What the fuck had just happened. My cheeks burned, and my body was thrumming with desire. I blinked to clear my head and focused on this Mal guy.
“We’re saddled with this?” He jerked a thumb my way.
Okay, so I’d made a case against being suitable for the job not too long ago, but to hear someone else point it out, and so rudely. Hell, no.
I sat up and glared at the emerald-eyed twit. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Mal, please.” Conah sounded fed up.
He was standing by the hearth, which was now sporting an impressive fire, but I didn’t give him more than a fleeting glance. My attention was commanded by the newcomer, the rude, arrogant newcomer.
Mal rolled his eyes dismissively and turned to Conah. “Have you looked at her? I mean, aside from the pretty face. Those hips and that ass are made for the bedroom, not for chasing down mouths, or in most cases, running away from them. She won’t last a minute out there on the beat.”
Wait, had he just called me a fat ass? Heat traveled up my neck and stained my cheeks.
“We can train her,” Conah said calmly.
“To what? Avoid carbs? Fucking hell, Conah, this is nuts. She can’t be one of us, just look at her.”
He gestured toward me, throwing a derisive glance my way, but I was already on my feet, hands planted on my hips, choice words on my lips.
“Save it, silver,” Mal said. “I know what you’re going to say. How dare I insult your feminine body? I have no right to put you down, blah blah blah. Hell, for all I know, you might never have touched a carb in your life, but none of that fucking matters. Nothing matters but you being able to haul that curvy ass of yours around the city, leap buildings, and fly if need be.” He shook his head. “Hell, you don’t even have wings, do you?”
“Neither do I,” Conah bit out, “and I’ve managed fine.”
“But you don’t have her ass,” Mal whined. “Urgh, no. I’m out.”
“What?” Conah blinked at him in surprise.
Mal shrugged. “If Peiter was dumb enough to get himself killed, and if the fucking celestial powers are dumb enough to give us that as a replacement …” He waved a dismissive hand in my direction. “Then, I’m out. You want to train her then be my guest. I have better things to do.”
“Like what?” Conah demanded. “Hmmm, what is it you have to do? While away the time until the next sweep and drop? Lock yourself in your quarters with your conquests?”
Mal shrugged, unfazed. “Maybe.” He looked across at me and smiled a lopsided cocky smile. “Or maybe I’ll just take our newbie for a spin, help her work off some of that cushioning.”
Conah moved so fast he was a blur, and then Mal was slammed up against the wall with Conah’s arm at his throat.
“Have some fucking respect.” Conah’s tone was lethally low.
Mal chuckled. “Oh, dear. Careful, brother, we wouldn’t want you developing a soft spot for the curvy reaper, would we?”
Conah released him with a growl of frustration. “What is wrong with you? Our brother is dead, and the people that killed him are out there. They have a weapon that can kill a reaper. We have to do something.”
“No. We don’t.” Mal spat the words like they were poisonous. “They have a weapon that can kill a reaper, so we stay as far away from them as possible. Peiter fucked up. He went out solo, chasing a fake lead, and got killed. I don’t intend to make the same mistake.” He looked from me to Conah. “If you go looking for trouble, more often than not, you find it. I told him that, and he didn’t listen, so fuck him. His quest for vengeance got him killed, and I’m not going to make the same mistake.” He patted Conah’s shoulder. “Take my advice and let it go. Whoever these hooded figures are, they got lucky with Peiter. Don’t let them get lucky with you.”
Conah scanned his face. “You mean it. You really aren’t going to help, are you?”
“What can I say, Con, I just don’t give a shit.” He smiled. “But maybe Azazel will help, once he gets back from his bicentennial trip, that is.” He patted Conah on the shoulder.
Conah’s lip curled in disgust. “Get out. Just get the fuck out.”
Mal held out his hands. “Have fun, silver.” He dropped me a wink and then sauntered from the room.
“We were waiting for that?” I shook my head. “Seriously?”
Conah poured himself a drink and downed it. “Mal can be … unpredictable. But he’s a Dominus, and he had a right to know about you and …” He trailed off with a sigh.
“I thought the scythes picked the worthy.”
“Mal is … Mal.”
“He doesn’t seem too cut up about Peiter.”
Conah’s smile was wry. “Mal grieves in his own way, and it’s never pretty.”
