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“Ah, there’s your not-so-secret admirer, again, Delia.”
I glanced up at Peyton then followed her gaze. Straight to Maddock. He stood at the coffee shop register, hip resting against the counter as he waited for his drink, gaze firmly on me. The corner of his mouth quirked upwards when he caught me looking. I swallowed heavily and cursed the heat flooding my face.
“You’d think he’d give up,” Addie, my roommate, said harshly. “You made it clear you’re not interested, but he keeps hanging around. Bastard.”
I didn’t say anything as I turned back to the papers in front of me. Nothing I could say would temper or eliminate the anger and disgust she felt toward Maddock. She only saw him as the face of the university’s anti-magic movement. And she was spearheading the Sympathizers’ rally on campus.
“But he’s so hot,” Peyton mumbled sadly, shaking her head.
“Hot means nothing when it’s just the casing for a self-entitled, prejudiced asshole.”
“Addie,” I murmured.
“What?” She shoved a hand through her short dark hair and glared in Maddock’s direction. “He’s popular and good-looking and so fucking charming. And people eat up everything he says without question. All the hate and lies he spews without a thought to the lives he’s ruining.”
Her voice broke, and I reached over to cover one of her hands with mine. “He’s one person, Addie. A part of the problem, yes, but not the cause of what’s wrong.”
“And with parents like his—so staunchly anti-magic and so public about it—can you blame him for believing what he does?” Peyton added quietly.
“Yes,” Addie hissed. “You can only blame parents and upbringing for so long. He’s a big boy and supposedly has a brain. He can think for himself. Your parents are against magic, and here you are.”
Peyton lifted a shoulder. “Which means I understand how hard it is to break away from that. I’m not even welcome in their home anymore, Addie. That’s how bad it is. And they aren’t as vocal and entrenched in the movement as the Roberts are.”
Before Addie or I could respond to that, someone approached the table—not uncommon at the university café, which was always busy. I knew without looking, though, it was him. Like I always did. I could feel him. Or rather, my magic could. I didn’t understand why—it didn’t react to anyone else like this. Sometimes, on very, very rare occasions, I could sense another magic user if they were powerful and using their magic. Just a twinge of like recognizing like. This was nothing like that. At all. No, put Maddock in my vicinity, and it was as if my magic was pushing outwards, reaching for him. Like it was excited he was there.
At first, I’d thought it was just the thrill of a cute boy paying attention to me and all the…butterflies in the tummy and shit that went with that. It had taken me a while to realize that while all that was there—God, was it ever there—it was more. The most important thing for me to keep secret, from him, especially, was drawn to him like a fucking magnet. Sooner or later, it was going to give me away. It was already a challenge to keep it contained. All the more reason to keep my distance from him.
One of the café’s white oversized mugs appeared in front of me, and I lifted my eyes to meet Maddock’s, which were cutely crinkled, dammit, as he smiled at me.
“Looked like you could use a fresh cup.” He glanced at Addie and Peyton. “I didn’t know what you liked, but I could go—”
“We don’t want anything from you,” Addie snapped.
Peyton stayed silent, sending a sad smile Maddock’s way before dropping her gaze. I sighed and moved to accept the drink, biting back a gasp at the zing of power along my arm when his warm fingers dragged over mine.
“Thank you,” I said quietly.
“You’re welcome, Delia.” He let his fingertips dance over my wrist before stepping back. “See you around.”
I watched as he walked away, meeting up with his friends by the door. I didn’t miss the speculative glances thrown our way as they left the café. Or the more annoyed ones from a couple of the guys.
Peyton’s heavy sigh quickly snapped me out of daze I was in, staring after Maddock long after he was out of sight. Her mouth twitched as she studied me.
“Say what you want about him, Maddock Roberts is hot and a little bit sweet.”
“Yeah, real sweet,” Addie drawled. “Unless you have magic then he’s more likely to spit in your face than bring you tea.”
I brought the mug to my lips and sipped, not at all surprised to find it had the perfect amount of cream and sugar. For the past week, whenever we’d run into each other, he’d offered the same thing—once, even, in a thermos as I’d stood in the quad handing out flyers—and it was always just right. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect he had magic.
“You do better not to accept things from him.”
“It’s just tea, Addie. And I—” I set the mug down heavily and took a deep breath. “I don’t think he’s a bad guy, really. I mean, he knows I’m helping with the rally, knows that I’m a m—magic Sympathizer.” I cursed inwardly at my near slip but kept going. “And he still comes around.”
“And you think that means anything?”
“You think it doesn’t?” Peyton countered. “If you believe he’s pure evil because of the things he was brought up to believe and that he speaks about what he believes, you’re just as prejudiced as you say he is. Hey, I’m not trying to be a bitch,” she said quickly when Addie gaped at her. “I’m just saying that everyone deserves a chance. Do you honestly think anyone has ever challenged him on what he believes? Do you think he ever once questioned things?”
