Rebecca Emery . . .
I’ve been sitting in the living room, staring at the patterns on the Surya rug and chewing on my nails since Tray called an Uber to take him and Samantha home. My treat, since the mess was pretty much my fault. I should’ve never let Samantha tag along with me to see a witch. I can’t let her get caught up in all my crazy magical mess. That girl is not prepared for reality. In the car on the way home, we didn’t even talk about the demon attack, as if we were all trying to pretend it hadn’t happened. And even though we got away, I can’t stop wondering: Why didn’t it hurt me?
The sound of the doorbell nearly makes me jump out of my skin when it hums through the living room. I hesitate and then realize it’s probably Connor come to check on me. The guy needs to learn how to text me warnings in moments like this, after a demon attacks.
When I let him into the house, he steps over the threshold, looking around the wide-open entryway suspiciously before grabbing me and smothering me to his chest. “You need to be more careful. Where was the demon? My God, Rebecca, you could’ve been—” his voice catches and he squeezes me tighter.
“Connor, I can’t breathe,” I say into his shirt.
He releases me a little but doesn’t let me go entirely, resting his forehead against mine. I kiss his cheek and then tug him to the couch to sit. “I’m okay,” I say as we settle in beside each other. “And I’m going to be wearing my amulet from now on, so there’s nothing to worry about.”
“I can’t lose you to this craziness,” he whispers. The vulnerable look in his eyes makes my chest hurt. Then I realize how sunken they are, the dark circles under them, how pale he is. Even the smattering of sun freckles on the bridge of his nose looks dimmed.
“I’m okay,” I repeat, touching his temple. “But you aren’t. You look so sick. What happened?”
He shakes his head.
I scoot closer to him, leaning my head on his shoulder, my fear turning sour at the thought of how vulnerable he is, how much danger he’s in sticking to Aidan’s side.
“I can’t stand this,” I say, feeling it all fall on me like a lead blanket.
He just breathes and takes my hand in his, curling his fingers over mine. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” he says. He shifts to face me, and I find myself studying his features, that lovely sun-kissed face. I want to be the sun and kiss that skin. Always.
I lean in and gently touch my lips to his jaw, tightening my grip in his.
His body stiffens at the soft connection. He leans back a little and looks me in the eye, a question there between us. And I marvel at the way he seems to understand me, the way he cares about me. Because in all this horror, there’s this thing between us. It’s more subtle than it was with Aidan. It’s a secret in my heart that I barely know myself.
I find my body leaning closer again as the thought comes to me. I graze my lips against his and release a sigh, feeling his warmth, his presence, like it could save me.
His hand pulls from mine to touch me, his fingers trailing a path over my leg, gripping my waist. I sink into the kiss, my urgency growing, and find myself getting lost in how much I want more. How much I want him. My hands turn to fists tugging on his shirt. My body moves as close as it can, pressing into his chest, my breath stuttering, mingling with his as his hands anchor me to him.
His fingers find the hem of my shirt, and calloused palms slip underneath, glide up my side, squeezing my ribs, flickering fire over my skin, bringing it to life. I gasp at the sensation, at the feel of his mouth on my neck.
The sound seems to undo him. He finds my lips again and leans into the kiss, forcing me down against the couch cushion, pressing with his fingertips at the curve of my hip as he settles between my legs. The cautious Connor is nowhere to be found now, his gentleness evaporated, replaced by desperation and need, his and mine. Because I ache everywhere, my whole body pulses with focus. On him, on the tastes and smells, the feel of it all as it consumes me.
I help him pull his shirt over his head. He tugs mine up more, starting to trail kisses along my colar bone—
“Emery!” The shocked, angry voice fills the room. My father.
I yank my shirt back down and wiggle out from under Connor, my knees coming up to my chest, like making myself smaller will save me.
“What the hell is happening here?” he asks from several feet away. His suit jacket is on the floor at his feet as if he dropped it in his shock.
Connor doesn’t react as quickly as I do. His body moves away from mine slowly, his bare chest suddenly very obvious in the dark room. He mutters under his breath, “Shit,” and then releases a sigh as he pulls his shirt back on. Only after he’s put himself back together does he look at my dad. “Sir, I’m very sorry.”
