I swallowed the lump and peeled my tongue from the roof of my mouth. “Sorry.”
The corner of his mouth curled up slightly, and his gaze softened, melting my insides into wanton goo.
The train came to a shuddering stop.
“We’re here,” Conah said.
And not a moment too soon. Any longer and I might have been tempted to lick his face.
Cora stared at me like I’d grown an extra head and asked her to dance.
“What the fuck?” She looked at Conah, then tore her gaze back to me. “What the hell?”
“Um … Conah, can I have a minute?”
He was staring at Cora as if he’d seen, well, a ghost.
She stared right back.
He looked from me to Cora. “This is your flat-mate?”
“Did I neglect to mention she was a ghost?”
He blinked slowly. “I’ll give you both a moment.” He walked into the lounge, leaving us in the foyer.
Cora watched him go and then turned to me with wide eyes. “That’s a fucking reaper.”
I winced. “I know. Things happened last night.”
“Things that had you staying out all night with a reaper?”
“He’s a Dominus.”
She staggered toward the staircase and grabbed hold of the balustrade to steady herself. She wasn’t faking. If ghosts could look pale, then she’d be positively pasty.
“Fee, what the—”
“Hell? I know.” I walked over to the steps and sat down. “Last night, on the way home from the club, I decided to slip into hero mode.”
“Fee, no, we’ve discussed this.”
I nodded solemnly. “I know, I know, but it happened.”
I started at the encounter with the mouth and ended with my encounter with Mal. Cora listened without a single interruption, which was a first.
“So, that’s why I have to help Conah.”
“That and the fact that he’s smoking hot.”
“Cora!” My cheeks burned, and I was not a blusher.
“Also …” She held up an index finger, studying me through narrow eyes. “You’re one of them.” Her expression was wary as if she expected me to whip out my scythe, sprout wings, and claim her soul.
“Cora, I’m still me, and to be honest, all this … I doubt it’ll last. They’ll figure out it’s a mistake, and then the scythe will choose someone worthier, and I’ll be back home before you know it.”
“That’s just it,” Cora said. “I don’t think it will.” She gave me a you-have-no-idea look. “Fee, you’re special. I’ve always felt it. This, weirdly, makes sense. And you are worthy, you idiot. If anyone is, then it’s you—the woman who brings the homeless guy on the corner of Pembroke a coffee and bacon sarnie every morning, the woman who volunteers her time for every charity event and spends her holidays at the local soup kitchen. The one who took in a ghost who needed a home and made her feel loved.” She reached out and brushed a tendril of hair off my face. “This is it, Fee. This is who you were meant to be. Don’t fight it, don’t be afraid, embrace it. Fucking rock it.”
My stomach quivered, and it hit me … I wanted this. I wanted to be special, be a reaper, and kick ass.
“Think of it as a challenge,” Cora continued. “When have you ever backed down from a challenge?”
She had a point. I had an insanely competitive nature. It was how I’d gone from receptionist to management at Soul Savers in the space of three years. Sheer determination. If this scythe had chosen me, then I was going to do my damn best to live up to it, and if it turned out to be a mistake, then so be it. In the meantime, I’d be the best reaper ever.
“Find the people who killed that reaper, Fee. It’s what Nancy would do. Put on your Poirot tash, girl. Solve the mystery, and then decide what you want to do about the whole reaper thing.”
I leaned in and hugged her semi-corporal form. She was still carrying some of the juice she’d siphoned off me last night, so it was almost like a real hug, one I needed badly.
“Thank you, babe.”
There was a knock at the door.
“You expecting someone?” Cora asked.
We rarely had visitors. It was just me and Cora against the world, or so it had been for the last year. Except for yesterday when Lucas had popped back into my life with unwelcome news.
Please, don’t let him be back. I couldn’t deal with him, not today.
The knock came again. “Fee, it’s me. Please, we need to talk,” Lucas called through the door.
My heart sank.
Cora arched a brow. “Want me to tell him to fuck off?”
“No, I’ll do it.” I opened the door. “What do you want, Lucas?”
He looked freshly showered and bright-eyed, and he wasn’t alone. A petite blonde stood slightly behind him. Heart-shaped face, pouty lips, she had the girl-next-door vibe that was topped off by jeans, a boyfriend shirt, and a cardigan with sleeves that came down to her fingers.
