As she’d noted earlier, after age thirteen, he’d never known a touch that wasn’t angry or bruising.
Not until her …
She reached up to touch him.
For an instant, he was frozen by the desperate need he had to feel her skin on his.
Don’t. All it will do is remind you of things you can never have.
She belonged to Solin. Not him.
He quickly moved away.
But she didn’t take the hint. Instead, she pursued him across the room.
What the hell? Every time he moved, she was there, trying to touch his injured eye. He didn’t even want to know how stupid he must look while he dodged her.
"Stop!" he finally snarled.
She pulled back as if he’d slapped her and that made him feel like a total ass. "I just wanted to help you."
"Help me do what?" Die of unsated lust? That was his biggest threat in the room at present.
She shook her head. "Your eye is completely red. It’s like it’s filled with blood."
That explained the haze over his vision, but the pain he felt was from his eye socket where Noir had punched the shit out of him after Seth had given in to the incessant need to question Noir’s parentage. "I must have broken a blood vessel. It happens."
Lydia felt sick about the nonchalant way he spoke of something so horrible. Broken blood vessels didn’t just happen. Anymore than his bruises had just appeared on his face. She took a step toward him.
He took one back.
Fine. He wasn’t going to allow her near him again. And to think, she’d actually been afraid of him forcing himself on her. Yeah …
"You still haven’t told me what a search engine is." He licked, then sucked at his busted lip right before he ran his hand across it.
How could something so ferocious look so vulnerable and uncertain? These small glimpses of the real him were actually sweet. And even worse, they were charming her a lot more than she was charming him.
"You really don’t know what it is? I mean, I realize you live in…" she glanced around the dreary room. "Or rather under a rock, but you do have a computer."
"I haven’t had it long and I didn’t figure out how to make it connect to the human world until about an hour before you arrived. And you know how little time I’ve had to work it since then."
That explained a lot. And yet … "You had one before this, right?"
He shook his head. "I’d never heard of one until a demon told me about them. He said it would help me learn things quicker. But I honestly don’t see how. Books are much faster to navigate. I figured out how to open up one of those the instant I touched it. It took two days just to find the on switch for that damn thing."
His words stunned her. Had he honestly made a joke? She laughed, hoping it didn’t offend him.
Seth froze at the sweetest sound he’d ever heard. A true and sincere laugh. And it wasn’t at his expense.
No one had laughed like that around him in …
He had no idea. Had he ever heard laughter that wasn’t mocking or cruel? If he did, he had no memory of it. Nor had he seen anyone’s eyes light up like hers did.
She was so beautiful that it took his breath away. Worse, it drew him toward her when he knew he should be running for the door.
His lips twitched as if they wanted to smile, but that, too, was something he had no memory of. Surely he’d smiled as a child? Hadn’t he?
Why couldn’t he remember?
She pressed her lips together and sobered. "Sorry."
Her apology confused him even more than her laughter had. It, too, was something he couldn’t remember hearing from anyone. Ever. "For what?"
"I don’t know. You looked upset. I wasn’t laughing at you, I swear."
Lydia felt suddenly very awkward. Even though he had an extremely expressive face, she had a hard time reading it. And he never reacted the way she thought he would. Things that should make him happy made him angry and things she thought would offend him, didn’t.
She offered him a smile. "If it makes you feel better, you’re not alone with that thought. Computers make fools of us all. But I have to say that I’m highly impressed."
"You got it up and running when you’d never seen one before? That’s impressive. I have to call the Geek Squad every time I buy a new one and I’ve had one for years."
Again with the dancing, indecipherable emotions on his face. Finally, he settled on a stricken look that she didn’t understand the source of. "Did you just compliment me?"
She widened her eyes as she debated how to answer. Was he offended that she’d complimented him? It was how he acted. But that made no sense whatsoever.
"Um … yes."
This time there was no mistaking the fury in those accusatory blue eyes. "You mock me."
"How?" She was completely baffled by his behavior and attack. "By saying I think you’re intelligent?"
His breathing turned ragged as fury darkened his gaze. "I’m well aware of my flaws. All of them. The last thing I need or want is you patronizing me for it."
What had they done to him that he couldn’t even take a well-meant compliment? It broke her heart that she’d hurt him with an innocent comment that she’d intended to make him feel good. "I wasn’t patronizing you. I promise. It was my honest opinion."
Still, the angry doubt lingered in his eyes.
"I’m sorry," she said again, then returned to his desk. "I really wasn’t trying to offend or anger you."
Seth hated himself for stealing her happiness. Had she really meant that as she’d said? Was it possible she thought him intelligent?
Why would she? No one else ever had. He knew he was slow to learn. He’d always been stubborn that way. It was why it’d taken him so long to understand that machine. Why he still couldn’t get it to work.
It was why Noir beat on him all the time. He could never learn to counsel his tongue or keep his eyes down. Never learn when to shut up and not speak. Only an absolute idiot would keep confronting someone he knew was going to hurt him.
Subdued and wary, he joined her at the desk and watched as she opened things he couldn’t read or understand. "What are you doing now?"
"Well, I was looking for your bookmarks."
"But it’s not a book."
She looked up at him with an irritated twitch in her eye. "You know, if I made that comment to you, especially in that tone of voice, you’d get all testy with me and stalk off." In a tiff, she turned back in her chair. "I’m well aware of the fact that it’s not a book. Jeez!"
Seth took a minute to think about that. She was right. He’d been rude to her without meaning to. "I’m only trying to understand."
