Maybe the flashbacks were because I thought I shouldn’t feel happy. And maybe I kind of thought that was true. But that didn’t change the fact that I wanted this. I did. Everything had felt so terrible lately that maybe he was right and I was allowed just a tiny bit of something that didn’t. And the past few hours had been notterrible. He had listened to all the troubling things I was thinking and didn’t look at me like I was crazy and never once did anything well-intentioned but infuriating like suggest I leave this quest to someone else for my own good. Plus, doing this right now gave me something to concentrate on besides sadness and fear. And yes, it just felt good.
His T-shirt still had creases from the store running down the front. I traced my finger down them, felt his chest rise to my touch. Rather than letting it trigger a memory that led down an ugly path, I made how warm and solid and alive he was tether me to the here and the now. Not all over the world, not in Paris on the day my mom died, not earlier in the tomb. Now. This room. Safe. At least for the moment.
Stellan dipped into the dessert again, then picked up the plate to hand it to me. Instead, I took his hand. I pressed the pad of his finger between my teeth, felt the honey thick and sticky on my tongue.
His eyes went dark. He set down the plate. Then he dabbed honey across my mouth and took my sugared lip between his.
“Honey,” he murmured roughly against me, “and mint. Let that be all this is.”
He took another sip of tea and I drank in the sweetness. Another, and I arched against him as his lips tingled coolly at my collarbone. I worked on thinking only about the way this felt, cozy, hazy, almost peaceful in the dim room, his thumbs ghosting across my hip bones and mine sliding under his shirt.
And maybe I didn’t want us to need each other, but I needed this. I let myself sink into it, sink into him. And slowly, softly, as sweetly as the honey on his tongue, everything else fell away, and I let myself—for tonight at least—not feel bad about feeling good.
In the morning, I woke up alone and staggered sleepily out of my room. Elodie was already in the lobby, drinking what I could tell from the scent wafting from it was thick, sweet mint tea.
I blinked at the pot for a second. That association thing was supposed to work in the other direction. Kissing means think of mint tea. Not mint tea means think of—
“Are you just going to stand there?” Elodie said.
I sat, hugging my arms around myself. If I was going to feel like this every time I smelled mint, that would be seriously inconvenient.
“Feeling all right?” I asked Elodie.
She rolled her eyes without looking up from the newspaper. “Yes, your miracle blood has rescued me from death’s door.” She glanced up, then did a double take. “Oh really?”
I surveyed myself, alarmed. My clothes were wrinkled, but so were hers. She certainly couldn’t tell what I’d been up to last night just from that. I relaxed. “What?”
Elodie rummaged through the bag at her feet and pulled out a makeup compact. She tossed it to me with a smirk. “Go look in the mirror and do something about that, if you want. Nothing to be embarrassed about as far as I’m concerned, but you might disagree.”
I knew I hadn’t been sleeping well, but were the circles under my eyes that bad? I clicked on the light in the bathroom, and—oh.
There was a dark purple bruise the size of a quarter at my collarbone. When I pressed on it, it was tender. I was certain it would taste like mint and honey.
• • •
It wasn’t like it had taken long to pack up this morning, so I sat in the hotel lobby, picking at the breakfast buffet: a bean dish with flatbread, cheese, eggs, and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. We’d be leaving shortly. It was possible we could have gotten on a commercial flight from Egypt—the borders weren’t as strict here, and the Circle might not be watching as closely as they would have been out of Israel. But we didn’t want to risk it. Luc had sent one of the Dauphins’ planes for us, and it would be here in a couple of hours. This way, we wouldn’t have to show passports leaving Egypt or arriving in France, and there would be no record of where we were.
When the Dauphins learned that Luc had let fugitives into their country, they might not be happy, but Luc was good at doing things without his parents knowing, and we hoped to be hiding somewhere in Paris by the time they found out. Ideally we’d stay there long enough to regroup and learn more about the cure from our scientists.
Our scientists who, Elodie had reluctantly admitted, were Order. There had been a moment of renewed tension when we realized the Order had had our secrets all along, but Jack of all people had urged us to keep an open mind, and even to agree to meet with them and see what they could do for us.
I had so many questions, and most of them started with why. Why did Fitz go to so much trouble for the kid of a fellow Order member? Why weave the threads of my life together with Jack’s, and Stellan’s, and even Elodie’s?
If they cared enough to help hide me for years, why didn’t the Order save my mom?
The thought made my chest feel tight again.
Jack was on the phone with Rocco, going over the plan we’d made last night. Our first instinct had been to go to the Saxons’ and break Fitz out ourselves, but Elodie had talked us out of it. So we’d been in touch with Rocco. As we’d suspected, the entire focus of the Saxon household right now was on Cole’s death. We hoped this meant Fitz would not be high on their list of priorities. Rocco would be breaking Fitz out and smuggling him to Paris. It seemed too simple, but in this case, simple was probably best.
I glanced up when Stellan emerged from his room. His eyes found me immediately, and his step stuttered. It made my pulse stumble, too. Not because I was nervous about seeing him, but because I really didn’t want it to be awkward.
He glanced at Jack, then strolled across the room to survey the food on the table behind me. “Morning,” he said evenly, one eye on Elodie, who was sitting on the couch nearby, texting. “Did you have a good night?”