“Look, yesterday was shit,” Lucas said. “I’m sorry about how I came across. I was too blunt.”
“He can be so blunt,” the petite blonde chimed in from behind him.
I ignored her. “Lucas, unless you’ve come to tell me you’ve changed your mind, I don’t have time for this.”
He masked his frown quickly. “I thought if you met Melody, then you might understand why we need this.”
“You think meeting your fiancée will make me feel better about you forcing me to sell my home?”
He made a sound of exasperation. “Look, Fee. I don’t mean to be harsh, but you don’t need a huge house like this. It’s just you and your pet snake. Mel and I plan on a family.”
“We’ll buy you out,” Melody said.
Luke shot her a sharp look.
Buy me out? As in take this house? My fingers tingled, and my head buzzed with anger. Acerbic curses crouched, ready to launch themselves off my tongue, and then warm heat and a taut chest pressed to my back. A powerful arm slid around my waist, reining in my rage.
“Is there a problem, babe?” Conah said in his smooth-as-melted-chocolate voice.
My heart slammed hard against my ribs at his proximity, and my stomach flipped. Hard.
Lucas stared at Conah wide-eyed, and Melody’s mouth popped open in appreciation or preparation, who knows.
“You sounded upset,” Conah continued, his voice saturated with concern. “Is this the guy you were telling me about?”
“I’m Lucas.” Lucas held out his hand, but Conah didn’t take it. “Fee and I have business,” Lucas continued.
“I don’t think so,” Conah said. “I believe Fee has said all she needs to say.”
Lucas’s jaw ticked. “Look, whoever you are, half of this house belongs to me, and I have every right to claim it.”
Conah pulled me closer to his chest and rested his chin on my head. “Of course, you do, but that doesn’t mean you should. No. You’re choosing to be a dick. Regardless, you’ve made your position clear. Thing is, Fee and I, we love this house, and we intend to raise our family in it, so we’ll be buying you out. Our solicitor will be in touch with you in the next few days.”
My heart skipped several beats, leaving me breathless.
Lucas blinked in surprise. Surprise? The bastard was surprised that someone might want to settle down and have a family with me. Urgh, I wanted to punch him in the crotch.
Conah pulled me back into the house and shut the door in Lucas’s face. He didn’t release me straight away. In fact, his grip on me tightened a fraction. I resisted the urge to relax against him. How long had it been since I’d been held like this? How long since someone other than Cora had stood up for me? Heat stung the back of my eyes.
Cora let out a whoop. “That was fucking amazing!”
Conah released me. “I apologize for interfering. I couldn’t help myself. I overheard and put two and two together.”
“And came up with a smackdown.” Cora grinned at him. “Fee, you better give the reaper some sugar.”
I exhaled and blinked back the stupid tears before turning to face them both. “Thank you.”
“Did you see the fucking look on his face?” Cora fist-pumped the air. “Take that, wanker.”
Conah shot her an amused look.
Yes, the look on Lucas’s face had been priceless, but, “Thing is, I don’t have the money to buy him out.”
Conah frowned. “Yes, you do.”
What reality was he living in? “Um … no, I don’t.”
His brow cleared. “I’m sorry, I meant to tell you earlier, but it slipped my mind. As a Dominus reaper, you’re an heir to a fund. Plenty of money to buy this house several times over if you want.”
“Wait, Fee is rich?” Cora asked.
Conah smiled at her. “Yes, Fee is rich.”
I could buy this house. Buy out Lucas. I could keep my home. The relief was an overwhelming wave that weakened my knees.
“I’ll take care of the details,” Conah said. “But right now, we need to get back to quarters. The sooner you’re up to speed on how the reaper system operates, the better. We have a lot of training to get through before we can go after the people who took down Peiter.”
Earlier, the thought of going back to the Underealm had given me a dodgy feeling in my stomach, but that feeling was gone, replaced by direction and determination. A new purpose that was both terrifying and thrilling.
My mind was suddenly clear as a bell. “While we’re here, we should check out the alley where Peiter was attacked. We might find a clue.”
“Good idea,” Conah agreed.
“I’m coming too,” Cora said. “I can chat with the local ghosts, see if they saw or heard anything.”
Conah looked at Cora in surprise. “That would be very helpful.”