Part #7 of The Mediator series by Meg Cabot
“I’m not in shock,” I said. “I’m all right. I swallowed a lot of water, but I’m still in one piece. At least this one didn’t ruin my boots.”
“My . . . never mind. What are you doing now?”
“Helping you to avoid going hypothermic by sharing my body heat.” He’d pulled me onto his lap. “Do you disapprove?”
“Oh, no, I approve.” I slipped my arms around his neck, burying my face in his shoulder, enjoying the warmth of his strong body and the faintly antiseptic smell that seemed permanently to cling to him, thanks to the many times a day he had to wash his hands. I suppose I didn’t smell much better after the chlorine waterboarding I’d received at Lucia’s hands. “How did you know that I was in trouble?”
“I always know.” He tightened his arms around me, his lips intriguingly close to my right earlobe. “I felt her, all the way back at the hospital. Or I felt something, anyway. And then when I tried calling, and you wouldn’t pick up your phone—”
“I went for a swim. My phone’s back in the apartment.”
“I knew there was trouble when I asked if you wanted to play doctor later,” he said, “and you never replied.”
“That’s not true.” I turned my head so that his lips, instead of being close to my ear, were next to my mouth. “I said mucho gusto.”
“I never got that text. How can your Spanish still be so terrible after studying all these years?”
His hands slipped beneath the towel to singe my bare flesh. I sucked in my breath. “Is that something you do to all your patients you treat for shock?”
“No.” He pulled me closer to him. “Only you. You get special treatment.”
His lips came down over mine.
I could feel our hearts thumping hard, separated only by the thin damp microfiber of my swimsuit and the white dress shirt he’d worn to work. He pressed my body back against the chaise longue, his tongue hot inside my mouth, his hand just as hot against my bare skin, while yet another kind of heat radiated from the front of his straight-fits.
Those straight-fits. They were always causing me problems. When it wasn’t my gaze I had trouble keeping off them, it was my hands. Like now, for instance, especially since I could feel what was pushing so urgently through the front of them, practically branding the rivets of his fly into my thigh.
But I knew if I reached down and undid those buttons, then wrapped my fingers around all that masculine glory, the only thing I’d receive for my troubles was a groan, then a polite request that I stop what I was doing. I knew because it had happened a million times before. Jesse’s commitment to staying on the righteous path was admirable, but it was also frustrating.
So I knew he wasn’t going to strip off my bathing suit and do me on the chaise longue in the middle of the pool area at my apartment building. For one thing, that would be gross. Anyone, including Ryan from upstairs, could wander out onto their balcony and see us. And for another, that wasn’t how either of us had envisioned making love for the first time.
Though I had to admit that at that moment, I didn’t particularly care. I wished we were anywhere than the stupid pool deck. My bedroom upstairs, for instance, or his bedroom back over at Jake’s. Except that even in those places he always managed to keep from ripping my clothes off, whereas I seemed to have a real problem not pawing at his. Maybe the curse was wrong, and I was the one with the demon inside me—
“Susannah,” Jesse breathed into my ear after a while.
“I know.” I removed my hand.
He pulled away from me, the chaise longue groaning in protest, and sat up, his back to me. It was hard to tell without being able to see his face, but he seemed like he was in pain.
I was familiar with the feeling.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” I volunteered after a few moments of no sound but chirping crickets.
“Yes, it does,” he said to the concrete. “The wedding’s not until next year.”
“Screw the wedding.”
“Your parents would be delighted to hear that since they’ve already put down the deposit for the basilica and the reception.”
“You know what I mean. I get that I’m not as religious as you are, but I really don’t think God will mind.”
“But most people these days don’t wait until the wedding—”
“Most people aren’t as indebted as I am to the bride and her family.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. No one cares about that.”
“I care. What’s worse is that I came here to rescue you, not ravage you.”
“I believe there was mutual ravaging, and what little of it there was I thoroughly enjoyed.”
