Devils & Thieves (Devils & Thieves #1)(9)

I didn’t have much time to ponder that, though, because that was the moment the president of the Devils’ League noticed me. If Alex was a pearl, then her brother was obsidian. Black volcanic glass. Pretty and shiny, quick to cut. As our eyes met, it all came back, his hands and his mouth, and then the moment I realized he had used me as a momentary distraction. I hunched in my seat, once again wishing I could disappear.

The jukebox switched albums, and something loud and bass-heavy started up, allowing me to pretend that the thumping in my chest was the music and not my traitorous heart.

Crowe started toward us, and I took a long draw from my drink, hoping the burn of the alcohol would override the other burn sinking lower and lower in my gut.

“Alex,” Crowe said when he reached the table. He shed his jacket and hung it on a hook nailed to the side of the booth. He leaned over and kissed Alex’s cheek, then slid into the booth beside me. Hardy slid in on the other side of Alex, effectively trapping us between them. Flynn grabbed his drink and leaned against a nearby post.

“Hey, Jemmie,” Crowe said. “What are you drinking?”

I concentrated on enunciating my consonants as I said, “None of your damn business.”

He reached over, grabbed my glass, and drained what was left of my drink in one gulp. “Tom Collins.”

“Hey!” I said.

Hardy chuckled. I scowled at him, but it only made him laugh harder, sharpening the lines of his cheekbones.

I waved at Dara as she passed. “Can I get another Tom Collins, please?”

“No, Dara,” Crowe said. “She can’t.” He didn’t take his eyes off me. “You reek of whiskey, Jem.”

I turned to him, glad that the heady burn in my gut had formed into something useful: anger. “Bullshit.” But my cheeks were also burning—and probably bright pink.

“Dara, how many drinks have you served Jemmie already tonight?”

The waitress shifted her weight from one foot to the other, biting her bottom lip.

“It’s okay,” said Crowe. “You won’t get in trouble. Just tell me.”

“Three,” she said quietly.

“That’s totally not true,” I snapped, but Crowe ignored me.

“And how long has she been here?” he asked.

“’Bout twenty minutes,” Dara replied, throwing me an apologetic look.

“She’s done for tonight,” he said over me.

“No, I’m not, Dara,” I said, my throat tight. With Crowe next to me, all the magic inside him was pressing on my senses, making my entire body ping with alarm and dizziness. It was going to take another drink at least to tamp that down. “You were supposhed to bring ush shots of tequila anyway.”

Dammit. I’d slurred my words. Crowe’s brow pinched with disapproval.

“Dara,” Crowe said. “Jemmie is done if I say she’s done.”

Dara gave him a quick nod before scurrying away. Next to me, Alex heaved a disappointed sigh. I clenched my jaw, so the next words that came out of my mouth were ground between my teeth like grain beneath a pestle. “Why are you such an asshole, Crowe?”

At least I hadn’t slurred it.

Everyone within earshot fell silent. It was the kind of quiet that comes before a storm hits, an eerie stillness charged with anticipation. The table was almost buzzing with it, everyone wondering how Crowe would react.

Crowe smiled and pretended I didn’t just call him an asshole in front of everyone. “Last time you drank here,” he said, “you ended up puking all over our bathroom. Or did you forget already?”

Worse than Crowe yelling was Crowe chastising.

Now I looked like the asshole.

I sagged against the back of the booth, defeated, and as I did, I felt the heat of his arm through the thin material of my vintage T-shirt. It brought on a flashback of that night I’d gotten so sick, of Crowe, his voice soft and reassuring as he held my hair back while I vomited. His hands on me, on my stomach, and the instant relief that spread through me as he worked a spell to settle my queasiness. The cold that lingered when his hands finally pulled away.

Why did he do these things to me? Being around him made me feel like a rabid animal. I wanted to tear him apart and devour him all at the same time. His magic overwhelmed me more than most, even when he wasn’t using it on me, but it also felt like heaven to have his hands on my skin. His gentle attention was like the sun on my face… but the way he’d looked at me afterward, the worry and puzzlement over why I’d had too much to drink yet again, the frustration and irritation when I wouldn’t tell him why… that felt like being lost in the darkness of space.

I understood why girls fawned all over him. And it wasn’t just the pull of him, or the power. He was also ridiculously gorgeous, and the scars that marred his face only managed to make him more attractive. A small one cut his left eyebrow in half. There was another slash just beneath his right eye, and a third and fourth ran along his jawline. Both were the result of brawls with interlopers from other gangs who tried to encroach on Hawthorne in the past year, thinking that because Michael Medici was dead and my dad had gone, the Devils’ League would be ripe for a patch over. They hadn’t bargained on Crowe’s power in their takeover attempts, though, nor were they wise to his determination to keep the Devils independent, his willingness to get down in the mud and fight, and his utter brutality when he did. He could have healed himself after literally crushing the guys who tried to take him out, or he could have had Alex do it. But he’d chosen to let his wounds heal naturally. Alex had joked that it was because Crowe hadn’t been able to stand looking so perfect all the time, but I had a feeling there was a different reason—the scars were a visual reminder of who he was now, of his responsibility, of what he’d lost.

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