Salem is my twin sister. She loved me. She protected me. She forgave me, even after I failed her. I just got her back after searching for three long, lonely years.
Then there’s Clay. Sweet yet intense and nursing a dark past of his own, he’s all the redemption I don’t deserve. He wants to open me up and know the insides of my soul. I want to let him, but I’m scared he’ll run from what he finds.
But I can’t have them both.
My name is Aria. And today, I must choose. One of the two people I love has to die.
In moments like these, everything slowed. Salem always joked that it was life’s way of making sure you didn’t miss the turning points, the important bits. As if gravity sank heavier and heavier with the weight of the moment until the world was too heavy to turn and everyone held their breath.
It certainly felt like that now. My next action, my next word, would change all of our lives.
“Aria,” Clay’s deep voice reached my ears. “Whatever happens…I love you.” The usual assuredness and authority was gone. Instead, strain and hurt had crumpled up and shoved into his throat. Choose me. Save me. Love me.
Before him my life had felt like a stack of old movies; frames missing or out of order, muted crackling sound, flickering and shuttering away, unloved and unseen in an old unused cinema.
Then I found him. Or he found me.
He created a warm shield around me where I could be safe. He coaxed away all my layers and shed all my masks and his love soaked right into my skin, right into the very soul of me. He pulled out the fossil buried inside that had been my heart and breathed life into me.
How could I give up the man I loved? The one who loved me with a fierce and unwavering passion, the man who made me feel like I could defeat demons as long as he was by my side.
Winking in the threads of sunlight piercing through the solemn gray clouds, seed fluff twirled about me like swirling, dancing couples. Spinning around like Salem and I used to do in our backyard, hands clasped together tightly, turning round and round, eyes to the sky, our twin voices giggling and floating into the air like dandelions.
She had been my shield before Clay.
“I’m nothing without you, Aria,” Salem’s voice trembled, desperation leaking into the breaths between her words. Choose me. Need me. Love me.
How could I end her? I just got her back. For so long we shared almost everything, and she protected me. Her whole life had been about protecting me. Because she loved me that much.
How could I turn against her, toss her away like an old broken toy?
But I had to choose.
I could see us now, the three of us making a chain like when I was a kid, folding pieces of colored paper into rectangles, cutting out an arm, a leg, and half a head, and unfurling my new patterns in the light to reveal a line of paper dolls. Clay, Salem and I − we were all just paper dolls in a paper chain, me in the middle, each end pulling tighter and tighter until something had to tear.
Even now as I stare between Clay and Salem, trying to digest our impossible situation, Hope is still there, that terrible pixie, fluttering on my shoulder, whispering.
Maybe it doesn’t have to end this way?
Fuck you, Hope. Here’s the truth.
Nobody is coming.
No one will save us.
And someone isn’t going to make it out of this forest today.
“Choose,” my sister screamed. “It’s either him or me.”
My fingers tightened around my gun in a reflex. This was it. I either ended her. Or destroyed Clay.
I squeezed my eyelids shut for a moment, just for a moment of peace. Just for an instant I could shut out the inevitable, and in this blessed darkness I believed I could conceive a way that both could exist in my life. A way that I could choose Salem and Clay.
You can’t have both.
What do you do when someone puts a gun to your head? Clay’s words came back to me, echoing as loud in my mind as if he had just spoken them. You refuse to bend. You push back. You find another way. You take that gun off him and put it back in his face. But you do not give in.
Find another way…
I knew what I had to do. A kind of peace settled on my skin, as delicate as gossamer, as light as silk.
I opened my eyes to a world of bright light until my vision adjusted. The torn and pained faces of the two people I loved came into focus. The only two people I’ve shared air with while we slept, the same two people I’d crawl into Hell to be with, and the only two people I would die for. I forced the ghost of a smile forward.
And turned the gun on myself.
Hanna is the bestselling author of the Bound romantic suspense series and the Dark Angel fantasy series. Although she writes in more than one genre she can’t write a book without weaving together a complicated plot and filling it with twists. She writes what she believes: good people can do bad things, ordinary people can do great things, and choose love above everything.
Eternally restless, Hanna has lived in Indonesia, Australia, Germany, Scotland, England, Croatia and Ireland – everything she owns fits into one suitcase. She’s planning her next move with her gorgeous (and understanding) partner right now. If not writing, she can be found wandering a dusty market in Marrakesh or trekking a mountain in Peru, often using her travels as settings in her novels.
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