Josephine’s vivid eyes dimmed. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“It’s a status thing,” he said. “I’ve been with everyone who lives here, everyone but Meliai.”
He exhaled. “I don’t think you want to know.”
“Because of my jealousy issues, you mean?” She started toward the tree. “I can get that bitch to talk.”
He grabbed her arm. “Ah-ah. You do not threaten a nymph. If you commit violence on a covey’s grounds, you’ll be shunned by every single one of their species.”
“They are everywhere, and they are necessary. They can make life very easy, or nightmarishly difficult.”
“When you offered me your ‘open relationship’—to stray but then meet up after—you were talking about nights like this?”
“It was going to happen eventually, Josephine. I told you I broker in information, and I use sex to get it. This is part of my job. I can’t retire from it right at the Accession.” He curled his finger under her chin. “Better to get this out of the way, so you know what to expect.” So you don’t get your hopes up.
“You would choose your job over your mate?”
He dropped his hand. “I am choosing to remain myself. My mate should try to understand why that matters to me!”
“This is your plan B? The one you had in place before you screwed me last night?”
“Yes, I’ve known I might need to transact with Meliai,” he said, his ire at the ready.
Josephine’s was just as much so. “I made it clear if you had sex with me, it was as good as saying we were exclusive. Maybe you should’ve thought about that before you did the deed!”
“Did I ever agree to those terms?”
She blinked repeatedly, as if she’d been slapped. “Wow. I am as naïve as you accused. You schooled me, didn’t you?”
“I tried to back out, for just this reason. You manipulated me into it.”
“Maybe I did—the first round. But not the next twenty!” A gust of wind blew her hair over her pale face. She tossed it back. “What are you going to do about your poison? Your demon seal’s gone.”
He shoved up the sleeve of his shirt.
Her eyes widened at the contraceptive rune. “You really were planning on this.”
“I prepared for any eventuality.”
“Meliai better not claw your skin like I did last night.”
“Nymphs don’t have claws.”
In a disgusted tone, Josephine said, “And you would know.”
“The sooner I get done here, the sooner we can free Thad.” Rune hadn’t been able to save his own mother, but he could save his new brother. “Do you want him back or not?”
She looked stricken. “Of course I do.”
“I intend to protect both of you, and right now, we’re wasting time—more of it than you think. Each minute here equals several in the mortal world.”
Her lips parted wordlessly. Then she rallied to say, “I don’t want Thad to be in that house of horrors a second longer than he needs to be, but there’s got to be another way.”
“Do you think I want to do this tonight? Do you think I wouldn’t rather be back in our bed, anticipating the night with you?”
“Our bed? You say that like it’s sacred or something. You’ve taken me to this place because you intend to be in her bed.”
“Any other time, I would keep these parts of my life separate, out of respect for you.” He started toward the lantern-lit entrance. Over his shoulder, he said, “However, this counts as part of our mission to kill Nïx—which means you’re to stay with me.” To himself, he grated, “Yet another example of my mate getting her way.”
Less than two hours ago, Rune had been inside her. Less than one hour ago, Jo had been thinking about wedding rings.
She’d yearned for a relationship with him so badly that she’d ignored the countless warnings—while he’d had other intentions all along.
But if he was too stupid to realize how amazing things could be between them, why would she want to be with an idiot? Maybe she should accept his offer of help, closing off her feelings for him.
I’ll use him to get Thad back, then my brother and I will leave New Orleans together, leave Rune in the dust. She could get another lover, but she couldn’t get another Thaddie.
Barely maintaining tangibility, she caught up with Rune.
He must’ve thought she’d signed on with this plan, because he took her hand in his, gripping it possessively. “We’ll get past this. With age, you’ll see things more realistically.”
She gaped down at their hands. How many times had she dreamed of walking like this with a guy, the other half of their whole, two souls linked in an unbreakable bond?
They were bound by fate, supposedly in an eternal union. She’d thought her dream had come true with Rune.
Now she felt like she was going to the gallows, dread making her queasy. The noisy laughter and blaring music coming from the tree seemed to mock her feelings.
No, no, Rune could talk about this open relationship all he wanted, but he’d been crazy jealous when he’d thought she had a mate. He’d been jealous of Desh.
Over the day, Rune had gazed down into her eyes as he’d rocked inside her, and she’d felt his love. They hadn’t just had sex; they’d made love.