Stephen went back to the chair and sat down again, grabbed a beer that sat on a black lacquered table and took a swig from it. Suddenly, I wanted to make a joke, maybe something about him having a fake ID. My usual reaction to unpleasant things was to try to be funny. It was a defense mechanism I’d developed during my parents’ very unamicable split. Or so my guidance counselor told me when I’d gotten in trouble for snarking on one of my teachers.
Laughing was way better than crying, as far as I was concerned. At the moment, however, I didn’t feel like doing either.
“Stephen,” I growled. It was pissing me off that he was so unwilling to tell me what I needed to know.
He settled back in the chair, looking like a handsome prince on a velvet throne. “I did what I was told to do, and then I had to leave. I’m not supposed to explain. She’ll tell you all about it when she’s ready.”
I stared at him blankly. “Who?”
His jaw tightened. “You’re supposed to be special. She said you were, or I would have at least warned you about the hunger…” He trailed off and then frowned at me, looking into my eyes. “But you’re able to fight it, aren’t you? Even without me telling you anything about it first. I’m thinking that’s exactly what makes you special. You don’t seem any different than you were before.”
My mind spun. I didn’t understand. “I’m hungry all the time.”
“But you’re not feeding. She didn’t think you would.”
My shivering increased. I knew he wasn’t talking about potato chips or cheeseburgers. “Who the hell is she?”
“I can’t tell you that. Not yet.” He swore under his breath. “I knew you were too young.”
“Tell me what you did to me,” I demanded. “What is this hunger? I keep eating and eating and I can’t get full.”
He shook his head, still staring at me as if my admitting the hunger surprised him. “Food won’t satisfy you. Not anymore.”
My bottom lip wobbled as I started to lose my composure. “What am I?”
He stood up and reached toward me, gently tucking a piece of long, dark hair behind my ear. His expression regained its previous confidence and he smiled. “This is a good thing, Samantha. You’re something even more special now. Something amazing.”
Bishop had called me special, too, shortly before he’d put that knife to my throat. Call me crazy, but the word put me on edge.
“I’m a—a gray,” I said, my throat tight enough that it was difficult to breathe.
His smile wavered and an edge of confusion slid behind his gaze as if he wasn’t familiar with the term. But that was what Bishop and Kraven had called it. “What you are isn’t a bad thing. It really isn’t. But you do have to be careful. There are ways of controlling the hunger through the kiss.” He leaned close to whisper in my ear. “You and me—we can practice now, if you like, without doing any harm. Whenever we want to.”
Practice kissing with Stephen Keyes. A week ago it would have sounded like a dream come true, but now…
It didn’t feel like a dream. Only a nightmare could make me feel like this.
I half expected him to rip off his face to show a literal monster underneath, just before he attacked me. But he didn’t do any ripping or attacking.
When Stephen took my hand in his, I yanked it away from him. His skin was cold and it made me shudder.
He blinked. “Our body temperatures are lower now. You’ll get used to it. It’s one of the side effects of not having a soul.”
Finally—confirmation. He’d somehow managed to steal my soul in that kiss.
“How do I get it back?” My voice broke.
He cocked his head to the side. “Why would you want it back? You’re better now.”
He was infuriating. How could he be so calm about something like this? “Because—because it’s my soul. You took it and I want you to give it back. Now.”
His expression didn’t change as he sat down again. “I can’t give yours back to you. I gave in to the hunger just as she told me to. And now it’s gone.”
Panic twisted inside me. My soul was gone. Something I hadn’t really thought about as a tangible piece of me had been ripped away and destroyed without my permission.
My hands clenched into fists at my sides. “You can’t just steal something so important from me and expect I’m going to be okay with that. Who told you to do this to me?”
His eyes narrowed. “A soul is a burden on a human, an anchor. Trust me…you’re better off without it. I never knew how much my soul held me back, but it did. I was miserable—self-doubting, worried, anxious, living a life others planned for me. I had no control over myself. Now I do. The world has opened up to me. It was my soul that held me back. You’ll come to see that I’m telling the truth. The hunger can be managed. It’s all worth it.”
If that was his sales pitch for Devour your soul? Ask me how! I was unimpressed, to say the least. In fact, I was so mad I wanted to spit.
But, mad or not, it was too late. He’d done it. My soul was gone. And now I hungered to do the same to others as Stephen had done to me. This wasn’t going to get any better; it was only going to get worse. That must be what had happened with Colin in the hallway this morning. I’d been so close…too close…
I turned and stalked away. My mind was a jumble of information and I had no idea how to process it all.