Proof of Life – Hailey Edwards

Three additional kiosks…” Drowning in one of Midas’s tees and a pair of my pajama shorts, I sat at my new desk, chin in palm. “…break ground in six months…” The redecoration of the apartment was going well, I thought, thanks to my shiny new bank card. “…sales are up ten percent…” All systems go for Addie’s visit. “…new employees hired…” The one space Midas requested be left untouched was the loft, which suited me fine. And not because it meant one less room to redesign. The loft was ours, an end-of-day oasis, and not for guest consumption. However, our perfectly good king-sized mattress perched on its perfectly good bedframe in our perfectly good bedroom was showroom ready. We even splurged on a reclaimed-wood headboard made by a packmate, plus matching his and her nightstands and a dresser with a framed mirror. And yet, we still woke stuck together by our sweat on the cramped futon in the loft. The problem with sleeping next to Midas, no sex involved, prior to mating with him, still no sex involved, was we had gone out of our way to establish a routine heavy on cuddles and not much else in the weeks leading up to the solidification of our union. Out of mutual respect, we had conducted ourselves thus far as roommates rather than romantic partners. Now we were an official couple, and we were officially stuck in a rut. I wasn’t sure how to reach the next level without making it weird between us or bursting our happy cohabitation bubble. I loved Midas. I respected Midas.

I also really, really wanted in his pants. Frak. I was a terrible person. “Yes,” Remy agreed, chewing with her mouth open. “You are a terrible person.” Swinging my head toward her, I scowled at her. “You read minds now?” “No.” She ate another square of Ambrose’s chocolate, causing my shadow to coil like a serpent ready to strike her down for the insult. “You just mutter under your breath a lot.” She balled up the wrapper and hit me in the forehead with it.

“You also zone out during business meetings.” She clucked her tongue. “Frustration does that to people.” “I’m not frustrated,” I lied to both of us. “I’m fabulous.” “The looks you give Midas are illegal in several countries.” Tipping up my chin, I took the high road. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “I considered buying him a taser in case he needs to defend himself.” “What? Why?” The low road smacked me in the face.

“I’m not going to molest him.” “Your mouth says that, but your eyes say different.” Note to self: Purchase dark sunglasses at earliest opportunity. “I’m not having this conversation with you.” I shoved away from the desk. “Are we done here?” “Yeah, yeah.” She gathered her papers into a folder. “I’ll just forge your signature on any you missed.” “What?” “Uh.” “Remy…” “Do you smell that?” She sniffed the air.

“I think I left my stove on.” Quick as a blink, she scurried out the front door and slammed it behind her. “I’ve created a monster,” I said to the room, and the room did not disagree with me. A persistent buzzing reminded me I hadn’t unmuted my phone when I woke alone at dusk. Swiping my fingers across the screen, I exhaled long and slow. “Yes?” “Did I call at a bad time?” Reclaiming my seat at the desk, I couldn’t fight the smile forming. “Midas.” “Are you too busy to talk?” “No,” I rushed to reassure him. “Just grumpy. I haven’t had my café mocha yet.

” “Bishop running late?” Normally, he would have beaten down the door, grumbled about getting a key, and caffeinated me by now. “I haven’t heard from him,” I admitted. “I’ve been in a business meeting with Remy.” Amusement dipped through his voice. “How did that go?” “I have a hand cramp from signing papers for various business ventures, but I learned she’s been forging my signature, so I can’t imagine that will ever blow up in my face.” I lowered my forehead onto the desk. “How’s your night going?” “All quiet on the Western Front.” Laughing softly, I shut my eyes. “I’m about to head to HQ. Need something before I go?” We were short one beating heart for Natisha, but the witchborn fae coven wasn’t making it easy on us to complete our collection.

That worked in our favor, as I had yet to hit on a way to keep the viable hearts out of Natisha’s hands while still fulfilling our end of the bargain with her. I patrolled each night until I limped home with nothing but blisters to show for my efforts. The sight helped, but it hadn’t given me any insight to where they laired. The ability to see through glamour was handy, sure, but not everything was hidden behind illusion magic. Some of it was just hidden period. “Only for you to open the window.” Drawing myself upright, I pushed back my task chair then located the control for the blackout curtains. A soft whir rolled them aside, leaving me staring out at a breathtaking view of downtown Atlanta…and the equally breathtaking view of a golden-haired man with aquamarine eyes standing on the fire escape. Granted, his golden hair was skull shorn these days, but some guys can make any look work, and he was one of them. Fumbling with the window lock, I set the remote aside and shoved open a pane.

