“I’m not your one,” I said, more as a test than a coherent statement.
The term the one had been thrown around a few times regarding Killian and me. It was basically the vampire equivalent of soul mates, the one they would love the rest of their days. It was super romantic, but I wasn’t that far gone to believe Killian thought of me like that.
Killian shrugged. “I doubt such a thing truly exists these days, and I’m not particularly inclined to care about it.”
Yep, that was just about what I expected.
“Just because I don’t think you’re my destined soul mate—a sappier, more unlikely thing I’ve never heard of—doesn’t mean I don’t deeply care for you.” Killian leaned closer and closer and rested his forehead on mine while he scooped me from my relaxed position so I sat on the edge of my seat. “I’ve never particularly hidden how I feel about you. And I’m fairly certain you feel something for me as well.”
I wanted to think straight, but my brain wasn’t cooperating. It was doing mental hiccups, which was super irritating, because I was trying to string together a cohesive thought while it was busy noticing how Killian was drop dead handsome.
“Yeah, okay, but there’s a lot to unpack there.” I pinched my thigh to try to clear my mind, but it didn’t work. “We can’t just jump into anything. You’re a vampire, and I’m a wizard. It might be—no—it is considered taboo for us to be together. There will be lots of political…stuff, as a result. Of us. If that were to happen.”
I was babbling, why was I babbling? My tongue still tingled a little from the tea—was that the problem?
A dark chuckle escaped from Killian. “Do you really think I care what others will say about us?”
“No,” I agreed. “You’re too selfish.” I slapped a hand over my mouth. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” I confessed with my hand still over my mouth.
“You’re not wrong.” Killian shrugged his broad shoulders, which unfortunately fascinated my already addled brain. “I can also use my power to stifle most upsets we might face—except for you, of course.” He narrowed his eyes at me.
“Hey, right back at you, Mr. Paranoia,” I snorted. “I would love for us to work something out, but while we have enough trust for a friendship, I’m not that far gone to believe there’s enough trust between us to establish something as deep as…whatever. No matter how hot you are, if you only trust me about as much as one of your underlings, it wouldn’t work. There’s too much on the line—for both of us”
Why did I say he’s hot?! What is wrong with me?
He smiled disarmingly and brushed the spot on my cheek where my wizard mark appeared if I used magic. “You think I’m attractive; that’s a good enough start I suppose.”
“No touching, no, none.” I tried to wave him off as I gave my brain a kick.
Killian smirked. “You might be most adorable when you’re flustered, did you know that?”
I stared at Killian in disbelief. Why was he being so honest all of a sudden?
Did he catch a cold or inhale something weird? Did we both catch something?
Something tickled my thoughts, but it escaped before I could grab it.
Of course, it was then that the Paragon reappeared with a pop of magic.
I was still seated on my chair, and Killian was still leaning over me. We were frozen—I in horror and Killian in sheer indifference.
The Paragon, toting what looked like a venti sized Starbucks drink, beamed when he saw us. “Oh, it appears to have worked! What a wonderful choice, Aphrodite! As usual, you know just what tea to pick.”
“…Huh?” I said.
“What?” Killian said, murderous.
“Aphrodite.” The Paragon motioned to his cat—sitting in her pet bed positioned in the dragon statue’s mouth—and plopped down in the empty seat at the table. “She picked out my ‘lovers’ summer’ tea for the two of you.”
Killian straightened. “I thought you said you didn’t check the label?”
“For me.” The Paragon took off his spectacles and tossed them on the table. “Of course I was going to read what she picked out for the two of you! I need to know what she thinks you’re lacking.” He took a swig of his drink. “Ahhh, that’s good stuff. Anyway, in this case, she must believe you need to rekindle your romance.”
When our gazes swung to the sphinx cat, she yawned, displaying a mouthful of white teeth.
“You’re joking,” Killian said.
“Not at all. Aphrodite is very intuitive. She knows just what people need! Just last week she picked out a very appropriate tea for the Day King when he dropped by to complain. I call it ‘calm the heck down’. A few swigs and he was sleeping like a baby!”
“Wait.” I narrowed my eyes as a few facts came into sharp focus. “Then Killian is right. Your tea is laced—with magic!”
The Paragon gave me a huge smile.
