Jenna Black


Chapter One

Going on a date with a bodyguard hanging over your shoulder sucks.

Okay, technically, it wasn’t really a date. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. Ethan was just a friend. A totally hot, sexy friend who made my hormones do a happy dance, but still just a friend. And if I knew what was good for me, I’d keep it that way.

After a couple of nasty betrayals that had hurt me more than I cared to admit, Ethan had risked his life to save mine, and I’d agreed to wipe our slate clean. The problem was, it isn’t that easy to rebuild broken trust, especially when I still had so many reasons not to fully trust him.

For three weeks after he saved my life, I tried to keep my distance, but it didn’t seem to discourage him. He called, emailed, and IM’ed me about a billion times asking me to go out with him, and I finally gave in. He’d wanted dinner and a movie. That seemed way too date-like to me, so I bargained him down to just the movie.

As I sat in the darkened theater beside him, I realized my bargaining skills could use some work. Dinner would have been safer than the movie. I tried to be subtle as I checked over my shoulder to see how closely Finn, my bodyguard, was watching me.

To my relief, I saw that he’d done me the courtesy of sitting three rows back--far enough away to give me the illusion of privacy, but close enough that he could come to my rescue if I needed it.

I wasn’t surprised to see I had Finn’s full attention, despite the distraction of the movie. He was a Knight of Faerie, and he took his job very, very seriously. Which was a good thing, because both the Queens of Faerie wanted me dead.

I turned to face front again. Ethan held out the bag of popcorn, and I took a handful, getting salt and melted butter all over my fingers.

“Napkin?” I asked, holding out my other hand.

“Sorry,” he said, but the corner of his mouth was lifted in his trademark grin. “Forgot to get napkins.”

I gave him my best dirty look, not buying the innocent expression he was giving me. Maybe he’d get a kick out of watching me lick my fingers, but I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. I’d have gone to the lobby to get my own napkins, only I’d have to crawl over three people to get to the aisle. Besides, the movie had already started. Not that I was paying any attention to it. With a grunt of resignation, I grabbed another handful of popcorn and sank a little lower into my seat.

Somehow, Ethan’s arm had found its way around my shoulders. I tried to shrug it off--though a part of me would rather have leaned into him.

“This isn’t a date, remember?” I hissed at him, trying to sound annoyed instead of breathless. I’d been very clear about that when we’d talked on the phone, and Ethan had agreed to my terms. Of course, just because he’d agreed to them didn’t mean he planned to abide by them.

Even in the dark of the theater, Ethan’s smile was devastating. “I remember. But you never said I couldn’t flirt with you.”

“Shh!” said someone from the row behind us before I had a chance to retort.

I fumed a bit as Ethan’s arm settled more comfortably around my shoulders. It would be easier to resist him if he weren’t so . . . irresistible. He was hot even for a Fae, with long blond hair and gorgeous teal-blue eyes. The slight bump on his nose that suggested it had once been broken kept him from looking too perfect--and made him even more sexy.

I reminded myself that there was only so much he could get away with, with Finn back there watching us like a hawk. A bodyguard with a heaping side dish of chaperone. Ethan was incredibly cocky, but he’d always shown a healthy respect for the Knight.

I munched on the popcorn and tried to pay attention to the movie. Ethan didn’t help the situation when he started idly stroking my shoulder with his fingers. I felt like I should tell him to quit it, but I liked the way his caress gave me little goose bumps. He leaned closer to me, and I smelled a hint of spicy aftershave blending with the popcorn and butter. Before I knew it, my head was resting against his shoulder.

If I was trying to get across the “not a date” message, I was doing a crappy job of it.

I’d lost my appetite for popcorn entirely, and didn’t protest when Ethan set the bag down on the floor. I couldn’t quite get myself to wipe my greasy fingers on my jeans, but licking them seemed too . . . tacky. Besides, I’d already decided not to give Ethan the satisfaction.

Ethan solved my dilemma by reaching over, taking my hand, and guiding it to his mouth. I was clueless enough that I had no idea what he was about to do until his mouth closed over my index finger. I made a sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak.

My brain told my hand to jerk away from Ethan’s mouth. My hand didn’t listen.

Ethan sucked gently on my finger, his soft, hot tongue licking up the butter and salt. My mouth had gone dry, and I had trouble getting any air into my lungs. I’d have thought having a guy I wasn’t even dating put my finger in his mouth would feel gross. Shows how little I knew.

Ethan finished with my index finger and moved on to my third finger. I felt like I was about to spontaneously combust. My face felt flushed, almost feverish, and my heart beat from somewhere around my throat. My conviction that this shouldn’t feel good was rapidly disappearing.

The nasty, suspicious part of my brain that said I could never trust Ethan again after he’d tried a roofie-like spell on me once before went on high alert, searching for signs that my reaction was caused by magic rather than my own desires. But though my skin prickled with sensation, it was a toe-curling prickle of pleasure, not the electric-shock prickle of magic.

Ethan let go of my hand, and I found myself turning my head toward him, hoping he would kiss me. His lips were shiny from the butter, and I knew I would practically drown in the taste of them. Lips parted, he leaned in to me.

But before his lips could touch mine, a piece of popcorn bounced off the tip of his nose. We both turned to look behind us.

