Bex returned with the cake, setting it right in front of me. “Trying to keep the pregnant woman fed. It takes a vil age, ya know.”
“Very funny,” I said, but I couldn’t help from cutting a huge piece. Pregnancy was the perfect excuse for gluttony.
“Ryan has a good point,” Lil ian smiled. “You’re in a very good mood for a change.”
Jared smiled. “I took the book to Father Francis.”
“Again?” Claire said, surprised.
I swal owed the delicious, spongy bite in my mouth. “We were there all night.”
Ryan cut his own piece of cake, but handed it to Claire. “So you found something?”
“Not a damn thing,” Jared said, smiling.
Ryan cut another piece for himself, causing a wider smile from Lil ian. Claire just rol ed her eyes.
“I don’t get it,” Claire said.
Jared used his fork to attempt to cut a piece of cake from my slice, but I stuck out my elbow to defend my plate. Everyone laughed, including Jared.
Jared final y gave in and cut his own slice. “Nina and I were distracted. all we could think about was getting Shax’s book back to Jerusalem for Kim.”
Ryan pointed at me with his fork. “She cal ed me today. She’s past impatient. She was yel ing. I’ve never heard her yel .”
“It’s her lucky day, then,” I said.
“Oh yeah, why’s that?” Ryan said, chewing.
Jared put his elbows on the table and folded his arms. “Because we’re leaving for Jerusalem next week.”
Claire shrugged. “Wel , that’s smart. Ryan and I are both starting Brown in the fal , and it’s Nina’s senior year. It’s good to get it out of the way.”
Lil ian paused. “You’re going to Brown?”
Claire shrugged. “Ryan wants to start back…I just thought….”
“No, I’m thril ed!” Lil ian said, beaming.
“We’re not coming back until Bean is born,” Jared said. The entire table was silent. No one moved, and all eyes were on Jared. “The answer has been right in front of us all along. The Sepulchre is the one place I know she’l be safe until she can deliver.”
Claire frowned. “You want to live in Jerusalem for nine months?”
“Not an entire nine months,” Lil ian said. “I’m not exactly sure, but she probably only has a couple of months left.”
Jared’s face blanched. “What?”
Lil ian fiddled with her napkin. “I should have said something, son, I’m so sorry. Nina’s situation is obviously different, but a ful term Hybrid pregnancy is six to seven months. I assume it’s the same, maybe less for Bean.”
Bex smiled. “Now you’re saying it. That poor kid is never going to get a real name.”
I looked down at my stomach. Because of our situation, we had refrained from prenatal care, but I’d just assumed my pregnancy would be a normal gestation. I was measuring a bit larger than normal, but nothing out of the ordinary. Jared assumed it was because of my smal frame.
“So…July? August?” I asked.
“Possibly,” Lil ian answered.
Jared nodded. “Then it’s settled. The closer it gets, the more danger she’s in. We should leave now.”
I shook my head. “I have things at Titan I need to wrap up.”
Jared sighed, but agreed. “Okay. We’ll all take the week to prepare. We leave on Sunday.”
“Sweet!” Bex said.
“Not you,” Claire said. “You have to stay with Mom.”
“What?” Bex wailed.
Jared glared at him. “We can’t leave her alone.”
“But I have to go. You know I do!”
Lil ian frowned. “Jared, that’s ridiculous. You need everyone with you to get her there safe. The second you land, you’l be bombarded. They wil do everything they can to keep her from somewhere they can’t go.”
I swal owed. It was so close. I’d always felt like we had plenty of time before the pandemonium started.
Claire sighed. “We can’t leave you unprotected, Mom.”
“What about Grant?” Bex said.
“Bex!” Jared yel ed. His voice boomed throughout the house. Bex’s face turned red, and his eyes immediately fel .
“Grant?” I said, confused. “Grant Bristol?” No one said a word. all eyes were on the table but mine, which danced in every direction. “Titan’s Grant? Is a…Hybrid?”
