In my long life, I’d never experienced peace until that night with Claudius. If it hadn’t been for all the shit happening in town, I would have gladly lay with him for days on end. I had never experienced anything close to that with Ashmedai or even Obadiah.
Yes, I thought I was happy with that bastard. But as soon as he had left my side, the doubts always returned. My baser nature—the part that made many females weak—always accepted whatever fucking explanation Obadiah Winthrop tossed at me for his frequent absences. Deep down, I think I did suspect that he was less than honest with me, but loneliness was a cruel-ass bitch. The desperate thirst for companionship was the real reason why I allowed a mere human to make a fool of me.
But I had no doubts when it came to Claudius. My misgivings were only with myself. What if I weren’t enough for the incubus? What if I couldn’t make him happy? There was one doubt, however, that stood out above the rest. What would happen when Claudius’s time in that world came to an end? I’d be alone again. It wasn’t an outcome I wanted to experience.
“Red?” He touched my chin and turned me toward him. “Tell me what’s going through that beautiful mind of yours.”
As much as I didn’t want to share my thoughts, I realized that they’d only grow darker if I didn’t. If I wanted him to stay in my life for as long as he could, I would have to get used to talking through shit—no matter how painful.
“What happens when your time—”
He placed a finger over my lips. “Listen, I’m not concerned about it. You shouldn’t be either.”
Hesitantly, I nodded. Being alone was an inevitable reality for someone like me. I’d been there before and would go down that path again and again until time itself ran out.
“Talk to me, Red,” Claudius urged.
Not wanting to pursue the current conversation, I moved on to something else that had been bugging me.
“How did it feel being trapped inside your head?” Ever since I freed the male from his virtual prison, I’d been curious. It seemed like a good time to ask.
“It was the ultimate in isolation.” Claudius shook his head and held me tighter. “Imagine existing in darkness all the time. I never saw the sun shining. Still, I could hear when it rained, and I felt the cold. Hell, I even heard voices but couldn’t respond to them.”
Sadly, I couldn’t envision any of it. With all that I’d experienced, I’d never come close to anything like what Claudius described.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t relate.”
He sighed as he rubbed my bare arms. “You’re a witch who has lived a hell of a long time. Surely, you’ve been imprisoned.”
Instantly, I thought about the Papal Inquisition. I was in Germany at the time. “Unfortunately, that is true. One time sticks out for me. It was 1390, and I’d been found guilty of witchcraft. There were a few of us who’d been sentenced to die by hanging. It was a cold and rainy day when they died. Instead of joining them, I hung from that scaffolding for hours. When night fell and the guards departed, I was finally able to let myself down and slip away.”
Almost instinctively, Claudius gently rubbed my neck. Thankfully, I bore no physical scars from my ordeal. All of my abrasions were deep within my mind—a veritable landscape of horrendous memories that no one should ever witness.
“I remember being so damn lonely. When the others died beside me, I realized that my existence would always be that way—those I knew would leave me behind, and I’d be alone. That was also when I discovered the truth in Dame Mother’s curse. On that day, I called upon Death repeatedly, but he would never answer me. We would always be strangers.”
Claudius hugged me and then kissed the top of my head. “You will never be alone, Elsbeth.”
“You’re a mortal, Claudius.” It was the point I had tried to make. “Eventually, we will part. You will leave me.”
“What did I say? Don’t you worry about me, Red. I’ll never leave you.”
In that moment, I hoped he knew something I didn’t. I’d had enough of living alone. When Death claimed Claudius, I was going with him. One way or another.
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