It was going to be interesting to see what Zayvion, the unflappable master of Zen calm, was going to do about it. Maybe he’d do nothing.
Maybe that worried me most of all.
I tucked the corner of the towel tighter around me, then bare-footed it out into my bedroom across the hall. My closet wasn’t exactly full. Unpacked boxes took up half the closet, and the other half held a couple suit jackets, some slacks, more sweaters, and not a lot else. I didn’t see my red dress. For all I knew I gave it away, burned it, lost it in a wild night of magical abandon. That subtle reminder that magic had burned holes through my memories made me angry. But it was a familiar anger, and one I knew I could do nothing about.
All I could do was go forward. That’s all I’d been doing my entire life. Let go of the past, of the things I wanted, of the people I loved, and move forward.
I glanced at the clock. Still forty minutes before Zayvion showed up. I could put together something suitable for a French restaurant by then.
Maybe a nice pair of slacks. I pushed hangers around again, looking for my gray tweed pair. Found them, considered my nice jade jacket. Even though it was silk, it looked far too much like business wear. I wanted to date Zayvion, not interview him for a job. I fingered the inside of the jacket collar and a flash of red caught my eye.
I unhooked the hanger. Beneath the jade jacket, red shone like a winter fire. My dress.
I shucked out of the towel, put on my good bra (silk, lace, black) and panties, then slicked into the dress. It fit me a little looser than the last time I’d worn it and I made a mental note to eat three meals once in a while. I smoothed my hands over the silky fabric—what there was of it—but stopped that pretty quick. My hands sounded like industrial sandpaper over the silk, and I didn’t want to snag it up.
Shoes next. I found my high-heel black boots, sexy if you were into the straps and well-placed buckles look. I wondered how stupid they’d look with the dress, waffled when I came across a nice pair of high-heel sandals, and went back to the boots because it was January in the Pacific Northwest. Icy rain out there. Lots of wet. Sandals just weren’t going to cut it.
Nola hadn’t returned with the nylons yet, so I carried the boots back into the bathroom to get a look at myself in the full-length mirror.
What do you know. I was still a girl.
The dress slipped low and wide in the front, giving off a maximum view of my collarbone, and the whorls of magic that painted down to my right breast, but mostly covered my cleavage, and the shiny pink bullet scar over my left breast. The sleeves were short and the skirt was shorter, body hugging but with a little swing at the hem.
The whole look, from dark, messy hair that I tucked behind my ear on the left side and left loose on my right, pale skin beneath bloodred curves, painted a version of myself I hadn’t seen in years.
Standing there in front of the mirror, in a dress—in a sexy dress—made me feel more naked than I’d been in the shower. For a second—just that long—I wanted to crawl back into my jeans and heavy sweater and leave the whole femme fatale stuff to girls who liked dressing up and didn’t get dumped every time they tried to fall in love.
The door opened. “I’m back,” Nola called out over the rustling of plastic bags. “Are you in the bedroom?”
“Bathroom,” I yelled.
More rustling as she neared. “I wasn’t sure what color for your nylons. Decided nude would be best . . .” She stopped at the open bathroom door.
“What do you think?” I asked when she didn’t say anything. “Too much skin? Maybe it needs a sweater? Or a parka?”
“Turn around,” she said.
“Are you wearing those with it?” She pointed to the boots in my hand.
“I love my boots.”
“Hmm.” She handed me the nylons, and I surprised myself by remembering not only how to get into a pair of panty hose, but also how weird they felt against my skin.
I stuffed my feet in the boots and propped my heels on the edge of the toilet so I could zip the leather to just below my knees.
“Well?” I turned, arms out.
“Heels might be prettier,” she said.
“These have heels—over three inches of heels.”
“I mean dress heels. Sexy shoes.”
“These are sexy.”
“Girl shoes,” Nola said like it was a foreign language. “You have enough money to own a hundred Jimmy Choos if you wanted.”
“First of all, when did you start paying attention to designer shoes? And second of all, it’s raining out there. And cold. Portland is boot weather. Sexy-boot weather.” I gave her a grin. “How about the dress?”
Nola nodded. “Gorgeous. Really. Even with the boots. Plus your, um ... The marks on your hand and arm make it look like you’re wearing jewelry down your arm.”
I looked down at both my hands. Sure, my right hand was covered in swirls of metallic colors that wove all the way up my arm, over my shoulder, and licked up to the corner of my eye. But my left hand had only thick black bands at each knuckle, wrist, and elbow from where I had denied magic’s use of me. Those black rings were stark against my white skin. Prison bars against moonlight. That, I realized, was a good deal of why I was feeling so exposed. My hands, my scars, my mistakes—and for the few who might really understand this stuff—my power was showing.
It made me feel all twitchy and vulnerable.
“Maybe I should wear a jacket. Real sleeves.”
Nola stepped into the bathroom and turned me back toward the mirror, standing next to me so we were both in the reflection. Wow. I looked good. The dress clung in all the right places and made my modest curves look much fuller. The skirt hit high enough above the knees that even with those boots taking up all of my calf, it looked like my legs never stopped.
“You look beautiful,” she said in a deal-with-it tone. “Wear your coat out. But don’t wear it in the restaurant. You’re on a date, not a job, okay?”
“It is pitiful you think you need to remind me of that,” I said.
Nola stared at me in the mirror and gently touched one of the fading fingertip burns on my shoulder. “What happened?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Does it involve magic?”
“Everything in my life involves magic right now,” I groused.
Nola stepped back. “So do something unmagical tonight. I recommend sex.”
I laughed. “Shocking. Where’s the prim and proper widow from the country?”
