Reven, unmistakable to me now for anyone else, stands shirtless, his eyes closed, in the center of the clearing, the cold starlight playing over the ridges of his muscled torso. The blood thrumming through my veins pulses with the energy emanating from the man in front of me. An energy that has nothing to do with my unwanted reactions to him. This is all coming from him.
And then the fabric of night itself moves.
Rivers of what almost look like ink flow between beams of moonlight and into his body. Coming from every crevice of the forest, the shadows pool and swirl around his feet, surging to a beat that my heart echoes. The darkness creeps up his form, shrouding him, turning his entire being to ravenous night.
Then the darkness swells out of him, up and over his head, and I choke. Hardly a sound, and yet the churn of shadows seems to turn on itself, and his eyes, two glowing spots of aquamarine, open and lock onto me.
“You shouldn’t be here.” His voice—deeper even than before and smooth, like a pool of star-kissed water—slides over me, through me, into me.
“What are you?” I whisper.
His face spasms. “Don’t test me, princess. Go back to the tree and wait.”
This isn’t Reven speaking but something else. Something elemental and savage.
I should be terrified. I should sprint back down the path that led me here, back to the safe haven he found us.
I’m not. And I don’t.
Maybe it’s the way I’ve always felt safe in the shadows, drawn to them, because the pull to stay is too strong. Like something deep inside me doesn’t want me to go.
“Why do you need…me?” I almost said Tabra.
Those eyes flicker brighter.
Then the shadows ease and dance, reaching and flowing across the forest floor toward me. Arms beckoning. Alluring.
“You need to go.” His voice is strained now, rough. “I can’t hold them—”
Tendrils of night brush over my skin—seductive and intoxicating. They wind around me, drawing me into the circle. A sense of rightness settles in my center, and I take a halting step forward.
“Princess.” His voice is right in front of me now, and I open my eyes to find myself surrounded by shadow and Reven himself, solid and real, standing before me, close enough to touch.
I blink slowly, because I’m having trouble separating out reality. It has to be a dream, and I’m asleep beside him in the tree still. Right? Sure I have it figured out, I smile almost tentatively.
Only his eyes narrow at the sight.
“See me,” he says in a voice gone deadly harsh. Silk frayed by thorns.
The shadows punch out from us, abandoning us, leaving only Reven and me in the clearing. Only the man in front of me isn’t entirely Reven. His face appears to crawl with…goddess…with other faces. No other way to describe it. Changing and morphing before my eyes, like a hundred different men exist within him and all are fighting to be seen.
Each a different manifestation. Some harsh and hard, some daring, some laughing. All compelling.
Finally, a face of utter despair settles in place the longest, tired lines etched into the skin around his mouth and eyes, and, without thinking, I reach up and put my hand against his cheek, try to smooth those lines with the pad of my thumb. Reven grabs my wrist and the sadness disappears, replaced by a face that glints at me with something purely evil.
“Run, little girl.”