The next morning Liz was nervous to see Zan.
She had all but admitted to him last night that she wanted him. She had never meant to do that because it gave him power over her, and she really needed to stay in control of the situation.
I will dedicate and sacrifice my every-thing
For just a seiconds worth of how my story's ending
And I wish I could know if the directions that I take
And all the choices that I make won't end up all for nothing
She was also confused by his actions. He kept saying he wanted her and they would be together but he still kept a distance between them. He had never even kissed her. It was like he was holding back for some reason. He said he was waiting for her to be sure, but she had begun to wonder.
She wasn’t sure what it was. He wanted her, but maybe he was cautious about getting involved too. Maybe he didn’t want a relationship, just an occasional roll in the hay, but she didn’t think that was it.
Show me what it's for
Make me understand it
I've been crawling in the dark
Looking for the answer
Is there something more
Than what I've been handed?
More and more she felt that he wanted something else from her, and even though he had pried out every secret he’d asked about, she still worried that he wanted more.
And she worried about what would happen when he got what he wanted. Would she still hold his interest? Or would he disappear from her life too?
So when and how will I know?
How much further do I have to go?
And how much longer until I finally know?
Cause I am looking and I just can't see what's in front of me
She couldn’t stand to lose anyone else, especially so soon after she was starting to come back to life. She didn’t think she could survive.
The pain of losing Max and the others was still there all the time, but since Zan had made her talk about what happened the pain didn’t consume her as it had before. She didn’t have the awful dreams about Max every night, and the memories weren’t a constant torture. She didn’t constantly crave sex or need the physically punishing runs around the park to dull the pain.
Help me carry on
Assure me it's ok to
Use my heart and not my eyes
To navigate the darkness
Will I ever get to see
The ending to my story?
Even though she didn’t want to admit it, Zan had been right. Sharing the burden had helped her.
But now she was worried that she depended on Zan too much. What would happen when he got bored of her? This was why she had to keep him from getting too close. She was just afraid that is was already too late.
I've been crawling in the dark
Looking for the answer
When the knock sounded at the door, she didn’t even wonder who it was. Butterflies started flitting around her stomach and she knew it was a mixture of excitement and nerves.
She opened the door and was going to let her eyes glide over his beautiful body, but instantly focused on his face. Zan had a determined look, like he’d decided something, and it made her even more worried.
Backing away, she silently invited him inside. “You want a drink?” she asked, turning for the kitchen so she didn’t have to look at the intensity in him.
She heard the door close and then his booted tread behind her.
“Sure,” he said. “You got some of that juice left?”
He knew exactly what she had, she thought, because he’d been making breakfast and lunch for her most days.
Without looking at him, she got out two glasses and took her time filling them with juice, as she wondered what he wanted.
Now that she thought about it, she realized that he had been contemplating something for days, maybe longer. He’d been very watchful and a bit quiet, and today he’d obviously come to a decision.
Turning, she handed him the glass and sensed the intensity in him again. Was this when he was finally going to try a big seduction to get her into bed?
They’d been doing this dance, not even really flirting, but desire arched between them like lightening. He told her repeatedly how much he wanted her. Was this finally how it was going to happen?
Zan took a long drink, downing half the contents of the glass before putting it on the counter, and it seemed to Liz that he was stalling. Was he nervous too?
But suddenly he caught her gaze and smiled.
“I need to ask you something, princess,” he started, “but I know it could be hard for you.”
Now she was really nervous. “What do you mean?” she gasped. And suddenly she knew this was what he’d been holding back. The one thing he really wanted from her.
Zan had grilled her ruthlessly until she’d finally admitted the truth about what had happened to Max and the others, and she was dreading what else he might ask.
What could be more important to him than what had happened to his family?
He watched her closely as if he were trying to gauge her reaction, and then finally spoke. “I need to know what happened between you and Max the night before he left.”
She jerked like he’d slapped her. “No!” Her instant reaction was white-hot fury, and she knew she had to get away from him. He was blocking her exit from the kitchen but she tried to push past him anyway.
He took hold of her shoulders, making her stop. “It’s important,” he said.
Shaking her head, she stared at his chest, her mouth shaking as the angry words came pouring out through her lips that felt numb. “I-I already told you everyt-thing. Do you w-want a blow-by-blow description of us m-making love? Well, you’re not going to g-get it! What happened between us is n-none of your business.”
“It’s okay. Calm down,” he said softly as he enfolded her in his arms.
“Calm down?” she hissed, pushing at his chest. “You want details of my m-most precious memory. I do n-not feel calm about t-that.”
