It wasn’t too unreasonable that people would think that I shouldn’t be near Kesstel. I mean, who was he? An S god. Who was I? Even if it wasn’t true anymore, my title still indicated I was the weakest Hunter recorded in history. Not to mention the fact that I was a poor girl, in cheap clothes. What was I doing with a man as amazing as Kesstel?
I put my spoon gently on the table and looked up at the woman that wanted to kill me. “I’m —”
My words were cut off when Kesstel suddenly shoved a mouth full of brownie sundae in my mouth. I choked on creamy decadence as cold vanilla slipped down my throat, and chocolate coated my tongue. I gasped and coughed, so much that I could smell the sugar in my nose.
Kesstel leaned forward and patted my back. When my coughing slowed down, he leveled Bethany Wilks with a weighted stare. “My partner,” he announced. “She’s my partner and we’re having dinner.”
I gaped at him through watering eyes, still trying to swallow the bite. I’m his what? Since when?
Bethany looked just as floored. “What do you mean? I’m your partner.”
“You were my ward, the daughter of my employer,” Kesstel corrected her, his voice just as flat. “But that changed two hours ago. Please excuse yourself from our table, Miss Wilks. There’s only seating for two.” He picked up a navy blue linen napkin and handed it to me.
I grabbed it and buried my red face in the thick material. When I could finally breathe and the tears were wiped from my cheeks, I lowered the linen enough to stare at him over the hem. I wasn’t necessarily glaring at him, but I definitely wasn’t shining stars out of my eyes at him either. He seriously had just dug my grave.
So the question now was: will it be death by hitman later, or brownie sundae homicide?
“Excuse myself? Just leavem, that’s it?” Bethany’s eyes turned red and huge tears streamed down her pale cheeks. “And after everything we’ve been through for the last seven years. Does that really mean nothing to you?”
More and more this was looking like a breakup scene and I was in the middle of it all. Even with the temptation of the brownies to keep in place, all I wanted to do was run away.
As if he knew what I was thinking, Kesstel touched the back of my hand with his and nudged the brownie sundae bowl closer to me. At least he didn’t try to shove it down my throat again. “Our time together never meant anything to me to begin with. It was a job. I reminded you of that repeatedly, Miss Wilks. I’ve already returned everything that you gave me to your father. None of it was used and is in new condition so you can re-gift or return it as you like.” He shot her a look. “Please leave, Miss Wilks.”
I stared down at the sundae, watching fudge slowly drip off it. What should I do? I felt shackled to this moment, the table, even the sundae. The discomfort somehow kept me from fleeing even though I wanted to, so bad. If only Bethany and Kesstel would fight it out, a couple swings of the sword always solved the problem. Granted, Bethany would be dead after. Instead, each word they exchanged felt like another shovel of dirt, digging me closer and closer to six feet under.
I looked at Kesstel. What was going on in his head right now?
Bethany sobbed wretchedly and spun around with a flourish. She smacked right into a waiter walking past balancing a tray full of food.
The waiter gasped and lost his footing. The tray slipped from his hand and fell towards my head.
Kesstel reached out in a blur of movement and grabbed the lowering side of the platter, balancing it and shifting the food back into place. Bethany staggered around the waiter then tripped and fell onto her butt with a yelp. Her pointed heels gouged the waiter’s legs. He yelled in shock and pain, then fell towards me. I gasped and reached out to steady the young man. At the same time, Kesstel reached out one hand and grabbed the waiter’s shoulder so he didn’t land on me, but in the process, the platter fell out of the waiter’s hand and Kesstel’s grip on it twisted.
Five plates of food hit Kesstel’s shoulder, covering his back and arm with pasta, bread sticks, creamy garlic sauces and soda glasses. It all continued to slide over him and landed on the polished floor in a messy slop.
Silence blanketed the entire restaurant.
A couple specks of food hit my cheek and I winced at how hot it was. Yet he’d been hit by the whole thing. “Kesstel! Are you okay?”
