“How bad was it?” Simon asked, popping a sliced pepper in his mouth, leaning over his counter to talk to Alec.
“On a scale of one to ten?” Alec shuddered, remembering just how long he’d spent in the shower today to get all that shine off his skin. “Off the charts bad.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Izzy said as she removed the lasagna Simon had made from the oven. “He looked gorgeous. Had this whole scowl thing going on that was very bad boy. This campaign will go viral. I can feel it.”
“That scowl was genuine, Izzy.”
“And it made your eyes simply light up. Don’t lie to me. I know that you feel better now that you got all that anger out of your system and earned a paycheck.”
Alec tried to pretend like she was wrong, but he couldn’t. The shoot had given him a chance to be an asshole all day—because that darkness was what Aline had been looking for—and he’d been paid insanely well for one days work. He grinned. “Yeah, I do.”
Izzy patted his cheek. “There’s that smile I love.”
“And you met Magnus today, right?” Simon asked as he finished off the salad with a light coating of dressing.
Izzy groaned, shooting a look in Alec’s direction. “And there goes the smile that I love.”
Sure enough, just the mention of his new agent’s name was enough to have Alec frowning again. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I thought everyone loved Magnus!” Simon exclaimed. “He’s so sparkly and exciting. Like a lit-up ferris wheel at nighttime propelled by rockets.”
Alec tipped his head studying Simon, then looked to Izzy. “Some day you have to explain to me how he managed to make you fall in love with him.”
Simon grinned, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I’m irresistible, really.”
Alec shook his head. “I don’t see it.”
“He is completely irresistible,” Izzy confirmed, planting a kiss on her husband’s cheek.
Alec rolled his eyes as if he wished he were somewhere else, but really, Izzy and Simon were ridiculously in love and it was…sweet. Their apartment was a second home for him and he was happy his sister had found someone who adored her the way she deserved. He picked at the salad and steered the topic back to what had been grating at him all day. “So let’s get this over with. Magnus Bane. Tell me everything you know. Since it looks like I have no choice but to work with this…guy until the end of the season. I’m planning on making it to the championship instead of being knocked out early, so that will be three months. I need to know as much as I can, without having to talk to him. If that’s possible.”
“There’s a saying about curiosity and murdered kittens,” Izzy chided him.
Alec barked out a laugh. “Overdramatic much, Izzy?”
Simon shook his head. “She’s right. Maybe it’s better if you go into this blind. I’ve only ever the met him a handful of times when he’s been out with Clary, but I get the feeling he doesn’t really conform to any pattern.”
“I told you, mi hermano. He’s unconventional.”
Simon waved a spoon in his wife’s direction. “That. I get why he and Alec don’t gel.”
Alec had to hear this. “You do, huh?”
“Well, yeah. Magnus is all”—Simon made a KRRRPWOWOOWW sound and flung his hands around—“and you’re all”—Simon frowned and slumped his shoulders forward while saying meep meep. Alec stifled a smile at Simon’s description of him. “It’s the meeting of two fundamentally opposable elements, and there are, like, thousands of comics written about why that’s a bad idea. It’s an actual trope-thing in fiction.” Izzy eyed Simon dubiously. But Simon was undeterred. “What? It’s definitely a thing.”
Izzy shook her head fondly. “You’re such a dork.”
Simon beamed at Izzy. “I love you too.”
“So Magnus…?” Alec tried again.
“You can Google search him if you’re that interested, Alec,” Izzy said. “But I’m not going to the be the one you base your opinion on. I told you to trust me and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
“I don’t like him,” Alec reminded her. For what had to be the tenth time today.
Izzy nodded. “I think we got that.”
“He’s going to be bad for my image.”
“Heard you the first time you said that today,” she huffed.
Alec sighed, giving in. “And I need to trust you.”
“Knew you’d come around, big brother.”
There was a knock at the door.
“That must be Clary,” Izzy said. “Can you let her in, Alec?”
Alec stood, heading for the door. “You invited her?”
“When has she ever not been invited to a Lightwood-Lewis Kosher Kitchen night?” Simon replied.
Alec grinned, opening the door as he looked to Simon over his shoulder, “Is there a way to get me uninvited?”
