Doubt crept in like a thick fog. “You really wanted to play tourist instead of being out there with the clan?”
“Yes.” He peered up through his lashes. “I wasn’t lying when I said I missed you and thought about you every day. I want to spend time with you and it’s been fun watching you experience all these firsts. I’m happy that I could do this for you. And just because you’re resigned to saying no doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll say in the end.”
I raised my brows. “Oh, really?”
He dropped his hands and straightened. “Maybe at the end of these seven days, you’ll still say no. That doesn’t mean it’s over. I’m in this for the long haul.”
Warmth bubbled up in my chest in response to his words. “What if I find someone else?”
His eyes narrowed. “I doubt that’s going to happen.”
“You never know.”
“Oh, I know.”
I rolled my eyes, but the grin I was fighting peeked through. “Just saying.”
“And I’m just saying that by the end of these seven days or maybe a week from then, or a month, you’ll say yes.” He cupped my cheek and leaned in, pressing his forehead to mine. “And I’ll be waiting. No matter how long it takes.”
As I closed my eyes, my breath caught at the way my stomach dipped and twisted. The question formed on the tip of my tongue. “Tell me why you really left, Dez. Please.”
He brushed my nose with his and then pulled back, sighing. “Jas, it’s not an easy—”
Bushes rattled behind us, the sound of something rustling around. We turned at the same time. A shiver of awareness snaked along my shoulders as the tiny leaves on a bush that was only a few feet tall shuddered.
Dez placed a hand on my arm and motioned for me to be quiet as we stood. We made no sound, but the spiky leaves stilled.
A thin branch, no wider than a pencil and shaped like a spear, parted the leaves. The spear swung left and then right and then stopped, pointing at where we stood.
“What the...?” I whispered.
The bushes shook as a small creature appeared between the leaves. I had no idea what the thing was. No taller than a foot, the thing’s skin was the color of aged leather, legs and arms thin and knobby. Some kind of loincloth had been fashioned out of leaves and its potbelly was covered with mud. The creature kind of resembled one of those heinous troll dolls that had been popular before my time. It didn’t have neon-pink or purple hair, but its dark brown hair did stick straight up in large clumps, twisting together at the end.
The small creature crouched down, pointing the spear at us as if daring one of us to make a move.
“Holy crap,” Dez said.
I clamped my hands together, under my chin. “What is it?”
Its big, round eyes narrowed at the sound of my voice, but it didn’t scamper off. Couldn’t picture the little guy running. Nope. It would scamper.
“It’s a pukwudgie.”
The thing’s oversize, floppy ears twitched at the sound of its name.
I looked at Dez slowly. “A what?”
“Earth demon,” he replied, brows knitted. “I’ve never seen one before. Thought they’d been eradicated years ago. Not much is known about them other than they caused a bit of mischief during their heyday. Usually they were only seen up north, near Massachusetts and places like that.”
“It’s kind of cute.” I grinned when his look turned dubious. “What? It’s so ugly it’s cute.”
Dez shook his head as the pukwudgie dropped its little spear and slunk forward, nearing the rocks. It disappeared behind them for a moment and then the tips of its ears and hair came into view. Finally, those big eyes and bulbous nose appeared as it peeked over a rock at us.
I giggled softly, and its mouth opened wide, revealing quite of bit of teeth in what I guessed was a smile in return.
“I think it likes me,” I said.
Dez’s hand grazed my back as he stepped away from the rocks. “Everything likes you, Jas.”
With surprising agility, the little guy hopped onto the farthest rock. It crouched again, watching us, and when neither of us moved, it inched closer, hopping the rocks until it was near the one we’d been sitting on.
I glanced at Dez, who shrugged and then started around the rocks, as if he planned to sneak up on it from behind. “What are you doing?”
He sent me a look. “What do you think?”
My mouth dropped open. “Come on. It’s not doing anything.”
Dez stopped, arching a brow. “Yet.”
My gaze fell back to the little guy. He was staring up at me with a toothy smile. He raised his knees, hobbling back and forth in a strange little jig when our eyes met.
“Jasmine...” Dez sighed, folding his arms. “It’s a demon. It might be a cute-ugly demon, but it’s still the enemy.”
“I know, but...”
But it wasn’t doing anything other than dancing and preening about. As sacrilegious as it sounded, I didn’t think it was right to kill it.
Dez shot me a look. “We can’t just let it go.”
The pukwudgie glanced at Dez and stuck out its tongue, making a very human raspberry sound.
I laughed. “Oh, I like this little guy. If we can’t let him go, can I keep him?”
“I shall name him Herbert,” I announced, ignoring Dez. “Do you like the name, little puke-wedgie?”
“Pukwudgie,” Dez corrected, lips curving upward reluctantly. “Jas, we need to take care of this.”
The earth demon twirled around, hiking its legs up on either side.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” I slowly sat down, careful not to startle it. “Herbert is a good name for him.”
Dez choked, rolling his eyes. “Really? That’s the best name you can come up with?”
I flipped him off.
His eyes narrowed on me.
Herbert hopped onto my boulder, and I held my hand out. He bent at the waist, sniffing the air around my fingers.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Dez suggested darkly, stepping toward me. “God knows what kind of messed-up diseases that thing carries.”
Herbert spun around, doing another dance, and then brought his hand down on mine, as if he were giving me a high five. Then he raised his hand, formed a fist and shook it at Dez.
“Huh,” I said, eyeing it. “I really don’t think Herbert likes you.”
“That’s tragic,” he replied dryly. “I want you to move back from it.”
Ignoring him again, I chuckled as Herbert climbed to my side of the rock and wrapped his hand around my pointer finger. His skin was cool and soft. He jumped once and then again, moving my hand.
“I think he’s shaking my—ouch!”
Herbert had his mouth on my finger, his teeth clamped down! Sharp pain blasted across my hand, and I jerked back. Scrambling to my feet, I lost my balance and landed on my butt, clutching my throbbing hand to my chest.
“Herbert bit me! The little bastard bit me!”
The pukwudgie made a chattering noise that sounded perilously like a laugh, spun around and darted over the boulders. It jumped onto the ground and raced off, stopping only long enough to pick up its spear. Bushes rattled as it disappeared into the growth.