“You don’t have to protect me, Zade!” Annabelle shouted at him, furious that Zade wouldn’t speak to her. He wouldn’t even acknowledge that she was talking to him as he secured the condo, locking all windows and doors and triple-checking them.
“I don’t have to protect you? You’re right, I don’t,” he said tersely, coldly, all emotion drained from his voice. He glanced over his shoulder at her and her beautiful face fell. “But I couldn’t live with myself if anything ever happened to you.” He sighed and buried his face in his hands. “I can’t live without you, Bella.”
She smiled warmly and strode to his side, gently prying his palms from his face. “Hey, look at me, Zade,” she whispered affectionately. His eyes met hers, and the sadness that was reflected in his irises had a vice like grip on her heart, constricting her in a bind that only his happiness could release her. She traced the line of his jaw before placing her hand softly on his warm, reddened cheek. “You never have to.”
Zade’s hand flew up and rested on top of hers, the contrast between her pale skin and his sun-kissed complexion eerily striking in the half-light of dawn. Abruptly, he slinked away from her and stared dolefully out of the window in their bedroom.
“I could kill you, Bella.”
“No you couldn’t. You’d never be able to.”
“But when I’m…like that, I don’t govern myself with my mind. My instincts take full control—”
“You wouldn’t hurt me,” Annabelle interrupted stubbornly.
Zade clenched his fists in disagreement. “You shouldn’t trust me so much.”
Annabelle was utterly shocked. “I trust you with my life, Zade. Although I know you don’t trust me. That much is obvious—why couldn’t you tell me about this?”
His fingers slowly stretched out, unclenching. He sat on the edge of the bed, grimacing at the bloodstains on the new sheets. “I didn’t want you to know—I thought you would hate me. I’m a monster, Annabelle, a monster. I’ve killed people before.”
She slid beside him on the bed, crossing her legs inward. “You’re not a monster.”
“I’m a murderer.”
“You were just trying to survive. It’s not your fault,” Annabelle replied slowly, allowing the information to sink deep into her bones.
“How can you be so…understanding about this? About who I am, what I am?”
“Because I love you Zade. And I’ll always love you, no matter what you are. Can’t you see that?” she asked, lightly placing a reassuring hand on his and squeezing once. So badly did Zade want to say those words back to her but he couldn’t speak. His mouth was dry, aching with longing, but he couldn’t find the will to tell her. Zade didn’t want any more secrets between him and Annabelle, but he didn’t want her to be hurt because of him either. Not anymore. So he bit his lip and kept quiet for a moment, mentally beating himself senseless trying to convince himself that he needed to tell her everything.
“You deserve so much better than me,” he quietly admitted, his head once more dropping low. “You should have stayed in the village with your family and married Lucas Kiopran. You should have let him spoil you with things only a blacksmith would be able to make—not a woodcutter. I’d never be able to give you those things—bracelets and extravagant jewelry. You had a future with him—I shouldn’t have been so selfish.”
“You think I wanted to be with anyone but you?” she asked Zade, her blond brows furrowing together. “I’ll always be yours, Zade, whether or not you’re human or beast or dead. My heart will always belong to you. I never cared about Lucas’s money. I only cared about you.”
Zade met her piercing gaze with equally perturbing eyes. “When your mother came to me and told me that I needed to let you go if I cared about you, it only made me want to see you more. I haven’t always been this way—a…” He choked on the word. “A werewolf…I was bitten a week after your mother forbade me from seeing you. I don’t remember much, if anything at all. I transformed by myself. I’d never been so scared, Annabelle. I was scared that I’d hurt you, that if you were to ever find out about me, you’d shrink away in fear and tell the village I was some kind of horrid monster. Every day I spent away from you was torture. But I could couldn't go any longer without seeing you,” he confessed. “I only ever saw you when I closed my eyes. Knowing that you were thinking of me, waiting for me to come and take you away, it was the only thing that kept me sane. It’s been so hard to deal with this on my own. I thought if I could just get one look at you, it might be enough and I’d have all the incentive to control myself around you. And it did. I couldn’t wait to take you away from the village.” Zade sighed thoughtfully. “I'm sorry if this is too much for you. If you wish for me to leave, all you need to do is say the word, and I shall be gone."
Never before had Annabelle heard so many passionate and meaningful words come out of his mouth. Since they were kids, he'd always been the strong, silent type. The boy who didn't have to impress her with poetry or love letters to let her know how much he cared for her. A race through the woods and a pair of deerskin hunting boots said all that others would need words for. But now, there he was, baring his soul to her. He truly must have been going mad.
“I don't know if I can contain myself around you, Bella. Not anymore.”
Annabelle stared determinedly ahead of her, though her eyes didn't truly focus on any one thing in particular. "And what if I were to tell you that I don't want you to contain yourself?"
Silence echoed through the bedroom, the meaning behind her words sinking through them both.
“You accept me for who I am?” he asked her, a light tremor running through his throat as he got the words out.
“Of course.” Her eyes fell shut before she could look upon him, remembering each and every lonely night without him. "You know, some days I just want to curl up into a ball and remember all the good times we had with one another. Some days...It just hurts too much to breathe. Living without you, unable to see your face or hear your voice...I can’t live without you, either, Zade."
It felt as though a weight had lifted off her chest, finally getting the chance to get the words out and tell him what this situation was doing to her. She waited for him to respond, to tell her that he was sorry or that he was going to make it all better. She didn't care what he said, she just needed to hear his voice happy again.
He didn't respond, though. The condo was quiet. Her thoughts were cut cold by the feeling of his hot breath on her cheek. “Annabelle, you’re the only thing in my life worth dying for. I’d die a million times if it meant you were safe.”
“Zade,” she whispered out, knowing that he was close enough for her breath to be ghosting over his own skin. Without a second's more hesitation, Annabelle opened her eyes and gazed into his eyes.
Zade stared right back into her blue eyes, getting lost within their depths. “The only life I want is with you,” he told her surely. “I love you, Annabelle. I’ll love you until the day I die, and if there’s an afterlife for things like me, I’ll love you then.”
There it was. The words Annabelle had waited all her life to hear him utter. She had always knew it in her heart, but to hear him say the words made her stomach flutter. Annabelle threw her arms around him, not caring about anything. Her worries faded away as his strong arms held her tightly to him, unrelenting in his grasp. Zade didn't want to ever let go of her again, and in this moment, he was truly happy.