“Stunning.” Deep and soft, husky with need. A wash of warmth flushed under my skin. I was blushing. Fabo. So much for femme fatale.
Sweet loves, this was going to be a long night. Maybe Nola should get that hotel room.
We stood there, looking but not touching, wanting each other but doing nothing about it, until he finally tipped his head down and stared at his shoes. “So, your coat?”
“Right.” I walked past him, and inhaled the warm pine and sweet spice scent of him—a new cologne? I liked it. He didn’t touch me as I walked by. I kept my back to him until I had my long wool coat securely on and buttoned.
Then I turned.
He was looking at me, his shoulders tipped slightly down, body language visibly tense, as if a fire burned beneath his skin.
I knew the feeling.
“Ready?” I asked.
“I am. Are you?” He smiled, just a curve of his lips, and I wanted to kiss him, to open his mouth with my own and taste him.
I’d show him who was ready.
“Sure.” It came out a little breathless, and I cleared my throat to get my volume back. “Bye, Nola. See you in a few hours.”
“Or, you know, call,” she said.
I gave her a look, then walked past Zayvion and out into the hall. He followed, pausing near enough that even with his hands in his pockets, I could feel the heat of him behind me as I turned to lock the door.
I took a step backward, hoping to feel the press of his body. Instead, he stepped in time with me, moving backward as if we were dancing, as if he had an instinctive knowledge of my body and his moving as one. As if he remembered very well that we had been lovers, even though I did not.
I held still, waiting, wishing he would touch me. Instead, he walked around and stood next to me.
“You are hungry, aren’t you?”
“Starving,” I said.
He tipped his head toward the end of the hallway and the stairs that led down. “Good. Let’s not lose our reservation.”
“Right.” I strolled over to the stairs.
He walked with me. “If I knew you had that dress in your closet,” he said while looking straight ahead, “I would have taken you out somewhere nice a long time ago.”
“Really? Before or after the psychopath tried to kill me?”
And seriously, if he had to ask that question—and he did—how crazy had my life been lately?
“Allie?” Zayvion asked.
“Minute. I’m thinking.” How many psychopaths had I been dealing with? There was Bonnie, who had tried to shoot me. James, who was in jail now for trying to kill Zayvion, Cody, and me. Then there was the gunman I couldn’t remember who left a bullet scar across my ribs.
“It wasn’t a serious question,” Zayvion said.
And just a couple weeks ago, a whole slew of new psychopaths who also liked mixing a little blood magic in with their gunplay showed up in my life: Lon Trager’s men. And to top it all off, the crazy death-magic doctor, Frank Gordon, had not only tried to kill me, he’d also dug up my dad’s corpse to try to re-kill him.
“Forget I asked,” Zayvion said.
“No, that’s okay,” I said. “Let’s just say all of them.”
“Mmm.” He gestured to the stairs, indicating I walk in front of him. “I would have asked you out somewhere nice before all of the psychopaths. I don’t like fighting on an empty stomach.”
“That’s so romantic.”
I started down the stairs, ready to drop the psychopath train of thought, and pretty darned pleased with my continued grace in heels.
We made it across the lobby to the door. He held the door open for me. As I brushed past him, my leg slid against his. I caught my breath at the thrill of electricity that washed through me. Sweet loves, I wanted him. Even with all the psychopath talk.
I paused. Thanks to the heels, I was maybe half an inch taller than him. And close.
So close, all I’d have to do was lean forward to kiss him. Half in, half out of the doorway, his left arm extended to keep the door open, Zayvion would have nowhere to go if I did exactly that. I searched his face, wondering just how that would play out.
Silent, still, he relaxed backward into the doorframe and smiled softly. Inviting me. No, daring me. He knew exactly what the slightest brush of his body did to me. And he was enjoying every minute of it.
“Yes?” he murmured.
Keep smiling, Jones
, I thought.
Two can play this game.
“I think my boot’s stuck,” I said. “Hold on.” I pressed the heel of my palm against his hip bone, for balance I really didn’t need, and bent. I reached across my body, swaying my hip away from him as I lowered my head. My face skimmed just inches above his stomach, belt, and thigh as I bent to inspect my shin.
I messed with one of the perfectly not-stuck buckles on my boot and noted that Mr. Jones sure was breathing a lot faster than he had been a moment ago. Luckily, my hair swung forward to cover my grin.
, I thought.
Bring it on, baby.
I wiped the grin off my face and straightened, my fingers digging into his hip just a little. I let my hand drop, but not before dragging my thumb along the edge of his front pocket. I met his gaze.
He blinked, once, slowly. Couldn’t seem to get his Zen attitude working. Had to blink again before he managed the calm, unaffected front. I was ridiculously proud of that.
“Everything check out?” he finally drawled.
“Looks good so far.” I flashed him a smile and stepped out into the cold, foggy night. “Reservations?”
“Plenty,” he said behind me. “Oh, were you talking about dinner?”
“Ha-ha. When do we need to be there?”
“In about an hour. We have time.”
“That’s good to hear.”
The night was cold. I kind of wished it were raining. I could use a little cold-shower action right now. My body, my senses, my nerves were focused on one thing only: Zayvion Jones.
Well, two things: Zayvion Jones, and keeping my hands off him.
Okay, three things: Zayvion Jones, keeping my hands off him, and not snapping my ankles in my boots.
Zayvion strolled up alongside me, and wonders of wonders, I heard the heel of his shoes thunk against the sidewalk, a hollow heartbeat in the fog. I didn’t think I’d ever heard his footsteps before. He was Mr. Zen, Mr. Silent, Mr. Invisible. Which I supposed came in handy for a Closer.
