“So your name is Jareth?” I asked.
My assassin sat on the couch next to me with one hand entwined in mine, looking afraid to let go in case I burst into a paroxysm of wailing and snot-crying after he’d finally managed to help me calm down. I probably looked hideous with my red nose and puffy eyes.
I’m an ugly crier. It can’t be helped.
My question caused the corners of his lips to turn up in a barely perceptible smile. At least, I hoped that’s what it was. Maybe he had changed his mind about assassinating me and figured the best way to end the hysterics was to kill me and be done with it.
“Yes, and your name is Crysta.”
I blinked, remembering his initial reaction to my name.
“You thought my name was interesting. How so?”
He remained silent for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders saying, “It is an uncommon name amongst my people.”
“I assume that goes without saying. I doubt most human names ever end up being used by a race who thinks so lowly of us.”
Not that I was any closer to buying into this whole Fae thing. I’d had just enough time to talk myself out of whatever had really happened back there with Eddie and throw myself behind my pitiful shield of denial.
“I am not so certain that humanity is what we’re dealing with when it comes to you?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I cannot go into detail on my suspicions at present. I will simply have to continue to observe you and your daily routine in order to find out what is really going on here and why the monarchy could ever find someone like you a true threat.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and shifted on the couch in order to get a little more distance between us…which did absolutely no good. His vice-like grip on my hand was sending me a very clear message.
Resistance is futile, earthling.
“I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of being analyzed and examined for the unforeseeable future, and you still haven’t explained to me what you did back there.” He furrowed his brows as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Hello! You blocked bullets, healed stab wounds, and wiped memories with a wave of your hand and a few muttered words of gibberish!”
“Well, some of it was in Latin. The rest was a mixture of Celtic and Gaelic idioms. The Fae have mastered many human languages over the years, but Gaelic is one I truly prefer.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I’ll make a note of that for future reference. Now would you please tell me how the heck you managed to do all of that? It was like magic.”
He shook his head in amusement. “Why are you asking for an explanation when you just gave yourself the answer?”
“Magic doesn’t exist.”
“You understand exactly what you just witnessed, yet you frown at me and deny everything your eyes have shown you.” He leaned over and moved a wavy tendril of hair from my forehead. “Do you remain in denial due to the improbability of my own gifts or are you really in denial about yours?”
“I don’t know what you’re getting at.”
He leaned back into the couch cushion and studied me for a moment. I didn’t like the heat that stole over my face.
“You are lying. Even Eddie mentioned something about freezing him out.”
“Also a slang term. Freezing a person out means you remove them from your life. You do everything you can to exclude them from all of your activities.” I held my breath, hoping he would buy the BS I’d just handed him.
His look was speculative as he said, “I suppose I’ll have to study the use of slang terms during my extended stay with you.”
“Look, I am very grateful for the way you defended me against Eddie and his lackeys back there, but I think we need to reevaluate our living arrangements. You really can’t stay in the same apartment as me.”
“Don’t you find it interesting that every male you encounter becomes strangely fascinated with you almost as if their power to resist you or even think rationally when confronted with your presence is non-existent?”
His departure from a subject I thought important to discuss managed to disorient me a little. I couldn’t think of anything to say other than the obvious.
“Well, you certainly don’t seem to have any problems resisting me. You’re the first man I’ve met who hasn’t wanted to claim me for himself.”
His heated look sent a strange burst of fire through my tummy and down my thighs. I could have sworn the blue of his eyes took on an otherworldly glow for just a second, but as I looked deeper within their depths the glow faded and his eyes resumed their natural color.
I wasn’t sure what I had been getting at or where we had left off in the conversation so I decided to start all over again.
“Okay, well…it’s nice to know your name is Jareth instead of Master. I’d offer to shake hands with you, but we’ve kind of jumped past that formality.” I squeezed his hand with the one he had yet to abandon. He smiled and squeezed back. Then I sat staring at him like an idiot while the warmth from his fingers slowly blossomed up through my arm and straight to my heart.
I let out a soft gasp at the same time he did. Jareth studied our entwined hands, no doubt looking for some kind of explanation for our strange electrical reaction to one another.
