White Hot Kiss (The Dark Elements 1) - Page 27

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“You eat muffins?” It struck me as odd. “I figured you drank virgin blood and ate cow hearts.”

“What?” Roth laughed again, and the deep sound was pleasant. “What have the Wardens taught you? I love muffins. Want to take the metro or walk it?”

“Walk,” I said. “I don’t like the subways.”

We started off toward F Street, which would take us some time on foot. I kept my gaze trained on the glimmering souls in front of me, aware of Roth on every level. The weirdest thing was, when I looked at him and didn’t see a soul, I felt relief instead of horror. Being around souls all day gnawed at me. The emptiness was a reprieve.

But it was something more than that.

Being around Roth was sort of freeing. Besides Zayne and the Wardens, he was the only one who knew what I was. Even my best friends had no idea about me. Roth knew, and he didn’t care. Zayne and the Wardens cared. Granted, Roth was a full-blooded demon of God knows what, but I didn’t have to pretend with him.

“I don’t like going underground, either,” Roth said after a few moments.

“Why? It should be like going home to you.”

“Exactly.”

I looked up at him. With his hands shoved into his pockets and the earnest expression on his face, he looked strangely vulnerable. But when he glanced down at me, his eyes bespoke a predator’s stare. Shivering, I squinted at the bright sun. “What’s it like down there?”

“Hot.”

I rolled my eyes. “I figured that much.”

Roth pulled an anti-Warden flyer off the back of a bench we passed and handed it to me. “It’s kind of like here, but darker. I think it tries to mirror everything topside, but it gets twisted. Not a very scenic place. Lots of cliffs, rivers that have no end and wastelands where cities have crumbled. I don’t think you’d like it.”

The flyer had the same crudely drawn picture that most did. I tossed it into a nearby trash can. “Do you like it?”

“Do I have a choice?” he asked stonily. I could feel his eyes on me, studying my reaction.

“I’d say so. Either you like it or you don’t.”

His lips thinned. “I like it here better.”

I tried to keep my expression blank as we stopped at another busy intersection. “Do you come here often?”

“More than I should.”

“What does that mean?” I tilted my head back, meeting his intense stare.

“It’s...real up here.” He placed his hand on the small of my back, and the weight burned through my thin sweater in the most...unusually delicious way as he guided me across the street. “So, when did you start tagging?”

I chewed on my lip, unsure of how much I should tell him. “I was thirteen when I started.”

His brows furrowed. “It took them that long to realize you could do it?”

“No. After they...found me, they knew I could see souls. I guess I’d babbled about seeing their souls or something. It was an accident that anyone even knew I could tag demons.”

“What happened?” he asked, dropping his hand.

“I think I was ten or something, and I was with one of the Wardens,” I said. “We were getting something to eat. I saw a person who didn’t have an aura and I brushed against her in line. It was like flipping a switch. No one else seemed to notice but the Warden.”

“And the rest is history?” Roth sounded smug. “The Wardens find a half demon who can see souls and tag demons. Sounds kind of convenient to me.”

“I don’t know what you mean by it being convenient. I am a Warden, too, you know.”

He looked at me. “You can’t tell me you never seriously considered that the reason they keep you around is because of what you can do.”

“And the reason you’re interested in me has nothing to do with what I can do?” I quipped, feeling rather bold and proud.

“Of course I’m interested in you because of what you do,” he replied casually. “I’ve never pretended otherwise.”

I sidestepped a group of kids my age. The girls dressed in short skirts and lacy kneesocks rubbernecked Roth. “They didn’t know what I could do when they found me, Roth. So stop trying to make them sound like they’re the bad guys.”

“I like when people try to classify things into good and bad, as if everything is that clear-cut.”

“It is that clear-cut. Your kind is bad. The Wardens are good.” My response sounded flat. “They are good.”

He ran a hand through his hair, causing it to fall haphazardly across his forehead. “And why do you think the Wardens are so good?”

“Their souls are pure, Roth. And they protect people from things like you.”

“People with the purest souls are capable of the greatest evils. No one is perfect, no matter what they are or what side they fight for.” Roth caught my hand, pulling me around a cluster of tourists with fanny packs. “One of these days I’m going to buy me one of those.”

The laugh came out before I could squelch it. “You’d look real sexy in a fanny pack.”

His smile warmed his face—warmed me. “I’d look sexy in just about anything.”

I laughed again, shaking my head. “You’re so modest.”

Roth winked. “Modesty belongs to losers. Something I am not.”

I shook my head, grinning. “I’d tell you that probably earned you a ticket to Hell, but you know...”

Roth tipped his head to the side, chuckling. “Yeah. Yeah. Do you know how many times people have told me to go to Hell?”

“I can only imagine.” I caught sight of the top of the Verizon Center.

“It never gets old,” Roth mused, smiling softly.

CHAPTER NINE

We turned onto F Street and I stepped closer to him, pointing across the road. “When I was little, I used to sit across from the performing-arts center and watch them through the windows. I wish I had a smidgen of their grace and talent. You should see me dance.”

“Hmm,” Roth murmured, golden eyes twinkling. “I would like to see you dance.”

Was it commonplace for a demon to twist every comment into something laced with sexual innuendo? The crowd grew thicker near the arts center, a sure sign there was a concert later. My gaze landed on a couple leaning against the corner of the building. They were locked together, oblivious to the world around them. I could barely tell where one ended and the other began. Envy reared its head, forcing me to look away.

Roth was watching me observe the boy and girl. He smiled wolfishly. “So what does a tag look like?”

“You can’t see it?” I smiled. “Well, I’m not telling you.”

Roth laughed. “Fair. Can I ask you something else?”

I peeked at him. He was staring straight ahead now, lips pursed. “Sure.”

“Do you like doing this? Tagging demons?”

“Yes. I’m doing something good. How many people can say that?” I quickly added, “I like it.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that your family willingly puts you in danger to serve their own purpose?”

Irritation flashed like a glare from the winter sun. “They don’t really want me tagging anymore, so they don’t willingly put me in danger. I’m glad I can help. Can you say the same about whatever you do? You’re evil. You ruin people’s lives.”


Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy
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