Then our eyes meet, and I know—it’s not just me.
“Okay,” I say, gesturing toward the en suite. “I’m going to, uh, freshen up.”
Theo nods as he walks toward the window. “Sure. Go ahead and take your shower.”
I’d only been thinking about brushing my teeth, but a shower sounds nice. My hair and clothes smell like cigarette smoke and stale champagne—like the other Marguerite’s life. Right now I need to be myself again.
I step into the white-tiled bathroom and close the door behind me. The leather peels away grudgingly; my skin stings as I tug the dress off. It occurs to me that this is a designer dress worth thousands of pounds; Romola probably meant for me to give this back. Well, I’ll mail it to her tomorrow. Right now I let it crumple onto the floor like a skin I’ve shed. My fist closes over the Firebird, and I lift the locket from around my neck.
Only when I’m standing in the shower, letting the hot water course over me, do I become aware—vividly aware—that I’m stark naked while Theo is only steps away. I tell myself there’s no reason for it to be weird; Theo’s practically been living in my home for the past few years, after all. I’ve bathed and slept and cut my toenails with Theo a room away.
But it feels different now.
Steam wreathes around me as I duck under the showerhead, feel hot water sinking into my curls and trailing down my face. I try to think only about scrubbing away the smell of cigarettes. Instead, my thoughts keep turning to the way Theo took me in his arms at the club, or how, when I leaned against him in the elevator, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
There’s always been . . . something between Theo and me. Not because he flirted with me—he flirts with every woman he meets, and even a few guys. He even flirted with Romola, pulling her aside for a moment at the club before he shepherded me out of there. Flirting is just a thing Theo does automatically, without thinking, the way the rest of us breathe. If anything, I knew Theo’s feelings toward me were changing because he began flirting with me less. When he did, the words had taken on weight; the attention he paid me wasn’t meaningless any longer, and we both knew it.
I always told myself nothing was ever going to happen. Theo’s older than me. He’s snarky and he’s selfish and his arrogance would be completely repellent if he didn’t have the brilliance to back it up. At times, when he’s been awake for two days straight, and he’s pacing around our house talking more in math than in English, there’s a recklessness to him, like he’s determined to push his limits to the brink of self-destruction, and maybe past it. So I told myself I loved Theo as a friend. Okay, a friend who’s sort of wickedly hot—yet, still, only a friend.
But the past two days I’ve seen a whole new side to Theo. Maybe I’ve finally seen the real Theo. Why did I ever doubt him? Probably the same reason I used to trust Paul. Apparently I don’t understand people at all.
Paul is out there. Right now the only thing I can do to get ready to face him is to sleep this off. Theo’s with me, and that’s enough.
I shut off the water, dry myself, brush my teeth a second time. The Firebird goes back around my neck even before I’ve toweled my hair. There’s a long T-shirt hanging from one of the hooks on the door, so I slide into it. The pale pink color is slightly translucent, and I didn’t think to bring in any fresh underwear. But it’s darker in the bedroom; it won’t matter.
When I step out of the bathroom, Theo’s standing at the window, arms braced against the sill. Moonlight has painted his black hair, making it gleam. It takes him a moment to turn and face me; when he does, the same electricity crackles between us, and I feel as though the T-shirt is see-through. But I don’t move. I just stand there, facing him.
Theo breaks the silence first. “For what it’s worth, I don’t see anyone down on the street who seems to be checking this building out. Nobody was following us home from the club, either—at least, as far as I could see.”
“Oh, right. Good.” Why didn’t I think of that? It’s at that moment I realize that I’ve still got way more alcohol in my system than I should. I sink down onto the bed, woozy and whirling. “Do you think Paul knows we’re here?”
“If he’s thought to check.”
Of course he’s checking to see if anybody’s after him, I want to retort, but then I stop myself. A smile spreads across my face. “Paul doesn’t know about the other Firebirds,” I say. “You kept it a secret from everyone. Even him.”
“Sometimes it pays to be a secretive bastard.” Theo grins back. However, I can tell he’s not totally confident. “Still, we can’t assume Paul doesn’t have any more tricks up his sleeve. We underestimated him once. Let’s not do it again.”
“You’re right.” My rage at Paul threatens to break through once more, but I force myself to put it aside. My whole body hurts, and my mind is fuzzy and confused and not my own. I need to sleep.
Theo’s voice gentles. “Hey. Toss me a pillow, all right? Gonna make myself a dog bed here on the floor.”
I throw him one of the pillows; he pulls a spare blanket from the foot of the bed. We’re so quiet that I can hear the rustle of fabric on fabric. When I tuck my feet under the bedspread, he flicks off the light so that we’re once again in the dark.
Slowly I lie down, but I’m so aware of him. My breaths quicken; my heart feels like it might hammer its way out of my chest.