Home > Rhapsodic (The Bargainer #1)(7)

Rhapsodic (The Bargainer #1)(7)
Author: Laura Thalassa

But this is the best of three bad options.

So, for the second time in my life, I call the Bargainer.

Present

I freeze in the doorway.

The Bargainer reclines against my headboard, looking for all the world like a predator. Sleek, caged power and dangerous eyes. He also appears far too comfortable in my bed.

Seven years. Seven long years have passed since he exited my life. And now here he is, lounging on my bed as though nearly a decade didn’t come between us. And I have no fucking clue how I’m supposed to react.

His eyes move over me lazily. “You’ve upgraded your lingerie since I last saw you.”

Jesus, talk about getting caught with your pants down.

I ignore the way his words cut into me. The last time he saw me I was a lovesick teenager, and he wanted nothing to do with me.

“Hello, Desmond Flynn,” I say, invoking his full name. I’m fairly certain I’m one of only a few people who know it, and that information makes him vulnerable. And right now, as I stand clad in nothing but my lingerie and come to grips with the fact that the Bargainer is in my room, I need him vulnerable.

He gives me a slow, smoldering smile that tightens my stomach even as it constricts my heart. “I didn’t realize you wanted to spill secrets tonight, Callypso Lillis,” he says.

The Bargainer’s eyes devour my exposed skin, and I feel like that fumbling teenager all over again. I take a deep breath. I’m no longer that girl, even if the man in front of me looks exactly the same as he did in my youth.

Same black-on-black clothing, same imposing frame, same stunning face.

I cross the room and grab my cotton robe from where it hangs on the back of the bathroom door. The entire time I can feel his eyes on me. I turn away from him to slip it on.

Seven years.

“What do you want, Des?” I ask, cinching the robe at my waist.

I pretend like this is normal. That him being in my house is normal, when it’s not. God, is it not.

“Demanding as always, I see.”

I yelp as his breath tickles my ear. I swivel around to face him.

The Bargainer stands not even a foot away from me, so close I can feel his body heat. I didn’t hear him get up from the bed and cross the room. Not that I should be surprised. The magic he uses is subtle; most of the time if you aren’t looking for it, you won’t notice it.

“Odd character flaw of yours,” he continues, his eyes narrowed, “considering how much you owe me.” His voice is husky and low.

This close to him I can see every complex facet of his face. High cheekbones, aristocratic nose, sensual lips, chiseled jaw. Hair so pale that it appears white. He’s still far too pretty for a man. So pretty I can’t seem to look away when I know I should.

It’s his eyes that have always captivated me the most. They’re every shade of silver, darkest at their edges where a thick band of charcoal grey rings them and lightest near their centers. The color of shadows and moonbeams.

It hurts to look at him, not just because he is inhumanly beautiful, but because he shredded my fragile heart a long time ago.

The Bargainer takes my hand in his, and for the first time in seven years I come face-to-face with the sleeve of tattoos he sports.

I glance down at our entwined hands as he pushes the sleeve of my robe up, exposing my onyx bracelet.

My bracelet covers most of my forearm, each bead a magical IOU for a favor I’ve bought off the Bargainer.

He twists my wrist back and forth, assessing his work. I try to pull my hand away, but he won’t let go. “My bracelet still looks good on you, cherub,” he states.

His bracelet. The one piece of jewelry I can’t remove. Even if it weren’t strung with spider silk and thus too strong to cut off, the magic that binds it to my wrist prevents me from removing it until my I pay off my debts.

The Bargainer’s hand tightens on mine. “Callie, you owe me a lot of favors.”

My breath catches in my throat as my gaze meets his. The way he looks at me, the way his thumb is rubbing circles into the soft skin of my hand … I know why he’s here. On some level, I knew it since I first caught sight of him on my bed. This is it, the moment I’ve been waiting seven years for.

I exhale. “You’re finally here to collect.”

Instead of answering me, the Bargainer’s other hand glides up my captive wrist, over all seventeen rows of my bracelet, not stopping until he gets to the very end of it, until his fingers grasp the last of my 322 beads.

“We’re going to play a little game of Truth or Dare,” he says. His eyes flick to mine, and they gleam with mischief.

My heart slams into my chest. He’s finally collecting his payment. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.

His mouth curls seductively. “What will it be, Callie—truth or dare?”

I blink a few times, still stunned. Ten minutes ago I would’ve laughed if someone told me Desmond Flynn was waiting for me to come home so that he could collect on my debts.

“A dare it is,” he says gleefully, filling in my silence for me.

Fear grips my heart. The Bargainer is infamous for his steep payments. And it’s rarely money he asks for; he has no need for it. No, he usually takes something more personal, and every repayment comes with added interest. Considering I have 322 unpaid favors, the man essentially owns my ass. If he wanted to, he could order me to wipe out a small village, and I’d be magically bound to until each and every bead winked out of existence.

He’s a dangerous man, and at the moment, he’s rolling a bead between his fingers and watching me with those calculating eyes.

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