“Still, you deserve better.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m the best judge of that. And I decided I deserve the honor of being the wife of Dr. Jesse de Silva a long time ago. There’s no greater honor, in my opinion.”
The crooked smile he shot me hadn’t the slightest bit of humor in it. “Thank you for the kind words, but what have I got to offer a wife? No family, no money, nothing but debt—over $200,000 of it. You know that as a resident, my salary averages out to about twelve dollars an hour, and that’s for an eighty-hour workweek. That’s less than what the orderlies earn.”
I reached out to smooth some dark hair from his forehead. “I know what you’re going to say, because you’ve said it so many times before, but I’d like to remind you once again that the income from my investments is enough to pay off your monthly student loans. If you’d just—”
He seized my hand so abruptly that for a moment I caught a glimpse of the darkness Paul had mentioned, and that Jesse usually kept so well controlled. A second later, however, it was gone, and he was pressing my fingers gently to his lips.
“Thank you again, but you and your family have given me quite enough.”
“You’re forgetting how much you’ve given me. Like tonight, for instance.”
His dark eyebrows knit in confusion. “Tonight?”
“My life, Jesse. You gave me my life tonight. Like you’ve done a million times before, remember? A million and one, if you count this evening.”
His eyebrows relaxed, and this time when he smiled there was both warmth and humor in it. “Oh, that. Well, it was the least I could do. You’ve returned the favor, occasionally.”
“Occasionally. So you might want to cut the self-pitying bullshit about how you have nothing but debt to offer a wife. You’ve got plenty to offer. Not in the way of material things yet, maybe, but you’re pretty good looking, in my opinion, and you’ve got the lifesaving thing down pat. And then of course there’s what’s in your pants. That’s pretty impressive, too.”
The smile turned self-deprecating. “How charming, Susannah. It’s a pity my mother is dead, she’d be so proud.”
“She should be.” I reached out to straighten his tie—he was required to wear one to work, and looked extremely dashing in it—and ended up fingering the collar of his shirt. “Uh-oh. You really are soaked, aren’t you? You can’t go back to your shift in wet clothes. You’ll catch a cold. You should probably take your shirt off and come upstairs with me and let me dry it for you.”
“You don’t have a drying machine in your apartment,” he pointed out. “Are you trying to get me naked, Miss Simon?”
“It’s called a dryer, not a drying machine, and yes, Dr. de Silva, I am.”
“Are we ever going to talk about what happened here tonight, Susannah?”
“Well,” I said. “When a man and a woman like each other very much, they start kissing, and then they get a funny feeling in their tummies. And in a normal relationship the man goes with the woman to her apartment, and they get naked and relieve each other of the funny feeling. Unless the man insists on waiting until we’re married, and then the woman has a nervous breakdown—”
“Not that,” he interrupted. “Though that was a very comical speech, and I quite enjoyed it. I meant th
“Oh, her. She’s the very protective ghost of that girl at the mission I was telling you about—who happens to be Kelly Prescott’s stepdaughter, by the way. I didn’t think she’d follow me all the way out here from school. It was my fault, really. I should have been more watchful.”
“Your fault? None of this was your fault.” Jesse’s normally warm brown eyes no longer looked particularly warm, and it was easy to tell there might be a gap in his résumé where Spent a century and a half haunting a home as a spectral presence ought to have been. “Why is it that whenever Kelly Prescott’s name comes up, trouble seems to follow?”
“Because she’s a total bitch?”
The corner of Jesse’s lips twitched upward. The darkness was gone as quickly as it had appeared. He stood, then held out a hand to me.
“I can see you’re feeling better. Which is just as well, since I need to go back. I told them I was running out to buy cigarettes, and I’ve been gone way too long.”
“Cigarettes?” I slipped my hand into his and allowed him to pull me to my feet. “Jesse, you don’t smoke.”
“No, but a lot of the nurses do. I needed them to cover for me, so my plan was to bribe them with cigarettes. But now I’m going to be even longer if I need to wait for you to get your things together, then follow you out to Snail Crossing.”