A dence, heavy ripple of power filled the air, radiating from Kesstel. The oppressive power was so much stronger than me, goosebumps covered my body and I couldn’t help but shiver. At least it wasn’t as heavy as when he taught Blake a lesson. No one collapsed, but a collective breath was heard as the pressure settled over the restaurant. Kesstel lifted his head up and I shivered again. His eyes … they were faintly glowing blue. From the way his eyes glowed to the hard slant of his mouth — he looked like a demon. Gorgeous, but freakishly scary.
His one clean hand brushed the food specks off my cheek. It took everything I had to not flinch, just in case that made him angrier. But the gentle way he touched my cheek instantly soothed my fear. I couldn’t help but stare at him, conflicted. He was scary, my body was still reacting to the angry energy he emitted, but my heart and mind calmed.
He focused on my cheek as if making sure I was unmarred. He must have liked what he saw because the angry energy ceased.
The whole restaurant sighed as one. I blinked, realizing that at some point, the barrier around Kesstel and me had disappeared.
What no one could see was that Kesstel was still glaring, but at least his eyes weren’t glowing like a demon anymore. He turned his head and focused on Bethany.
Her hands were fisted at her side so tightly that her knuckles were as white as her face. Her brows were pulled low over her wet deep blue eyes. Her expression slipped between humiliation and fear as she used our table to pull herself up off the floor and stand on visibly shaking legs. From the shock on her face, it was clear that Kesstel had never been angry with her before. She turned and ran out of the restaurant like a wraith was chasing her.
The waiter shifted away from the hold that Kesstel had on his shoulder, his mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. His brain was so obviously fried, he was glued, speechless to the spot, staring at the S god.
Kesstel stood up, his body angling so that he didn’t drip any food on me. “Are you okay?”
I gaped at him. “I should be asking you that. Isn’t the food hot?”
“Compared to the flames inside the Gate?” The corner of his mouth hooked up.
Ah, I guess he did have a point there. I’d seen high ranked Hunters get blasted with flames from aggressive monsters and walk away without being singed. Compared to Kesstel’s crazy high rank, what would something like that do to him? Still, that didn’t make me feel any better. Not sure what else to do, I raised my wrinkled napkin and started to wipe away the food that slipped down his arm. “Um, thank—”
“Oh my god!” A man in a blue vest with a shiny name badge pinned to his chest came running down the aisle. “I’m so sorry, sir!” He held a stack of white towels in his arms. Several servers hurried behind him, holding towels and cleaners too.
Kesstel tore his eyes off me and looked up, frowning.
The man bent over and draped a towel over Kesstel’s shoulder. “I’m so terribly sorry. Something like this … in my restaurant …” He couldn’t seem to be able to string a full sentence together.
The server who had been rooted to the spot finally blinked out of his shock. He dropped to the ground and helped the arriving waiters pick up the mess of food and broken plates.
Kesstel took a offered towel and mopped at his shirt. “Are you okay, Jyn?” he asked again, apparently unwilling to let it go until I answered.
I blinked at him and nodded slowly. Seriously, how could he ask me that question in this situation?
Kesstel turned to the owner. “It’s no trouble. None of this was caused by any of your staff.” He flicked a glance at the door where Bethany had disappeared through. It looked like he found someone to hold accountable.
The owner didn’t look pleased. “Even so, please allow me to pay for your meal and get your clothes cleaned.”
Kesstel stepped out of the booth. “That isn’t necessary. If you’ll excuse me.” I started to get up, but Kesstel held up his hand in a stop motion. “I’ll be back in a moment. If you come out now, you’ll get dirty. Just wait until it’s cleaned up first.” He waited until I slowly nodded before he turned and walked to the back of the restaurant where the bathrooms were.
I bit my lip, watching him go. I’d just changed in the bathrooms as well a bit ago, so I knew what was going on. With his rank, his Items Bag was probably large enough to fit everything inside a house and then some. He had to have a pair of clothes. And I didn’t want him to walk around in soiled, food stained clothes either, so I didn’t put up a fight. The problem was, now that he was gone I was the center of attention.
The owner turned his attention to me. I wasn’t as scary, so he hit me with all the fawning and apologizing that he couldn’t squeeze out with Kesstel. If it wasn’t the fact that it was rude to leave while Kesstel was gone and I was hugely indebted to him at this point, what with the meal and saving me from the food, I would have run away within the first tortuous minute of Bethany arriving. The owner wouldn’t stop shoving gift cards and small gifts in my hands, while the servers worked like bees to clean around me.
