“You finished the job he hired you for,” Mordecai said, “so you have no reason to stay on. If you do, he’ll probably just try to use you again.”
“That’s what Demigods do,” Bria murmured.
Mordecai nodded, validated. “I think you should sever the connection, Lexi. You helped his mom, and now you should get on with your life. He can’t ask any more from you.”
“But we’ll still bring down the guy that is trapping souls, right?” Bria asked. “Because that should be our thing. He doesn’t need to play any part in that. I mean…except if we get caught. Then we’ll throw him under the bus and skedaddle.”
“Right.” Daisy nodded, as though expressly ignoring the order of a Demigod wasn’t a big deal.
I remembered the last time I had angered Kieran. The intensity with which he’d ripped me through the closet door, and then—
My core tightened and my face heated. I rubbed my hand over my face. I definitely hadn’t gotten him out of my system. The opposite. I wanted him more now than I ever had.
“We can find a way to earn a living,” Mordecai was saying, cutting into my reverie. “We made do before him, and we’ll make do now. We have the bonus for completing the job early, and you have some nice clothes, so we have time to get situated.”
“He said he’d pay me for a year,” I said. “He didn’t expect me to find his mom’s skin so quickly.”
Bria raised her hand. “Um, can we say rock star? Because Lexi found that skin incredibly quickly. She could get a job in any investigative firm featuring dead people.”
“She has priors,” Daisy said.
Bria furrowed her brow. “Who doesn’t?”
“Before you say anything—when you get back to the topic at hand—I’m totally going to accept his offer. Don’t even try to talk me out of it.”
“Ew.” Daisy gave me a teenager’s disgusted look, which threw in not-so-subtle shades of you’re an idiot. “Like we’d try to talk you out of some rich guy’s free money.”
“So that settles it.” Mordecai slapped his hands on the table. “We’ll live cheaply, like we have been, and use most of the money from the stalker to get a business going for you, like we were originally planning. We can save the rest. Daisy and I can get jobs when we’re sixteen to pay the Six to continue our training.”
Bria leaned forward on the table, her mouth open, looking at Mordecai like he was an insect under a microscope. “Are you for real?”
His brow lowered. “What? That seems like a sensible plan.”
“That is an extremely sensible plan, and if my skin weren’t crawling, I’d be incredibly impressed that you’re so practical at fifteen.”
“Yeah. I know. It can get annoying.” Daisy rolled her eyes again.
“Well…” I flicked the note onto the table and another wave of butterflies fluttered through my belly. It was time to get going. I couldn’t stall any longer. “Severing the connection has been taken care of. He has locked that down.”
Bria dropped two fingers onto the note and slid it closer.
“I got hit, then quit.” I leaned back. “What he wrote on the note is what he said to his mother when she left my bedroom. To him, it’s over. He doesn’t want me near the job, he doesn’t want me going after the spirit trapper, and he doesn’t want me in his life at all. He’ll pay me, but that’s it. You guys got your wish.”
My throat burned and my chest felt tight. The weird new feeling in my middle started aching. I swallowed down the emotion, but before I could say anything else, Daisy slammed her hand down on the table.
“That’s bullshit! No way. Am I right, Mordecai? He can’t just”—she swung her hand over the table—“waltz in here, mess with her mind, and then take off. That’s fucked up.” She put her finger in the air and looked at me with raised eyebrows. “I know the new rule is no swearing—”
“That’s always been the rule—”
“—but this warrants it. He stalks you, gets his mom freed, gets some punani, and then he walks?” She stood from the table and paced the kitchen floor, acting the part of the scorned woman on my behalf. “He needs his dick cut off, that’s what he needs.”
A smile emerged on Bria’s face as she watched Daisy. “This kid is my spirit animal.”
“I thought you wanted this,” I said to Daisy. “He’s severing the connection.”
“No.” She rounded on me. “He is playing you like a chump. No guy should get away with emotional sabotage. Am I right, Mordecai?”