“No,” Lil ian said, cupping Bex’s shoulder. “He’s an Arch.”
I dropped my fork, and it clanged against my plate. “I don’t believe it.”
Lil ian attempted to soften Jared with one of her sweetest smiles. “It’s not a bad idea.”
I turned to him, thwarting Lil ian’s effort. “This isn’t something you thought I needed to know? Are you kidding me?” I wailed.
Jared’s expression turned desperate. “You can’t expect me to tel you about every angel or demon that passes by.”
“I work with him, Jared. I…I’m just baffled why you chose to keep it from me! This makes twice today!”
“What else haven’t you told her?” Ryan asked, enjoying the show.
Jared shot a death glare in Ryan’s direction. “It was his secret to tel , Nina, and it’s real y not paramount that you know. In the grand scheme of things, it’s real y minute. You’re being unreasonable.”
“Minute.” I stood up from my seat. “I don’t think asking for a little trust, or having the expectation to not be treated like an outsider in my own company or family, is unreasonable. I don’t think being upset to be the last to know that I’m pregnant is unreasonable. I am tired of you choosing what is and is not acceptable for me to know, only for me to find out by chance sometime later like a slap in the face!”
Jared’s eyes drifted to the floor. I threw my napkin to the table, stomping up the stairs to the bedroom in Oscar-worthy fashion. I sat on the bed, stil fuming. A smal knock at the door only amplified my anger.
“Go away, Jared.”
“I don’t want to talk to you, either.”
Claire, being Claire, walked in anyway. She sat on the bed next to me, crossing her arms. She sat silent for the longest time, and final y took a breath.
“I get it, you know. They don’t tel me nonessential information, either. It’s crap.”
“It’s demeaning is what it is.” I frowned in her general direction. “I’m his wife. I understand I’ve been the token human that doesn’t understand the rules of the universe, but for the love of all things holy. I know enough by now. He should trust me.”
“It’s not that he doesn’t trust you. He tries to keep your life as normal as possible. He knows how important that is to you.”
“It’s a moot point these days, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would, but I don’t love you like he does.”
My mouth pul ed to the side. She was fighting dirty. Jared loved me, and at times let that fact cloud his judgment. It was impossible to stay angry at him for it. Jared keeping Grant a secret from me defied logic. It simply didn’t make sense.
“He should have a good reason for keeping things from me, and he doesn’t have one.”
“It’s a very human reason, actual y.”
“Grant’s been in love with you for ages. Why do you think Jack was constantly pushing him in your direction?”
“That doesn’t make sense, either. Jack didn’t want me with Jared because of the prophecy. He definitely wouldn’t want me with an Arch.”
Claire raised an eyebrow, and the same side of her mouth turned up. “What do teenage girls do when their parents tel them not to do something?” Claire said. “If Jack told you to stay away from Grant, you would have run straight for him.”
“Ick,” I said. “No one’s that stubborn.”
I sighed. “Why didn’t Jack use the same logic with Jared?”
“He didn’t have to. He forced Jared to stay out of sight. That solved the problem. Grant didn’t take orders from Jack.”
“Oh, yes, he did. I saw it on many occasions.”
“You saw what they wanted you to see.”
“Stil doesn’t explain why he kept it from me,” I huffed.
“Jared might seem divinely perfect, but he’s human, too, Nina. He can make decisions based on the fear of losing you to someone else just like any other insecure boyfriend. It hasn’t been the first time.”
“He’s not my boyfriend any more.”
“Once he waited to tel you, it was something he’d kept from you. It was already too late, wasn’t it?”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Of course I am,” Claire said, pulling me to my feet. She slapped my backside. “Now go kiss and make up with your husband who is more than likely kicking himself right now.”
I walked to the door, hesitated, and then final y pul ed it open. Jared stood in the hal way, his hands in his pockets.
I crossed my arms. “You look like you lost your best friend.”
