I wish Seraphina would’ve let me f**king burn in that fire six years ago.

“You were singing,” I whisper onto her hair. “Connie Francis. Why were you singing, Cassia?”

She shakes her head.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

My arms tighten gently around her.

“It’s OK,” I say in a quiet voice.

After a pause, I ask carefully, “Do you remember anything?”

Cassia raises her head from my arm and turns at an angle to look into my eyes.

“Fredrik,” she says as softly as I had spoken. “Can I speak freely? Can I tell you whatever I’m feeling?”

Confused, and even troubled by her question, I’m not sure at first that I want to let her.

“Yes,” I say, against my better judgment.

Cassia turns around fully between my legs so that we’re sitting face-to-face, her white gown pulled down over her bent knees, her hands resting on the tops of her delicate feet. I don’t know how my hands found their way at each side of her neck, with my fingers splayed carefully to touch the edges of her jaw, but there they are, like two traitors setting out on their own, independent and defiant of the rest of me. I don’t argue with them.

Her eyes soften and so does my dark heart.

I feel like I want to kiss her. But I don’t. I can’t. That’ll only make me want to do other things to her and I’ve been down that road with Cassia before.

It’s a very dangerous road.

“What is it?” I urge her, brushing my fingers against her jawline.

She reaches up and carefully hooks her hands about my wrists, peering into my eyes.

“The things that you do to those men,” she says with words kind and understanding. “I want to know why, because my heart tells me that your darkness was born from darkness. It’s not just a job like you’ve told me before. It’s more than that, Fredrik.”

My hands drop from her neck and fall atop my bent knees again, dangling at the wrists. I shake my head. In the eleven months and nineteen days that I’ve kept her here, she’s never asked this question, never pried into my life before Seraphina. Her curiosities have always been—understandably so—only about Seraphina, the very reason that Cassia is here. I guess I never thought that after spending so long with someone that they eventually begin to see through all of the things you think you’re hiding from them so well.

Cassia pushes herself closer when I thought she couldn’t get any closer and urges me to look at her. Her right hand moves toward my face to console me, but I stop it, holding it at the wrist and pushing it back down.

“The only one of us who should be talking about our past, is you,” I tell her.

Her doe-like eyes fall under a shroud of disappointment.

But she’s not going to give up so easily.

“You’ve asked so much of me, Fredrik,” she says with such kindness, “but when I ask anything of you, you turn me away. I only want to know this one thing. I don’t care anymore about Seraphina, or the history you have with her. I don’t even care what I have to do with it.” Her soft hand ends up touching the side of my face anyway, and I’m not sure how she slipped it past my barrier. “All I care about anymore is you, Fredrik.” She peers deeply into my eyes and ensnares my gaze, her face full of heartbreak and longing. “What are your demons trying so hard to kill?”

I push her hand away more forcibly this time.

“Do you remember anything?” I ask, disregarding her question altogether.

“Stop,” she says with more intensity than I expected. “You’re going to give me this. Before you leave me alone down here another night, you’re going to tell me.”

The desperation in her eyes bores into me. I look away, only to look right back at her.

“Please…,” she says.

A lump moves down my throat and settles somewhere in my chest. All ten of my fingers spear through the top of my dark, messy hair and I let out a miserable sigh of defeat.

I never talk about my past to anyone. Ever. I try not to think about it, but on some days that is as futile as trying not to breathe. It wasn’t until I met Seraphina eight years ago that I learned to control it, that I became a much different man from the one who hunted shit stains like Dante Furlong, tortured and murdered them every other night, never feeling the satisfaction that I longed to feel with every kill. I was like a drug addict, always looking for a fix but never really satisfied enough to stop. Never satisfied at all, because I only wanted to do it more and more.

Seraphina helped me control the perpetual urges. She showed me how to release the darkness within me with quieter, cleaner methods so that I didn’t leave a trail of bodies and evidence behind. But the biggest impact that Seraphina had on my life was making me feel like I had one. Because before her, I was just a speck of dust floating around in oblivion. I didn’t know the meaning of happiness, or understand the thrill of pleasure or the hunger for excitement. I was just a shell of a man who knew only darkness and death, who only felt the emotions of anger, and hatred, and rage and vengeance.

But Seraphina, she was my dark angel, who came into my life and showed me that there was so much more to living than I ever understood. Ever since she left me in that field the night she set my house ablaze, I’ve been slowly but surely succumbing to my old life again, and I need to find her before I fall too far.

If I haven’t already.

Seraphina is the only person I’ve ever talked to about my past. If I do this with Cassia, I fear I might open doors that need to stay shut, for both our sakes.

But…I can’t deny her.

I feel like I owe her after all I’ve put her through. And since it isn’t anything about Seraphina, which I can’t tell Cassia no matter how hard she pries, I resolve with myself to tell her what she wants to know.

Gazing into Cassia’s eyes, I search them for a moment, rapt by her strange feelings for me, and briefly wonder why she even cares. And then my gaze falls on the wall behind her, in the corner where she’s always sitting when I come down here.

Finally, a fragment of a memory spills reluctantly from my lips.

Twenty-three years ago…

Dust swirled up before me when the heavy door to the chamber room groaned opened. A dull gray light filtered inside the room from the hallway onto the stone floor. It hurt my eyes. My filthy hands came up mechanically to rub them only to push dirt behind my eyelids. I winced and shut them tight as tears—brought on only by the aggravation—drained warmly from the corners.

Tags: J.A. Redmerski In the Company of Killers Book Series
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