I found myself believing that this particular man, this faerie prince would be worth every ounce of heartache I experienced once he finally realized he could do so much better.
“I still don’t believe in fated mates, Jareth.” I swallowed hard and forced the next words, the hardest words I’d ever spoken, from my mouth. “But I believe in you. If you say you love me, then I will believe it.”
That admission alone nearly killed me, but my heart felt lighter only seconds later. The enormous grin on his face may have had something to do with that.
I’d been right. The force of his full smile nearly bowled me over. Geez. It was a good thing he was holding me upright.
“You’ll never be sorry for believing in me. I’m not sure I deserve your trust, considering how we first met.” We both chuckled at that. Definitely not the type of first date scenario you share with family and friends. “But as to whether or not we are fated for one another, well, there’s only one way to find out.”
I blinked in surprise and let out a soft chuckle.
“Coming from anyone else, I’d assume this was some line for hooking up.”
“I have no idea what hooking up means,” he muttered, glancing down at my lips and then back to my eyes.
“No, I suppose that term is pretty foreign to you.” I smiled and he gave me an answering one in return. Then my frown faded for a moment.
“You’re over-analyzing this, aren’t you?”
I gave him a rueful smile, recognizing that he did, in fact, know me better than anyone else ever had.
“I just think that if a kiss is going to somehow prove that we’re fated for one another then maybe we should avoid that for as long as possible.”
“Why?” Worry clouded his voice and brought dark color to his eyes.
“Because I’d rather take that kind of pressure off us and just allow ourselves to be. Do we have to know for certain whether or not this is destiny if we already care about each other?”
He pondered my words for a moment and smiled.
“You want me to make sure I love you for you and not because I think you are my fated mate.”
“Yes. That’s what I want, and in the end, I think whatever we feel for one another, if it is right, will continue to grow on its own without the need to prove anything other than our feelings for one another.”
He kissed my forehead and snuggled me under his chin.
“You are a wise woman. Yet another thing I love about you.”
“There are so many things I love about you, Jareth. But your ability to compromise is definitely one of them. Thank you for not pushing me on this.”
“I think this course of action is wise, anyway. If I’m going to protect you, then I can’t have the pull of our marks distracting me.”
“If we are fated for one another then we each receive them after we’ve shared our first kiss.”
“Oh,” I swallowed uncomfortably and wished with all my heart that he hadn’t told me that. How devastating would it be to not have the mark once we finally did kiss? Would that mean it was over? Would he simply leave me after that? I shook my head to dispel the doubts that already circled like vultures within my brain. I’d only been on board with this idea of a relationship for five minutes and already my insecurities were rearing their ugly heads.
I told Jareth I would trust him and give him a chance. Give the idea of us a chance. Mark or no mark, we had to be the ones to decide if what we felt was, as he had so eloquently put it, fleeting or permanent, and no mark was going to make that decision for either one of us. In the end, I hoped the absence of a mark wouldn’t matter, and that he would decide to love me either way.