“Hey, Lexi,” Jack said, sauntering in with his laptop under his arm. Zorn followed a moment later, his expression harder than usual. “You about ready?”
“No. Maybe.” I patted my person, wondering if I needed to do anything before going out.
“Are you seeing this?” Bria gestured at me, her focus on Zorn.
“If it’s what I think it is, it’s an optical illusion,” Jack said in monotone. “It shows the viewer whatever they need to see to get the message across.” He paused for a moment. “Where’s Mordecai?”
I took two distracted steps before I remembered this wasn’t my mother’s house, and my ward was no longer within yelling distance.
“That’s going to take some getting used to,” I mumbled as I brought out my phone. Then I smiled. “I can no longer hear them fighting. That won’t take getting used to.” I brought up the text message app, cluing back in to the conversation around me. “What’s an optical illusion?”
“It’s exactly what you think it is,” Bria said tersely.
“What do you see?” Zorn asked her, his tone guarded. Jack shifted uncomfortably.
Bria shook her head, studying me. “It’s done now, right? She can’t undo this?”
“Undo what?” I put my hand to my chest. “What can’t I undo?”
“I’ve heard that only death can strip someone of the mark of a Demigod,” Jack said. “I’m not certain he knows he did it, though.”
I frowned in confusion.
“Are you sure?” Zorn asked, stepping up to the island so he could get a better look at Jack’s face.
“I can’t be positive, but…” Jack switched the laptop to the other arm. “When they came downstairs, I didn’t do a very good job of containing my surprise. Usually, if Kieran doesn’t like my reaction to one of his decisions, he lets me know. In this case, I think he thought I was surprised he’d ignored his duties for half the day. He shrugged it off like it was no big deal.”
“It’s a very big deal,” Bria said.
“What doesn’t he know?” I demanded as Mordecai entered the kitchen wearing a sharp looking white button-up shirt and dark brown slacks that fit him perfectly. It reminded me of the outfit I’d wanted to buy for him, but couldn’t, the day I’d met Kieran. Kieran hadn’t just seen to my needs—he’d made sure the kids had new clothes as well.
“How could he not notice the effects of his handiwork?” Bria put a hand out toward me. “The warning is subtle, sure, but it’s undeniable.”
“You’re anxious for your friend, but you believe in her happiness. That’s why it’s only a slight warning. It’s telling you not to try and talk her out of this, or the mark holder will come for you.” Jack studied me. “I see a glowing aura. It makes her look angelic, which makes me less afraid of what she can do. It’ll make me better at protecting her.”
“Seriously, what are you guys talking about?” I spread my hands and looked down at my body again, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
“I don’t see anything,” Mordecai said in confusion. “But she smells more like Demigod Kieran.”
“You already love and want to protect her,” Jack said. “She’s family, and your alpha, so that makes perfect sense. You’re clearly happy with her connection to Demigod Kieran.”
Warmth enveloped my heart. I still didn’t know what everyone was talking about, but if Mordecai accepted my boyfriend now, after adamantly warning me away from him…that made everything so much better.
“What are you, an interpretative oracle when it comes to Demigods peeing on their booty of the month?” Bria asked, effectively ruining my nice little moment.
Jack laughed. “I’m a shifter. An ability to read the nuances of possession keeps us alive and our girlfriends ours.”
Bria’s face soured. “Because another man might move in on your girl if you didn’t stake your claim like a barbarian? What, you figure he’d be able to take her from you because women don’t have the brain power to choose for themselves?”
Mordecai took a step back like he was ready to flee.
Jack laughed harder. “You think men are the only ones who stake a claim on their significant others?” He jabbed a finger at me. “Don’t you remember who started it? Alexis tied up the man’s soul. His soul! That shit’s cray-cray—”
“You’re too old to say cray-cray,” Mordecai said reasonably.
“Even if she was supposed to be a booty of the month,” Jack continued, “and I don’t think he ever saw her that way, she made that shit permanent.”
