She cleared her throat and shifted in her seat. “Yes, well, I’m waiting for you to teach me how. Hint, hint.” That was the safest response.
He remained stoic as he turned and walked to the far wall, where he traced his finger over the peeling paint.
Hands trembling, she smoothed the wrinkles from the white cotton button-up she wore. Yes, he’d said he wasn’t interested in her romantically, and that was fine. Really. She hadn’t wanted to pout about it or anything like that—or try and change his mind. Therefore, she wasn’t sure why she’d raced home from the hospital to shower and dress, spending a little extra time on her makeup and hair, just in case he showed up. Really.
“That’s what I came to discuss with you,” he said. “I hoped to begin your training today, but that’s proven impossible. I have just returned from a mission, and have been unable to prepare.”
“A mission? Oh. What kind?” she asked, trying for a casual tone.
He rolled his shoulders, saying, “The kind that involves an army.”
“Of a sort.” He strode to the only window and checked the lock. “Beginning tomorrow, I’ll require half an hour out of your day, every day. You’ll devote yourself to me, and only to me.”
Just half an hour? Surely that wasn’t disappointment swimming laps in her veins. “It’s yours. But are you sure that’s enough? I mean, don’t we have a lot of ground to cover?”
He stiffened, saying, “We do.” He massaged the back of his neck. “I’ll give you forty-five minutes and—” He shook his head, narrowed his eyes. “That’s not enough, either, is it? I’ll give you...an hour.” The last was gritted from him, as if granting her an hour was a hard decision to make.
Half of her was insulted. The other half of her was too excited to care. “Thank you.”
“And when we’re apart,” he continued, as if she hadn’t spoken, “you’ll not worry. You’ll not stress, as you humans say. You’ll do only the things that make you happy.”
“Great in theory, but how do you suggest I go about that?”
He faced her, his brow furrowing as he considered her words. “Perhaps you should listen to jokes.”
A stellar idea from Mr. Serious, she thought drily. “That’s all you’ve got? I thought you had all the answers.”
“Spend time with your sister. She’s better, I’m guessing.”
“She is.” Nicola had told her sister about Koldo and his claims, and her sister had laughed, thinking either the drugs or the concussion or both were messing with her mind. Nothing she’d said had been able to convince the girl otherwise. “She might need some convincing to take you seriously, but don’t worry. I’ll convince her.” The alternative was to watch her sister die, and she simply wasn’t going to allow that to happen.
Koldo closed the distance and flattened his hands on her desk. She had to fist her slacks to stop herself from reaching out and tracing her fingertips along his jaw. Just how would he respond to something like that?
“You’ll do everything I tell you?” he asked sharply.
“Everything.” No hesitation. “We’ve gone over this.”
“Never hurts to double-check.” His gaze dropped to her lips and stayed. “So pink,” he whispered, and frowned. “So pretty.”
Her palms began to sweat. He was peering at her as if she were splayed on a buffet table, a sign that read All You Can Eat for Free flashing overhead. As if he were starving.
Had he changed his mind about wanting her in “that” way?
He inhaled deeply, and blinked. His nose wrinkled as if he’d just encountered something unpleasant. “Why do you smell like that?” His tone was cutting.
“Uh, it’s from a new soap and lotion.” The one Sirena had given her.
“Never use them again. That is your first order. In fact, throw them out.”
No, he hadn’t changed his mind.
A knock echoed through the room, and Nicola somehow managed to tug herself from the beastly magnetism of his face to glance toward the left.
The door was open, allowing Sirena to peek inside without any prompting from her. “Hey, Nicola,” she said with a wide, toothy grin—a grin that slowly faded as her gaze swept through the office. “I thought I heard you talking to someone, but never saw anyone come in.”
Nicola’s attention darted to Koldo. Or rather, to where Koldo had been standing. He was gone, leaving only a waft of his sunshine scent in the air. He’d taken his heat with him, and Nicola shivered, suddenly cold and, well, somewhat bereft.
“I thought you were on a break,” she said.
“I was, until I realized you’d be lost without me.” Admitted unabashedly and with total conviction. “Of course, I hurried to return.”
