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It sucks that I can’t zap back with something tangible that I didn’t create with my limited skills. Which means I have to walk it up to my room.

It’s a little awkward to walk into the room they’re all still in after such a dramatic prior exit.

“Don’t drink too much of that,” Kai calls to my back. “I want you to feel everything I’m going to do to you tonight.”

He grunts like he was just hit, and I smirk. Kai’s my new favorite.

Chapter 9

Gage pokes his head into my room a few hours later, as I drink more of the foulest tasting concoction I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. But I love how truly stupid I feel in this moment. As though my world isn’t a cosmic ball of madness.

His eyes dip to the jar in my hand, as I say, “If you’re going to try to seduce me to steal confessions I can’t possibly make—” I clear my throat when I start to slur the ‘s’ words. “—please wait. You have no idea how long or hard it was for me to get to this point of inebriation. And don’t you dare make a dirty joke about ‘long’ and ‘hard’ being in the same sentence.”

His eyes flick to the three empty jars on my bedside table, then back to the mostly empty jar swaying in my hand.

“How in the hell did you drink four of those and manage to stay conscious?” he asks incredulously.

“Fun fact,” I say, smiling humorlessly. “Since the last time I drank this and ended up miserable on the bathroom floor, I’ve leveled-up a lot. Now I’m a hard one to get drunk. One of these gets me a little drunk. Two of these get me happy drunk. Well, it took three tries to make this happen.”

I gesture to the table behind him to show him a few more jars he didn’t notice.

“You guys need to replenish your stash, by the way,” I go on, getting sidetracked.

He looks to be battling a grin, but I continue as though it’s imperative he hear this evening’s monumental struggle. Total spirit girl problems.

“So when I got hungry after the first two-and-a-half bottles, I realized walking was really hard to do. So I went phantom and zapped myself to the kitchen to get food, too stupid to realize I’d still have to walk up the stairs with the food. By the way, I can’t make food magically appear the way I do clothing and jewelry. I tried. I was that desperate to keep from going downstairs.”

He opens his mouth to speak, and I wave him off.

“Anyway, so I realized I was instantly sober when I went ghost. I still zapped myself to the kitchen. My phantom state apparently resets my inebriation levels.”

“That’s actually pretty useful information to hold onto,” he says, appearing genuinely intrigued. Both of him.

I wish the two of him would quit spinning. It’s terribly distracting.

“The second time, I had food readily available, more bottles of that heinous tasting drink, and a bathrobe.” I point to the bathrobe I’m luxuriating in. “Comfort was a priority.”

He just grins broader, as though he’s thoroughly entertained. The carefree grin is so rare that it transforms his whole face. And I realize I really want to see him look at me more like that.

He pushes off from the wall, coming to lower himself onto the bed beside me, taking the drink from my hand and raising it to his lips.

“It’s like skunk and dead rodents festered in that thing, and I had to choke it down multiple times because of sober-phantom-me. The second time was brought on by my first ever hiccup. It startled me so much I went phantom on accident, and…I have the cure for hiccups now. Phantom girl fixed that too.”

He grins behind the glass as he takes another drink, not making a single expression of disgust.

“Just how? How did you grow a tolerance to that? Because I gotta tell you, this might be my only night to wallow in alcohol.”

The bed jostles when he moves closer and hands it back to me, and I take it a little roughly. “Taste it now,” he says, leaning over.

Rolling my eyes, I turn it up, brace for the inevitable rancid taste, and…moan in pleasure as the taste of cinnamon invades my mouth. My eyelids flutter shut as I turn it up and down the remaining liquid like I can’t possibly get enough.

Gage’s lips slowly stroke the column of my throat, and I’m so warm and tamed by the liquor that I don’t even question his motives.

“How?” I ask, now wanting more and wondering what I did with that last bottle.

“You choose the flavor,” he says against my neck.

“And no one found this to be crucial information to share when they saw me carrying that jar back to my room? I’ve been choking that stuff down for hours and having to start all over again.”