“Well, hello there.” “Join me for breakfast?” He gestured toward our outdoor nook where chocolate croissants in a glassine bag sat on my chair. A tray with two café mochas and two black coffees rested on the small table, and a container stuffed with crispy bacon rested on his chair. “I have a few minutes if you do.” “For chocolate—I mean, you—I will make time.” “I appreciate it.” He took my hand as I stepped out onto the coarse rug. “How is it you’re here?” “Mom is a big believer in early to bed, early to rise. We wrapped up our weekly security check-in around the time your alarm went off.” He waited for me to sit before joining me.

“I’m done for the night.” A tiny thrill zipped through me that he might patrol with me later. “What about post assignments?” “Ford is handling it.” “Hmm.” I dug in, and I groaned as the flaky pastry melted on my tongue. “And Bishop?” A slow grin spread across his mouth, and I knew my guess was right. He was the reason Bishop was MIA. “I heard a rumor he’s too busy 3D printing various weapons to notice you’re not on the roster tonight.” “Where did he get a 3D printer, I wonder?” “Who knows?” Midas played innocent. “But he seems happy about it.

” The ability to print whatever popped into his warped mind would entertain him for hours, if not days. This scheme of Midas’s explained why Remy had waylaid me at dusk with hiking Mount Paperwork too. She must have been tasked with keeping me busy until Midas arrived with the food. “You seem to have everything planned out.” I sipped my mocha, which was perfect. “Now that you have me all to yourself, what do you plan on doing with me?” A crimson sheen rolled across his eyes, and he wet his lips. “I would like to take you out on a date.” “The courtship is over,” I pointed out. “We’re an old mated couple now.” Five days old, but who was counting? “Our courtship wasn’t what it ought to have been.

” He broke a strip of bacon in half then handed me the larger piece, waiting until I took a nibble before he dug into his food. “I want to make things right.” Squinting at him, I confessed, “I…can’t tell if the other shoe is about to drop.” I had the unique ability to twist any seemingly innocuous phrase until it resembled a pretzel of insecurity. “The mate bond is permanent.” He grinned at that. “You’re stuck with me.” “Stuck is not a great word.” I tugged my earlobe. “It implies one or both of us doesn’t want to be here.

” Gaze traveling my face, he lowered his hands. “How do you think mate bonds are formed?” “I figured it was reflexive.” I squirmed on the spot. “Like you get within so many yards of your fated mate, and bam. A mystic bond is formed, and congratulations! You’re mated.” “Then why didn’t I mate with you the first time we met?” Again, my mouth had its own ideas. “You’re not an exhibitionist?” “Stop deflecting,” he chided me. “Why didn’t the mate bond snap into place the first time we met?” “I don’t know,” I muttered. “You didn’t know who I was?” The mixture of Amelie and Hadley, and Ambrose, might have confused his inner predator. “Exactly.

” He tapped my knee. “I had to learn you to love you, to choose you.” A pleased flush spread through my chest, warming me and slowing my heart’s frantic beat. “This—” he gestured between us, “—is what concerns me.” “That I’m a person-shaped bundle of neuroses and insecurities?” “I don’t want you to doubt.” He rubbed his palm over the stubble on his head. “Not me, and not us.” “I’m working on it,” I said quietly. “I trust you, I do, but I’ve never not screwed up a good thing.” “There’s a first time for everything.

” The smile I attempted fell flat, but his faith in me—in us—worked its magic. What we had was worth fighting for, every single day, every single hour, whatever it took, and I…I would get better about believing I was worthy of his love. “I don’t want you to feel like you missed out.” He crumbled another strip of bacon without eating it, a cry for help from a gwyllgi if ever I saw one. “I don’t want our story to only be how I tricked you into a courtship then kept our mating a secret from you out of fear you would leave me.” He wiped his hands clean on a napkin. “I want you to feel like you had a choice, not that I trapped you. Twice.” Oh, Midas. Our neuroses and insecurities played so well together.

