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“Uh-oh. Here.” He reached for me before wobbling again, hitting his shoulder against the wall. “You’ve done a number on me.” He braced an arm around my back and swung my legs up, cradling me against his chest. “My father will be going swimming with me. You’ll need to get out while he’s out of the house. You can’t stay.” Regret crossed his features, but the expression was gone so fast I second-guessed whether I’d seen it at all. “Do you understand?”

“You mean I can’t hang around the house of a guy who might turn me into a mindless zombie hell-bent on ripping souls out of people’s bodies? What bullshit.” I laughed and leaned my head against his shoulder, utterly and blissfully content.

I’d wait until I made it out of the house in one piece to reflect on what an absolutely terrible idea this had been. On his repeated declaration that I was his, and how delicious it felt to hear him say it. I’d certainly wait to think about how completely fucked up our working relationship was bound to be now that I’d given in to him.

And how much I already wanted to do it again.

24

Alexis

“What in the actual fuck—” Bria cut herself off, cocking her head at me. She dragged her gaze down my body as she edged a little more out of the second-floor room she’d been hiding in. “What…”

I smoothed the high-fashion shirt that currently draped my body in elegant sheets of expensive silk and…other stuff I couldn’t put a name to because I’d never owned any nice clothing before.

“He had a drawer of clothes for me,” I said as heat crept into my face.

“He had a drawer of clothes for you,” she repeated in a flat tone. “And why, pray tell, did he have a drawer full of clothes for you?”

I glanced down the empty hallway. Kieran had granted us a short window in which to get out unnoticed. He’d gone swimming with his dad—I assumed their pool was the ocean—and ordered their butler to arrange drinks and snacks for them upon their return. Before leaving, he’d described the best way out of the house, and grilled me about the hidden tunnels.

I had a feeling that someday I’d be back here, and I’d need to chat with Mr. Cheater and his miserable mistress about all the entrances to the hidden hallways.

“He stole some of my clothes a few weeks ago, and from that, and his clearly detailed eye, he figured out my measurements and arranged for clothes to be purchased for me.” I flicked my hair, pretending like that was totally normal. “He has always assumed he’d get me in his bed, and clearly he was ready to lord his conquest over me. It’s no big deal.”

“But you didn’t end up in his bed?”

“No!” It wasn’t lying, simply omitting that I’d ended up against his wall.

Heat washed through me. That situation had been so incredibly hot that now I was pretty sure beds were overrated. I might never want to bang in a bed again. Not when a wall was present, teamed with a man strong enough to hold my weight and then some.

Bria shook her head. “Dare I ask how you ended up in his room in the first place?”

I followed her down the hall, flustered. “That ghost from earlier got me into a secret hallway, and I ended up in Kieran’s room. His room takes up half the top floor of the house.”

“Uh-huh. So he found you in his cavernous room and then happily showed you your drawer?”

“Not happily. He tried to push his weight around, and I gave him a piece of my mind.”

“Uh-huh.” I could tell by her tone that she knew exactly what had happened.

I clenched my fists. “And then I had sex with him. Okay? Happy? I slapped him across the face, then gave in and banged him.”

“Well. You sure showed him.” She raised her hand and grabbed something imaginary. “Toot, toot.”

“What are you doing?”

“All aboard for the train of bad decisions.” She tugged what I now realized was a chain again. “Toot, toot.”

“It was just this once,” I said, trying really hard to believe it. Maybe if I said it enough, it would be true. “Now I know what it was like, the question was answered, and I’m done. It’s out of my system. Besides…” I wiped my hand across my suddenly flushed face. “Guys like him just want the conquest. He got it, and now he’ll get bored. It’s finished.”

“Guys expecting to get bored don’t give a woman her own drawer.” She glanced back at the large canvas sack I’d stolen from his closet and stuffed nearly full. I dragged it along the hall behind me. “And they surely wouldn’t expect the object of their affection to then steal everything out of said drawer and take off.”

