Her soul welled in grief at the sound of his name. Rhys’s thoughts circled until she locked down her mind with a few whispered words.
“What?” He looked down.
“Sorry. You were… loud.”
He blinked at her, startled. “And you used a spell to shut me out. You can understand my thoughts now?”
“Not much. Just… It’s never the way people think, you know? Now that I can understand bits of the Old Language, I realize people don’t think in complete sentences. Or their souls don’t, I guess. It’s more like… impressions. A word here or there. A phrase. It’s more emotion than distinct thoughts.”
“Oh.” He turned at the corner and headed toward a taxi stand. It was the middle of the week and traffic was light, but it still took a few minutes for a car to show up. They slid in the back and Ava rubbed her hands together, happy to be in the heat again.
Rhys leaned forward. “Pardon me. English?”
He gave the driver an address, then sat back and looked at her. Then he looked away and stared out the window.
“I know you’re worried about me, Rhys.”
“I’m fine. Really. This is normal, right?” She tried to explain it in a way that would leave him unconcerned about her future. “Like you said, we all grieve in different ways. This is a step. It’s hard for me to be around you, because you remind me of… Malachi.” She forced herself to use his name. “That will pass in time. God knows, I’m not the only woman in the world to lose a partner. I’ll be fine.”
She was surprised when he grabbed her hand.
“Just… wait,” he said. “Don’t shut down on me. Don’t draw away.”
The intensity of his voice rocked her. What was going on? Did Rhys have feelings for her? There had been a flirtation at the beginning, but she could have sworn they were past it.
“Rhys, you know I only think of you as a friend, right?”
He shook his head. “It’s not that. I mean, yes, of course I know—”
“I’m not even thinking of anyone that way right now. I can’t.” Her concern for him broke through her resolve. The last thing she needed was to break a friend’s heart before she cut him—all of them—out of her life. “And I don’t want you to think—”
“Ava!” He pressed his lips together when he saw the driver looking back at them suspiciously. “I’m not talking about my feelings for you. Which are only of friendship, of course. I’m talking about—”
“Then what’s all the talk about me shutting down and drawing away?”
“I just…” He almost looked as if he was in pain. “There are some things… some mysteries—”
“Here!” The car jerked to a halt in front of a large, modern apartment building. The driver looked at Ava. “Are you getting out with him, miss? Or can I take you to another address?”
Ava smiled at his concern. “I’m fine here. Thank you.”
Rhys paid the driver and slid silently from the car, holding out a hand to help her on the icy sidewalk. As the taxi pulled away, he put both hands on her shoulders and dipped his head down to meet her eyes.
“There are some magics—some destinies—we can only guess at. As much as I study, as much as I revere science and strive to be a rational scholar, I can never forget this. We are”—he let out a rueful laugh—“descended from angels, Ava. There are some mysteries only heaven knows. Remember that.”
She frowned. “I know.”
“Will you just tell me what the hell is going on, Rhys? I’m starting to worry.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the lobby. “Welcome to my world for the past few weeks.”
As soon asAva walked through the door, her senses were assaulted. There was something seriously… other about Max’s place. She ignored Sari and Renata’s warm greetings. She ignored Damien’s obvious concern. She felt like she was going to jump out of her skin. She flinched when Max put a hand on her shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“You tell me.” She crossed her arms and stepped away from him. “I don’t… I don’t feel good. What’s going on?”
All five of them exchanged worried glances, but Ava had a hard time focusing on anything but the crawling feeling beneath her skin. She took a deep breath and tried to calm down, but it was difficult. Her instincts urged her to flee.
“Ava,” Damien started.
She rubbed her arms. Her skin was going crazy. She whispered another spell to shut out the souls in the room that were practically shouting at her. The tension caused her stomach to pitch.
“I think… I need to go.”
“Ava, why don’t you sit down?” Sari said.
Her breathing picked up. “What’s going on here? What’s wrong with this place?”
Rhys stepped forward and raised his hands. “Remember what I told you, Ava. Remember what I said.”
“What?” She didn’t remember anything. She felt battered. There was too much going on. Too many thoughts. Too many emotions. And threading through the chaos was the echo of a voice that couldn’t be. Malachi’s voice. She hadn’t heard it in months. Not since she’d started lessons with Orsala. The memory of it shoved her back painfully. Ava felt the tears come to her eyes, but she blinked them back.
“Rhys, I want to go.”
“No!” Renata almost shouted. “You can’t.”