When Jensen wasn’t prepared to commit to his fated mate, he let Ciel walk away, thinking he’d get over the human soon enough. But a year apart has proven that what he felt for Ciel went far beyond lust. He wants a second chance, and he’ll do anything to convince Ciel to give it to him.
Ciel thought he’d moved on, but when Jensen comes back begging for another chance, he finds it hard to deny the vampire. His heart’s been broken once, yet Ciel can’t make himself walk away from Jensen again. Will they be able to make it work, or will the pain of the past prove too much in the end?
Jensen stood in his father’s study looking at the tapestries his mother had embroidered over the years. He’d spent the morning hovering in the courtyard hoping to see Ciel, but after lunch he’d retreated inside to avoid attracting too much attention. His father’s steward, Gregor, had taken ill. He’d been on the mend when Jensen arrived, but this morning he’d worsened. The physicians had been sent for, and Ciel had been given even more duties. Jensen had ordered a few tasks to be assigned to others, but he still might not see Ciel until that evening, if at all. He had no idea what Ciel might’ve thought of the gift and the note. Never before had Jensen been this nervous. He’d been rejected many times, but none of those people had meant anything to him.
Jensen stepped out onto the balcony, which led down into the gardens, and his gaze zeroed in on Ciel talking to a gardener. They laughed together, but then Ciel looked up. His face grew serious as he turned back to the other man and gave a final order. The man walked away, and Ciel stood alone looking down at the ground. Jensen didn’t dare go down to him or go back inside. He wanted to see what Ciel would do. After what seemed an eternity, Ciel moved toward the stone steps and opened the little gate that usually blocked access to this private part of the castle. He closed the gate again and walked up slowly.
Ciel came over to him and said, “I’d ask you to walk in the garden with me, but that’s how all this began. If we’re making a new start, things should be different.”
“Yes. Different is exactly what I want.” Jensen glanced around. “No one will bother us here if you’re willing to be seen with me.”
“Of course I am. No one knows about this.” He sighed. “Or do they?”
Jensen swallowed, a lump forming in his throat. “What do you mean?”
“At the matehood ceremony last week, Lucas was so kind to me. Too kind. I thought he was trying to make me feel better after our little incident, which I’m certain you know about because you’re so nosy about me.” He glanced up as if seeking confirmation.
“Yes. I asked Erik why you really left, and he told me.”
“Of course you did.” Ciel ran his hands over the stone railing. “This morning I gave it more thought. Erik kept watching me. And you. So I’m assuming they know.”
“They do. I told Erik, and he confided in Lucas. And you were right about Erik’s reaction. He was furious with me. Called me an imbecile and many other things. Lucas said I was a fool.”
“I brought Lucas to his senses for many reasons. He was upset with Erik and wanted to sleep with me to ease his pain and get back at the mate he thought didn’t want him. All I could think of was all the pain you’d caused me. I didn’t want anything like that to exist between Erik and Lucas. I love them both so much.”
“And they love you.”
Ciel leaned on the railing and gazed at the mountains in the distance. “I read your note several times. Tell me what you want to know about me.”
“I’m not sure. Everything. Anything you wish to tell me.”
Linking his fingers in front of him, Ciel said, “The number of people I’ve slept with since we were together?”
“If you’re willing, that’s a start.”
“None. I kissed Lucas, and that was it. Nothing beyond normal flirting and banter.” Ciel turned to study him. “Will you tell me your number?”
Jensen thought quickly to both be truthful and answer without too much of a pause. “Three. All women.”
His eyebrows twitched as if the answer had surprised him, but Ciel paused before responding. “No men at all? Hmmm. Am I supposed to see a meaning in that?”
“See whatever you like. Looking at other men does make me think of you these days. On the way here, I actually had various plans for sneaking into your bed. Biting you and reminding you of how we were together. I see now what a poor idea that was. Immature, especially for a man of my years.”
“Yes, forcing yourself on someone is no way to endear yourself.” Ciel pushed away from the railing and walked inside.
Jensen stared after him. “Excuse me?”
Ciel halted in the doorway. “Having to sneak into someone’s bed implies you aren’t wanted there. And if I needed to be bitten to be with you, that would make me unwilling. No one talks about it, but it happens all the time. The power of a vampire’s bite is frequently abused. And since I’m your mate, I’d likely have let you do anything you liked. It would’ve been wrong, Jensen.”
Jensen held his hands up in surrender. “I see now how that sounded. I worded it very poorly. I intended seduction, not force. But I changed my mind and saw it as a bad idea. Doesn’t that count? Don’t censure me for something I didn’t actually do. I’ve done more than enough things for you to criticize as it is.”
