I hold his gaze for a minute and then nod, the smile I’ve been fighting since I saw him again finally crinkling my eyes. “Good. Now, can we please get back to the project? Or are we going to stand out here talking about our feelings all day?”
“Wow.” He gives me a fake wide-eyed look. “Turn a girl into a gargoyle and suddenly she’s all kinds of stone-coldhearted.”
“Wow.” I return his look with one of my own. “Turn a boy into a dragon and suddenly he’s all kinds of ridiculous.”
“That’s not my dragon, baby. That’s all me.”
I roll my eyes but can’t stop myself from grinning at his goofiness. It’s really good to be able to joke with him again. “I hate to break it to you, baby, but I’m pretty sure it’s the both of you.”
Flint pretends to swoon, and I take the opportunity to yank the list of photography subjects out of his hands. I’m smart enough to know if I don’t get the boy on task soon, there’s no way we’re going to finish this. And since I can use all the points I can get, we really, really should start moving.
Except, as I peruse the list again—this time with a much clearer head—I realize that we’ve got a giant problem. “Some of the things he wants us to take pictures of are way up high. There’s no way we’ll be able to get a picture of them good enough to use for research.”
But Flint just winks at me, that wicked grin of his on full display. “You do remember dragons can fly, right?”
Oh, hell no. I shake my head. “I’m sorry, but our tree of trust is still just a twig. No way am I letting you take me up into the sky.”
He laughs. “Fine, spoilsport. We’ll focus on the easy ones today. But one of these days soon, I’m totally taking you flying.”
I shiver and almost remind him he has taken me flying before—in his talons—but I don’t want to break our newfound truce. “That’ll take some convincing.”
“I live to serve, my lady,” he says as he drops into an elaborate bow, and I can’t help but laugh. He is so ridiculous that it’s hard to take him seriously.
I jokingly try to shove his shoulder, but damn, maybe he’s the gargoyle here. He’s definitely hard enough to be made of stone. “Come on, give me your phone and let’s get started, you big dork,” I joke, and Flint quickly hands me his cell. But as I turn around, I find Jaxon watching us with eyes that have turned to flat black ice.
“Finished with class already?” Jaxon asks, looking at me with a vague hint of what-the-fuck.
“Oh, no.” I take a sizable step away from Flint—not because Jaxon has said or done anything to make me uncomfortable but because I can only imagine how I’d feel if I were just walking around the school and found him cuddled up with a super-hot, super-charming dragon. No matter how innocent it was. “It’s just the class is taking a midterm, and Flint is exempt, so the teacher volunteered him to help me with an outside project I can do for the same points.”
Flint casually leans a massive shoulder against the stone wall, crossing his arms and ankles as though he hasn’t a care in the world. Jaxon’s gaze stays steady on me.
“That’s awesome. Less of that makeup work you were worried about, right?” Jaxon asks with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. Then again, I’m probably being paranoid.
“Exactly. I just hope all the teachers are as cool as Mr. Damasen.”
“Damasen?” Jaxon repeats with a startled bark of laughter. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone refer to him as cool.”
“Right?” Flint interjects. “I told her the same thing. The man’s a monster.”
Jaxon doesn’t answer him. In fact, he doesn’t even look at him. Which isn’t awkward at all.
“Well, I liked him. I mean, sure, he talks really loudly, but I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“He’s a giant.”
“I know, right?” My eyes widen as I picture the architecture teacher. “I think he’s the largest person I’ve ever seen.”
“Because he’s a giant,” Jaxon reiterates, and this time it’s impossible to miss the emphasis he puts on the last word.
“Wait a minute.” I can feel my mind stretching in an effort to internalize what he’s saying. “When you say ‘giant’…you don’t mean ‘big human.’ You mean…”
“Giant.” The remaining coldness melts from his eyes and is replaced by an amused warmth that finally has the tension leaking from my shoulders.
“Like the whole ‘Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman’ thing… That kind of giant?”
“More like the I-eat-babies kind of giant, but yeah. I guess the Jack and the Beanstalk reference works.”
“Really?” I shake my head as I try to wrap my mind around this new revelation.
“Seriously, Grace,” Flint reiterates. “Damasen’s a giant. Has a whole stack of bones from problem students in his apartment to prove it.”
My head whips around to Flint. “What?”
