Updated: Jul 6, 2020
“Babe,” Carina said when Corvun appeared in her cabin. The smell of saltwater and liquor danced around the warm room. When Corvun looked at her, she felt the loose hair on her neck and tucked it away. She was suddenly aware of everything else she hadn’t fixed—the uncorked bottles of rum and vodka, the oil lamp that ran low, the corset she’d tugged loose and discarded on her dinner table.
His eyes picked at every detail, but they returned to settle on her.
The soft, yellow lighting of her lamp painted him in tarnished golds and milky, chocolate browns.
“What are you doin’?” he asked. His voice was smooth, kicked back. Relaxation laced his words; his laziness teased her. His figure was nothing but a wavering, shadowy apparition. He touched the counter with his fingertips, tracing the smears and knife marks they’d left last time he visited. His black eyes slipped up to catch her gaze.
She wondered what he had in mind. She leaned back on her table. “About to make some dinner. You could join me.”
“Cancel your plans,” he told her.
Her heart jumped. “What are you doing?” she returned the question.
“We’re throwin’ a party for Rian. I want you to come,” his voice quieted. “Come spend some time with me,” he begged. He rounded her counter to stand before her.
She smiled, bit her lip. She looked at his lips. “Are you sure the twins won’t mind?”
“I’m sure,” he said. “Can you pick us up from Main Street? We need a ride downtown.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Thank you,” he uttered back. “Miss you.”
“I know you do,” she said.
He scoffed, grinned, and blew away when a sea breeze disturbed his shadowy form.
She borrowed the car from a parking lot, hotwiring her with a whispered promise to have her back by morning. The car was clean, save for the sand on the floorboard, and smelled like leather. She hoped there was enough room in the family sedan for the four assassins plus their egos. She met the four on Main Street, and they pushed Orion—who had a sack thrown over his head—into the back seat.
Carina stood out of the car to ask Corvun about it. He put a hand on the car next to her, grinning down at her with a wild, feral look.
“It’s just for fun,” he said. His nostrils flared. Adrenaline chased the pulse down his neck.
She looked at his mouth. She loved the way he smiled crooked and how his canines poked from one side of his smirk. “He smells like fear,” she told him.
“He’s had a bad night so far,” he said.
“He has a sack on his head. If I had a sack on my head I think I would be having a bad night as well.” Carina looked at Corvun’s black suit, black shirt, and gold tie. She caught the tie. “Be kind to him,” Carina warned. Carina tugged on his tie, and he leaned in.
He smelled like salt and pine and the ocean. His lips brushed hers.
She pulled back playfully.
“C’mon!” Jayren shouted from inside the car.
Carina grinned at him, and his eyes flashed mischievously back. She slipped into the driver's seat; Corvun took shotgun. She listened to the three in the back.
“Can you take the bag off my head now?”
“We’re abducting you. Of course not,” Venatrix said.
Jayren and Venatrix quieted.
“Take it off,” Jayren said.
Jayren pulled the sack off Orion’s head.
Carina watched from the rearview mirror.
“Thank you,” Orion said.
“Did you hear about that guy who said he got abducted by aliens?” Jayren asked.
“Aliens aren’t real,” Orion said. “If they were, you would’ve been the first one they’d taken out of this world.”
“Are you kidding? They’d’ve given him back. Aliens wouldn’t know how to handle his ass,” Venatrix said.
“Damn right,” Jayren said.
Corvun put a hand on Carina’s knee. “Next exit,” he told her.
When they pulled up to the bar, Corvun told the other three to go in ahead of them. Carina and Corvun found a spot to park the car. She killed the engine. In the low light of the parking garage with him, her senses heightened.
“How is he?” she asked. “The demon boy.”
“Hurtin’ as always,” Corvun said. “He’s okay.”
She listened to the hushing of his suit. He unclicked his seatbelt. She watched his hands—the black gauze that covered them was darker at his knuckles. He couldn’t fool her with the different colored bandages. She could still smell the blood from his beaten hands. Her breath hitched when he looked at her. “They’re not waiting for us,” she said.
His eyes traced her lips. His lips parted. His hand clasped the side of her face, and he closed the space between them.
Ophiah caught a cab to the bar, even though it was just a few blocks from her flat. She tipped the driver, slipped her heels back on, then stood before the task ahead of her. The doors were closed, and one bouncer stood in her way. He wore full black, and Ophiah’s blood ran cold. It assured her she would be the only harmless human in that building.
“You look unsure!” the cab driver called from behind her.
