Mouth Full of Ashes: Part 9

He stood in a loose semicircle with Maeve, Tahlia, and a white man Callie didn’t know. Maeve had her hair down. She wore a black bralette, a floral skirt, combat boots, and fishnets. Tahlia had her hair pulled into a low ponytail, and she wore a flowy black dress. She also wore a wide-brimmed black hat.

As for the man Callie hadn’t met yet, he was shorter than Jabari. He had messy, dark hair and sleepy brown eyes, but he emanated power, confidence, magnetism. She’d met no one with such electric energy. He wore dark jeans, boots, and a leather jacket open over… a mesh shirt. Someone had tattooed the word HEDONIST in red letters over his heart. A septum ring glinted in his nose.

The man’s eyes sparkled as he studied her. He had both arms thrown over Maeve and Tahlia’s shoulders. Callie was self-conscious. She was sure she looked a mess, and there was no fixing it now.

“Who’s this?” the man asked Jabari. The sounds of the carnival faded out as he spoke until Callie couldn’t focus on anything but him.

“Ramsay’s friend,” Jabari said. “Callie, think it was.”

Callie bristled. It was rude to talk about her like she wasn’t there, and ruder for him to act like he couldn’t remember her name, especially when he’d been so creepy toward her earlier.

“I’m sure she can speak for herself,” the man admonished Jabari.

“Yeah, I’m Callie.”

“Nice to meet you, Callie. I’m Elijah.” 

He beamed and extended a hand to her. She gave him her hand, assuming he’d shake it. Instead, he clasped it and raised it to his lips before dropping a kiss on her knuckles. Despite herself, Callie blushed. Elijah winked before he let go of her hand. In different circumstances, he might have unsettled her, but he was the least threatening person in the entire group, and though he looked like he wanted to eat her, he wasn’t aggressive. He knew how attractive he was and was used to having allowances made for him just because he was pretty.

Tahlia rolled her eyes. Maeve offered her an apologetic smile. The women’s beauty unnerved Callie. Last time, she’d been too anxious to appreciate their looks. The group comprised the most gorgeous people she’d ever seen. Her bisexuality flared in acknowledgment.

Shit. She needed to stop staring. What was she looking for again?

“I… I lost a bracelet here.” Callie touched her bare wrist. “It’s handmade and irreplaceable.”

“This is the last place you remember having it?” Elijah asked. So far, he’d been much kinder toward her than the rest of them. He could have faked his sincerity, but if that was the case, he was doing a phenomenal job. “What does it look like, darling?”

Darling. His use of a pet name took Callie aback, but not for long. She had more pressing matters to attend to. “It’s made of thread, red and yellow. It’s dingy from me wearing it all the time. And there’s a silver charm on it that says FRIENDS.”

“BEST FRIENDS?” Maeve butted in.

“BEST FRIENDS FOREVER,” Callie said. “It’s a heart split into three.”

It felt like admitting an embarrassing secret. At the rate this conversation was going, she’d never stop blushing. So much for making good impressions—a first for Elijah, and a second for Tahlia and Maeve. She no longer gave a shit what Jabari thought of her. That ship had sailed so long ago.

“Maybe you dropped it in the haunted house,” Jabari said. He looked like he was about to say something else, but Elijah cut his eyes at him. Jabari kept silent.

Callie chewed the inside of her cheek. That was the most likely answer, but she doubted she’d be able to find it there now. Perhaps someone had picked it up, or they had cleaned the haunted house out, or even—

“Lost and found.” Callie’s gaze fell on Elijah. “There’s a lost and found somewhere in here, right? Can you take me there?”

Elijah frowned. “I’m afraid there isn’t. Carnival rules follow a finders, keepers philosophy.”

Callie’s frown mirrored his. She shifted her attention to Jabari. “You don’t remember seeing it, do you? After I fell? When we left the house?”

Jabari opened his mouth, then closed it. What was he going to say? Why didn’t he just say it?

Elijah’s tongue darted out to wet his lips. Callie let her eyes linger on his mouth a little longer than she should have. The man had nice lips. Full…

“Why don’t you come hang out with us?” Elijah asked. “We can help look for the bracelet. In the meantime, perhaps we can convince you to have some fun, hm?”

Callie understood that it wasn’t a great idea to go anywhere with this group of near-strangers when they knew the carnival so much better than she did. And… they outnumbered her. Normally, she would think the worst, but when Elijah spoke, his golden tone made her believe him. His voice made her want to give him anything he wanted. If all he wanted was for her to come along with them, she’d be more than happy to do that.

Besides, he had a point. She needed to loosen up.

Confusion swirled in her mind. Why had she come to the carnival? She had been looking for… something she’d lost. Something irreplaceable.

Elijah smiled at her again, and it didn’t matter anymore. He anchored her to the present and promised her the future.

“I’ll go with you,” she said.

For a moment, something dark flitted across Elijah’s features. Something predatory. But he replaced it with another charming smile and a twinkle in his eye just as quickly.

“We’d be thrilled to have you. Come along now, darling.”

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