That’s what I planned on calling it, anyway. Just a strange electrical reaction.
This was crazy. I couldn’t have him living with me, studying my every move, and giving me strange jolts every time we touched. Not that there would be any touching after this. In fact, there was absolutely no reason to continue holding his hand.
I unraveled my fingers from his and rested them on my lap. He didn’t look happy with my actions, but at this point I didn’t care. I had an assassin sitting on my couch who just so happened to wield magic, and now he thought he was my roommate.
I’d had better days.
My stomach made a loud gurgling sound.
“Are you hungry?” He quirked an eyebrow at me in amusement.
I felt my face grow warm with the force of his half smile.
His full smile would most likely knock me off my feet.
“Yes, I’m hungry. Getting shot at does that to me. I’m just going to grab some food from the fridge.” I stood up to go, but he grabbed my hand and stood with me.
“Why are you holding my hand again?”
“From now on, I’ll need to maintain the appearance of your mate in public in order to discourage more unwanted interest from the opposite sex.”
“Now you’re pretending to be my boyfriend?”
“Mate. A much more binding and permanent commitment.”
“If it’s all a farce, then the terminology and level of commitment attached to either word doesn’t really matter, does it?”
He glowered at my words as if I’d just insulted him again.
“But I’m only going to the kitchen.”
His eyebrows narrowed in confusion. “The kitchen?” He said the word kitchen as if he were rolling the newness of the consonants and vowels around in his mouth. “Where is this…kitchen located?”
I threw a thumb over my shoulder. “Three steps that-a-way.”
Swiveling toward my left, I pulled on his hand and led him into my kitchen, which looked more like a glorified walk-in closet. When it comes to the issue of shelter versus homelessness, however, beggars can’t be choosers. As long as the apartment has a fridge and a microwave, I’m a happy camper.
I had simple needs, really.
“Will you let go of my hand, now? I don’t think we’re going to run into any persistent male suitors within this small cooking area.”
He paused to look at me as if he didn’t understand my meaning.
I tried a different argument. “All of this personal contact is a little strange, don’t you think?”
He looked at our joined hands, deliberating for a moment before shaking his head and then adjusting his hand so his fingers interlaced with mine.
I sighed in annoyance and tried to forget how nice his hand felt in mine because it wasn’t the kind of normal reaction a hostage was supposed to feel with her captor.
And what a lovely captor he is.
Not liking where my thoughts were taking me, I turned back to the fridge and pulled it open with my free hand. My face fell when I took in the pitiful contents of the stingy apparatus. Was it too much to ask for a magic cooler capable of producing your heart’s most delectable food cravings out of thin air?
I reached for a bruised apple and took a quick bite, then remembering my manners said, “Would you like something to eat?”
Jareth smiled and grabbed my wrist, the one attached to the hand holding my juicy apple. Bringing the fruit to his lips, he took a bite right next to the space where my mouth had been. He maintained his intense eye-contact as he chewed slowly, swallowed, and then pulled my wrist close to his mouth again. Just when I thought he was going to…I don’t know…kiss it…bite it possibly, he switched his trajectory and took another bite of the apple.
I swallowed hard and drew in a shaky breath.
“We do have other apples in the fridge.”
He swallowed his last bite and pulled me closer.
“I like sharing with you.”
He brought his lips an inch closer to mine where I felt his warm breath envelope my face. He smelled of summer leaves and recently trimmed grass.
“But I thought humans were beneath you.”
“You’re not human, Crysta.”
“Of course I am.”
My brain was screaming out a warning that distance from this guy was going to be the key to my survival, but his grasp on my hand and wrist and his constant need to breach my personal space were beginning to wear me down.
Kissing him was inevitable, and something I’d wanted to do since the moment he’d appeared in my living room uninvited.
Nala’s loud meow broke the intense moment between us. I glanced down to see her wrapping herself around Jareth’s leg.
Traitor. Or possibly my savior?
I quickly pulled myself from his grasp and went to the cupboard for some cat food. I didn’t think Nala needed the food, but I definitely needed the space. I’d almost let a complete and total stranger kiss me when he’d originally been sent to kill me.
I needed mounds of therapy. Plain and simple.
