Oh my God.
I was licking his thumb. Like really licking his thumb.
And my body responded to the illicit, wholly forbidden taste of his skin. A heaviness settled in my br**sts and heat flowed through me. He didn’t pull away. It seemed as though he was straining forward, his upper body already over the gearshift between us.
Blood burning for two very different reasons, I jerked back, breaking the contact between us. My cheeks were on fire—my entire body was on fire. I didn’t know what to say or do. Zayne stared at me, his chest rising and falling out of rhythm. I didn’t know what he was thinking. I didn’t want to.
Mortification replaced the simmering heat that was turning my insides into lava. What in Hell’s bells was I thinking? Needing air and space, I quickly unbuckled myself and all but threw myself out of the car.
My eyes stung. There was no way I could sit through this early-dinner thing after doing whatever I was doing. I’d have to hail a cab or walk home or move to Alaska or sew my mouth—
As I rounded the hood of the Impala, Zayne was suddenly in front of me. The baseball cap was turned backward and his eyes were wide. No doubt he thought I was a freak. I was a freak. Like a total creeper coward, I darted to the side to get around him. He blocked my path, settling his hands on my shoulders.
“Whoa,” he said softly. “Where are you running off to?”
“I don’t know.” My throat felt as if it was closing off. Could I be allergic to his skin? That sounded stupid. Maybe it was a panic attack. “We should go. Like now. Or we can go home if you want. I’d totally understand and I’m so—”
“Hey, no need for all of that.” His hands curled around my shoulders. “It’s okay. Everything is fine.”
“No, it’s not.” My voice cracked. “I—”
“It’s fine.” He tugged me forward, and when I resisted, he pulled harder. I face-planted in his chest and inhaled his crisp scent. “Look, you’ve been under a lot of stress and crazy stuff has been happening.”
True, but that was absolutely no excuse for licking someone’s finger. I squeezed my eyes shut as his arms went around me. He dipped his head, resting his chin atop my head. Only Zayne could be this understanding. He was too perfect sometimes.
And I was too weird all the times.
“I don’t know why I did it,” I said, my voice muffled. “I didn’t even realize I was doing it until...well, you know, and I’m so sorry.”
“Stop.” He rocked to the side, the movement soothing. “It wasn’t...”
I drew back a little, daring to peek up at him. “It wasn’t what? Gross? Because I’m pretty sure you’d prefer that I hadn’t—”
“You have no idea what I prefer and what I don’t.” The way he said it wasn’t dismissive. More like a statement of fact.
I searched his face for an answer to a question I wasn’t ready or willing to ask. His gaze met mine, and I lowered my lashes. His hand cupped my cheek and an overwhelming feeling of fondness rose inside of me, along with something deeper, more intense.
Zayne slipped his hand away. “We should get going. Your friends are waiting for us.”
I nodded, and as we headed out from the parking garage into the fast-fading sun of November, he whipped his cap around, shielding his eyes. We didn’t speak as we walked the half block to the eatery, and I wasn’t sure if it was due to my finger licking or something else.
The pretty college-age hostess who led us down the narrow aisle of booths and tables spent most of the trip checking Zayne out.
“If you need anything, please let me know,” she said directly to Zayne as she stopped before one of the high-back booths.
He smiled. “Will do.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Stacey and Sam were already inside the restaurant, sitting side by side in a booth big enough to seat six. They were cute, though. Sam with his wavy hair brushing the edges of his glasses, and Stacey sitting with her hands clasped on the table. I really hoped that whatever they were embarking on worked out.
And involved mutual finger licking.
Zayne slid in first, and Sam sat up straighter. I hid my grin as I sat down next to Zayne. “Sorry we’re a little late.”
“That’s okay,” Stacey said. “We’ve been munching on breadsticks.”
“Probably would’ve been quicker to walk.” Zayne leaned back, draping his arm along the top of the burgundy cushion behind us. “But there’s no way I’m leaving my baby parked along the street.”
