Ember x, p.20
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       Ember X, p.20

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
Page 20


  “I just don’t like being close to people like that. ” I tousle my hair with my fingers and stare at the karaoke stage area in the corner.

  He slides his hand across the table and interlaces our fingers. “But you don’t seem to mind when I touch you. In fact, I have this idea in my head—and please let me know if I’m overshooting it here—that you like me a little. ”

  I shrug. “I guess you could say that… You make me feel calm and sometimes heated depending on what we’re doing. ”

  “Calm and heated, huh?” he muses. “And that’s a good thing, right?”

  “A very good thing. ” I smile and his eyes zero in on my lips.

  “You have a beautiful smile,” he says, wetting his lips with his tongue. “And beautiful lips. They taste really good too. ”

  My heart knocks inside my chest. “You’re really good. ”

  “I’m being serious. ” He reaches over with his free hand and caresses my bottom lip with the pad of his thumb. “These lips are so fucking soft… I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since I kissed you. ”

  I’m not sure if he’s a player or just genuinely sweet. “Thanks, I guess. ”

  He laughs, amused, and then pulls away as the waitress interrupts us with our food. “Here ya go, honey. ” She slides Asher’s food in front of him, and then drops my plate in front of me and it clanks loudly against the table. “If you need anything, let me know. ”

  “I think she might have a thing for you,” I say, dipping a fry into the ranch.

  Asher looks like he’s about to laugh. “You think?”

  “I do. ” I pick the onions off my chicken sandwich. “Why’s that so funny?”

  He pours ketchup on his burger. “Because you’re probably right, but she doesn’t stand a chance. She’s not really my type. ” He glances at the disposed onions on my plate. “You don’t like onions?”

  “You said that like I just admitted I hate chocolate, and onions and chocolate are on two very different levels. ”

  “Yeah, onions are much better. ”

  “You can eat them if you want. ” I motion at my plate. “What’s mine is yours. ”

  He picks up the onion, tips his head back, and spirals it into his mouth. “I’m going to hold you to that a little bit later. ” His eyes darken with desire.

  A tingling sensation coils inside, between my thighs, and I clear my throat before taking a bite of my chicken sandwich to distract myself. “So, you like the band From Autumn to Ashes?”

  He glances down at his shirt. “Yeah, I got this shirt at one of their concerts. They’re pretty good. Have you heard them play?”

  “Not in person. ” I pop a fry into my mouth. “But I have a lot of their songs downloaded. ”

  He bites into his hamburger and a droplet of ketchup stays on his lip. The urge to lean over and suck it off his lip surfaces again as he deliberately licks it off, watching me like he knows exactly what I’m thinking.

  We stare at each other with sweltering heat in our eyes and desire pulsating in our bodies. It’s something I don’t quite understand, because I barely know him, yet I don’t want the feeling to ever leave.

  “So what is there to do around here?” Asher’s voice sounds high and he clears his throat. “Besides hanging out at bars. ”

  “You’re asking the wrong person,” I tell him. “Honestly, the only thing I do is follow Raven to her parties. ”

  “Yeah, what’s up with that?” He picks a flake of lettuce off his hamburger. “It doesn’t seem like you’re really the partying type. Or the following type?”

  “I’m not, but—”

  “But Raven is, and she’s the boss,” he finishes for me.

  “She’s not the boss… Okay, well maybe she is, but it’s just her personality. ”

  He chews slowly and I’m fascinated by the way his mouth moves. “I had this friend back in New York who was a little bit bossy, so finally one day I told him to shove it. You know what, we still stayed friends. ”

  “I’m sure you didn’t tell him to shove it,” I remark. “You seem way too nice for that. ”

  A smile plays at his lips as he reaches over and steals another onion off my plate. “Do I?”

  I take a sip of my coke. “Are you trying to tell me that you’re secretly mean?”

  “I have a mean… side. ” He wavers. “I guess. But it doesn’t come out a lot. ”

  “I think everyone has sides of them that rarely come out. ” I stir the straw in my drink.

  He nods. “So what’s yours?”

  Crazy. “I don’t know…”

  “You don’t have to share it with me if you don’t want to. ” He takes a sip of his water. “I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to. ”

  It feels like there’s a hidden meaning in his words. “So what made you want to be an artist?”

  His jaw clamps tight. “My father was an artist and he passed along his gift to me. ”

  “You sound upset about that. Did you fight a lot with your dad or something?”

  “My dad wasn’t around a lot, but I love painting—it helps me get out what I’m feeling. ”

  “I know what you mean. ” I think of his Angel drawing and wonder what he was feeling when he painted it—I wonder if he knows stuff about Angels. “It’s why I write poetry. ”

  “I’d love to read some of your poetry,” he says.

