“I’d have been dead a long time ago if not for my friends, one of whom had just jumped off the cliff after me.
I’d have been a lot more appreciative if he hadn’t pushed me first." ~Cassandra Palmer”
“My sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, all the time pain in the ass.”
“Think you can maybe not die for five minutes?"
"I'll try,"I told him seriously.
"You know, if anyone else said that, it would be funny.”
“I drank some too-hot coffee and scowled at him, annoyed although I couldn't remember why. The light from the lounge was leaking in, highlighting his spiky blond hair. I decided that must be it.
"You really hate my hair, don't you?" he asked, a smile flickering over his lips so fast I might have imagined it.
I reached out to touch it, and was surprised as always to find it mostly soft. Just a little stiff in places from whatever product he used on it. It felt weird, imagining Pritkin having anything in his hair but sweat. But he must have; nobody's did that all on its own.
"It's like...angry hair," I said, trying to pat it down and failing miserably.
He caught my wrist. "Most people would say that suits me."
"I'm not most people."
“You know, dulceata, there are times when I truly believe you are the most frightening person I know.
“And even then, it's not like you did all that much," I said, talking over him, because it was the only way to get a word in edgeways with Pritkin sometimes.
He had filched the bottle back to take a drink, but at that he lowered it and looked at me, his eyes very green next to the amber liquor. "What?"
"I just meant, it wasn't all that and a bag of chips. You know?"
He blinked at me.
"No offense," I added, because he was looking kind of poleaxed. Like maybe he hadn't had a whole lot of complaints before. Which was, frankly, pretty damn understandable. But I feigned indifference. "I mean, it couldn't have been that bad if -"
"Well, not bad bad."
He just looked at me.
"I mean, I came and everything, so that has to count for some -"
I cut off because I was suddenly enveloped in a strong pair of arms, and my head was crushed to a hard chest. A chest that appeared to be vibrating. It took me a few moments to get it, and even then I wasn't so sure, because Pritkin's face was buried in my hair. But I kind of thought - as impossible as it seemed - that he might be ... laughing?”
“A legend is merely a history man decided to bugger.”
“It's okay. You aren't my type.
What's your type?
Someone who gets into less trouble.”
“You know, I've lived a long time," he told me, massaging my calf more firmly now. "And I met a lot of people. But I ain't never met a woman made me want to beat her to death as often as you.”
Pritkin cursed and grabbed one, just about the time everything I’d eaten that night paid a repeat visit. Whiskey, pizza, milk shake, beer-and a lone, half-dissolved gummy bear, which was a surprise, since I couldn’t actually recall having eaten any. Fun times.”
“Pritkin and Mircea mixed like oil and water, only not so well.”
“War mages ordered, threatened and bitched. They didn't deal.”
“I'm not worried about me," I whispered viciously. And as sono as I said it, I knew it was the truth. Apparently, the surefire antidiote for your own fear is concern for someone else.
Pritkin looked surprised, the way he always did at the idea that anyone might actually care about him. It made me want to hit him. Of course, right then I wanted to do that anyway.
"Nothing is going to happen," he repeated. "But even if it did, you don't need me. You don't need -"
"That isn't true!"
"Yes, it is." He looked at me and his lips quirked. "You can't fire a gun worth a damn. You hit like a girl. Your knowledge of magic is rudimentary at best. And you act like I'm torturing you if I make you run more than a mile."
I blinked at him.
"But I've known mages who aren't as resilient, who aren't as brave, who aren't -" he looked away for a moment. And then he looked back at me, green eyes burning. "You're the strongest person I know. And you will be fine.”
“You could say I'm on the troubleshooting squad."
He put a hand on the back of his waistband. "I see trouble and I shoot it.”
“You love me?"
He just looked at me for a moment. And then he reared back his head and laughed, a rich, mellow sound, unreserved and unashamed. " No, not at all. I regularly battle gods for women I dislike!”
“I looked up to find a slim blond figure standing in the doorway to the kitchen. For a frozen second, I looked at him and he looked at me, and then I screamed and threw my coffee, which hit him square in the groin.”
“I didn't really want to talk. I'd wanted him there, but I asn't sure why. Maybe just to have someone to drink with. Actually, that sounded pretty good at the moment. I sat on the seat of the chaise and he sat on the foot, and we just drank at each other for a while.
After a few minutes, he leaned back against the railing, like maybe he wanted a backrest, and I shifted my feet over to make room. But I guess I didn't shift far enough, because a large, warm hand covered my right foot, adjusting it slightly. And then it just stayed there, like he'd forgotten to remove it.
