But he knew it was getting close to dawn.
“Elise? You awake?”
He stroked her hair. “As much as this kills me, it’s got to be almost six a.m. You better go home.”
She lifted her head off his pec. Her eyes were sleepy in the dying firelight, her lips swollen from his kisses, her cheeks still flushed.
“I want to stay here,” she said.
“I want you to stay here, too. But do you think that’ll help your situation? It’s up to you.”
She frowned and became very quiet for a while. “I’m sorry I came early, by the way.”
“Not by much. Besides, you’re welcome anytime, all the time. I never lock up. Just come in.”
“I got here before midnight.”
“Why?” He passed his palm up and over her shoulder. “And again, I don’t give a shit. Move in if you want.”
Holy fuck, did he just say that?
“I was upset. And I had nowhere else to go.”
All at once, his protective male instincts fired up, his fangs descending, his body going back on the alert in spite of its injuries. “What happened? And who do I need to kill.”
Yeah, he was only partially kidding on that last one.
At least she smiled a little. But it didn’t last. “I, ah … well, I told you that my cousin was killed? You remember?”
“Yeah. Of course.”
“Well, I went into her room. After you left? I didn’t really plan on it, it just kinda … it was where I ended up. And I went into her closet—I was cleaning things up in there. It was such a mess. Such a mess … clothes everywhere, shoes …”
When she didn’t say anything further, he stroked her shoulder. “Talk to me, Elise. And know it goes in the vault.”
“Oh, I trust you. It’s just … so ugly.”
“I know from ugly. I’m not scared of it.”
Her breath left her on a shudder. “My cousin, Allishon, and I? We weren’t alike at all. I mean … the polite word for her was promiscuous. Her clothes weren’t like mine. She didn’t think like me. She didn’t behave as I did—and she reveled in being the wild one. She was beautiful and out of control, and I always had the feeling that she enjoyed sticking it to her parents.”
“I’ve walked that road,” he said remotely. “It’s good for nobody.”
“Maybe if there had been more time? I don’t know. Maybe she would have changed.” Elise exhaled in a rush. “Anyway, I was in her closet—and I was cleaning up the mess. My aunt came in and surprised me—I mean, I haven’t seen her since the night Peyton came to tell them about the murder. She looked … so bad. Sickly. Horrific. As if she had aged a thousand years, been starved and beaten.”
Axe repositioned them, rolling over onto his side and cradling her face-to-face. “Was she grateful for what you were doing?”
“No. Not at all.” Elise’s eyes got a faraway look to them. “She said … the most hateful things about her daughter. It was all about image and the family’s position in the glymera. She was angry and bitter about the fact that there was shame upon her. She was upset that she wasn’t getting invited … to parties. It was the most extraordinarily selfish display I’d ever seen—and I just keep thinking, Well, of course Allishon acted the way she did. With a mahmen like that?”
Axe ground his molars as anger choked him. “Selfish mothers are the worst. That shit’ll do a number on you.”
Like, oh, say, a female who would desert her hellren and child for the money of the glymera. Yup. Read that book, saw the movie, bought the T-shirt, the insulated coffee mug, and the Blu-ray. Poster over his bed, too.
But he kept quiet about all that. They were focusing on Elise, and damn him, he really wanted to listen to what she was saying.
Elise shook her head. “I was so upset after I left her that I ran downstairs and out of the house … and I threw up on the front lawn. And then I just kept going, down to the bottom of the hill, out onto the road.”
He imagined her careening through the night, her heart breaking, no one in her family understanding where she was at or really even caring.
“I’m glad you came here. And I wish I had known.”
“Thank you for not being mad.”
“I asked Peyton to tell me what happened to Allishon. I’m meeting him tomorrow.”
Axe had to regulate a spike of unease. Because that bastard had better STFU on the subject of bodyguards.
“I have to find out the truth.” She looked away. “I need to know and I’m not sure I understand why that’s so important. The death isn’t reversible, nothing will change by my knowing what transpired. But my brain can’t let it go and I’m not going to fight it.”
“Maybe you’re just going after the series of events because you can’t get the real answers you want.”
“Like …” Axe cleared his throat. “Maybe you can’t ask your father what he really feels about the death. Maybe there are other things you’d like to know about him. What he thinks about your mother’s passing. What he worries about night to night. Maybe he’s unreachable.” Axe thought about his own father down in the cellar with those blocks of wood. “Maybe you want to know what he actually feels about you. But you know that’s never going to happen. You’re never going to be close. He’s always going to be focused elsewhere. And the shitty thing is, though … that just because you’re aware of all that, doesn’t mean the searching goes away. And you can only sit with that for so long before you go crazy.” He shifted his eyes from Elise … but then refocused on her and shrugged. “So you’re looking for facts as a way to get close to him, because that’s what people do. They go to the wrong places for things they can’t get in the right ones.”