His breath caught in his throat. Her brown hair tumbled down over her shoulders, the reddish streaks like flames in the low light. A large T-shirt draped over her frame, hinting at breasts and ignoring curves altogether. It ended mid-thigh, showing shapely legs below. Fluffy white slippers supplied by the hotel covered her feet.
It took her a moment to focus on him, her eyes tired and vague, but when she did, it was the best feeling in the world. Surprise rolled over her features and her gaze dropped down his body before climbing back up to his face. There they roamed, growing increasingly more intense until her face flushed. She didn’t look away. Instead, her gaze held his, and lust kindled in her eyes.
I stood there like a dope with my mouth hanging open. Emery’s hair had been cut and styled in what I called a whoosh number, very trendy, and for good reason. His scruff had been cut off completely, but the clean-shaven look didn’t erase the tough, masculine quality that he so effortlessly exuded. His button-up shirt hugged his broad shoulders and kissed his pecs before falling down his flat stomach. His light-colored slacks showed off his powerful legs, and I couldn’t stop staring.
I just couldn’t stop.
Looking like this, with the dirt and crust stripped away (that sounded gross, but I honestly hadn’t noticed it until now), he was easily on par with the vampire. Sleek and sexy.
His smile reached his glittering eyes. He’d noticed his effect on me, but I wasn’t embarrassed. He’d earned it. He could just add this to his ego bucket.
“You’re ready for bed,” he said, stepping back into his room.
I’d meant to say goodnight and turn in, but I found myself walking after him like a lost lamb.
Get a hold of yourself!
“As I said—”
“Ah!” A jet of red zipped from my hand at the unexpected voice.
The shape moved so fast that I barely saw it, but not fast enough. My stream of magic raked across a limb, searing away shirt fabric and blistering the flesh underneath.
Clyde stopped near the door, his eyes tight and his burned arm hanging at his side.
“Oh God, I hope you heal quickly.” I bit my lip.
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” Emery laughed and crossed to the couch.
“Sorry. I didn’t know Emery had company.” I grimaced. “I probably should’ve started with sorry, shouldn’t I have? Double sorry, then.”
“I thought you weren’t trained.” Clyde glanced at his arm, already a bit less black.
“Oh. There you go. You do heal. That’s great.” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “And no, I’m not trained. I randomly came up with that red zapping spell last night when mice ran out at me.”
“Then you are a better mouser than a cat. How wonderful.” His tone was so dry that he could light it on fire.
“No, actually. I didn’t get any of the mice. They’re faster—” His face hardened. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”
Emery laughed harder.
“I’ll just…” I backed toward the door to my room.
“No, no, please.” Clyde held up his arm, probably to show that he wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t fooling anyone. His ruined shirt sleeve dangled down his side and the blackened skin oozed pus. “I was just telling Emery that a haircut and a little bit of soap and water can do wonders.”
“And first aid. First aid also does wonders.” I pointed at his arm, glinting in the soft light of the room. “And bandages. A word to the wise. Don’t walk by the dining room until you’ve got bandages. Otherwise you’ll sell far less desserts.”
Emery doubled over, holding his stomach, guffawing.
“Yes. Cute.” Clyde’s lips twisted, and I was pretty sure that was meant to be a smile. My unplanned attack had tarnished his good mood, though I couldn’t exactly blame him for that. “I will check in with you tomorrow evening. During the day, a car will be made available, should you need it. If you do attempt to infiltrate the guild compound, I would caution you—”
“You’re going to drip on the floor.” I pointed at the oozing drop crawling down his forearm. He gave me a dead stare. As in, soon I’d be dead if I kept talking. “Sorry. It’s just that the rug is white. But it’s fine. Your house, your rules.”
Emery’s laughter was making this worse.
Well, technically, my continued babbling was making this worse, but he wasn’t helping.
“As I was saying—”
“Sorry.” I curled my lips inward.
“—their compound is a complex system. It would be wise to thoroughly study it before attempting entry, and even then, consulting with me will yield you the best results. I have a semblance of a map, which I’ll leave at the front desk. It’s not detailed, but it’s something. Also, and I’m sure you’ve thought of this, three-year-old files from the Baron’s office would’ve surely been purged to their recordkeeping facility. It might not be as easy to break into that facility magically, but there will certainly be less people. But on all of this, I’d advise you to wait until Darius arrives.”
“Thank you, Clyde, I’ll take that under advisement.” Emery wiped his eyes.
“I’ll take my leave. Miss Bristol, a pleasure.” Clyde nodded stiffly and made for the door.
After he left, Emery braced his forearms on his knees. “Very little rattles that vampire. I’ve known him for years, and he’s always in good spirits and teasing. Yet in less than twelve hours, you’ve made him lose control over and over. He’s wary of you, and I think you’ve ruined his mood altogether.” He shook his head and straightened back up, his eyes shining with unshed tears of laughter. “You are an absolute gem.”
I stared at the door and picked at a fingernail. “He was pissed. I really didn’t mean to rattle him.”
“It’s fine. Come here. Sit down. Do you need anything?”
I trudged toward Emery, the fatigue of uncertainty dragging at me. I plopped down next to him on the couch, careful of what I was doing with my legs because I didn’t have pants on. “I need sleep. You?”
“Same. What… Uhm.” He rubbed his nose. “Did you have an okay evening? Oh, did I tell you that vampires can magically open locks?”
I frowned, thinking back. “No, don’t think so. Huh. Well, there goes my sense of security.”
He straightened up, looking at me intensely. “This place isn’t ideal, but they won’t try to hurt us. At least not until Darius gets here. We’ll be safe enough tonight, I’m almost positive.”
“It’s not ideal, sure, but there are no mice that I’ve seen, and it is absolute luxury. I’ll take this and the predator lock-pickers over a musty bed above a noisy bar any day.”
He smiled and bumped me gently with his shoulder. “You might not always say that, but for now, I’d have to agree.” His eyes clouded over and the smile dripped off his face. He glanced at my open door. “Would you…” Butterflies filled my stomach. “It’s no big deal if not, but would you mind… Uhm.”
I shrugged, playing it cool. “Yeah, sure. The bed is big enough. We’ll have plenty of room, so I won’t have to lie on you.”
He hesitated. “What?”
His brow furrowed. “Oh, I just…” He pointed at the door to my room.
“Wanted to sleep in the same room, right? Because that would be safer, just in case?”
His stare intensified and a queasy feeling replaced the butterflies. “Oh. Yeah, we could do that,” he said. “If you wanted.”
My stomach clenched and heat rushed to my face. “What were you going to say?”
“Oh, nothing. Yeah, sleeping in the same bed would be fine, if that would make you feel safer. I sleep the same wherever. On my back.” He cleared his throat. “I can just…” He waved his finger in the air, trying for some sort of communication that didn’t communicate anything. “I’ll just get something… I’ll just change.” Emery got up stiffly. Uncomfortably.
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