I didn’t, either.
So we’d just spent a lot of time together since then, and there weren’t enough words in this world that could show my gratitude. Zayne’s presence had done what Roth had known it would. It kept the rougher, darker edges of the pain at bay. Our bond since childhood was like a buffer, blocking out the harsh reality that I’d lost a part of me before I’d been given a chance to realize it.
“Are you sure you want to go with me?” I asked.
“Yes.” His gaze dipped along the hem of my tank top. “Man, I hate how that thing just moves all over your…”
A faint pink crept over the hollow of his cheeks. “Yeah, that.”
I laughed softly. “Hey, Bambi’s a girl.”
“Doesn’t make it any better,” he grumbled as he picked up my hoodie and handed it to me.
I took it from him. “I think she likes you.” I slipped it on and then zipped up the front. “I think that’s why she messes with you.”
“I think she hates me and that’s why.” He reached out and straightened the strings so they were even. “The snake’s a—”
Bambi’s tail suddenly slithered up my waist, and I jerked to the side, giggling.
Zayne lowered his hands. “What?”
“Bambi,” I gasped. “She’s moving—it tickles.”
His eyes narrowed as his lips turned down at the corners.
“That mean face doesn’t help. It provokes her.” I smiled when Zayne’s eyes rolled, but the smile quickly faded when I thought of what lay ahead. “You ready?”
“No,” I whispered and then shook my head. “Yes.”
Zayne waited. “It’s okay. Take whatever time you need. I’m here with you.”
Just as Roth had known he’d be.
* * *
We parked several blocks from Roth’s apartment, and Zayne waited at a small park a block down. I didn’t think the demons would be thrilled with a Warden’s presence even though Zayne wouldn’t try anything today. I wasn’t sure how welcome I’d be with my Warden blood, but it wasn’t going to stop me.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the doors and stepped into the opulent lobby, looking around. Demons were pretty scarce. There was a Fiend sitting on a couch, drinking a cup of coffee while messing with his phone.
He looked up, spotted me and then went back to his screen. Okay. I prowled toward the stairs, hitting my destination without interruption. I reached the door to the stairwell, but my gaze went to the elevator nearby—the portal to Hell.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
I spun around. “Cayman.”
The infernal ruler tilted his head in acknowledgment. “There’s no way you can go down and find Roth.”
I opened my mouth, but he kept going. “If you don’t get eaten by the first dozen or so demons you come across and you actually make it to the pits, the Boss still isn’t going to let you in.”
Exhaling roughly, I glared at the elevator’s doors. “I’m not stupid enough to try it.”
“No. You’re not. But a moment of desperation could’ve led you to make a very unwise decision. It’s not what Roth would’ve wanted.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “I hate that you talk about him like he’s dead.”
“Isn’t that how you think of him?”
The sharp slice of agony that lit up my chest told me yes. “I just want to go to his apartment. That’s all. He had these kittens…”
“Oh, the three little monsters?” he asked. “They were tattoos.”
My eyes widened. “They were? I never saw them on him.”
Cayman stepped around me and opened the stairway door. “He rarely had them on. I don’t know if he did that night. I haven’t thought to check his room.”
“You’re going to let me?”
He gestured toward the stairwell. “After you.”
In silence we headed up to the top level, the muscles in my legs burning by the time he unlocked Roth’s door.
When I stepped in, Cayman remained outside. I don’t know what I was expecting to feel by going in here, but nothing could prepare me for the aching void that opened in my heart at the musky scent.
Things were the way Roth had left them, I guessed. There was a book on his desk, turned facedown. I picked it up and saw that it was Tales of Poe. Smiling faintly, I placed it back the way I’d found it. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to disturb his things.
I sat on his bed and waited for the little furballs to materialize and attach themselves to any exposed skin, but they never did. And I still sat there, my gaze tracking across the walls, the books, the TV and all the little things that made Roth real—made him more than just another Crown Prince.
Swallowing hard, I knelt down and lifted the covers. No kittens. I checked behind the piano. Nothing. The same in the bathroom. The closet was surprisingly empty. I wondered where Roth got his clothes. I checked all the nooks and crannies in the loft. The kittens were gone.
I glanced at the hallway beyond the open door.
Cayman waited. “He must have been wearing them.”
I nodded. I didn’t know if I should be relieved or not. At least they hadn’t been left here to starve. Then again, I had no idea what they ate. Probably blood.
“I just need another second,” I said.
Cayman smiled faintly, and I turned, opening the door to the roof. Up the stairs I went, one last time. The garden flourished and the knot in my throat grew. A demon that gardened? Roth… God, Roth was nothing but surprises.
Taking in the lounges and softly moving canopies, I sighed and made my way to the edge of the roof. The pain inside me felt too real, and I really couldn’t imagine it going away. Logic told me it would fade one day, but—
The sweet, musky smell came out of nowhere, overwhelming the scents of the flowers surrounding me. Tiny hairs rose on my body as a shiver of awareness danced over my skin.
