“Wait—” Daisy held out her hands before looking down at herself, then back at the house. “If he’s changed something, I need to see it. You cave too easily, Lexi, you know you do. He’ll add in some bonus that’ll help Mordie or me, and you’ll go along with whatever horrible thing he’s trying to trap you into doing.”
I held up a hand to stop what I knew was coming. “There is no way you’re getting into this car looking like that. If it becomes mine, I don’t want sweat stains.”
“Simply unsavory,” Frank muttered.
“It’s leather. It’ll just wipe off,” Mordecai said reasonably.
“No.” I wiggled my finger at Daisy as Zorn sat into the driver’s seat.
“Get in,” Zorn barked. “We’re three minutes behind schedule.”
“See?” I tapped my bare wrist. “The robot is worried about his schedule. I’ll just have to go alone. How will I manage?”
I got into the passenger’s side.
“This isn’t wise,” Mordecai said. “You’re not good at this type of stuff, Lexi. Which is why you’re in this situation in the first place.”
“When I was young, children were seen and not heard,” Frank said.
“Just go.” I slammed the door with a pleasing cush and breathed in the delicious new car smell. “Go. The longer we stick around, the more likely they are to force their way into the car.”
“You let those kids rule you.” Zorn slid the car in gear and moved away from the curb.
“Not rule me so much as…keep me from doing anything harebrained.”
“You’re not a great authority figure.”
“Gee thanks, Zorn. Wow. What a great insight. It really warms my heart.”
“It’s a good thing. Kids in their situation need to be hard. You’ve forced them to be independent, while shrouding them in a loving environment. You’ve created a strong pack mentality— your success is their success, and vice versa—and your bumbling and incompetence have forced them to be leaders and caregivers themselves. Their sense of responsibility will help them get ahead. They’ll be the top of their trade.”
Heat pricked my eyes at what he said about the kids. The sting of the insult lowered my brow. For someone who was usually silent, he sure knew how to pick his words for maximum impact. “That was a good backhanded compliment, Zorn. On a related note, you don’t have many friends, do you?”
His jaw clenched.
At the end of the street, I expected him to take a right, heading toward the magical zone. Instead, he took a left, which would take us farther into the dual-society zone.
San Francisco was divided into three zones—magical, where magical people lived under the rule of Demigod Valens and the magical governing body, non-magical, where only those without magic resided, and what I called the crack between the societies, the dual-society zone.
Neither government really cared what went on in the no-man’s land between the magical and non-magical zones. It was a crusty place without a lot of money or curb appeal. Generally, criminals, poor people, and outcasts lived in the crack.
“Are you taking me somewhere to kill me, you sly dog?” I said with mock humor.
“If only,” he answered.
Shivers washed over my body. When it came to Demigod Kieran, surprises were dangerous. They put me off-balance, which meant he was more likely to get what he wanted.
I hated when Daisy was right.
We stopped in front of a ramshackle building with five ground-level doors and three “available for lease” signs. On the other side of the street, sand from the beach spilled out onto the sidewalk and into the gutter. Blue sky stretched over the crisp blue of the ocean. This was the edge of nowhere—a dirty beach, deep into the dual-society zone, where few people would willingly hang out.
“What’s this?” I asked, not reaching for the door handle.
He paused in getting out. “Your new headquarters. Demigod Kieran wants to keep you under the radar for your own protection. Setting up an office in this part of town should help with that goal.”
“Well then, yes. It is very clear he bought me this expensive car with his reputation in mind. I can see the correlation.”
“Your sarcasm is draining.”
“So is your face, Oh Expressionless Wonder. I’d say we’re even.”
He grunted and stood from the car. I sighed and did the same.
Part of me was intensely relieved. I’d avoided the magical zone my whole life. My motivations had changed, but my aversion was no less intense. I was about to tamper in Valens’s business, so I was all too happy to stay out of his territory.