The mention of Zayne’s car sparked Sam’s interest and he immediately launched into a conversation about the Impala. Stacey and I both stared at the boy. I guess we’d been expecting him to start hyperventilating, but he played it cool.
After the waitress arrived to take our drink orders, Sam waved a breadstick like a wand, sprinkling garlic all over the checkered tablecloth. “Did you know the reason they went with a Chevy Impala on Supernatural was because a body would fit in the trunk?”
My brows furrowed.
Zayne handled it like a pro. “I’m pretty sure you can stash two bodies in the trunk.”
Sam grinned, but then his gaze flickered up at the same second Zayne stiffened beside me. There was a change in the eatery, a shifting of the air on an unnatural level. Beside me, Zayne stretched, craning his neck, and I knew the second I heard his swift curse under his breath. I knew, even though it didn’t make sense.
Across from me, Stacey’s brows shot up. “Um...”
I closed my eyes as I felt him stop beside the table.
“Fancy meeting you guys here,” Roth said, and dark humor dripped from every word. “All together.”
When I forced my eyes open, he was still there. He winked when he caught my gaze, and I wanted to do what that teacher had done this morning.
“Hey, Roth.” Sam gave him a little wave. “You want to join us? There’s more than enough room.”
My mouth snapped open, but before I could say a word, Roth slid into the seat beside me. I stared at Stacey, who looked as though she needed a bucket of popcorn.
“How convenient that you find yourself here,” Zayne replied. His arm was still draped along the back of the booth, but he leaned forward, dropping his other arm on the table. “With there being, I don’t know, thousands of restaurants in the city.”
Roth’s lips curled up as he stretched out, folding his arms. Somehow, stuck between the two of them, the booth suddenly felt like a one-seater. “I guess I’m just lucky.”
“The statistics of him accidentally ending up here are rather slim,” Sam murmured to himself while Stacey slowly turned to him. “But it is right down the street from school, so that ups the probability.”
My eyes widened. Oh no, save the baby pandas! I hadn’t told Zayne about Roth attending school. After Roth had been snared in the demon’s trap and vanished, I hadn’t seen the point.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Zayne asked.
No one at the table besides Roth knew any better and someone was about to blab it, so I jumped in, figuring it was better if it came from me. “Roth goes to our school.”
Zayne’s body locked up beside me.
I dared a peek at him. He was staring at Roth. “Is that so?” he murmured.
“You guys don’t know each other?” Stacey asked.
The muscles along Zayne’s forearm flickered. “We’ve met a time or two.”
Roth smiled broadly. “Good times, too.”
“You know he’s a Warden, right?” Sam whispered, leaning forward. “I think we told you once at lunch, but I can’t remember.”
“Sam!” Stacey hissed.
He frowned. “What?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but it seems rude to point that out.”
“It’s not rude.” Roth’s golden eyes twinkled with mischief. “I said before, I think it’s epic.”
Zayne smiled tightly as the hand on the table curled into a fist. “I bet you do.”
I wanted to bang my head against the table.
“Oh, it is. You out there, helping fight crime and all that good stuff,” he replied, and I swallowed a groan. “It’s amazing. I bet you lay your little—er, not so little—head on your pillow every day feeling like a hero. Wait. Do you even sleep in beds? I’ve heard that Wardens—”
“Do you really need to be sitting here?” I interrupted, losing my patience. Goading Zayne wasn’t going to help anything.
“Well, someone did ruin my lunch.” Roth looked at me pointedly. “So I am hungry.”
Sam grinned. “Yeah, you kind of do owe him a meal.”
My shoulders slumped.
Zayne sat back, staring straight ahead.
“This just got real awkward,” Stacey murmured, but her dark eyes glimmered with interest.
Not as awkward, surprisingly, as when I’d licked Zayne’s thumb like...I didn’t even know what. But dinner was painful. Roth and Zayne spent the whole time trading snide remarks, Sam and Stacey were too busy watching them as if each word they slung at one another was a tennis ball, and by the time I asked for a check, I was ready to throat punch someone.
