I kept an eye on Andris. Usually I just ignored him until it was time to lead new recruits home. Today, he was pissing me off. I didn’t like the look in his eyes when I’d arrived at the park and saw him talking to Raine and I didn’t like it now as he watched her play Frisbee. He’d worn the same look when he’d met his present girlfriend, Maliina. Within a week, he’d started secretly runing her and turning her into an immortal. By the time I’d found out, it had been too late.
My gaze swung to Raine and I grinned. She sucked at Ultimate Frisbee, but made up for it with determination and enthusiasm. She jumped to catch the Frisbee, but Maliina cut her off, using runes to cheat. No surprise there. Andris had no control over her or he would have taught her never to cheat.
Maliina cut off Raine, the runes on her skin glowing. Something cold clasped my chest when she turned, one leg whipping out in a roundhouse kick.
What in Hel’s Mist?
I didn’t stop to think. I took off, willing runes for speed and invisibility on my skin. Raine couldn’t survive a kick by one of us, but I was too late. Maliina’s foot connected with Raine’s chest and I barely caught her as she flew backwards.
Maliina’s eyes connected with mine and fear flashed in hers. She had crossed the line by attacking a Mortal and would pay if I had anything to do with it.
Raine’s breathing was labored. “Can’t… breathe…”
“Hang in there for me.” Her ribs were broken, her sternum snapped into two. I gently lowered her to the ground and reached for a runic blade. I didn’t care whether what I was about to do was right or wrong. I had to save her. “Easy, Freckles. You’ll be okay in a few seconds.”
I etched the runes on her arm then put the blade away. A few students and the coach were already running toward us, including her blonde friend and Eirik Seville.
“What happened?” Eirik asked.
“She slipped.” I stepped away as he knelt on her other side. The look he threw me said he didn’t believe me. Of course, he couldn’t possibly know of what I’d done. Mortals couldn’t see runes. Cora joined him, and together, they fussed over Raine, stroking her face, her hair. My gaze didn’t shift from her eyes.
Come on, Freckles Open your eyes. The runes had better work or someone was going to be sorry. Raine couldn’t die. Not yet. As though she’d heard me, her eyelids fluttered then lifted. I grinned with relief. Time to talk with Andris.
“Are you okay?” Eirik asked Raine.
“What happened?” Cora asked at the same time.
Raine struggled to a sitting position, the others helping her. I knew I should leave, but I couldn’t until she was back to her snarky self.
“Is she okay?” Coach Fletcher yelled, hurrying toward us.
“She’s fine,” I said. “She lost her balance and fell.”
Raine started to turn and look at me, but Cora and Eirik grabbed her arms and helped her up. “I’m fine,” she insisted. “Really.”
Coach Fletcher studied her face. “Did you bang your head?”
He glanced at me. “St. James?”
“No, she didn’t. She tripped and landed on her butt. She’s fine.” When the coach nodded, I took off. Andris and I were going to have a long talk about Maliina.
I glanced back one last time and caught Raine staring at me. I grinned, wondering if she knew I had healed her
Music greeted me when I reached the club’s entrance. I paid the fee and walked past two buff bouncers, who eyed me suspiciously. I ignored them and entered the lounge, which brimmed with students. I recognized some from the Ultimate Frisbee game at the park.
I made eye contact with a few and nodded, but I kept my distance. I was here to keep an eye on Andris and his girls, not socialize. I hadn’t gotten a chance to have our little chat after the incident with Raine because they were hanging out with Mortals.
I gave my order and turned to give the room another sweeping glance.
“No alcohol, dude,” the bartender said. “It’s high-school night.” His eyes narrowed. “Are you sure you’re in high school?”
“Why would I be in here?” I said.
The guy smirked. “Show me some I.D.”
I wanted to flip him, maybe rune him, but we were already drawing attention. I pulled out my wallet and studied my latest I.D., New York driver’s license. I hadn’t changed it. It stated that I was twenty-five. The bartender signaled the bouncer. I rolled my eyes, grabbed a second I.D. and passed it to him.
He glanced at it and frowned. “Denmark?”
“It’s a country in Europe, legal drinking age eighteen,” I pointed out.
He exchanged a smirk with the bouncer, who retreated. “Well, this is USA, legal drinking age twenty-one.” He slapped the I.D. on the table. “So, what will it be, Denmark?”
I studied him as I would a bug I wanted to squash. Too bad I couldn’t without consequences. “Nothing.”
He smirked again.
