chapter eight: Willa

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I went home in a sulky mood, promising Daily I'd be back the next day to conduct more research. It was dark by the time I made it back to my apartment, and I walked up the steps heavily, fishing out the key from the pocket of my hoodie and trying not to think to hard on the vision and the memories, on Sparrow Rite. As I reached the top step, glancing up at the door, my day got considerably worse.

Dart was waiting for me, of course. He was leaning against the doorframe in one of his nicer t-shirts and a pair of jeans that-I hated to admit-fit him quite well. He looked like he was posing for GQ or Esquire. It was disgusting.

I grimaced at him as I walked up to the door and shoved the key into the lock violently. He watched wordlessly, the ghost of a smirk on his lips, the harsh fluorescent lights of the hall glimmering off of his thick-rimmed glasses. I could feel his eyes on me even as I ignored his gaze. I turned the knob and kicked open the door, stepping inside. I tried to slam the door before he could follow me, but he stopped it with his boot and strolled in behind me.

"Busy day with Mr. Jones?" he asked casually at last.

I winced, my back to him. I knew he would be keeping tabs. He always did.

"Please, Willa. I knew you would go looking into him; I said as much. I appreciate that you kept your distance." I heard him shifting positions behind me. "And at this point maybe I should just consider hiring Mr. Jones on as staff. He's already an accomplice to much of your work, why not give him some benefits for it?"

I whirled around, "Stay away from Daily, Dart. I mean it."

He raised his hands in mock surrender, "Sure. Whatever you say."

I clenched my teeth. Dart and I didn't discuss Daily. He knew I had a friend, he knew he'd helped me a couple of times-because Dart knew everything-but we didn't mention it. It was the one thing he'd let me keep to myself, and now he was ruining it. Everything seemed like it was changing, turning upside down, ever since this Sparrow Rite guy had come to town. I was starting to want to take the guy out just as much as Dart wanted me to, but the mystery was too enticing to make a move just yet. I had to know more.

"Dart, stop," I said tiredly, "What do you want?"

He stepped a little closer, eyeing me with those steely violet-blue orbs. He was only about six inches from me, and I could smell his cologne, and-God I hated myself for thinking it-I didn't hate it. He smelled musky and sweet, like dry cracking leaves on the breeze, I thought, like chocolate and cinnamon, and something else I couldn't place. Whatever the mystery smell was, it seemed familiar. The more I inhaled the more I wanted to inhale.

He had never worn the cologne before. It was nice, but a little overpowering. I felt like my head was swimming with it. I surprised myself by not stepping back, and I didn't jerk away as he reached out and hooked a lock of purple hair around one of his fingers, eyeing it thoughtfully. What the hell was wrong with me?

"I thought you might like to come to dinner with me in the city," he cocked his head questioningly.

I swallowed and opened my mouth to snap at him, but my words caught in my throat. It wasn't like I was suddenly brain washed or anything, but his cologne had an affect on me. It wasn't magical, and it wasn't something chemically sedative like Uncle Jingles incense, but it was calming somehow. It triggered something in me that-against all of my better senses-made me want to give Dart a break. If I was going to be stuck with the guy, why shouldn't I try to get along with him?

The thought felt like an epiphany, and it made me confused and angry all at once.

"What the hell are you wearing?" I managed. I had meant it to come out sharp and harsh, like our usual exchanges, but instead it came out soft and whispery.

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