His arms automatically moved underneath me as he cradled me closer to his body. His lips found mine, and he kissed me gently on the mouth, giving me the affection I craved. But it was also a restrained kiss, like his heart wasn’t completely in it.
“Why are you still mad?”
He leaned back against the couch, his fingertips moving up and down my soft legs. “I’m always mad.”
His eyes were glued to his fingertips, watching his hand slide up to my thigh. “Maybe you’ve just never noticed.”
My eyes narrowed. “I can read you better than anyone. You’re never angry with me. Whenever it’s just the two of us, you aren’t the stubborn and angry man you project to everyone else.”
His eyes finally moved to mine, and he stared at me for a long time. “How do you feel?”
“How do you feel now that he’s gone?”
His hand slipped under my shirt and up over my tummy, his fingertips lightly caressing my skin. “What will you do now?”
His fingers halted over my belly button. “You have your freedom back. You can do anything you want. So, what will you do first? You aren’t confined to this building anymore. I told you I would let you go, and I meant it. You’re free to leave.”
Did he expect me to walk out the second Lucian was gone? That I would walk away the moment I didn’t need his protection? Perhaps that was why he was so rigid. He expected me to abandon him now that I didn’t need him anymore. “But I don’t want to leave. I want to stay here—with you.”
He held my gaze with his aloof expression, his blue eyes intense and dangerous. He was a difficult man to read, but he didn’t seem touched by what I said. If anything, he seemed annoyed. His fingers pulled away from my stomach, and he suddenly turned cold. “I told you this was over when Lucian was dead. So you can’t stay here.”
His words cut me like the sharpest knife. It pierced my skin and my organs, making me gasp for breath because my lungs stopped working. “But you took my place. You were willing to die for me.”
He shifted me off his lap then rose to his feet, putting distance between us so I wouldn’t smother him with my affection. He rose to his full height with his arms resting by his sides. He paced the living room for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts as he dismissed me.
I stood, still wounded by what he’d said. “I know what you said, but I just assumed things were different.”
He stopped walking and faced me, his features hard with irritation. “Why would they change?”
The question was so stupid, I thought it was rhetorical. He took my place to save my brother. He didn’t have to do that, and he did it without even telling me first. He left behind his necklace and called me his queen. “Because I love—”
“No.” He didn’t raise his voice, but his dark tone forced my mouth to shut. Hostility was in his gaze, like hearing those sweet little words fueled his rage. They were poison to his ears, rocks in his stomach. “Don’t say that to me.”
He stabbed me once again. “Whether I say it or not, you know how I feel. I wouldn’t have cut that wire and risked everything if I felt otherwise. I wouldn’t beg you to stay with me every night if I didn’t want you for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t get jealous if I didn’t think you were mine. So whether I say it or not, it’s so painfully obvious that it can’t be ignored.”
“We’ll just have to try.”
His coldness froze me to the bone. “I don’t think we can ignore the fact that you feel the same way. It’s obvious in everything you do. You can pretend that you don’t, but I’m too smart to believe it. You called me your queen. You sacrificed yourself for me. You love me.”
I stepped forward. “You do. Tell me you don’t.”
He clenched his jaw as he looked at me, his eyes lit up with icy flames.
“Tell me you don’t love me, Balto.”
He kept his silence. His pledge to the truth stopped him from speaking a lie. All he could do was ignore the question, but it only incriminated him even more. He wouldn’t tell me he loved me, but he wouldn’t deny it either.
“Why won’t you say it?” I whispered. “Why are you acting like this?”
He stepped closer to me, all the muscles of his body tight with anger. This conversation should be beautiful, followed by days of lovemaking and oaths of love. But he turned it into a painful experience, a nuisance. “Because it’s pointless. We have no future. When I told you this would end, I meant it. It doesn’t matter how I feel about you. It doesn’t matter how you feel about me. This will never be anything.”