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Claim Me
Author: Lisa Renee Jones

 

 


CHAPTER ONE

 Ivy

 There is no question, that right now, straddling Eli’s lap in his Ritz Carlton apartment, his promise to “show me” what I do not know, shakes me to the core. But am I afraid? No. No, I am not. I know him, on a soul-deep level, he’s the only thing right in a life filled with everything wrong. If anything scares me, it’s perhaps the impossibility of what now seems possible. Truly it’s as if I’ve been caught in a weird backward or upside-down universe where everything I believed to be the fiction I created for novels, is quite possibly not fiction at all. Either that, or I’m losing my mind.

 His arm is around me, the hand of his other arm curled around the wedding ring dangling from a chain around my neck, the ring I know, I just know, once belonged to me. I know this because when I touched it for the first time, I saw me, another version of me, and another lifetime with him. But despite Eli’s promise to show me these things, he hesitates, he resists exposing me to a world that is not gentle. I know this because I just do. I feel it, as if it’s my own emotion, my own hesitation. I know him, in a way I could know no other, not even a person I’ve lived with for the decades of my life.

 Eli wants to protect me, but he doesn’t seem to understand how unsettled my life was without him. Some part of me felt him out there, a missing piece of the puzzle that is my creation and existence, more so, my happiness. His touch, his body, is so damn familiar, as if I’m whole for the first time in my life.

 I’ve now seen enough to know there is danger in this world unlike any of the human monsters our world fears. Real monsters, creatures I have written about, understood on a level I didn’t realize I understood. Real master vampires and makers, real werewolves. Because Eli’s a vampire. He doesn’t have to say the words. The truth is simply the truth.

 I remember him biting me. I remember liking it, too, when perhaps it should have scared me. But it did not. I’m not afraid, not of Eli.

 My hand cups his face, fingers tangling in his hair, and I will him to push past his hesitation. His fingers flex on my waist and there is a degree of understanding on his part.

 Suddenly, I’m not in this moment anymore. I’m in another. In my mind’s eye, I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, about to tumble over the edge. It’s terrifying and I can no longer feel Eli holding me. I’m alone on the cliff, so alone. My heart is racing and death is certain. The wind is strong, blowing my body and I can’t seem to steady myself. But just when I am certain that it’s over for me, Eli’s presence washes over me, a wave of masculine energy, a cool breeze on a hot day that still manages to heat my skin. I can smell him—wholly masculine and addictive—even before I can see him, even before his physical presence is right there, with me. And then he is behind me, his large hands framing my waist, his powerful body, pressed close. His strong arm wraps my waist, holding me to him, anchoring me, and right there, next to him, I am small and yet, stronger than moments before. As if I have transformed into another version of myself I don’t quite understand, and for no other reason but him being here.

 And yet, the ledge is still right there, at my feet, a step or wrong move away from me tumbling to my death, but it no longer feels terrifying. I am stronger now, safer now, better now, with Eli holding me.

 It’s then that I return to the physical, leaving the images in my mind behind, not certain if I created them or if he did. My fingers slice into his light brown hair and I whisper, “More,” as if I can compel the past into the present.

 He presses his forehead to mine and whispers, “You don’t have to do this.”

 I ease back to stare down at him, this man, this vampire, that is connected to me in ways most won’t understand. “But I do,” I tell him. “Don’t you see, Eli? Staying away from me doesn’t erase you from my life. Before I ever met you, I started writing books about vampires, werewolves, and monsters. What people don’t know is that I wrote what came to me in my dreams, which clearly comes from suppressed memories. So, whatever you have to tell me, you aren’t going to shock me into some kind of freak-out. On some level, we both know I already know most of it. It already feels real. If you don’t believe me, read my books.”

 “Fictional books are not real life.” There is anger in his voice, a rough, intense growl low in his chest. “This isn’t fiction, Ivy. You don’t shut the cover, and make it go away.”

  “It’s not going away because you choose never to tell the story either,” I say, my tone stronger now, pushing hard for what I know is right, which is real transparency between the two of us. “I know you want to protect me,” I add, “I do. I sense that, but maybe, just maybe, I know enough to be dangerous. I can’t walk around not knowing who I am. Or what I am.”

 His fingers tangle in my hair almost roughly and he drags my gaze to his. “You’re whoever you choose to be. Don’t choose my existence as your own.”

 “One minute you’re all about showing me everything. The next, you’re backtracking. I chose to be someone fascinated with vampires. Isn’t there a chance that’s because of you? If you don’t want to show me the past, tell me about it. Tell me about the ring. Tell me about the me of the past because we both know I am the woman I saw when I touched it.”

 His lips press together and there’s this wave of dark energy spiking the air, a primal energy that my body responds to in a way I have never known before him. His hunger is a beast that demands of him, but also demands of me. My breasts are heavy, my sex clenching, my fingers curling in his flesh where they touch.

 He pulls me closer, his face buried in my neck, the heat of his body burning me alive. “God, you smell so damn good. You have no idea how selfish I feel with you.”

 “It’s not selfish if I want this, too.”

 “It is,” he says. “I’m protecting you from me. You don’t even see the monster right next to you.”

 “Eli—”

 He tries to set me away from him, but I slide my arms under his arm, and press my chest to his chest, aware of the vulnerability in his confession, the loneliness in him that rips at my heart like a dagger and torments my soul. I wonder if he, too, has a soul. He must, because he worries about the pain he might bring me. “Please don’t push me away,” I plead. “I need you. I really need you, Eli. I don’t even understand the magnitude of that need. But I think you need me, too.”

 “This is not about need. It can’t be about need.”

 “Why can’t it be about need? What is wrong with two people needing each other?”

 “I’m a monster, Ivy,” he repeats. “Not a man.”

 “Then a man will never do. It’s why I’m alone. It’s why I couldn’t find a connection outside of you.”

 There’s fire in his eyes, burning embers that simmer and burn between us, before a low, guttural moan slides from his throat, a sound not wholly man. His fingers tunnel into my hair and his mouth slants over mine, and there is nothing but the passionate wildness of his kiss and his hands on me, intimate, possessive, demanding of my body. And my need… so much of the need he means to villainize in both of us, but it’s alive inside us both. I wrap my arms around him, arch into him, molding myself to every inch of his hard body I can manage.

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