“Did Stony keep you up late, whispering innocent and pure thoughts in your ear?”
I rolled my eyes at the derision dripping from his voice. “Uh. No.”
He shifted, angling his body toward mine. “Did he keep you up whispering all the naughty things he wants to do to you?”
Exhaling deeply, I finally turned to him. Roth’s hair was a mess of raven locks and the gray shirt he wore stretched taut across his chest. His jeans hung low on his hips, ripped across both knees. He was the picture of lazy arrogance.
“I’m guessing he didn’t do that either. He’s too good for those kinds of dirty things.” He tapped a finger on his chin thoughtfully, and I realized the nail was painted black. “He probably cuddled with you.”
Zayne had sort of cuddled with me before Maddox had taken a fall down the stairs, but he’d also been not so pure about it. “What is with you wanting to know what’s going on with me and Zayne? It’s none of your business.”
One shoulder rose. “I’m just curious.” When I didn’t respond, he sighed. “So what’s your deal today? Is it because of what happened to our friendly neighborhood witch? Or something else?”
I cringed a little at his blasé attitude. “That and last night...” What was I thinking even confiding in Roth? Was our white flag of friendship cut out for this?
“Last night what?”
Sighing, I ran a hand through my hair. The need to give voice to what was troubling me was too strong. It wasn’t as though I could talk to Stacey about these things, and I didn’t want to involve Zayne any more than he was already by the simple act of defending me.
“Abbot thinks I’m evil incarnate.”
His brows inched up his forehead, disappearing under his hair. “What?”
“CliffsNotes version? There have been some weird things happening at the house. The windows were blown out and then one of the Wardens fell down the stairs.” I tucked my hair back, beyond tired. “Compounded with the fact Tomas—who Bambi ate—is still missing, Abbot thinks I’m behind it all.”
Roth frowned. “And why does he think you’re involved in any of this?”
I waited until a small group of people hurrying toward the cafeteria passed us before continuing. “Because I was present when the windows broke and when Maddox fell down the steps. Not sure how he attributes Tomas to me.”
“Did you do those things?” he asked.
“What?” I threw my hands up. “No. I didn’t do anything. They even have it on camera.” A bit paranoid, I scowled. “Why would you ask that?”
“Why wouldn’t I ask to make sure? You said you didn’t. There’s proof you didn’t, so why would he still think you’re behind it?”
And here came the part that had kept me tossing and turning all night. “Abbot thinks that they don’t know what I’m capable of. That I have superpowers and did all of that with a single thought, I guess.”
“That would be a cool ability—a very demonic ability. An Upper Level one to be exact,” he said, grinning.
An Upper Level ability...oh my God, that’s what Zayne and Danika had said about me, but with all the crazy, I’d forgotten about it.
“Hey.” Roth’s voice softened. “Layla, I wasn’t being serious.”
I lifted my gaze, meeting his, and I saw the truth in his eyes. My heart sped up. He...he was lying now. I knew it deep in my bones. The words came out in a whisper. “Abbot thinks I’m evil.”
Roth drew back and straightened. The longer he was quiet, the bigger the knots of unease grew in my stomach, becoming balls of lead. “Skip with me.”
I blinked. “What?”
“Skip with me,” he said again.
That was so not what I was expecting him to say. “I’m going to lunch.”
“Or you can go have lunch with me.”
I shook my head. “That’s not a good idea.”
“Why not?” The devilish grin was back, giving his features a boyish charm. “Would Stony not approve?”
Uh, that was an understatement.
“Or are you worried Abbot wouldn’t?” He dipped his head to mine and his breath danced over my lips. “He thinks you’re evil? Screw it. Be bad.”
“I’m not sure how being bad is going to help anything.”
“It’s going to help. Trust me.” Reaching over, he slid the strap of my book bag down my shoulder and then tossed it in the locker. “Come and be bad with me.”
Taking a step back, I shook my head. “That’s not going to happen.”
