Stone Cold Touch (The Dark Elements 2) - Page 28

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“The kid needs an intervention,” an older man in line said loud enough that Eva heard.

Eva’s cheeks flushed even brighter, but Gareth let out that giggle again; the kind that made my skin crawl.

“More like a demonic intervention,” muttered Roth, eyeing the situation with visible distaste.

Gareth rose but then stumbled again, knocking into a nearby table. Drinks spilled and people scattered. A glassy sheen filled Eva’s eyes. I couldn’t sit there any longer.

“Move,” I said, pushing lightly on Zayne.

He didn’t budge. “Why?”

“This is too embarrassing to watch. Someone needs to help her.”

Zayne stared at me a moment and then sighed. “Stay put. I’ll make sure she gets him out of here.”

“Thank you.”

As Zayne headed over to help her out, my gaze drifted across the table. It was impossible for it not to go there. I could feel the intensity in Roth’s stare. Our gazes locked.

“How are you holding up?” he asked.

The question caught me by surprise. I couldn’t remember a time when he’d asked that. “I’m okay.”

“Seeing that this morning couldn’t have been fun.”

Uncomfortable, I placed my hands on the table to keep from fidgeting. “It wasn’t.”

“And the guy that died a few nights back.” A lock of black-blue hair fell across his forehead, softening his features. “How are you handling that?”

Pressing my lips together, I didn’t answer immediately. Zayne had Gareth to the door. I hoped that wherever they needed to go wasn’t far because I doubted they’d make it without Zayne carrying him. When my gaze slid back to Roth, he was still waiting.

“I’m really hoping you don’t blame yourself,” he said, angling his long body forward. “But knowing you, you probably do.”

“Well, I did slap the guy with a Bible.” My stomach twisted at the reminder. “I’m sure the situation could’ve been handled better.”

“But you didn’t pull the trigger. You also didn’t kill the guy.” His voice dropped. “I did.”

“But I—”

His hands curled around mine, startling me. “Don’t put that shit on your head. You have enough to worry about.”

Part of the frustration wiggling its way around my core was mine, but there was a hard edge that didn’t belong to me. A disturbance I couldn’t fully understand that came from deep within...Roth. The longer he had my hands, the clearer the emotions grew, like clouds parting and revealing the sun. Nipping at the heels of frustration was another emotion...similar to one I’d felt from Zayne.

A harsh breath roared out of me and I started to pull my hands free. He didn’t let go at first but finally relented. My fingers slipped out of his, eliciting a rush of shivers up my arms.

“What?” he asked, his stare piercing.

I shook my head. “Nothing.”

Roth didn’t say anything else.

Neither did I.

* * *

Later that afternoon, I watched Izzy shift back and forth while Drake clutched Jasmine’s leg. She would bend down every so often, idly ruffling the toddler’s red curls while he sucked his thumb.

Izzy was as much a natural at shifting as she was a handful. She raced around the living room at warp speed, one little wing flapping while the other drooped to the side. Several times she launched herself into the air when she neared Drake, causing him to shriek in terror.

For the most part, I was safely tucked in the corner of the couch, hunkered down in my hoodie. The house felt like an icebox to me, but probably not to Danika, who kept intercepting Izzy just as she would fling herself at me.

When it neared the hour before dinner, I left to head upstairs. Dinners had been awkward for weeks now and I’d rather scrounge for leftovers than sit through suspicious looks.

I passed the kitchen, spying Morris at the island. He was chopping up veggies with the kind of knife serial killers would covet. He glanced up and his dark skin crinkled at the eyes as he smiled. He waved the knife happily.

If it were anyone else, I would’ve been concerned. I waved back and then climbed the stairs. At the top landing, a weird shiver skated down my spine. I turned, half expecting to find someone giving me the evil eye from the floor below, but no one was there.

I could hear the distant laugh of Izzy and the low wail of Drake, but the feeling lingered. I shivered, shoving my hands into the pockets of my hoodie as I shook my head. Recent events had made me paranoid, rightfully so.