“That was interesting,” Jareth muttered under his breath.
I ignored him and grabbed Nala’s bowl—which was already halfway full of food—pouring an unnecessary amount of cat kibble into it. I set it down and turned, fully intending to head to my room and lock myself in there for the remainder of the evening, but I balked when I realized that my tiny walk-in closet of a kitchen required that I squeeze past Jareth to attain my goal, and he smirked at me like he knew exactly what I was trying to do and wasn’t about to make it easy for me.
I drew in a deep breath, preparing myself for the physical contact, and took a hesitant step forward.
“I think it’s time for me to call it a night.”
“Call what a night?”
I brought a tired hand to my forehead and vigorously scrubbed.
“Ah, hell’s bells. I mean, it’s time to hit the hay. Hibernate for the evening. Crash for the night. It means I’m ready for a good night’s sleep after having an assassin break into my apartment and threaten to kill me, then threaten to protect me, then actually make good on said threat by conjuring up a force-field and stabbing a man in the chest, then healing the man and wiping his memory. I’m seriously hoping that when I wake up tomorrow morning, this will have all been a horribly deranged dream brought on by several years’ worth of abuse, maltreatment, and homelessness.”
Jareth was in front of me faster than I could blink, grabbing hold of my shoulders and forcing me to look at him, but not before I took note of the light created by the contact.
“Who abused and mistreated you? When were you homeless?”
His righteous wrath on my behalf left me staring at him with my mouth hanging open. I quickly shook my head, pulled away from his grasp, and maneuvered myself around his intimidating form, heading out of the kitchen and down the hall toward my bedroom.
He followed—of course—wrapping an arm around my waist and pulling me against his chest when we were halfway down the hall.
“Crysta, you have not answered my questions,” he ground out.
“And I never will. It won’t do either one of us any good, and I have no desire to go into nauseating detail about all of the things my foster fathers and brothers tried to do to me over the years.”
Or what I managed to do to them in order to save myself.
Yeah. I never intended to go into detail about that.
“I am not accustomed to such blunt refusals, Crysta. In my realm, when I ask a question, I expect to receive an answer.” His arm tightened around me further, and his other arm encircled the front of my shoulders, locking me in place.
“Get used to disappointment, Jareth. You’re in my realm now.”
I shouldn’t have done it. Honestly, it was the worst possible way to reveal how abnormal I was, but Jareth’s overbearing manner and the events of the day had thoroughly pissed me off. I placed a hand on each of his arms and focused my energy through them, reaching for the cold, the frigid ice that always existed within me, that always threatened to push to the surface and completely take over my reason and control.
His arms stiffened and he grunted in surprise as dark crystals formed on his forearms. I ducked under the icy appendages and continued down the hall and into my room. Turning around to face my handiwork, I folded my arms and casually leaned against the door frame. His arms were completely encased in ice, held out before him as if he were cradling someone—like me—close to him. His look of absolute astonishment was more than perfect. It was priceless.
“I may appear weak, pitiful, and defenseless, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
To my surprise, a delighted grin slowly spread across his face as his gaze moved from his frozen arms to my unconcerned stance. He winked at me. The arrogant assassin actually had the audacity to wink at me even though he was clearly the one at a disadvantage here. Then he closed his eyes and mumbled a few words under his breath. An orange heat spread from his chest to his arms, dissolving the crystal ice from his person, melting it into oblivion.
Well, crap! If it ever came to a real fight with this guy, my neat little parlor trick would give me maybe a two-second advantage. I’d revealed a highly bizarre ability and he hadn’t even batted an eyelash. I was seriously considering tranquilizers at this point.
He bridged the distance between us in one easy stride, but I refused to move from my casual position against the door frame. I would not let this guy intimidate me. His smile led me to believe that he wholeheartedly approved of my behavior.
His behavior, on the other hand, had left me more than a little mystified.
“You’re certainly full of surprises, Crysta, and you had every right to attack me the way you did. I will adhere to your wishes and refrain from forcing you to speak about unpleasant experiences, unless you wish to share them with me.”
His proximity made my thoughts churn, forcing me to take in a deep breath, cursing the air that held his overpowering scent.
“I appreciate that,” I said after a moment of uncertainty.
