“Well she is,” Pascale snaps, “and you better watch how you speak. You know what she means to those we serve.”
Aerie, appropriately chastised, lowers her gaze. She continues to glare, but at least she’s glaring at the table and not me.
As for me, I feel like my eyes are going to pop out of my head. “What are you guys talking about?”
I look between my friend and the two guys. Richie and Tonk seem wary, but Pascale rebounds like a professional deflector.
“Nothing.” Pascale chirps, doing her best to sweep the conversation under the rug. “I figured it was time you met some other creatures. Lord knows you could use more hangouts in your social calendar.”
Tonk straightens. “I volunteer to be the first appointment.” I give a little jump when he hits the table enthusiastically.
Tonk grins. “Really?”
I look at Pascale. She does nothing but shrug. I face Tonk. “Sure… You just mean hanging out, right?”
“Whatever you want.” He continues to grin, looking like a kid who managed to sneak a cookie out of the cookie jar.
“Okay.” I don’t know what else to say. I turn to Richie. “Would you like to hang out too?”
“Hey, no,” Tonk interjects, slicing a hand in the air between me and Richie. “You can get your own date, Rich.”
My head snaps up. Date?
Is that what I agreed to?
I’m trying to think of how to turn this conversation around when Richie speaks up.
“Please,” he rolls his eyes. “You and I both know she’s off limits.”
“You don’t know that.” Tonk gives me a sideways glance. “You don’t have a boyfriend, do you?”
My cheeks had gradually warmed during their discussion, but now they are on fire. I struggle to speak, but Tonk’s lingering look forces me to swallow the knot in my throat. “No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Ha!” Tonk hits the table again. Again, I jump.
“Ha, nothing,” Richie speaks evenly, sounding like someone who knows he’s already won the argument, “Not even you’re dumb enough to really believe she’s not claimed.”
“There’s no mark.” Tonk leans towards me, and I am left in no doubt that he actually smells me this time. It takes all of my self-control not to jump out of my seat and run across the bar. I really wish Pascale would have given me a heads up about this whole thing. I begin to compile a list of questions I will be throwing at her once we’re back at our apartment. For one, what is this business about protecting me? And two, what’s this ‘claimed’ nonsense, and why does Tonk keep sniffing me?
“I don’t see what he sees in her,” Aerie delivers the insult in a low voice, bringing my focus back to the creatures around me.
“Then you’re blind, Aerie,” Richie replies with hardly any bite.
My head spins. My hands lie flat against the seat of my chair, and I press my fingernails into the wood. Is this how creatures interact with one another?
They seem normal, aside from the fact they keep saying things about me which make no sense. Why would Richie think I’m off limits? And why is Aerie talking like there is someone already interested in me? Someone she thinks is better than me…
“Are you guys friends with Andy?” He’s the only person who’s ever shown me even a semblance of interest. I haven’t spoken to him since our study session yesterday morning, and he wasn’t in class today, despite saying he’d save me a seat the last time we spoke, but I didn’t think anything of his absence. At least half the football team skipped class today, a small reprieve from their odious post-workout aroma. I start to analyze our previous interactions, wondering if I happened to miss a sign that Andy might not be human.
The bell above the front door dings. I’m on my feet in an instant, grateful for an excuse to leave the awkward table. “Be right with you.” I spin around and take one step before every muscle in my body goes rigid. Icy fear courses through my veins, leaving me shivering in its wake.
The two glowing men stand in the doorway. They wear the same golden armor from yesterday. With less than twenty feet between us, I finally grasp the enormity of their size. The pair looks to be nearly seven feet tall, and their arms are corded with thick muscle.
“Sera, you need to get out of here.” Pascale appears in front of me. Tonk and Richie flank her. Even Aerie positions herself between me and the newcomers. If I wasn’t already afraid, I would be now. My instincts had been right, these guys are clearly bad news, and they only have eyes for me.
Pascale’s wings pop out behind her, twitching under the bar’s dim light. “Because I said so. Now, go!”
I have half a mind to demand she explain herself, but then one of the guards withdraws his sword and points the thick blade directly at the center of my chest.
“Serafina Richards,” even his voice sounds powerful—full of undeniable authority and strength. One word, and he could steal the breath right out of my lungs. “You’ve been summoned to Seelie Court. Come willingly, and there will be no violence.”
My heart stops beating in my chest.
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