“In private" ought to have taken place immediately, in my opinion. Or at the very least after curtain call, a rare evening where I hadn't managed to skip it, given I was already standing right at the edge of the stage.
Instead, I found myself in quite the opposite situation in my dressing room. Not alone with Jude or Hunter or Ronan either, but quite crowded in by all of them, including Constantine, Nireas, Mr. Reddy, Conall, and even the minotaur, Asterion.
Jude wasn't even close at hand. He stood near the door, his shirt hanging open on his shoulders, the shape of one shadowy wing outlined by the candle behind him, chatting amiably with Hunter, Conall, and Ronan. Nireas, Mr. Reddy, and Asterion were gathered together in another pocket, slightly closer to where I was wrapped in my robe, settled against the back of my chaise with my knees bent and my feet in Constantine's grasp.
Constantine was doing his usual post-stage treatment of massaging me, although in truth, I'd had a surprisingly easy night for once. But I wasn't about to turn him down.
Lord, they're all just…in here, I thought, my eyes bouncing between them again. Constantine, Jude, Ronan, Hunter…even Nireas. I wasn't even sure why. Hunter was keeping an eye on the hallway, and I suspected that he might've been waiting to follow someone out of the theater. I supposed I was the excuse for his presence.
"I'm going to talk to Mr. Reddy before I leave for the night," Constantine murmured, surveying our companions with me.
"Do you have to leave for the night?" I asked, frowning.
He nodded. "I'll be called back soon."
By the warlock, or Birsha, calling the shots from a distance. Using Constantine like a pawn could've been the man's only crime, and I still would've hated him. I reached out for Constantine's hand on my ankle, wrapping my fingers around his wrist and catching his eye.
"Grab him now. If he won't try and help, I'll ask Hunter," I said, leaning in to whisper. Ronan was watching us from the door, but he wasn't frowning, just observing.
Constantine blinked at me. "He would grant me his help for your sake."
I opened my mouth to disagree, but I wasn't sure. Hunter didn't know Constantine, although I wanted to believe he was the kind of man who would be as disgusted by Constantine being summoned and bound as I was.
"Does it matter?"
"Debts are complicated. But it might be an improvement," Constantine said.
He rose up from the chaise, tucking my feet against me, and the crowd in my dressing room—the air now hot and fragrantly male—jostled to make room for him. I stood too, catching his hand in mine before he could slip away and rising to my toes without thinking about the many eyes that might watch. Constantine was still, impassive, but he bent enough for me to press a kiss to his lips, my own eyes falling shut as his widened.
There was the slightest stammer in the rhythm of conversations around us, but it was gone by the time I landed back on my heels, squeezing Constantine's long fingers. He moved to Mr. Reddy, and I slipped past Asterion's massive frame to the small crowd at the door. Ronan and Hunter had just enough room between them for me to squeeze in, and I stiffened briefly as Hunter's hand cupped my waist and Ronan's arm slung over my shoulder. Neither of them retreated or seemed to take much note of the other, although Jude studied the arrangement casually.
"Detective Sergeant Piper is assisting us this evening," Hunter said.
"Shadows aren't a perk I get to take advantage of in my regular work," Jude said, excitement bright in his eyes, a flush of pleasure still on his cheeks. I put that there, I thought with a glow of pride.
"I was thinking of joining them too," Ronan murmured in my ear.
"You were?" My eyebrows rose, and I tried to push down my own disappointment. No Hunter, Ronan, or Jude?
"We could use a man in the air," Conall said.
"And we have the charms ready to keep him safely out of view," Hunter assured me.
"I feel quite left out," I said, fighting the pout on my lips. "I suppose you decided I won't be any help?"
"You'd be bait if anything, girlie," Conall said, and Hunter let out an immediate growl. "And we can't have that."
I wasn't entirely defenseless, but then again… Jude and I glanced at one another, his eyes wincing. He was free now, able to explore a part of himself he'd kept hidden for most of his life. I was madly jealous and furious with my father, with Mr. Reddy, and with myself too. Hunter and Ronan needed to know the truth about me, and now was not the moment to tell them.
"I'll stay if you'd rather," Ronan offered, speaking softly into my ear. "If I go, you'll need to keep close to Nireas."
I jolted but didn't shout the man's name like I wanted to. "I can stay here and wait—"
"There's not even a decent door on your dressing room, nut," Ronan said. "And I'd put you up in my apartment, but we don't know what we're up against. They might be able to fly too."
"Nireas is safe," Hunter said, with an authority that was as comforting as it was infuriating.
"I can stay," Ronan repeated, a lifeline for me to grab if I wanted it.
I didn't sigh. Nireas might've heard every word we were speaking. It wasn't as if my room was big enough to hold private conversations. "No, go. I've been meaning to speak with him. This will be the right time." And only partly because I had no choice now.
"Yes, it will," Ronan said, lips twitching.
"Conall," Hunter said sharply, nodding toward the door. "Time for us to leave. Jude—"
"Ronan and I will follow," Jude said easily.
Hunter's grip on my waist tugged me free of Ronan, his kiss firm and sweet but far too brief. "Tomorrow night, little one," he growled, and I nodded, my fingers gripping his coat anxiously. He will be fine, I told myself. The killer was only a threat to women, as far as we knew. I just missed him.
Hunter slipped away and Ronan turned me toward him next, a sly smile on his lips, glancing at Jude out of the corner of his eyes. "I'll be in the hall, Piper. Give you a moment." But before Jude or I could answer, Ronan's mouth was on mine, his tongue slipping between my parted lips, thrusting playfully and suggestively against my own.
I was breathless as he pulled away, and deeply annoyed with him, although I wasn't sure if it was for the blatant claiming or the fact that he wasn't following through on the kiss. He ducked out into the hall with another quick, smacking kiss on my cheek, and I found myself laughing. Jude's lips were curved in a smile, and it took me a moment to realize we were nearly alone in the room, only Asterion and Nireas behind me now.
He stepped closer and my laugh stilled in my throat, my eyes widening.
"You see how it is," I said, bracing myself.