But Simon’s mouth was frozen in a shocked o-shape and Izzy was biting her lip, eyes focused over his shoulder…. And Alec’s smile faltered, died, when he turned to face the hallway and took in Clary…with Magnus standing next to her.
Magnus did his best not to grimace when he saw Alec. He failed and rounded on Clary. “You lied to me. Again!”
“I didn’t,” Clary insisted. “This is Simon’s apartment.”
Simon peeked his head out from behind Alec’s shoulders, and twirled his fingers. “Hey, Magnus.”
Magnus brushed past Alec without acknowledging him. “Hello, Spencer.”
Clary smiled and hugged Simon. “He knows.”
Magnus made his way to Izzy, grasping her on the shoulders and kissing both her cheeks. This Lightwood he liked. “I didn’t get a chance to give you the greeting you deserved this morning.”
The door slammed shut, sending the apartment floor shaking, and Magnus turned to find Alec staring at them with his eyebrow arched. “You two know each other?”
“I told you we did,” Izzy replied with complete calm in the face of her brother’s mini-tantrum. “He throws great parties.”
Magnus slipped an arm around Izzy’s waist. “And you know how to dance.”
Izzy grinned at him, then glanced at her husband. “It was before we even started dating, Simon. And it was never like that. We see each other professionally every now-and-then still.”
Simon shrugged and Alec did this squinty-eyed thing that made Izzy dissolve into peals of laughter. “Everyone take a seat. I’ll grab a bottle of wine. Simon? Will you help me bring the dishes in?”
Clary went to the far side of the modern dining room table and Magnus pulled her chair out for her, then took the seat next to her. Alec remained hovering near the door, his gaze flicking between the kitchen—where Simon and Izzy were—and Clary, but he never made direct eye contact with Magnus. Magnus was more than fine with pretending the eldest Lightwood wasn’t in the room either.
“Sit down, Alec,” Clary insisted, humor in her voice. “He won’t bite.”
Magnus smirked and Alec caught eyes with him.
“Don’t,” Alec said to Magnus, sternly.
Magnus feigned ignorance to the comeback that was most definitely about to come out of his lips before Alec spoke. “I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
Clary cleared her throat to stifle a laugh.
Alec finally moved, taking the seat at the opposite head of the table from where Magnus sat. Getting as far away from Magnus as he possibly could. Magnus would’ve been offended, but keeping all of that raging testosterone out of his breathing range made for better air quality.
Izzy carried in a bottle and glasses, setting them on the table and filling them, making no comment on the seating arrangement, but a definite small smile on her lips when she glanced at Magnus. Simon followed with arms full of serving dishes, refusing Izzy’s help. Izzy kissed him on the cheek and took a seat the head of the table, next to Magnus.
“I don’t want to talk business all night,” she said as she arranged her napkin on her lap. “But did you get that proposal I sent over?”
Magnus was okay with talking business, especially with someone as competent and intelligent as Izzy. “I did, sunshine—”
Alec made a choking noise. Izzy raised her eyes, smirked at her brother, and refocused on Magnus.
Magnus inhaled deeply, gripped his knife tighter to keep himself from whipping it in a specific direction and continued, “I think Gallant Group is our best bet. Large enough to pay out, diverse enough to have multiple opportunities, but not so large as to not have leverage.”
Izzy took a sip of her wine, considering this. “I agree. Now. Let’s eat.”
Simon served Izzy first, earning a blinding smile from his wife, then tried to pass the plate to Alec, but ended up dropping a bevy of vegetables off the edge when he couldn’t bridge the massive distance Alec had created by sitting at the far end. Alec frowned (Magnus was beginning to think this was Alec’s permanent facial expression), scooped food on his plate and had the same issue when he tried to pass it on to Clary.
Clary yanked the dish out of his hands. “This is ridiculous, Alec. Sit next to Simon.”
Alec stopped with his fork partway to his mouth. “Can’t. Need room to stretch my legs. Some of us have feet that touch the floor.”
Clary stuck her tongue out at Alec, and he did the same back—an actual smile breaking through until he saw Magnus watching him. Alec schooled his features again and went back to eating, shoveling the contents down in record-breaking time that made Magnus’ stomach churn a bit.
