Stunned, I couldn't move. My breath went still in my chest as I stared at the door through which Luke had just left. Matthias. Luke hadn't seen him. "This…can't be." I crossed to the door, shut it, pressing my back against it. "Why can't he see you? Why can't anyone see you?"
"Abria sees me."
I shook my head, put my hands over my ears. "No. You're playing some kind of trick on me. Either that or I am severely hung-over from the party the other night. Maybe I'm still asleep. This is all a dream. I've had dreams like this that have gone on for days. I'm just not waking up. Wake up, wake up."
"Zoe, I thought you understood why I was here."
"Yes, yes, I thought I did. But….Luke was standing five feet away. He didn't see you. That has to mean you aren't really here."
"But I am."
"How can you be if he didn't see you?"
"I told you, visions come to spirits particularly sensitive to things Divine."
"I…I'm not sensitive. I'm not special. I'm not. I swear sometimes. And I've cheated and lied. I-"
He stepped toward me, his hands reaching out to touch me, but in that same instant I was sure his touch would convince me of his existence, he slowly withdrew and his hands fell back to his sides. "Zoe, no mortal is perfect. You don't have to be. Your heart only has to be in the right place."
My heart rang like a bell, reverberating truth, warm and soothing through my system. I stepped away from the door.
"You're also very kind and considerate of your sister, brother, of your parents. You feel their struggles and pains as if they were your own. Your heart, Zoe…is in the right place."
Around me, the air seemed to fill with the sound of a thousand beating hearts. I covered mine with the palms of my hands. Surging inside of my chest, waves of emotion rose and ebbed, rose and ebbed with each of my breaths. I closed my eyes, fighting tears. A delicious joy filled every space inside until all traces of doubt were satisfied, as if my hungry soul had at last eaten.
When I opened my eyes again, I looked into the clear blue of Matthias's.
"I believe you," I murmured. "I believe you. But…I still don't understand how I can see-"
"You have faith in me."
That same rush I'd just experienced surged again through my being. My knees buckled. I reached for the window ledge to steady myself and took deep breath. Abria played quietly on the floor at our feet, and I watched her in awe of the simple miracle.
Matthias. Here. With me. Breathing. The vein alongside his neck pulsed with life. And yet…I didn't try my brain with the logistics, too exhausted from the previous effort to intellectually understand and make sense of him.
My gaze traveled over his face, the youthful soft skin on his cheeks in spite of the fact that a guy his age should have stubble. The only imperfection anywhere, a small scar over his right brow. The contours of his neck. The hollow at the base of his throat. His chest, what I saw peering through the opening of his pale pink shirt, was smooth and unblemished. My gaze continued traveling over the hint of well-toned body beneath smooth, caressing fabric draping over torso and legs.
At last my eyes met his. Something flashed in the depth of his irises. I blinked to make sure I wasn't imagining anything, and it was gone. All that remained was a teasing sparkle over his magnificent grin. "Are you finished?" he asked.
My face heated. I averted my gaze to Abria, engrossed in examining her hand.
"You're quite sure I'm real now, aren't you?"
Whatever he was didn't matter to me at that moment, overcome as I was with the desire to kiss him. I stepped closer. His eyes widened just enough to signal to me that if I'd had the guts to reach out and place my hand over his heart, I'd feel it pounding.
"I'm not sure." Slowly, I raised my arm to perform the test. My pulse quickened. His wide blue eyes locked on my hand as if I held a dagger. More than anything I wanted to touch him. Yet the sheer alarm on his face stopped my hand a mere inch from his rising and falling chest. The heat from his body pressed upwards against my palm, as if luring my flesh to his. Not once did he take his eyes from mine.
"Why can't I touch you?" I whispered.
Beneath my hand, his chest rose and fell erratically, taunting me. So easily I could press my hand there, so intensely I yearned to.
As if it took great effort, his gaze shifted from mine to my hand poised over his heart. The corner of his jaw drew tight. I knew I should not follow through with my wish to touch him. Just as fleetingly luscious as the idea started, it ended in black confusion.
I withdrew my hand, fighting an inner demon that still wanted to satisfy my craving to feel him for myself. We stared at each other.
I had the feeling come over me that I'd come very close to something off limits. Not unlike that whisper of warning I'd often had when I'd been close to danger or harm, only I knew Matthias meant me no harm and he was not associated with anything dangerous. The whispering was more about something beyond my knowledge that I couldn't understand, but was pertinent to who he was and why he was there, and my touching him might interfere with that.
I stepped back. A look of relief lit his eyes, replaced by concern. "You've done nothing wrong, Zoe."
"I don't feel that way."
"Yet you don't feel guilty. Do you?"
"How do you know what I feel?" I pressed my hand over my heart as if to shield it from him. "You seem to know everything."
"Spirits aren't confined to communicating with their lips."
"But you're human."
"In a manner of speaking."
"So you mean…you can read my thoughts?"
"In another manner of speaking, yes."
Holy crap. My eyes widened. Just seconds ago I'd thought about kissing him. No. Some thoughts had to be off limits, right? He smiled. Clasping his hands behind his back, he rocked back on his heels.
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