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Rhapsodic: Chapter 17

March, seven years ago

My stepfather is alive.

I stare in horror at him as he picks his bloody body off the ground, his neck wound still gushing.

I knew it. I knew he’d come back. Hugh Anders was too big, too terrible, too powerful to be killed.

I stumble back as his eyes focus on me, and there’s such murderous rage in them. He’d never looked at me like that when he was alive. There was a different sort of sickness to his gazes then.

But now that I killed him, things are a little different.

“No,” I breathe. I’m covered in his blood and still edging away from him. My heel slides in a puddle of it, and I lose my footing.

My elbow hits the ground first, the impact making my teeth click.

The monster is alive. It’s not over. It’s never going to be over. He’s been killing me slowly since I was twelve. He’s simply here to finish the job.

He stalks towards me, blood still pouring from his neck wound.

I scramble backwards as he keeps coming at me.

“You thought you could kill me?” he says, “Me?”

Oh God oh God oh God.

He’s going to lay his hands on me. I’m not going to escape this house, not ever.

There are drumbeats in the background. Or maybe that’s my pulse.

He reaches for me.

The noise swarms around me. Louder, louder, louder. It’s all I hear.

And then it shatters.

“Callie, Callie, Callie,” he says. “Callie, Callie, Callie—”

Callie, wake up!

I gasp, my eyes snapping open.

Gazing down at me, the Bargainer looks half mad, his jaw clenched impossibly tight and his brows sitting heavily above his wild eyes. His pale hair hangs loose around his face.

I suck in a heaving breath, wiping away the moisture on my cheeks.

A nightmare. It was nothing more than a nightmare.

Des’s hands grip my upper arms, and now I reach out and squeeze his hard forearms, just to make sure he’s real.

I’m breathing heavily, and now we search each other’s eyes. He’s seeing everything in mine—all the dark little pieces of me that I lock away during the day. Deep in the night, they get stripped away.

I hate it, that he’s seeing how scared I am of my past.

But I’m also seeing things I shouldn’t be seeing in his expression. Like fear, concern. He’s all raw edges right now.

“He’s gone, Callie,” the Bargainer says. “He’s gone and he’s not coming back.”

I don’t bother asking how he knows any of this. I simply nod. It’s the thing he and I don’t talk about.

Then awareness seeps in. Des’s is mostly on my bed, and our hands are all over each other. If he were anyone else, his presence would scare the living shit out of me.

But Des is … Des is my moonlight.

A chilly breeze raises my gooseflesh, and I look past him, towards the window above my desk. Only a few jagged pieces of glass are still lodged in the frame. The rest of the window pane is scattered in shards on my floor.

I blink a few times, then turn back to the Bargainer.

He lifts a hand to the mess, and the shards of glass rise into the air. Piece by piece they fit themselves back together until the pane of glass is whole once more. “I used the window.”

“You flew?” I ask, skeptical and a little curious. I’ve still never seen what his wings look like.

He gives a slight nod.

“You wouldn’t wake up,” he says, and I hear a thread of concern in his voice.

I don’t usually wake up. Not when I’m that far under the pull of my nightmares. I have to let them play out.

“How did you know?” I ask. “About the nightmare, I mean.”

He’s still searching my face, like he’s trying to make certain I’m okay. “It doesn’t matter.” He releases my arms. “Scoot over.”

I do so, and he settles in next to me, his back resting against my headboard. “The guy was a real asshole, wasn’t he?”

I know he means my father.

I work my jaw, then nod.

I swear the shadows in the room deepen, and I remember all over again who’s next to me, hogging all the room on the mattress. For several seconds we’re both quiet as the darkness lays claim to my dorm room.

My pulse is pounding, partly from the aftertaste of my dream, and partly from Des showing up out of nowhere like some kind of dark savior. And now he’s a hairsbreadth away from … something. Anger, madness, retribution—I still can barely read the man.

“Rest easy, cherub,” he says. Then, softer, “I won’t let anyone else hurt you.” The violence that laces his voice … it’s another reminder of how fierce he can be and how well earned his reputation is.

“You’re … staying?” I say, brushing some sweaty strands of hair from my face.

He was pretty adamant about not sleeping over only a couple of weeks ago.