Suddenly the bittersweet memories came forward in her mind, how tender Max had been with her, how beautiful and perfect everything was between them that night. But with it came the sadness, and she collapsed against Zan. Her voice was only a whisper. “It’s all I h-have left of him.”
“I know,” he said softly as he stroked her hair, “and I’m not asking you for that.”
“Then w-what do you want?” she demanded in a whisper, shivering with reaction against him.
He took a deep breath. “Remember how I said that I’d felt you for years, but only through him?”
She nodded, and he continued. “But then when he left, I felt you.”
She nodded again. “Yeah, because Max left and g-got far enough away, you could feel m-me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s why. I think that when he died you suddenly got a boost in power.”
Liz pulled back enough to meet his eyes. “What do you m-mean?”
For a moment he looked like he was choosing his words. “The reason I knew he had died was because I felt it, but even if I hadn’t, I would have known because the royal seal came to me.”
She gasped and her eyes filled with tears as she nodded.
He stroked her hair. “But it’s not right. The seal doesn’t feel like it should.”
Shaking her head in confusion, she spoke. “I d-don’t understand. How do you know what it should be like?”
He shrugged, releasing her. “I just know. Something’s missing.”
She moved a little away from him, hugging herself. “What does that have to do with that n-night?”
“I think,” he started softly, “that he gave part of it to you.”
“That’s impossible,” she denied instantly. “I’m human.”
“You were human,” he corrected. “Now you’re something more.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head as her mind raced. “Even if that was true,” her voice got softer until it was almost a whisper, “he couldn’t give me the seal.”
She didn’t have any idea how the seal worked, but there was no way what Zan said could be true. Could it?
“Whether he was supposed to be able to do it or not,” Zan insisted, “I’m pretty sure he did.”
“But how?” she demanded.
Zan held her gaze for a moment before he continued. “That night, when you made love, I think he bonded you two together. I think that in his mind he made you his wife.”
Liz shook her head, her first instinct to deny it, but the sweet scene played in her head.
As the first glow of dawn started to light her room, Max had stroked her face and kissed her so tenderly. They both knew they were running out of time, but neither wanted to admit it.
He looked into her eyes, smiling. “I love you, Liz, with all of my heart and soul. I want you to know that you will always be a part of me, my true wife, no matter how far apart we are, no matter what happens. It’s you that I want to be with, to grow old with. I will spend the rest of my life loving you.”
Zan’s voice interrupted her memories. “He did.”
Liz winced, knowing he’d felt her emotions and read the situation from them. “It’s not like we spoke vows,” she said softly. But in her mind that was what it had felt like. Max had pledged his love to her for the rest of his life, and she had solemnly promised him the same.
“Maybe not,” Zan said, “but in his heart, you were his wife.”
She nodded, knowing he was right. Swallowing hard against the lump of sadness in her throat she continued. “But why does it matter? Max is de-, g-gone, so it can’t possibly matter to anyone.”
“You had to be bonded for him to give you part of the seal,” Zan said.
“But how could he? I’m not even an alien.”
“You must be close enough,” Zan said. “I don’t remember exactly how the seal works, I only know what our protector told me. And as to how Max did it, I have no idea. Maybe it was pure instinct or maybe he didn’t even realize he’d done it.”
Again she shook her head. “Even if that is true, who cares?”
“Khivar cares. Lonnie and Rath care.”
He saw the confusion on her face and started to explain. “Khivar knows Max and the others are dead, and he thinks I’m dead. The seal is made to follow a line of succession. If all the members of the royal four are dead and I am dead, the seal would go to Rath, but if Khivar checked Rath, he wouldn’t have it.”
Liz still didn’t understand.
Zan continued. “Since Rath doesn’t have the seal, people might start wondering where it went.”
“Is the seal that important?” Liz asked. “Like you have to have it to rule?” But instantly she knew that was wrong because Khivar had ruled for at least 50 years without it.
“No,” he said, “but Khivar has been obsessed with being the legitimate king since he usurped the throne, and I don’t think he’ll stop looking for the seal until he has it.”
She quickly grasped the implications. “So if someone contacts Lonni and Rath and tells them the others are gone, and Rath realizes he doesn’t have the seal, then he might start to think that you aren’t really dead, and he and Lonni will come looking for you.”
“Looking for us,” he said.
“They can’t know I have part of it,” she insisted.
“Probably not,” Zan admitted, “but if they get powerful enough to start feeling me, they will eventually feel you. Even though your energy is not as strong, you feel just like an alien.”
