Great Aunt Marraine chuckled. “As long as you show your handsome young face more. I’m sure your people miss you!”
Celestina’s unflappable smile cracked just a little, and I thought Gavino’s eyes might pop out of his head.
“And you must promise to come have dinner with us at House Medeis sometime,” Great Aunt Marraine continued. “I make a mean pot roast!”
Killian slightly bowed his head. “I shall do that.”
Satisfied, Great Aunt Marraine turned her attention back to her previous conversation with a rather shell-shocked vampire.
“You know,” I finished my last bit of kale and then eagerly finished off my potato, “she’s going to hold you to that. Now every time she sees you she’ll ask when you’re coming for dinner.”
To make plate sharing easier, Killian had slowly been edging closer. It wasn’t until now, however, that I realized how close he was when he slipped an arm behind me, resting it on my lower back. “Then let’s pick a date.”
It was so tempting to lean into him. Even though the temperatures were cooler, I was still hot, and just sitting near Killian was pleasant. But I made myself sit upright.
Not yet. We promised, I reminded myself.
I cleared my throat and forced a smile. “That’s pretty cute. Most people would think you actually like Great Aunt Marraine if you’re willing to come to dinner.”
Killian twitched up an eyebrow. “Of course I like Marraine,” he said. “She is amusing and is excellent at keeping you in line.”
I actually set my fork down and studied him.
He rolled his shoulders back. “What?”
“I was just thinking…this summer I don’t know that I would have believed anyone if they told me you would come to like wizards.”
“I liked you.” He swooped in to grab my fork, but he didn’t really seem to be hungry because he just flipped it between his fingers.
“I hardly counted,” I said. “Besides, I was just an amusing toy to you in the beginning. I never thought that would spread over to other wizards.”
Killian shrugged. “I was wrong.” He took a casual sip of blood, but I wasn’t fooled.
He raised an eyebrow. “For what?”
I reached out and squeezed his hand that he was using to play with the fork. “For trying.”
His smile was warm, but it turned mischievous as he leaned in. “If I keep up trying, we’ll have to see where we end up, won’t we?” He smirked, then shifted his attention to Josh.
“Any news from the patrols?”
“No, Your Eminence. All is well.”
“Adept, is everything okay?” Felix wriggled his eyebrows at me. “You’re as red as a tomato.”
“Shut up, Felix,” I growled.
Momoko and Felix snickered, and I tuned in to my plate of food with a determined zeal.
I thought getting ready for the Summer’s End Ball had been an ordeal. Boy, was I stupid.
Now that Celestina had a House of wizards to tap, getting ready had become a group thing.
About half of House Medeis was going to attend Killian’s party, and all the women who were coming were in cahoots with Celestina, so of course it was an all-day thing that involved manicures, pedicures, and getting our hair styled.
It was fun, but when they made me skip dinner, insisting there would be refreshments served at the party, I started getting a bit hangry and the glitter wore off. I held it together, though.
Celestina was glowing with joy as Momoko helped her with her hair, and the cute little high-school gal that had recently joined House Medeis was laughing with Julianne as the older vampire helped her with her makeup.
It was really special to see the two groups effortlessly mingling.
A prickle of guilt stabbed at me, too. I’d perhaps been a little too hard on Celestina, Josh, and even Killian. They were obviously making a big effort to welcome us wizards.
Maybe trust doesn’t mean they have to tell me everything, but it’s more about working with me instead of trying to push and manipulate me—even if it’s for a hidden good.
I shook myself a little—I didn’t have time to go all philosophic when guests were due to arrive any minute. “I’m heading down,” I announced to the room.
Celestina checked her cellphone. “I’ll be right behind you—I need to be there to direct the valets.”
“Don’t rush, we’ve got some time!” I smiled then slipped out of the massive bathroom and meandered through the bedroom that was littered with dress bags, the rumpled clothes we had arrived in, and backpacks stuffed with everything we’d need to spend the night. (Killian was getting his first Rent-a-Hazel night, tonight. Mostly because I knew the party would last until dawn, making it easier to collapse in my old Drake Hall bedroom instead of trying to get home while exhausted.)
Killian had given us ladies full run of the room. Given the larger patio, and the humongous bathroom that was well beyond what the rest of the vampire bed/bathrooms looked like, I was willing to bet this room was meant for visiting vampire Elders, or possibly if Killian ever took a…wife?
