Yawning and running a hand through my hair, I shuffled the jacket I was carrying to my other arm before trying to unlock my door. I realized while I was walking home that it wasn’t my jacket at all. I had grabbed Luca’s by mistake. Luca had woken up sometime during the night and hurriedly explained to me that he had to do something important before leaving me alone in his house. I was exhausted, the only way I knew how to tell we hadn’t slept for very long, but soon his bed got cold and uninviting, so I left shortly after he did.
Just as my door unlocked, the elevator dinged and opened its doors. “Persephone, where have you been?”
I opened the door and let Michael inside, yawning so hard my eyes watered. “Out.”
“You don’t smell like you’ve been drinking.”
“That’s because I haven’t.”
“I went to the Pulchritudo and they said you didn’t work there anymore?”
“Why? I thought you liked working there.”
“It got boring,” I mumbled the lie, tossing the massive jacket onto the couch, and hoped he wouldn’t notice it wasn’t mine.
“So, where did you go and why is your shirt on backward?”
I knew there was no way I was going to get out of this gracefully, as I looked down and realized that Michael was right. “I stayed the night with someone and got dressed in the dark.”
“Didn’t catch his name,” I lied smoothly, not caring if that would tarnish my reputation in Michael’s eyes. All he would do is give me unneeded grief if he knew it had been with Luca.
He was quiet for awhile, probably trying to process this new information through his head. “I was very worried about you.”
“You shouldn’t be.”
“Were you safe?”
It was my turn to think about a reply, but a small smile slowly formed on my lips. I decided to balance out my lie with a truth. “Yes, safer than I’ve felt in a long, long time.”
Michael let the air out of his lungs. “Good, that’s good. That’s great.”
“Yeah, it is,” I said awkwardly, stretching and yawning once more. “Listen, I didn’t get much sleep at all honestly and I think I’m about to drop from exhaustion. You can let yourself out, or stay if you want. I cleaned the sheets in the spare bedroom the other day. Not like anyone except you uses it, though.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll leave. I was just wanting to check up on you.”
“Noted,” I yawned and closed my bedroom door behind me, getting into fresh, comfortable clothes. It took me awhile to fall asleep once I got in bed because it was cool and I didn’t have Luca’s body to warm it up for me. I wondered what was going to happen between him and me, if we wouldn’t see each other for another few months, but I tried not to think about it.
Not thinking about it eventually let me fall asleep but I started having a wild dream.
I was back in the Pale, all bright light and white clouds. My eyes squinted, completely unused to sunlight, and I breathed in fresh air for the first time since I was damned. I was not alone here, the voices of multiple judges were bouncing around harshly. My eyes adjusted to the brightness and I was finally able to see what they looked like. They were ethereal beings, with white hair, white eyes, and snow white skin, the color seeming to be bleached out of them. Dressed in matching white robes and despite them having short or long hair, I was still unable to determine any of their genders. They were arguing and didn’t seem to notice my presence at all.
“What do you mean you made a note to put her in Sector Violence? She was supposed to go to Pride!”
“I didn’t know. She attacked me!”
“Of course, she did! She’s the one! She will stray from the course we set out for her. This is not good.”
“You didn’t inform me. There was no way I could know.”
“She wasn’t placed in Sector Violence.” Another chimed in.
“Why has Luca been around her so much?”
“She was given a choice by Lucielle to choose her own sector. Lucielle was probably trying to spurn our requests and yet she still chose Pride. She was following our wishes, but now… Luca is interfering, changing and twisting the path.”
“He fancies her.”
“She has absolutely no idea what’s going on, does she?”
“Michael Knight is planning on telling her soon, but no, she doesn’t.”
They were quiet for several minutes as I held my breath, knowing that they were clearly talking about me.
“She alone will turn the tides of this civil war and she will ensure the victory we intend.”
“She is straying from her destiny. Our future is unclear.”
“Do we know if Luca is planning on utilizing her?”
“We are unsure. His intentions seem… pure, if that’s even possible.”
“I had not anticipated this.”
“None of us did.”
“He will surely pollute her with his ways, no matter his intentions, just like the rest of them.”
“But does he love her, and she, him? You know we’re not supposed to interfere with love, no matter the circumstances, though this would be a first.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing is applicable. We will ignore them because we must win, no matter the cost.”
For some reason, I chose this moment to speak. “All is fair in love and war.”
Their white eyes all settled on me, emotions twisting their features; surprise, anger, confusion, and fear.
I bolted upright in bed, hit my head on something impossibly hard, and completely forgot what I had been dreaming about as I clutched my forehead in pain. I had bashed my head against someone else’s. “Ow, Michael, what the fuck are you doing in here? I told you to take the other room…”
“Does Michael often stay in your apartment?” Luca’s voice was filled with jealousy.