  I stare down at my chicken sandwich and my hair falls around my face. “I usually don’t let people read it. Well, except for Raven, but she’s only read what I’ve written on my walls. ” And Cameron, but that was by accident.

  “You write on your walls?” He sprinkles some salt on his fries and returns the shaker back to the tray at the side of the table. “Now that is something you’ll have to let me see. ”

  “Sure. ” I tuck my hair back behind my ear. “There’s artwork on the walls, too—Raven’s and my brother’s. ”

  He wipes his hand on a napkin. “Maybe you’ll be nice enough to let me put something up on it. ”

  “Like a painting of your sad Angel. ”

  “Would you want that? A drawing of an Angel that would always be on your wall?”

  “There’s already one on there. Raven put it up when we were like eight. ” I take another bite of my chicken sandwich. “And my brother put the Grim Reaper on it for who knows what reasons, so I have the good version of death and the evil one. ” As I say it aloud, I think of the book I read; a battle between good and evil—between Angels of Death and Grim Reapers. I have the battle on my walls.

  Asher’s expression falls. “But which one’s evil and which one’s good?”

  It’s an obvious answer, but my lips decline to utter the words, and an image of my imaginary childhood friend pops into my head.

  The waitress arrives with the bill. I try to pay for my half, but Asher won’t allow it. While we’re waiting for the waitress to bring the change, two men walk inside the bar that catch my attention. They stand out in their business attire and fancy haircuts. The taller of the two has blonde hair and dark eyes that look really familiar. The longer I stare at him the more I realize that he looks like an older version of Cameron.

  Asher’s eyes find them and his eyes darken. The man returns the look with equivalent revulsion.

  “Do you know them?” I nod my head toward the two men.

  Asher’s eyes stay on them as he shakes his head. “No, I don’t,” he says through gritted teeth. He rips his gaze away and his expression is feral.

  “Asher, what’s wrong. ” I start to turn my head back to the men, but a man with long brown hair and a stocky body stumbles from a barstool, waving his finger at me.

  “Ain’t you that girl who killed her father?” he slurs, tripping over his shoelaces.

  “I didn’t kill him. ” I cringe uncomfortably, retreating back. “The cops just thought I did for a while. ”

  His thigh bumps the table and knock
s my coke over, spilling ice all over the table. “But didn’t you run away after you called the cops and reported his murder? Yeah, yeah, and they took you to jail. ”

  “That’s not how it happened,” I lie, scooping up the ice and dropping it in the cup.

  The waitress returns with the change. “Gary, you aren’t causing trouble, are you?”

  He bobs his drunken head. “Nah, just chattin’ with my good friends. This is that girl who killed her father. ”

  “I didn’t kill him!” I raise my voice louder than I meant to.

  Now more people than Gary are staring at me. The waitress gives Asher a concerned pat on the shoulder, like she thinks I’m going to kill him.

  “If you need anything else at all, just let me know. ” She tugs on Gary’s arm. “Come on, Gary. Let’s get you home. ”

  But he won’t budge. “You know I used to work at the same shop as your dad. ” He wipes the sweat from his forehead. “We were pretty good buddies. ”

  “That’s great. ” I put some money down on the table for a tip.

  Asher slides the money back at me. “No way. ”

  I push it back in the center of the table. “You paid for dinner and the least I can do is pay for the tip. ”

  He struggles, his jaw set tight, and then gives in. “Fine, but next time, you’re letting me pay for the whole thing. ”

  “Is there going to be a next time?” I ask.

  He smiles. “Absolutely. ”

  I begin to stand up, but Gary blocks the end of my booth and Amy hurries back to the counter to get some assistance. “Can you please move so I can get up?” I ask as politely as I can.

  His feet stay planted. “You know he used to talk about you when we’d go out drinking after work. ” He leans down in my face, his breath reeking of booze as he whispers in my ear. “He told me your little secret—how you could cause death. ”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about. ” I start to stand again, but he shoves me down by the chest and my elbow cracks against the table as the faint scent of his death pollutes my lungs: electricity, chair, people watch, grateful he’s dying. It’s vile and knocks the breath out of me.

  The next thing I know Gary is on the floor clutching his jaw and Asher is standing over him.

  “If you ever touch her again, I’ll fucking kill you. ” He extends his hand to me and I gladly take it.

  Calmness rushes through me as we swiftly weave around the tables, heading for the exit. A group of men push up from the barstools and follow us. Trouble lingers in the air, like a warning before a storm. Some of them are as weak looking as Gary, but some are large, beefy, and have scars all over their arms and faces, probably old wounds from bar fights.

  People eating dinner at the tables watch us nervously—they smell what’s coming. And so do I.