Happy 4th everyone! Hope you’re having a great week!
As usual I seem to be behind on things but here is Chapter 12 of Cursed by Fire. Enjoy 🙂
I woke up to the feel of a warm, damp cloth running along my abdomen. On a pain-filled moan, I opened my eyes to find Inarus leaning over my prone form, a washcloth in his hand.
His eyes met mine as he gently stroked the cloth over me, wiping away the dirt and grime from this evening’s events. Or more accurately, this morning’s.
When I didn’t object to his attentions, he looked away. I watched him concentrate on my body, his eyes never wavering from his task. He seemed to pay special attention to the blade tattooed above my right hip as he stroked carefully over my bruised flesh. A question was evident in his stare, but he never voiced it. That was good, because I didn’t plan on answering.
I noticed that my arms were already clean, and he couldn’t do anything about my legs without taking off my pants. That wasn’t happening.
I could see some blood and discolored skin through the holes in my pants, but that could all wait.
When Inarus finished cleaning my abdomen and the exposed skin above my breasts, he dropped the cloth in a small water-filled bowl.
His gaze became assessing, and I began to fidget under his scrutiny.
“I need to press on your stomach to see how much damage was done. This may hurt a bit,” he told me.
I nodded and braced myself.
He gently pushed, poked, and prodded my stomach. At first, the pain was bearable, but as his fingers climbed higher, I was no longer able to stay quiet. I gasped and groaned when he pushed down once more, his fingers digging into my flesh. Tears leaked from my eyes, and I grew furious with myself for letting them out.
“You have a cracked rib,” he told me. “Most likely a concussion as well, judging from the size of the bruise blooming on your forehead.”
I reached up and touched my head. The skin was tender, and a knot was forming above my right eye. Wasn’t that just peachy.
I ran my fingers gently over my skull, feeling several more. I definitely had a concussion. My vision was blurred, and I was dazed even while lying back.
Inarus reached for the cloth once again and wrung out the excess blood-stained water before carefully sweeping it across my cheek. The water stung the minor cuts and scrapes on my face, but I held still as he wiped away the dried flakes of blood.
I couldn’t help the wince at the sting of what was surely a split lip. Inarus’ eyes flew to mine. He held the cloth motionless against my lips, his gaze boring into mine. I fought the urge to fidget against the sudden rush of attraction I was feeling. An attraction that was apparently not reciprocated.
If my proximity didn’t affect him, then I wouldn’t allow his to affect me.
Seriously, Ari. You need to get a hold on your libido. First James and now him? Well, I guess technically Inarus came first, but still. Not cool.
Completing his task with cool detachment, he placed the rag in the bowl again and set it aside. Then he reached for my boots and unlaced them with smooth efficiency.
Gently pulling them off, he set them on the floor beside the bed. A bed that most certainly did not belong to me.
“Are you okay?” His voice had warmed just a fraction.
“I’m fine. Thank you,” I mumbled around my swollen lip.
He raised a brow as he considered my response. We both knew I was far from fine. A cracked rib, a concussion, and several cuts and bruises didn’t equal fine, but after a moment of silence, he nodded.
“Where am I?” I asked.
Inarus offered a small smile that made my heart give a pathetic flutter. Gah, what was wrong with me? Maybe I’d experienced more severe head trauma than I’d thought.
Yeah. That sounded right. I’d blame this on the head injury.
“You’re in my apartment. I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about a hospital, so this was the next best thing.”
I thanked my lucky stars that he hadn’t taken me to any of the hack medical facilities that the city called hospitals. Testing centers were more like it. They didn’t truly help the sick or the injured. No. The doctors were more like mad scientists, focusing on their experiments, especially on anyone showing signs of being more than human.
I’d never actually tested my own blood, but I had a feeling my DNA was a tad bit different from your average Homo sapiens, and I wasn’t one for taking unnecessary risks. Well, usually.
Okay, I often took unnecessary risks. But I wasn’t an idiot.
“Thank you,” I told him, and I genuinely meant it. A shiver ran through me just thinking about what would have happened had he taken me to River Park Hospital or worse, Holy Trinity Hospital. I wouldn’t take a dog there if it were dying. Allowing the animal to die would probably be the more humane choice.
“No problem. Besides, you owe me a cup of coffee. Remember?” He grinned wide and handed me a cup of steaming coffee that I hadn’t noticed earlier.
I took the warm cup gratefully and inhaled the delicious aroma, ignoring the protest from my cracked rib.
Coffee could fix this. Coffee could fix anything. I smiled at him in thanks and took a sip before realizing my mouth didn’t want to cooperate. Damn split lip.
Inarus handed me a straw, a grin on his face, and I closed my eyes in relief as I took my first sip. I didn’t care if I was drinking it like a grandma in a nursing home. Hell, I’d drink it out of a sippy cup if I had to.