I’d say it was for his one, but it seemed Killian didn’t think that was a real thing. There were still lots of vampires who got married and lived happy lives even if their spouse wasn’t the one. And given our discussion in the Paragon’s study it seemed like Killian had romantic aspirations for us, but I was a human. A wizard, even.
And dating a wizard was sure to bring lots of trouble on Killian’s political career. I wasn’t certain he’d realized that yet, which was one of the reasons why I had asked that we wait to talk about our…whatever until after we resolved the issue with the Night Court.
I made my way down to the second floor and all the way to the double spiral staircase that would dump me on the first floor, just by the main entrance, where I promptly got cold feet.
Killian is throwing a party for society, and I’m attending as his official guest and date. What the heck am I doing?
I made myself take a few of Great Aunt Marraine’s ‘calming breaths’.
Inhale…ex—this isn’t helping.
I walked in a tight circle like a nervous horse.
Why did I let him talk me into this? I didn’t want to get involved in politics. I just want to protect what’s important to my House…but that means protecting the Drakes.
I groaned and almost rubbed my eyes before I remembered my eye makeup.
There was an end table with a big, fancy gilded mirror set off to the side.
I hurried over to it, inspecting my painstakingly applied makeup for any smears.
The smoky eyeshadow and perfectly executed cat-eye eyeliner—compliments of, surprisingly, Great Aunt Marraine—were still pristine.
A quick once over confirmed I was still in one piece. Momoko had curled my hair for the occasion, only pulling a few pieces back from around my face and pinning the tendrils to the top of my head.
My dress style was a little more on the simplistic end. It was—as Julianne had informed me—a mermaid style, which meant it was fitted through the shoulders, torso, and hips, but loosened up into a slight flair starting at the knees and dropping to the floor. It had taken a lot of strenuous arguing between me and Celestina, but she’d gotten me a dress that only had cute straps—unlike the vampires who all wore full sleeves. (I knew better, I was going to roast with the number of people coming tonight.)
But the style of the dress was simple because the gown’s fabric was jaw dropping. It was a pinkish-peach color, but the embroidery on the chest, waist, and mermaid skirt was beautiful, golden sun patterns. And when I say the details were gold, I don’t mean yellow, I mean they were gold. Like the precious metal, gold. It must have been enchanted, because the gold portions of the dress seemed to glow like a rising sun, and it really brought out the sun-streaked platinum of my blond hair.
Take the dress and match it with the diamond earrings and gold, diamond heart necklace Celestina had dressed me in, and I honestly felt like a Disney princess. (Which was way more fun that I was willing to admit.)
I didn’t have my trusty book/rock stuffed clutch tonight, but that was because Celestina had showed me a small, unnoticeable slit in my dress designed to give me access to a thigh holster. She had wanted me to take a handgun, but I hadn’t received enough gun training from Josh to make me comfortable wearing one on my thigh, so a dagger it was!
“You look beautiful.” I jumped a little and turned around, but I had recognized the voice, so I was already smiling by the time I saw Killian.
“Thanks,” I said. “And thanks for buying the dress. Again.”
Killian smirked playfully. “Of course. I can’t have any supernaturals calling me a cheapskate date.” He was fiddling with his cufflinks—as all handsome men seem prone to do once stuffed in a tux.
I determinedly bustled up to him and fixed them for him so I wouldn’t have to witness his moody-model pose anymore. “Tonight we have to smile and play nice.”
“I know,” Killian said.
“I know you know. I’m reminding myself,” I said.
“If you just focus on how handsome I am you’ll be so distracted tonight you won’t think of anything else,” Killian offered.
I patted him on the chest. “I could torch your tuxedo coat.” My wizard mark burned as I wove flickering blue flames through my fingers.
Killian’s smirk deepened. “You want to see me without a shirt? Oh my, Hazel, you’ll turn this moment into a scandalous liaison.”
I rolled my eyes. “When I learned about vampires, nobody ever bothered to tell me how vain you all are.”
“Would you rather I use the term salacious?”
“I’d rather you be humbled,” I stressed.
“Where would the fun be in that?” Killian prowled closer, sliding into my personal space. “Then I couldn’t make you blush—which, along with the rising sun and the peace of night, makes my life complete.” The slant of his eyebrows fought for a moment, revealing that he was barely keeping from laughing at the horrible line.