PAGE SIX

“He gathered the bundle into his arms and stumbled through his flat. One of his eyes burned from the acid that had struck it. He kept it closed as he dragged his feet and body down the steep staircase, through the heavy, metal front door, across the freshly mown backyard, and up to the trail that cut a winding, worn path through the steep hills up the mountain.

“His breathing was labored, his spirit broken. He would never trust another woman again as long as he lived. He needed to get away. He needed to cash in his investments, sell his loft, and move deep into the most deserted region he could find. Far away from this place. Far away from everyone.

“He traveled for a while. How long, he couldn’t tell, for each minute melted into the next and dragged by as he struggled to pull his mind away from the scene that would be waiting for him when he returned home.

“The horror . . . A hard shudder passed over his shoulders and down his back and arms.

“At last he reached a cliff. It dropped between the trees, far down to a pile of rocks. It was almost over. Soon he could move and pretend this never happened—a feat that would be difficult indeed.

“He held the bundle over the ravine, but before he could let it go, the swaddled creature hiccupped—such a tiny, sweet, and human sound.

“His hands shook. He squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself to let it go.

“But his hands froze. He opened his eye, the one he could open, and brought the bundle to his chest. With unsteady fingers, he pulled the top of the blanket down, exposing the one good eye the creature had. That eye—that beautiful, clear tanzanite—must have been the only true thing on the woman’s body.

“The baby coughed and wiggled in his arms. Warmth he couldn’t stop seeped into his heart.

“He held on to the child. ‘Devi,’ he whispered. And he carried the child back to his flat.

“He didn’t know how to take care of a baby. But he couldn’t dispose of it—of her. She was part of him. She wasn’t all bad.

“He tucked the child in a nest of pillows on the sofa and went into his bedroom with tired, hesitant steps to survey the damage.

“The monster was where he had left her. He avoided looking at its face and inspected the mess. He should just burn the whole place to the ground. He turned away to head for the kitchen—perhaps he had some supplies in there, something he could start a fire with—but his feet suddenly stopped in their tracks.

“The glimmer . . . what was it that she had said? Seven years and her guise would have been permanent? He turned back to the body and looked at it full on. Bile rose in his throat, and he doubled over, dry heaving a few times before retching his breakfast on the floor by her swollen feet.

“He pinched the skin between his eyes as a migraine started up along the top of his head. Sorcery. A thought hit him then. He knew what he would do for that child . . . his child. He wouldn’t settle off the beaten path right away. He would travel awhile. He would discover what had been done to him, what Dahlia had done to herself, and he would gift a permanent change to his daughter. Not a glimmer, not some shade that would wear off, not some lie that would show up in her offspring. Real, permanent change. It was not his daughter’s fault that her mother was a monster. He would make this right for her.

“He would make it right.”