Ciel nodded slightly and continued inside. Jensen followed and watched him sit down on a loveseat. He waited a moment and came to stand behind a chair close by, resting his hands on the ornate back.
“I feel like you used me. Can’t you understand that?” Ciel said. “I expected a one-night stand as well. I’d always been curious about being with you. But when you bit me, I thought things would be different. You went mad, kissing me all over and telling me how sweet my blood was. Then you took me so gently as you looked into my eyes and told me how perfectly you fit inside of me. I thought it was a declaration, and you spent a week being so tender and loving, and then…” Ciel bolted up and turned away.
Jensen watched him go to the bookshelf and grip the edge. Ciel wasn’t crying. Another emotion ruled him at the moment. “Ciel?” Jensen said as he inched toward him.
Ciel rounded on him and began beating his fists against Jensen’s chest. “How could you do that to me? How could you?”
Jensen struggled to breathe but didn’t try to stop Ciel. He let the young man exhaust himself with the blows. When Ciel finally pushed away from him, panting heavily, Jensen said, “Yes. I do understand it. I made a terrible mistake. When you told me how many lovers you’d had, I thought we were alike. And you were so young I imagined you wouldn’t want to be tied down. But instead of talking about it with you, I simply assumed and got it all wrong. I deserved your rejection for presuming what I did.”
Ciel wiped a hand down his face. “I was a wreck after you left. I actually developed a fever, so I pretended to be sick. It bought me a week alone to recover and get my head straight.”
“If I hadn’t come here and asked for another chance, would you ever have brought it up?”
Ciel considered this a very long time, which made Jensen nervous. “I can’t answer that. As you said, I’m young. Maybe I’d have met someone who could’ve helped me forget.”
“Is that what you wanted? To forget?”
Ciel sat down again. “Most of the time. I’d get angry when I found myself thinking of you and how we might be able to work things out.”
Jensen went still and cleared his throat before taking a few steps forward. He knelt on both knees a foot or so away from Ciel. “So you have considered it?”
Ciel nodded slowly. “A few scenarios. But I focused on getting over you. It was hard to keep those thoughts away. Harder than I’d imagined.”
“I tried to forget you, too. Made me miserable. It all came flooding out when I arrived at Erik’s and found you gone. No one had any idea why you’d left. Kept saying my father called you back. I knew that wasn’t possible. Father would never have taken you away from Erik.”
Ciel turned his body a bit and tilted his head. “Your eyes are gold.”
Jensen blinked. “And?”
“I suppose you’ve already implied it, but you’re jealous of Erik, aren’t you? Of Lucas, too, maybe.”
Jensen took a deep breath, his chest puffing up defensively, but in the end he slumped down with his hands on his knees. “Yes, all right? You’ve always loved Erik the best, and you had actual feelings for Lucas. I don’t give a damn who you’ve slept with. But you’ve clung to Erik your entire life practically, and it only takes about ten seconds for anyone to fall in love with Lucas. Yes, I’m jealous.”
“I’m glad you can admit it.” He reached out his hand as if he meant to ran his fingers into Jensen’s hair, and Jensen half closed his eyes to savor the touch. But then Ciel pulled away after lightly touching his shoulder, and Jensen blinked and looked up.
“There was a spider on your shoulder,” Ciel said, letting the arachnid crawl from one hand to another.
Jensen shuddered and jumped up, batting at his shoulder and his robes and then shaking his head and running his hands through his hair.
Ciel laughed as him the spider crawled up his arm. “This one isn’t poisonous. It’s incredibly useful in gardens.” He took it into his hand and rose to deposit it outside. When he came back, he said, “You’re a vampire, you know. You shouldn’t be scared of anything.”
“Everyone’s scared of something.”
Ciel stared at the rug beneath their feet and traced the swirling pattern with the tip of his boot. “Yes, they are.”
“I’ll make that my first official question. What are you afraid of? I don’t recall anything ever scaring you.”
“Losing the ones I love.” Ciel gave him a sad half smile. “The only thing that’s ever scared me at all.” He turned away. “I should go for now.”
“One more question, please. You don’t have to answer, but I have to ask.”
Ciel paused and then came closer. “All right.”
“Do you still love me?”
His gray eyes filled with a much deeper sadness as he leaned in and whispered, “Yes, I do.” He moved in until their lips almost touched. “And if you prove yourself worthy, I’ll be yours until the day I die.”
A week ago, Jensen would’ve grabbed him and kissed him, but those kind of actions belonged in his old life. Instead he gazed into Ciel’s eyes and said, “Then I’ll keep trying one day at a time.”
Ciel backed up and took a deep breath. He bowed as he let it out and left without another word. Jensen slumped down on the couch, knowing this encounter had only been the first of many, many steps.