“Of all the nights for Miles to drop by,” I muttered.

Miles spied me and his eyes sparkled in recognition. He started our way.

“Just once would he not come over to gloat?” I said quietly. “I’ve got enough problems.”

“He’s not coming to gloat,” Bria whispered out of the side of her mouth. “He’s still into you.”

“No, he isn’t. You’ll see,” I said in annoyance.

He stopped next to Bria, leaning against an older gentleman who’d barely moved all night. Hell, he probably hadn’t moved for decades.

“Alexis, great seeing you. I haven’t seen you in a while,” Miles said, then glanced down at his exposed forearms. Goosebumps covered his skin. He no doubt felt the spirit he was crowding. “What have you been up to?”

A shit-eating grin lifted Bria’s cheeks. “Hey, Miles,” she said, sparing a glance for the woman across the bar, who hadn’t so much as taken out her phone to pass the time. She stared down at her hands, clearly listening in. Someone hadn’t paid attention at spy school. “How’s it going? Remember me?”

Miles frowned, taking in Bria. His gaze flicked to the chain dog collar around her neck, her spike bracelet, and then her Led Zeppelin T-shirt. When he shifted, it was slightly away.

“Uhhm…” he faltered.

She put her hand to her chest. “Bria. Remember? We went out for a slice a while back, then went back to your place.” She lowered her volume and leaned closer to him. He leaned back. “The fuzzy pink handcuffs and the nipple clamps, remember?” She chuckled softly. “That was a wild time. I wasn’t sure about the strap on, but you seemed to like it. You still into all that?”

His face paled and his jaw went slack. He stared at her with wide eyes and shook his head quickly. “Wasn’t me,” he said, knocked firmly off of his high horse.

Despite the situation with the spy, I couldn’t help a grin.

“Oh no?” Bria feigned confusion and blinked down at her empty glass. “You sure? I could’ve sworn I took you to task with a bullwhip. The dirty sock gag was weird, but your scream was so high-pitched that I didn’t mind muffling it. That wasn’t you?”

“Anyway, Miles, we were just leaving,” I said, pushing Bria’s empty glass to the edge of the bar.

The haughty expression I knew so well crossed his expression. He noticed my clothes. “Trying to move up in the world, Alexis?” His gaze darted to my drink, then the bare bar surface in front of it. It was a cash-only bar, and everyone usually left their pile of money within easy reach for Liam. The fact that I didn’t have any cash out meant I’d used Miles’s generosity. Again.

For the very first time, his triumphant smile annoyed me.

“Found someone who will dress you up, but he won’t give you a little spending money, huh?” He tsked, leaning his elbow against the bar, settling in. “Pity.”

Suddenly, this was all very, very irritating. It rankled, even. I wasn’t poor anymore. I wasn’t a nobody. Sure, I didn’t really know how to use my magic, but at least I had some. Kieran might’ve gifted me the clothes (sorta), but I worked my ass off for my paycheck. I’d freed his mother’s ghost, for cripes’ sake, and dozens of others. I trained constantly. I confronted my fears. I’d even forced the world’s most controlled Berserker to lose control, and then made him cry uncle.

I was no longer the muck layering the crack between the societies. I was a training fighter, ready to do my part and topple the magical dictator of San Francisco. I deserved a helluva lot more than this dickface clown talking down to me.

I dug my hand into my expensive handbag and pulled out my cheap wallet. “Liam, what’s the tab? I’ll take care of it now. We’re leaving.”

Liam started, and Miles huffed in condescension. I nearly held my breath, praying Liam wouldn’t remind me of our earlier conversation. A moment later, thank all that was holy, Liam pushed forward and headed toward the till where he’d written down our drink orders.

“It’s fine,” Miles said smugly. “You don’t need to prove anything to me, Alexis. I know the score.”

Anger burned through me, urging me to defend myself, but I didn’t want to attract attention from the woman across the bar. Bria cut out the need.

“Hog-tied.” She snapped. “It was definitely you, Miles. Remember? You asked to be hog-tied and pegged? I didn’t know what ‘pegged’ meant at the time, but then you explained about the strap on.” She laughed. “My eyes were opened that night, I’ll tell you that much. What a lunatic.”

