“I could tear your soul right out of your stupid, entitled body!”
The man I’d yelled at stared at me as if I were crazy, but that didn’t even slow my tirade. He might think I was a nutjob—and maybe I was—but that didn’t mean I wasn’t fully capable of doing exactly what I’d threatened.
“You’re insane,” the man said.
“You’re the one who’s attacking that poor woman who works here.”
“She made my drink wrong.”
“So?” I set my hands on my hips, giving him my best melt him into the ground right where he stands look. “You think you’re entitled to everything you want? You think the world revolves around you?”
There beside us stood the barista we were arguing over, her dark eyes wide. In fact, she looked far more concerned about our interaction than about him acting like a spoiled brat. When I had been standing by the bar, waiting for mine, he’d brought his back to tell them they’d made it wrong.
“It really is okay,” the barista told me. “It’s not a big deal. I can just remake it.”
“No,” I responded. “It’s not okay. People can’t just expect others to be perfect, to have it all together all the time. He needs to be understanding.”
“I don’t expect perfect,” the man said. “I asked for iced and she made a hot drink. That’s it.”
“So? She’s trying, damn it. She’s the one working, so you should just say thank you and move on. What makes you so special that you think you’ll get whatever you want?”
His mouth hung open, like he’d never dealt with someone telling him off before. “I wasn’t even rude,” he argued. “All I did was ask her to remake it.”
“She’s doing her best,” I repeated for what had to be the tenth time, that same thing that stuck in my head. “She’s just human, and maybe she’s having a bad day. Maybe she recently lost someone she cares about. Maybe she went to hell and is now in some sort of existential crisis because she doesn’t know how to bring the person responsible to justice. Did you ever think about that, or did you just decide to criticize her?”
The chime above the door rang, and when I turned, I realized maybe I’d gone just a little overboard.
Troy walked in, and I doubted he was there as my friendly neighborhood werewolf just making the rounds.
Which meant someone had called the police on me.
For what? A little disagreement?
Or maybe because I told him I’d rip his soul out of his body…
“Finally,” the man said as if Troy were his saving grace.
“You called the police?” I muttered pussy under my breath, low enough that Troy wouldn’t catch it.
The sharp look in his silver eyes said he had. Stupid werewolf hearing.
“You are going to get arrested,” the man said in the mocking, self-assured voice of a kid who had tattled to Mom on his sibling.
“I doubt that.” I leaned in and kept my voice low. “Because I’m fucking the detective.”
Then, just when I was pretty sure my childish behavior couldn’t sink anymore, I stuck out my tongue at him.
At least he looked shocked.
My high horse didn’t last long, however, not when Troy wrapped his large hand around my upper arm. In a different, sexier moment, I might have even liked his macho bullshit. “I’m very sorry,” he said to the man as he pulled me toward the door. “I’ll handle her.”
I would have told Troy exactly what I thought about that, but he lowered his voice to all but snarl into my ear, “You should probably keep quiet.”
The rumbled reprimand shocked me into silence. Troy never used that tone of voice with me. He was typically soft-spoken and the most likely of the men in my life to let me get away with…well…everything.
So his commanding tone kept me quiet until he opened the passenger-side door of his car and tossed me in. By the time he came around and got into the driver’s side, my brain had started working again and I realized—I didn’t let anyone talk to me like that, not even my sort of boyfriend who turned into some sort of wolf creature and had plenty of weird emotional hang-ups.
“Don’t you manhandle me,” I snapped.
“What was that?”
“What was what? I was protecting the staff against a male Karen. That’s called being a good person. Not my fault you don’t recognize it.”
“You were arguing with a stranger so aggressively that the staff called us about you.”
I crossed my arms and sat back. “He was getting mad at her over one little mistake and she was trying her best.”
He let out a long sigh, as if my words had been more telling than I’d meant them to be. The damn man was far too observant. “I know it’s frustrating to have no leads.”
Frustrating didn’t even start to explain it. After Lilith had killed Gran, after I’d sworn she would pay for it, everything had stalled out. Swearing revenge like that was supposed to be some sort of catapult to action, to lead almost immediately to a big showdown where things got resolved. People didn’t swear to make someone pay then spend six weeks doing absolutely nothing about it.
It was said revenge was a dish best served cold, but it turned out I lacked the patience to let it cool.
It didn’t matter how much I wanted to rain hell down on Lilith—I had no idea where she even was, and neither did anyone else.
The only thing I’d been able to do was help out the werewolves and vampires by removing Lilith’s influence from infected immortals. Doing that felt like a tiny jab back at her, a way to give her the middle finger, but it just wasn’t enough. I could only do it so often, and many of the afflicted had to be killed before anyone could capture them, so it didn’t feel like much of a win.
“I thought we’d have something by now,” I admitted, letting my head fall back against the seat.
Troy set his hand on my thigh, the weight of it reassuring even when I didn’t want it to be. Something about him having my back never failed to make me feel a bit more optimistic. “Ava, you survived hell. You faced off against Lucifer. You destroyed a reaper. You’ll get through this, too. It just may not be as fast as you’d like.”
“Hell was easy. We knew which way we had to go. This, though? I’ve got no idea where to even start.”
