Wicked Lovely Page 5

"Didn't know you were expecting me," she said in what she hoped was a casual voice.

He gets sexier every day.

"Not expecting, but hoping. Always hoping." He rubbed his arms, mostly bare under the sleeves of a black T-shirt. He wasn't bulky, but his arms—and the rest of him— had obvious definition. He lifted one eyebrow and asked, "You going to come in or stand there?"

"Anybody else in the house?"

"Just me and Boomer."

His teakettle whistled, and he went back inside, calling out as he went, "Picked up a sub earlier. Want half?"

"Just tea."

Aislinn already felt better; being around him made her feel more confident. Seth was the epitome of calm. When his parents had left on some mission thing and given him everything they owned, he didn't go on a binge. Aside from buying the train cars and converting them into a trailer of sorts, he'd kept it pretty normal—hung out, partied some. He talked about college, art school, but he wasn't in any rush.

She stepped around the piles of books on the floor: Chaucer and Nietzsche sat beside The Prose Edda; the Kama Sutra tilted against A World History of Architecture and a Clare Dunkle novel. Seth read everything.

"Just move Boomer. He's sluggish tonight." He gestured toward the boa napping on one of the ergonomic chairs in the front of the train—his common room. One green and one bright orange, the chairs curved backward like the letter C. They had no arms, so you could sit with your legs up if you wanted. Beside each of them were plain wood tables with books and papers stacked on them.

Carefully she scooped up the coiled boa and moved him from the chair onto the sofa on the other side of the narrow room.

Seth came over with two china saucers. A matching cup with blue flowers sat on each of them, two-thirds full of tea. "High Mountain oolong. Just came in this morning."

She took one—sloshing a bit over the edge—and tasted. "Good."

He sat down across from her, holding his cup in one hand, the saucer in the other, and managing to look strangely dignified—despite his black nail polish. "So, anyone out at the Crow's Nest?"

"Glenn stopped me. Your speakers came in."

"Good you didn't go inside. They got raided last night." He scowled briefly. "Glenn didn't tell you?"

"No, but he knew I wasn't staying." She tucked her feet up, pleased when Seth's scowl faded. "So who'd they get?"

She sipped her tea and settled in for the latest rumors. Half the time she could just curl up and listen while he talked to the people who filled his house most nights. Then she could pretend—for a short time, at least—that the world was as it seemed to be, no more, no less. Seth gave her that: a private space to believe in the illusion of normalcy.

It wasn't why she'd started visiting him when they met a couple years ago; that was purely a result of learning he lived in a house of steel walls. It was, however, one of the reasons she'd recently started having the wildly stupid thoughts about him, thoughts about giving in to his flirting, but Seth didn't date. He had a reputation as a great one-night stand, but she wasn't interested in that. Well, she was interested, but not if it meant losing either his friendship or access to his steel-walled haven.

"You okay?"

She'd been staring. Again. "Sure. Just, I don't know, tired I guess."

"You want to talk about it?"

"About what?" She sipped the tea and hoped that he'd drop it, almost as much as she hoped he wouldn't.

How good would it feel to tell someone? To just talk about it? Grams didn't talk about the fey if she could avoid it. She was old, seeming more tired by the day, too tired to question what Aislinn did when she was out, too tired to ask questions about where she went after dark.

Aislinn dared another smile, carefully calm, at Seth. I could tell him. But she couldn't, not really; it was the one rule Grams had insisted they never break.

Would he believe me?

Somewhere in the depths of the second train car, music played—another of his mixes with everything from Godsmack to the Dresden Dolls, Sugarcult to Rachmaninoff, and other stuff she couldn't actually identify.

It was peaceful—until Seth stopped mid-story and set his tea on the table beside him. "Please tell me what's going on?"

Her hand shook, spilling tea on the floor. He didn't usually push her; it wasn't his way. "What do you mean? There's nothing—"

He interrupted, "Come on, Ash. You look worried lately. You're here a lot more often, and unless it's something about us" — he stared at her with an unreadable expression—"is it?"

Avoiding eye contact, she said, "We're fine."

She went to the kitchen and grabbed a rag to mop up the tea.

"What then? Are you in some sort of trouble?" He reached for her as she walked past.

"I'm fine." She dodged his outstretched hand and went to sop up the tea, staring at the floor, trying to ignore the fact that he was watching her. "So, umm, where is everyone?"

"I told everyone I needed a few days. I wanted a chance to see you alone. Talk and stuff." With a sigh, he reached down and pulled the rag away from her. He tossed it toward the kitchen, where it landed on the table with a splat. "Talk to me."

She stood up, but he caught her hand before she could walk away again.

He pulled her closer. "I'm here. I'll be here. Whatever it is."

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