Mordecai watched Daisy for a second. “Well…he shouldn’t, but at the same time, this means he won’t bother us. It actually works out. We can egg his car like we were planning that one time, and maybe try to get something of his so we can burn it on his lawn. Other than that, it’s probably a good thing.”
“Yup.” Daisy pointed at him righteously. “Burn his motherfucking shit. Burn it. No one messes with my girl and gets away with it.”
Bria leaned against the table, looking at Mordecai again. “I half take it back. I might like you after all.”
“Okay, okay.” I put up my hands. “All right. Let’s tone it down.” I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. “Bria, let’s go find that girl in the government building. We’ll talk about this later.” I leveled a finger at Daisy and then Mordecai. “Do not throw eggs—because they’re expensive and we might be buying our food again soon—and don’t burn his shit. Okay? Chill.”
Daisy crossed her arms over her chest, her expression sullen. “What about throwing rocks? Rocks are free.”
“Daisy…” I lifted my eyebrows in warning. Bria’s smile burned brighter.
Daisy looked away. “Fine,” she muttered.
After a nod from Mordecai indicating he understood, too, I stood. “Come on, Bria.”
“Sure, yeah.” She didn’t get up.
I scowled down at her.
She looked pointedly at my clothes, her smile still going strong. “Did you want to get dressed first? In a pair of pants that actually fit?”
“Your kids are rock stars,” Bria said, driving a Range Rover. It seemed unlikely she owned two vehicles, but I didn’t ask. If I got clarification, I’d be an accessory in the crime. Ignorance was probably my best defense. “Now I get why you saddled yourself with them.”
“That wasn’t why,” I muttered, looking out the window. I felt weird. Like I should go for a swim.
No, that wasn’t quite it—or at least it wasn’t the whole of it. I could feel the power of the tides, the pull of the moon, and the building blocks of the air around us. I could sense Bria’s power throbbing in her core, bright and strong. And above all of that, I felt the ache in my chest lessened with each passing mile. I was headed to that somewhere I’d wanted to go when in my room.
In my gut, I had a strong suspicion of who was at that somewhere.
“He’s got a hold of you, huh?” Bria asked, her voice as calm and even as ever, but with a new gravity that drew my focus.
I considered lying. Or evading. But at some point, I had to be honest, with myself more than anyone.
“Yeah. He’s got a lot of faults, but…I’ve seen a lot of goodness, too. He kinda wears on a person.”
She slowed as we reached the magical check-in gate. She used the lower-level line.
“Kieran didn’t get you a pass for the other lane?” I asked.
“Yeah, he did. But if I used it, people would know I was coming and going. This way…” She handed the guy her card and smiled up at him. “That hat looks stupid on you.”
He scowled as he scanned her through. He didn’t comment as he handed the card back.
“This way,” she continued as she started forward, “they think my fake alter ego is coming and going, and a search on it will bring up bupkis.”
She handed me the card, which bore a completely different name.
“You can get fake IDs for the magical side?” I asked in a hush.
“For both sides, and everything in between, if you know the right people. I know all the right people.”
“Can you get me one?”
“And Daisy and Mordecai?”
“Yeah, why not.” She turned the corner, letting silence descend. Music played softly in the background, competing with the car’s motor. “Valens wouldn’t have walked away from you,” she said finally. “Not from your allure, and certainly not from your power. You could really help Kieran. Fully trained, you might be able to turn the tide. I’ve been reading up on your power. You’re no Demigod, but your abilities don’t register in most of Hades’s heirs. You’ve inherited a specialized skillset, which, paired with your power, could cut an entire army at the wick. You could be his savior.” She tapped her thumbs on the steering wheel. “No Demigod I’ve ever heard of—hell, no extremely powerful guy with a huge ego and bigger agenda—would turn away from you. He would get two for one: someone he is clearly very into, plus someone who could greatly help his cause. He’d be a moron for walking away.”
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