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As the sun dipped lower, the evening grew chilly, but I didn’t feel it. Not really. I noticed the biting wind as it hit my face, ruffling my hair and lifting Delia’s off her shoulders. But she was actually talking to me, and laughing, so the cold… Yeah, it didn’t matter.
Except as we continued along, I saw the way her face turned rosy and how she started to hunch down farther into her slight jacket as we walked around campus.
Tentatively, I reached out and wrapped my fingers around hers. “Come on. I owe you a tea.”
“You don’t have to,” she protested, though it seemed weak and she didn’t pull away.
“I want to,” I assured her. “Unless you need to be somewhere…”
“No,” she said quickly before catching her lower lip between her teeth.
I felt the familiar desire to do it myself, nip at her mouth, soothe it with my tongue. I swallowed thickly and smiled at her, happiness curling warmly inside me, fighting off the cold even more, when she returned that smile.
“Just dinner, but I had a super late lunch—got distracted studying.” She shrugged. “So I’m not really hungry, and I’ve snacks in my room to hold me over.”
“Pretty sure I can manage a little something along with the tea.” I squeezed her hand. “Especially if it means a bit more time with you.”
She laughed softly, somehow sounding happy and sad at the same time. “You’re not making this easy,” she murmured.
“And what would ‘this’ be exactly?” I asked as we approached the campus coffee shop.
She ducked her head, peering at me through her lashes before averting her gaze completely. “Keeping my distance.”
I had to fight to keep the frown from my face. Stopping with one hand on the door handle, I tucked an errant curl behind her ear. “I can promise you—I’m going to do my best to make that as difficult as possible.”
Her cheeks brightened even more, and though she pressed her lips together, I could see the smile twitching the corners of her mouth. Relief swept over me. I knew she’d initially been interested, and I was trying like hell to charm her, but had wondered through the past few weeks if it was a useless endeavor. If her opinion of me was set in stone and there was no way we’d even have the smallest chance of building something.
I pulled open the door and followed her in. Spotting a small, empty table toward the back, I settled my hand on her shoulder. Her eyes were wide, pupils dilated, when she turned to look at me. She practically vibrated under my touch.
“Why don’t you grab that table for us?” I suggested, nodding in that direction. “I’ll get us our drinks. Coffee or tea today?”
“You owe me a tea, remember?” Her voice trembled, but her face lit up with a wide smile.
I chuckled as Delia wove through the crowded room then stepped forward to wait my turn at the counter. Luckily, the line moved quickly, and it was only a couple of minutes before I made my way to Delia, two mugs in hand, a plate of sweets balanced on one of them.
“Couldn’t make up your mind?” she asked, amused, when I set everything on the table.
“Didn’t know what you liked.” I shrugged. “So, I covered my bases.”
Bringing her tea to her mouth, she took a long sip. Her eyes slid shut, and she hummed happily. “Perfect.”
“I finally got it right, then?”
She tilted her head, brow furrowed slightly, and met my gaze. “Hmmm?”
“The tea. I know you like it, because I heard you order it a while back. When we kept bumping into each other, and I was hoping you wouldn’t think I was some sort of stalker.” I took one of the brownie bites and popped it into my mouth. After chewing and swallowing, I continued, “I didn’t see how you took it, though—how much sugar or cream or if you even took them. So, I’ve been guessing, changing it up, hoping I’d get it right one of these times.”
She stared several long moments, and I wondered what was going through her mind. Then, she shook her head. “I just… I like tea, and I’m not picky,” she said quietly. “Every cup was lovely. Thank you.”
She lowered her eyes and fiddled with the handle of her cup. I didn’t know what happened, but the easy atmosphere that had surrounded us during our walk was gone. It seemed we were back to uncomfortable and stilted. Fuck.
I racked my brain, desperate to come up with something to say, to break out of this awkwardness.
“How’re classes going?” Seriously, classes? Smooth, Roberts.
“Good, I guess,” Delia said, lifting her head. “A bit tougher than I expected, but that’s mostly because I’ve been spending so much time working with Peyton and Addie on the…”
“The rally,” I finished for her when she trailed off. “You don’t have to avoid the subject, you know.”
She sighed and slumped back in her chair. “I don’t think discussing…anything about it is a good idea, do you? Especially when our views differ so much.”
I took her hand, which still rested on the edge of the table, wrapping my fingers around hers. “I told you, Delia, I don’t think our opinions on magic users are that different.”
Her thumb rubbed along the side of my hand. “I know you believe that, but they really are.”
“How?” I don’t know why I was pushing this. It’d be better, all around, to avoid the subject of magic and anything to do with it. “I told you, I’m a Sympathizer, just like you. I may not be as…open about it. It’s complicated with my parents and…everything. But I don’t want any magic user hurt or worse. And I think I made that clear when I spoke.”
“When you spoke at the anti-magic rally.” She lifted a brow.
“Yes.” I sighed. “Would it help if I said I fight against using the term anti-magic every single time?”
Her lips twitched. “Maybe a little. But it doesn’t change the facts, Maddock. We’re on opposite ends of a very big issue. Hardly the solid foundation of a relationship. Oh! Not that you’re looking for or are even interested in a relationship or anything. I’m just saying that you—” She stopped abruptly and took a deep breath. “We’re very different is what I’m trying to say.”
“Not so different, although you seem to be unwilling to consider that.” I cringed inwardly at the hard bite of my words, but couldn’t deny the annoyance I felt.
“You think that magic is some sort of disease or defect, but it isn’t.” she said quickly, her fingers spasming in my grip. “Have you ever met someone with magic? Talked to them? Or are you basing everything you believe on what you’ve seen on the news or what your parents have told you?”