“Jay-sus,” Mick muttered.

“Too much for me, though.” Bria pushed away from the bar and swung her legs off of the stool. “Too much.”

“Twenty,” Liam said, starting over.

Miles stood there, frozen and red-faced, staring incredulously at Bria.

Chuckling, I took out some bills. That amount was much too low for all Bria had drunk, but I wasn’t going to stand around and argue. Maybe Liam enjoyed seeing his boss taken down a peg.

“Is mine twenty, too?” Mick asked, shakily standing from his stool. He dug his hand into his pocket before bumping against the wall.

“Thirty-two,” Liam said without reflection. Apparently, he just called out arbitrary numbers.

“Well, Miles, it was great catching up,” Bria said, standing behind her stool. “I hope the burns from the candlewax healed up okay.”

“A-Alexis, come on.” Miles ran a hand down his face, trying to ignore Bria and get his bearings. He had his work cut out for him. “You don’t need to leave in a huff. Just because you had a couple drinks a while back with Dem—”

I magically punched through his middle, smacking his spirit box to keep him from saying Kieran’s name. I should’ve known he’d bring it up. He was probably jealous to no end.

Miles jerked hard and fell against the bar. His face lost the rest of its color and his expression closed down into terror as he grabbed his chest. “Help!” he bleated. “Help me!”

“Holy—” Bria grabbed him around his chest and wrestled him onto the stool. Mick paused for a moment with a wad of crumpled-up bills in his hand. The very disgruntled old man ghost dissipated with a scowl. “You okay, man?” Bria asked. “What happened?”

“My…” He scratched at his chest. “I think I’m having a heart attack. Call… Call someone.”

“Just let it take you,” Mick said, laying out a couple green balls of money. “Go with it. It’ll hurt less.”

“Would you stop?” I asked Mick, unable to hide a smile.

“It’s probably a panic attack. You’re fine.” Bria patted Miles’s back and stepped away. “C’mon, Mick, we’ll walk you home. Power in numbers. We wouldn’t want the little beasties of life to get us.”

“Shut up,” I seethed through gritted teeth, shoving Bria toward the door. This whole situation was spiraling out of control. The woman would know we were on to her for sure. “Just go.”

I gingerly left my money on the counter, including a generous tip, before tucking my wallet back into my handbag and following Bria.

The woman at the end of the bar touched her cross-body bag as the bar door swung open. I held my breath, only to let it out again when a crew of barely legal guys and girls tramped in. Laughter and noise quickly filled the bar to bursting. The group of ten stumbled toward the bar, already drunk before seven in the evening. It would be a messy night. Thankfully, I wouldn’t be a part of it.

“Hold on,” Mick said, rolling a few more dollar balls onto the bar’s surface.

“This night keeps getting weirder,” I muttered as I glanced back at him. Since when did he leave before having his fill of whiskey, followed by a nap on the counter? And since when did he accept someone’s offer to walk him home?

When I stepped outside, the cool air and soft crush of the distant waves welcomed me, coating me in comfort. I’d always liked the sound of the sea, but after bumping souls with Kieran, it downright sang to me. I wanted to frolic in the waves and dive down into the mysterious depths.

“Why’d you sucker punch Miles?” Bria asked, stepping to the side and waiting for our drunken escort.

“I’m pretty sure he was about to say that I’d had a couple drinks with Kieran. Which I did.”

“Ah.” She nodded before bending over her phone. “Good reaction, then.”

“Miles really took that hard,” I whispered, thinking back. “I only used a sliver of magic, and he nearly collapsed.”

“We keep trying to tell you—your magic is startling. It’s arresting. The first impulse is to curl up in a tight ball and protect your middle. Even your overprotective lover feels that way, and he’s at the pinnacle of power.”

The door swung open and Bria braced herself, hands at her sides, probably ready to dip down and grab the knife out of her ankle brace. If the woman had followed us out this quickly, we were looking at a fight.

6

Alexis

Like Frankenstein’s monster, Mick took a hard step on shaky legs, lumbering out into the encroaching night. A loud exhale deflated my lungs.

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