He’s quiet for so long that I assume he’s not going to answer me.

“Yeah,” he eventually says, “I am.”


“So what’s our next move?” I ask, my eyes drifting over the framed photos in the Bargainer’s living room.

Des sits down next to me on the couch and pinches his lip. “Tomorrow, I’d like to show you the sleeping warriors.”

Unwillingly, a shiver courses through me. Just because I agreed to this doesn’t mean I’m thrilled to return to Des’s kingdom. But, sitting around and letting someone fuck with me while I sleep isn’t a good option either, so …

“Do you think me seeing the women will help us figure out what’s going on?” I ask.

He stares at my lips. “No,” he says plainly, “but I’ll show you them nonetheless.”

I look around us, at his living room. “And after that?”

The corner of his mouth curves up. “I’ll give you my case notes to read over, and we’ll go from there. Other than that, you’ll pay off your debt and make yourself at home.”

Caught in the spider’s web. Isn’t that what I felt last time Des brought me here? That every single thing that happened forwarded some interest of his, and I was hopeless to know what it was.

That strange fae beauty of his stares back at me remorselessly. He belongs to a race of beings that kills savagely, brutally. Forcing me to live under his roof and play his games day in and day out isn’t particularly cruel or out of character.

“Do I literally have to sleep inside your home every single night?”

“Don’t worry about that, cherub.”

I laugh humorlessly. “That’s not an answer, Des. What happens when I leave your house to stay the night with a friend? Am I going to spontaneously die?”

“A friend?” he asks derisively. “Is that what you call your men? Friends?”

Your men?

The only reason I haven’t launched myself across the couch and throttled Des is because, like earlier today, I detect jealousy in his voice, and that throws me off.

I narrow my eyes at him. “You’re presuming a fucking lot right now,” I say. “I was talking about Temper, my completely platonic female friend, you ass.” She and I had sleepovers from time to time. So sue us for not wanting to grow up.

A corner of his mouth curls up. “You won’t spontaneously die. My magic understands nuances.”

Judging by how weirdly upset he got just now, I bet those nuances don’t count my men.

My heart begins to pound as the reality of my situation sets in.

Living with the Bargainer.

How is this going to work, practically speaking? What if paying off my debt does take years? What if I have to watch Des date other women? What if I date other men?

Living together is going to be b-a-d.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

I slip back into my bedroom, pulling out the phone I remembered to pack earlier when I left my place with Des. I scroll down to Temper’s number.

Considering that I now temporarily live on an island, I have to get my affairs in order—namely, I have to warn Temper that I’ll be out of the office for a bit.

I don’t think too closely on how long a bit might actually be.

You knew that one day this was going to come, I admonish myself.

I’d been prepared for the possibility that I would have to leave West Coast Investigations while I paid off my debt to the Bargainer. It doesn’t make me any less sad.

“Hey, bitch,” she answers. “How you doin’?” she asks.

We’ve been texting each other back and forth all day, so she knows I’m alive and well and free of the Politia’s clutches. But she doesn’t yet know I now live with Des, largely because I’m a chicken, and I didn’t know how to break the news to her.

“Hey Temper.” I rub my forehead, trying to keep my voice light.

“Girl, you missed a good day. That hundred-thou client that called in asking for you? Well today he came in, and hoooo-we, that fucker is a looker. No wedding ring, so the dude’s game.”

I bite my thumbnail. It’s the perfect segue, and yet I don’t interrupt her.

“You need to get yourself off that Wanted List,” she continues, “because the way this guy keeps asking about you, I’m starting to think he’s interested in mixing a little business with pleasure. And girl, you have to be dead to not want this one.”

“You should take him,” I say, and then I wince.

She snorts. “Bitch, if he was open to it, the agreement would be signed, sealed, and delivered. He was adamant about working with you.”

“About that …” I take a deep breath. “I’m going to have to take a leave of absence.”

“And this is news how?” Temper says.

I pull the phone away and stare at it for a moment. That was not the response I’d imagined.

“Girl, you’re on the Wanted List,” she continues. “I understand. I’ve taken on your cases until you can come back.”

I sag against the nearby wall. The Wanted List. Of course.

“Temper, I love you.”