Turning, my attention fell to Zayne’s closed door. He’d gone to sleep when we’d gotten home from the bakery, something that was much needed. I knew he’d be rising soon to get in a workout before he sat down to eat. I crept to the door, my fist hovering for a second, but for reasons I’d probably never know, I opened it without knocking.

He wasn’t standing in the middle of his room half-naked nor was he where he liked to be when he entered a deep sleep, which was by the large picture window. Some of the Wardens liked to perch on the rooftop, much like the gargoyle stonework adorning churches and schools. Not Zayne. He’d liked that window since I could remember.

My gaze drifted to his large bed...and there he was. The corners of my lips tipped up. He was sprawled in the center of his bed in his human form, lying on his stomach. A sheet was wrapped around his h*ps and the corded muscles of his back were relaxed. One cheek rested on the curve of his elbow and he was facing the door, his lips parted. Thick lashes fanned the tips of his cheeks and those lashes had to be the envy of every mascara ad out there.

I quietly closed the door behind me and approached the bed. In his sleep, he looked much younger than he was, at ease, and, in a way, vulnerable. No one seeing him this way would believe that he could be so dangerous or deadly when awake.

Knowing I shouldn’t be in here, I still sat on the edge of the bed and my gaze tracked down the line of his spine. I didn’t really know why I’d come, but all I could think of was what he’d asked.

Give us a chance.

My heart stuttered. Could we really do this? I still wasn’t sure if trying really was the right thing, but not doing so was like turning my back on the history we shared. As my eyes soaked in all the golden flesh on display, I couldn’t help but wonder if we would’ve found ourselves in this moment even if Roth had never come into the picture.

At the thought of him, knots twisted in my stomach, a mixture of lingering hurt, the vapid bite of confusion...and guilt. My hands curled helplessly in my lap. I hated feeling that way—hated that I was still affected by Roth and that I could feel fault in any of this. He was the one who’d pushed me away...pushed me right into the arms of Zayne.

Which were really nice arms, I thought, staring at his biceps.

I felt like a total creeper.

Yeah, time to get moving. I started to get up, but a hand curled around my wrist. Gasping, I looked back down at Zayne.

One eye was visible and a sleepy smile pulled at his lips. “Where’re you going?”

Embarrassment swept through me. “How long have you been awake?”

“Long enough to know you’ve been checking me out.” The lopsided smile spread. “I feel like a piece of meat.”

“Shut up.”

“Didn’t say I didn’t enjoy the feeling.” He rolled onto his side, and I noticed that the dark shadows under his eyes had faded. His gaze drifted over my face. “I like waking up and seeing you here.”

A warm sensation buzzed through me like a happy little honeybee, and the feeling made me antsy. As I looked away, my hair slid over my shoulder, shielding my face.

“What?” he asked, dropping my wrist to reach up and brush back the blond locks.

“I don’t know.” I peeked at him, forcing my attention not to wander below his chin lest I find myself majorly distracted. “It’s just...I don’t know how to act when you’re about this.”

His fingers lingered in my hair, slipping through the strands. “Act like you’ve always acted, Layla-bug. That’s what I’ve always liked about you.”

“The fact that I act like a dork most of the time?”

He grinned. “Yes.”

A laugh escaped me as I started to relax. Raising my legs, I crossed them. I watched him place the arm closest to me behind his head.

“I wish I would’ve been more open about it sooner,” he admitted quietly. “That I didn’t wait so long.”

I wished he had, too, because maybe things wouldn’t be so confusing and complicated now.

“Better late than never, right?” When I nodded, he slid his fingers down my arm. Even through the hoodie, I could feel his touch. “What’s for dinner?”

“I think some kind of stew or pot roast.”

“You going to eat with the rest of us?”

I shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t know. It feels awkward to do so.”

“It’s not as though no one wants you there, Layla.”

That wasn’t how it felt to me. I glanced at the clock on the wall. “I should probably get going. You need—”

Zayne caught my arm and rolled so quickly that there was nothing I could do. I was suddenly on my back, staring into eyes that sparkled with mischief. He hovered above me, supporting his weight on his arms.