But it left Conah working solo to find the hooded figures that killed his brother. Mal was a dick, but he was right about one thing—if Conah went after these hooded figures, he could get himself killed. I couldn’t let that happen. Someone had to have his back in this because Conah was right too—we needed to find that weapon.
Fuck it. “I want to help you.”
Conah set his glass down. “You do?”
“Yes. We need to find the people who did this and get that dagger off them. You can’t do it alone, or you could end up like Peiter.” I held up my hands. “I know I’m not much in terms of kick-assery—”
“Yet,” Conah added. “You’re not much in terms of kick-assery yet.”
I smiled. “Yet. But I have my own set of skills.”
A small smile played on his lips, and the flutters in my stomach grew.
“And what are these skills?”
“Well … I can get people to open up by making them feel at ease, I have excellent intuition, and I’m great at solving mysteries—when not intoxicated.” I added the disclaimer quickly.
He rolled his lips into his mouth as if staunching a smile.
“You can train me while we investigate.”
He finally released his smile, slow-burn and beautiful. “Thank you, Seraphina.”
“Fee,” I reminded him.
“Fee, but the training has to come first. We won’t be going after these hooded figures until I’m satisfied you can handle yourself.”
All reservations aside, this could be good for me. Heck, the whole scythe choosing me had to be a mistake. A default action in a bad situation. A way to stay out of the wrong hands. But while we waited for the powers that be to figure it out, I’d be useful. I’d help catch the bad guys.
It was as if a weight lifted off my shoulders, and I stood taller. “I’m a quick learner. But first, you need to take me home so I can grab some stuff and speak to my flat-mate.”
“A deal is a deal,” he agreed.
Cora was so going to kick my ass over this.
When we left the reaper quarters in the Underealm, the sky outside the tower windows had been dark, but it was almost midday in Necro City. I guess time worked differently in the Underealm. My head was still a little fuzzy from the trip back. Conah had the ability to do little teleport jumps. We’d jumped to the bridge and then jumped into an alley between a pizza place and a Chinese restaurant. The smells were both intoxicating and nauseating.
I guess the teleportation was his compensation for not having wings. I’d need to ask him about it at some point to be sure. Right now, he was in withdrawn mode. He’d taken my address and hadn’t spoken since. His whole aura was back off, or maybe I was imagining things. Maybe I was reading too much into his silence. He led the way toward the center of town, walking briskly but not too fast as to leave me behind. Thank goodness for my long legs and long stride. It wasn’t so hard to keep up with him.
He’d changed into casual clothes. Jeans, a knitted sweatshirt, and leather jacket. I got that he was attempting to blend in and look human, but he’d have to alter his gorgeous face and his muscular form to achieve that goal. Me, on the other hand, I needed a change of clothes stat. My clubbing outfit screamed walk of shame, and once we hit the center of Necro City, we began to draw looks. Women ogled Conah and then shot me envious glances, and guys steered their girlfriends away from us.
By the time we hit the underground train station, it was a relief to melt into the anonymity of the crowd. Passengers here were totally focused on getting from A to B, and no one seemed interested in a woman with just-got-out-of-bed hair and sparkly sandals paired with figure-hugging jeans. My blood-crusted cami was hidden beneath my jacket, thank God.
I caught sight of several ghosts chilling on a bench, chatting away. The underground was a favorite haunt for spirits. They liked to congregate here on their breaks or when they got off from work. After three a.m. was the only time I’d ever seen the underground dead.
A surge of bodies separated me from Conah. Shit, where was he? And then a hand clasped mine, warm and reassuring. Conah tugged me through the knit of people and fixed me firmly to his side with an arm around my waist. His hand burned a brand on my hip, and my stomach did a dirty flip. Breathe, Fee.
Conah didn’t let go of me until we were on the train. I grabbed hold of a pole to steady myself as the train lurched into motion. No seats. Typical. I braced myself for the ride, clinging to the pole, gaze fixed on the hollow of Conah’s throat. It was a nice hollow, a perfect dip. He stood facing me, gripping the pole with one hand above my head. Our bodies were close, but not too close. Just as well because I was discovering how sexy the scent of leather could be, especially when it was wafting off a golden-haired reaper with piercing blue eyes. The aroma mingled with that awesome cotton-fresh smell of newly washed linen.
Someone nudged my back hard enough to throw me against Conah’s chest. Electricity jolted through me, and my head jerked up to lock eyes with him.
His gaze was probing, intense. A lump formed in my throat, and my mouth decided to do its Sahara impression.