He placed a hand at my waist and drew me to him, apparently not finished with our conversation even though I was more than ready to be alone in a room with him…er…without him…definitely without him.
He touched his forehead against mine and breathed me in for a moment. It was surprisingly intimate and calming all at the same time.
“Just know that I am happy to unburden you of all of your past fears and pains should you ever feel inclined to share them with me. You may not believe this, Crysta, but you can always count on me to provide for your every want and need.”
“Even though I’m a freak,” I whispered.
“I assume you are referring to one of your natural abilities; the one you used defensively. If that makes you a freak, then I suppose I am one as well. You are not the only person in this apartment capable of…freaky things.”
I nearly giggled at his first use of slang and how unnatural it sounded as it left his mouth. Then it hit me. His acceptance. The way he’d looked at me with fondness and…well…a little bit of pride after I’d iced his arms in place. He hadn’t been frightened or called me names. He accepted it because he was just like me in a way. Very different from most people.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, forcing back the unwanted lump forming in my throat. I was not going to cry in front of this guy again. Feeling uncomfortable with this influx of emotion, I stepped out of his embrace and backed my way into the bedroom. As I tried to close the door I was met with resistance. I glanced up at him questioningly.
He looked almost apologetic. “As I stated earlier this morning, I will need to keep you in my line of sight.”
I straightened my spine and glared at him.
Warm fuzzy moment over.
“You are not sharing a room with me.”
The corners of his lips turned up at my stubborn refusal to acquiesce to his wishes.
“Then you will leave the door open so I can see you at all times.”
So he was back to playing the role of overbearing tyrant, was he?
“What about privacy?”
“This word does not exist in my world.”
“Don’t give me that. You speak our language well enough to have come across the word privacy in your dictionary. I need to change into my pajamas, and you are not going to watch me do it.”
“Your sense of modesty is an oddity to me, but I shall turn my back to you so you may change into something more comfortable.”
“How terribly generous of you.”
“Yes, it is.”
“If you so much as quirk an eyebrow in my direction while I change, I’ll freeze more than just your forearms.”
His mouth twitched again before he nodded. “Understood.” Then he turned around and faced the hallway.
I quickly flipped the light on and rummaged in my drawer for a comfy cotton shirt and some shorts, all the while keeping a close eye on Jareth’s back and cursing myself when I allowed my eyes to rest a little too long on his nicely formed backside.
“Okay,” I said as I walked to my bed. “You can turn around.”
He turned and sucked in a breath when he took note of my clothing.
“I don’t understand why you wanted me to turn around when you were wearing more before than you are now.”
I crept under my covers, not liking the heated look he gave me.
“Please, just my legs are showing.”
“It is enough to be truly distracting.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He let out a heavy sigh and then sat himself down just inside the doorway.
“You’re not going to sleep in Jami’s bed?” I asked.
“As you stated earlier, warriors such as myself are not interested in ensconcing themselves in pink satin. A bit undignified.”
I let out a hearty laugh as I snuggled under my covers.
“Hey, Chuck, would you turn the light off please?”
He let out an annoyed groan, mumbling something about being reduced to a simple house slave as he stood and flipped the light off and then sank back down to the floor again.
“My name is not Chuck, Crysta.”
“I think it suits you.”
“I think the next time you call me that there will be severe consequences.”
“Oh, please. What are you gonna do? Give me a timeout?” I snickered at the thought.
“Since you seem to highly covet what you refer to as personal space, I’ll simply grab you and kiss you for as long as I see fit.”
I nearly choked.
“You’re a terrible assassin, you know that?”
I tried to smother a laugh at the offense that laced his question.
“You came to kill me and now you’ve decided to protect me. You think you’re the one in charge, but you’ve been willing to listen to me a time or two despite how arrogant and stubborn you are,” I paused as he let out a snort, “and now you’re threatening to kiss me. Assassin’s Guide 101: You’re not supposed to get emotionally involved with your victims, Jareth.”
“Too late for that,” he mumbled.
I shivered at the low timbre of his words and figured he was right. It really was too late for that.
At least it was too late for me, and that scared me to death.
I had to figure out how to get rid of this guy.