“Your running off isn’t what I need,” he said.

“It isn’t?” I squeaked out possibly the stupidest question, but I wasn’t to blame. The sheet had slipped low on his hips, and I honestly couldn’t tell if he was wearing anything under it.

“No.” His grin tugged at my chest. “Let’s snuggle for a while.”

“Snuggle?” I giggled at the image of a six-and-a-half-foot gargoyle cuddling.

He chuckled. “I thought girls liked to snuggle?”

“I really wouldn’t know.” That wasn’t true. I did love me some snuggling. All those times Zayne had slept beside me, and then there was the time with Roth, when all we’d done was lie in each other’s arms and talk about nothing important.

I drew in a sharp breath as my stomach flopped. I should not—could not think about him right now.

Zayne’s smile slipped as his eyes searched mine. “Sometimes you disappear on me when you’re here, and I probably don’t want to know where you go.”

My breath caught as my lungs expanded. I wanted to tell him that I didn’t go anywhere, and if I did it was nothing to be worried about, but that would be a lie and he’d know it.

One side of his lips quirked up. “But you are here. So that means more.”

“It does.” And it did.

A beat of heavy silence stretched out between us, and his gaze dipped to my lips and then below, to where my hoodie was zipped up to my neck. His grin spread. “Cold?”

“It’s chilly in this house,” I responded, happy for a shift in topic.

But then his gaze rose, and those eyes were electric. My chest rose with a deep breath. “I should get ready,” he murmured.

“You should.”

“But I sort of want to just lie around and do nothing.”

A tingle started at my lips and shivered its way down to my toes. “That’s very un-Wardenlike.”

“If you only knew my very un-Wardenlike thoughts, you’d probably run from this room.” He took note of my sharp inhale. “Or maybe not.”

My fingers itched to touch him, but I kept them by my sides. He’d suggested that we take it slow and give us a chance, and that probably didn’t involve feeling him up. But it was so hard.

“You want to get some training in with me tonight?” he asked.

“Yeah.” My voice sounded husky. “That...that would be cool.”

“Really cool. Or maybe hot. Probably hot....” He trailed off, and his head dipped.

I shrank back, pressing into the mattress as if it could suck me right through. “Zayne, you shouldn’t be so—”

“It’s okay.” He kept coming, moving closer, completely unafraid and completely crazy. “You worry too much.”

“You’re crazy.” I turned my head, but he placed two fingers on my chin and guided my head forward. My eyes widened. “Completely freaking crazy.”

“No. I just trust you.” He rested his forehead against mine, and every muscle in my body locked up. “See? You’re not eating my soul, now, are you?”

I kept my mouth clamped shut. The faint burn was in my throat and I didn’t trust myself to speak.

He shifted his head and his nose brushed mine, a totally new experience with Zayne. My heart sped up, beating so fast it was tripping over itself. A sigh shuddered out of him and into me. My eyes fell closed as his fingertips trailed across my cheek and then down, to where my pulse beat rapidly. If he lowered his body just a bit, we’d be pressed together in all the ways that made my toes curl and my knees weak, and I had a feeling I’d discover quickly if he wore anything under that sheet.

Oh God, that was so not the right thought to be having right now.

I thought I heard him whisper my name, and then I felt the barest sweep of his lips, as soft and quick as the flutter of wings, across mine.

Shock rippled through me, stealing my breath. My eyes popped open wide, and Zayne lifted his head. There was a tiny, smug smile on his lips and mine...oh, mine were tingling and humming from the brief touch.

“Hmm...” he murmured, and his tongue flicked out, smoothing over the indent in his upper lip. “I’m still here. Soul intact. Go figure.”

I was absolutely stupefied, beyond the ability to speak. It hadn’t really been a kiss. My lips had been sealed tight, so you couldn’t even say it was a peck, but Zayne...he had dared to put his lips against mine. He’d risked that—risked losing his soul for a brief brushing of lips.

Tags: Jennifer L. Armentrout The Dark Elements Fantasy