Alec set his napkin on his plate, then stood, heading for the kitchen. “Well, this has been…fun but Lydia’s picking me up soon. We have some club opening to go to.”
The words were out of Magnus’ mouth before he remembered he wasn’t supposed to directly acknowledge the ice king’s presence. “Pandemonium?”
Alec stopped mid-step and looked over his shoulder. “Um, yes?”
“I got an invitation as well.” Magnus dabbed his lips with his napkin. “Thinking I’ll skip it, though.”
Alec’s eyes hardened. “A bit too straight for your tastes?”
Magnus chuckled uneasily. So Alec was going there. “I couldn’t draw perpendicular lines if I tried.”
“Surprise!” Alec said, waving his plate around, spilling food to the floor. His jaw ticked as he locked eyes with Magnus. “Says no one ever when they meet you.”
Magnus sneered, tipping his chin down and refusing to back down from Alec’s challenge. “I’m not ashamed of who I am.”
“You know what?” Alec tossed his plate on the kitchen counter and faced the table, pointing a meaty finger in Magnus’ direction. “Get bent.”
“Oh, I think I’m already there, honey—”
Clary jumped to her feet, setting her palms on the table. “Enough, you two! Izzy, this is your house not mine, so I don’t want to cross any lines….”
Izzy was the vision of a woman in control. She met Clary’s anxiety with a placid command of her every word. “What? They’re just talking.”
Magnus lifted a brow and studied Izzy. She was up to something.
Alec ripped his jacket off a hook by the door. “Fuck this. I’m out.”
“Alec—” Magnus grabbed Clary and she yelped as Magnus dragged her into her seat again. It was clear to him now that Izzy had an agenda for this evening that he hadn’t been briefed on, but Clary had.
“Adiós, big brother,” Izzy replied in the same, even tone. “Tell Lydia hi from me.”
Simon was frozen in place with food plopping from his fork onto his plate, and his mouth half-open when the door slammed shut behind Alec. “Can someone tell me what just happened?”
Izzy set her napkin on her lap again and picked up her wine glass. “Look, Magnus. My brother isn’t the asshole he’s being right now.”
Magnus clinked his ring against his glass as he studied her. “I keep hearing that, but all evidence is to the contrary. And I’m quite sure now that there’s something to do with your dear brother that you, biscuit, and Stefan haven’t told me. A reason for you wanting me to see Alexander outside of his professional duties, perhaps?”
Both Simon and Clary opened their mouths to speak and Izzy silenced them just by lifting one finger. “Simon. Clary. Don’t. Magnus has to get to know Alec himself.”
Magnus considered this. He had a good idea what Izzy was not-so-subtly hinting at. And—he hadn’t thought it was possible, but…—the thought made him even angrier at Alec. “And what a joy that will apparently be.”
Izzy leaned in. “I need you to see this temporary contract through, Magnus. And to do that you don’t have to like him, but you have to understand where he’s coming from.”
Magnus nodded. He didn’t like the circumstances he would be working under, but he was a professional. He dealt with sensitive divas all day. Alec may have been the most sensitive out of all of them, but he was nothing Magnus couldn’t handle. “I fully intend to, Isabelle.”
Simon’s fork finally made it’s way into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully. “You know, my band is playing a gig on Saturday. Maybe you could come by. Alec is going to be there since it’s the last night before he heads out on the road. If you have to find a way to get to know each other, it’ll be loud and with a lot of other people so you won’t be forced to talk much.”
“Ah,” Magnus took a sip of his wine. “So he can silently judge me in close proximity.”
Clary shook her head. “He’s not—” Izzy glared at Clary, and Clary snapped her mouth shut. She took a deep breath. “Got it. Shutting it down. You should come Magnus. It is a party.”
Magnus smiled at her. “You know all my weak spots, darling.”
Clary’s features softened, and that mischievous glint came back to her eyes. “Not all of them.”
“And let’s keep it that way, biscuit. Now, let’s finish this lovely dinner.”
Izzy clinked her glass against Magnus’, looking way too satisfied at the evening’s dramatically-eventful events.