“You did,” Addie said, her voice more subdued than I’d ever heard it before.
“Yeah, because I came here. Because I met people like you, and I listened. Maybe, just maybe, our Delia is the person who will get Maddock Roberts to listen.”
“Maybe,” Addie said grudgingly before I could protest my possible involvement in influencing anyone’s way of thinking or whatever. “Doesn’t mean he’ll change his mind.”
“Nope.” Peyton pushed her long blonde hair over shoulders to fall down her back. “That’s not something we can control. But, all of this? What we’re talking about, is why this rally is so important. All we can do is get the information out there. Talk to whoever will listen.”
Nodding, Addie reached for the short list of speakers lined up for the event and cleared her throat. “Then, we should get to work.”
“Yeah, no more talk about him please,” I muttered under my breath, anxious to focus on anything other than Maddock, despite the fact my magic quivered inside me, unhappy he was no longer here.
* * * *
“Clara backed out.”
I looked up to find Addie in the doorway to our room. Her hair stuck up all over the place as she shoved both hands through it. I pushed up from my position on my bed and pulled her inside, closing the door behind her.
“Did she say why?” I asked, shoving my friend down to sit on her bed before grabbing a water from our mini-fridge and handing it to her.
“Not really. Just that she changed her mind about talking publicly.” She gulped a long drink down then sighed. “Everything’s falling apart. They moved us to another room.”
I felt the same frustration I heard in her voice, saw in the rigidity of her posture. While the university had approved the rally, they sure as hell were doing everything in their power to make actually pulling it off difficult. This was the third time they had moved the event, and each time to a smaller, less accessible place. And, now, with the rally tomorrow morning, there was no time to change the posters or hand out new flyers. Hell, the copiers and printers would likely be suffering horrible malfunctions, just like they had every time we’d tried to use them before. All these things happened with big smiles and profuse apologies all around from the powers that be, of course. They were anxious to look as though they were giving everyone—even magic users—equal opportunities, but it was becoming increasingly clear that that was just for appearances. The bastards.
“She seemed scared,” Addie said softly. “Clara, I mean. More than just nervous about speaking in front of a group of people.”
“Well, given the subject matter, and the support that the anti-magic cause seems to have, she may have just had second thoughts.” I lowered myself onto my desk chair and leaned back.
“You think it’s something else though. Come on.” She chuckled. “I know your skeptical, suspicious expression, Delia.”
“Just wondering if she was feeling any pressure from anyone.”
I shrugged. “Worried family or faculty who thought it was a bad idea to risk speaking out. I hope if she was talked out of it, it was one of those. Not that she was threatened or intimidated.”
She leaned forward and dropped her head to rest in her hands. “Are we doing the right thing?”
The question was quiet, muffled slightly, but I heard it, and my chest ached to see her doubting when she’d been so strong and focused to this point.
“Yes,” I said firmly. “This is the right thing. Absolutely.”
“But if it’s putting people at risk… I know I’ve been a hard ass about all of this, but I don’t to see anyone hurt. I guess I never thought doing this could be dangerous, which is stupid because I’m doing this for Scott and look what happened to him.”
I swallowed heavily and moved to sit next to her, wrapping my arm around her. My heart broke for her, had since I first heard about her brother and what had happened to him—all because he’d had magic. She leaned against me and let her head rest on my shoulder.
“We’re doing the right thing,” I repeated. “Anyone speaking is doing so voluntarily. They have the option to back out—just like Clara. We’re there as Sympathizers, Addie. We’re arguing for fair and equal treatment. For a stop to the persecution. No one is going up there saying they’re a magic user or anything. I don’t really think anyone is in real danger.”
A snort of laughter escaped Addie’s lips—a short, harsh sound. “Even I would never expect anyone to make that kind of statement. To admit that in public. I’m sure there are magic users here—I mean, there have to be, right?—but coming out as one on this campus is a basically one way ticket home, and not a particularly nice one.”
“Yeah,” I murmured, ignoring the guilt that skittered through me. As close as I’d become with Addie, and Peyton, they still had no clue I had magic. It wasn’t a matter of trust. Not really. My father had drilled it into my head from the time I came into my magic that keeping it secret kept me safe. Kept the people I loved safe. Telling my friends would also put them in harm’s way, and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Only three people in this world knew my secret, and I needed to keep it that way. At least until things changed. If things changed.
Addie lifted her head and nodded. “It’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay,” she said, almost to herself.
“Yes, it is.” I patted her back and stood, stretching my arms overhead. “Despite all the roadblocks getting thrown in our path. They aren’t going to stop us, Addie. This is the first step, and it’s a good one.”
“Fighting the good fight,” she quipped, getting to her feet. “It’s what Scott would have wanted.” She cleared her throat. “I’ll be back later, yeah? Supposed to meet Peyton for dinner. But after, the three of us can go over everything one more time?”