“Of course you do. I love you too, sexy lady. Now,” I can hear her shuffling in her office, “I still think you should get ahold of this client. Want me to give you his number—?”

“No,” I hurry to say. I didn’t want to worry about clients on top of everything else.

“You’re right,” I can almost see her nodding to herself, “too dangerous. He could narc on you.”

I don’t bother mentioning that this call can also be traced. These are all things that both Temper and I are well aware of. The thing is, when you have powers like ours, dealing with pesky things like phone records is child’s play.

“Temper,” I say, my voice going low and a little hoarse, “I might be gone for a long time.”

“You won’t. I’m already working on removing your name, and once Eli gets back, I’ll make sure that whatever strings he’s pulled, he un-pulls them.”

I wince at the threat in her voice.

“Temper, it’s not just the Wanted List. I wish it was just that …” I gather together my courage. Now for the hard part. “You might have to find a replacement.”

The line goes quiet for several seconds.

Finally, “No.”

Temper’s tone raises goosebumps along my arms. I know that if I were in her office, the place would be vibrating with it. This is but a glimpse of her magnificent and malevolent power.

“Alright, alright,” I say, backing off on the subject. “You don’t have to find anyone else, but the thing is … the Bargainer has recruited me to help him with a string of disappearances in the Otherworld, and while this is happening I’ll be staying with him.”

Silence. But this time, when the line goes quiet, it doesn’t feel ominous like it had moments ago. It feels … judge-y.

“What?” I finally say.


I roll my eyes. “Just say it.”


I wait.

She clears her throat. “Now you’re sleeping over at the Bargainer’s place?”

“Not by choice!”


“Oh my God, Temper—”

“Bitch, just give it to me straight: are you bobbing for this guy’s bananas? Is that what this is about?” she asks.

“No—no, it’s not like that. This is strictly professional.”


She snorts, seeing right through me. “Does he know that?”

“Um …” I don’t really know how the Bargainer feels.

“Okay, babe, let’s regroup for a reality check: You’re a hot-as-fuck siren. He’s a bad dude. Like I’ve-had-nightmares-of-him bad dude. He wants your goods. Hell, I want your goods, and I’m straight as an arrow. So if you stay there, you know what’s going to happen, I know what’s going to happen, black Jesus knows what’s going to happen, and most importantly, the Bargainer knows what’s going to happen: ya’ll are going to get some serious nookie.”

“Temper,” I groan.

“Don’t even act like it ain’t true. And as for your leave of absence, I’m not filling in your position. Do what you need to do to get out of there, or I’ll make it happen.”

That evening, I sit with Des in his dining room, Temper’s earlier words echoing in my mind.

She just might be powerful enough to take on the Bargainer, and that frightens me.

Perhaps I should just give into his dares … I’d get rid of beads quicker that way. And physically, I’d enjoy myself—oh, would I enjoy myself. With Des, I’m not scared of getting intimate. I’m scared of the fall that’s sure to follow.

Across the table littered with takeout food, the man himself leans back in his chair, his legs splayed open wide, his face all insolent beauty. This is his broody, regal look. All he needs is his crown.

My gaze moves around us. Des’s formal dining room is almost fantastical. Carved onto the chair backs are all sorts of scenes from what I can only guess are fairytales. Above us, candles flicker from a hammered bronze chandelier, and the walls are painted with scenes from a moonlit garden.

Hard to imagine that this man—this thug—commissioned someone to design his dining room like this. It looks like ovaries exploded all over it. Sleek, sophisticated ovaries, but ovaries nonetheless.

Sitting with my heels kicked up on his table, I pick up a carton of lo mein. I dip my chopsticks in and expertly scoop out several noodles.

I pause, mid-bite, when I realize Des is just watching me, his expression fascinated.

“What?” I glance down at my chest, just to make sure I haven’t spilled food on myself.

It was the Bargainer’s idea to pick us up some Chinese, but he hasn’t touched his food since we sat down.

“You’ve changed.”

I have changed, haven’t I? Somewhere along the way I’d gotten a little more hardened. Maybe it was Des leaving, maybe it was my line of work, maybe it was just growing up.

I eye him. “Should I be offended?”

“Not at all, cherub. I find all versions of you quite … intriguing.”

Intriguing. That was one way of putting it.

