The voice in my ear rumbled in a low, slow way that was as sexy as all get-out, but I still grimaced at his words.
"Don't remind me," I grumbled. "I've been trying to forget about that particular date on the calendar for weeks now."
Holding a backpack in one hand and my phone in the other, I stopped inside the doorway, letting the college students stream out of the classroom and move into the corridor. They hurried toward the exit, along with the professor, all eager to get away from the hallowed halls of learning as quickly as they could, but I stayed where I was until the sounds of their cheerful chatter had faded away and I could resume my own conversation.
"What's so bad about turning thirty-one?" Owen asked.
Even though he couldn't see me, since we were talking on the phone, I still shrugged as I stepped out of the classroom and ambled toward the doors at the end of the corridor.
"Nothing, on the face of it. It's just another day and just another number. I won't feel any different before, during, or after that day than I do on any other. But this time of year . . . bad things always seem to happen around my birthday."
"Oh." My lover's voice slipped from sexy and teasing to quiet and serious in a heartbeat. He didn't say anything else. He knew exactly what bad things I was referring to. My mother and my older sister being murdered. Thinking that Bria, my baby sister, had also been killed. Fletcher Lane, my mentor, being tortured to death.
"I just . . . don't want to jinx things by talking about my birthday," I said. "And I don't even want to think about the surprise party Finn is planning."
"What party?" Owen finally asked, three seconds too late to be believable.
"The always party."
"What?" he asked again, genuinely confused this time.
"The always party. The party that Finn always plans for me. The one I always tell him I would rather do without. The one the sneaky bastard always manages to surprise me with anyway, just when I think that I'm finally safe from him and his shenanigans."
Finnegan Lane, my foster brother, thought that birthdays were a time of great celebration, jubilation, and excitement and should always be marked with cake, presents, and people hiding in a dark room waiting to jump out and scream at you the second you turned on the lights. I was fine with the cake and the presents, but people jumping and screaming in my direction always made me reach for one of my silverstone knives.
Such were the instincts of an assassin.
"He always manages to surprise you with a party?" Owen asked. "Every single year? I find that hard to believe."
"Yeah, well, I am no match for the mercurial wiles of Finnegan Lane. Three years ago, he threw the party a week before my birthday. Two years ago, he waited until three weeks after my birthday."
Last year had been the only one in the last ten that Finn hadn't thrown me a party, since Fletcher had been murdered right around that time. Neither one of us had felt like celebrating anything then.
I skirted around a janitor who was mopping the linoleum floor. The sun slanting in through the windows made the smooth surface gleam like a new penny, but the longer I stared at the drying streaks of water, the darker they became, turning a dull, rusty red and morphing into another liquid. Blood. Fletcher's blood, oozing all over the blue and pink pig tracks on the floor of the Pork Pit-
"Gin?" Owen asked. "Are you still there?"
I shook my head to get rid of the unwanted memories. "Sorry, I'm still in one of the buildings. The reception is terrible in here. Hang on a second, and let me go outside."