“Snail Crossing? Why would you follow me out to Snail Crossing?”
I was confused. Snail Crossing was the name of the ranch house Jake had bought in Carmel Valley, then convinced Jesse to move into with him after Jesse got his fellowship at St. Francis (thank God, because I’m not sure how much longer even someone as religious as Jesse is could have taken living with Father Dominic, who’d supported him—with the help of the church—in the first year Jesse had found himself suddenly alive, before getting accepted to medical school).
Dubbed Snail Crossing because the front yard was so deeply tree shaded that snails crept across the pavers at all hours of the day and night, Jake’s house had become our primary social hangout, the sight of many an epic barbecue, pool party, and deep intellectual conversation around the backyard fire pit.
But that didn’t mean I had any intention of going there tonight. I’d ignored Jake’s text about “brews and za” and his current crush, Gina, for a reason.
“You need to go there for your own safety, Susannah,” Jesse said. “I know you’ve taken every precaution with your place, and it’s probably one hundred percent secure against paranormal attack. But Jake’s is even more secure right now, because that little hellion hasn’t figured out where it is. And you know the kind of security system Jake has.”
Did I ever. As soon as medical marijuana had become legal in the state of California, Jake—whom I’d always referred to in my head as Sleepy, because he’d seemed so out of it—stunned us all by revealing he’d parlayed his pizza-delivery earnings into the purchase of a plot of land in Salinas and modest storefront in Carmel Valley.
The result—Pot-Ential—does amazing numbers. A national newspaper recently named Jake one of the top business owners in the Monterey Bay area.
But just because marijuana was legal at the state level didn’t mean banks were allowed to accept transactions involving the drug. This caused Jake to have, at any given time, hundreds of thousands dollars of cash sitting around in the safe at his house, because he didn’t want to risk the lives of his employees by keeping it at the shop. He’d been forced to install a state-of-the-art security system—and purchase a large number of firearms—in order to fend off individuals who might mistakenly think that a hippy-dippy dispensary owner didn’t know how to protect himself and his cash.
So in addition to having a large swimming pool, fire pit, and terrestrial mollusks, Snail Crossing was almost as impregnable as Fort Knox.
“It’s better for you and Gina to stay there,” Jesse said, “until we get this thing sorted.”
I dropped his hand. “What?”
“I know you don’t like it, but—”
“Don’t like it? Jesse, I thought we agreed you were going to cut out the overprotective nineteenth-century macho man bullshit.”
“That was before I saw that devil child coming after you tonight. Don’t try to pretend that what happened didn’t frighten you, Susannah. If I hadn’t come along when I did—”
“Fine, she frightened me,” I interrupted, shrugging loose from the arm he’d lain across my shoulders. This was not a good development. How was I going to get to Home Depot before closing to buy salt if I had to pack up and go to the Crossing? Especially with Jesse following me. “But not enough to drive me from my own home. For God’s sake, Jesse, she knows where I work, too. What am I supposed to do, not show up to school tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow Father Dominic will be there,” Jesse said. “He’ll know how to handle her.”
I let out a bitter laugh. “Oh, right! Jesse, no offense, but Father Dominic is the one who failed to notice her in the first place, and allowed all this to happen.”
“Please.” He laid both hands on my shoulders. “Susannah. How am I supposed to be able to work knowing you’re here alone with that thing looking to harm you? And I know you would never allow Gina to risk her life for you. At least at the Crossing, there’s Max.”
Now fairly ancient, the Ackerman family dog lived with Jake and Jesse, padding around the house in search of bits of stray food to eat and sunny spots in which to fall asleep.
“Yes, Max,” Jesse said. “You know he’s always had a preternatural ability to sense when spirits are around. Look how he avoided your bedroom when you were in high school.”
“Because you were there.”