Lost? Seriously? That’s what the girl believed? Three times this morning Nicola had heard Sirena misdirect a caller. The other four times the phone had rung, the girl had let it roll to voice mail. “What can I do for you, Sirena?”
“Just wanted you to know Mr. Turner is here to see you.” She cupped her hand around her mouth and whispered, “And he’s looking mighty fine. You should totally tap that.”
Dex was here? Why? “Thanks for letting me know. Please send him in.”
Sirena winked, and turned with an exaggerated sway of her hips. “You can go in now, Mr. Hot Stuff.”
Annnd Nicola jotted down “Chat with Sirena about sexual harassment” on her to-do list. She underlined, circled and starred.
A few seconds later, Dex soared inside. His dark hair was combed, not a strand out of place. His eyes were bright, despite their dark color. He wore a gray button-up shirt and black slacks. Very businessman. Very attractive. But had he been standing next to Koldo, he would have paled in comparison.
He would have also probably peed his pants in fear.
Stop that. “Hey, Dex,” Nicola said. Now that Koldo was gone, her earlier rush to leave resurfaced. Her attention returned to her bag. Files were sticking out the top. “What can I do for you?”
“I hear your sister is all better.”
“Not all, not quite yet, but she’s on the mend.”
He sat down, leaned back and relaxed, fitting his hands over his middle. “That’s good, right? You’ll have more free time now.”
“Actually, I’ll have less.” She would be spending every spare second with Laila—and an hour a day with Koldo.
What the heck was he?
She needed a sensitive spirit to discover the answer, he’d said. Well, that seemed way complicated—so she’d given in and tried the internet. But a search for an invisible warrior who could heal with happiness had mostly yielded articles about soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dex’s voice pulled her out of her head. “I’m sorry, what?”
His cheeks reddened in the slightest degree. “I was wondering if you had any plans this weekend?”
“Oh. Yes. I have paperwork,” she said. Plus, there was her second job at the grocery store.
“Yeah, but you also have to eat.”
Actually, food was optional. “I’ve got Laila, and that means—”
“She’ll need a date, too. Good news is, I have a friend,” he interjected. “I’m sure you heard that Blaine and his girlfriend broke up a few months ago, and even though he forced me to eat that crap in the fridge after our race, I still like him.”
Blaine. Blaine, who Laila would find too cute to resist.
Would Laila be strong enough to leave the house, though? And if so, could Nicola actually deny her sister a little fun before she...before she... Anyway. What if that fun led to the necessary happiness?
Maybe Dex sensed that she verged on capitulation. Boasting a half grin, he leaned forward and wrote something on a piece of paper. “Here’s my number. Call me if you change your mind.”
He stood and strode to the door, only to pause and say, “By the way, you smell really nice.” He kicked back into motion.
“See you later, handsome,” Sirena said from the reception area.
So...Koldo thought she smelled terrible, and Dex thought she smelled nice. Who was right?
She sighed. The phone rang as she was gathering the rest of her things.
The phone was still ringing when she stepped out of the office. Sirena and Jamila were standing in the gap between their desks, their noses touching as they glared and huffed and puffed at each other. Hands were fisted; limbs were trembling.
“I know what you are,” Sirena snapped.
“I can’t say the same,” Jamila hissed, “but I know you’re bad news.”
“You want to survive this? You’ll leave and never come back.”
“This time, I can say the same.”
The two clearly had history. “Is someone going to get that?” Nicola asked, the weight of the files already causing her to pant.
The women jumped apart as if she’d prodded them with hot pokers.
Sirena tossed her a smile, all hint of rage gone. “Sure thing,” she said, strolling to her desk to pick up the phone. “Accounting.” As she eased into her chair, she twirled the cord between her fingers. “Well, don’t you just have the sweetest voice.” A girlish giggle caused Nicola to cringe. “Yeah. I am. Wait. Tell me slower so I can be sure to transcribe every riveting word.”
Nicola faced Jamila, who was still standing in place, still struggling to control her darker emotions. “I won’t ask what that was about, and I also won’t be back until late tomorrow. All I want is for the two of you to refrain from eating kittens, kicking puppies and boiling rabbits just to strike at each other.”