The Paragon set Aphrodite down inside the cabinet. “There you go my angel, find the best one for them,” he said.
Aphrodite glanced back at us. “Mert?”
“Yes,” the Paragon said. “For the both of them.”
The cat twitched her long, bony tail, then started sniffing tea canisters.
What is going on?
Before I could ask, the Paragon beamed at us. “Not only am I bestowing this treasured drink upon you, but Aphrodite herself is picking out the flavor and mix! Such an honor is not often bestowed!”
Killian looked pained. “Your cat is picking out the tea?”
“Indeed!” the Paragon cackled. “She has superior taste, and it is always such fun to drink and discover what she has selected for the day.”
I’d been watching the cat brush her pink nose on a few canisters as she prowled the shelf. “You mean you don’t know what she chooses?”
“Goodness, no! That would ruin all the fun!” The Paragon swiped a canister of tea off the shelf and shook it at us for emphasis. “You see I have the brew time and water temperature labeled on the outside, but the tea flavor is only recorded on the bottom of the lid. I purposely bought the same containers so I can’t tell them apart, and as long as I refrain from looking at the lid it’s a pleasant surprise from Aphrodite to me!”
I had never before seen Killian’s forehead look so wrinkled. “You have the mental capacity of a donut,” he said.
“I don’t know.” I kept watching Aphrodite—she’d abandoned the shelf the Paragon had put her on and jumped down to a lower one where she was carefully sorting through tea canisters. “I think it’s kind of cute. Look how hard she’s working for us!”
“She’s a cat,” Killian said. “She doesn’t care what we drink.”
“You’re such a doubter—and a downer!” the Paragon scolded.
Aphrodite sat down and curled her skinny tail around her feet. “Mmert.”
The Paragon whirled back around to face his pet. “You’ve decided on one?”
Aphrodite pawed at a canister hiding behind the front row.
The Paragon extracted it and held it out for her inspection. “This one?”
“She has chosen!” The Paragon briefly held the tea over his head in a dramatic show, then shuffled off to a nearby machine that looked like a weird version of a coffee brewer.
He hummed under his breath as he scooped several tablespoons of the tea leaves out, dropping them in a metal basket.
“What did the cat choose?” Killian asked.
The Paragon harumphed in irritation. “Did you not listen to a word I said? It is meant to be a surprise!” He pointedly picked up the container, waited until Killian was watching, then shoved it back into the cabinet of identical containers and shuffled them around.
“Idiot,” Killian muttered.
“Child!” the Paragon shot back.
“Mmert,” Aphrodite said. She hopped onto the Paragon’s shoulder, clearing the cabinet so he could relock it and shuffle back to the machine where he loaded the metal basket into a glass pot of water placed on an electric boiler.
“What is that thing?” I asked.
“It’s a tea maker!” The Paragon beamed at me. “You select the temperature and brew time, and the machine will make the tea to these specifications, see?” He pointed to a tiny screen where he changed the time and temperature, then pressed a button.
“The Dominant—that is the top werewolf in America—gave it to me last Christmas at our secret Santa gift exchange. Best gift I ever got!” The Paragon smiled.
The machine buzzed, and within a few seconds the water started to heat.
“How can you claim this is special?” Killian scoffed. “You don’t even brew the tea—you use a machine!”
The Paragon brandished the tablespoon at Killian. “Silence, doubter! You will realize how foolish you sound once you taste the heaven Aphrodite selected and I personally brewed for you.”
Killian looked thoughtful. “A donut is too good for you,” he finally said. “You’re as mentally stable as a computer in need of updates.”
The Paragon scoffed as he retrieved two mint green teacups and saucers that had beautiful gold edging and delicate gold flowers painted on the sides. “Ingrate. Aphrodite, don’t mind him.”
I also frowned when I watched the Paragon place the two cups down by the machine—which whirled as it lowered the metal basket containing the tea leaves into the hot water. “Why are you only getting out two teacups?”
“Because I’m not drinking this, naturally,” the Paragon said.
“What?” Killian growled.
“Aphrodite chose this tea for you two specifically,” the Paragon said. “I can’t go trampling her careful choice and imbibing it myself. Now please, sit down.”
