I’d never been this happy, truly happy, the kind of happy that seeps into all the nooks and crannies and fills the gaps in your soul, soothes away the pain, and stitches together the wounds. Before now—before him—I’d been merely surviving. Not that surviving was a bad thing. It was what you did. It was what most people did. It was the everyday struggle you saw everywhere, as people clawed their way through the day and then the next, all in the hopes of finding a better alternative. Like so many others, I wasn’t sure that alternative existed. Well, it did, and I had found it.
This was living. This was effortless joy. I woke up breathing in sunshine and went to bed sleeping on the clouds.
It was the best feeling I’d ever had. While it lasted…
Perfect wasn’t part of my world. Had never been. I’d never aimed for perfect because it had always seemed so out of reach. I’d always strived for what others would consider ho-hum, like waking up without a monster staring down at me and things not blowing up.
But somehow I had ended up here, with something that felt suspiciously like perfect. I had the greatest man interested in me. The crawlers, the monsters that had haunted me, were keeping their distance. I even had friends who didn’t think I was a freak. Like I said, I had something near perfection. That was how I knew disaster was looming right around the corner.
Instead of relaxing and enjoying this newfound happiness, I was in a panic most of the time. I didn’t know what to do with this life. Disaster? Oh, yeah, had that one in the bag. No problems. I could do disaster every day of the week and throw in a couple of cartwheels for fun as I navigated the nightmare. Nightmares were my wheelhouse. I knew what to do with them. Survive. The same way I’d been surviving my whole life.
I didn’t know how to handle this life. I had no experience at happy. No training. What was one supposed to do when everything was going right? Smile and forget that monsters existed? Pretend that life wasn’t fragile and people died every second of every day? Especially when it didn’t make any sense and I barely knew how I got to this place?
No. That wasn’t me. I didn’t put my head in the sand. I stared straight ahead, even if it made me squint and my eyes water. But I was staring at nothing. I didn’t know what was going to hit. Even as I sat in the booth in the Underground, surveying the crowd, I couldn’t find the trouble on the horizon. I’d made enemies, too. I’d killed some vampires and rained on some witches, but that seemed to be blowing over. I couldn’t see what was coming for me, and something must be, because it always did.
This perfect shit had me looking over my shoulder, trying to figure out what I was missing. I was so on edge, waiting for a disaster I knew had to be looming, that I would’ve sworn I felt the breeze on my ankles as my feet dangled over the abyss.
Maybe I needed to keep things in perspective? It had only been a week of perfect. And things hadn’t been that perfect, right?
A not-so-gentle kick nailed my shin under the booth’s table. I glanced up to see everyone’s coffee and juice jiggling around in their glasses, and three sets of dirty looks aimed my way. I didn’t know who to curse at. It could’ve been anyone. I did the only acceptable action. I gave Flip, Butch, and Leon all nasty stares before I asked, “Who kicked me?”
“I did,” Butch said, the sun streaming through the window behind him making his red hair glow. “You were doing it again.”
I clamped a hand to my knee under the table. You know what happened to people who were on edge, besides the nice breeze from the abyss? They became twitchers. My foot had been tapping as if I were playing the drums for a rock band on speed.
“We’re going to tie weights to your legs soon,” Leon said, before he shot a look toward Butch, as if making mental plans with him. Those two had known each other so long that it seemed talking was sometimes optional. Leon’s gaze turned back to me, as if he’d forgotten something. “And don’t punch me in the face for that,” he added quickly, referring to my inadvertent violence toward an unsuspecting witch not long ago.
Good reminder of another reason things were too perfect. I had a mark on my hand from being shadow kissed by a crawler. That was what they’d called it, but in reality, it had been much more bite than kiss. And not one of those ooh, make it hurt so good bites. That little bastard had dug in. Who knew what it had done to me.
Things seemed calm, but they also seemed calm right before a tornado dropped a house on you, too. I’d grown up on The Wizard of Oz. I knew how quickly things could go downhill. If my apartment hadn’t blown up, I’d be watching that DVD right now. That Dorothy chick knew some stuff about surviving.
I got another nudge, this time from Flip, my favorite half-fairy, half-leprechaun. “You’ve got to stop. You’re killing us.” She was the only mutt of her kind in existence. Leprechauns didn’t breed well and fairies didn’t intermingle, but apparently both breeds got drunk on occasion.
I put my hand back on my knee so I couldn’t tap without realizing. I’d only moved it to take a sip of coffee and decided I didn’t really need any more caffeine anyway. “Just so you know, I didn’t mean to punch Dana.” It had crossed my mind, as she was one of the witches who’d relished in aggravating me, but I never would’ve done it on purpose. Well, maybe I would’ve, but I hadn’t meant to at that moment.
“Oh, then I’m sure it didn’t hurt much.” Leon rolled his eyes and the three of them laughed, as if the only problem they had was their food shaking and watching me punch people by accident.
“Don’t you guys feel it at all?”
Butch shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re worried about. Everything’s good.” Flip and Leon nodded before the subject moved on to some other frivolous topic I tuned out of.
This wasn’t a time to make jokes. It was time to build bunkers and stockpile supplies. Why was I twitching alone? We should’ve all been rattling the table. It didn’t matter if we didn’t know what was coming. It was. Things were way too peaceful.