“But,” she argued, “aren’t they in New York?” She’d never even wondered where they were. She had just assumed.
Zan quickly checked, like he did several times a day, and nodded. “They are still there.”
“And you can feel them coming, right?”
He nodded, and she relaxed a bit.
Suddenly she became suspicious. “So if you think I’m in that much danger, why did you wait until now to tell me?” But as soon as she voiced the question she already knew. He’d been being careful with her. She wouldn’t admit that Max and the others were gone, and that was a vital component of the conversation.
Zan watched her carefully and she was sure he knew she’d figured it out.
Finally he answered. “I didn’t want to cause you any more pain. It tears me up inside when I have to do it, to watch you go through it. I waited as long as I could. If there was any other way . . .” He shook his head. “Since I found you I’ve been protecting you, hiding you from them, just in case. And I will do it until you are able to protect yourself.”
Liz let that sink in. Zan had been trying to protect her from emotional as well as physical pain. Did that mean he cared for her? Of course he cares, she told herself. Just like he would for Isabel or Michael. It didn’t mean anything.
Zan held her gaze for a long time before he spoke. “I told you now because I don’t want there to be any secrets between us.”
Again she had the feeling that he was reading her mind, and she wasn’t sure what to say.
He continued. “I think for your safety we should see if I can take the seal back from you.”
She suddenly felt like he was trying to take all of her memories of Max from her, and balked against his idea. “We don’t even know that I have it for sure,” she snapped.
“It’s the only thing that makes sense,” he said patiently. “You got more power suddenly. Your powers also started to come out after that, didn’t they?”
She shrugged, not wanting to admit anything.
He continued. “And we can check. Maybe you’re right and-“
For some reason it was vital to Liz that Zan didn’t check. She cut him off, “Even if I do have it, no one could know I have it,” she argued. “You aren’t even sure.”
He continued like she hadn’t spoken. “If they did find and kill me,” Zan said, “I’m not sure what would happen to the seal. My part might go to Rath, or it might go to you, and that would paint a huge target on you.”
“But that won’t happen,” she said stubbornly. “You said it follows the line of succession. I’m not in line for the throne.”
“You weren’t in line,” he agreed, “but Max may have somehow altered the rules the seal follows since he was able to divide it. It shouldn’t be possible, but it happened.”
Liz shook her head. “It’s one in a million that they would even look for the seal. Khivar has what he wants. You’re just speculating.”
“More like preparing for the worst,” he said. “I will never underestimate Lonnie, Rath or Khivar’s greed again.
Her chin rose stubbornly. “What if he wanted me to have it? What if he gave it to me on purpose? Maybe it was his way of keeping it away from Khivar.”
“Even if he did give it to you on purpose,” Zan said, “I know he wouldn’t have done it if he thought it might put you in danger.”
Her face hardened, and he held up his hands. “I won’t force you to do anything. I know you’re still grieving for him. I just wanted you to have the facts. We can talk about it another time.”
She silently thought that he could wait until hell froze over before she’d talk about it again, but just nodded.
Suddenly she realized something and her eyes flew to his. “That’s why you call me princess, isn’t it?”
He steadily held her gaze. “You married the king, and that makes you a princess, but that’s not the only reason why. You are strong, loyal, protective of your friends and family, and you fight for them and what you think is right. You sacrificed your happiness for him. That is what Max and I both saw in you. That is what makes me see you as princess.”
She shook her head. “I’m not strong. I practically went crazy. You had to take care of me. I left everyone. I couldn’t face the truth.”
Zan took her by the shoulders. “You went through hell and survived the only way you could. Most people would have never made it through. You needed help but that is nothing to be ashamed of.”
He smiled. “Hell, you’re a fierce, sexy, fiery warrior queen who makes my blood boil, but calling you queen sounds a bit weird.”
She nodded. “Yeah,” she agreed, “but princess is a bit weird too.”
He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. “Well, you’ll just have to get use to it because that’s how I’ll always see you, my princess.”
She wondered if he was going to kiss her then. She could see the desire in his eyes, but after a moment he reasserted control over himself and released her.
“Ready for a walk?” he said with a crooked grin.
The quick change in subject confused her for a second, but she nodded, and then wondered why she’d agreed. She needed to be tougher, to stand on her own without Zan. She needed to prove to him and herself that she didn’t need him.
She’d suspected that he wanted something else from her, and now she knew why he was hanging around. He wanted the seal, and if she gave it to him, she’d never see him again.
