But she couldn’t argue with how she felt.
Nor did she want to.
She had been rootless, and suddenly was no longer. And the change felt too good to argue with.
“Yes,” she murmured as she stared at her boss’s brother. “If you could get in touch with Trez, that would be great.”
You want to talk about fried-egg pissed? Trez thought.
Behind that desk of his, iAm was so angry, you could have cracked a yolk on his forehead, and gone scrambled with no problem at all.
Trez looked over at Selena—no, he told himself, he had to remember to refer to her as Therese, at least in public. “Would you excuse us for a second?”
“Yes, sure,” she said. “Of course.”
Clearly, she had picked up on the vibe. Then again, you had to have a completely different definition of a-okay, hunky-dory to miss what was doing with iAm.
“I’ll just go get my tables ready,” she murmured before hightailing it past Trez.
“I’ll come find you before I go to work,” he said.
As she glanced over her shoulder, her smile was like sunlight, and given the long winter he had been in—and he was not thinking in terms of the calendar—he soaked the warm up like he’d been frostbitten all over his body.
After she disappeared around the corner, he shut the door to his brother’s office and leaned back against it. “So what’s the problem.”
iAm closed the folder without adding anything to the form he’d stuck his forefinger to like a dart. “What are you doing. Seriously.”
“Well, at the moment, I’m holding this door up. A minute ago, I was in my car. And later, I’ll be at my club.” He cracked a half smile. “You want me to write this down for you? Draw a diagram—”
“What are you doing with that female,” iAm snapped. “And quit it with the games.”
Trez crossed his arms over his chest and told his temper to take a load off. There was no reason to fight. “Ah. So you need an anatomy lesson—”
“This is fucking serious!” iAm banged a fist on the desk, causing an adding machine to jump like the thing had been startled. “You are not in any condition to be stringing her along—”
“Excuse me?” Trez felt the tips of his fangs tingle. “Now you’re a shrink?”
“She is not Selena!” iAm burst to his feet, his chef’s jacket, which he had yet to button up, flapping open. “And you know she is not, and you’re just using her—”
Dropping the happy-chappy act, Trez bared his fangs. “You do not know what I’m doing with her—”
“You’re the one who brought up anatomy. Or are you now going to try to convince me you’re only holding hands together?”
Trez stepped forward and planted his palms on the desk surface. Leaning forward, he stared directly into his brother’s eyes. “It’s none of your business.”
“She’s my employee. You’re essentially an owner here. It’s a violation of our HR—”
Throwing his head back, Trez laughed. “You’re coming at this from a human resources angle? Really?”
“Well, I’ve tried the most obvious one, that she isn’t your dead female, and I’ve gotten nowhere. The human laws protecting employees from being sexually harassed by their bosses are all I have left.”
As Trez inhaled sharply, he had a thought that he was very glad this blowup hadn’t happened any sooner than this very moment. Without everything Xhex had told him? Without the hope and optimism he now had in his heart? He might well have done something he really regretted.
Like pick up this desk and throw it at his brother.
“Do you just want me to be unhappy?” he said roughly.
“What?” iAm shook his head like he hadn’t heard right. “Are you even kidding me?”
“Do you want me to suffer.” Trez straightened. “Would you rather that than my being happy? Relieved? Living again? Does it make you feel better about your own life if mine is in the shitter?”
iAm’s eyes narrowed. “I cannot believe that shit just came out of your mouth.”
“Fine, then what’s the other explanation for this bullshit you’re talking? Because that’s the only conclusion that makes any sense to me.”
iAm’s finger pointed through the tense air, punctuating syllables spoken with anger. “You have used and discarded hundreds upon hundreds of women and females over the course of your life. I know this because I’ve been on the sidelines. Watching. I’ve seen them pine after you, show up on our doorstep, wander in and out of our clubs, looking for you—and that’s even after you scrub their memories, if you remember to do so. And what I see now—”
“That’s all changed—”
“—is you doing the same thing to a female who has no one around to support her after you move on.”
“—now that my shellan is back.”
iAm recoiled. Then hung his head sadly. “So you do think that.”