I spun around, heart pounding against my ribs. “Roth?”
No one was there, but his scent lingered as my gaze tracked back to the chaise lounge. Something metallic caught my eye. Moving toward it, I found a silver chain coiled on the tiny table beside the lounge. It hadn’t been there seconds before. I picked it up, surprise stealing my breath.
It was my chain—the one Petr had broken. But the clasps had been repaired, the metal cleaned until it looked shiny and new. I knew it was mine because I’d never seen a chain so intricately knotted before, as if it matched the ring. In a way, I guessed it did.
Tears clogged my throat as I slowly turned around. It couldn’t have been…but where had the necklace come from?
“Roth?” I whispered, my voice cracking halfway through his name. “Are you here?”
I don’t know what I expected. For him to pop out of nowhere in front of me like he normally did? He didn’t. I glanced down at the necklace. It hadn’t been there.
A warm breeze, more like a soft breath of air, caressed my cheek, causing my heart to jump, and then…then the musky scent faded away, as if it had never been.
Closing my fingers around the chain, I pressed it against my chest and squeezed my eyes shut. The ache increased until I thought it would surely pull me under.
God, as much as I hated to cry, I respected the tears that sneaked out of my tightly closed lids. They meant something. They meant everything. They were the only way I could repay Roth for what he’d sacrificed.
Cayman was still waiting in the hall when I returned. “I’ll take care of the garden.”
I blinked slowly. “Thank you.”
We didn’t speak as we went back downstairs and I started toward the door, my heart and thoughts irrevocably heavy. I didn’t know what the necklace really meant, if I had just not seen it at first or if his scent was simply a product of my hope-fueled imagination. I wasn’t sure, but the hand that held the necklace shook.
I turned back to Cayman. “Yeah?”
He smiled a little. More of a grimace, but I guess for a demon, it counted. “You know, demons don’t die when they go to the pits. Roth did his job, Layla. He came here to stop the Lilin from rising.” His gaze locked with mine. “The fiery pits are kind of one-way only, but the Boss is old-school, and Roth has been the Boss’s favorite Crown Prince yet.”
I sucked in a breath, too close to everything to let that little spark of hope grow. “What are you saying?” Hand still trembling, I held out the necklace for him to see. “I found this on the roof. It wasn’t there when I first went up, and then it was.”
Cayman’s smile stretched a little and then he shrugged as he slipped his hands into his pockets. He turned, heading across the lobby. Halfway between the couches and chairs, he glanced over his shoulder at me and winked. Then he blinked out of existence.
Hope and disbelief warred inside me. I wanted—needed—to believe that Roth wasn’t in those pits. That he was okay, that it was he who’d left the necklace for me. It made facing tomorrow a little easier, thinking there might be a chance I’d see him again. One day.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, but finally I forced myself to move. Zayne had to be getting itchy out there.
Stepping out of the apartment building, I inhaled the brisk air. Zayne waited where I’d left him, like he had said he would. Sensing me, he lifted his golden head. He didn’t smile. Whether or not he gave voice to what he suspected my feelings for Roth were and whether or not he agreed with them, he still knew how I felt.
On the spur of the moment, I felt for my ring. It came off easily, the cracked surface catching the light. Without Lilith’s blood, the ring looked more like a normal stone. There really wasn’t any need for me to keep it, but I couldn’t get rid of it. Not yet.
When I handed the chain and ring to Zayne, he seemed to know what to do with them. The spot where Bambi had tattooed herself on my arm itched like crazy. I resisted the urge to scratch myself raw while Zayne slipped the chain through the ring.
“Did…did you take care of what you needed to?” he asked, brushing at a strand of blond hair that had escaped his ponytail.
I cleared my throat, but the lump was still there. “I think so.”
Zayne wiggled his fingers and I turned around, forcing myself to take another deep breath. While he clasped the chain behind my neck, my gaze traveled up to Roth’s loft. The windows were too dark to see in. Not that anyone would be there, but I’d never be able to tell.
“You ready?” Zayne asked.
The pain in my chest eased a tiny bit when I looked into Zayne’s blue eyes. I tried to smile for him, and I think the little effort relieved him. He knew I wasn’t going to curl up and wither away because I’d lost Roth. However, there were moments when that was the only thing I wanted to do.
I dropped the necklace under my sweater, patting where it rested between my br**sts.
He offered me his hand.
And I took it, threading my fingers through his. We started down the street quietly. My heart raced with each step that took me farther away from everything that reminded me of Roth. I couldn’t stop even though I wanted to turn around and race back to his apartment, camp out until…until forever passed. Every so often, I looked over my shoulder, searching for a headful of dark hair and a smile that infuriated and excited me. I strained to hear the humming of “Paradise City.” Out of all the faces crowding the street, I didn’t see the one I was looking for.
But I thought of the necklace and of Cayman’s wink and I wondered if one day I would find it again.