It was exactly what she’d feared, and she couldn’t let it happen. She couldn’t stand to lose anyone else especially when she was afraid that she was developing feelings for him.
She nearly gasped with the revelation. She’d tried to tell herself that it wasn’t happening, tried to force herself not to feel anything for him, and it happened anyway.
But it wasn’t too late. It couldn’t be. If she pushed him away now, she could still save herself.
This would be the last time she went with him, she promised herself. When he came tomorrow, she’d send him away for good.
Even though she had just promised herself that she was going to ignore him on their walk, she couldn’t.
She had been too upset when they’d been talking to really take in what he was wearing, but as they crossed the road to the park, she let herself look.
A black tank top molded to his torso, showing off his magnificent arms and the outline of his sculpted chest. Black shorts stopped above his knee, allowing a length of muscled thigh to peek out, making her heart speed up.
She swallowed hard, trying to wet her suddenly dry mouth. He was too damn sexy, and heaven help her but she wanted him.
It didn’t seem to matter what she told herself or what she did, she couldn’t stop the desire that filled her when he was near.
Her instinct was to run as fast and hard as she could to exhaust herself and extinguish the fire inside her. She knew she couldn’t outrun him, but it didn’t stop her trying.
Without saying a word, she took off as soon as her foot touched the curb on the park-side of the road. She heard Zan chuckle behind her and then she hear his footsteps coming after her.
He chuckled again. “That’s right princess, run.”
His words sounded like a challenge to her and she quickly came up to her top speed. She could still hear Zan not far behind and thought he would catch and pass her but he seemed to be content letting her lead.
As they continued though, she swore that he was gradually coming closer and closer.
For some reason it worried her, and she found herself wondering what game he was playing. Desperately she wanted to sneak a look behind her but forced herself not to.
It was almost like she was being chased, or hunted.
She tried to force the feeling away and smiled at her own fancifulness. They were just running. There was no hunter or prey. No one was being chased.
But you are, a voice inside said. You are being very methodically hunted down. He has tracked you, cornered you again and again, allowing you to escape when it suited his purpose. Then when he was ready he cut off any avenue of escape, and now he is moving in for the kill.
She shook her head to get rid of the disturbing thought, but it wouldn’t go.
She started to panic a little. If he just wanted sex, she could handle that, but she was afraid that he wanted more.
Or is he only pretending to want more, that voice inside taunted.
Maybe his seduction had a purpose. She still had something he wanted. Something that she had just refused him.
Did he think she would give him the seal if seduced her?
What if I wanted to break
Laugh it all off in your face
What would you do?
She shook her head. Surly that couldn’t be true. This whole thing, their friendship, his caring for her, helping her grieve, it couldn’t all be because he wanted the seal, could it?
If that was all it was couldn’t he have convinced her to give him the seal when she had been out of it for weeks?
You don’t remember what happened, that pesky voice said. Maybe he did try, and you wouldn’t give it to him.
No, she argued with herself. Zan isn’t like that. He couldn’t be doing all of this to get the seal. It is so much trouble, surly no one would go through this whole thing . . .
Tess did, the voice inside her hissed. She tried to openly seduce Max right from the start, and when that didn’t work she bided her time, changed to the long game.
You can’t compare Zan to that monster! she yelled in her head. He’s not like that. He’s kind and thoughtful.
He can be whatever he needs to be to get what he wants, the voice said.
What if I fell to the floor
Couldn't take all this anymore
What would you do, do, do?
For a moment, she felt her whole body fill with despair. Surly no one could be that cruel.
She shook her head. No, Zan couldn’t be like that. It couldn’t be the truth. He had done so much for her. She would have sensed that he was not a good person.
Even though Tess pretended to fit in she could never completely hide her true nature. There were a million little things. The nasty barbs she had enjoyed using as weapons against her, Maria and Alex, the look of superiority and triumph Tess had given her when Max had yelled at her for investigating Alex’s death. She had so obviously enjoyed causing pain, and Liz had never fully trusted her. Of course she’d had no idea how evil Tess really was.
And if Zan was like that she would know. She would be able to tell that he was rotten on the inside no matter how much he tried to hide it.
What if I wanted to fight
Beg for the rest of my life
What would you do?
She hadn’t noticed but while she was lost in her thoughts that they’d passed the playground and baseball fields and were halfway passed the pond. She also hadn’t noticed that Zan had almost caught up with her. Out of the corner of her eye she could see his powerful arms and legs working next to her.
She swallowed hard. All it took was a glimpse of him to get her desire rushing.
But he hadn’t even made a real move on her yet, and she was beginning to wonder if he ever would.