She was still pissed, but at least she explained it to him. "You bookmark favorite pages so that you can go back to them if you want."
"Like bookmarking a book."
She nodded. "Hence the term. But you don’t have any."
"I know. I told you I had trouble setting it up and turning it on."
Lydia frowned at him. "Did you follow the instructions?" Not that it ever really helped her, but still …
"You didn’t have a manual?"
"No. I didn’t understand the language it was written in."
Her jaw went slack. He was illiterate? "But you speak English flawlessly." Granted it was with a thick accent she’d never heard before, but she’d met natural-born speakers who were less fluent.
Some days even her.
"Yes. I can understand spoken languages easily. I just can’t read them."
Good grief, he was even more intelligent than she’d guessed. How he could have gotten as far with a computer as he had without a manual or while he was unable to read the language was beyond her. "Did one of the demons help you?"
He shook his head.
"Did you ask one of them for help?"
"No. No one here really talks to me."
Surrounded by many, yet always alone. In that moment, he reminded her so much of Solin that it choked her. "Is that why you gave me a voice?"
His features turned to stone as that familiar anger sparked in his chilling gaze. "I don’t need anyone to talk to me. Ever."
She had to force herself not to roll her eyes. At this point, she didn’t think she’d ever get past his defenses when he was so determined to misread her every comment and intention. "It doesn’t make you weak, you know? Everyone needs someone to confide in."
But she knew better. Even Solin, who didn’t like people as a rule, did occasionally talk to them. He’d even learned to become friends with Arik, another Dream-Hunter he’d helped out a few years back.
However, those kind of changes only happened when the person who had the issues decided to move forward. The Guardian was nowhere near that level.
And who could blame him?
It was a wonder he was even sane. The fact that he had any form of compassion was nothing short of a miracle.
Sighing, she went back to the computer.
"What are you doing?" the Guardian asked.
"I’m typing in google.com so that we can get to the site that will allow us to search for your term."
He actually moved closer to her so that he could see better. "How do you know how to do all of this?"
"I spend ungodly amounts of time surfing."
He glanced at her. "You keep saying that word. What does it mean?" His enthusiastic curiosity reminded her of a little kid.
"We’re surfing the Web right now. It’s a term people use whenever they’re online."
"Ah. So where do they surf to?"
She smiled at him. "Anywhere they want to go."
Surprise widened his eyes. "Anywhere?"
"Yeah. Name me something you’d like to see."
He fell silent for a few seconds as he pondered it, giving her time to realize that his eye was even redder than it’d been before.
Did it really not hurt?
He blinked twice, then met her gaze. "Can we see sunlight on it?"
"Sure." She did an image search.
The moment the photos displayed on the screen, his jaw went slack. Dropping to his knees, he reached for the laptop and reverently touched the first image of the sun shining through a set of clouds. "Does it still look like that?" He spoke as if he were whispering a prayer.
That sense of wonder in his voice and on his face brought tears to her eyes as she realized something else about him. "How long has it been since you last saw daylight?"
He refused to take his gaze off the images. "I don’t know. A long time." His awed expression made her want to cry for him. She couldn’t imagine being banned from daylight and the rest of the world.
"Can you show me more?"
"Sure." She leaned forward to take his hand.
He hissed as if she’d burned him, and jerked it out of her grasp.
"I was only going to show you how to navigate the browser. Don’t you want to learn how to do this without me?"
Seth hesitated. No. He didn’t want think of a time when she wouldn’t be here to do this for him.
But he couldn’t keep her and he knew it.
"Okay." He slowly held his hand out for her.
Lydia would have laughed had it not been so tragic that he was so reluctant for her touch. She brushed her hand over his bruised, swollen knuckles and laid his hand on the touchpad. The cuts there scraped her palm as she showed him how to use the pointer and click to get to what he wanted to see. There were vicious scars on his wrist that looked like someone had tried to cut off his hand.
What had they done to him?
She could feel every one of his tendons and muscles moving. More than that, she could smell the masculine scent of his skin and hair. Those two things combined were enough to make her salivate.
Even worse was the sudden desire she had to tease his earlobe with her tongue.
He’d probably hit the ceiling like a rocket if she tried. That thought made her laugh.
Until he grimaced at her. "What did I do wrong?"
"I wasn’t laughing at you. It was just a silly thought I had that had nothing to do with the laptop."
Leaning back in the hard chair, she watched him explore every photo in great detail.
Her gaze went to the bruises on his face and the vicious dark blue handprint on his throat. Injuries that reminded her of where and how they’d met.
A part of her wanted to strike him over what he’d done to Solin. It’d been so cruel.
Worse, he would have killed Solin had she not been there to stop him. How could she have forgotten that?
Don’t let him fool you. He’s evil to the core of his being.
And yet, she’d seen more to him than just a soulless killer. Besides, she knew plenty of people who thought Solin was the epitome of darkness. Those who had tried their best to kill him. In turn, he’d killed others.
Things were never black-and-white. But rather varying shades of gray.
"Why did you torture Solin?"
He paused as a muscle began to thump a steady rhythm in his jaw. "Noir told me to."
"Do you do everything Noir tells you to do?"
He turned that cold gaze to her with a fury that terrified her. "I’m not weak," he growled between clenched teeth.
The horrendous scars all over his body testified to that. Those wounds would have killed anyone else. Or at least left them hiding in a hole somewhere. "I didn’t say you were."