I hadn’t noticed Finn buying popcorn--somehow, that seemed like an odd thing for a Fae Knight to do--but he was holding up another kernel in warning and giving us a stern look. I guess he hadn’t been able to see what Ethan was doing before the almost-kiss, or we’d probably be buried in popcorn by now.

My cheeks heated in a blush, but Ethan just laughed softly and leaned back in his seat. I don’t suppose the popcorn missiles could have stopped him from kissing me if he really wanted to, but they did kind of spoil the mood.

Just as well, I reminded myself. I’d let Ethan overrule my common sense before, and I’d been burned for it. He claimed he was genuinely in to me, but I still had trouble believing it. A guy like him had no trouble attracting girls way prettier--and more willing to put out--than me. It didn’t make sense for him to want to date me of all people. Unless he had ulterior motives.

Once upon a time, I’d thought of myself as a relatively ordinary girl, though my alcoholic mom had made it impossible for me to be as ordinary as I would have liked. I’d gotten fed up with her drinking and run away from home, coming to Avalon--the only place where Faerie and the mortal world intersect--to meet my Fae father. That was when I’d discovered I was a Faeriewalker--a rare individual who could travel freely between Faerie and the mortal world, with the added “perk” of being able to bring magic into the mortal world and technology into Faerie. The last Faeriewalker before me had died like seventy-five years ago, and I’d found myself the helpless rope in a game of political tug of war. With Ethan and his father on one end of that rope.

So it was a good thing Finn was acting as chaperone as well as bodyguard. The last thing I needed was to fall for Ethan, no matter how tempting he was. Not when I couldn’t be sure what he really wanted from me.

I spent the rest of the movie fending off Ethan’s subtle advances. His eyes sparkled with humor as I glared at him, and I realized it had become a game to him. What could he get away with? What could he do that Finn wouldn’t see? I might have been offended by his refusal to take no for an answer, if I weren’t so aware of the mixed signals I was sending him. Yeah, I fended him off--but he couldn’t help but notice that it always seemed to take me a while to get around to it.

“You’re being a jerk,” I told him at one point as I grabbed his wrist and moved his hand off my thigh. My upper thigh. My voice was a little too breathy to be convincing, and I’d let his hand move way higher than I’d intended to.

His arm--which remained steadfastly around my shoulders--gave me a squeeze. “I’m being a perfect gentleman,” he whispered in my ear. “I’m not going to do anything you don’t want me to.”

Yeah, well that was sort of the problem. I wanted things I had absolutely no right to want. Or at least that weren’t sensible for me to want. And everything I let him get away with gave him that much more reason to take another shot at it every time I shut him down.

By the end of the movie, I was so turned on it was a minor miracle I hadn’t started tearing my clothes off in public. If Finn hadn’t been back there, I’d have had to rely on my own willpower, and who knows what stupid things I’d have done. I had a feeling I was in way over my head with Ethan, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

We walked out of the theater hand in hand. I’m sure Ethan would have walked me home if he could, but I was currently living in a secret underground safe house in the heart of the mountain on which the city of Avalon is built. You could count on one hand the number of people who knew where it was, and Ethan wasn’t on the list.

He raised my hand to his lips and kissed my knuckles as we stood under the protection of the marquee. A gentle rain was falling, the cobblestone streets shining from the reflected glow of the street lamps.

Ethan let go of my hand, and I immediately missed the warmth of his touch as he helped me into my raincoat. He looked over my head, presumably at Finn, who was hovering behind me.

“Will you flatten me if I kiss her goodnight?”

“Probably,” Finn said drily. He wasn’t much of a talker.

I could have called Finn off just then. He wasn’t my dad, and “chaperone” wasn’t really in his job description. I don’t think he much liked Ethan, but I was pretty sure he liked me, and a kiss good night was relatively innocent. But I’d let Ethan get away with more than I should already, and it was time to put my foot down.

“This isn’t a date,” I told him for the millionth time. “You don’t get to kiss me goodnight even if Finn wouldn’t flatten you.”

Ethan flashed me a rueful, if somewhat skeptical, smile. “Right,” he said. “I keep forgetting. Not a date. Got it.” He reached out and pulled up the hood of my coat. His finger “accidentally” stroked the side of my face as he pulled away. I couldn’t suppress my shiver of pleasure.

“Maybe we can fix that next time,” he suggested. “Wanna be my date for Kimber’s party?”

Ethan’s sister, Kimber, was my best friend. Her birthday party was on Friday night, and I was looking forward to it more than I could say.

“Nice try, Romeo,” I said, though I doubted I sounded as sophisticated as I was trying to. “Kimber gets to be the center of attention at her party, not you.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. “Obviously, you’ve never been to a Leigh family party before. But I get the point. Just save me a dance, okay?” He gave me another grin. “Friends are allowed to dance with each other, aren’t they?”

Internally, I groaned. I had a feeling dancing with him would entail another battle of wills--angel me, vs. devil me.

“Sure,” I said. “As long as you keep your hands to yourself.”

He raised one eyebrow, and I remembered how badly I’d enforced that rule tonight. I think I blushed again, but I met his challenging gaze as boldly as I could.

Mischief twinkling in his eyes, he winked at me, tweaked my nose like I was a little kid, then headed out into the rain, not seeming to care that he had neither a coat nor an umbrella. I watched, unable to turn away, until he’d rounded the corner at the end of the block.