We really were perfect for each other. “Midas.” I slid onto my knees in front of his chair. “There are many things I regret, but you will never be one of them.” I rolled a shoulder. “Our story is what it is. There’s no rewriting the past.” I tickled his ribs. “Plus, it’s flattering that you were so desperate to have me you acted lowdown and sneaky to get and keep me.” Granted, he hadn’t known what to do with me once he got me, but I had that effect on people.

“I did,” he agreed, his voice a low rumble. “I do.” Resting my palms on his thighs, I relished the clench of his muscles in response. “So… a date?” “Yes.” He traced the ovals of my fingernails. “I rented Choco-Loco for the night.” “Whoa.” I sat back on my ankles. “That place is crazy expensive.” I ought to know.

That’s where I sourced most of Ambrose’s treats. They sold human-friendly treats from noon to five, closed, then reopened around midnight. That’s when they broke out the real goods. “Chef Daaé too.” The pressure behind my breastbone increased tenfold. “You rented Chef Daaé?” “For an hour,” he clarified. “He promised that was enough to teach us how to make our own bonbons.” Squealing, I did a little dance that Ambrose joined in to mock me, but I didn’t care one whit. “I can’t believe you did this for me.” I flung my arms around Midas.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” “I did good?” “Better than good.” I pulled back enough to brush my lips over his. “I’m a very lucky girl.” “Let me know if that ever changes.” He kissed me back gently. “I want to make you happy.” “Same.” I pressed my cheek against his. “This couple stuff is terrifying, right?” “Yes,” he exhaled, warm breath on my throat.

“But I like it.” “Me too.” Pushing off him to stand, I dusted crumbs off my palms. “What should I wear?” “We’ll be in the kitchen, so comfort over style.” “I like that you think I have style.” “We have about forty-five minutes.” He checked his phone. “Can you be ready by then?” Cramming the final croissant in my mouth, I tucked one mocha into the bend of my right arm then claimed the second with my left hand. Throwing a leg over the windowsill, I mumbled around my food, “Yeth.” “I’ll clean up out here and meet you in the living room.

” Straddling the wall, hands and mouth full, I nodded to him, dropping crumbs down my shirt. A caffeinated skip in my step, I rushed into our bedroom and set my mochas on the new dresser, careful to center them on the delivery receipt rather than the gorgeous wood finish. While I pulled on a tight pair of skinny jeans and a cute blouse from the modest wardrobe I bought from Target to replace the clothes I lost in the fire, I stole gulps until I polished off both drinks. “You look amazing,” Midas said from the doorway. “God, you’re beautiful.” The compliment struck me with the force of a blow, knocking the wind out of me, and I staggered a bit. Midas had chosen to keep his sight. He saw through my glamour, past Hadley, straight to Amelie. And he still loved me, a woman whose truth lay somewhere in between who I was born as and who I was becoming. “You’re just saying that because I’m wearing clothes that don’t have holes or bleach spots for a change.

” I slid on sandals and turned to dig a hair tie from my purse. “The contrast is confusing you. That’s all.” Warm palms gripped my hips to hold me still, and calloused fingers spread heat across my stomach where Midas linked his hands at my navel. He ducked his head, burying his nose in my hair, and breathed me in deep. “I don’t care what you wear.” His lips brushed the side of my throat. “As long as you’re mine.” The urge to correct him—I was my own person, thank you muchly—faded when his teeth found my skin. “I love the way you taste,” he whispered in my ear, his voice husky and body hard against mine.

Dizzy from the potent words as much as the tender caresses, I asked, “Are you trying to seduce me?” “Yes.” No hesitation. No indecision. No qualifiers. Gulp. “Oh,” I said sexily, you know, if I were a frog croaking its mating call. Hands sliding back to my hips, he turned me toward him. “Are you okay with this?” The date, the seduction, or the chocolate, I don’t know which he meant, and I didn’t care. Head bobbing, palms sweaty, I forced my mouth to work. “Yes.

” “Ready?” He took my hand, but my brain had gone numb. “We don’t want to be late.” The heat in his gaze caused my stomach to quiver and tingles to spread through my fingertips. “Let’s do it—this.” I bit my lip. “Do this.” I tried again. “Let’s go make bonbons.” As Midas led me from the loft into the elevator, I got the impression my earlier wish to get into his pants was about to be granted. I was as stunned as Aladdin must have when the genie popped out of the lamp he had been rubbing.

Midas was seducing me. And he was off to a damn fine start.


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