The address on the paper led to a narrow street a few blocks from Washington Square Park.
The last part of the walk was uphill, and Lena was panting slightly by the time she arrived. She swiped the thin sheen of sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand, and looked around. The neighborhood was small and quiet, the street lined with narrow, three-story buildings. Some had garages built into the first floor, but most everyone else parked on the street.
Joschka MacMillian’s house didn’t look much different from the others. The cracked stucco exterior was painted a pale pink. A steep set of stairs led to the front door, located on the second floor. The curtains were closed. A white panel van was wedged into the short driveway. As Lena approached, she could make out the sign on the side of it.
MACMILLIAN RECOVERY SERVICES, LLC.
Lena’s heart pounded. She took a deep breath and wiped her hands against the sides of her coat. Why was she so nervous? She never got nervous, certainly never had a problem meeting new people.
So why was she nervous about meeting Jesper MacMillian?
She waited for the small, dark voice from before to speak up, to give her some guidance about what she was supposed to do now. Nothing. She retreated into herself and searched the back channels of her psyche. Only silence greeted her.
A door opened overhead, and Lena snapped back to present. She looked up. A man stepped onto the second story stoop of the pink house. He looked a few years older than she was. His dark hair was trimmed short, emphasizing the sharp planes of his angular face.
From inside, someone called out something indiscernible. The man laughed, then answered in a language Lena didn’t recognize. He shut the door behind him, turned, and trotted down the steps.
Just before he reached the bottom, he drew something from his pocket; a cigarette. He jammed it in his mouth, then reached into his pocket again and pulled out a lighter. Something about the way he cupped the cigarette as he lit up struck a chord deep inside her.
He still hadn’t noticed her yet. For a moment, Lena debated leaving before he did. At the last minute, she steeled her nerves and took a deep breath. “Jesper MacMillian?”
The man looked up. His dark eyes met hers, and a warm rush spread through her belly. He trapped his cigarette between two fingers and blew a stream of smoke out the side of his mouth. “Yes?”
His gaze pinned her like a butterfly. Lena opened her mouth, but words failed her. She swallowed hard. “Do you have a moment?”
Jesper MacMillian didn’t move. “I might.” His eyes trailed over her face, then took a slow, blatant tour of her body. “Depends what you plan to do with it.”
Lena blinked. “Pardon?” During the walk over, she’d prepared for every possible reaction Jesper MacMillian might have. This one hadn’t even crossed her mind. She tried to muster some healthy indignation, but with her heart suddenly racing, she couldn’t quite manage it.
MacMillian took one final drag off the cigarette, then flicked it away. “You have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
He was walking towards her, his pace deceptively slow. The long, lean muscles of his legs flexed beneath his dark trousers. Something about that felt significant. Lena shook herself. “It’s Lena. Lena Alan.”
“Lena.” MacMillian’s voice rolled over her. “That suits you.” He stopped a few feet away. A strange look crossed his face. “Have we met?”
Lena swallowed again. “Why do you ask?”
“There’s something about you. You seem…” MacMillian shook his head. “I’m sorry. Of course we haven’t.” His mouth twitched at the corners. “You’re the type of person I’d remember.”
Before Lena had time to think of a response, the front door opened again. A second man with looks strikingly similar to MacMillian’s stepped outside.
“Brey, Pusomori! What’s taking you so—” He caught sight of Lena, and stopped. “Who’s the raklí?”
MacMillian scowled up at him. “Don’t be a horse’s ass, Janos.” He turned back to Lena. “Forgive my brother. Manners skipped a generation with him.”
Janos leaned an elbow against the railing and snorted. “There you go, chasing everything with a skirt. As usual.” A wicked grin curved his lips. “What would Ruby think?”
MacMillian’s face turned red. “It isn’t like that.”
Lena looked back and forth between the two of them. An uncomfortable feeling rose in in her belly. “Ruby?”
Janos clicked his tongue. “See? He didn’t even tell you he’s promised.” He gave her a wink. “Me, though? I’m free as a bird.” His gaze slid to his brother. “Na xanrrunde kaj či xal tut.” With that, he pushed off the balcony and went back inside.
Lena’s stomach plummeted. She could feel MacMillian trying to catch her eye. She kept her gaze fixed firmly on a point just over his shoulder. “I should go.”
Her voice caught, for reasons she didn’t understand at all. “Sorry to bother you.”
“Wait.” MacMillian took a step forward. “I wasn’t wrong, was I? I do know you.” He took another step. “How?”
Lena backed up. “I’m sorry. Coming here was a mistake.”
“Stop.” The desperate note in his voice almost made her obey. “Don’t leave.”
Lena did the only thing she could think of, and ran.
MacMillian quickly outpaced her. His large, firm hand closed around her arm, and whirled her back to face him. The contact sent a bolt of awareness through the deepest parts of her belly. Lena sucked in a breath. Her heart pounded a wild beat at the base of her throat.
His grip loosened, but he didn’t release her. “Did I hurt you?”
“Yes. No.” Hadn’t he? She couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t she breathe?
MacMillian edged closer, and on reflex, Lena backed up. She didn’t realize what he was doing until her back hit something solid. She looked behind her. A mailbox. The air hitched in her chest. Against her better judgement, she looked up at him.
His eyes were like black embers. The instant they trapped hers, she couldn’t look away. “Who are you? Why did you come looking for me?” Something dark flashed across his face. “Have we slept together?”
“What?” The word exploded out of her before she could stop it. “Why the hell would you think that?”
He had the good grace to look sheepish. “Sometimes I go places I shouldn’t.”
He raked a hand through his hair. “I like to drink; too much, if you ask my mother, and plum brandy gets old after a while.”
Lena shook her head slowly. “I don’t know what that means.”
“I’m not supposed to mingle with people outside my… my family. But I can’t help it, you know?” MacMillian blew out a breath. “I mean, how do they expect me to go my entire life and never—” He broke off. His eyes narrowed. “Why am I telling you this?”
She had no idea, but for some reason, it made her want to reach up and smooth the hard lines out of his forehead. “I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”
“No, it’s more than that. It’s like I know you.” He stared down at her. “How do I know you?”
Lena started to shake her head.
“Enough. No lies.” He moved closer, until she could feel the heat simmering just beneath his clothes. “Who are you? How did you know my name? Why are you here?”
Lena tried to swallow. Her throat stuck. She could smell the smoke from his cigarette, mixed with something else; leather, sweat, rich earth. The combination made her ache. “I told you already. My name is Lena Alan. I don’t know what you…” She felt him start to shift forward, and quickly braced a hand against his chest. “Please, Jes.”
He froze. “Nobody calls me that. Nobody but…”
“Your brother,” Lena murmured.
His face paled. “How the fuck could you know that?”
Lena’s throat felt tight. She shook her head. This time, she could only manage a whisper. “I don’t know.”
Something moved in the corner of her eye. She tore her eyes from MacMillian’s face, to the jagged shadows of the buildings across the street. Her mouth drifted open. It almost looked like they were…
“Moving.” She didn’t realize she’d spoken out loud until MacMillian turned to look in the direction she was staring. She pointed a shaky finger. “Right there. Do those shadows look like they’re moving to you?”
MacMillian turned to face her again. His forehead furrowed. “You really are a crazy raklí,” he muttered.
At the same time, the air pressure around them dropped. Lena’s ears popped. She shook her head and pressed her fingers to her temples. MacMillian’s concerned face swam in front of her vision.
A second later, the world was gone.