I thought for a moment, then sat down at the tiny but ornate tea table the Paragon pointed to. I gratefully claimed the smallest chair, which didn’t swallow me up, but looked up when I felt Killian’s eyes on me. “What?”
“You’re falling in line with a meekness I find surprising.”
I shrugged. “I live in a magic House. The idea of a cat picking out my tea is hardly anything to get my sword belt twisted over.”
“See? Hazel has a grace and maturity you lack,” the Paragon said.
Killian turned around to face his friend. “You laced it with something, didn’t you?”
“Hazel, don’t drink it,” Killian said. “Who knows what he put in it?”
“You overly suspicious vampire.” The Paragon rolled his eyes. “This is why it’s so hard for you to make friends! Oh—it’s done!”
The machine beeped and raised the basket out of the water.
The Paragon gave the pot a good swish, then poured the tea—which was a distinctive pink color—into the teacups. He set them on the table and stared at Killian until he sat down in the chair next to mine.
“Very good.” He peeled Aphrodite off his shoulder and set her on her pet bed.
Killian raised an eyebrow. “Are you just going to sit there and watch us drink?”
“Goodness, no. I made a mobile Starbucks order which should be ready any moment.” The Paragon pulled a smartphone out of the sleeves of his robe and peered down at the screen. “Don’t touch anything valuable, I’ll be back in a jiffy. I have a door rigged into my favorite Starbucks cafe—I can’t wake up without my caffeine. Toodles!” The Paragon pulled a unicorn pen from the same sleeve and popped off the cap, disappearing with a puff of fog.
I selected my teacup and saucer, sliding them in front of me. “He’s a good friend for you.”
“He is not my friend.” Killian picked up the tea cup and gave it a whiff.
“Can you tell what flavor it is?” I gave the steam rising from my cup an experimental sniff. It had a sweet, almost fruity scent.
“Given that I have not devoted myself to sniffing tea leaves as a daily activity, I can’t say I know what I’m smelling. There’s a hint of chocolate and strawberries, but those are the only scents I can be certain about.” Killian suspiciously eyed his drink.
“Bottoms up?” I held up my teacup.
Killian stared at me.
I shook my head and clinked my teacup against his. “You need to get out more.” I took a sip of the hot tea, taking a few moments to try to pin down the flavor.
Killian was right. It had the tangy taste of tart strawberries that hadn’t quite ripened, the smooth richness of chocolate, and an underlying floral taste.
It also made my tongue tingle. Which I was pretty sure wasn’t normal. Did fae swirl magic into their tea mixes?
I took another sip, then curled my tongue. “It’s good,” I confirmed. “But there’s something about it…”
Killian narrowed his eyes. “This is why one always has to be careful when they accept hospitality from fae. They can’t lie, but they’re deviant and frequently homicidal.” He took a cautious sip—which actually was a pretty big indicator of how much he trusted the Paragon. I’d only seen him eat human food on extremely rare occasions. Usually he was all about blood packs.
I sipped my tea and leaned back in my chair, relaxing. “You know, I like it better the more and more I drink it.”
“It is surprisingly good,” Killian said.
“I didn’t know you liked tea.”
“I don’t.” His forehead wrinkled slightly as he stared at his cup. “Which is what makes this tea even more dubious.”
I laughed, and then struggled to hold my teacup still so I didn’t spill any on my practice clothes.
Killian smiled, looking the most relaxed I’d seen him since we started our training session. “I missed your laugh, you know. When you were gone.”
The sudden change in our discussion surprised me a little, but I set my teacup down on its saucer with a quiet clack. “There were a lot of things I missed—about you, the other Drakes, and Drake Hall in general.”
“It’s not going to happen again.”
I peeled my gaze from my teacup. “What’s not going to happen?”
“I’m not going to let go of you again,” Killian said. “So why do we keep dancing around whatever we are?”
I stared at Killian, a little shocked, but my reply dropped from my mouth seemingly without my consent. “All right. But what are you picturing we’re going to end up as?”
Killian’s smile turned cunning. “I’ll take it all.”
I blinked. “…what?”
In the span of a heartbeat, Killian was out of his seat, and had his hands planted on the arm rests of my chair as he leaned into me. “I want everything,” he said. “Whatever you’ll give me. If that means friendship, we can stay there. But it seems to me you’re willing for more…”