My face went hot and I knew I had flushed. I was jealous of them. Of all of them.
“Andrea, you can’t be jealous of someone I met before I knew you. I didn’t know you existed back then. I don’t want anyone else now. Has there been anybody for you?”
I shook my head.
“I think of you a lot. Do you think of me, Andrea? Don’t lie to me.”
“Yes!” I snarled, my face burning. “Yes, I do! All the time. I can’t get you out of my head. I wish I could!”
He hugged me so hard, my bones nearly crunched. “You’ve made yourself into a new person and so have I. We deserve a fucking chance. I want you and you want me. Why aren’t we together? I’ll deal with your hang-ups if you’ll deal with mine, but if you’re still too scared to even try, then you’re not worth waiting for. I have some goddamn pride left and I won’t wait forever.”
He let me go.
I could either take control of it now or walk out. I clenched my teeth. This was my decision. I owned it, I took full responsibility for it, and no memories would make me cower and run away from him. I was worth it, damn it. He was worth it.
I did what I had wanted to do since I first saw him. I dropped my fork and kissed him.
We never made it upstairs to the bedroom.
The problem with falling asleep wrapped in a comfy blanket on the floor between the coffee table and the sofa is that in the morning, when the phone rings and wakes you up, you forget the coffee table is there. At least Raphael did. There was a solid thud as he sat up, smashing his head against the table, and then a string of foul curses as he staggered into the kitchen and picked up the phone.
“It’s for you!”
I got up, wrapped the blanket about myself like a cape, and went to get the phone.
“Aha!” Kate’s voice said on the other end.
Raphael must’ve recovered from his unfortunate connection with the table, because he set about trying to steal my blanket.
“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Miss Innocence said.
“How did you get this number anyway?” I smacked Raphael’s hand away.
“Jim gave it to me a long time ago. I tried your cell, the Order, and your house. This was the next logical number. I’m a trained detective, you know.”
“You couldn’t detect your way out of a shoe if someone lit the way with neon signs.”
Raphael finally won the battle for the blanket and molded his body against mine, nipping gently at my neck. “Hold on a minute.”
I covered the phone and turned to him. “About dealing with my hang-ups—this is one of them. I’m on the phone. Please let me be.”
He sighed and went about the kitchen getting eggs out.
“I’m here,” I said, pulling my blanket back up.
“How did it go with Cerberus?”
I briefly sketched it for her. “Even if destroyed, he continues to remanifest as soon as the magic is up. He’s bound to that house. I’ll be talking to the People today about the vampire. I doubt they’ll tell me anything.”
“How important is this?”
I explained about Aunt B.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Ghastek owes me a favor,” Kate said. “I have it on paper, signed in the presence of witnesses. Call him on it.”
“It’s the least I can do. Say, how did you even get into this mess?”
“Some man called Teddy Jo called it in.”
Kate hesitated. “Be careful with Teddy Jo,” she said softly.
“I don’t have anything solid, but there is something that bothers me about Teddy. Just watch him carefully if he ever shows up.”
I hung up. After Nataraja, the head of the People in Atlanta, Ghastek was the most talented of the Masters of the Dead. And also the most dangerous.
“Are you off the phone?” Raphael inquired mildly.
A hint of danger added edge to his smile. “Good.”
When one says “pounce,” most people typically think of a cat. Maybe a dog. But none of them can manage to pounce quite as well as a horny male werehyena.
It took us nearly forty-five minutes to get out of the house, partly because Raphael had jumped me and partly because I had lingered. I lay next to him, wrapped in his arms, and tried to sort it out, and all the while my brain feverishly pulled apart my emotions, the secret creature inside me purred and snuggled up to Raphael, blissful in her simple happiness.
Raphael went all out: black jeans, black T-shirt, black jacket, enough knives to fight off a gaggle of ninjas. At least he didn’t wear leather, or we would’ve caused a slew of traffic accidents.
He had also called his mother. During his life, Alex Doulos was a Greek pagan, and he did worship Hades. Aunt B didn’t know the particulars. Raphael didn’t mention that her mate’s shade was trapped behind a ward by some sort of necromancer. We both agreed that she could be spared that knowledge.