I looked out into the field of other diners, in all their different shapes and sizes, all eating their breakfast too. Witches cackled a few tables over about something that wasn’t funny. Their jokes never were. I’d overheard enough of them to be able to judge. Wolves were sniffing bacon and getting fat instead of honing their hunting skills. Vampires—yes, vampires at breakfast, because the Underground had some weird windows that blocked the harmful rays—admiring the other diners’ jugulars. I couldn’t see the dwarves, but I had to assume that they were doing whatever it was they did too.
When the heads swiveled toward the door, I didn’t have to look to know Kane had just entered the room. No one else here got that much attention. If there were ever a group that fit the word jaded, this was them. Although they thought they were much cooler than they were. But even this group gave Kane his due. As soon as he set foot in the place he became the new center of gravity, everything orbiting around him, including myself. I tried to fight it, but you can’t fight gravity.
I turned and watched Kane stride across the room, his dark hair gleaming, his eyes intent, looking like a king among men. I’d seen him walk through a group of vampires the same way. Into a den of leprechauns without being fazed. Even the crawlers paid him deference and backed out of the room when he entered. Maybe the monsters keeping tabs on him and backing away should’ve warned me off. Maybe, but it didn’t.
I couldn’t help myself. When he stopped halfway up the stairs and looked in my direction, his eyes nearly yanked my heart from my chest. He tilted his head in the direction of his office. I gave him a subtle nod that I’d be right over, not that there was a doubt, at least in my mind. My body moved toward him of its own volition, and I worried that I’d follow this man right into hell.
I made my way through the crowd and toward his office, all eyes now focused on me. There was a big difference in the appraisals, and I wasn’t delusional about it. When they’d watched him, it was sort of like wow, wish I could be that badass when I grow up. As they watched me, it was more along the lines of she might be bad news. Better not get anywhere near her before shit blows up. I tried to comfort myself with the fact that we were both considered bad, but his was just a touch more flattering.
I shut the door to the office and left all the stares behind me. Kane was leaning on the front of his desk, shirt sleeves rolled up and the button at his neck undone. I strolled toward the couch, trying to quash my need to touch him. I was waylaid by a hand on my wrist that tugged me back toward him until I was standing between his legs.
I didn’t mind. I liked being there, even as I’d made every excuse I could to avoid going beyond some heavy petting. Kane wasn’t a stupid man. He’d probably caught on after my third night of excuses. Probably after my second. Maybe even the first. I wasn’t very good at them.
It wasn’t like I was a virgin. I’d had more than one night of using a warm body to try and chase away the nightmares. But he wasn’t a random man used for a purpose.
He wasn’t like the others. Being near Kane was like being in an inferno, burning warmth surrounding you, and when he wasn’t there, everything felt cold and lifeless. And when that fire died, it would leave you dead in the ashes. That scared me worse than a horde of crawlers.
He was giving me space, or as much space as I wanted. He didn’t press, beyond a little pushing here and there, like what he was doing right now. His hand was on my ass, hoisting me against him, making it very clear that one of us was definitely ready.
My head dropped back as I moaned, and he shifted slightly, his lips falling to the open neckline of my blouse. One hand came around and dragged the shirt loose from my waist, and then cupped my breast as his lips and then teeth nipped and slightly tugged. Nothing had ever felt like when he touched me.
His leg glided in between my thighs, and I found myself so close to orgasm that I didn’t know if I was going to rub myself against him or run from the room to hide how quickly he could arouse me. I pressed against him, breathing in the scent of sandalwood and man. It had been an easy choice.
A loud cracking noise sounded behind me, and I jerked around to see that the large window overlooking the Underground had shattered.
Shit. That was the second window this week. We might as well hang a tie on the doorknob.
I turned around and I dropped my forehead to his shoulder, closing my eyes. Screaming, “Oh God, yes,” for the whole place to hear would have been subtler that the shards of glass now littering the lower floor.
I felt his hand rub the length of my back, the mood switching over to something more lukewarm and comforting than hot.
“You’ll get a handle on it.”
I lifted my head in his direction and then narrowed my eyes.
“Trust me. I’ve been around a while and have seen some things.”
I dropped my head into the nook of his neck, because if I didn’t stop staring, I might break another window. “Maybe we shouldn’t mess around in here, though, until I get this control you think is coming.”
Before he could agree or not, someone knocked on the door.
I could feel the grumble in his body before he snapped, “What?”
“The leprechauns are here,” Jerry said from the other side of the door. “Wanted to give you some warning, you know, since the window and all.”
Jerry tended to be stuck on door duty more often than not. I had a feeling the beach boy lookalike pulled the short straw a lot because he couldn’t keep his other stick in his pants when needed.
Kane trailed a hand down my spine as he yelled back, “Put them in the room off the hallway. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I held back a sigh. I’d really needed some more time with him. He was the only person who seemed to calm the nerves, but I wouldn’t make him stay. I was still shocked he wanted me in the first place. I wasn’t going to run him off by getting clingy and neurotic. He straightened, and I moved back a few steps, letting him go do his thing.
“I’ve got to go handle this, and then I’ve got to run out and smooth the vampire feathers. I’ll be back by eleven. You better be lying in my bed or I’ll hunt you down and drag you there.” He looked like he was about to leave, but he stopped, cupping my cheek, his eyes softer than I’d thought possible. “What is it? Are you still nervous?”
I shrugged. “I’m fine. Go take care of business.”
He stepped closer. “Ollie, it’ll be okay. Whatever comes, I’ll take care of it. I promise you.”
I nodded, smiling for him. Wanting to believe him.
But I just couldn’t.
Something was coming. I felt it like you could feel a storm brewing in the air before the first drop of rain fell.