Long Night Moon (The Bradbury Institute Book 2) (10 page)

The thought of telling Eve how he
felt sent a flurry of butterflies loose in his stomach and nervous magic
itching in his fingertips. Facing an entire legion of Shadow Raiders armed with
nothing but a paperclip seemed preferable.

Chapter 17

 

Eve took the cup of tea from
Franny, grateful for the warmth. She’d taken the hottest shower she could stand
and dressed in a warm track suit but the chill of that cave would not leave.

“I can make you an appointment
tomorrow if you want. With my hairdresser. She’s really good.” Franny tucked an
uneven lock behind Eve’s ear.

“I’ve never had it this short. It
feels weird.” Eve ran a hand through her hair. It didn’t take long. Damn it.
She didn’t want to be silly and vain but she hated the loss of her long hair.

“I bet it’ll look adorable once
it’s shaped up and styled.” MacGuffin left Franny’s lap and ambled across the
couch to Eve, dropping in a furry heap by her thigh.

Eve petted the dog, tucking him in
closer. He was even warmer than the tea.

Franny said, “So what are you going
to do about this queen business? I don’t think there’s ever been a human
monarch in Sideways.”

“I have no idea. I’d like to forget
the whole thing. Judith said we’d talk about it tomorrow with Captain Irvine.”

“Pete looked pretty rough.”

Eve didn’t answer. They hadn’t
spoken since leaving the cave so she had no idea how Pete was doing. He’d
walked away from her as soon as she opened the door to her apartment. She
wanted so much to talk to him, at least make sure he was okay, but she didn’t
know if he wanted to see her. “I’m sure Maura will patch him up.”

“That’s not really what I meant.”

“I know.”

A knock came from the door. Franny
rose to answer it. “You feel like more company? If you’re too tired, I’ll run
off whoever it is.”

“I’m okay. I mean, I’m tired but
there’s no way I’m getting to sleep anytime soon.”

Her back was to the door so she
didn’t see who Franny let in until he stood in front of her. It was Pete.
Franny scooped up Mac and mumbled an excuse to leave. Eve set her cup on the
end table and folded her hands in her lap.

“May I sit with you?” Formal and so
polite. Yet another version of Pete.

She nodded. He sank into the couch,
closer than she expected. Heat from his body radiated toward her and she had to
fight the urge to scoot closer. He’d showered and changed, his hair still damp.
The cuts on his face had been reduced to faint lines, Maura’s healing herbs
doing an amazing job.

“I’m no good at small talk so I’m
just going to say what I came here to say.” He shifted as if unsure whether to
face her or not. Finally he settled on staring at the floor. “I’m sorry about
what happened. I’m sorry my brother is a psychopath and drew you into our
family crap. I’m sorry about what you had to do and what it caused.” He paused,
then continued, sounding more sure of himself. “We’re already making
arrangements for your security. People will come after you, trying to get the
crown, but they won’t get to you. And we’ll find a way for you to abdicate. I
promise you I’ll fix this.”

“This isn’t your fault and it’s not
yours to fix. I made a decision that could have gotten us all killed but I
didn’t have a choice. She was going to kill you! She was going to put that
knife in you.” She choked back a sob, covering her mouth. “I’d do it again in a
heartbeat.”

Pete exhaled slowly. “I’m no good
with words, Evie. Not anymore. I used to be so good at so many things and I
can’t do any of them anymore.”

The sadness in his voice tugged at
her. She reached for his hand, half expecting him to refuse her touch. To her
surprise he didn’t, folding her hand into his.

“I wanted to try with you, to be
the way I used to be. I wanted to charm you and make you laugh and get you to
date me. I don’t have that in me anymore. I’m sorry for that.”

She took a deep shuddering breath,
vowing not to cry in front of him. “It’s okay. I understand.”

He shifted to face her, their eyes
finally meeting. He stared for a long moment, the dark blue of his eyes ringed
with a faint silver. “Good. That’s good.”

Eve pulled her hand from his and
stood. “Look, I’m really tired, so if you don’t mind.” She stopped. What could
she say to him?
Please leave so I can cry myself to sleep?
If he wanted
to push her away, she didn’t know what to do about that. He’d been pushing her
away from the start. Any tentative steps toward each other hadn’t changed that.
They weren’t really involved. They weren’t even friends, strictly speaking. All
that existed between them was attraction and possibility. So why did her heart
hurt so much at the thought of him walking out her door?