But I liked the sound, liked experiencing the auditory weight of him beside me.
“The car’s this way,” he said.
We crossed the street. Traffic hushed and growled through the fog, an ocean of metal and steam and oil, the rasping croon of the city. We walked uphill in silence. Pale yellow and blue streetlights caught moonlike in the fog to diffuse light and deepen shadow. I took some time to breathe in the cold air, think calm thoughts, and rein in my heartbeat.
The car was parked at the end of the block. Zayvion, always a gentleman, unlocked the door for me while I scanned the shadows for Davy Silvers, or any of the other Hounds who might be following me.
I didn’t see anyone, hear anyone, smell anyone, and it wasn’t worth the pain of drawing on magic to sense them in any other manner.
If it were any other day I’d figure I was just upwind and too distracted to spot the Hounds in the night. And that still might be the case. Except every Hound in the city had been at the pub this afternoon to pay their respects to Pike. To say their good-byes. To mourn.
There hadn’t been a sober body in that room by the time I’d gotten there. And I’d left long before the party ended. I figured there wasn’t a Hound in the city sober enough to walk, much less track magic or follow me.
Still, something made me pause. A shift in the gray and yellow fog. A man-sized shadow across the street held still for too long. There, in the alley between the single-floor antique and notions shop and the condemned, hollow and broken ten-story apartment building, something waited. Something watched.
The wind picked up, pulled the scent of the watcher to me. Blackberry, burnt, all the sugars used up so only the bitter, thick tar of it remained, sweetness burned down to ash. And with that, the stink of animal defecation, sweat, and pain.
The shadow shifted again, and eyes, now low to the ground, flashed ghost green.
The thing growled, whimpered in pain. A car drove past, blocking my view and covering the sound. Once it had gone by, I heard a sucking-smacking from across the street, like something, or someone, was making messy work of a spaghetti dinner.
I jumped at Zayvion’s soft voice. He was standing in the open door on the driver’s side, leaning one elbow on the roof of the car. Watching me.
“Sorry,” I said before he asked me what was wrong. “I saw . . . something.”
At least he didn’t brush me off or say it was just fog. I guess being an assassin makes you pay attention to subtle things.
“Over there.” I tipped my head toward the buildings across the street. “Do you see anything? A dog, maybe?”
Zay tipped his head down, and his body language looked like he’d just heard something funny or embarrassing. Nice act. With his face at that angle, he could look across the street without whoever was over there knowing.
After a moment, he said, “No. Do you?”
I didn’t even try for discreet. I stared across the street. No shadow. No one. Nothing.
A chill plucked down my arms and magic stretched in me, pushed at my skin, heating my right hand and chilling my left.
Just what I didn’t need to deal with right now.
I took a breath, cleared my mind, and relaxed, letting the magic move through me, up through the ground, back out of me to fall into the ground again, an invisible, silent loop.
“Someone was there,” I said. “Something. Maybe hurt.” And the image of Davy or one of the other Hounds, too drunk to think straight, maybe stabbed, mugged, or, hell, chewed on by a stray dog flashed in front of my eyes.
My heart started beating faster. There was no way I could drive off and leave one of my Hounds in danger. I started around the front of the car.
“What are you doing?” Zayvion asked.
“We’re close enough to my house; we can call 911 if someone needs help.”
“Allie,” he warned.
“It will just take a second.” It came out like I didn’t care if he followed me or not, and the truth was I didn’t care. If one of my people was hurt, I wasn’t going to stand by and leave him on his own.
I wondered if this was what a mother felt like and quickly pushed that away. Didn’t matter. What mattered was making sure whoever was over here was okay.
Zayvion shut up and followed me. I only knew he paced next to me because I could see him out of the corner of my eye. He was walking, breathing, moving, like an assassin again. Silent.
I was not nearly so smooth. I stomped over in my boots, making noise on purpose.
Grunts accompanied the smacking and slurping, and I had a weird feeling there was more than one person back there.
I almost turned back, because, seriously, I had no desire to walk in on some dirty lovin’ going on in the alley. But the whimper, the stink of pain, drew me forward.
“Hey,” I called out once I stepped up on the sidewalk. “Everything okay over here?”
The fog in the alley did not stir. There were no lights down the narrow passage, just two buildings standing so close together I didn’t think Zayvion could walk in there without losing jacket, shirt, and an inch of skin off both shoulders. Plus, the brick foundation of the apartment bulged outward at the bottom, sagging under the weight of years and making the alley even narrower.
I could see maybe ten feet into the alley. Something shifted back there. Then an almost-human moan rose to a keen, was muffled, silenced.
The familiar smell of strawberry bubble gum and cheap wine hit my nose. Those scents belonged to Tomi Nowlan. Tough girl, cutter chick, she was a Hound who didn’t like me stepping into the boss job now that Pike was gone.
I didn’t care how much she hated me. She was one of Pike’s pack, my pack, and that meant I looked out for her. Especially when it involved a dark night and a dark alley.
“Tomi?” I called out a little more quietly.
Okay, dark night, dark alley, me with no gun—not that I ever carried one—and Zayvion with no gun, or at least I didn’t think he carried one. All systems go for getting hurt or killed.
Except we both had magic.
I recited a quick mantra, just the first lines of a Beatles’ song, set a Disbursement to choose how I’d pay for the magic—I was going with the tried-and-true headache in a day or so—and drew a glyph so I could pull magic up into my senses of sight and smell. Magic licked across my bones, warm, heavy, and poured out of my skin, filling the glyph.