Before I could answer, a knock sounded. I smiled at Addie and moved past her to pull the door open. I froze though my heart pounded and my magic swelled inside me when I saw Maddock in the hallway.
“Hello, Delia.” He glanced at Addie behind me then met my gaze. “Can we talk?”
His deep voice sent a series of flutters through my stomach that had nothing to do with the power inside me. Oh, I needed to avoid this man. For so many reasons.
I wet my lips and nodded. “I’ll see you after dinner, Addie.”
“Are you sure?” she asked quietly, coming beside me.
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“Mm hmmm.” She glared at Maddock as he stepped aside to let her pass. “See you in a bit.”
I smiled at her and moved farther into the room. Maddock came in and shut the door behind him.
“What, no tea this time? I thought if you’d go through the trouble of figuring out what room was mine, you’d come bearing gifts,” I joked.
He frowned, turning his phone over in his hands again and again. “I don’t think you should be at that rally tomorrow.”
There were no more flutters in my stomach. Instead, it sank heavily as my mind raced. “What?”
“It’s dangerous. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be there. There was a magical attack on an anti-magic rally in the city this morning.” He held up his phone, and I glimpsed what appeared to be a news article on the small screen. “There have been responses from more…aggressive anti-magic crowd—threats and attacks. What if they target your rally? What if—”
“Did you talk to Clara?” I asked sharply. “Scare her out of speaking? What are you doing—working your way through everyone involved, trying to shut us down before it even starts?”
He shook his head. “Who’s Clara?”
“It’s not enough for you to have all the support you could ever want, is it? You get the best location for your rally, and I’m betting that when you wanted flyers and posters, they probably did all the work for you in the admin building, didn’t they? No broken equipment fucking you over…oh no.” I shoved my hands through my hair, pulling slightly in frustration. “But you can’t be happy with that, can you? You have to go around scaring people?”
“Delia,” he said, reaching out and grasping my upper arms. “I have no clue what you’re talking about. I don’t know any Clara, and I’m not trying to scare anyone. Well…okay, I am a little bit. But only because I don’t want you hurt.”
“What do you care?” I practically spat the words, not even trying to pull away. I leaned close until I felt his breath gusting over my face. “You don’t even know me.”
His brow furrowed as he whispered, “I don’t have to know someone to not want them to get hurt, Delia. Do you think so little of me?”
“I don’t know you to make that judgment.”
“But you are,” he argued, lifting his hand to drag his fingers over my cheek. “You judged me from the moment you saw the flyer I handed you. You think you know everything about me.”
Even if he feels sympathy and doesn’t want magic users hurt, he wants you caged like an animal—what more do you need to know? A pretty face and being nice doesn’t change anything.
“But you don’t,” he continued. “I want you to, though. I want you to know everything about me, and I want to know everything about you.”
I bit my lower lip, holding back the words I wanted to say. The declaration that he really, really didn’t want to know everything. That if he found out my secrets, he would want nothing to do with me.
“Why?” I managed to croak. “Why me?”
“Because you, Delia Lancaster, intrigue me. Have for the moment I bumped into you. And you’ve managed to make me question everything I thought I knew.”
Closing my eyes, I inhaled deeply and blew it out before meeting his gaze.
“I’m going tomorrow. The fact that some of your anti-magic friends may cause trouble isn’t going to scare me away.”
“No friends of mine are going to cause trouble.” He released me and stepped back. “There’s nothing I can say or do to change your mind?”
“No. I’m committed to this, Maddock. One hundred percent.” I tried not to soften under his concerned stare. And failed. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m not even speaking or anything. I helped plan, and I’m there for support. I’m hardly making a target of myself.”
His lips curved even as he shook his head. “Doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better. Just being there is danger— Okay, okay,” he said quickly when I opened my mouth to protest. “Not going to try to change your mind anymore, because clearly, I cannot.”
“No, you can’t.”
“See? I’m learning more about you already. You’re stubborn as hell.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like you didn’t know that already.”
“I didn’t know the full extent of it,” he drawled. “That’s new.”
“Well,” I grabbed my jacket from the foot of my bed, “you can’t expect to actually like everything you find out.”
Understatement of the century, I thought as I shrugged into the light garment.
“You heading out?”
“Yeah, going to take a walk, clear my head before dinner.” I pocketed my phone and forced a smile.
“I’ll join you.” He pulled open the door and gestured for me to precede him out of the room.
“I’m not changing my mind,” I said through clenched teeth, stepping past him.
He rested his hand on the small of my back and walked beside me toward the stairs. I had to fight the shudder that gripped my body as my magic reacted in a way I could only describe as giddy.
“Already said I wasn’t going to try anymore. But I’m going to try to learn some more about you, and I’m sure I’ll find something I like.”
Fuck, I was in so much trouble.