He squeezed my leg. “You look exhausted. Are you not sleeping well?”
“I’ve got enough horrible things going on in my life when I’m awake. Why should I sleep? Just so I can dream about the mist there?” Just saying it made me shudder.
I’d had those nightmares all my life, but since going to hell, they’d gotten worse. I woke up choking, coughing, gagging as I clawed at my throat with the memory of that damn mist. Even after I could breathe, I couldn’t shake the horrible drowning feeling.
“You can always sleep at my house,” he offered, his voice having lost its sharp edge, having quieted as if coaxing me to agree. This was the sweet man I was used to.
“You might be able to scare away most things, but I’m afraid you aren’t the best dream catcher.” Despite what I said, he had a point. Even if he couldn’t keep the damn dreams away, no doubt it would be better to wake up next to him than alone.
But I wasn’t that girl, the one who threw away everything for a man—or four of them. I’d survived those dreams my whole life, so I could deal with them alone now.
“What if Grant gets some ambrosia? You slept and didn’t dream when you took it before,” Troy pointed out.
“I’m not ever touching that stuff again. I saw it grown in body parts—I almost was the body some was grown in—and that made it lose its magic. No thanks.”
I kept to myself the fact that I hadn’t actually seen Grant. He and Hunter had both all but disappeared upon our return.
After everything, they had just dropped off the face of the earth—or hell, whatever—without a word.
Was it because of what I was? Maybe the reality of sleeping with a reaper was a turn-off they couldn’t ignore anymore. Fucking the cute, eccentric girl who talked to ghosts was one thing—getting naked with a reaper must have been a hard limit.
“What’s wrong?” Troy asked, probably having caught my expression.
He sighed, the sound telling me he knew I was lying. “Ava…”
I turned to face him. “It’s just more of not knowing where to go, of not having a plan, of being totally and completely stuck. You know, same old, same old.”
He pressed his lips together, as if he knew there was more I wouldn’t say, but he shook his head. “Why don’t I drive you home?”
“What, no handcuffs?”
That glow in his eyes started, the one that said he really wanted to do just that.
Not that I’d gone without…
In the six weeks since we’d returned from hell, I’d ended up in bed with Troy countless times. Always at his place, and usually because I went there, because I craved his scent, his taste, the feeling of his strong hands on me.
It made me wonder if there wasn’t something to this whole mate thing, some bond that drew me to him, that made me need him like I hadn’t before.
Or maybe I was just addicted to his stupid knot.
That was very possible.
He inhaled, slowly, the glow of his eyes brightening. Right. He could smell me, always knew when I was thinking such things. There weren’t a lot of secrets in a relationship with a werewolf.
He leaned forward, as if drawn by the smell of my desire, driven by the need to satisfy me.
I put my hand up and over his face, stopping him before he could kiss me. “No time.”
His groan was muffled by my palm. “I can be quick.”
“No, you can’t.”
Normally, that would have been a wonderful compliment, because the reality was that I never left Troy’s bed unsatisfied. In fact, I usually fell asleep there because I couldn’t stay awake another moment, not after he’d had his way with me, some wild part of his wolf needing to turn me boneless, as if laying a claim.
He nipped my palm before sitting back. “Will you at least promise to stop harassing strangers? I don’t want to get called out on you again.”
“I wasn’t harassing anyone.” At his lifted eyebrow, I blew out a long breath. “Okay, so I may have threatened to rip his soul out of his body.”
Disapproval flooded his expression.
Which I guess was fair.
Maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing I’d done recently. Or maybe it was. It hadn’t been a very good six weeks.
“I know you’re frustrated, Ava. I know you want to find Lilith, that you want to handle this, but going off the rails isn’t going to make it happen any faster. If you end up in jail or rushing into trouble, it isn’t going to help. You need to relax.”
“How am I supposed to do that? Yoga? Meditation? Tea?”
“I have tomorrow night off. What if we go out?”
I paused at the offer, which had taken me off track. “Like…a date?”
He nodded. “We’re involved, aren’t we? Let me take my mate out, have dinner, act like any normal couple.”
“I don’t think you get to use the word ‘normal’, not when we went to hell, had a threesome with a vampire and your penis gets stuck inside me when we have sex.”
He let out a rough laugh. “You’re impossible, you know that?”
“I’ve heard that before, yeah. So, you’re not going to arrest me?”
“Not today.” He caught my arm as if calling me on how I hadn’t actually agreed to the date. “Dinner tomorrow?”
Maybe trying to date like some happy couple wasn’t the best idea in the middle of everything else, or maybe that was exactly why I needed it right then.
“Okay,” I said, inexplicably nervous. Then again, when was the last time I’d had a real date planned?
Maybe never? Certainly never with someone I actually loved.
I went to get out of the car, but he didn’t let me go. Troy shifted his hand to the front of my shirt, then tugged me in until he could take my lips in a possessive kiss, one that screamed mine in a way that melted me.
Whether it was him or his wolf leaving a mark on me, I didn’t know, and honestly, I didn’t really care.
Being claimed by both of them was fine by me, and one of the few things going exactly right in my life.