I raise my eyebrows as I dip my chopsticks into the carton again. “You haven’t changed much,” I say.

“Should I be offended by that?” Des echoes my words, his voice huskier than usual.

I set down the white carton and push the last of the food away.

“No,” I say.

He shouldn’t be offended, but I should be worried. The same things that made me fall for him long ago are getting to me all over again.

“Hmmm,” he says, holding my stare for several seconds.

Then, with a wave of his hand, the cartons of takeout disappear from the dark wood table.

“You didn’t want any?” I ask.

“I’m not hungry.”

Then why is he here with me?

“You didn’t have to sit with me,” I say. “I’m no longer a needy teenager.”

I cringe to think of that girl who carelessly collected beads from the Bargainer to get just a few hours with him.

“Trust me, I know.”

Silence falls thick over us. In the past, it had never been this way. Then, the silence was always comfortable. Hell, there were evenings I’d ask him to stay and we wouldn’t talk at all.

But now the two of us have all this unresolved baggage.

“What are we doing here?” I finally ask.

Anything to lift this weight off my chest.

The Bargainer crosses his muscular arms over his chest. “You’re repaying your debts.”

“Stop it, Des,” I say. “You and I both know that’s not what I meant. Last night, you were going to tell me.”

He leans forward, resting his forearms on the edge of the table. “But only if you stayed, Callie. You didn’t stay.”

“I could say the same for you.” All those lost years. “Do you even like me?”

“I’ve kissed you, I’ve begged you to stay with me, I’ve spent most of the last week with you. What do you think?” he says softly.

How can an answer manage to be everything I want to hear … while also making me want to pull my hair out?

“What do I think?” I say, swinging my legs off the table so that I can lean forward. “It doesn’t matter what I think. That’s all I’ve been doing for the last seven years—thinking about what went wrong. I’m tired of trying to figure you out.”

Des stands, towering over me even from across the table. He rests his hands against the surface. “There is something, Callie, that you’ve never asked me: how I felt about our seven years apart.”

The audacity! “That’s exactly what I’ve been asking you,” I say.

“No, you’ve been trying to figure out why I left. Not how I felt.”

Only a fairy would make this sort of distinction. And for my part, I always assumed that how he felt was tied up in why he left.

“Ask me, Callie,” he says softly, his luminous eyes beseeching me.

Just looking at him … it’s hard not to be sucked in by his ferocious beauty and his velvety voice. It’s all so achingly familiar.

And now he’s trying to deconstruct our past and make it something it wasn’t. And I’m just enough of a sucker to allow it to happen.

I can’t believe I’m about to say this. “How did you feel, leaving me?” I ask.

He holds my gaze. “Like my soul was ripped in two.”

I still.

Is he serious?

I feel like my world’s being overturned.

“And the seven years that followed?” I breathe.

He stares at me, unwavering. “A nightmare.”

He’s taking a hammer to the walls I’ve built around my heart, and he’s systematically smashing them down. And I want him to. If what he’s saying is true, then maybe I do want him to get past all my defenses.

By his own admission, his experience sounds worse than mine.

“If it was so bad, why didn’t you just come back to me?” I ask, my voice pleading.

The Bargainer opens his mouth, and I think he’s going to answer, when instead he says, “Truth, or dare?”

You have got to be kidding me.

“Seriously, Des?”

Just when two of us begin to disambiguate our relationship, he stops it dead in its tracks.

“Do this for me, and I’ll give you something in return.”

“Fine,” I say, fixing him with a challenging look. “Dare.”

His lips curl up into a satisfied smile, relishing my answer.

“Do something to me that you’ve always wanted to do.”

Well shit.

That’s what I get for daring the King of the Night.

I swallow.

There are so many inappropriate responses to that command. Because there have always been an unending list of things I wanted to do with Des.

Des waits for me, his arms hanging loosely at his sides.

Gingerly I walk around his dining room, his magic compelling me onwards.

This is going to be embarrassing.

I stop in front of him. When I glance up, he wears a serious expression.

My gaze drops to his jaw. That strong, razor-sharp jaw of his. Carefully, I wrap and arm around his neck and pull his face closer to me. He bends to accommodate me.

Our eyes meet briefly, his glittering as he stares at me.