Ignoring him, I found a corner table, sat and fixed my gaze on the door. Two guys, one with a punk haircut and electric blue side bangs and the other with a Mohawk with blond highlights, entered the lounge from the dance floor and yelled something. Half of the students got up and disappeared into the dance room. A group of four girls kept whispering and staring my way.
One of them approached my table. I cocked my brow and she stopped. She smiled nervously. “Uh, my friends and I, uh, are wondering if you’d like to join us.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
Her smile slipped, her face turning red. She turned to leave. Raine would not have given up so quickly. She would have pushed and challenged me, until she got a rise out of me. On the other hand, she would not have asked me to join her. She didn’t like me very much.
“What’s your name?” I called out.
The girl turned around and smiled. “Jess.”
She was pretty with violet eyes and black hair. “Are you with the swim team, Jess?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
She looked at her friends. “Can my friends join us too?”
I studied the other three girls and shrugged. They all started talking at once, vying for my attention. They were entertaining for about a minute, then I lost interest. They were boring. I was about to tell them to leave when Raine entered the lounge. My breath stalled.
Endless legs. Slender waist. Hair framing her breathtaking face. She took my breath away. If she were mine, I would not want to share her with anyone. My gaze didn’t leave her until she disappeared behind the partition separation the lounge from the dance floor.
“Surprise! Happy birthday, Raine,” a cheer rang out then a happy birthday started.
I stood. “Ladies,” I glanced at Jess then her friends, “I have to go.”
I sauntered to the doorway of Raine’s class. She was ignoring me, but I was determined to win this battle of wills. Her eyes flashed when she saw me. I grinned.
She jumped up and marched to the doorway. “Follow me.”
“Finally. I thought I’d have to go to all your classes before you stopped ignoring me.”
She ignored me, marched to the left and yanked open a broom closet door. I closed the door and studied her. She looked glorious when pissed. I was tempted to pull her into my arms and kiss her senseless. Ever since we went to the waterfalls and I told her about her runes, she acted like I didn’t exist, which wouldn’t be bad if I wasn’t so aware of her every movement at home and school. She was driving me crazy.
“What are you doing?” she asked through clenched teeth.
I glanced around. “Hiding in a broom closet with you. Do people really make out in tight places like this?” I hoped so because I wanted to make out with her.
Her eyes narrowed as though she read my mind. “Why are you stalking me?”
“I don’t like to be ignored.”
She rolled my eyes. “So you humiliated my history teacher to get my attention?”
I grinned. “It worked, didn’t it? And no, I didn’t humiliate Mr. Finney. I challenged him. He’s actually a smart guy. Tomorrow he’ll be armed with facts to refute everything I said, which was all bullshit anyway. I’m looking forward to another—”
“No, you’re not coming to my classes tomorrow, Torin.”
“If you ignore me again—”
She sighed. “What do you want from me?”
“Everything.” I wanted her to be mine. Not just now. Forever. But from the flash of panic in her eyes, she wasn’t ready to hear it. I shook my head. “We need to talk. I’ll wait for you outside during lunch.”
“I can’t. I’m meeting Eirik.”
Screw Eirik. Every time I see him touch her, I wanted to rip his arm off. “Fine. Then have dinner with me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t do this, Torin. I want my old life back. It was sane, predictable, maybe a little boring—”
“But it was mine, and I loved it,” she finished as though I hadn’t spoken. “I don’t want to be hauled in front of the principal because I’m talking to people no one else can see. I don’t want weird writings appearing on my body whenever I’m hurt. I don’t want to travel at abnormal speed. I want a normal life with normal people.”
“But you’re…” not normal.
She was special even though she refused accept it. The runes I’d seen on her arms weren’t like any I’d seen before.
“You can’t even tell me what I am, let alone what you are, can you?” she asked. “You know what, it doesn’t matter. I’ll find out on my own.”
My chest tightened, imagining her going to Andris and Maliina for answers. They were both too volatile and unpredictable. “Stay away from Andris and the girls.”
“Why? You scared they might tell me the truth? Like why I’m under the protection of Goddess Freya? Yeah, I learned that last night from Ingrid. Imagine what I’ll know by tomorrow. Stay away from me and my friends.” She reached for the doorknob and I reacted.
I pressed my hand on the door and stopped her from opening it. “I can’t. I promised to protect you, and I plan to keep my promise. Maliina is unhinged and fixated on you, and without Andris to keep an eye on her, there’s no telling how far she’ll go to hurt you. I can’t let that happen. I won’t let that happen. I know I said things that scared you, and I’m sorry I did. You want space to deal with what you’ve learned?” She didn’t respond. “Fine. I’ll give you space. But please, don’t ask me to stay away from you or walk away. My greatest fear is Maliina will learn where you live and attack you when I’m not there.”