“That’s his fault. Clearly he doesn’t know me very well.”

“Clearly.” She stopped at a double door, one of the doors slightly cracked.

“Wait…” I blinked and looked around. In my Kieran-induced haze, I’d shut off my survival instinct, thinking wrongly that Bria would lead me out of the house. Kieran had texted her the instructions, after all.

Stupid me.

“Where are we?” I asked in hush.

“Valens’s room. Probably. Come on, let’s have a quick look.”

“Wait, what? No!” I looked down the empty hall, half expecting Valens to come strolling along at any moment. “We need to get out of here.”

“We will. Right after we have a look.”

“Bria, no. Wait.” I grabbed her arm and pulled her back, rougher than I’d intended. “We just had a narrow miss. We can’t chance another run-in.”

Bria faced me, her bearing confident and mood calm. I had no idea how she did it. Or how she was still alive.

“We’ve been through all this…to give up in the final hour?” she asked, her tone disappointed. “We’re right here, Alexis. We’re right outside his door, and we’ve got time. Time that we’re wasting right now. That trophy room gave us a couple great clues. Maybe this room will give us another. Or hell, maybe he’s got the skin in there. I wouldn’t doubt it, as fucking nutty as he clearly is. You think a drawer is a bit much? This guy built a fountain. A fucking fountain, Alexis. It would stand to reason that his room would have something of interest. And if it doesn’t, I bet his office would…”

I held up a finger while pressing my lips together, matching her disapproval. “I might be convinced to duck into this room for a moment, but I am not going into his office. I am drawing a hard line on that one.”

A smile spread across her face and she winked. “I figured that would work. Come on.”

She pushed open the door and dashed into the room.

She’d just played me. I needed to stop being so damn gullible.

Light greeted me as I stepped into the large room, a tiny bit smaller than Kieran’s, but twice as plush. Half of the view was a sparkling blue expanse, and the other half appeared to be the corner of the neighbor’s beautifully cultivated yard and the glittering orange of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. In keeping with the rest of the house, a cream rug spread across the hardwood floor and a gaudy mirror and some crappy abstract paintings decorated the walls. An enormous bed jutted out in the middle of the room, and a little sitting area comprised of a cream couch and a white-topped coffee table had been arranged beside the windows. An uncomfortable looking chair pushed back against the wall next to the dresser.

“Clearly someone was just trying to fill the room,” Bria said, already scanning the bookcase in the far corner. “What stupid little knick knacks in front of a useless shelf of books. I mean, if he’s some great reader and didn’t want to walk down the hall to get—”

I let her words drift away as I closed my eyes, slipping smoothly into that light trance. The more I did it, the more natural it felt.

No magic buzzed through my body. No vibration beckoned to me. The room was clear.

“Nothing,” I said, opening my eyes as disappointment dragged at me. It would’ve been so much easier if he’d been keeping the skin in his closet. Or under the bed. But he wouldn’t have stowed it somewhere and left it unprotected.

“Are you sure?” Bria asked, moving toward the closet as though she’d heard my thoughts.

I nodded, looking over a weird statue on the dresser, and then a picture of a little boy, four or five, with a tiny fish on the end of his fishing pole. Wild weather whipped the boy’s hair and boiled in the sky. White points capped the waves in the body of water behind the boy—a lake or a bay. The bow of a simple wooden boat could be seen in the corner of the frame.

“Kieran,” I said, leaning closer. I could see the resemblance of this little face to the man he was today, his triumphant smile making those stormy blue eyes glitter with pride. His cheeks and the tip of his nose were red, the biting cold leaving its effect. “Kieran in Ireland. Must be. We don’t get weather that extreme here, not even in the magical zone when Valens is in a bad mood.”

Bria stopped behind me. “You must be right. Wow. I wouldn’t expect Valens to be a proud papa.”

“Me neither. But then, I wouldn’t have expected him to have a big fountain of his dead wife, whom he basically tortured. Just goes to show…”

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