NOTES: This scene takes place after Chapter 16 of The Might of Gabriel between Riley & Jade.
Never once had he second-guessed the state of his office. Everything was exactly where he liked it, exactly where it was supposed to be, and put together in a way that made sense. Except, somehow, Jade’s presence in his office made him anxious. Would she find his systems archaic? Childish? Would she laugh at his journals?
Crap! His journals!
Riley hurried across the room, swiping two leather journals off the table and plopping them on the shelf. He faltered, trying hard to talk himself out of putting them in their correct spot. He’d already put them down. She’d see him put them down. It’d be silly if he went and changed them.
Except he couldn’t.
Randomly strewn wasn’t their place. His premonition journals needed to be organized.
“Sorry,” he muttered, his ears burning as he grabbed them and put them on their correct shelves. “Just… yeah, sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Jade said with a smile.
Oh, that smile. It was the kind of smile that could take a man out by his knees.
Or maybe just him.
He liked her. He liked her more than anyone he’d ever met. She fascinated him in ways he didn’t even know possible, and when he talked, she didn’t zone out. And, somehow, whenever she was in the room, his brain turned stupid.
“Thanks for staying,” Riley began as he dragged an extra chair next to his computer. He held it out for her. She swept into the chair, dropping her notepad on the table and sweeping her skirt under her comfortably. He flopped down in his chair, inching closer to her. Maybe it was too close. Self-doubt set in and he kicked off the floor, putting a little more distance between the two of them. She grabbed the arm of his chair and pulled him back, smiling wide enough to make his heart skitter in his chest.
“If you sit that far away, you won’t see anything,” she told him. “It’s an important part of the team pow-wow, you know.”
“Yeah,” he replied, his voice an octave too high. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Yeah. That makes sense. Okay, so… I figure that you know Isabella and Andrea better than I do. It makes sense–at least for now–that you and I work together to… to…”
His brain glitched, all the words flitting out of his brain as her warm chocolate eyes watched him closely. Why couldn’t he be more like Sam? A little more suave and charming around beautiful women. Or even like Nate? Easy to talk to and personable. No, he, Riley Marx, was the king of awkwardness. The only thing he had going for him was the fact that Jade seemed undeterred by his social snafus.
All he had to do was get it together long enough to hold a full conversation with her. He could do this.
“Okay, look,” Riley exclaimed, slamming his hands to the table. “I am not good at this. I’m not good at this at all. It took a lot of research for me to get Sam and Nate organized. I sort of… stalked them. Thoroughly.”
She giggled, her head falling in her hands. The tiny snort that mixed in with her laughter was absolutely adorable.
“I know it sounds bad!” he rushed to defend himself. “But it’s not that–”
“No, no! I’m not laughing at you,” Jade interrupted quickly. “I did the same with Isabella and Andrea. That’s why I’m laughing.
“I did!” she said. “They saved me from a demon, thinking I wasn’t a hunter and wouldn’t know what was going on. Honestly… I really didn’t know what was happening. Very little. Anyway! I knew enough to know they were hunters, and I wanted part of it, but they left me! They just left me there after saving me, so I had to figure out who they were!”
“I had a premonition of them while I was in here,” Riley told her. “I stalked them and went to Arizona to find them. I literally enrolled in college for another degree I didn’t need just to get close to them.”
“Oh, Riley!” Jade’s hand fell to his arm as she lost herself in a fit of laughter. Her joy was contagious, filling him head-to-toe with a kind of warmth he couldn’t describe. He grinned happily. “I got a job as a paralegal at Isabella’s office to follow her around! We’re so bad!”
“We are,” he agreed. Something about it put him a little more at ease. Maybe he wouldn’t screw this up nearly as badly as he was worried he would. “I’m not good at organizing people. I want to. I have a phenomenal system for demon hunting–mostly phenomenal. Trying to make it phenomenal. It has some kinks.”
“Everything has kinks,” she said. She picked up her pen. “I’m sure it’s perfect. We just have to get our little chaos fiends organized. A reasonable task.”
“If by reasonable you mean we should wear gloves because we’re going to get bit, then yes,” Riley scoffed. Even so, he moved files around on his computer to pull up the notes he’d taken while the two teams trained.
“Only Andrea bites,” she commented flippantly.
“So does Sam,” he shot back. “God, can you imagine if those two got over their issues and got together? It’d be a fucking disaster.”
“Oh, they will,” Jade said a little all too knowingly. He glanced at her curiously, waiting for her to elaborate. “They’ll be terrible together when they do, but the two of them are too damn horny to not hook up. It’s easy to access at this point.”