I widened my eyes and I took my hand away from my forehead. “What are you doing in here? Why were you hovering over me?”
Luca glared at me and held something out to me. “You left this at my place.”
“Your jacket is on the couch. I took it by mistake when I was leaving.”
“Why did you leave? You promised to stay with me.”
“So did you, but you left.”
“I had to.”
“So? The bed got cold.”
Luca grinned devilishly and jumped into bed with me, sliding under the covers and wrapping an arm around me securely. I rolled my eyes even as I snuggled further into his comforting but exhilarating embrace. “You certainly aren’t cold now. You’re sweating. Dreaming about me, perhaps?” He whispered into my ear.
I struggled to pull away from him and smacked him haphazardly with my free arm. “You wish.”
He pinned the arm to the bed and rolled over so he was on top of me. His gray eyes moved across my face for a short time before his warm lips put pressure against mine. His tongue swept across my bottom lip and my mouth parted for him. Everywhere Luca touched, flames licked. It felt natural to want to feel him everywhere. He only pulled away from the breathtaking kiss to lightly sweep his swollen lips against my forehead.
“Good morning to you, too,” I whispered through a lazy and content smile.
“It’s not morning.”
“It never is. It’s also never evening, afternoon, or night.”
“Point taken.” He rolled off of me but pulled me close again. I think he enjoyed this as much as I did, somehow.
A few knocks resonated from the front door and I heard Michael’s muffled voice coming from the other side. “Hey, Seph, I’m pretty sure you should be awake by now but there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you about that’s important.”
I started to sit up and I glanced at Luca quickly, trying to figure out what I should do with him. He was not an easy object to hide. “You stay out of sight.”
He raised his eyebrows at me, looking very amused, before he pulled me back down to the bed and slid on top of me, pinning me down. Before I could yell at him, he covered my mouth with his calloused hand. He leaned down and whispered, “You be quiet. You aren’t home right now.”
I glared at him with hatred and tried to kick him off of me, hissing muffled choice words at him. I debated trying to bite his hand and decided against it. Nothing worked and my struggling was just wasted energy. I heard Michael knock a few more times and call out my name before my apartment was quiet again.
Luca removed his hand from my mouth with a smirk and rolled over to lay on his back beside me. “Besides, we have plans.”
It was my turn to quickly slide my leg across his and flip myself over him, so I was pinning him down. My hand went around his throat, fingers feeling the stubble and his strong pulse. He was excited by me. Good, I thought. I leaned down, my blonde hair sliding across his shoulder and arm, and my lips came very, very close to his. “Do we?”
Luca glanced down at me and ran his hands down my sides, looking very enthusiastic about my position on top of him. “Or we can just stay in bed for several hours and wrestle each other. That’d be a good way to teach you self-defense. I have incredible stamina…”
I rolled my eyes at him and removed myself, much to his disappointment. “What were you talking about before?”
“I still owe you self-defense lessons.”
“You do but I’m still tired.”
“But I don’t care. Pack a bag, bring a few changes of clothes, and something nice.” Luca glanced at my open closet. “You don’t seem to have a shortage of clothing.”
“I didn’t think you’d forget the view in my closet.” I winked and kissed him playfully on the mouth.
He smiled under my lips and groaned, pulling me onto him again. This kiss was harder, rougher, and with a need so strong I could feel it in the way his hands gripped me like I was his only lifeline. His tongue danced with mine, even as he sat up and pulled me onto his lap so my legs encircled his waist. My fingers twisted into his already unruly black hair and he groaned again, pausing our kiss to practically rip off his shirt. I let my eyes wander him before I ran my fingers over his warm skin, feeling the way his muscles all joined together and worked with bone. He jerked my chin up forcefully and kissed me thoroughly, until I felt like I could melt into a puddle all over him.
“Are you sure you really want to leave?” I pulled away from him, catching my breath. Unfortunately, I still needed to breathe, even though kissing him made me never want to stop.
“Keep kissing me like that and I might let you off the hook.” He gave me another long kiss, to savor it. “But I won’t be able to control myself.”
I wiggled on top of him, teasing him, but jumped out of bed before his hands caught hold of me again. “I actually need food and I don’t expect you to get any for me.” I laughed and glanced back at him while I danced out to the kitchen. He stared at me breathlessly before falling back into my bed. I ate some leftovers and returned to find Luca snooping through my closet and throwing things into a bag.
“What are you doing?” I asked around a mouthful of food, pointing my fork at him.
