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He wanted to run through the halls but he had a reputation to uphold, both professional and personal, so even though he was beyond late, he kept his pace at his normal long-strided clip.
The fact that Brianna had called their after-work meeting a date still made his chest feel tight and his stomach fluttery. His left forearm still tingled from where she had touched him that morning, the reminder that she was the only person to not fear touching him, the only person besides his underaged patients that he let touch him. Because she didn't fear him. Not since she'd met him a year ago when he'd been hunting her as his next target; not since she'd struck up a conversation with him at the intersection of Calhoun Street and Ashley Avenue, thinking he was lost and not what he actually was.
She had no idea she had befriended the Heartless, the same person who had tried—and failed—to kill her mother five years ago, the same person who had nearly two hundred known bodies to his name. But he was nearly certain that even if she had known, she'd likely have befriended him anyway.
Because to her, he wasn't a monster. To her, he was Dr. Sebastian Kane, a forensic psychologist employed by the state of South Carolina, on standby call to the F.B.I.'s Behavioral Analysis Unit, pillar of the community, orphan, horror buff, and a former U.S. Navy meteorologist. But for all that his pedigree was extensive and awe-inspiring and intimidating, she didn't care. He was her friend, and maybe something more, not that they'd ever talked about that. So when she'd called this meet up a date? He'd jumped on it even though he had been able to tell that it had been a slip of the tongue. But he'd given her an out, one she hadn't taken and oddly, it had given him hope.
But he was a monster and monsters didn't have hope.
At least they weren't supposed to.
The elevator dinged its arrival in the lobby and he stepped out with the afternoon throng. Despite her being shorter than the average person, he spotted her immediately, drawn to her like the moth is drawn to a flickering flame.
She stood under one of the large skylights, afternoon sun playing tag with the red highlights in her blonde hair, green eyes scanning the crowds for him. Standing there, she was unapologetically female in her Daisy Duke shorts, brown sandals, and white tank top, her hair scattered around her shoulders and face, whipped out of her ponytail by the ever-present wind that harassed downtown. Standing there, she was all miles of bare skin and long legs and gentle curves and clear muscles without being bulky. She was strong and fierce and beautiful.
And for the first time in his life, Sebastian found himself not wanting to hear her scream in the kind of pain that only hit when you had one foot on Death's doorstep, but rather the kind of pain that heralded pleasure's immediate arrival. He wanted her to laugh and smile because of him. He wanted to watch her thrive and grow old. He wanted not to see her without her heart, chest pulled wide and wet, but bare chested and basking in the sun on a sandy white beach, her skin tanned and glowing golden and healthy.
He wanted her happy and safe and provided for. Not another nameless body among hundreds.
It struck him in that moment that he wanted her to be his in a way that none of his prey ever had been or ever would be. And it was jarring in a way he hadn't anticipated.
"Bree!" he called over the din of the lobby, raising a hand to wave at her, and watched as she swung around to the direction his voice had come from. The smile that always ghosted at the corners of her mouth spread wide as she bobbed and weaved through the crowd towards him.
To her, he was just Sebastian Kane.
"Sorry I'm late," he said once she was close enough that he didn't have to shout. "Had two more come in back-to-back and since I was already here..." He trailed off with a shrug.
"It's okay. We'll just make it a dinner date then," she replied with that easy smile and a wink. "Though nowhere too fancy, I'm a bit under-dressed."
"You have on enough clothes to be considered polite and legal in a state where Hell's hottest level has been inexplicably parked. You're dressed well enough," he answered with a snort, fighting to keep from rolling his eyes.
Her smile faded at the edges and he tried not to hate that he was the reason. She stepped closer and reached out to take one his hands in both of hers, the contrast in size daunting. "It was a really bad day, huh?"
How she always saw right through him he'd never know.
"Yes, very much so," he answered on a sigh. "Forgive me if I'm snappish."
"Let's just head to yours so you can change out of your monkey suit. We'll order take out or pizza and watch a movie." The ease with which she changed their plans, how utterly content she seemed to be with it, stole his breath.
All he could do was nod, his smile returning when hers did, and he shifted his hand so his fingers threaded with hers. With a nod towards the exit, he fell into easy step beside her, shortening his stride so she didn't have to strain to keep up.
"Did you drive today?" he asked, lips twitching.
"Nope, took the bus."
"Good." His smile was only a little bit of his Heartless smile, twisted and dark at the edges but she squealed, realizing exactly why he'd asked.
"You drove, didn't you?"
He nodded and she whooped a fuck yes. His laughter was loud and sudden enough to make several people jump but he didn't give a shit.
Because to her, with her, he was just Sebastian.
And to him she was salvation.