“I never said I was prim or proper.” Nola grinned. “Just because I live in the sticks doesn’t mean I don’t know how to live.”
The doorbell chimed.
“Think it’s Zayvion?” she asked.
“Unless you invited a boyfriend over,” I said.
“Stop it. I don’t have a boyfriend. Do you want me to get it?”
I shook my head and tucked my hair behind my left ear again. One last muss with the right side so it better covered the marks along my jaw, and that was as good as I was going to get. Not that hiding the edge of my face would matter much. My hands and arms were covered in marks from magic.
“The boots?” I asked. “Honestly?”
“Tough,” Nola said. “Unexpected. Sexy. You.” She smiled. “Call me if you want the apartment to yourself tonight. I can get a hotel room for the night.”
“Oh, I’ll be home,” I said.
“I’m not so sure about that. I know you.”
I made a face at her, but she was right. I hadn’t even been good at dating back in college. One-night stands, yes. Seven-course meals, no.
“Yeah?” I said. “Well, Zayvion has some idea in his head that I jump into bed too quickly with men and then push them away. Shut up and stop grinning. He wants us to take it slow. To know I really want this, want him.”
“Gotta love a patient man,” she said. “Rarest of them all. Go. Date.”
She moved out of the way so I could walk out of the bathroom. It’s amazing how little time it takes to get back into the swing of wearing heels again.
I strolled to the door and looked out the peephole. Zayvion’s back was to me. He had traded his ratty blue ski coat for a black leather jacket that did worlds of good for showing the width of his shoulders. Well, well.
I opened the door.
We stood there, caught in a breathless moment.
He looked amazing. Leather jacket, open to reveal a black sweater thin enough it showed the definition of his chest he always hid under sweatshirts. Black slacks. Black shoes. Handsome as hell, with those deep brown eyes, wide lips, and dark, tight-curled hair. He looked a little surprised. Maybe a lot surprised.
That made two of us.
“Allie,” he exhaled.
“Zayvion.” I licked my bottom lip, tasted the unfamiliar gloss—vanilla—and gave him a slow smile. “Don’t you clean up nice? Come on in. I’m almost ready.” I turned away from the hunger in his eyes and walked into the apartment. I had two reasons for turning my back on him. One, I had to stop looking at him before I just grabbed him and dragged him off to bed; I was trying to prove I wasn’t that kind of a girl tonight.
Two, I wanted to see how the going-away view of my getup worked for him.
“Nola, you remember Zayvion Jones?” I looked over my shoulder at Zayvion.
Even though I’d gotten halfway across the room, Mr. Master of Zen had frozen, only one step into the apartment. He wasn’t looking at my apartment. I’d lay money he didn’t even notice Nola standing in the living room, watching us this whole time. His gaze slipped up the back of my boots, thighs, ass, and finally slid along the edge of my breast to my face.
Sweet loves. If he didn’t stop looking at me like that, I wasn’t going to make it to the door, much less the first course.
“Hello, Zayvion,” Nola said.
He looked away, suddenly in motion again as if her voice had freed him. Freed us. I inhaled and realized I had stopped breathing. I had also, unknowingly, taken a step toward him.
Like metal to a magnet. That man was a force I could not resist.
“Good evening, Nola,” he said as he shut the door. “I didn’t know you were coming to visit.” But the way he said it, the subtle tightening of his shoulders, the carefully neutral tone, sent warning bells off in my head. He was lying. He knew Nola was going to be here.
Did he know something about Cody? Something that would help Nola gain custody of him? Or was he spying on Nola? I didn’t like that idea. Zayvion worked for people who gave me nightmares.
“Well, it wasn’t a planned trip,” she said. “I have some business in town that needs my attention.”
“It is nice to see you again,” he said.
Nola raised one eyebrow, obviously not buying it. I wasn’t getting a good read on either of them. Partly because all I could think about was Zayvion’s hands touching me, his body pressing against every inch of me. Partly because I had no idea how much they knew each other since I’d lost those memories. I suddenly felt the desire to keep Nola safe from the kind of people Zayvion associated with.
People like you
, a whisper said in the back of my head.
Oh, just thanks so much for adding a little extra creepy to my night, Dad
, I thought.
Now go away.
I couldn’t be sure that he listened, but I didn’t hear him, didn’t feel him anymore.
One thing was for sure: I trusted Zayvion—hells, trusted just about anyone in this city—more than I trusted my father.
Nola told me Zayvion had sat with me out at her farm for two weeks when I was in the coma. They would have had some time to talk then, to get to know each other. She also just said she liked him.
“It’s nice to see you too,” Nola said, and I was pretty sure she meant it.“Allie, before you go, I have something for you.” She knelt beside her suitcase propped next to the couch and unzipped one of the outer pockets. “I was going to give it to you later, but I think it might come in handy tonight.”
She stood and held something black and knitted in her hands.
I took the soft and supple hand-knitted lace, held it up, and discovered it wasn’t just lace, it was gloves. Long enough they would rise up to my elbows where they tied off with a delicate black ribbon woven through eyelets.
“Oh, Nola. You made these, didn’t you?”
She shrugged. “I had some time on my hands.”
“They’re beautiful. Thank you.” I pulled them on. They fit perfectly. A lot of skin showed through the lace, but they did a nice job of making both of my arms look like they belonged on the same body. Plus, I thought they might be kind of sexy. I glanced over at Zayvion.
He had put both his hands in his pockets, same way I did when I was trying to keep my hands off the artwork in a museum. His gaze flowed down my body, then traced back up until his warm brown eyes met mine.