The heady flavor exploded on my taste buds. I groaned in pleasure and sank back into the pillows.
He chuckled, but I didn’t bother opening my eyes. Instead, I took another sip, allowing the liquid to flow through me as if it were an IV hooked directly to my veins. Oh, I needed this.
“I take it you like coffee?” Inarus asked.
I opened one eye, gave him an annoyed look, then closed it once more and took another drink.
“There is no such thing as just liking coffee,” I told him between sips. “I love coffee more than a vamp loves blood—it’s essential to my survival.”
He chuckled. “I need to wrap your ribs,” he reached for a stack of bandages, and I pulled myself forward. I lifted the hem of my shirt to expose my rib cage and placed my coffee on the nightstand.
Inarus deftly wrapped the bandage around my body, and I sucked in a breath every time his hand brushed against my tender flesh. The pain of sitting up was excruciating, but I bit my cheek and kept quiet. Having the bandage in place surprisingly took some of the edge off.
He helped me lean back against the pillows, and I reached for my coffee once more. I closed my eyes and sipped at the straw only to realize it was empty.
“Here, this will do more for you than the coffee will.” Inarus placed three white pills in the palm of my hand.
“What are they?” I asked. I eyed the pills skeptically. He handed me a small bottle, and I turned it over in my free hand to read the label. Acetaminophen with codeine.
Holy hell. How did he manage to get his hands on pain pills? Without another thought, I tossed back the pills and swallowed them down.
The Awakening had been the end of most big box pharmaceutical companies—those that had been primarily government-funded at least—so any type of medication was a rare find and likely cost a fortune. Instead of having a few pills stashed away in case of an emergency like most people did, he had a whole freaking bottle.
“Get some sleep,” he told me, and took the pill bottle back. “I’ll make sure to check in on you.”
I already felt the effects of the medication. Rather than an ache in my head, I felt light, airy, almost as if I were floating out of my body. I gave Inarus a goofy grin.
“I need to go home,” I announced, hefting myself away from the pillows I was leaning against, and swinging my legs over the side of the bed.
Clenching my teeth to hold the gasp of pain inside, I closed my eyes, giving myself a moment to catch my breath and work through the pain. Just a few more minutes, and the painkiller would kick in all the way. Then I’d be good to go.
“Aria, you’re not going anywhere. You’re hurt. The concussion alone is reason enough that you shouldn’t be by yourself.”
That was all fine and dandy, but that didn’t mean I would stay.
Inarus was my new sexy, nosey, and totally unknown neighbor. I’d be an idiot if I stayed with him.
If I could just make it out of the bed and down the hallway, I could collapse into my own bed. I’d be fine.
While I was grateful to Inarus for helping me, he was a stranger. That was strike one. He was also a psyker. Strike two. Therefore, due to reason one and reason two, I couldn’t trust him. Strike three. You’re out.
I needed the comfort of my own bed and time alone to wrap my head around the events of tonight and figure out why the hell I’d been attacked in the first place. By a vampire. In shifter territory.
Unfortunately I couldn’t question my attacker because he was dead.
I stared at Inarus with a mutinous expression. He couldn’t make me stay here. If the hardening of his features was any indication though, he still planned to try.
“You’re staying,” he gritted out through clenched teeth.
“No. I’m. Not,” I enunciated, making sure he heard me clearly.
I slowly stood and watched through narrowed eyes as Inarus took a few steps back. My limbs shook, and my head swam with the effort to stay conscious. Don’t pass out. Don’t pass out.
All I had to do was make it to my apartment. The doorway leading to freedom was only steps away.
“I can do this,” I told myself. I breathed through my mouth and waited for my vision to clear. Inarus stood to the side, arms folded across his chest.
There would be no help from him.
I took a tentative step, and the world tilted. A bare second before I landed on the carpeted floor, he was there to catch me. He eased me into his arms and rose, cradling me tenderly against his chest.
“Put me down.” The sound of my own voice caused me to cringe inside. It was pathetic and whiny even to my own ears.
He didn’t react other than to lay me back down on the bed’s cool sheets. He sat by my side, sinking the mattress on my right.
“You’re staying,” he reiterated.
I glared daggers at him.
“You can’t make me,” I bit out.
“You’re right, but I can wait you out. One of the pills I gave you may have been a sedative,” he admitted, a sly smile curving his lips.
What? The bastard drugged me? See! I knew I couldn’t trust him. Where the hell did he … The thought drifted away as the room began to darken.
“Stop messing with the lights.” The pull of the sedative was strong. My eyes drifted closed, and my body sank deeper into the warmth and comfort of the bed.
“Get some rest.” His voice seemed to come from another room. A hand gently touched my cheek and slid along my neck before disappearing.
Wait! I wanted to shout.
“I’ll be here when you wake.”