Mother appeared in the doorway. “Come.” Her voice left no room for negotiation.
Alena sighed and got up. What now?
She followed mother downstairs to the foyer. The outside door was open. She saw her father on the porch, wearing a plaintive expression she'd never seen before. Her mother pushed her lightly, propelling her out the door into the sunlight.
“Here she is,” she heard Father say and then he brushed past her into the house and shut the door.
Alena blinked against the sunshine and raised her hand to her eyes.
Wide shoulders, dark eyes, and brown hair.
He nodded. “Yes.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks and she knew she blushed.
He was about twenty and taller than her by half-a-foot. Even with green T-shirt it was plain that he was muscular, but his wide shoulders and powerful chest slimmed down to narrow hips and long legs that looked very nice in blue jeans and boots. He stood with natural poise, light on his feet, and somehow elegant, despite his slightly disheveled hair. His skin was tan, and his face made her blush harder. His eyes were very dark, like bitter chocolate, and smart. He wasn't strictly handsome, but he was definitely attractive and very masculine.
And he had seen her naked. After she chased him half across Old Town, clutched him to her breasts and carried him around for good fifteen minutes, and then told him her life story.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she echoed, wishing she could fall through the porch and vanish.
He dragged his hand through his hair. “This is really more awkward than I thought it would be.”
He would get no arguments from her.
He pushed his hand through his hair again. Something gleamed on his hand – a ring. Her shocked brain took whole three seconds to digest the significance of the crest on it. A patrician. Oh God. He belonged to one of the magical heavy-weight families.
“My name is Duncan. Would you like to go on a date with me?” he asked.
Alena recoiled. He felt sorry for her. “I don't need charity.”
Duncan took a small step back. “I see. I understand, considering the circumstances. Well, if you do feel charitable, I've left my number with your father…”
“I meant that I don't need you to go on a date with me out of pity,” she said and almost fainted from her own bravery.
“Yes. I told you everything. You probably think I'm some sort of hysterical dimwit to be laughed at. Actually, it's taking all of my willpower to stand here and speak to you and not run away screaming.”
“It's taken pretty much all of my willpower to ask you on a date,” Duncan said. “I mean, I was a pig. There might be a worst way to be introduced to a beautiful girl, but I can't think of any. If anything, I'm the laughing stock here. I'm a Class II pyro.”
Alena blinked. A Class II pyromage. He could incinerate entire city blocks in a matter of moments.
“I have been properly educated. And I've managed to blunder right into a trap set by three punks whom I should be able to take down blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. It's good the academy is out for the summer, or my desk would be filled with pig ears.” He growled low under his breath.
“How did you…?”
“A friend of mine had been chased by a pack of wild dogs into a warehouse in this area,” he said. “And then when his family came to get him, they were ambushed. A rabid dog is classified as an imminent danger illusion. It's illegal. I came down to see if any traces of the illusion remained, followed the residual magic, and walked right into a trap. In my defense, it was a very good trap, a military grade short range transmutation mine. I don't know where the hell Chad and his hangers-on had gotten it, but it's illegal to posses it. More, while it's not unlawful to defend a family's territory, setting traps and summoning imminent threat illusions is carrying it way too far. Chad knew what he was doing would land him into hit water, and once they discovered me, he told the smaller guy…”
“Marky,” Alena supplied.
“Marky, to slit my throat.”
She crossed her arms. “He's lost his mind.”
“He knew the mine magic would wear off eventually and he hadn't a prayer of taking me on when I was human. It was a lot easier to eliminate me while I was a pig. Lucky for me, neither Marky nor his pal had the balls to do it. Apparently Chad resolved to kill me himself, but I decided not to go meekly to the slaughter. And you know the rest. Once the mine's effect wore off, I ported back home and came back with cavalry. The thing about military mines – when they go off, they leave a magic trail that even an idiot could follow. We have Thurmans by the throat. That dumb stunt will cost them their financial security and if they play very nicely we might condescend not to bring charges. Look, I know we haven't met under the best of circumstances. And nobody more than me wants to forget ever being a pig.”
“So why are you here?” And why is my heart beating a mile a minute?
Duncan smiled. He had a dazzling smile – it lit up his whole face, compelling her to smile back at him. “The truth is, I can't get you out of my head. I tried. I told myself, ‘What will I say to her, oink-oink? She'll laugh at me.' But I just had to try. So here I am.” He spread his arms. “Come on a date with me, Alena. Please?”
What did she have to lose?
Alena took a deep breath. “Okay.”
He smiled again and she almost swooned. He reached for her hand, brought her fingers to his mouth, and kissed them gently. A tiny thrill ran through her.
“Are we going to the movies?” she asked him.
“Fishing,” he told her.
He nodded. “The thing about going to the movies – you can't talk to the other person. We'll sit in my boat, drink soda from a cooler, watch the river and chat. Get to know each other. If you're worried about baiting your hook, I can-”
She snorted. “I've fished in that river since I was seven. You just try to keep up.”
He grinned. “Deal. Thank you for saving my life, by the way.”
“You're welcome.” She stepped close and kissed him on the cheek. She had no idea where she got the gall to do it, she just did.
“What was that for?” he asked softly, his eyes dark and warm, as if lined with velvet.
“For being a very brave little pig,” she told him.