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His laughter filled the room. He shook with it, bending over with a box, the fragments inside jingling for all they were worth.

I hit him with a box of napkins. “Shut up. I’ve never been in that situation before. I panicked.”

“What situation? A magic fight or trying to run someone over?”

I rolled my eyes and ignored the questions. “Well, if you didn’t want a fight, why did you stalk into the middle of the street with that black ball?” The smile dripped off his face. Then something dawned on me, and my stomach churned. “Oh my God—”

“Don’t say the Lord’s name in vain,” he said, his tone not as teasing as he’d probably intended. His gaze had turned intense. Sorrowful. Something was troubling him.

I couldn’t worry about his drama right now. I had my own.

“I killed that one guy, didn’t I?” I palmed my chest. “You told me the white magic was mine…”

“Survival magic,” he said. “Yours is pure white.”

My head spun and my legs weakened as the full extent of what I’d done dawned on me. Running over dead guys killed by someone else was one thing; killing someone with magic was something else entirely. I’d sworn not to use magic until I knew how (I kept breaking that rule), and I’d killed another person because of it.

I stepped back on wobbly knees, reaching behind me for the edge of the bed. My fingers brushed it, but I was already falling, my head light.

“Whoa, whoa. Hey…” The sound of boxes crashing preceded a pair of strong arms wrapping under my legs and around my back. I was rising before I’d hit the ground.

He held me tightly against his body as he stepped closer to the bed, the effort of holding me not causing him any strain. Like always, electricity surged between us. I soaked into it, letting it cocoon me.

“You had no choice.” Emery’s deep voice rumbled inside his chest. “They would’ve killed you if you hadn’t reacted. That’s what our survival magic does. It protects us in the direst situations. Usually our subconscious directs it, like it did with you.”

I sighed, burrowing a little deeper into his arms. He paused in putting me down, and I could feel the uncertainty in his hold. I needed him to keep holding me. Needed a couple minutes of his comfort to wash away my growing uncertainty. I was managing as best I could, but it was tough to come to grips with the stark reality of what I’d done with magic—again—not to mention the whole “Joe turning into a wolf” thing. I was living in a daydream half the time, and a nightmare the other half, shifting back and forth by the minute. A little taste of Emery’s strength and power was welcomed.

He must’ve sensed it, because he straightened up and adjusted his hold. My head inched up his shoulder until my face rested against the hollow of his neck.

“I just need a moment,” I mumbled into his warm skin.

“Of course. Take as long as you need.” He swayed, rocking me. “I mean it, Penny. You honestly didn’t have a choice,” he cooed, his voice soft. He squeezed me tightly. “Those three men had killed more than their fair share of mages. Innocent people who got in the way of the guild. Your conscience is clear. Should be clear. You were defending yourself.”

“I know,” I said, and nearly meant it. “It’s just a shock, is all. All of this is a shock.”

“I can imagine. But you are handling it beautifully. You might be easygoing most of the time, and content to follow directions, but you have a deep fire in you, Penny Bristol. When it is required of you, that fire rages. Don’t be ashamed of it. Your father would be happy to know you have some of your mother in you.”

The electricity filtered down until it hummed deep and low in my gut, tightening my body. I lifted my head a little as I slid my palm up his chest and then hooked my arm around his shoulder. I wasn’t sure where I was going with this, but when he suddenly stilled and the muscles along his arms and chest popped, I blinked out of my reverie.

“Sorry,” I said, tearing my hand away. “And thanks. Your words help. Except the bit about my mother, but I guess I should come to grips with that.”

His chuckle was soft and his hands felt strong and reassuring against my body. The breath exited my lungs slowly, washing over his neck. I hesitated within the sphere of his heat, knowing exactly what I’d intended when I’d felt him up. But I wouldn’t be able to give him what he was expecting, and then it would turn embarrassing for me and frustrating for him. Best not to tease him. Then accidentally kill him with my unconscious power if he got too handsy.

“Anyway.” I forced myself to push away. He set me down gently, staying close, and only then did I notice the slow churn of the magic surrounding us. “Am I doing that?”

“We are. We are doing that together. When we create this focused bubble around us, the magic flirts and plays within it.”

I stared up into his eyes, like looking at the Milky Way on a clear night. My gaze roamed the angles of his face and his defined jaw before stopping on his lush lips, shapely in a way that softened the severity of his features just enough to make him startlingly attractive.

“We should get the rest of these boxes set to rights.” I meant to step away, but my hand ended up on his chest, my palm over his heart.

He covered my hand with his, his gaze open and raw. Inviting and pleading and filled with pain and longing. His whole history was expressed in that look, topped off with the shared need we felt in the moment. “Okay.”

Our breath mingled and his head bent a fraction. The air between us heated and I strained upward.

“My bad,” Joe said.

I jumped at the sudden intrusion. The magic ballooned around us before morphing into a spear and blasting toward the door. Joe dove out of the way for the second time, his reactions, thankfully, fast.

“Would you stop doing that?” he demanded, not reappearing. “This is my bar, damn it! I shouldn’t be shot at with magic in my own bar. Not to mention the door was open.”

The electricity around us dissipated, and with it, the magic. I brushed myself off, a random reflex that made no sense in the moment, and looked around at the boxes on the floor. “Sorry about that, Joe. If that was my fault, I mean.”

“That was your fault, yes,” Emery said, his smile back but his eyes still deep and intense. “I don’t make spells that crude. Just jokes.”

Joe poked his head into the doorway. “Can I come in, or are you going to shoot at me again?”

Chapter Twenty-Four

I lay on my side, my head propped up on my hand, nestled in the small bed beside Emery, who lay on his back next to me, taking up way more room than a normal guy should. I was against the wall, so while I wouldn’t fall out, being crushed by muscles was a real possibility.

The pillow had been discarded, since it smelled like a dead person and had suspicious brown stains splotched over the white surface, which made an already uncomfortable situation that much worse. Stacked boxes, some misshapen due to critters darting out for my feet (I couldn’t seem to zap the buggers) lined the walls in rows, leaving a small aisle.

Emery had offered to sleep on the floor, but I would not be responsible for vermin eating his face. Besides, there wasn’t enough room. I would’ve fit better, and there was no way I would opt to sleep down there.

A sliver of light cut across the floor from underneath the closed door. Another slice cut through the room from the moonlight peeking in through the single small window. It seemed the sky had finally cleared.

“Why is there a bed in the stockroom?” I asked into the hush. A moment later, the rhythmic pound of bass started up as the jukebox in the bar below began the next song.

Emery drummed his fingers on his stomach. “Whenever Joe and his wife have a big fight, Joe stays here.”

“They must be getting along.”

“They must. I didn’t know about the couch, or I would’ve thought of somewhere else for us to stay.”

“What couch?”

“He used to have a couch, too. I think at one point this was going to be a man cave or something.”

“Then where would the supplies go?”

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