Funny how now that Jesse’s soul was back in his body, Max was quite affectionate toward him. The dog certainly didn’t seem to sense any kind of evil in him. Let Jesse’s cat, Spike, walk into the room, however, and all hell broke loose.
“You know the safest thing to do right now is what I ask,” Jesse went on, ignoring me. “If not for me, for the children.”
“Children?” I echoed, bemused. “What children? Our future children? Let me tell you something, Jesse, those are getting harder and harder to imagine since you won’t even—”
“The children whose parents might bring them to the emergency room tonight at St. Francis Medical Center,” he interrupted, looking down at me with those big dark eyes. “How will I be able to concentrate on them when I’ll be so busy worrying about you?”
I have to admit, for a minute I fell for it, lost in those gleaming eyes. I melted. Should I tell him? I thought. It wasn’t fair of me not to. He deserved to know what Paul was doing. Look at him, so clean cut in his tie, so professional, so angelic. There wasn’t an ounce of malevolence in him. He was so gentle, he cared so much about children. He’d never lay a finger on Paul . . .
Then I remembered the time he’d tried to drown Paul in the hot tub at 99 Pine Crest, and realized how easily he’d manipulated me.
I pushed him away.
“Oh, my God, you jerk. Fine. I’ll do it, but for the children. Not for you.”
“Good.” He leaned down with a grin to scoop up my clothes and toss them to me. “Hurry. She used up a lot of energy in her attack on you, but now she’ll have had time to regroup. I’ll text Gina to ask what she needs from the apartment while you pack up Romeo and the rest of your things.”
“Great.” I rolled my eyes as he unlatched the childproof gate leading to the stairs back to my apartment, then held the gate open for me with one hand while he texted Gina with the other. “My dream come true. I finally get to sleep in your bed, and you won’t even be there.”
This caused him to glance up from his phone, one dark eyebrow raised. It was the one with the scar through it, a perfect crescent moon of skin where dark hair should have been. “Perhaps that’s for the best,” he said. “If I were in that bed with you, and you were dressed like that, you’d get no sleep at all.”
He snaked an arm around my waist and pulled me hard against him, so quickly, and with such force, it momentarily knocked the breath from me. I dropped my clothes.
“What’s the matter?” I glanced around in alarm, thinking that Lucia had reappeared, and he was snatching me from eminent danger.
But I realized the danger I was sensing was of an entirely different kind when he pressed me even closer against him, so close that I could feel the sharp definition of the buttons of his shirt—and the hardness of him through the rivets of his fly.
“I always keep my promises,” he said in a voice that was deeper than usual.
Then he leaned down to kiss me, and I felt the danger—and his promise—through every nerve in my body. It coursed from my lips all the way down to my toes, and reawakened other parts that had only recently calmed down again after being overexcited by the chaise longue.
“Y-yes,” I said, clinging to him a little unsteadily when he finally let me up for air. “You do keep your promises. I’ll give you that.”
“Hey, you two,” I heard my neighbor Ryan shout from his balcony. “Get a room!”
Jesse pulled reluctantly away from me, shooting a hostile glance in Ryan’s direction. “I’m really starting to dislike him.”
“Yeah, me, too.” I kept an arm around Jesse’s waist, since I needed the support. I still felt a little shaky. “Let’s get out of here.”
I had classes Tuesday and Thursday mornings until eleven, which was rough for me even when I wasn’t up late the night before recovering from an attack from a Non-Compliant Deceased Person.
But it was particularly rough that Thursday morning. Jake had been super excited about his unexpected overnight guests—well, one of them, anyway. He kept me and Gina up talking for hours, covering any and every topic he could think of, including but not limited to: what Jake would do if he got his hands on the “creeper” who was stalking us (the excuse Jesse gave him—and Gina—for why we’d suddenly had to crash at their house for the night); the tastiness of thin-crust pizza; what constituted a perfect wave, and why Jake was so good at riding them; and the unfairness of his not being made best man at my forthcoming wedding.
Remembrance by Meg Cabot / Romance & Love / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes