Of his kiss? “God, yes.”
He exhaled a pent-up breath. “Bien.” Then he lifted me again, cradling me in his arms. As he climbed the pool steps, he grazed his lips along my neck, keeping me in a haze of bliss. At my ear, he rasped, “T’chauffes mon sang comme personne d’autre.” You heat my blood like no other.
I quivered with delight, only vaguely wondering where he was taking me. And maybe why he’d swooped down to collect his jeans along with his ever-present bow.
My back met cushions. Gazebo? Reclining lounge chair for two?
Ah, more kisses! He licked my earlobe, making me cry out, my back arching. Was that my zipper?
I felt weightless for a moment, then cool air breezed over my damp legs, up to my panties.
He hissed in a breath. “Ma belle fille.” My beautiful girl. He followed me down, lying half on me, half on the chair.
When he fiddled with something in his jeans pocket, I murmured, “Jack?”
He raised himself over me with one straightened arm, flashing me that wolfish grin, so sexy he robbed me of thought. “I’m goan to take care of you, bébé.” He produced a condom in a wrapper, holding it between his white teeth as he rubbed one hot palm up my torso, rolling my cami higher.
He looked roguish and wicked and oh-dear-God-did-he-have-a-condom?
“Wait!” Everything was moving too fast, spinning out of control. “Wh-what are you doing?” I hadn’t agreed to sex! I shoved against him.
He’d teed me up to be his next gaienne—without a word about me being his girlfriend. And what if that condom broke? I could have sworn it’d come from the shrimp boat medicine cabinet. Who knew how old that package was!
His brows drew together. “What’s the matter, you?”
“I’m not just going to have sex with you!” What if I got pregnant?
I was fuming all the more because I’d loved kissing him, and then he’d gone and skipped over all the bases—the ones that I had never gotten to experience—and gone straight for a home run.
“Why you acting like sex with me is a fool idea?” he demanded, his expression exasperated.
I shoved his chest again until he drew back. “Where do I even begin?” Your ancient condom pack, our lack of a defined relationship, the fact that you were going about things at light speed—even though this is my first time.
Damn it, why’d we have to stop kissing? I just needed to think, with a clearer head.
But his own anger was already seething. “You told me you wanted more.”
“Of your kiss!” I brought my knees to my chest, wrapping my arms around my legs. Without him against me, I was shivering with cold.
A couple of weeks ago, I’d told myself that I would save my virginity for my boyfriend, no matter how naïve that sounded. Today, on the bike, I’d imagined what it’d be like if Jackson was mine.
There was something between us, something exciting and . . . combustible. Then I frowned. Tonight, he’d told me lots of things to let me know he was attracted to me. But not that he liked me.
Hadn’t he talked about it being slim pickings out there?
Even if there were no other girls for him to be with, I still wanted Jackson and me to get on the same page about what was going on between us. If we didn’t have some kind of understanding worked out, then sleeping together would only complicate things.
And I couldn’t let anything get in the way of reaching North Carolina.
So how to broach the subject of a relationship? “Jackson, you know that I’ve never . . . I’ve never done that before. And I was kind of looking for something more to go along with it.” Hint, hint.
Realization lit his expression. “You still think you’re too good for me. You’d let Radcliffe get first pick, but not me?”
I gasped. “Don’t you dare bring him into this!” Again, I thought of how happy-go-lucky Brandon had been, how many good times we’d shared at the beach, out on the water. Always laughing . . .
Those times with Brandon had been the last of the good times for me. Before the apocalypse, before the Arcana . . . My eyes watered.
Jackson saw my reaction. “You’re still in love with him!” He shot to his feet, then stabbed his legs into his jeans. “You were ready to lie down with that boy ’cause you thought him twice the man of me. But what the hell did he ever do besides drive a nice car or throw around a ball? I saved your life!”
I rose as well, darting for my soaked jeans, snatching them up my legs with difficulty. “Did you save me just so I’d sleep with you?”
“The idea might’ve crossed my mind! Hell, Evie, you’re probably the last girl on earth for me. Would it kill you to put out?”
“I can’t believe you just said that!” I felt like such an idiot! Believing we had a connection? The Cajunland player had merely intended to score another doe tag—and I was the only game in town. I stormed off for my hoodie, then worked it over my head.
“Believe it!” He closed in on me. “Remember, I’m the cruel and classless boy from the wrong side of the bayou. That’s all I’ll ever be to you!”
We were in each other’s faces, but I refused to back down. “When you act like this, it’s hard to see otherwise! Thank God I had the good sense not to become more involved with you.”
“Good sense? That’s one thing you’ll never be accused of having! Getting more involved with me is the smartest thing you could ever do. I’m the one who keeps you safe. Me”—he thumped his bare chest—“remember? ‘Thank you, Jack, it’s great to be alive.’ ”
“Admit it, this is the real reason you volunteered to help me—because you wanted to sleep with me!”
“Yeah, I’d pegged you for a snob, but I didn’t figure you for a miserable tease!”
“A tease? Did you believe I was a sure thing because we’re in a hell-on-earth situation? Or because every other slore you’ve been with has given it up? Tell me!”
He gave me that shrug. “A little of both.”
I wanted to strangle him!
“Why’s everything always got to be so hard with you?” He turned to punch a wooden gazebo column, rocking the entire structure. When he faced me again, his chest heaved, his scarred hand bleeding. “You’re goan to make me crazy!”
“Well, then suck it up! Just like you said, I’m the best there is. It seems like you’d be a little nicer to the last girl on earth. Maybe you should—oh, I don’t know—try to be pleasant or boyfriendlike or, or . . .”
“Maybe I have been—every time I’ve rescued your ass! And every night I’ve kept watch over you! But you just take all that for granted. Because you’re gâtée!”
“I am not spoiled!”
“Never knew a girl as spoiled as you—coddled your whole life. But that shit stops now.”
I rubbed my arms, dripping and dejected in my wet clothes. How had we gone from kissing to a fight like this? “What do you want from me?”
He pinched his forehead, saying in an odd tone, “I might’ve wanted something from you—but it’s clear you’re never goan to give it to me.”
Were we still talking about sex?
“You know why my mère drank?” he demanded, his voice a harsh rasp. “Because she wanted and waited for things that would never be. I swore I’d never do the same. In the past, whenever I felt my mind wandering in the wrong direction, I shut those thoughts down.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “I got to do that now, me.”
“I don’t understand you.”
Suddenly what sounded like a sonic boom went off in my head.
—BEHOLD THE BRINGER OF DOUBT.—
As I tottered on my feet, Jackson lunged for his bow, swinging it around, aiming it behind us.
“Wh-what is it, Jackson? Is someone here?” He couldn’t have heard the voice, and I’d detected nothing around us.
He jerked his chin in the direction of a shadowy walkway. “Out there.”
“How do you know?”
He grated, “Experience.”
A girl moved out of the shadows, with her own bow raised. “Seems that I have company.”
A bow? In moonlight? When I saw her completely, my jaw slackened. Standing on the other side of the pool was the girl from my visions. Though her face had been blurry before, I’d recognize that beach-volleyball-player figure anywhere.
For a split second, a still-shot image seemed to be superimposed over her. I saw her as that red-tinged archer, poised like a goddess in the moonlight.
I swallowed. The image looked just like a . . . Tarot card.
I blinked. In the next instant, she was just a normal teenage girl. A gorgeous one. Her long mane of silvery-blond hair shimmered, her dark eyes watchful.
She wore a black halter, cropped khaki shorts—which showed off mile-long legs—and biker boots.
A leather quiver circled her freaking thigh, Lara Croft—style.
“What are you two doing in my home?” Her voice was exactly like it’d been in my head. Had she experienced visions of me as well? Heard my own Arcana call? Whatever it was . . .