“Did I?” he asked, miserable.
My shoulders fel .
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I swear that’s everything. You know everything else.”
“I think I’ve heard that before,” I said, walking to him until I was just inches away.
Jared touched each side of my stomach and looked down, his eyes dark with worry and guilt. I wrapped my arms around his neck and touched my cheek to his. We stood silently for a long while in that embrace. Holding him felt just as good if not better than the first time. The electricity was stil there, and I had the same desperate need to be closer to him. He smel ed just as amazing, and his skin was stil as soft. Too many months had passed since we took a moment to ourselves just to hold each other. I tried to be present in that moment and be aware of everything possible. We would leave in eight days, facing the fight of our lives. I didn’t know when this moment would happen again.
His hand slipped to my lower back, and he pul ed me closer. I lifted my chin, and his lips touched mine. I dug my fingers into the skin of his arms, and then deeper into the muscle. His tongue slipped into my mouth, but then he pul ed away.
“Ahem,” Ryan said.
I turned to see the source of the interruption standing next to Claire at the top of the stairs.
“Figures,” Jared grumbled.
We returned downstairs together, joining Bex and Lil ian in the foyer. I hugged my mother-in-law goodbye, smiling when her enthusiastic hug became a bit too tight.
“I love you,” she said, kissing my hair. She looked to Jared. “Be good to each other.” Jared nodded, and she waved goodbye.
I walked into the dining room, and Jared, Claire, and Ryan fol owed.
Ryan and Claire began clearing the table. Ryan smiled and elbowed her. “Your mom loves me.”
“She loves everyone,” Claire sneered. “You’re not special.”
“You don’t love everyone. I’d say that makes me pretty special…since you do.”
Claire glanced at Jared and me, clearly embarrassed. “You wish!”
“Just say it,” Ryan said.
“Stop tel ing me what to do,” Claire snapped back.
He crossed his arms. “It’s because I’m human, isn’t it?”
Claire’s eyes narrowed. “Seriously? It is possible that I just don’t like you.”
“Me?” Ryan said, pointing to his chest. “Nah,” he said, dismissing her suggestion. “You’re a strong woman. I get it. Not many can handle it that their girl could kick their ass. Even fewer soldiers, and even fewer Special Forces guys. But I get it, and I can keep up with you more than anyone else could. I’ve had training…and we’ve pretty much been told by the Creator of the Universe that we have to spend all of our time together. How much proof do you need?”
Claire turned and swiped her leg under Ryan’s feet, throwing him to the ground, flat on his back. “First of all , you can’t keep up with me. Second of all —”
Ryan kicked forward, and then leapt to his feet. Claire crouched in a defensive position. Ryan smiled at her reaction. “I can keep up with you.”
“I doubt that.”
“Try me. If I can’t, I’ll leave you alone.”
Claire looked at Ryan from under her brow. Her ice-blue eyes turned murderous, but under them was a mischievous smile.
I frowned. “This is a terrible idea.”
“Too late now,” Claire said.
She bent her knee and shoved her boot into Ryan’s stomach. He flew across the room and flattened against the wal , fal ing to the ground. He stumbled to his feet and sucked in a few times, the air knocked out of him.
I cringed. “At least she’s not wearing stilettos.”
Ryan shot an annoyed look my way, and then coughed a few times. He stood on wobbly knees and lifted his hands, palm-out to Claire. “You should know by now that I don’t give up.”
Claire grinned with devilish intent. “I’m going to enjoy this.”
“Not as much as me,” Jared said. I glared at him, and he shrugged. “What?”
Claire attacked, and Ryan turned. With a different adversary, he would have turned at the precise time to avoid a landed punch, but Claire was faster than the supernatural y fast—and she preferred kicking.
Claire spun around, her heel making contact with Ryan’s backside. He was shoved forward a few steps, and then turned and punched. His hand met the drywal , and it cracked in several pieces around his fist.
“He better know how to fix that,” I grumbled.