This, more than anything, seemed to derail them.
"Wait," said Adrian. "Did you say 'help'?"
Marcus was equally flabbergasted. "This ass**le is the spirit user?"
"You're both acting like idiots," I scolded. The next time I had nothing to do, I'd have to get a book on testosterone-driven behavior. This was out of my league. "Adrian, can we talk somewhere in private? Like the bedroom?"
Adrian agreed, but not before giving Marcus one last menacing look. I told Marcus to stay where he was and hoped he wouldn't take off or call in someone else with a gun. Adrian followed me to his bedroom and shut the door behind us.
"You know," he said, "under normal circumstances, you inviting me to the bedroom would be the highlight of my day."
I crossed my arms and sat on the bed. I did so out of simple fatigue, but a moment later, I was struck by what I was doing. This is where Adrian sleeps. I'm touching the covers he's wrapped in every night. What does he wear? Does he wear anything?
I jumped up.
"It really was an accident," I told him. "Marcus thought I was there to abduct him."
Adrian, having no such hang-ups with the bed, sat down. He winced, probably from the blow to the stomach. "If someone like you showed up to abduct me, I'd let you."
Even when he was in pain, it never stopped with him. "I'm serious. It was just instinct, and he apologized over and over in the car once he realized who I was."
That got his attention. "He knew you?"
I gave him a recap of my day in Santa Barbara. He listened avidly, nodding along, his expression shifting back and forth between intrigue and surprise.
"I didn't realize when I brought him back here that you'd inflict more damage," I said, once I'd finished the story.
"I was defending your honor." Adrian gave me that devil-may-care smile that always managed to both infuriate and captivate me. "Pretty manly, huh?"
"Very," I said dryly. I didn't like violence, but him doing something so out of character for me actually was kind of incredible. Not that I'd ever tell him that. "You did Wolfe proud. Do you think you can manage not to have any more 'manly' displays while he's here? Please?"
Adrian shook his head, still smiling. "I've said over and over, I'd do anything for you. I just keep hoping it'll be something like, 'Adrian, let's go hot tubbing' or Adrian, take me out for fondue.'"
"Well, sometimes we have to - did you say fondue?" Sometimes it was impossible to follow Adrian's train of thought. "Why in the world would I ever say that?"
He shrugged. "I like fondue."
I didn't even know what to say about that. This whole day was getting more and more exhausting. "I'm sorry I'm not asking for something as glamorous as melted cheese. But for now, I need to find out about Marcus and his group - and the tattoo."
Adrian recognized the situation's severity. He stood up and gently touched the lily on my cheek. "I don't trust him. He could be using you. But then . . . I don't like the idea of this controlling you either."
"That makes two of us," I admitted, losing some of my earlier toughness.
He traced the line of my cheek for a few breathless moments and then dropped his hand. "It might be worth helping him to get some answers."
"Will you promise not to get in any more fights? Please?"
"I promise," he said. "So long as he doesn't start one."
"I'll have him promise too." I just hoped their "manly" natures wouldn't get the better of them. As I ruminated on this, something I'd nearly forgotten about tumbled to the forefront of my mind. "Oh . . . Adrian, I've got one more favor to ask you. A big one."
"Fondue?" he asked hopefully.
"No. It's about Ms. Terwilliger's sister. . . ."
I told him what I'd learned. The amusement in his face faded and turned to disbelief. "You just mention this now?" he exclaimed when I finished. "That some soul-sucking witch might be after you?"
"She doesn't know I exist." I felt surprisingly defensive. "And I'm the only one who can help, at least according to Ms. Terwilliger. She thinks I'm some super-investigator."
"Well, you do have that Sherlock Holmes thing going for you," he said. His joking didn't last; he was too upset. "But you still should've told me! You could've called."
"I was kind of busy with Marcus."
"Then your priorities are off. This is a lot more important than his band of Merry Men. If we need to take out some evil sorceress before she gets to you, then of course I'll help." He hesitated. "With one condition."
I eyed him warily. "What's that?"
"Let me heal you too."
I jerked backward, almost more shocked than if he'd suggested hitting me again. "No! Absolutely not! I don't need it. I'm in better shape than him."
"You want to go back to Amberwood with that on your face? You're not going to be able to hide that, Sage. And if Castile sees it, he really will come after Marcus." Adrian crossed his arms defiantly. "That's my price."
He was bluffing, and I knew it. Maybe it was egotistical, but I knew he wasn't going to let me go into a dangerous situation without him. He did, however, have a point. I still hadn't seen the mark Marcus had left, but I didn't want to explain it back at school. And yes, there was a good chance Eddie would want to hunt down my assailant. Being beat up by an avenging dhampir might make working with Marcus difficult.
Yet . . . how could I agree? At least the magic I used was on my terms. And although my tattoo had trace amounts of vampire magic, I took comfort in knowing it was tied to the "normal" four elements, the ones we understood. Spirit was still an unknown entity, with abilities that continually surprised us. How could I subject myself to rogue vampire magic?
Guessing my inner turmoil, Adrian's face softened. "I do this all the time. It's an easy spell. No surprises."
"Maybe," I said reluctantly. "But each time you use spirit, you're more likely to go crazy."
"Already crazy about you, Sage."
At least this was familiar territory. "You said you wouldn't bring that up."
He simply regarded me without comment. Finally, I threw my arms up. "Fine," I said, with more boldness than I felt. "Just get it over with."
Adrian didn't waste any time. Stepping forward, he reached out and rested his hand on my cheek once more. My breath caught and my heart rate went up. It would be so, so easy for him to pull me to him and kiss me again. A tingling warmth spread over my skin, and for a moment, I thought it was just my normal reaction to him. No, I realized. It was the magic. His eyes locked onto mine, and for the space of a heartbeat, we were suspended in time. Then he removed his hand and stepped away.