“My parents are trying to help those with magic,” I protested. “Their research, their work—”
“Is all about finding a way to remove magic from people, I know. But have you ever stopped to think that doing that is wrong? That magic doesn’t make anyone do anything, certainly not anything bad. It’s not evil. They’re not evil,” she finished in a hoarse whisper.
The sight of her blue eyes swimming with tears made if hard to process her words. It slowed everything down, made me ache.
“I don’t think they’re evil, Delia. I just want…” Realization hit me, hard and fast. “You know someone with magic, don’t you?”
“You do, too,” she snapped, pushing to her feet. “I mean… Odds are that you do—someone you grew up with or go to school with—but who the hell would ever admit to something like that? Who would take that risk? Especially with you.”
Not for the first time since I’d met Delia, the vehemence in her tone shocked me, but more than that, the stark fear I saw in her eyes before she darted past me toward the exit doused any anger I felt. I stood and hurried after her, even though I wondered if I should. If I should even be trying so hard with this girl.
This beautiful, funny, intriguing girl.
Seeing her heading in the direction of her dorm, I called out, “Delia, wait!”
To my surprise, she stopped and turned to face me when I approached.
“I don’t want to fight with you,” I said simply, not really sure what else to say.
“It’s a bit inevitable,” she murmured.
“I don’t believe that.”
“Of course you don’t, because despite…everything, turns out you’re a genuinely nice guy. And that’s why this—spending time together—is a bad idea. Because liking you even more than I already do is the last thing I need.” Her eyes widened. “I mean… Dammit.”
“See?” I grinned. “You already like me. There’s hope, then, yeah?”
“I do like you.”
I could hardly hear her whispered words over the wind, but my reaction—my stomach jumping wildly, the tightening in my chest—was overwhelming. I lifted my hand and cupped her cheek, heart kicking up when she leaned into the touch, her eyes fluttering closed a moment. I stepped forward, resisted the urge to take her mouth, to taste, not wanting fuck this up.
“And I like you. Why don’t we just focus on that?” I dragged my thumb along the edge of her lower lip.
“I want to, but—” She drew in a shaky breath. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay away from each other? Not get in deeper? Maybe then it won’t hurt so bad when it all… It’s not as horrible to hate someone you didn’t like so much to begin with.”
“Why are you so convinced I’m going to hate you?” I brought my other hand up and framed her face, loving the way her hair slid over my fingertips. “It’s not as if I’m going into this blind, Delia. I know where you stand on things, and I’m fucking determined to show you I’m not the enemy here.”
She turned her head slightly, and her soft lips pressed to my thumb. “I should go.”
“All right,” I said easily, dropping my arms and taking her hand in mine.
She laughed as I pulled her around and led her down the path. “You don’t have to walk me home. I’m a big girl.”
“Of course I do. It’s what you do after.”
She glanced up at me. “After what?”
I shifted our hands, weaving our fingers together. “After a date.”
“That wasn’t a…” She wet her lips. “That was a date?”
“Damn straight it was. And a long time coming, too. This was supposed to happen day one, remember? Been waiting a while for this, Delia.”
She scoffed and nudged my arm with her shoulder. “You have very low expectations for a date—a few sips of tea and a small sweet before I got all crazy and walked out on you.”
“I happen to like our first date, but duly noted. Next time, I’ll make every effort to meet your date expectations,” I teased, satisfied when I saw her smile grow and relieved when she didn’t protest the idea of another date.
We didn’t speak again—just walked together, hand in hand—until we stopped in front of her building. She shifted from foot to foot and slowly pulled her hand from mine. I thought it boded well for me that she seemed reluctant to do that.
“Thanks. For the tea and…everything. I’ll see you around, Maddock.”
“You forgot something.” I moved close until barely any space separated us and she was forced to tilted her head up to meet my gaze.
“And what’s that?”
“This was a date.” I slid my hand through her hair and cupped the back of her head.
“So you say.”
“And I walked you home.”
“Quite the gentleman.” Her fingers danced along my chest.
“So, here we are, after our date, after our romantic walk home, more or less on your doorstep. And since you’ve been less than impressed with our first date so far—”
“I never said that,” she protested.
I lowered my head, stopping when my mouth nearly touched hers. “I thought maybe ending with a…traditional goodnight kiss might improve my chances of getting that second date.”
Before she could respond I closed the scant distance between our lips and finally, finally, tasted her. A surprised gasp opened her to me, allowing me to lick inside. And, fuck me, my brain short-circuited. Only the slick glide of her tongue along mine, the tight circle of her arms suddenly around my neck, the hot, hard press of her body against mine was all that registered. And one thought, just one, echoed though my mind—not enough.
It took every ounce of willpower to draw back, to pull myself from the sweetness of Delia when all I wanted was more. Taking in her flushed face, her kiss-swollen lips, her heavy lidded gaze, I groaned then released her completely.
“Good night, Delia.”
She laughed, a short shaky huff, as she stepped back. “You weren’t lying.”
I frowned. “About?”
With a smile, she kept moving away, still facing me. “About doing what you could to make staying away from you difficult.”
“I always keep my promises.”
A strangled noise fell from her mouth. “See? You’re not playing fair, Maddock.”
I lifted a shoulder and grinned. “Maybe not, but you like it, don’t you?”
“More than I should,” she murmured. “Just hope you don’t regret it later.” She blew out a long breath. “Good night, Maddock.”
She pivoted and went inside, glancing back at me before the door closed behind her. After a moment, I started back toward my own building. As I walked, I ran the evening through my head, determined to find a way to show her she could trust me. To make her see we weren’t so different and we could make this work between us. I was more sure of that than anything I’d ever been in my life. I wanted more. So much more. With her.
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