“I’m not suggesting you come and have sex with me, Layla.” As I flushed to the roots of my hair, he puckered his lips. “Actually, that’s not a bad idea, but not what I’m saying.”
I cast a doubtful look in his direction.
Roth reclaimed the space, curving his hands around my upper arms. “I promise I’ll have you back before Stony comes to pick you up. I’ll work some of my awesome skill and no one will be the wiser. Boy Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a Boy Scout.”
His lips curved up. “Ah, good point, but come on. What’s it going to hurt? We’re friends, right? Two demon peas in a demon pod.”
The urge to laugh at him was powerful, but I resisted, because it only encouraged the jerk.
“Look, there’s something that I want to show you.” As I raised a brow, Roth pouted. “Not my manly bits, you little perv.”
“Your manly bits?” A laugh burst from me. “You are so bizarre.”
“But you were thinking about my manly bits.”
Two spots of heat blossomed on my cheeks. Now I was. “No, I wasn’t.”
He grinned. “By the way, my manly bits are not bits. Just want to clear that up.”
“Oh my God...”
“Come on. There’s a place I think you need to see that will help put all of this in perspective. You’ll see that being bad isn’t bad at all. Come on, shortie,” he goaded, eyes twinkling like two pieces of topaz. “Skip with me.”
Skipping did sound good. And there was a healthy dose of curiosity when it came to whatever it was that he wanted to show me that could change my perspective, but leaving school with him was stupid, bound to turn ugly, and Zayne would be...well, he wouldn’t be happy.
But Roth was like this little devil on my shoulder, urging me to be bad and to enjoy every freaking moment of it. Except he wasn’t a little devil. He was the Crown Prince of Hell.
Common sense seemed to have belly flopped itself right out the window and face-planted in the cement below, because I found myself nodding and saying, “Okay.”
I stared at the metal monster in front of me and slowly forced my gaze to where Roth stood. This “being bad” thing was already a horrible idea.
“Since when did you start riding a motorcycle?”
“This is not just any motorcycle, shortie. This is a Hayabusa, one of the fastest rockets on the road.” He held out a helmet. “Here.”
I eyed the silver-and-red motorcycle. There was barely any room for two people on the thing.
“It’s not bad.” The strap rattled off the helmet as he shook it at me, impatient. “We need to get going before the rent-a-cop decides to wake up from his nap and catch us outside, forcing me to do more unsavory demon things.”
We’d made a pit stop at the school office, and I didn’t know what he did in there to ensure no one would call home. Sighing, I studied the motorcycle.
It wasn’t hard to picture Roth on the crotch rocket. Shirtless.
Why did my brain always take everything in that direction? I was going to blame the genes from mommy dearest.
“What are you thinking?” Roth asked as keen interest flashed across his face.
“Nothing.” I snatched the red helmet out of his hands. It took a few seconds for me to get it on correctly, and when I was done hooking the strap, Roth had already donned a black one and was straddling the motorcycle.
I swallowed just as I realized how close we’d be on this thing, like a “one body instead of two” level of closeness. This was so inappropriate. Zayne and I weren’t together, together, but my goodies were going up against a part of Roth’s goodies.
“FML,” I muttered.
Roth’s head whipped around and he lifted the face shield. “What?”
Damn, he had super hearing or something. I waved him off as I approached the bike. Knowing I was most likely going to regret this like eating an entire cake in one sitting, I threw my leg over the seat and sat down. Almost immediately I slid forward, causing my thighs to cradle his hips.
Oh, this was not good.
Roth kicked the engine and the immediate roar widened my eyes. Tentatively, I placed my hands on his sides. He looked over his shoulder at me. I couldn’t see his face, but he shook his head before facing the front. Then he reached down, wrapping his hands around my forearms and yanked me forward.
In a nanosecond, my br**sts were smushed against his back. Before I could put some much needed space between us, he tucked my hands together against his lower stomach, folding one hand over my wrists. I felt his chuckle and then he gunned it.