“You bet your ass you are—you’re going to be.” My dad is so not a tough guy. I can see his face change from anger to confusion as Connor stands—all six feet and broad shoulders of him. That side of my dad that wants to kill Connor seems to be warring with the commonsense side of him that knows he’s an investment guy who barely ever works out.
I try to swallow but I can’t because my throat’s become a desert. “Dad, please,” I manage to say, not sure what I’m asking for. Don’t kill my boyfriend.
“I’m a jackass,” Connor says, putting his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders. “I’ll just go.” And he heads for the door.
I jump up and make it to his side, stopping him as he gets to the entryway. “Just wait.” Then I look over at my dad, giving him a pleading look. “Dad, can we take a second here?” I hadn’t really wanted these two to meet because the idea felt so alien, like then I’d have to choose between the two worlds I’ve been trying to juggle lately. I certainly didn’t want them to meet like this. But now, seeing both of them in the same room, my life suddenly seems much more average than it is. It’s actually nice to have a normal teenage problem; my dad caught me making out with a guy on the couch.
It’s almost awesome.
“Excuse me, Emery, but this young man needs to go,” my dad says in a tight voice. “Now.”
“His name’s Connor. This is the guy you were asking me about.”
“Rebecca,” Connor says, touching my arm gently, “he’s right, I should go.”
“This is the boy with the beat-up Jeep?” my dad says, as if Connor isn’t still standing right there.
“Connor, Dad. His name is Connor. And he’s my . . . well, he’s my boyfriend.”
I didn’t think it was possible for my dad’s eyes to widen any more, but they do.
Connor rubs his temple and shakes his head. “Rebecca, I’m leaving.”
“Stop calling her that!” my father suddenly roars.
Connor jerks back at the sound.
“No one calls her that,” my dad adds more quietly. And the thing he’s not saying rings loud in the air, Only Charlie called her Rebecca. My heart squeezes tight in my chest. “This is insane,” he says more to himself, running a hand over his forehead.
“Daddy, it’s fine,” I say, stepping closer, wanting to get that lost look out of his eyes. Because it is fine. And very normal. “I’m good, I promise. Better than good.” I want to say, When Connor’s with me I feel like myself again, innocent of pain, like before Charlie died. And I miss that feeling.
He looks at me for several seconds before asking in a calmer voice, “How old is he?”
“Please stop talking about him like he isn’t right here,” I say carefully, motioning to Connor.
Connor holds out a hand, like he’s trying to tell me not to defend him. “I understand. This looks bad.”
“Yes, it does.” My dad seems to deflate even more. “It’s also a very new experience for me.”
“It shouldn’t have happened,” Connor says, and I know he means it one hundred percent. He feels like he lost control, went too far with me. And he’s obviously unhappy with himself about it.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I say, making them both look over at me in surprise. “You two are being crazy. Of course it should’ve happened. I’m a healthy sixteen-year-old girl, I’m not a nun, even if I’ve been living like one. I should be kissing boys and making out with them, but instead all I’m doing is feeling sad and lost, and I’m sick of it.” I pause and look between the two of them, but neither one seems to know what to say, so I add, “I’m going to be a normal girl now. I’m going to get into trouble and skinny-dip and get caught by my dad making out with my favorite guy—a guy who makes me happy and safe and whole. Three things I haven’t felt in far too long.”
Connor’s lips tip up in a slight grin.
My dad’s mouth has come open a little in shock.
“So, who wants some ice cream?” I ask, straightening my shirt. “After all that, I need chocolate and guilty-pleasure TV. What do you think, Dad? Should we introduce Connor to Rehab Addict? And then we can discuss how grounded I am. Man, I haven’t been grounded in forever. It’ll be fun.”
I walk past them as they blink at each other. Silent questions bounce between them as I head into the kitchen.
When they pause only for a few awkward seconds before following me, Dad first and then Connor walking hesitantly like he’s not sure what else to do, I find myself considering a future, looking forward to it instead of fearing it, and the warmth that fills me nearly lifts me off the ground.