I walk up the steps and stop in front of the set of frosted glass doors, where I knock twice. Admittedly, the luxury of this place is rather intimidating; somehow more so than what I’m here to do. It’s ridiculous, considering I’m used to spending time at the Westbrook Hotel. But this place is next-level fancy.
I clench my hands into fists and then let them go, shaking them out to release the tension.
It doesn’t do a whole lot the first time, but before I can do it again, the door opens, and Jackson Hawthorne smirks at me.
My eyes drop from his mouth to his bare chest and stick there.
Does he often answer the door half-naked? And with sweatpants riding dangerously low on his hips? Jesus.
“Long time no see, Red.” His voice is as smooth and warm as caramel.
After another second of admiring his lean, tight muscles, I meet his gaze and blink. His eyes—how could I forget how stunning they are? Melted honey with flecks of amber that pull you in. I want to believe they’re fake—costume contact lenses or something—but they’re completely real. They put my green eyes to shame.
Jackson leans in the doorway, those annoyingly captivating eyes roaming over my face as they glimmer with faint amusement. “Last I checked, Tristan and Aurora were the only ones who experienced fae amnesia. You good?”
I snap out of it and force a nod. “I’m fine. Hi, Jackson.”
Granted, I’ve only seen this guy a handful of times during The Experiment takedown—none of which involved him actually participating in the fight. But somehow, I forgot about his ridiculously charismatic personality. Perhaps if he’d fought with us instead of hiding, I would have gotten to know him better.
You will now, a voice sings in my head, and I fight the urge to scowl This guy got off scot-free and has been profiting from the deal Nik and Sky were essentially forced to make. Resentment isn’t an emotion I enjoy—feeding on or experiencing first-hand—but I’d be more comfortable protecting Jackson’s life if he’d risked it like the rest of us did ours. That thought prompts the wall to go up around my emotions, blocking my aura from view. Even though I don’t enjoy hiding it, I’d much rather Jackson not be able to see it.
He grins at me, clearly unaware of my distain, and far too chipper for this hour. I suppose it’s partially my fault for showing up so early.
“Please, come inside. Make yourself at home. Yada, yada, yada.” He glances behind me. “Did you bring anything? A change of clothes, perhaps?”
“It’s in the car.” Shrugging, I add, “I’ll grab it later.”
Nodding, he walks away, leaving the door open for me to enter the foyer.
I follow him inside, closing the door behind me. “Is Skylar here yet?” I glance around but don’t see or hear anyone else. “She said she’d meet me here this morning.”
“Are you kidding?” Jackson’s voice comes from the other room, and I follow the sound into the kitchen. “It’s barely daylight. Sky ain’t going to pull her ass out of bed until she absolutely has to. Nik would keep her there all day if he could.” He winks at me before tossing a blueberry into his mouth.
I stop in the doorway; my arrival interrupted his breakfast.
He must pick up on my reservation because he waves me into the room. “Coffee is fresh,” he murmurs, pointing behind him. “If you’re hungry, Gloria can make you pretty much whatever you want. She’s here a few days a week to cook and clean.”
My eyes widen, though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised he has staff here. “I’m good. Thanks.”
Jackson nods, cutting into what looks like a ham and cheese omelet.
In the silence, my gaze can’t help but venture back to his very well-maintained stomach. I just need to get my fill of the delicious, taut muscles there, and then it won’t affect me anymore. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Jackson laughs deeply, and my cheeks go red. “See something you like?”
I narrow my eyes, but I can’t deny it. “Your house too expensive for you to afford a shirt?” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.
His eyes sparkle, and he drops his gaze to his bare chest then back to me. “Nah, this is your welcome gift.”
I gape at him before grumbling, “Here’s hoping you kept the receipt.”
His lashes are still lowered when he smirks. “Now, that’s not very nice to say to your boss.”
I choke on a laugh. “You’re hilarious.”
He beams. “Thank you. Much better.”
I push away from the doorframe and walk closer, crossing my arms over my chest. “You are not my boss, Hawthorne. If anything, I own you.”
Nikolai’s words echo in my head. Keep him in line. I’m going to do just that.
He wets his lips. “Do you now?” His gaze travels the length of me, lighting my skin on fire. “I might be okay with that.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it. Now—”
“My goodness, I had no idea you were here!” a middle-aged, mousy-looking woman says as she rushes into the room. Her cheeks are flushed and a light sheen of sweat lines her upper lip as if she’s been running around for a while. She makes quick work of pulling back her frizzy brown hair and smiles at Jackson. “I apologize, Mr. Hawthorne. I was upstairs preparing Miss Young’s room and didn’t hear the door.”
“It’s not a problem, Gloria,” Jackson tells her with a charming smile. “I was happy to greet our new houseguest.”
She wipes her hands on her apron and smiles at me, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Can I show you to your room, Miss Young?”
I nod, grateful for the interruption. “That would be great. And please, call me Kelsey.”
Gloria heads out of the kitchen, and I go to follow her. But when I step forward, Jackson shifts in front of me to block my exit.
I suck in a breath, surprised he used the ability in such close proximity to his human employee even though she wasn’t close enough to see him do it. He made it look effortless.
As if it was as easy as taking a step to close the distance between us.
Maybe it was. Maybe for most fae who actually use the abilities they have, it’s just that easy. I, on the other hand, try my best not to use them—especially shifting. Even during my early days of training, I hated it. The movement leaves my body tingling as if a strong current of electricity has just run through me. I shiver at the thought and force myself to meet Jackson’s gaze. It’s not difficult to do with him standing so close.
“For the record, my bed is the comfiest in the house,” he says in a low voice so Gloria doesn’t overhear.
I speak in a normal voice; I don’t care who hears. “For the record, let me be very clear with you, Mr. Hawthorne. I will never spend a night in your bed. We clear?”
The corner of his mouth lifts like I’ve just offered him a challenge. Fuck.
I shake my head and walk away before he can say something that’ll make me do something I’ll get in trouble for—like punch him in the face.
Skylar better get here soon, or there may not be a need for my services.