It was as if the jerk face knew I’d pull away and had totally prevented it.
My heart leaped into my throat as he darted into traffic, zooming between cars that felt as though they were at a complete standstill compared to how fast we were going.
Roth blocked most of the wind as he swerved around a cab, but the whispers of the wind lifted the loose stands of hair flowing out from under my helmet. The ends managed to sneak up under the sleeves of my sweater, skating over my skin. My pulse was somewhere in between oh, crap on a cracker and Christ on a crutch.
Up ahead, the light turned yellow and the bike pitched forward as he hit the gas. We flew through the intersection as it flicked red. A horn’s blaring was muted as the bike eased to the side. He took a wicked curve and it was no longer necessary for him to hold on to me. My arms had his waist in a choke hold.
Roth navigated the crowded streets like a pro and, after a couple of minutes, the adrenaline kicking in my veins wasn’t from fear of becoming a giant road burn, but from the rush of exhilaration.
This...this had to be what flying felt like.
A giddy smile broke out across my face, and I was happy that the shield hid it, because I probably looked like a dork. Loosening my hold, I leaned back and closed my eyes.
Oh, I wanted to shift again. I wanted to climb off this bike and force my skin to expand and my bones to stretch. I wanted to feel my wings unfurling and I wanted to take flight. But doing so in downtown D.C. in the middle of the day wouldn’t go over so well.
After a short time, I realized we were heading toward the Palisades, to where Roth lived. Instinct fired off a ton of warnings, but there was little I could do about it at the moment. I waited until he winged a right into the parking garage and coasted to a stop on the first level. The moment he kicked his feet to the ground, I whipped off the helmet and tapped him on the back with it.
Taking his sweet time, he unhooked his chinstrap and twisted toward me, resting his helmet in his lap. “Didn’t you love that?”
“Yes. It was fun, but why did you take me to your apartment? I shouldn’t be here.”
I shot him a look.
He rolled his eyes. “I told you I wanted to show you something. It’s not my apartment. I’m a bit more creative than that.”
I resisted the urge to hit him with the helmet as he climbed off the bike gracefully. Smoothing a hand over my wind-tossed ends, I mentally cursed myself out. I’d put myself in this situation...whatever this situation turned out to be and, as Roth thrust his fingers through his own hair, shaking out the mess of waves, I knew I was so going to pay the piper later.
When I started to scoot back off the bike, he muttered, “Finally.”
I stopped and flipped him off.
Roth laughed as he took the helmet from me, placing it on the bike beside his. “No one will mess with them,” he explained when I eyed what he was doing. He then extended his hand. “No second thoughts now.”
My gaze dropped to his hand. It wouldn’t be so bad if we were actually attempting to locate the Lilin or gain info on it. At least I’d have an excuse for being here other than being...bad, but it was too late now.
I didn’t take his hand as I got off the bike, not nearly as gracefully as Roth. He shook his head as he stepped back, giving me some space. “So what are you going to show me?”
His low chuckle sent a shiver through me. “Lots of things, but you have to promise me what you see stays here.”
My gaze met his and curiosity truly got the best of me. When he turned and strolled toward the gray windowless door, I followed behind him, worrying my lower lip. He opened the door, spreading his arm out in a grand gesture. He bowed slightly at the waist as I walked past him, into the lobby of his apartment building. The faint, pleasant aromas of tobacco and coffee greeted me.
It was just as I remembered—old-school Hollywood. Golden chandeliers cast bright light onto the brown leather couches that looked worn and comfy. My gaze lifted to the domed ceiling.
The painting was the only thing out of place—a hard-core battle scene of angels fighting with fiery swords. Angels fell through misty clouds, their beautiful faces warped by pain. This time I noticed something I hadn’t before. The painted angels, the ones with their eyes open, all had blue eyes—that startling, electric-blue color that all Wardens had. I frowned as I studied them. What did Roth call the Wardens? Heavenly rejects?