He turned around with a sly grin and held up racy, red lingerie. “Oh, you’re definitely bringing this.”
“Quit packing for me or I’ll stab you with this fork, and don’t think I won’t.” I set down my bowl and jerked the fabric away from him, putting it back into the drawer. I threw everything in the bag out and started packing for myself. One pair of skinny jeans, two t-shirts, a change of undergarments, a pair of sweatpants, and sleepwear. As I was bent over the bag, Luca padded up behind me and ran his hand down my spine, making me shiver and him chuckle. “Why do I need something nice?” I asked softly and slowly.
“We’re going out tonight.”
He bent over me, his chest pressed into my shoulder blades, and I felt his warm lips brush against my earlobe. “May I pick it out for you?”
I shivered again and nodded slowly. “Thanks for asking, and you can, but if it’s anything too outrageous I won’t wear it.”
He sighed and stood up, backing away from me, letting me think clearly. “You’re no fun, but fine.” He paced over to the rack of dresses on the far wall, flipping through them quickly while I briefly left the closet. “I didn’t find anything I liked.”
“Nothing?” I sputtered from the bathroom as I grabbed my toothbrush and small makeup bag. “There’s like a hundred dresses right there! You didn’t seem to mind the dresses when I’m wearing them!”
“You could wear anything and I’d like it, or nothing, which I’d like more.” Luca purred with a grin.
I rolled my eyes. “You wish, Luca.”
He didn’t reply for a moment, but suddenly jerked up and started to leave my room. “Come on, we need to get going.”
“Aren’t you going to carry my bag? It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.” I grinned, crossing my arms and leaning on one hip.
Luca stilled, seeming to grow in height, if that was possible, before he whirled on me and quickly stormed back up to me. He leaned down, grinning as I was forced backward into a dresser. I could feel the wood digging into my back. He stopped when he was mere millimeters away from touching my lips with his. “Do I look like a fucking gentleman to you?”
I never lost my smile, which was a challenge for him in itself, even as I traced the hard line of his jaw with the tip of my finger. “Not one damn bit.”
Luca immediately kissed me hard, his hands tangling in my hair and pushing me further into the dresser. Instantaneously, my legs wound around his torso as I kissed him back with everything I had. This kiss was frantic, passionate, and spontaneous. I could tell from the way Luca’s lips moved against mine and made me conform to their shape, and how his tongue was trying to taste mine like I was water and he was a dying man in a desert. Finally and grudgingly, he pulled away, his breathing ragged and his gray eyes wide with excitement. “You’re really something, Persephone, but you can grab your own fucking bag.”
* * *
“Alright, so I want you to punch me.” Luca coached. “Give it your best shot. I know you might not want to--”
I punched him right in the nose without waiting for him to finish. It felt so good to see blood running down into his mouth, but my hand disagreed. He glared at me and I shrugged. “What? You said to punch you. Did you think I wasn’t going to want to? I still fucking hate you, Luca.”
He wiped his face with the back of his hand and wrapped his arm around me to jerk me closer. “Of course.” He laughed and kissed me with his bloody mouth softly. “But how does your hand feel?”
“It feels great.” I lied with a blinding smile.
“Liar. It’s broken. I wanted you to do that so you could see that punching stuff doesn’t always work and that it also injures you in the process. This is about self-defense, right? Can’t do much self-defending when you’ve broken your hand and the guy is still standing.”
“I could have you on your knees in two seconds, Luca. You know that.” I grinned and glanced down toward the front of his pants. “And not in any pleasing way, that’s for sure.”
“Lots of threats, babe. You’re getting boring with all that talking.” He smirked.
“Babe? You call all your women that?” I stuck my tongue out at him and circled around the mat, clutching my aching hand. “Second time I’ve broken my hand on your face.”
He stopped grinning. “I can’t believe you expected me to carry your bag. Why? Does your boyfriend carry your things for you? Is Michael a gentleman?”
I kicked at Luca but he caught my leg and pulled, causing me to fall backward. He caught me before my back hit the mat and pulled me up.
“We have a long way to go.” He sighed and kissed my forehead, then my injured hand. “Take a shower.”
“Not with you.”
He rolled his eyes at me and pushed me away. “I’m leaving for a little bit, don’t worry.”
“I don’t enjoy being here alone.”
“I’m aware. I’ll be back shortly. Just get in the shower.” His tone made it sound like this was the end of an argument.
“Right.” I huffed but headed to his main bathroom. I heard the front door slam closed right after I figured out how to work his shower. My shower was pretty quick, only rinsing my body and lathering it up with the generic bar soap he had.