This feels too raw. Like we aren’t bound by debts. Like I’m something other than his client right now.

He didn’t want to leave me seven years ago.

Softly, I brush a kiss along that defined jaw of his.

I forgive you for breaking my heart, I think as I kiss him.

Angling his face to the side, I press another kiss to his jaw.

I still want you.

Another kiss.

I think I always will.

Des stays still, letting me trail kisses along the edge of his jaw.

Touching him, kissing him draws up goosebumps along my skin. It feels like there’s a storm on the horizon, something big and unstoppable that’s rolling in. Something that will sweep us away. And dear God, I want to be swept away.

The Bargainer’s magic continues to press against my skin. I nip his ear, earning a low noise from Des. My mouth moves down the strong column of his throat, the siren awakening within me. Dragging the collar of his T-shirt down, I touch my tongue to the hollow at the base of his throat.

The magic dissipates.

I blink several times, as if waking from a dream. My mouth still hovers right over his skin. With effort, I straighten, releasing his shirt.

“You’ve always wanted to do that to me?” Des asks gruffly.

Shaking off the last of my daze, I nod. His brows are pinched together, his mouth stern.

“Since I was sixteen.”

Back then I’d wanted to kiss him along his jaw and neck because it seemed romantic, erotic. To a teenage girl who wanted a relationship but was afraid of sex, kissing a man there seemed like a good compromise.

Des covers my hand with his, holding it against his neck, his nostrils flaring with some strong emotion.

“Do it again,” he says.

My eyebrows rise. So it wasn’t all just in my head? Des felt that spark between us too?

I slip my hand from his to tilt his jaw to me. Once more my lips skim his skin.

He’d agonized over our time apart.

He called it a nightmare. And I believe him.

But where does that leave us? What does any of it mean?

My mouth moves down his neck once more.

Des holds himself so still, like the slightest movement will scare me off. And now I wonder for the first time if he’s ever been insecure about my feelings for him. I assumed they were always obvious, but it’s like the two of us have held ourselves back from making that move that will expose our true feelings. I’d always assumed it was because he felt none for me. I’m no longer sure that’s true.

My thumb strokes the skin of his cheek as I kiss him.

And now we’re afraid of each other. That’s what the two of us are. Afraid of hoping when all hope’s ever done is break us. Afraid of getting exactly what we want.

And I might be wrong, Des might actually be uninterested in me despite all the signs. But I’m going to stop denying the possibility. And I’m going to stop denying my own feelings.

So after I finish kissing his throat, my hands reach for the edge of his shirt.

The Bargainer’s hands grip my upper arms, and I can feel his heated, curious gaze on me, but I ignore it.

Don’t overthink this.

I lift his shirt up, breaking away only to help him take it off.

My gaze moves to his sculpted chest. I run my fingers over his shoulder, where his tattoos taper off. His muscles flex beneath my touch.

I smooth my hands over his pecs and down his hard abs. I was wrong earlier when I said that he hadn’t changed. When I was a teenager, he would’ve never let me touch him like this.

I press my lips between his collarbones and begin trailing kisses down his sternum.

I risk a glance up at him.

Des is looking at me … he’s looking at me like I personally put up all the stars in the sky. A second later, he shutters the look.

“Callie …”

Around us, the room’s darkening. How much farther can he be pushed before his wings come out?

Better question: how much farther can I push this until the siren comes out? Already I can feel her demanding to join in. She’ll either speed us the hell up, or she’ll make good on her earlier threat to hold out on Des.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” I breathe.

“I’m afraid that if I do anything, you’ll stop.” I see him swallow. “I don’t want you to stop.”

I pause to give him a shy smile, a genuine one. “I won’t,” I say, punctuating my words by pressing a kiss to his sternum.

He hisses out a breath. “You keep doing that and I’m going to cash in more favors.”

My skin lights up. The wicked grin that spreads across my mouth is all siren. “Tell me,” I say, glamour entering my voice, “have you been thinking about what I told you earlier?”

I play with the top button of Des’s pants, running a hand over his groin.

“About all those dark desires I would’ve gladly fulfilled,” I continue.

“I’ve thought about it,” he admits. He caresses my face, some of the passion in his eyes changing into something … sweeter. “I’m sorry, siren. I had to leave you, I didn’t want to.”