“That soul thing isn’t permanent,” Bria retorted.
“It’s permanent now,” I muttered, my face heating. Bria’s shocked face rounded on me. I threw up my hands. “I didn’t mean to. His magic was searing across my skin and… I… It just felt right.”
Mordecai stuffed his hands into his pockets. “It took me a while to come around, but not many men are strong enough to protect Alexis in a way she can’t protect herself. And even fewer men are confident enough to accept her attitude and independence.” Even though his voice was soft, it somehow cut through the room, keeping the rest of us quiet. “He’s everything she’s always asked the ceiling for after coming home from the bar. And even if he wasn’t…he makes her happy in a way nothing else ever has. I want her to finally get her miracle.” His intense and heartfelt gaze hit mine. “I think he’s it, Alexis. I really do. I think he’s the miracle you deserve.”
Silence filled the kitchen and heat prickled my eyes.
Bria sighed and shook her head. “Do you know what’s annoying? I can’t form a rebuttal because then I’ll just look like an unromantic asshole.”
“If the shoe fits,” Zorn murmured.
Her jaw dropped and she stared at him for one tense beat. “Really, Zorn?” she demanded, and my small hairs stood on end. I took a step away as Jack shifted uncomfortably. “Okay, fine. What do you see when you look at the magically shackled chick?”
Zorn’s jaw clenched and his eyes glimmered defiantly. He focused solely on Bria when he said, “I see a woman who I will die to protect.”
It didn’t sound like he was talking about me.
“Whom,” Jack mumbled.
Bria rounded on him. “Are you serious?”
He shrugged. “Grammar.”
Bria narrowed her eyes, and another tense beat filled the space. I opened my mouth to make a light joke, but Jack shook his head at me.
Right. A lovers’ spat of some kind. How awkward.
As if on cue, Daisy walked into the room wearing nondescript clothing that made her look completely out of place. Her jeans had no rips or tears, or any style whatsoever. Her black tank, though slightly faded, wasn’t tied at her back to make it fit well, or ripped in a way that made it noticeable. I didn’t see one pop of color. Her ponytail sat at normal height, neither low nor high. Her whole outfit just…was. None of her usual personality accented this look.
“What’s up with you?” I asked as she stopped near the island. “Have you given up your love of flare?”
Her hip cocked out and her eyebrows lowered. “I need to be invisible. What’s up with you?”
“Ha!” Bria pointed at Daisy. “I knew I wasn’t the only one.”
“Non-magical people can see it, too?” Zorn asked Jack.
Jack pulled his lips to the side in thought. “I think to an extent.”
Daisy looked around the room and then back at me. Her expression flattened. “I’m not dense. I know about the morning-after glow, or whatever. Ew. Watch a movie and you know about that. But…did he get you new lotion or something? Your skin is practically glowing.”
Bria’s chin dropped. “Wait.” She put out a hand to Daisy. “That’s what you see? Are you saying you are cool with your parent hooking up with a possessive, stalking Demigod?”
“That’s exactly what she’s saying.” Jack grinned. “She’s happy about it.”
“He wasn’t stalking her when he first met her. He was trying to work out a potential threat,” Mordecai said.
Indignation crossed Daisy’s face. “Look. Do I think she should be shacked up with that guy? Obviously, no—”
“Liar,” Jack whispered with a grin.
“—we all know that. He is the worst, even if he wasn’t technically stalking her in the way we all originally thought. But clearly what I say has no effect on her actions, so I’ve moved on. Worry only about that which you can control. Learn how to adapt to everything else.” Daisy paused and Zorn nodded, pride glimmering in his eyes. “I’m adapting. Usually she has a sort of…air about her—”
“It’s happiness,” Mordecai said as Bria said, “It’s insanity.”
“—but this time,” Daisy went on, not hearing the others, “her skin is like…legit glowing. Like one of those filters on the camera that makes your skin really nice. Seriously, he got you a different lotion, right? I want some.”
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