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Rhapsodic: Chapter 4

October, eight years ago

“Not you again,” the Bargainer says when he manifests in my dorm room.

I stumble back at the sight of him. This is the second time I’ve called on him, and I shouldn’t still be surprised that he can just appear at will, but I am.

I straighten. “Your magic is failing.” It’s supposed to sound like an accusation, but it comes out like a plea.

He eyes my cramped quarters. “I warned you it might,” he says, moving over to the window and glancing out at the rainy night.

I’ve already lost his attention.

“I want to ensure that it doesn’t.”

The Bargainer turns and assesses me. “So Baby Siren wants to make another deal?” he says, crossing his arms. “I didn’t manage to spook you enough the first time?”

My eyes move over his white hair and large, sculpted arms.

He spooked me all right. There’s something about him that looks a little feral. Feral and strange. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

“What would you be willing to give me?” he says, prowling towards me. “What dark and terrible secrets would you share?” he asks, moving in close. “You’ve heard that secrets are my favorite, haven’t you?”

I want to back up, but a primal sort of fear roots me in place.

His eyes rove over me. “But for a siren … oh, I would make an exception. Anything I want, you would have to give to me. Tell me, cherub, could you give me anything I wanted?”

I swallow as he steps in close.

“Could you kill for me?” He asks, his voice low. His lips brush my ear. “Could you give your body to me?”

Oh God, is he telling the truth? Could he really make me do those things?

He runs his nose down my cheek and laughs at my obvious fear.

Stepping away from me, he says, “Like I told you before, I don’t bargain with minors. Don’t ruin your life owing me.”

The air shimmers.

He might’ve scared the shit out of me, but at this point, I’m too far gone. I can’t let him leave. It’s as simple as that.

The siren surfaces, stretching out just beneath my skin. I lunge for him and catch his wrist, my hand glowing. “Make a deal with me,” I say, putting as much glamour into my voice as possible. “I’m not a minor.”

I’m really not. In the supernatural community, the legal age of adulthood is sixteen. It’s some archaic law that no one’s ever bothered changing.

And right now, I am not complaining.

The Bargainer stares down my hand, like he can’t believe what’s happening, and I feel an instant’s worth of remorse. It’s crappy to take away someone’s free will.

Desperate times.

His features sharpen, his brows knitting, the rest of his face turning, in one word, sinister.

He rips his arm out of my hand. “You dare to glamour me?” His power rides his voice, and it’s petrifying, filling the whole room.

I step back. Okay, glamouring him might’ve been a shit idea.

“It doesn’t work on you?” What kind of supernatural is immune to glamour?

The Bargainer eases closer to me, his boots clinking ominously. He’s furious, that much is obvious.

He leans in, so close that several strands of his white blond hair tickle my cheeks. “You want to piss your life away by making a deal?” His mouth curves up ever so slightly, his eyes sparking with interest. “Fine, let’s make a deal.”


Present

“I have to say, sleep does not become you.”

I roll over in bed and rub my eyes. When I pull my hand away, I see the Bargainer standing off to the side of the bed, his arms folded and his head cocked. He’s studying me like I’m an exotic bird, which technically, I sort of am.

“What are you doing here?” I ask, still groggy from sleep.

“In case you’ve missed it, the day is done. I’m here to collect more of my payment.” The way he says payment sends shivers up my arms. Behind him, the moon shines brightly into the room.

I groan. I slept the entire day away. Ever since that phone call …

He snaps his fingers and the blankets that cover me slide off.

“Des, what are you—?”

He tsks, interrupting me. “Your pajamas don’t become you either, cherub. I was hoping those would improve with age as well.”

I stifle a yawn and push myself off the bed. “Because I care what you think,” I mumble, padding past him. Where yesterday his presence filled me with old pain, tonight all I feel is annoyance. Well, and a little lust, and a shit-ton of heartache. But right now I’m focusing on annoyance.

I make my way to the bathroom, discreetly wiping away a bit of drool from my mouth.

The Bargainer follows me, enjoying just how much he’s ruining my evening. “Oh, but I think you do,” he says.

In response I slam my door shut in his face. Probably not the wisest way to deal with the King of the Night, but right now I don’t really care too much.

I take two steps away from the bathroom door, and it blasts open behind me. I spin around and stare at the Bargainer, his body filling up the space. My door hangs off its hinges at a funny angle.

“I wasn’t finished,” he says calmly. His eyes glint as they watch me; he’s beautiful and terrible to behold.

“You owe me a new door,” I respond.

He chuckles, and it’s full of dark promise. “Why don’t we work on paying off your current debts before you talk about what I owe you?”

I glare at him, because he has me. “What was so important that you had to blow off my door to tell me?” I ask, folding my arms across my chest.

A watch forms over his tatted wrist and he taps the face of it. “Time, Callie, time. I have some important appointments to keep. You need to be ready in twenty minutes.”

“Fine.” I walk over to my shower and turn on the facet. This would have to be a fast shower.

When I turn back around, the Bargainer has made himself comfortable on my bathroom’s tile countertop. He leans against the wall next to the mirror, one of his leather-clad legs stretched out in front of him, his other leg bent at the knee.

“Get out,” I say.

He gives me a lazy smile. “No.”

“I’m not kidding.”

One of his eyebrows quirks up. “Nor am I.”

I run a hand through my hair. “I’m not getting naked in front of you.”

“That’s fine with me,” he says. “Shower with your clothes on.”

Oh, because that’s reasonable. “If you’re not going to leave the room, then I’ll go somewhere else.”