I frown as I unbutton the top of his pants, the siren in me not entirely sure what to make of his words. The rest of me knows he’s being genuine.

He really didn’t want to leave me.

That changes everything.

He catches my hand just as I begin to tug his pants down. “Not like this,” he says quietly.

“Still holding out on me?” I say.

“Still holding out for you,” he corrects. His thumb brushes against my cheekbone.

His words are another blow to those walls of mine. He’s mercilessly ripping them down.

“Now,” he continues, “it’s my turn, cherub, to do something with you that I’ve always wanted to,” he says.

My skin brightens at that.

He picks me up and, still shirtless, carries me through his house. I resume kissing the underside of his jaw, the siren in me eager. So, so eager.

He groans. “Never realized how good that feels. Please … have some mercy.”

My breath fans out against his skin, and I ignore his plea, kissing him more, my blood thrilling at his reaction.

A moment later, his wings appear. They expand, only to curve around the two of us. I reach out and stroke one.

“Jesus …”

I never thought that Des would melt beneath my touch. This, I can get used to.

Moving into his bedroom, he forces his wings back so that he can lay me out on his bed. Stepping away, he closes his eyes.

I push myself up on my forearms, trying to figure out what he’s up to.

A second later, Des’s wings disappear. Only then does he join me on the bed, propping himself up against the headboard and pulling me against him. My head nestles onto one of his sculpted pecs, and my breath hitches. Even the siren in me is caught up in the moment. She’s used to running the show, but now she wants to be seduced—rather than do the seducing—right now.

He stares down at me, a wily spark in his eye. “Comfortable, love?”


That one’s new.

I smile like an idiot in spite of myself.

I’m not sure what his next move is going to be until a laptop floats through his doorway, landing neatly on his stomach.

My lips part when I realize what’s going on, my pulse in my throat.

Our movie nights. Back at school, we used to do this all the time.

Opening the laptop up, Des clicks open Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.

“We never got to finish the series together, so … I thought we might watch the last two movies.”

This is what he always wanted to do with me?

My throat constricts. I hadn’t realized he’d enjoyed our movie nights as much as I had.

“I’d really like that,” I finally say, because he’s waiting to hear something.

Giving me a small smile, he tucks a hand behind his head and starts the movie. And then we settle in, just like we used to. For once, our closeness, our silence does feel just as comfortable now as it did years ago.

Two odd hours later, tears are silently streaking down my cheeks as the movie ends. They drip down my face and onto the Bargainer’s chest.

I feel his eyes turn to me.

“Are you … crying?” he asks.

Cat’s out of the bag.

I sniffle. “Dobby was such a good friend.”

The Bargainer pauses. Then his stomach begins to shake. A second later I realize he’s laughing.

He tilts my head so that I’m gazing up at him. “Cherub, shit, you’re too adorable.” Carefully he wipes my tears away with his thumb.

Adorable. Another compliment I tuck away. Later, when I’m alone, I’ll pull it back out and savor it.

Des’s gaze falls to my mouth, and his look goes from affectionate to hungry. He hesitates, and I think he’s going to kiss me, but then his eyes move to the computer and he exits out of the movie.

“Are you still good for round two?” he asks.

To be honest, laying here on my human pillow, I am getting sleepy, despite the fact that said human pillow has kept my anatomy awake for quite some time.

“I’m still good,” I lie.

As if I’m going to opt out of this. I’d like to see someone try to pry me away from this man’s sculpted body.

I swear the Bargainer’s eyes miss nothing as he stares at me. Giving his head a shake, he starts up Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and I resettle against his chest.

My mind drifts as I began to watch the eighth Harry Potter movie.

Aside from some intense kisses and some minor groping, the Bargainer hasn’t pushed things any further with me. And now, much to my chagrin, I actually kind of want him to. Especially, if I’m being honest with myself, after what he told me tonight about how it felt leaving me.

Like my soul was ripped in two.

He admitted his feelings. Gave them freely to me. I’m still reeling from that. For any fairy, that’s a big deal. Secrets are like currency. The more you have, the more powerful you are.

For a fae king to give up his secrets?

I can only imagine.

I snuggle deeper into his chest, some strange, light emotion taking ahold of me.

I could get used to this.


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