Home > A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)(6)

A Strange Hymn (The Bargainer #2)(6)
Author: Laura Thalassa

My bodice loosens, falling to the floor in front of me, the air caressing my exposed torso.

Des rotates me back around and places his hand over my pounding heart, as though he’s trying to capture the beat of it for himself.

His gaze moves to mine. “Cherub, we have a lot of catching up to do.”

I feel his words all the way in the pit of my stomach. Love, romance—the whole thing feels like a rabbit hole, and I’m Alice, about to plunge into it.

His hand slides to my wrist, and I tense as his fingers roll over my bracelet. What will he ask of me now? More training? Some kinky sex act? Not going to lie, I’m pretty sure I could get behind the latter.

… And I do mean get behind.

“Tell me something about your past, something I don’t know.”

Of course, the moment I’m actually eager to participate in one of Des’s dares, he blows my mind by asking me a simple question.

A second later I realize that the Bargainer’s magic doesn’t grip me as it usually does. He didn’t take a bead. He just wants to know a bit more about myself … as I stand here topless in his chambers.

“Ummm, what do you want to know?”

I bring my hands up, hiding my breasts from him. I aspire one day to shamelessly have topless conversations with Des … but that day isn’t today.

“How did you and Temper meet?” he asks.

That’s what he wants to know? Right now?

He reads me like a book. “You think I’m concerned about losing an opportunity to make love to you?”

Those words go straight to my core.

His eyes dip to where I cover my breasts, and he lowers his voice. “I’m not.”

I narrow my eyes at his arrogance.

He steps forward, into my space, and it’s all I can do not to edge backwards. Des is still overwhelming, still a force to be reckoned with. “I knew who you were the night I left you Callie, and I’m learning who you are now, but I want to know about everything that came during those seven years I lost you.”

That has my breath catching as I stare up at him. We are lovers and old friends and strangers all at once.

He’s absolutely right, there’s so much we have to catch up on. Things that no amount of physical intimacy will make up for. And that’s what he wants from me.

“I met Temper senior year at Peel Academy,” I say, my mind jogging back to the final year at my supernatural boarding school. That was a rough period of time. I’d lost Des only months beforehand, and I found myself with no friends and no family. The only thing I had in abundance was heartbreak.

“It was the first day back, and I wasn’t sitting next to anyone in my morality of magic class when she dropped into the seat next to me. And then she started talking to me.” She talked to me as though we were already friends, and I just hadn’t gotten the memo yet. “It was the first time since you left that another student tried to befriend me.”

It doesn’t hurt so bad, admitting to Des that I was once a social pariah. That, he already knows about.

As for my friendship with Temper, it was only later that I found out how hard it had been for her to take that seat next to me and put herself out there. She knew enough about me to know I had no friends, something the two of us had in common.

It took me weeks to learn that people avoided Temper even more than they did me, largely because of the type of supernatural she was. Of course, considering my own troubled past, Temper’s infamy only made me like her more.

“Ever since then,” I say, “we’ve been inseparable.”

Talking about Temper only makes me miss her all the more. The last seven years might’ve been the pits when it came to my love life, but not when it came to everything else, and that was largely thanks to Temper. She has to be losing her mind right now, wondering where I am.

I shove my worries away. “How did you meet Malaki?” I ask, pivoting the subject from me to him.

I’m not even sure Des will respond. He never answers these things.

He stares down at me, standing so close I can feel the heat of his body.

“Will you unfasten my leathers?” he asks instead of answering.

I deflate at his response. I shouldn’t be disappointed. Already Des has shown me so much more of himself than I ever thought he would.

Pressing my lips together, I nod.

He turns around, his wicked-looking wings still out.

My hands find the ties that secure the leather armor to his back. One by one I begin to unfasten them.

“I met Malaki when I was a teenager,” he begins haltingly.

My fingers still for a second.

“Back then I had … lost my way,” he continues. “I found myself in Barbos, the City of Thieves, without a cent to my name.”

I bow my head, letting a small smile slip out before I resume unfastening the bindings.

“That was around the time I joined the Angels of Small Death,” he says.

“The gang,” I say, remembering the explanation he gave me for his sleeve of tattoos.

“Brotherhood,” he corrects over his shoulder. He takes a deep breath. “Malaki was another member. He was several years older than me, but still the closest fairy in age.”

I can tell dragging out these memories is hard for him. His mind is a steel trap. Things go in, and they don’t come out.

“Living on the edge like we were,” Des continues, “brought us close together. He’s saved my life before, and I’ve saved his.”

I unfasten the last of the ties at Des’s back, and the leather slides off of him. Just like me, he’s bare from the waist up. I guess this is our weird version of Show and Tell—show some skin, tell a secret.

He turns back around to face me, his chest bare. “He’s my brother in every way but blood.”

I meet his eyes. It’s rare that I catch Des laid bare like this. Like me, he’s spent years building armor around himself … and now it’s coming off. He’s no longer the terrifying king, or the slippery Bargainer.

Right now, he’s just my Des.

“How long have you known him?” I ask.

He pauses.

“Long enough,” he finally says.

I know enough about fairies to know that long enough can just as easily mean centuries as it can decades. And the comment Malaki made earlier …

I’ve been waiting centuries to meet you.

I tilt my head to the side. “You’re really freaking old, aren’t you?”

A sly smile creeps along Des’s face. “I can answer that, but it will cost you.”

I don’t need to buy a favor to know the dude must be ancient.

I begin backing away from him, heading towards the bathroom. “Raincheck … grandpa.”

I only have time to see his grin widen, and then he’s scooping me up, throwing me over his shoulder.

“Naughty thing,” he says, smacking my butt.

I shriek, then begin to laugh. “No wonder your hair is so white. How many centuries ago did it lose its color?”

I can feel Des’s rumbly laughter shaking his shoulders.

“I’ll have you know that it kept its color until the day I met you,” he says.

He marches us to the bathroom. As he does so, I feel my boots tug themselves off of my feet, clattering to the ground. My pants and underwear go next.

“Des!” Now just about every inch of my bare skin is pressed tightly to his.

“Callie.” He mimics my tone.

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