“But don’t worry,” he continues. “Foster doesn’t let him eat any of the good students, so you should be fine.”
Flint puts a valiant effort into keeping a straight face as I stare at him in horror, but in the end, he can’t do it. He starts to grin, but the moment I narrow my eyes at him, the grin turns into a full-blown belly laugh.
“Oh my God. You should have seen your face.” He glances at Jaxon like he wants to share the joke, but Jaxon still won’t even look at him. What seems like sadness creeps into Flint’s gaze, but he hides it with a big, goofy grin so quickly that I can’t help wondering if I saw it at all.
“You’re so mean!” I tell Flint and elbow him in the side. “How could you do that to me?” I turn to Jaxon. “Is Damasen even really a giant?”
“Yes, he’s a giant. But no, he doesn’t eat people.” He pauses, then finally glances at Flint. “Anymore.”
“Anymore?” I recoil in horror, at least until I see a tiny gleam in the corner of Jaxon’s eye. “Oh my God! That was totally uncool. Why are you two messing with me like that?”
“I thought that was my job as your boyfriend,” Jaxon tells me, but he’s smiling when he says it.
“To freak me out?”
“To tease you.” He reaches up, wraps one of my curls around his finger.
“Pretty sure he’s just looking to make a point, Grace.” Flint drapes a nonchalant arm around my shoulders and gives Jaxon a look that even I know is provoking as hell. “He wasn’t happy to find out you might let me take you for a ride.”
“Flint!” My mouth drops open for the second time in as many minutes. “Why would you say it like that?” I whirl to Jaxon. “He means dragon. I might ride his dragon!”
Flint waggles his brows. “Exactly.”
I’m so embarrassed by my unintentional double entendre that I’m sure my face is beet red. “Flint! Stop!”
I don’t have a chance to get him to clarify, though, because quick as a lightning strike, Jaxon lashes out…and punches Flint right in the mouth.
Sucker Punch Me
One More Time
For several long seconds, the whole world seems to go in slow motion.
Flint’s head slams back on his neck, so hard that he stumbles away several steps.
In the meantime, Jaxon lowers his arm and tilts his head just a little, eyes narrowed on Flint while he waits to see what his former best friend decides to do.
And I just stand there in the middle of the two of them, head swiveling back and forth as I try to figure out what I’m supposed to do next. Yell at Jaxon? Yell at Flint? Walk away and let the two of them kill each other because, seriously? Testosterone, ugh.
Before I can make a decision one way or the other, Flint rights himself. I hold my breath, expecting him to launch at Jaxon right here in the middle of the hallway. But, as usual, he surprises me. Instead of lashing out with hands or fists or fire, he just reaches up and rubs the blood off his lower lip as he stares Jaxon down, a wicked gleam in his eyes that I can’t quite identify.
And when he does finally speak, his words are as unexpected as the rest of his reaction. “You surprise me, Vega. You never used to be one to go for the sucker punch.”
Jaxon just raises an eyebrow. “Perhaps you should look up that definition, Montgomery. It’s not a sucker punch when you know it’s coming. And deliberately provoke it.”
Flint laughs, but he doesn’t look away. Neither does Jaxon, who matches him look for look. There are so many undercurrents between these two big guys, I feel like I might get sucked under, too. I stand here, trying to understand what’s really going on, what I missed. Because I definitely missed something. And then I decide that I don’t actually care. If the two of them want to go around beating their chests and each other, I’m not going to stop them. But I’m sure as hell not going to watch, either.
“You know what? While you two figure out whatever this is”—I wave an arm back and forth between them—“I’m going to go finish my assignment. I’ll find you later to return your phone, Flint.”
I turn to walk away without saying anything specific to Jaxon, which apparently is what finally gets his attention. He catches up with me and stops my indignant march by wrapping his arm around my waist and pulling me in to his side. “You don’t need to borrow his phone anymore,” he tells me, lips against my ear.
It’s the wrong thing to say to me right now, and the look I give him says exactly that. “I’m borrowing his phone, Jaxon, not ‘riding his dragon.’” I use exaggerated air quotes to highlight just how ridiculous this whole thing is. “It’s no big deal.”
Jaxon sighs. “I don’t care if you use Flint’s phone or not. I just thought you might want to use your own instead.” He uses his free hand to pull a phone from the front pocket of his backpack, then holds it out to me.