I heard the front door open and close again. “Luca!” I yelled. “Do you have any girl shampoo and conditioner? I’m afraid I didn’t pack--”
The bathroom door opened and he stuck his head in. I immediately turned away because the shower door was clear glass and I could feel the cold air that blew in. “What was that?”
“Girl shampoo and conditioner. Do you have any?”
“Why would I have any?” He sounded indignant. “There’s soap in the shower.”
“This is bar soap, Luca. It’s for your hands, not your hair.”
He was quiet for a second. “Fine. I’ll grab some. Don’t waste all of my hot water.” A millisecond later, he closed the bathroom door.
I left the water on for a few more minutes, letting the steam warm up the bathroom once again, but shut it off and waited.
Luca didn’t make me wait long, which was a surprise, and handed me the bottles of shampoo and conditioner, which I placed on the shelf inside the shower.
“Aw, look,” I said before he closed the door again. “Looks like I’m moving in.”
It was meant as a joke, but he didn’t laugh. He just closed the door.
There is no way in Hell that I am actually moving in with him.
I resumed my shower and was done in a few minutes. Exiting the shower, I saw that there weren’t any towels in the bathroom at all. Dripping wet and shivering, I glanced around my feet to look for my clothes, which were also missing.
I knew it was Luca. I wrung my hair out several times in the sink and tried to wipe away excess water on my skin with my hands. I took a few deep breaths and assessed what my next plan of attack was.
Stay in the bathroom forever or be humiliated and walk out naked?
I glanced in the mirror and made up my mind.
I was going to play Luca’s game but I wasn’t going to give him any satisfaction.
I opened the door and braced myself as the cold air attacked me, but marched right to Luca’s living room. I spotted the towel hanging over his couch before I spotted him. “Luca, I hate you, do you understand that? This was very, very childish of you.” I said as calmly as possible.
I glanced up to see Luca standing with a delivery man at his front door. The delivery man had been handing him a large box but both of them had paused when they saw me. Luca looked amused and too proud of his victory for my liking, but both of them were in awe.
The blood that had been accumulating in my cheeks suddenly drained from my face as I quickly wrapped the towel around me. My mouth opened like a fish, trying to find some words to say, but snapped closed when nothing came to mind.
“Damn,” The delivery man said finally.
I thought Luca was going to rip his heart out, but he didn’t even look at the delivery man. His eyes stayed on me as he slowly nodded in agreement. “I know.” He pulled the box away from the guy and slammed the door in his face, a sly grin creeping into his features.
I finally burst into action, running towards his bedroom, sitting on his bed in mortification, and screaming, “I cannot believe you! Of all the things you’d do, this was the most childish. If you wanted to see me naked that badly, you pervert, you could have--”
“I could have just asked?” He tried to finish my sentence as he followed me down the hallway and stood in his doorway as he held the box.
“No!” I snapped, turning away from him. “Whatever you were planning on tonight, count me out on it. I don’t want to go. I am getting dressed and I am going home.” I said finally, rummaging through my bag and pulling out a pair of underwear that I slipped on under my towel. “And don’t you dare pin this on me. This is a result of your actions.”
Luca watched me pull out clothes from my bag as I attempted to change with my back to him. “Well, if it’s any consolation, I didn’t mean for the delivery guy to see you naked. That was just your impeccable timing.”
“It’s not any consolation,” I muttered.
Suddenly I felt his lips on my neck. “Persephone, I’m sorry. It was only a joke. You need to loosen up.” He set the box down on the bed and swept my hair to the front, baring my skin. His calloused thumbs kneaded the muscles in my shoulders and neck, giving me goosebumps instantaneously.
I growled at him.
Luca chuckled and pulled away. “I doubt you’ll let this go to waste.” He handed me the box.
I looked suspicious. “Is this what I think it is?”
He shrugged. “Probably.”
“Should I be worried?”
Grinning, Luca closed the door after him. “I’ll let you change.”
The box was heavier than just a dress, so I figured there’d be shoes inside. It was too late to protest him getting me a dress now. I took a steadying breath, worried it was probably some joke from him, that it would be skimpy lingerie or a skimpy dress. I opened the box and was surprised to find a cream-colored fabric with heels that matched.
“This better not be a god damn wedding dress, Luca!” I yelled at him and heard his laugh from a distance away. He was probably in the front room. I shuffled the box around in my arms so I could free an arm to set the shoes down on the bed and pull the dress out of the box.