Raine’s chin lifted. “I’ll be fine.”
“No, you won’t. You’re not an Immortal. There’s just so much self-healing you can do before your body shuts down.”
Silence followed and I wondered what she was thinking. The vulnerability in her eyes bugged the Hel out of me. I wanted her throwing snarky comments, her eyes spitting fire at me.
“Who will protect me from you, Torin?” she whispered.
Where in Hel’s Mist did that come from? Couldn’t she understand I’d do anything for her? “I’d never hurt you, Freckles. I would condemn myself to eternal servitude to Hel than harm a single strand of your hair.”
Her eyes widened and filled with tears. I wanted to take her into my arms and make her pain go away, but she lifted her chin and whispered, “I have to go.”
Raine was standing in front of a mirror when I arrived at the store. Smiling, I leaned against the wall and watched her. Mine. That was who she was. Mine, the woman who’d come to mean the world to me.
“You look stunning.”
She whipped around and gasped. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.” Thin straps left most of her shoulders bare, but I loved the way the back of the dress dipped and exposed her smooth, unblemished skin. A dress guaranteed to incite a riot, or screw with a man’s head. She wasn’t wearing a bra, which presented so many possibilities. Unable to resist, I pushed against the wall and moved closer, needing to touch her. Claim her. “Following your essence hasn’t been easy. You’ve been all over the mall.”
“Yes, your essence.” The freckle on her nape was begging me to lower my head and kiss it, but I knew I wouldn’t want to stop there. “Andris is back, so I thought I’d give you a heads up.”
“Where was he?”
“He took a friend home.” I blew out a breath. “You take my breath away, Freckles. You always have, but in that dress... I want to claim you and to Hel with the consequences.”
She went still, her eyes wide. I held her gaze.
“The color adds green flecks to your eyes, and the material,” I imagined running my hands down her hips and pulling her closer, “hugs your lush curves in just the right places.”
When she didn’t respond, I took that as permission to indulge myself. I put my hands on her hips and slowly pulled her closer until our bodies touched. The feel of her body against mine went straight to my head. My heart pounded hard with excitement. No woman had ever had this kind of effect on me.
“If you were mine,” I whispered, “we’d have a private dance for just the two of us before I shared you with the world.” The lock of a cubicle clicked, warning me her friend was about to join us. I willed runes to appear on my skin and became invisible.
“Who are you talking to?” Cora asked, sticking her head out of the changing room.
“I, uh, I was talking to myself,” Raine stammered.
“How could you say that is cute? You look fabulous,” Cora said. “Turn around.”
Raine turned and I reached out and ran a finger down her back. She trembled and stumbled as though her knees had given away. I wrapped my arms around her waist, her back resting against my chest. Not able to help myself, I pressed my cheek against hers and inhaled. She smelled great.
“You okay?” Cora asked. “You just stumbled.”
Raine stiffened and tried to move from my arms, but I refused to let her go.
“I did?” she asked weakly. “I must be more tired than I thought.”
“Then let’s finish here. Oh, and you’re buying that dress or I’m never shopping with you ever,” Cora threatened, moving closer to the mirror to study her own reflection.
“I’ll shop with you,” I whispered in Raine’s ear. “You can buy anything you want.” I kissed her shoulder. She trembled. I loved the way she reacted to my touch. I pressed my lips along her neck and kissed the freckle on her nape. I wanted more. Greedily, I suckled her skin, nipped and soothed it with my tongue. She moaned and closed her eyes, tilting her neck to give me better access.
“What are you doing?” Cora asked, studying her through the mirror since I was still invisible.
“I’m, uh, imagining I’m dancing in this dress,” she said in a squeaky voice then tried again to put some distance between us. Once again, I refused to let her go. “I’d love to buy it, but it’s outside my price range.”
“Charge it,” Cora said. “Your mother gave you a credit card, didn’t she?”
“No, just the debit,” Raine said.
“I have money, Freckles,” I whispered against her shoulder. “Plenty of it. I’ll buy it for you. You can wear it just for me.”
“Okay, I’ll buy it,” she said, wiggling. I chuckled and let her go.
As she disappeared back into the changing room, I walked through the store unseen and headed to the nearest mirror. I couldn’t wait to see her dolled up for Homecoming Dance.