First Dates Are Hell
VALIANCE WAS HAVING a hard time sitting still in the front seat of her car. The power, the energy that flowed through him, was like nothing he'd ever had before. The little bit of blood that he had taken had given him more power than he'd had in a decade. Everything smelled sweeter, everything felt softer. His muscles tingled anxiously, waiting for action again. Not only was she a fairy, but she was powerful one.
When his cell phone rang, he jumped in the passenger seat, and Esme swerved.
"You all right?"
"Fine." Valiance looked at the caller ID and put it on speakerphone. "Talk quick. Phone's almost dead."
"You guys okay?"
"He took Esme's grandmother. We're hunting him down."
"I'd volunteer to send Chaz, but there's a swarm of ghouls tearing up some butcher shop in Oak Cliff."
"So your night is going well?"
"Never a dull moment. How's your girl holding up?"
Valiance looked over at the driver's seat. He wanted to say Esme was the most luminous thing he had ever seen. But it was only a first date. Maybe all first dates were like this, minus the kidnapping and bloodletting.
Esme beat him to it. "We are going to get my grandmother back, then you and I are going to discuss getting me a job at the coffee shop."
The phone line was quiet for a moment. "Well, Bastian is really the manager there."
"I'm tired of folding towels, and I'm sure the owner could put in a good word for me."
"Val, take me off speaker."
Valiance did as he was told, prepared to get an earful.
Instead, Violet only said. "Keep her, please. You don't meet a girl every day who can just fall into violence and still be confident enough to backtalk the Prima of a city."
"She doesn't know - "
"Keep her. Sounds like you've got some pretty good backup. But if you really need help, send up a flare, and I'll be there."
Valiance hung up but looked down at the phone in his hand.
"What didn't I know?" Esme asked.
Valiance licked his lips as he prepared his words. "Violet's not just a coffee-shop owner. She's the most powerful Wanderer in the region. Possibly in the country."
"You just told her she needed to get you a job."
Valiance smiled. "You're just nothing that I've seen before."
"I'm nothing anyone has ever seen before apparently." Esme flashed him a smile as she continued down the highway.
ESME PARKED ALONG the curb. It was an older neighborhood she had never been to before. Just another example of her universe expanding this evening.
"Welcome to my second home," Valiance said as he pointed to the shop across the street.
Emilio's Antiques was a restored home in a long line of restored homes turned into shopfronts. If this looked like a normal shop, she wondered how many other places her grandmother had dragged her to were also run by things that went bump in the night.
Suddenly, Valiance turned to stone in the passenger seat next to her.
"He's here, isn't he?" she whispered, as if Mondrian could hear them.
"Yes," Valiance said. "I wasn't able to feel him like this before. Forgot how much of an effect we have on each other."
"Which means he knows we're here, too. So much for the element of surprise." She sighed.
"What about me? Can you feel me in your head since I'm supposed to be magical or something?"
He looked over at her. "I don't know," he whispered. "My head's a little funny around you anyway."
Esme bit her lower lip and suddenly found the edge of her jacket very interesting. This was now officially the worst best date ever.
Valiance turned to her in the car. It was a bit comical, his long legs twisted up in the front of her VW, as he reached down by his boot to unlace a bowie knife from his calf. "When we get in there, your only goal needs to be getting your abuelita out of there."
The skin tightened along her shoulders as his perfect accent caressed the familiar word.
"Do you understand?"
"Yes, but how?"
"You're going to knock on the door."
Esme laughed. "You can't be serious."
"Completely. You knock on the front door, and I'll go in through the back door."
"And if he's got both covered somehow?"
"You hide. I'll fight. Now take this." He shoved the leather-sheathed knife at her. "He will get violent. Ultimately, he wants me to come back with him - "
"Which means he doesn't care about me and abuelita."
"Exactly." Valiance sighed.
"So we protect ourselves and leave you to the wolf?"
Valiance looked into her eyes. "I'll survive."
"I don't want you to survive. I want you to live with all your parts in place. I'm not leaving you in there like a coward. If I've discovered anything about myself in the past four hours, it's that I am not a coward."
Valiance blurred before her, and his lips were upon hers before she could finish her thought. His lips were warm but hesitant. He slid his hand up to hold her jaw but didn't deepen the embrace.
Her body hummed like a fluorescent bulb. Energy danced along her skin with the novelty of being kissed in the front seat of her car like a high schooler, something she hadn't actually had done as a high schooler.
She kissed him back, taking in more of his soft lips, tasting the slight copper of him. She burned the taste of him into her brain, the warmth that pulsed against her. Their warmth, she thought again. Her bravery had brought him back to life.
He was the one who pulled away, and when he did, she knew he was different, changed from the moment before to the moment after. Everything she'd ever read about warriors flashed through her mind, and she had half a notion to give him a token as he went off to war.
Valiance licked his lips, leaving them shiny in the moonlight and completely distracting. "You knock on the front door. I'll go in through the back, and we'll meet in the middle."
Esme looked ahead and tried to focus on the plan. Knock on the door and sneak in. But as she shifted in the seat again, his arm brushed against hers, and all she could think of was his lips on hers and how she wanted to do that again.
She could feel his breath on her neck. "Yes?" She gulped as she stared at the steering wheel.
"I think you're glowing."
She looked down at her hands, held out before her. They looked like her hands, all normal and small. "I think you might be seeing things."
"I don't think so." He turned the rearview mirror toward her, and she could see what he had seen. Like someone had sprinkled her with candlelight, there was a slight illumination to her skin.
And there was a sparkle in her eyes that wasn't normally there.
Her gaze snapped over to Valiance. "What does that mean?"
Valiance shrugged and put the rearview back where it had been. "I only know one fairy."
"And does she glow?"
"Only when she's happy."
Esme looked away but fought the urge to bury her hands in her face. "So much for being dark and exotic and not pathetic at all."
"Dark and exotic has nothing on you."
Esme tried to bite back the smile that accompanied the butterflies in her stomach. She didn't think that one human could feel so much in one moment. Fear for her grandmother, embarrassed that he could see right through her, and complete admiration for the man in the seat next to her.
But then again, she wasn't all human, so maybe this was just par for the course.
"We'd better get going."
He hurried out of the car and swooped around to the driver's side to open her door for her. He offered his hand to help her out. She knew that she shouldn't be smiling, but she did as she slid her hand into his. It was warm, soft, and gave her just enough support as she exited.
It was a horribly outdated gesture, but effective. It gave Esme the distinct feeling that this was still a date. There might still be some hope, providing they survived the night.