It was a long dress, with a slit up the thigh and short sleeves. The sides seemed to be cut out and replaced with black lace, as well as the entire back of the dress. There weren’t any mirrors in Luca’s bedroom, but I could imagine myself in it. It was a simple and beautiful dress. I checked the sizes of both the dress and the shoes, which were in the exact sizes I wore. I raised my eyebrow in amusement even as I discarded my towel and slid on the dress. Its zipper was in the back so I decided not to worry about it and have Luca zip it up later. I slipped on the heels and looked down at myself. Hopefully, I looked good.
Awkwardly holding up the front of my dress with one arm and my makeup bag in the other, I opened the bedroom door and slowly made my way out to where Luca was, who looked up at me with an unreadable expression. “Don’t say anything yet. I need you to zip me up.”
He chuckled, “okay,” and came over to me as I turned around. Placing a steadying hand on my waist, I felt his nimble fingers grab hold of the small zipper, but he paused. I started to turn my head to attempt to see why he had stopped, but then I felt his lips on my back. My breath got stuck in my throat and I shivered immediately. He trailed kisses across my shoulder blades and down my spine before finally using the zipper.
I turned around with heated cheeks when he was finished. “How did you know what sizes I wore?” I asked, thinking maybe he was just really good at telling what size a girl wore.
“I looked when I was in your apartment.”
I was slightly disappointed with his answer. “Well, do you like it?”
“Of course, I like it. I wouldn’t have picked it out if I didn’t.” He said arrogantly. “Do you like it?”
“Naturally.” I gave a little twirl and smirked. “Reminds me of the dress I wore to the welcoming party, except for the color.” I raised my thigh, the fabric parting, and touched Luca’s leg with my toes.
He gave me a sweeping glance and mused, “It does, doesn’t it?”
I pulled Luca close and whispered, “I take it you liked that dress?”
He grinned and kissed me. “You have no idea.”
“Where are we going tonight?”
“You’ll find out when we get there.”
I rolled my eyes as I sauntered to the bathroom, makeup in hand. In the mirror, I saw that I really did look good in the dress. The lace on the sides of the dress made it appear like I had dangerous curves. I didn’t have any way to do my hair so I combed my fingers through it and let it air dry while I applied light makeup. Luca leaned against the doorframe and started watching me, so I grinned. “Don’t you have to get ready as well?”
“Waiting for the bathroom.”
“I’ll be a few minutes, but you can just shower while I’m in here. I promise I won’t look.” I winked.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Luca said under his breath but went to get a towel. I made a point of not looking at him while he moved past me and started the shower. I focused on my makeup once I heard the sound of a zipper. The glass door rolled open and I stole a glance right as he stepped in, while his back was to me.
Nice butt, was all I could think.
My eyes quickly slid back to my reflection and I continued applying the makeup, telling myself that my red cheeks were due to the steam.
“I saw that.” He laughed over the sound of cascading water.
“Saw what?” I played coy.
“Just take your shower, Luca.”
“It’s more difficult with an audience.”
“Aw, are you a little self-conscious?” I teased. It was just banter but with underlying meaning. We both constantly fought to gain the upper hand, to make the other uncomfortable and vulnerable. Luca was almost too good at it but I liked challenges.
“Not at all,” He retorted quickly. “But I like when the audience participates.”
“Not a chance.” I puckered my lips in the mirror. “Besides, my makeup is finished. I’m not going to ruin it for you.”
“I’ll ruin your lipstick.”
“Not at this rate, you won’t. Red isn’t your color, either.”
“I can tell that it’s yours. I should’ve gotten you a red dress, but ah, too late. You look beautiful, by the way.” He said softly.
I packed up my makeup bag and left the bathroom to put it back into the bag with my clothes. When I walked past the doorway again, Luca had shut off the shower and was toweling off on the tile.
“Just can’t resist, can you?” He teased, as I stole a lingering glance at his muscular chest and torso.
“Sorry, what was that? I wasn’t paying attention.” I teased and went to wait in the kitchen. I briefly saw him exit the bathroom with the towel around his waist and disappear into his bedroom.
He came out a few minutes later dressed in a black tuxedo. He looked really, really good. He smirked as he ran a hand through his unruly wet hair, somehow making it even messier. I liked it that way, so I didn’t mind one bit. He buttoned the middle button as he walked down the hallway towards me, his steps filled with confidence and his gaze filled with fire.
“Luca dressing up? What’s the occasion?” I was nervous as he came closer to me.
He didn’t pause as he wrapped me in his arms and pulled me snugly into his body. His mouth came down on mine quickly, my lips forming perfectly against his. I lost myself in that kiss, enjoying how I let Luca take control of this situation. His lips smiled over mine as he dipped me and pulled me back up. “You’re the occasion.”
I gave him a small smile and swiped my thumb across his lips. “Guess I didn’t need the lipstick after all.”