“The faucet in your guest bathroom doesn’t work,” he says, calling my bluff. My eyes widen before I remember that it’s his business to know secrets.

He’s not leaving.

“Fine,” I say, taking off my T-shirt. “Enjoy the peep show—that’s all you’ll be getting from me.”

His laughter skitters up my arm. “Don’t delude yourself, cherub. You have a wrist full of debt and I have many, many demands.”

I flash him another nasty look as I step into the shower to remove the rest of my clothing, uncaring that the water is quickly drenching the material. The shower curtain completely hides me from him.

I step out of my pajama bottoms, making sure that when I toss them over the curtain rod I aim right for Des’s perch.

He chuckles sinisterly, and I know without looking, he stopped the clothing from hitting him. “Throwing things isn’t going to change your fate, Callie.”

But it does feel damn good. I chuck my sports bra, then my panties at him. Several seconds after I throw them, I hear them fall uselessly to the ground with a dull plop.

“Seems your pajamas are no better wet than they are dry. Shame.”

“Seems you still think I care,” I fire back.

He doesn’t respond, and the bathroom quickly falls to silence.

This isn’t immensely awkward or anything, I think as I begin to rinse off.

“Why are you here, Des?”

“You already know why,” he says.

To collect.

“I mean, why now? It’s been seven years.”

Seven years of radio silence. And to think this man and I were once nearly inseparable …

“You counted our years apart?” Des says with mock surprise. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you missed me.” A faint trace of bitterness laces his words.

I turn off the water, snaking an arm around the curtain to grab a towel. “But you do know better.” I wrap the towel around me and step out.

“Sticks and stones, cherub,” he says, hopping off the counter. “Now, chop chop. We’ve got people to see, places to go.” And with that, he leaves the room.

I’m just stepping into my pants, my shitty lingerie on full display, when the Bargainer glances at his watch.

Ever since he left my bathroom, he’s been lounging on a side chair in my bedroom, waiting for me to finish getting ready. One leather-clad leg jiggles as he waits. I can’t help but feel that he’s making sure I don’t try to run.

As if, of the two of us, I’m the one known for running.

“Time’s up, Callie.” He pushes himself out of my chair and strides towards me. There’s something predatory about the way he moves.

“Wait—” I back up and bump into my dresser. My hair is still dripping wet, and my feet are bare.

“No,” he says just as he closes in on me.

I manage to open my dresser drawer and snatch a pair of socks from it before he scoops me up into his arms. He used to hold me like this before he left. He’d press me close against him and rock me in his arms as I cried my heart out. And when I fell asleep, he’d lay next to me for hours, just so he could wake me from my nightmares.

But he’d never kissed me then—he’d never even tried to. Not until that last night, and then, that had still been all me.

“Is this really necessary?” I ask, referring to where I lay in his arms. I push down a shudder. His body still feels like home, just as it did when I was a teenager, and I hate that.

I’ve never been free of him. When the sun hits my face, it’s his shadow I see on the pavement. When the night closes in on me, it’s his darkness that blankets my room. When I fall asleep, it’s his face that haunts my dreams.

He’s everywhere and in everything, and no number of lovers can make my heart forget.

Des glances down at me, his silver eyes softening just a smidge. Perhaps he’s also remembering all the other times his skin pressed against mine. “Yes,” is all he says.

Awkwardly I pull one sock over my foot. The other sock slips from my grasp, and I curse as it falls.

A moment later the sock flutters up next to us and lands on my stomach.

“Can you grab my shoes?” I ask.

The Bargainer’s eyes move to the boots resting next to the sliding glass door of my bedroom. As I watch, they lift off the ground and float towards me. I catch them in midair.

“Thanks,” I say, giving him a genuine smile. I’ve watched him do this little parlor trick a hundred times, and I’m always enchanted by it.

For just a split-second, his steps falter. He frowns as he looks down at me, his brows pinching together. And then he resumes walking again.

The sliding glass door unlocks and glides open. Cool night air hits me as the Bargainer steps outside.

“Truth, or dare?” he says just as I finish putting my boots on.

My limbs lock up. Repayment is beginning.

Earlier today I had been ready for it, but now I’m not. He still hasn’t answered why, after all this time, he chose this moment to come back into my life. Or why he left it in the first place. But I know better than to expect an explanation. Getting secrets out of him is harder than bathing a cat.

“Truth.”

“Did you say dare?” he asks, raising his eyebrows as he looks down at me. His hair isn’t tied back today, and the white strands of it frame his face. “You sirens always do know how to spice things up.”

I don’t bother responding. The Bargainer is crooked through and through, so his words don’t surprise me in the least.

But what he does next does.

The air behind him shimmers and coalesces until a set of folded wings appear, rising above his shoulder blades.

My breath catches in my throat.

All my animosity, all my hurt, all my pain—it all quiets as I stare at those wings.

Dark, silvery skin stretches over bone, so thin in certain areas that I can see the delicate veins beneath. His wings are tipped with bone-white talons, the biggest of them nearly the size of my hand.

I’ve only ever seen Desmond’s wings once before, and then it was because he lost control of his magic. This doesn’t seem spontaneous; this seems deliberate. I can’t imagine why now of all times he’s decided to unveil them, and to me of all people.

I reach over his shoulder and run my fingers across the smooth skin of one. His arms tense around me, and I can feel his breathing still.

“They’re beautiful,” I say. I’d meant to tell him this a long time ago; I just never got the chance.

The Bargainer’s eyes travel down my face to my lips. He stares at them for a beat. “I’m glad you like them. You’re going to be staring at them quite a bit tonight.”


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