“Waiting for Abbot to get done talking with Nicolai and Geoff.” I glanced at the oak door, willing it to open. When nothing happened, I plopped down on the bottom step. “It’s taking forever.”
“How long have they been in there?”
“Since dinner ended.” I scooted over, making room for his massive body. “Your father has been having a lot of closed-door meetings lately.”
Zayne sat down, dropping his elbows on his bent knees. “Yeah.”
“You don’t know anything about it?” I glanced at him.
“No.” He laughed under his breath. “Father’s up to something, but I don’t know what.”
A shiver danced all over me. Hopefully, whatever his father was up to had nothing to do with me.
“You okay?” he asked, nudging my leg with his.
“Peachy.” Smiling, I tugged my hair back from my face and twisted it over my shoulder. “You?”
His brows furrowed. “I’m okay.”
Meeting his eyes for a moment, I nodded and refocused on his father’s door. Ever since Petr’s attack, things had been different between Zayne and me. He seemed to always be watching me, waiting for the inevitable hysterical breakdown...or for me to fall off the wagon and start sucking souls by the truckload. Maybe that wasn’t fair. Zayne was just worried.
My stomach knotted at the unexpected comment. “Huh?”
Zayne’s head tilted to the side. “You just seem different...to me.”
The cold knots tightened and it felt like someone had thrown a rope around my chest. “What do you mean?”
“It’s hard to explain.” He laughed again, the sound unsure. “And I can’t put my finger on it.” His hand found the bundle of hair resting on my shoulder. He didn’t tug or wrap his fingers around the strands like he normally would. He threaded his fingers through the hair, feeling it, and I grew very still. “Maybe it’s me.”
Suddenly images of Roth flipped through my head—of the kiss in the park and all those almost kisses that came afterward. Because, besides the secrets I’d been keeping, the only thing different about me was the fact that I’d...I’d been kissed. But it couldn’t be that. There was no way Zayne would know that. It wasn’t like it was written on my forehead.
Oh, dear God, what if he did somehow know? Zayne did seem to know everything.
I shook my head, which caused his hand to drop to my shoulder. “I’m the same lame—”
“You’re not lame.” His hand curved over my shoulder. “You’ve never been lame.”
I grinned, trying to lighten the mood. “Well, actually I’m sort of lame like a—”
“Don’t.” Zayne shook his head back and forth. “I hate when you say things like that. And what I hate more is that you actually believe it.”
I opened my mouth, but my denials withered up like a dead flower. There were so many things that made Zayne different from me. Sometimes it seemed like we were total opposites. Insecurities resurfaced like old friends you didn’t want to see. I wasn’t like Zayne. I could never be like him, no matter how hard I tried. Izzy and Drake could phase at two and here I was, seventeen, and couldn’t do it. I looked away, compiling a mental list of my faults taller than the Eiffel Tower.
Strange thing was, when I was with Roth I didn’t wander down this troubling road.
Zayne muttered something and then his arm slipped around my bent shoulders. Tugging me closer, he tucked me against his side and rested his chin atop my head. I closed my eyes, inhaling the crisp winter-mint scent of him. We stayed like that until I heard heavy steps approaching the closed door.
Pulling away from Zayne, I ignored the sudden draft that crept down my body and stood. Nicolai and Geoff exited first, winking at me as they headed toward the doors under the stairwell that led to the underground levels.
Abbot glanced at his son and me. “I assume one or both of you are waiting for me?”
“Me.” I stepped forward, twisting my fingers behind my back, more nervous than a turkey at Christmas. “I was hoping to ask you for a favor.”
He folded his arms.
“Well, it’s not really a favor at all. More like a request.” Warmth cascaded over my cheeks. There was something about this man that always turned me into a blabbering idiot. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw that Zayne listened with interest from his reclined position on the steps. I sighed. “There’s this big exam in bio on Monday.” Lie. “And since there haven’t been any demon attacks lately...” Lie. “I was hoping I could spend the night at Stacey’s house on Saturday to study.”
Lie. Lie. Lie.
Before Abbot could even respond, Zayne swooped in. “There haven’t been any attacks because you haven’t been anywhere for them to get to you.”
I sent Zayne a shut-up-or-die look. “If Zayne takes me over to her house and drops me off, he can totally scout out the neighborhood—”
“Oh, wait a sec.” Zayne was on his feet in a nanosecond. “Don’t volunteer me in this craziness. There’s no way you’re staying overnight after everything that’s happened.”
I scowled. “I didn’t realize I was asking you for permission.”
His glare matched mine. “You shouldn’t even be suggesting something like this right now.”
Taking a deep breath, I turned back to Abbot. “Please. I really need to study and—”
“I can help you study,” Zayne said, planting his hands on his hips.
“No. You can’t. You aren’t in my class.”
Zayne tilted his head. “But I’ve taken biology, and it was probably a lot harder than what you’re studying in school.”
My position mimicked his. “Well, thank you for the update, but I need to study what the poor public school is teaching me with Stacey.” Giving my best puppy-dog eyes, I was seconds away from begging. “I promise that the moment anything seems shady or suspicious, I’ll call the whole clan. I won’t—”
“Aren’t you at all worried about putting your friend in danger?” Zayne asked, and damn him, I wanted to jump on his back like a monkey. “Layla, be reasonable.”
“How about you be reasonable? I can’t stay in the house forever and only go to school! Do you want me to fail?” Yeah, that was kind of low but I was desperate. “Because I’m going to fail if I don’t study.”
“No one wants you to fail,” Abbot said with a sigh. He pinched the bridge of his nose, a gesture he did whenever Zayne and I got into petty arguments in front of him, but there was a shrewdness to his gaze. “I don’t think going to your friend’s house on Saturday is that bad an idea.”
“Really?” I squealed at about the same time Zayne shouted, “What?”
Abbot frowned at his son. “Yes. I think it will be okay. You need to be able to study and would probably like some time alone with your friend.” His stare turned pointed. “Especially after everything that has happened.”
Surprise flitted through me. Abbot had been abducted by aliens. This was way too easy, but I knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.