He didn’t let me finish. “I’ll summon Cayman back. He’ll take you where you need to go.” Then he faced me, and my breath hitched. There was a vulnerability in his expression I’d never seen before, a great and terrible sadness that dampened the brightness of his eyes. “I know you trust and...and care for Zayne, but I don’t trust the rest of them. Plus, there’re the issues with the Alphas. Cayman goes with you.”
Before I could say any more or even protest, Roth was gone. In the blink of an eye, he’d disappeared and I was left staring at the space where he’d stood.
IT WASN’T UNTIL later in the afternoon that I could meet up with Zayne, and then I had to wait for Cayman to play chauffeur. He didn’t seem annoyed by the new requirement imposed on him. He chattered on as we drove, but I was too anxious and distracted to pay attention to what he was saying, so I stared out the window, checking out all the garlands strung on the lampposts and the lights that would soon twinkle on. I squirmed the whole way to the coffee shop Zayne and I used to visit every Saturday, my mind stuck on the way Roth had stared at me in the kitchen.
I didn’t get it. He’d gone from—from touching me to completely withdrawn. Not just distant, but pained. I didn’t even have the chance to explain anything. Now my heart was pounding crazy fast, like I was about to go toe-to-toe with a Hellion, and it had nothing to do with seeing Zayne.
Maybe Cayman and I had completely misjudged Roth’s...um, interest, but even if we had, it didn’t change what I was about to do. It couldn’t.
Cayman eased the Mustang to an idling stop along the parked cars outside the shop. As I reached for the door, he tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. “My number is entered in your phone already, under Awesome Sauce. Text me when you’re done.”
“Okay.” I opened the door, wincing as the wind smacked me in the face.
“Don’t wander off. You have Alphas and who knows what else potentially gunning for your ass,” he continued. “And I really don’t want to go back to the house and have to explain to Roth that I lost you somehow.”
I resisted both the urge to point out that I wasn’t sure how Roth would even feel about that at this point and the desire to roll my eyes. “Yes, Dad.”
He grinned. “Do me proud.”
Shooting him a look over my shoulder as I climbed out, I slammed the car door shut and hopped up on the curb. The wind was brutal as I dashed around the people hurrying up and down the sidewalk. An array of auras greeted me, buttery yellows and soft blues and pinks. I kept an eye out for anyone who was missing one, a sure sign of a demon in our midst, but everything appeared to be business as usual.
The frosted wreath hanging on the door jingled as I stepped inside. Before I even stepped through the doorway, I knew Zayne was there. I sensed him as the warm air washed over me. The coffee shop was a total mom-and-pop kind of store, not one of the big chains, but it smelled like sweet baked goods and coffee beans. Espresso-colored booths lined the walls and I spotted Zayne’s white glow immediately. He was sitting toward the back of the shop, in one of the comfy booths, facing the door.
Before I joined him, I took a few moments to get my head on straight and ordered a peppermint mocha. Then I carried the warm cup over to him. He immediately rose to his feet, and the closer I got, the more I could see that the tired bruises under his eyes had faded a bit. For that, I was grateful.
The shop was packed with people in business suits and others carrying shopping bags, but when Zayne took the cup out of my hand and placed it on the table, no one else was there. Before I could speak a word, he wrapped his arms around me and held tight, lowering his cheek to mine. I froze up, because he was too close to my mouth, but Zayne—oh, he’d always been so incredibly reckless with me.
“This was what I wanted to do yesterday,” he rasped, his voice low in my ear. “When I first saw you standing in that house, this was all I could think about.”
I squeezed my eyes shut as I hugged him back. Emotion already clawed at my insides.
“The clan knows you’re alive now,” he went on, and I felt the muscles in my back tense. Cayman had said as much, but hearing it confirmed was a whole different story. “Danika wanted to come with me. She wanted to see for herself that you’re okay.”
A strangled, surprised laugh escaped me, and I felt Zayne’s cheek rise against mine when he smiled. Danika and I had a very strange relationship. The entire clan expected Zayne to mate with her. In other words, get down to business and produce a lot of Warden babies, and because of that I’d always been extremely jealous of the full-blooded Warden. Danika was stunningly gorgeous and rather badass, unlike most Warden females. She was not okay with sitting around and popping babies out for the good of mankind. And she also had been interested in Zayne. In short, there were plenty of reasons to hate her, but she and I had finally formed an unlikely alliance.
I did miss her in a weird way, like one missed shoveling the snow during a heat wave. When Zayne reluctantly let go, I all but fell into the seat as I struggled to gain control of what I was feeling, of what I was about to do.
Zayne returned to the seat across from me. “You okay, Layla-bug?”
The concern in his voice was evident. “Yeah.” I cleared my throat and took a sip of the minty mocha. “Last night was a little rough. I got to thinking about Sam...” I shook my head and kept my voice low. “Roth went to his house this morning. His family was gone—dead. It didn’t look like their souls were taken.”
“Damn.” Zayne dragged his fingers through his hair.
I nodded slowly, casting my gaze to the lid on my cup. “He called it in to the police, which was pretty smart. That’s going to force the Lilin to lie low for a little while since the police will be looking for...for Sam. At least, we hope. Did you find out anything about the Alphas?”
Zayne’s stare was intense, and I realized he’d been staring at me like that since I sat down. “Yeah. Some of them paid the clan a visit at roughly the same time the other two showed up at Stacey’s place. From what I could gather from Nicolai, the Alphas knew there was a Lilin, always did.”
I hadn’t missed the fact that he’d said he’d spoken to Nicolai instead of his father, but I was distracted by the last part. “They did?”
“Yeah, apparently they couldn’t get involved for their own celestial reasons. They believed we’d figure it out.”
Anger sparked in my chest as I stared at him. All those weeks when I’d thought I was somehow responsible for the death, destruction and mayhem both at school and at home, and the Alphas had known the truth from the start. “They knew this entire time and never thought to tell any of us? Why?” My voice was rising, but I couldn’t help it. “Because of some bullshit rules?”
“I know,” he agreed softly.
I wanted to punch an Alpha in the face! Like fists of fury types of punches. “We could’ve saved lives. I can’t even...” I took a huge gulp of the mocha, hoping that would calm me down. It really didn’t. “What else did they say?”
He rested his arms on the table and leaned in. “My father was able to negotiate some time from them. They’re giving us until the New Year to deal with the Lilin, unless the Lilin does something that has the risk of exposure. We have Wardens out now searching for it.”