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“Caleb!” My voice was hoarse, vocal cords bruised from bellowing into the wind.
As I stumbled along the pebble beach, my already tear-blurred vision was fading fast. I wasn’t sure whether I was close to passing out or whether night was approaching. I stopped and wiped my eyes. Blinking, I cast my eyes toward the horizon. The sun had ducked beneath it. It was the darkness of the night that was consuming me.
I looked back at the distance I’d walked so far, straining to make out the entrance to Lilith’s cave. Perhaps five miles. A splatter of dark liquid trailed over the stones behind me. Blood was seeping from my feet. But I barely felt it. I was filled with another kind of agony. One that wasn’t curable with bandages. I clenched my fists in frustration and pounded my thighs. I wasn’t used to traveling at such a pace. I was used to traveling anywhere on earth or in the supernatural realm with a snap of my fingers. The absence of an ability I’d long taken for granted, coupled with the urgency coursing through my veins to find my fiancé, was torture.
I sank to the ground again, staring out at the ocean. I felt too exhausted to cry any more. I’d shed pints of tears already, and they’d brought me no closer to Caleb.
I breathed in deeply, trying to comfort myself that he must have returned to his island. That he had abandoned me only because he’d had to—the binding spell forced him to go back to our island within seven days or die. I’d return to the island and find him there, waiting for me. And I’d tell him I’d changed. I’d get down on my knees, grovel at his feet, and beg him to forgive me. Swear that I’d never leave him again. And I would fill his tortured heart with the love I’d denied him all these years. I’d fulfill him again, the way I had before I’d given myself up to the witches.
Every part of my body ached to experience Caleb. Although I’d spent almost every night with him for decades, I couldn’t remember what it felt like to actually feel him. His lips against mine. The way his hands gripped my waist and pulled me to him as though the motion alone was a vow between us that he would never let go. And he hadn’t. He’d never let me go. Even after I tore his heart out night after night. I was the one who’d broken my vow to him.
I couldn’t contain the excitement that coursed through me when I imagined seeing him again—it would be like seeing him for the first time in decades, even though we’d barely spent a night apart.
But I didn’t know how I was going to get back to our island. I didn’t have the magic to transport myself to the gate on Isolde’s island that led back to our castle. And there was no point trying to enter the gate to the human realm on this island. I knew where that led. Without my powers, and in my weakened state, there was no way I’d survive the jungle alone for more than a few hours.
I’d have to wait here until some witch passed by. If I lasted that long. I didn’t know how long I’d lain in that tunnel.
My throat prickled as I breathed in the cool evening air. If I didn’t find water soon, I’d pass out.
I supposed I could have tried to raise Lilith from her pool. But a part of me was also scared of seeking her out again, in case she discovered she’d stripped me of my powers. I didn’t want her to force me back into my comatose state again. Not now that I’d experienced what it was like to breathe again. I’d rather die than return to the way I’d been.
I worried about how other witches might react when they found out. Whether they’d see me as an outcast now. Perhaps they’d consider it a bad omen that Lilith had ended up removing my powers rather than strengthening them. Of course, being banished was what I wanted now. But not unless Caleb could come with me.
I lay back on the sharp rocks and stared up at the darkening sky. My eyelids stung and were heavy with exhaustion, but I fought to keep them open. My body felt weak enough after whatever Lilith had done to me in that chamber, but the newfound emotions assailing me had drained me completely. Joy, pain, sadness, love. That the soul was capable of experiencing such richness of feeling, such variety, all in the space of a few moments, was both exhilarating and frightening. My existence had been monotonous for so long, this blast of life was exhausting. I supposed that, if I survived this beach, I would get used to it, but now the sensations were overwhelming.
Not that I really deserved to survive, after all I’d put Caleb through. Why did I do it? The question had plagued my mind since waking. I still wasn’t sure I knew the answer.
As night closed around me, I could find neither stamina nor willpower to keep my eyes open any longer. If I was to die here, on this beach, I wanted to have them closed anyway. I wanted a blank canvas upon which I could paint my most treasured memories of Caleb.
Despite the presence of the love of my life, I had wasted decades living alone, trapped in the prison of my own mind. But now that I truly was alone, I craved his company more than I’d thought it possible for one soul to crave another.
I thought back to the day he’d proposed to me. The way his eyes had lit up when I’d accepted, as though he wished our wedding night could have been that very night. The tension in his body as he’d gathered me to him.
I imagined him standing before me now, asking the question again.
Yes, a thousand times over, my love. Until you’re convinced again that I love you. That I treasure and cherish every part of you.
My heart pounded as a hand closed over my right shoulder. My eyes shot upward. A black-eyed man stared down at me. His softly curled hair framed his sharp-jawed face. Rhys. I reached for his hand and pulled myself up against his towering form.
“What did Lilith do to me?” I gasped.
He eyed me, his face cool as stone.
I clutched his collar and tried to shake him. “Why did she take away my powers?”
I cursed the Ancient in my mind—something I had been warned never to do during my induction as a witch. But the thought of having found Caleb by now if I’d just had my powers sent me into a tailspin of fury and frustration. The joy she’d denied me for the majority of my life, she still denied me even now that her spell was supposed to be off me.
Rhys’ powerful hands closed around mine and crushed them. I cried out, stumbling back and nursing my fingers.
He glowered down at me. “What Lilith did to you should be the least of your concerns now, after what Caleb has done.”
Like a drug, my fiancé’s name lit up my brain. “Do you know where he is? Tell me, where—”