You say you wanted more
What are you waiting for?
I'm not running from you
He was just toying with her, playing games, and she needed to get rid of this desire she had for him. She had to try harder. She had to succeed. She was tired of being his plaything.
Come break me down
Bury me, bury me
I am finished with you, you, you.
She dug down deep inside and pushed herself to run faster and her sudden burst of speed left Zan behind. She knew it wouldn’t last for long but she felt a sense of triumph as she momentarily rid herself of him.
They were passed the pond now and rapidly approaching the trees, and it was taking longer than she thought for Zan to catch up with her. She could hear his stride, seeming to stay at the same distance behind her.
Again she had the feeling of being hunted, and the urge to look back for him was almost overwhelming. But she stubbornly kept her gaze straight ahead.
The trees were just ahead and she focused on getting to them.
She was starting to tire though. That push of speed had depleted her reserves and she knew she was gradually slowing. Was that what he was waiting for? He knew that she couldn’t keep up her pace for long and instead of chasing her down he was waiting her out.
It was smart, but it made her angry.
I tried to be someone else
But nothing seemed to change
I know now, this is who I really am inside.
Suddenly she heard a rapid increase in tempo of Zan’s footsteps. She realized that he would quickly overtake her, but gasped in shock as his arms closed around her. She had the sensation of spinning, and then they stopped.
For a moment she was dizzy, but quickly realized that she was in Zan’s arms, their bodies pressed closely together. Her hands were on his chest, and her back was against a tree. She wasn’t sure what he had done exactly, but he’d obviously used his powers to stop their momentum and arrange them in this position.
She met his gaze, and he gave her a crooked smile. “Got ya,” he drawled.
Still confused she blinked at him. “What?”
He leaned in so he was just inches from lips. “You ran. I chased. I got you.”
A small gasp escaped her. That’s what he’d meant when he’d said to run. And that was why she felt like she was being hunted. She was.
Finally found myself
Fighting for a chance.
I know now, this is who I really am.
Her heart was beating in her chest. His body felt so good against her, but she couldn’t help fighting him. “That’s not why I ran.”
Slowly he closed the distance between them, and she thought he would kiss her, but he turned his head slightly so his cheek grazed hers and he whispered in her ear. “Liar.”
A shiver rushed through her.
His hands slid down to the small of her back and he nuzzled her cheek.
The sensation of his hard body pressed to hers forced a small groan from deep inside her. She could feel his erection against her and gripped handfuls of his shirt to stop herself from going for the fastening on his shorts.
“You ran because the need between us is driving you crazy.” His nose pressed into her neck and she felt his hot breath on her skin. “It is driving me crazy too.”
He hardly had to touch her to make her desire go into overdrive. His hands held her lightly, their bodies barely touched, but it was driving her insane with lust. She clutched at his shirt, her breath coming in quick pants.
She felt a yearning pulse deep inside her. Shit, she wanted him so much. She thought for sure that he would take her now.
Come break me down
Bury me, bury me
He nuzzled her neck, causing even more shivers to rush through her. “But you’re not ready yet, are you princess?” he whispered. “You can’t even admit that you want me.”
She silently agreed that he was right. It would be like losing the battle between them if she admitted it.
“Would it be so bad?” he continued, pressing his lips to her ear. “Would saying you want me really be so bad?”
She knew it would. Saying it would change the dynamic of the power struggle between them. So far she had the upper hand, and she was afraid to give it up.
“Your body tells me how much you want me,” he breathed into her ear, “but I need to hear you say it. I need to know, and I’ll wait for you to say it.”
He didn’t wait for her to try to answer. She was sure he already knew what was in her head anyway. “So I’ll back off,” he whispered, “for now.”
Then he literally backed a couple of steps away, taking his arms from around her.
She was shocked but immediately released his shirt.
With a nod of his head, he motioned toward her apartment. “Ready to go back?”
The change of subject threw her for a moment. She still wasn’t sure how he could be so seductive one moment and so casual the next.
She ached with desire but she wasn’t going to beg him to take her. She just wasn’t she would be able to make it back because her legs felt like rubber. Taking a deep breath, she tried to appear unaffected by what had just happened and nodded.
Zan started walking toward her apartment and she silently followed.
She wanted him so much, but he would be waiting a long time if he was expecting for her to say it. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
But Zan knew how to expertly arouse her and he wasn’t playing fair. She was sure now that his plan was take every chance to drive her crazy until she jumped him.
She just hoped she was strong enough to fight against both their desire.
Bury me, bury me