“No, I don’t.”
Trez wanted to punch the wall as he struggled to keep his truth inside. What he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs was that he knew his shellan was back.
Cursing under his breath, he muttered, “Whatever. We don’t need to talk like this.”
“You actually think it’s her.”
Trez backed up and leaned against the door again. Recrossing his arms, he shrugged. “Hey, you must be relieved that I’m not using her. At least you can take that off your list of sins.”
iAm shook his head. “She’s not Selena.”
“Talk to Xhex.” Trez jabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “Go talk to my head of security. She knows the truth. She told me the truth. She’s my best friend and she would never lie to me.”
iAm closed his eyes and rubbed them as he sat back down. When he spoke again, his voice was exhausted. “She’s a symphath.”
“Do not go there,” Trez said in a nasty rush. “Don’t you fucking shit on her for what she is. And besides, she’s only ever stood by me. She’s only ever been good to me. She is not evil, and you know this. You know her.”
“I agree.” iAm looked up. “She’s always had your back. So it doesn’t dawn on you that she gave you the information you wanted to hear just to make you feel better? I don’t know what exactly she told you, but she knows how desperate you’ve been. How close the edge. How close to… certain things. You don’t think maybe she manipulated you for all the right reasons?”
Trez stood up off the door and grabbed the knob. “I’m going to go. Before this gets even uglier.”
“Just because a lie feels good doesn’t mean it’s true, and just because Xhex has good intentions doesn’t mean lying to you is right. And I will tell you this right now—Therese is the one who’s going to get hurt. The second it dawns on you that she’s not actually Selena? You’re going to lose that connection with her in a heartbeat. You’re in love with someone who is not here, and self-medicating that horrible reality with a sexual stand-in is unconscionable, no matter how much it eases your pain.”
Annnnnnd this is why I needed to keep the reincarnation a secret, Trez thought.
“You have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.” He opened the way out. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Like… maybe in a decade.
Or a thousand years, he thought as he walked off.
* * *
Back at the water station. Liza and Emile. Therese getting a pitcher to fill up so she could go out to her first table of the night. And what do you know, Liza was pissed off, Emile was apologetic, and Therese was worried about getting enough tips together to move out of that rooming house. It was just as it had been the night before.
Yet everything was completely different.
Ever since she had been with Trez in that hidden passageway, the world had reoriented itself, all the metaphorical furniture shifting three inches one way, two inches another, the new spaces between the sofas and chairs requiring a fresh assessment of a familiar room.
And what do you know, she liked the new arrangement better. Much, much better—
As long as Trez and his brother didn’t get into it too badly, she thought as she walked over to a four top of human women. He and his brother had been really tense as she’d left that office. Hopefully they cleared the air… instead of blew the back half of the restaurant up.
“Hi,” she said to the women, “my name is Therese, I’ll be your server. Can I start you off with a glass of wine or some cocktails?”
As she poured water, made small talk with her diners, and took drink orders from the quartet of old high school friends, she kept looking to the water station, and not because she was curious whether Liza and Emile had elevated their discussions and relationship to a higher level. The waiting was making her antsy, and she had a thought, in the back of her head, that she was way too emotionally invested if she couldn’t make it through five or ten minutes without seeing Trez.
Try arguing with feelings, though.
She was back at the water station, having delivered the drinks and given the ladies a chance to look over the menu, when she caught a scent that went through her entire body.
“Hey,” Trez whispered into her ear. “You got a minute?”
As she turned around and smiled up at him, she realized she’d been worried he’d leave without saying goodbye. Or saying anything. And again, that was a little much. If she kept up the desperate stuff, she was liable to drive him away.
Nobody wanted to be someone else’s addiction.
“Absolutely I have time.” Especially as she could sense the tension underneath his smiling expression. “Are you okay?”
“I am now.”
There was a moment of silence, and she knew that he was kissing her in his mind—and what do you know, in hers, she was kissing him back. And here was the thing. The fact that he seemed as lost to whatever was happening as she was made her feel more secure in the crazy attraction.