The other part of me was really annoyed, because if I didn’t have a high dollar office to report to, why the hell would I need a high dollar car? It felt like confirmation Kieran was trying to sweeten me up for something, and I’d probably have to refuse out of principle.
I gazed at the car wistfully. The kids were right, I really did love designer labels.
“You coming?” Zorn barked, standing at the leftmost door in the decrepit building. A piece of yellow police tape fluttered not far away, trapped in a straggly bush.
“Jesus. Give a girl a moment to collect her thoughts.” I positioned my handbag just so, lifted my chin to show my confidence, and strutted forward like I was in complete control of all things.
Kieran needed me more than I needed him. Now that Mordecai’s illness had been cured, the kids and I could scrape by. But without me, Kieran’s mother would continue to be trapped in the world of the living. I needed to remember who had the upper hand, and use that to my advantage—or at least as a means of bolstering my confidence.
But as soon as I walked through the door and into the office, all of that washed away.
Kieran stood at the back of a small but lavish room, wearing a white T-shirt and faded blue jeans that hugged his muscular body. Raven hair, cut short on the sides and longer on top, matched the color of his regal, high-arching eyebrows. A narrow nose ended above luscious and shapely lips that softened his strong jaw and sharp cheekbones, turning severe into ruggedly handsome. Incredibly ruggedly handsome.
Large shoulders stretched the white cotton, pulling at the seams. Cut pecs stood out over his flat stomach, which I knew from (brief) experience was a glorious six-pack bordering on an eight-pack. Powerful thighs gave those jeans something to show off.
The man was a legend, but none of that could compete with those entrancing, stormy blue eyes—wild and vicious and passionate. His delving stare hit me like a Mack truck before reaching down into me, all the way to my soul. The world dropped away, and all I knew was him, this moment, and the incredible desire surging through my body.
His large hand swung up and touched the center of his chest, like he was reaching for his heart. My own heart quickened at the movement.
“She has refused the car, sir,” Zorn said, and just like that, the moment shattered.
My exhale was audible. I may have staggered, just a little, but I passed it off like the rug had grabbed my heel. No biggie.
A grin wrangled Kieran’s kissable lips. “As I told you she would. Were the kids the deciding factor?”
Zorn grunted and moved off to the corner of the small office.
With the spell of Kieran’s hotness broken, for now, I could finally take a look around.
The outside of the building hadn’t been touched, but the interior had been completely re-done. The walls were painted a soft gray that somehow didn’t close the room down. A beautiful rug stretched across the refinished hardwood floor. A desk took up the center of the room with two leather chairs in front, an executive chair behind it, and a plant to the side. File cabinets lined the back wall, beside a door that led into what looked like a smaller office. Oil paintings decorated the space, one above a bookshelf stuffed with various titles.
“Alexis,” Kieran said, and his deep, raspy voice vibrated down low. “It’s nice to see you again. I hear Mordecai is defying all expectations. Only a week after his procedure and he’s training like he’s worked out all his life.”
I swallowed, not an easy task given that all the spit had dried up in my mouth. “Yes. Thank you again for doing that. He’s…better than new.”
“Yes, so I hear. With a good appetite.” Kieran sauntered forward, almost lazily, and thick, heady magic washed over me. The man had power in spades. It felt unlike anything I’d ever experienced. “And how about you? Are you ready to get to work?”
“I need to look over the final contract to make sure it’s everything we agreed upon.”
His cocky grin turned into a full-fledged smile, and my insides did worrying flips. I hadn’t forgotten how attractive and charismatic he was, but in just a week, my memories had grossly downplayed his effect on me. I was not prepared for this. My confidence was wavering like an inflatable dancer at a used car lot.
“That we agreed upon?” he asked, stopping in front of me and looking down into my eyes. At six-two, he was only five inches taller than me—less when I wore heels, like now—but with his robust body, confidence bordering on arrogance, and intense power and strength, I felt tiny. Insignificant. “Or that Daisy and I agreed upon?”
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