Roth was currently asking Zayne how much he weighed, being that, according to Roth, Zayne was made out of stone. Meanwhile I stared over the back of the booth, praying our check would arrive pronto. When Sam returned from the restroom a second time, a patron at the tiny bar in the back of the restaurant fell off the stool. My eyes widened as Sam glanced over his shoulder and then looked at me, nose wrinkled. Damn, they were getting sloshed back there. Must be some good happy-hour specials.
“I weigh enough,” Zayne replied. “What about you? Look about a buck and twenty soaking wet.”
He snorted. “You might want to look again, or better yet, get your eyes checked. Do Wardens get degenerative eye diseases?”
I sighed as I scanned the mostly empty tables and rocked back and forth like a total mental patient. I’d already gone to the bathroom once but was considering hiding out in there until we left. The eatery didn’t seem to get a lot of business, but it was right before the dinner rush. Zayne and Roth’s out-snarking contest faded into background noise as my gaze slipped over an occupied table. Something drew my attention back to the two men sitting at one of those tables for two. Both were slightly older than me. I’d peg them as around Zayne’s age. Both had brown hair cut in identical buzz cuts—like the kind cops or military guys wore. Their white dress shirts looked pressed, if not tucked in. From what I could see, they were wearing light-colored khakis. Obviously, there wasn’t any kind of weird aura business since I couldn’t see souls now, but something about them snagged my attention.
It might have had something to do with the fact that they were staring at our table, the unblinking stare of a psychopath that had you in his crosshairs.
I shivered as my gaze locked with Khaki Guy on the right. His expression was bland, cold even. A robot’s.
Roth’s hand landed on my thigh, causing me to jump. “What are you looking at, shortie?”
“Nothing.” I went to remove his hand, but Zayne beat me to it.
“Hands off, buddy.” He practically tossed Roth’s hand back at him. “If you want to keep it attached to your body.”
Roth inclined his head, his expression sharpening. Ruh-rohs. He opened his mouth, but the waitress finally arrived with the check and I snatched it up. “You guys ready?” I said to Stacey and Sam. They looked transfixed as they nodded. Zayne quickly took care of our tab and I all but pushed Roth out of the booth.
He bent low, his breath warm in my ear as Zayne slid out behind us. “Don’t run off,” he whispered. “The three of us need to talk.”
Zayne’s eyes narrowed and he slipped between Roth and me, a huge barrier that caused Roth to grin like a cat that just spotted a mouse trapped in the corner of a room. I pretended I needed to use the restroom yet again to get Stacey and Sam to go ahead, giving us privacy. I figured whatever conversation we needed to have was better held here and not somewhere too remote where the two guys would likely try to kill one another.
As soon as Stacey and Sam dipped out the front, Roth took a seat where Stacey had sat, motioning us down. I sighed as I slid back into the booth. The little bit of spaghetti I did eat wasn’t doing well in my belly as I hazarded a glance at the table from earlier. The two men were still there, watching us.
“You need to make this quick,” Zayne said. “Because I’m not sure how much more of your presence I can stomach.”
Roth faked a pout. “You’re so mean, Stony. Perhaps you have something shoved up your ass that you need to remove?”
“Roth,” I said, gripping the edge of the table. “Knock it off.”
“He started it.”
I gaped. “What? Are you guys two years old?”
He glanced at a stewing Zayne and that faint twinkle in his eyes was back. “Well, he does look like he shit himself and needs his diapers changed.”
“That’s it.” Zayne started to rise, but I placed a hand on his arm.
“Just stop. Please?” When he blew out a breath and sat back down, I kept my hand on his arm just in case. “What do you want to talk about, Roth?”
Roth’s gaze dropped to where my hand rested. “He didn’t know we share classes.”
I pulled my hand away, stiffening. “I never got around to telling him, and I seriously hope that’s not why you wanted to talk.”