Lizzie stood against the wall with her hands behind her back, facing the door. Her blood-red dress was little more than a collection of straps, hugging her curves and revealing delectable creamy skin. It came to a stop high on her thighs, showing miles and miles of long legs that ended in matching strappy sandals, the heels of which might have been high enough to make her taller than him. Her long hair flowed down one shoulder in waves. Her stance went past confident into aggressive, from the set of her face to the way she cocked her hip to one side while he stared. For all the heat on display, though, it didn’t reach her eyes. Their blue depths were chips of pure ice.
Heat he could handle. It was the ice that had him worried. “I thought there was some fashion rule about redheads not wearing red.”
“When you’re a redhead that looks like me, you can wear whatever you want.”
Vadim stepped into the room and put his hands in his pockets. “Can’t argue with that kind of logic. Going out?”
“You might say you already offer that service. After all, you did show up.”
The roving red light of the bird was getting annoying. Vadim flicked on the overhead lights with a small push of magic. “I’m here for business, Lizzie. Not pleasure.” Even he could hear the lie in his voice.
“You’re here for whatever I want.”
He licked his lips. “Look, sweetheart. Not that it wouldn’t be fun—”
She cut in. “Fun isn’t the word I’d use.”
“I don’t think I want to know what word you’d use.”
She laughed, the sound as cold and sharp as her eyes. “Oh, come on. Aren’t you curious what it would be like?”
Vadim shrugged. “Curiosity and cats, you know.”
She pushed off the wall and took a predatory step toward him. “If I hadn’t left you for shooting your mouth off, what would you have done? Skipped right to the blackmailing, or fucked me first?”
“I really don’t know.” He looked her up and down, taking another good look at the dress and the skin and the long, long legs. Looking never hurt. Looking wouldn’t get him in trouble. “So what’s got you on edge?”
“You.” She advanced with lethal grace, indeed an inch or so taller than him in those deadly heels. Gods damn it, that was hot. Desire rattled the last of the nightshade torpor from his system. She reached for him, snaking her hands in his hair and pulling his mouth to hers.
The kiss matched the rest of her. Burning hot on the outside, all the right strokes and bites and dirty hunger. But there was a taste of frost to it that didn’t sit right with him. Reluctantly he pulled away. “What are you doing?”
The witchlight bird exploded in an angry torrent of red sparks over his head. She shoved him, teetering on the dangerously high heels. He caught her wrist and drew her into the circle of his arms. “Lizzie?”
She beat her fist on his chest. “So you’ll fuck me one way but not the other? I don’t even know what you want from me.”
“I need information. Passwords. Security codes. That sort of thing. I’ve got a list of places. Whatever you want in exchange, I’ll do it.” He brushed her hair from her face. “I’ll teach you all the magic you want.”
Her face crumpled, the ice in her eyes melting into tears as a quiet, ragged sob slipped out.
Vadim held her tighter. “It’s business, Lizzie. Not blackmail but a business arrangement. That’s what we agreed.”
She twisted out of his embrace and turned away from him. Her shoulders shook and she wrapped her arms around her midsection.
“People like us don’t cry over business arrangements,” he said. “What happened?”
Gradually she stilled. She smoothed her hair back and straightened her posture.
“Lizzie.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing.
“Can you teach me how to forget? Can you make me a different person?” She turned her head to look at him. Twin tracks of mascara ran down her cheeks but the tears were over. “Is there a spell for that?” Her broken, sad laughter drove into his heart and made a place for itself there.
“You might be surprised at what I can do.” I might surprise myself at what I would do.
“Take me to bed.” The request was simply stated and she did not look away or act the least bit embarrassed. She simply met his gaze and told him what she wanted.
Vadim froze, unbelieving. This woman made absolutely no sense to him. He tried to order his thoughts and push away the images driven by his lust. “I don’t know what happened but it’s very clear to me something is wrong.” He removed his hand from her shoulder and stepped away. “You’re vulnerable and needy and I may be a lot of things but I’m not the guy who takes advantage of women in that state.”
She nodded. “I am vulnerable tonight. I have had a nightmare of a day. My life is falling apart around me and I don’t know how to stop it. But that’s not why I want you to take me to bed.”
He took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. “Okay. Why, then?”
“Because I’m sick of living in my own skin. Because I want to step outside myself, even if it’s just for a little while.” She curved her lips into a slight, teasing smile. “Because you made a hash of blackmailing me because you want me too.”
“Again, there’s that logic I can’t argue with. Still, though, I’m pretty sure I’ll go to hell for this.”
She ran her fingers down his tie, all the way down. “I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Oh, gods, yes. Yes, you will.”
Learn more about Witchlight and the Magic Born trilogy here.