“Just do one thing for me,” she
said.

“Anything.” He rose and reached for
her hand.

Eve took a step back. “Give me some
space. I know this isn’t a break-up. We never dated, so it’s not like this is a
break-up. But it still feels bad and I just want a little space from you for a
while because I don’t want to leave here and I don’t want you to leave because
of me. We have to work together, and everything will be fine, and I’ll feel
better soon.” She realized she’d been speaking in a rush, as if it was the only
way to get the words out. She took a breath and looked at him, just one quick
glance before dropping her eyes back to the floor. His expression was
unreadable.

“Just a little space, for a few
days. Then everything will be fine.” She turned on her heel abruptly and
hurried into the bedroom. Dealing with his rejection was one thing. Watching
him walk away…from her, from all of that possibility that ran like an
underground river beneath the surface between them…she didn’t have the stomach
for that right then. She sat on the foot of the bed, elbows on her knees, and
covered her face with her hands. Determined not to cry until she heard the
front door close.

***

It took Pete a few moments to wade
through his confusion and figure out what the hell just happened. He’d spoken
so badly that she thought he was walking away from her. He cursed himself for
being so lousy at this. He’d been so good with girls once, always knew just
what to say and when to say it. But he wasn’t that same person anymore and Eve
wasn’t just another pretty girl he wanted to sweet talk into bed. She was a
grown woman, and she’d put everything on the line for him tonight. He had to
find a way to tell her how he felt. She deserved nothing less than him putting
himself on the line, too.

He ran his hands through his hair,
smoothing it in place. Then he adjusted his jacket before taking it off,
leaving it draped over the back of the sofa. If he worked at it he could have
found other ways to delay, probably even excuses to leave. Instead, he shook
his head and strode to the bedroom door.

“Eve.” He placed one hand flat
against the door, the other resting on the knob. “May I come in?”

Nearly a full minute of silence
chipped away at his resolve second by second. He stepped away from the door,
half turned to leave, when it opened.

“What do you want?” Eve used the
door as a shield, tilting her head so that her short, ragged hair partly
covered her face.

Pete tried to put everything he
wanted to tell her in some kind of coherent order. That she’d misunderstood
what he’d been trying to say. That he was so desperately sorry his brother had
dragged her into their old family dysfunction. That he was amazed as always at
her courage and strength. That her dead aim impressed the hell out of him. That
her full lips drove him crazy with the desire to taste them and her eyes had
the ability to cut straight through to the deepest part of him.

But the words got all jumbled up in
his head and all he could do was give her a simple answer to her question.
“You.”

Gently but quickly, Pete pushed the
door out of the way and reached for her. He held nothing back as he took her
mouth with his, folding her into his arms. Eve held herself aloof for a
heartbeat, then another. Then she opened her lips under his and twined her arms
around his neck, pulling him lower to bridge the gap between their height
difference. Her touch lit up his senses in ways even magic couldn’t compare
with.

Half their clothes littered the
floor before he thought to put the brakes on his frantic need. “I can leave if
you want.”

“Don’t you dare.” She sank her
teeth into the flesh above his collar bone, her hands trailing a feather light
path down his bare chest and up his back. The combination of pleasure and pain
sent shivers through him.

“It’s just that.” He stopped as she
drew her hands behind her back and unhooked her bra, letting the garment drop
to the floor with the rest.

“It’s just what?” She pressed
herself against him, tunneling her fingers through his hair.

Pete kissed her, drawing her tongue
into a playful battle. He cupped one generous breast, lightly pinching the
nipple with his thumb and forefinger. It earned him a husky gasp. He increased
the pressure as he trailed his lips down the side of her neck. He left a random
pattern of kisses across her skin as he made his way to her other nipple,
dropping to his knees so he could reach her better. Taking the hard bud in his
mouth, he alternated sucking lightly and flicking his tongue across the peak. A
low, tortured moan came out of Eve.

He backed her against the bed,
pulling her down and crawling to hold himself above her. For a long moment they
stared at each other, the only sound their breathing. She traced her fingers
over the scars on his chest that even magic couldn’t heal. When she paused at
the jagged line above his heart, he covered her small hand with his.