I’d believed the Arcana were all real kids. She was undeniable proof that they existed.
Her eyes flashed to me—and they might have widened just a touch before her expression grew shuttered, her attention back on Jackson.
“Apologies,” he said, giving her a once-over. “Didn’t think anyone was here.” He looked like he dug what he saw.
And she certainly did. In a purring tone, she said, “I’ll drop my bow if you do, handsome.”
After a hesitation, he began lowering it.
I wanted to cry, “No, I don’t trust her!” But she popped her arrow from her bow and dropped it into her quiver.
Now that the immediate threat had eased, she raked her gaze over him, lingering on his bared chest. “That’s a sweet Ducati you’ve got.”
Had Jackson’s shoulders straightened? “Just picked her up today.”
Brushing her hair back, she said, “I’m Selena Lua.”
I now knew the name of one of the voices. Because she was standing right before me. One of the Major Arcana. What else could I find out from her? I had to talk to her in private. . . .
“Didn’t I tell you,” Jackson muttered to me, “that this place was goan to be a beauty?” While I bristled, he said to the girl, “I’m Jackson Deveaux, you can call me Jack.” He tossed an offhanded wave at me. “That’s Evie.”
With only another brief glance my way—and no glimmer of awareness—Selena returned her gaze to Jackson as though magnetized. “I don’t get many visitors. If you want to, I’m cool with you staying the night here.”
I’ll bet you are.
Jackson turned to me with a devilish smile. In French, he said, “All of a sudden, Evie, you’re not the last girl on earth for me.”
Selena’s Arcana call was “Behold the Bringer of Doubt.”
Right now, I was awash in it.
“Here you go, Evie. Fresh towels.” She placed a stack of them on the bathroom counter of my luxurious guest suite. “Toiletries are in the cabinets. And there’s plenty of hot water, so enjoy!”
All my life, I’d gone out of my way to make friends. And here was another girl. At last! I hadn’t seen one in months, much less a girl that I was linked to in some way.
So why did I intensely dislike her?
Earlier, when I’d shaken hands with Selena, her voice in my head had gone from jarringly loud to silent. As if snuffed. Maybe I was supposed to find each of the speakers, to silence each voice—and preserve my sanity?
Her expression had betrayed nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, she’d acted a little unnerved that I’d kept staring at her. But I’d gotten the weirdest feeling that her behavior was fake. Her eyes seemed almost too blank of recognition.
Yet then she’d graciously welcomed us into her home. She’d gone out of her way to make friends with me, as kind and generous as she could be.
My visions of her had told me nothing definite. In them, she’d frightened me, but she’d also saved my loved ones.
I began to suspect that my dislike was based in . . . petty jealousy—because Jackson’s attentions had turned on a dime to focus on the leggy Selena.
Now he leaned his shoulder against the bathroom wall, ignoring me completely, drinking another beer as Selena chatted about how great it was to have company. She’d been alone here since the Flash and was nearly “stir-crazy.”
“An occasion like this calls for a cookout,” she said, clearly thrilling Jackson. “I was out hunting earlier, bagged two quail today. Get ready for a feast.”
“Thank you, Selena,” I said. “And thanks for the clothes.” She’d let me raid her closet for “as many outfits as I liked.”
“It’s nothing, sweetie. Now, come on, handsome. Let’s go see your room.”
On the road, Jackson and I had never been separated. “His room?”
Giving him yet another admiring glance, she purred the words, “He’ll enjoy the best view from a suite—in my wing.”
“I’ll be alone here?”
Jackson still hadn’t looked at me.
“Don’t worry.” Selena gave a laugh, bumping her hip against mine. “I’ve scrubbed the surrounding woods of Bagmen. Lots of target practice.” She winked at Jackson; he grinned. “I’ve also got salt lines around the grounds. Motion sensors as well.”
Wow. A regular superheroine. At Haven, I’d managed to brace my front door.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” she said. “We’ll have dinner on the lanai in an hour.”