I looked at it. Pritkin's hands were oddly refined compared to the rest of him: strong but long fingered, with elegant bones and short-clipped nails. They always looked like they'd wandered off from some fine gentleman, one they'd probably like to get back to, because God knew they weren't getting a manicure while attached to him.”
“I barely heard him, I was too busy watching Pritkin, who had slumped over with his head on the sofa arm, shoulders shaking helplessly, and what looked suspiciously like tears leaking out from under his closed eyes. "Not that bad," he muttered, and then he was off again.”
“And then Mircea finally let me down, only to get his hands inside the coat and push me against the wall.
“I’m dirty,” I protested.
He waggled his eyebrows. “Promise?”
“Mircea!” I laughed in spite of myself…”
“There was some sort of commotion going on outside, and I decided I’d had enough. I went to the door and stuck my head out. Marco was gasping for breath on the sofa, and two of the guards were bent over a cell phone.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
“Trying to record this,” the smart-ass from the shopping trip told me. “Nobody is going to believe us otherwise.”
“Well, cut it out. It isn’t funny!”
“On what planet?”
I glared at him, which did no good,because he simply went back to to tinkering with the phone. So I looked at Marco. “Can’t you do anything with them?”
Marco flopped a hand at me, tears streaming down his reddened cheeks, and tried to say something. But all that came out for several moments were asthmatic wheezes. I bent over his prone form, starting to worry about him, and he put a hand on my neck and pulled me down.
” It…is…funny,” he gasped.”
“I'm fine," I told him tersely.
"Of course you are. You're one of the strongest people I know."
It took me a second to process that, because he'd said it so casually. Like he was talking about the weather or what time it was. Only Pritkin didn't say things like that. His idea of a compliment was a nod and to tell me to do whatever it was I'd just done over again. Like that was usually possible.
But that had sounded suspiciously like a compliment to me.”
“Is there anyone in this apartment who hasn’t seen me naked?” I demanded, grabbing the sheet and the phone.
“I genuinely hope so, Cassandra.”
“—but they’re minor-level functionaries. They can’t do that kind of shit. And a demon can’t possess another demon—or a half, for that matter. So two plus two, okay? His other half ain’t Ahhazu, it’s incubus. And there’s only one half human, half incubus ever been recorded—”
“Maybe Pritkin’s birth wasn’t recorded.”
“Bullshit. You know damn well who we got—”
“Don’t say it.”
“—next door, and John Pritkin ain’t his—”
“I’m warning you.”
“—name. It’s motherfucking Mer—”
“Say it and spend the rest of your life in the Jurassic,” I hissed.”
“I started to get up, but that hand tightened on my foot. I wanted to pace, needed to let off some of the nervous energy that kept me from eating half the time, kept me from sleeping. And just when I told myself I was being paranoid and everything would be fine, something tried to drown me in the goddamned bathtub.
But I didn't get up. Because then I'd lose that bried, human connection. A connection that shouldn;t have been there, because Priktin wasn't the touchy-feely type. He touched me in training, when he had to, and grabbed me in the middle of crises. But I actually couldn't recall him ever touching me just ... because.”
“This was Dante's. Crazy was what we had for breakfast when we ran out of Corn Flakes”
“The war mages might have been running a full-on offensive, but she'd been right there with them. She'd sent them screaming in terror. She'd imprisoned one like a bug under glass. She'd run one the hell down.
Mom, I realized in shock, had been kind of a badass.”
“Pritkin put a heavy hand on my shoulder, which was just as well. It probably wouldn't have looked good to choke the head of the Silver Circle to death right before the coronation. Then again, my reputation was shot to hell anyway....”
“I mean, it's not the biggest thing to pilot it since it does most of the work on its own, but still. It's a big flying egg, what's not fun about that?”
“I continued with heavy sobs."Please Cassandra.Wake up,sweetheart.I'll do anything.I need you.You're all I've ever needed.All I've ever wanted."
I pulled away and stroked my finger across her chin.She was everything, and for the first time in my life, I knew I would never want anyone elese.
I caved and placed a small kis on her forehead.My lips needed to feel her just once more. I didn't deserve it but I wasn't ready to be a gentleman now. Pulling back, I looked down at her, my heart swelling in my chest.
"I love you," I murmured,my head resting next to her ear.”
“I couldn't think of anything to say so I kept quiet. I still can't think of anything to say so I am going to sleep.”
“Whether we bond or not, your loss would change me forever.... You are written indelibly on my soul, Zaria. Nothing will ever alter what you are to me.”
“Hell sent texts messages—group ones at that? It kind of fit, since there was nothing worse than being on the receiving end of a group message—sort of like being held hostage.”
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