An unaccustomed shyness overtook
him. He looked away, still gripping her hand. “I have a lot of scars,” he
whispered.

“I want to kiss every single one of
them.” Eve moved their hands, reaching up to place her lips on the rough
tissue.

Pete shuddered. Wrapped tightly
around the core of himself were chains, layers and layers of chains. Some from
childhood, some from the Valley Below. Some he’d placed there, protection
against his worst nightmares about himself. Those chains would never break,
could never be allowed to break. But Eve reached inside and loosened them with
her sweet touch. For the first time in years, he felt like he could breathe
deep. Inhale the sweetness she offered so freely, exhale his own pleasure and
not be afraid of where it came from.

He took her mouth again, in a kiss
that was slow and deliberate and meant to make her purr. She curled her body
against his, her welcoming softness a balm. It didn’t take long for his
deliberate control to melt under the heat of her response, her hands and lips,
tongue and teeth, driving him higher and hotter. He moved his hands between
their bodies, struggling with a pair of pants. His, hers, he wasn’t sure. He
just knew they were in the way.

Skin. Soft and smooth, pebbling
under his touch. And the sounds she made, low, deep in her throat, leaving no
doubt about her own pleasure. Kneading one breast while he licked and sucked at
the other’s nipple, he reveled in the cries and moans his attention drew from
her. She drew one leg up, hooking her ankle at his waist and arching into him.
The wet heat between her thighs nearly undid him.

With a strangled grunt Eve slapped
the bed, flailing her hand in the direction of the nightstand. “Condoms,” she
said, her voice husky with need. “There’s a box in the drawer.”

He laughed. “It’s been too long
since I did this. I didn’t even think about condoms.” He leaned over and
grabbed at the knob, missing it as Eve trailed her hands below his waist.
Breathing in a sharp hiss, he tried again, barely getting the drawer open.
Fumbling for the box, he buried his head in the crook of her neck as her soft
fingers and tight fist teased his flesh. A darkly sexual urgency burning in his
veins, he tore the drawer out of the nightstand and dumped the contents on the
floor.

Eve’s joyous laughter cut through
the fog in his brain. He leaned over the side of the bed, quickly spotted the
box of condoms and grabbed it. Settling on top of her again, he held the box
aloft and grinned. “I do remember a few of my old tricks.” He focused his will
on the box and its contents, sending a spike of energy into both with a silent
incantation.

The cardboard disappeared, packets
separated by the spell raining down on Eve. She threw her head back, short
blond waves spread on the pillow, laughing. “That is a very cute trick, I like
that.”

“Oh, I’ve got more.” He tossed
aside all but one foil packet. “Cute’s just for starters.”

She reached up, tracing his mouth
with the tip of a finger. “I love seeing a real smile on your face.”

“You put it there.” He kissed her,
but this time there was nothing slow or deliberate about it. This time, he used
his mouth to stake his claim. Hard and insistent and a little rough and when
she moaned his name he didn’t want to wait any longer. Sheathing himself with
quick, clumsy movements, he paused, tracing circles on her thigh with his
thumb.

“Pete,” she whispered.

“I love that you call me that,
instead of.” He stopped, not wanting to bring his past into this moment with
her.

Eve stroked his face. “It’s who you
are to me.”

Eyes never leaving hers, he entered
her slowly, reverently, almost forgetting to breath. She arched underneath him,
bringing her legs up to wrap around his waist. Holding him close in the cradle
of her body. Power crackled through him, sparking on his skin everywhere they
touched. He hadn’t called on the magic on purpose. He didn’t need to. It
hovered so close to the surface all the time, even as he’d fought it the past
three years. Now he welcomed it, holding on to enough control to direct a wave
of pure erotic sensation all over Eve, heightening her pleasure.

She opened herself to him, reaching
out tentatively with the same sensual warmth she’d used in the coffee shop in
an attempt to flirt with him. He responded in kind, a feedback loop of psychic
energy running between them. Pleasure built until it was almost unbearable,
until all thought ceased, intention became pointless, and all he could do was
fall into the intensity of it. She cried out his name and he splintered into
pieces.

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