“What’s bothering you?” Raphael asked, as I slid the Jeep into traffic. The magic had dropped again during the night. At least we could speak without yelling over the roar of the water engine. “Was the morning not good for you?”
He was worried. If he knew how completely he’d blown my socks off, his head would swell to twice its normal size. I tried my best not to laugh. “Sex, it’s what for breakfast.”
“It was great.” The best I ever had, but he didn’t need to know that. “Couldn’t you tell?”
“You never know. Women are more complicated.” He shook his head. “If not that, then what is it? You have that pinched look on your face.”
“Aren’t men supposed to be bad about reading women’s faces?”
Raphael sighed. “Not when they are reading the face of a woman they’ve obsessed over for the last six months. Tell me.”
I didn’t say anything. He would think less of me if I did.
“This is one of my hang-ups,” he said. “I’ll keep asking you what’s wrong until you tell me.”
Fair enough. “I’m a professional,” I said. “I went through the training, got knighted, the whole thing. I have decorations for meritorious service. But I have to rely on Kate to get the People to talk to me. It bothers me.”
He waited for more.
“Back in Texas, my partner and I took out a group of loups. My partner caught Lyc-V and went loup. I killed her. The Order tested me, but I got the all clear.”
“How did you manage that? The virus is in your blood.”
“I had a silver ring implanted under my skin in my arm just below the armpit. It pinched off my blood supply and then I shot liquid silver into my veins. It killed the virus. I cut my wrist to bleed out the dead virus cells, and the ring kept Lyc-V from the rest of my body from entering my arm.” The mere memory made me want to curl in pain.
“That was insanely dangerous. You could’ve lost your arm.”
“I almost did. But the blood work came back clear, and the amulet in my skull, the one you pulled out during the flare, kept my magic from leaking into an m-scan. I was given a clean slate, but they still shipped me off to Atlanta. Ted Monahan, the knight-protector, put me on the back burner. Before coming here, I was on the way to becoming Master-at-Arms, Firearm.”
Raphael nodded. “I take it that’s a big deal.”
“Very. I had all of my security briefings, passed all of the tests. All that remains is the formal nomination from my chapter’s knight-protector. But Ted will never do it.”
“Because he senses there is something wrong with me. He isn’t sure what, and until he figures it out, I’m the only knight without any active cases. I don’t even have an office.”
Raphael’s jaw took on a stubborn set. I had seen it before a few times, and I knew what it meant. “I know that look.”
He turned a dazzling smile at me. “What look?”
“Promise me that you’ll cause no harm directly or indirectly to Ted by acting on my behalf. I’m dead serious, Raphael. Promise me.”
“What he’s doing to you—”
“Is exactly what I would do in his place. I knew the risks when I got into the Order. The Order has done absolutely nothing to renege on the terms of our bargain. All the fault lies with me. I deceived it, and if discovered, I’ll pay the price. I accept that.”
“What is the price?”
A spike of anxiety pinched me. My throat closed up for a moment. “They’ll throw me out on my ass.”
“Is that all?” he asked. “Are you sure they won’t send someone after you to make sure you don’t join the opposite side?”
“I’m sure,” I said. “Their conditioning is very good. It would take a lot to break my devotion to the Order even if they put me out on the street. Promise me.”
“Fine. I promise.”
We drove in silence for a few minutes.
Raphael’s eyes darkened. “Maybe we should be careful with public displays of affection.”
I gave him my thousand-yard stare. “Oh no. I think you misunderstand the nature of our relationship. You are mine. If there is an attractive female in speaking range, you will be publicly affectionate to me. Otherwise I’ll end up pistol-whipping them off you, and I’m pretty sure injuring innocent civilian hussies would be considered ‘conduct unbecoming a knight.’”
Raphael showed me the edge of his teeth in a slight smile. “And what will Ted think of you shacking up with a bouda?”
“Ted is welcome to show me a section in the Order’s regulations that forbids me to do so. My knowledge of regulations is extremely extensive. I can quote entire passages from memory. I guarantee that I know the rules much better than Ted.”
My brain took a second to process the words that had just left my mouth and realized how many things I had taken for granted. I said softly, “At least I hope you would be publicly affectionate.”