“No, it’s really okay,” I muttered for the millionth time and tried to hand the gift cards back. I wasn’t paying the meal to begin with, why should I get the gift cards?
I almost broke out in the Hallelujah Chorus when Kesstel returned. His hair was wet and slicked back from his face, a few stray strands dangling over his forehead. His slacks and button-up shirt had been traded out for jeans and a t-shirt, but he didn’t look any less appealing. I wasn’t the only one who noticed by the way numerous women stared at him.
For the first time, I didn’t want to run from him. In fact, I couldn’t wait to scramble out of the booth, no matter what the cleaned state was. I dodged around the workers and hurried over to Kesstel.
He took one look at my tense expression and asked, “Shall we go?”
“Yes.” I nodded. Anything to get out of here.
The owner still tried to comp the meal, but Kesstel insisted on paying. He even paid for the food that was spilled on him, much to the owner’s chagrin. It wasn’t until we were walking down the sidewalk, away from the restaurant that Kesstel pointed to my hands.
“What are these?”
I blinked down at my hand and gasped. I was in such a hurry to leave, I didn’t notice that I was still holding the gift cards. “Oh no! They’re gift cards. The owner kept giving them to me, even though I told him not to.” I glanced behind me, torn. I really didn’t want to go back. Never mind my nerves, I’m sure the owner might have a heart attack if he saw us return. I pushed the cards into Kesstel’s hands. “They’re for you.” He was the one who paid anyway.
His brows lifted. “But they were given to you.” He tried to give them back.
I shook my head and stepped away. “I don’t want them. I won’t use them anyway, so you should keep them.” If it wasn’t for Kesstel, I doubted I would have been let into that restaurant to begin with. This restaurant cared more about the ranks of diners than the pastry shop I visited with Aliya.
He frowned at me. After a second, he motioned to my pants. “You got dirty after all.”
I blinked in surprise at the small tomato spots on my right thigh. When did that happen? When the food fell or when I got up? It didn’t really matter, the spots were barely bigger than a quarter. It didn’t even come close to some of the stuff that covered me from my visits to the Gate. “Ah, it’s okay.”
He shook his head. “No. Let’s go get you a new outfit that isn’t dirty.”
My eyes widened and I put my hands up in a stop position. “No, seriously. It’s okay. It’ll clean out without a stain. There’s no reason for you to buy me clothes.”
He leaned to the side and planted a hand on his hip. “I was the one who took you there, and it was my acquaintance that caused the spill. Do you expect me to let you walk about with messy clothes?”
He was admittedly fun to talk to. Even when he was scary, I was starting to understand that he wasn’t a danger to me. But I had a feeling that this evening got me even deeper in the quagmire of Bethany Wilks’s anger.
I took another step back, putting considerable distance between us. “I’m grateful for the meal. It was delicious, thank you. But I need to get back home already.” I smiled at him, convincingly as I could.
He frowned and stepped closer. “Let me take you home then.”
And let him see where I lived? The E Hostel was a far cry from a castle. I shook my head. “No, really. I’ll be fine. Thank you, again, for everything. And I’m sorry that you got messy because of me.” I took a couple steps back. “See you around.” I waved and took off running before he could stop me.
I felt so ungrateful, I almost felt sick. But I didn’t have the right to stand by him. I didn’t know what he wanted, but whatever it was, I couldn’t give it to him. I was too weak, too poor, too much of a nothing. Maybe in sixty or seventy more levels, I’d finally be worthy to stand within ten feet of him.
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I am an author, mother, wife, and jack of all trades. I mean, every mom is, but I’ve found that through my research for different stories, I’ve picked up a lot of random (and sometimes actually useful) knowledge and skills.
I’ve had a vivid imagination since I was a child. And as much as I wish I could actually live in the worlds in my head, the closest I can get is with the words I put on the page. These characters are like real people to me. The funny lines they say, their emotions that make my heart bleed, the amazing things they can do that I physically can’t, the adventures and sights that I can see in my head. I love sharing those things with my readers and hope that they can feel at least a part of what I do.
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