“No wonder it tasted flowery! That was fae magic—I thought something was off. Fae mental magics are harder for us wizards to resist, so that would explain it.” I groaned and massaged my head, until my mind caught up with me. “Wait, you laced our drinks!”
I leaped out of the chair and launched myself at the Paragon, who gave a high-pitched squeal of fright.
Killian caught me midair. “What was in the tea?” he said between clenched teeth.
“Barely anything at all.” The Paragon retreated to the far side of his study, cowering by Aphrodite’s dragon statue. “Just a hint of magic—barely enough to make you two relax and speak your minds. But the magic is only there for the first two or three sips. And the effects are very short lived—only a minute or two!”
Killian set me down, but left an arm resting on my shoulders, and together we stared the Paragon down.
He rolled his eyes. “It’s such trace amounts it’s not even illegal! Just being around Mr. Studly here is more likely to juice you up given the pheromones vampires ooze. I just wanted to give you two an opportunity to talk.” When he glanced back at us, the light in his eyes was tired and ancient, matching his sham of an appearance. “What you two have is rare. It pained me to see you at odds when friendship between supernaturals is so unheard of.”
Killian narrowed his eyes. “How easy is it for the fae Courts to find the next Paragon?”
The Paragon squeaked.
I exhaled deeply. “Shall we just forget that conversation ever happened?” I asked Killian in a lowered voice.
Killian released the Paragon from his gaze and glared down at me. “Why?”
“Because our tea was spiked?”
“It doesn’t change what we said.” Killian’s eyes heated a little. “Why can’t we continue?”
“Uh, how about because we’re in the middle of a face off with the Night Court?” I wrinkled my nose at him, surprised I was being the practical one for once. “Can’t we just keep dancing around…us, for now? This isn’t an ideal time to try and hash it out.”
“That sounds like a convenient excuse driven by your tendency to avoid things that upset you.”
“No it’s not! Wait. Well, maybe,” I admitted. “But it’s also the truth.” I hesitated and bit my lip. “But can’t we just wait until we finish dealing with the Night Court? If we changed what we are, there would be a lot we’d need to settle and…” I trailed off, glancing at the Paragon, who was doing his best to disappear. He seemed wholly engrossed with petting his purring cat, but I didn’t really want to keep going with him standing so close.
Call me a coward, but I needed time to figure this out. Pursuing a relationship with Killian wasn’t going to be the kind of casual dating I’d done so far in my life. There was no way I was jumping into it when I was in the middle of the most stressful, challenging, and awful year of my life. And I still wasn’t quite so sure we were right for each other, even if we had feelings. There was that lack of trust between us…
Killian thought for a moment. “You’re not saying no.”
I eagerly nodded. “Just not right now.”
After a few unnerving moments of silence, Killian nodded. “Fine. I’m willing to give you time. It seems I’ll have to find a way to satisfy your nearly insatiable desire for trust, anyway. However.”
Ugh, he can read me a lot better than I like.
When I met his gaze, his eyes glowed faintly red, and he leaned in again. “I’m not going to let you escape, Hazel. If you keep trying to run from this issue just to avoid pain, I won’t stand for it.”
It was difficult to swallow. “Deal,” I squeaked.
“It’s a good thing I’m such an ancient, elderly fae,” the Paragon piteously said. “So I can’t overhear any secret whispers between you two.”
Killian briefly took my hand and squeezed it, then shifted his eyes—now markedly blacker—to the Paragon again. “If you try to feed me magic again, your cat will be left as the next Paragon.” He returned to his seat, all elegance and death.
“My mistake.” The Paragon picked his way across his study. “Next time I’ll warn you. Though I dare say Aphrodite would make a better Paragon than you’d expect. She has more sense than half the fae.”
That didn’t strike me as a very Paragon-esque thing to say about your own people, but the Paragon hardly looked at all like a fae as he slurped his drink and itched his nose. “So, are you two ready for me to drop some truth missiles on you as the kids say these days?”
“Truth bombs,” I corrected.
“Whatever!” He swatted a hand at me, but when I grinned, he didn’t smile in return. He pulled his bushy eyebrows together. “I apologize, for some of what I have to say may bring you…pain. You in particular, Hazel.”