She closed her cab door. “Thank you for the ride,” she told him. She walked to the brick-faced bouncer, and he tilted his head at her.
“You’re on the list?” he asked.
“I’m his sister,” she said. “Let me in.”
The bouncer scoffed from between a sandpaper beard. “You’re Death’s sister?”
“Yes,” she said. Her voice cracked with frustration.
The door opened behind the man, and Corvun walked out. “She’s with us,” Corvun said. He looked at her with those awful, black eyes. He looked at her outfit—the tight, snake skin dress, the black, studded belt, the stilettos—and he cocked an eyebrow. “Are you tryin’ to give Jayren a heartattack?”
The bouncer stepped aside.
Corvun snapped a warning at the bouncer as she entered the bar.
It smelled of beer, of fried food and cheesy pizza, of perfume and cologne and leather. Always leather, with these assassins. She thought Jayren looked particularly good in leather pants, but she would never tell him. Her eyes scanned the room, darting between the swinging, glittering lights and the blue-and-green birthday banners strung over the walls for Orion. She spotted Jayren at the snack bar. He’d just shoved a chip in his mouth, and his cheeks puffed in a cough when he caught sight of her, too. He turned away.
She grinned a bit wider. She spent the next hour mingling shallowly with the assassins there, trying to corner Jayren. He always slipped out of reach before she could cut conversation with the other killers short. She finally stopped him at the bar.
He leaned to the side against the counter on one arm, and he checked her out. “So what, is this some spooky voodoo shit where you’re trying to warn me you’re going to skin me later? Because all you have to do is ask, and I’ll let you.”
“Let’s have a drink,” she said.
“No. Not a good idea. Last time I got drunk I totaled my bike.”
She remembered the event. She also remembered how Orion and he had rebuilt the red motorcycle in a week. “Did you come on your bike tonight?”
“No,” he said.
She touched his arm and watched his snake eyes widen into human pupils. He looked at her hand, blushed, then moved his free hand to brush his fingertips over her knuckles. She leaned a little closer. “Then you can have a drink,” she whispered. “I’ve had an awful week. I just want to end it better.”
“I’d drink to that.” Jayren looked past her to find Orion. “You know, he’s going to skin me first if he sees us.”
She leaned closer, and his eyes focused on her lips. She smiled.
“Happy birthday,” he said in a squeak of a voice. His breath smelled like a spearmint leaf.
She smiled wider, turned and ordered drinks for the both of them. She turned back and kissed his cheek.
He caught her jaw in his fingers and redirected her to his lips. His hand wandered to her neck, then her waist, then he pulled her closer to him. He kissed her until their drinks sat on the counter before them. He glanced at the drinks, and she watched his face as he returned his attention to her. His arms laced around her back. “Happy birthday,” he said again. He sounded more sure of himself. They downed their drinks, and Ophiah kept pulling him back for affection. She liked his fingers on her spine and the childish kisses he pressed across her cheek and neck. The liquor got to her head. She didn’t see Corvun walk up, only heard him clear his throat.
“Jay,” Corvun said.
“I told you no drinks until the toast.”
Jayren rolled his eyes, and Ophiah worried he would sell her out, but he didn’t.
“C’mon,” Corvun said.
Jayren followed Corvun, and Corvun shot her a glare.
She smiled in return.
Later that night, Jayren found her again. Orion was with him. Ophiah hugged her brother, wished him a happy birthday as well. When Jayren invited her back to their dorm, Orion said she should go with them. She thanked her brother, shot a sideways glance at Jayren, who breathed a sigh of relief. They took the car back to the edge of town, then the four of them took her with them when they left Carina there.
“Cheers!” Venatrix cried when they were back in the dorm. She pulled out four shot glasses and a coffee cup.
“Who’s the coffee cup for?” Jayren asked.
“Me!” she said. “Piss off.” She smacked his hand when he grabbed for it. She passed the shots around, now filled to the brim with amber-brown rum. She lifted the coffee cup—which Ophiah assumed had more than a single shot in it—and threw it back.
Corvun and Orion took their shots, and Ophiah joined them.
“Here’s to another year of not dying,” Orion said.
“I’d drink to that,” Jayren said as he swallowed his shot. He grabbed Ophiah around the waist and kissed her with wild abandon.
Venatrix cackled, and Corvun catcalled.
Ophiah stared past Jayren’s closed eyes to find Orion’s jaw hanging slack at the scene. Her insides tied in a knot.
Venatrix poured Orion another shot. “Relax. He told you they’re hooking up. I told you, too, by the way.”
Orion downed the shot.