“Should we… not put them together?”
“No, they’ll hunt great together,” she assured him. “Everything else is just fire and gasoline. They’re adults. They’ll have to figure themselves out. I think we need to put an emphasis on them training for a while before they go into the field, though.”
“Agreed.” He nodded. “They need more time to get accustomed to how each other works. The smash smash, bang bang is great and all, but they need to have more of an understanding of how the other one works. Nate and Isabella on the other hand… surprisingly smooth.”
“There are a few bumps,” she said. “Nothing too intense. They’re both used to having to rein in the hotheads. This is going to be a different dynamic for them… and that’s before the whole Nate thing.”
“What Nate thing?”
“Nate asked her out. Really, more suggested that they get breakfast sometime again… without Sam and Andrea being there.”
“Of course, he did.” Riley sighed. Because what good hunting dynamic didn’t need a little domestic drama? “Do you think it’ll get in the way of them hunting?”
“No,” Jade replied. “Believe me, Isabella’s far too level-headed for that to happen. She might struggle with it outside of the field, but she won’t let it affect hunting. She thinks too much for that.”
“Good… good. I think with a few training sessions, the two of them should be good to go in the field. Enough time to work the kinks out before getting down to business. Andrea and Sam, however… that’s going to be trickier.”
“How fast can you input hunting information in the computer? To be used in F.R.E.D. I mean,” Jade asked. His fingers flew across the keyboard, opening the program and angling the screen for her to see.
“It’s usually pretty quick,” he explained. “I usually do it at the end of the night after all the hunts are over, but here… physical description, images… hunt details… death… usually, I add in any notes that I feel need to be tailored. More often than not, I add in some ideal hunting scenario–”
“Ideal?” Jade pursed her lips together. Her eyebrows creased together, creating the faintest of creases. The intensity in her dark eyes was enthralling as she jotted down a few notes. “Wouldn’t it be smarter to create a non-ideal situation?”
“Ideal is a scenario meant to challenge them… it might kill them, unfortunately. Only if they don’t do their job well enough.”
“If you can walk me through putting the information in, I’d be happy to update the system as they’re hunting,” she replied. “If we do that, we could have Isabella and Nate hunting in the field while having Andrea and Sam doing the same hunt here inside F.R.E.D.”
“Oh…” Riley let out softly, nodding slowly as he returned his attention to his computer. She wanted to touch it. No one touched his computer. He’d put a lot of time and effort into building his system. No one was allowed to touch it.
Her hand touched his, and his gaze found hers. A soft smile settled on her lips as she squeezed for comfort.
“We don’t have to do that,” Jade whispered.
“It’s… it’s… it’s just that…”
“I get it,” she interjected quietly. “I’ll keep notes for you, and you can get the information in the system when you’re able to.”
“No, no.” He shook his head. “I’ll teach you how to use it all. It’s probably not a bad idea for me to teach you how to run the team from here anyway. I mean, you do it for Andrea and Isabella. Why shouldn’t you do it for them now? No, no. Your input would be good.”
“You’re not very good at giving up control, are you?” she asked. Her tone was gentle without a hint of condescension. “You like things run a certain way.”
“I like things to run a certain way.”
“Then we’ll run them that way.”
“Yeah?” Riley leaned back in his chair, letting out a heavy exhale. He knew he could be uptight about the way his systems ran. Most people didn’t understand computers the way he did, but it was more than that. He knew what was at stake. He’d seen it firsthand when his father died. However, he also knew he wasn’t without flaws. Screwing up was a part of his MO if he got too tired, too inside his head, or if the aftermath of a premonition left him particularly useless. “I could use the help—I need the help.”
“Then I’ll help,” she told him.
“Who do we… are these the best teams?” he asked, changing the subject and shaking off the thoughts she left him with. “It’s a good idea, right?”
“Oh, these aren’t the best teams,” she said, making him frown. Laughing, she playfully swatted at his shoulder. “We are, silly! We’re the best team! They’d be lost without us.”
“They’d have set something on fire if it wasn’t for us,” he corrected, grinning nonetheless. “Okay. We can do this.”
“We can definitely do this,” Jade agreed with another smile. It made his stomach flop. No one smiled as much as she did, and he knew for a fact no one ever looked as pretty as she did doing so.
Riley was in over his head with her. There was no denying that. But he honestly didn’t care as long as she kept on smiling at him. He’d give her whatever she wanted. Maybe.
If he got the nerve to do something about it.