“I didn’t see you carrying it to your room, or I would have been in here much, much sooner,” he murmurs against the base of my neck, slowly kissing lower.

I stiffen and narrow my eyes. “Are you in here because of Jude’s weird interrogation tactics? Did Kai stand me up as a part of this game?”

He lifts his head, eyebrow arched as he peers down at me.

“I’m in here because you stared into my eyes and clung to my hand, willing to go into the flames with me so I wouldn’t have to die alone,” he says with no humor or sarcasm. “I’m in a much different place than the rest of them right now, because there’s no reason you did that other than what you said. He’s still worried about what price is to come. I’m to the point where I say to hell with the consequences.”

Confused, I run my finger up his arm.

His lips ghost over mine as he continues. “Jude is playing his game. He secretly needs you to be a worthy adversary, but the more you prove you are, the more he truly believes no good can come from it. We’ve been burned in the past many times. And you’ve already penetrated farther than any woman before you,” he says, his eyes never leaving mine.

I wasn’t expecting so much honesty or candor.

“Okay then,” I say on a breath.

“Okay then?” he asks, one corner of his mouth lifting.

“But in all fairness, there hasn’t been any penetration. Aside from some fingers, and I can do that myself, so I’m not sure how I’ve penetrated farther than any woman,” I add, simply because I don’t do well with serious situations, it seems.

His grin only grows.

I shrug a shoulder. “Anyway, the only way I’m ever going to get close enough for him to truly trust me, is to stop trying so hard to get him to trust me. Three to one odds that I can make it happen by the end of the week.”

I really shouldn’t be gambling. I’m not a betting woman.

That smile stretches even wider than the last one as his eyes flake with gold.

“You’re going to play a game to counter his game?” he asks.

“Jude needs control. You saw how crazy he got earlier when he felt all that slipping. I’m going to tip him over the edge, and he’ll be so mad he won’t know whether to kill me or kiss me. He’ll choose the kiss. And it’ll be brutal,” I tell him, holding out my hand like I’m ready to shake on a deal.

Instead of shaking my hand, his lips come down on mine, and the empty jar tumbles from my hand as I reach up to grab the back of his head. He groans in my mouth, a tortured sound, and I realize he’s not going to be breaking the bond tonight.

The kiss cuts off, and he snuggles up against my side, his arm going around me, making me feel a little safe.

“There’s a question that’s been driving me out of my mind, and I need to know the answer before I go find him and kill him,” he says as though this is entirely too exasperating for him to deal with.

Kill who?

“Okay…”

“Why did you think Neal—the weasel from the club—would be your one true love or whatever it is you kept saying?” he asks, causing my smile to spread so much it hurts.

“Are you jealous? Please say you are.”

“Just answer the question,” he tells me pointedly.

Rolling my eyes, I shrug. “All of you seem to forget that I’m still a novice to so many experiences. I was unseen then unwanted for the first conscious years of my existence. He was the first man in my short existence to be nice to me. The first man who wanted to spend time with me. The first guy who smiled at all my jokes. Nothing else seemed to really matter when I felt how good it could feel to just be wanted.”

Gage groans, and before I can say anything more, his lips are on mine again, kissing me as he starts pushing my legs apart and sliding up my shirt as my robe falls apart. His grip on me tightens when he realizes there is no underwear under the shirt.

Just as he starts shoving down his track pants, his intentions clear, I push him back, shaking my head.

“I didn’t tell you that to make you feel so sorry for me that you’d piss off everyone and give me what I want,” I grumble. “And I really don’t want to remember losing my virginity to a pity fuck.”

“You want me to see if you’re really a virgin?” he muses.

“Kai and Ezekiel have already been there with their fingers. I’ll just ask them,” I state with a shrug, expecting him to show some more jealousy.

Instead, he smirks. “Then I guess I’ll find something else to do with you. No need in giving you all the same experiences over and over when there’s a whole lot more out there to show you.”

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