He and the devious, little Lightwood were going to need to have a private conversation soon.
Alec took a deep swig out of his rocks glass and winced.
“You’re hitting that whiskey pretty hard, Lightwood,” Lydia said across from him.
“Today was a nightmare,” he admitted. He set his glass on the table and surveyed the undulating bodies on the club dance floor. He knew how to dance—courtesy of his sister—but he rarely gave in to the urge.
“How about tonight?”
For a second Alec wondered if he’d said something out loud about dancing, but he caught the thread of their conversation again quickly when he remembered that Lydia would want to dance with him as much he would with her. The whiskey was burning a pleasant path down his throat, Lydia looked gorgeous, and he wasn’t anywhere near Magnus Bane…. He tried to give her a genuine smile, because her presence was making tonight easier.
“Getting better,” he answered honestly.
“Good,” Lydia said. She reached out and settled her hand on his. “Now smile. There’s a couple a few tables away that look like they’re trying to take pics of us.”
Alec resisted glancing over his shoulder. “Doing the fake selfie thing?”
Lydia giggled. “For sure.”
Alec hummed and took another drink. “I thought Jace was meeting us here?”
“The Angels’ living legend has been here for the last hour. Didn’t you see the stampede that nearly happened at the VIP entrance?”
Alec just shook his head fondly. Jace created chaos wherever he went. “Come on. Let’s go sit with him.”
Alec took Lydia by the hand and led her around the dance floor, pushing through the crowd toward the VIP rooms. He was stopped at the entrance by a gaggle of fans in tight dresses whose heads snapped up when he said his name. Alec politely signed a few pairs of boobs with sharpies offered to him with glossed nails, and made sure the bouncer at the entrance knew to let Lydia in when she was pulled aside by friends.
Jace stood and wrapped him in a tight hug when Alec found his booth. “Where the hell have you been, buddy? This place is amazing.”
“Don’t get too drunk, Jace,” Alec said as he settled into the velvet cushions. “It’s you and me on the ice tomorrow.”
Jace scoffed. “Even a hangover can’t slow me down.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“Lydia here with you?”
“She stopped at the front to talk to some friends.”
Jace slicked his hair out of his eyes and turned to Alec. “So how’s that whole thing going?”
“Good. She’s…nice. Just as nice as she was in college.”
“Good,” Jace replied, his mismatched eyes landing on Alec’s, serious for once. “The last one was all out for the fame.”
Alec forced a laugh and took a swig from his glass. “You would know.”
Jace leaned in. “Anything else? You know, on the side?”
Nothing. Nada. A hoser, in hockey slang. No matter what language he used his love life was non-existent. It had been months since he’d even bothered to find a one-nighter. It all seemed like more work than it was worth at this point.
“Nah. Hockey is my first love, you know that.”
“Remind me to never touch your goalie mitt,” Jace taunted and Alec had to smile.
Lydia appeared with a waitress in tow. She grinned at them and hitched her thumb over her shoulder. “More drinks?”
Jace slapped Alec’s thigh. “Definitely more drinks.”
Everything in Alec’s vision was blurry, slanted to the left. Off-kilter.
Alec cackled at the thought, and Lydia patted his chest, holding him up so he could get his key in his front door.
“Thanks for going out with me,” he tried to say, his tongue thick.
Lydia didn’t answer him. She pushed the door open and helped him over to the couch, dropping him down. Alec closed his eyes and let his head fall back. The room was beginning to spin, and his limbs were mush, but feeling this out of sorts—disconnected from every thought that tried to fight it’s way through his muddled brain—was good. He needed to forget.
There was movement next to him and a cold glass was pressed into his hand. “Drink some water. You’ll thank me for that in the morning.”
He gulped down the cool liquid and resettled himself against the arm of the couch, facing Lydia. She had her legs tucked under her, arm draped across the back and was watching him carefully.
Alec swallowed. “What’s that look for?”
“I have to tell you something. But I don’t know if you’ll remember it in the morning if I do.”
“Is it something I’ll want to remember?”
She pursed her lips. “Probably not.”
Alec set the water glass on the coffee table and sat up. He rubbed at his eyes and faced her. “Then go for it.”
“Raj called me.”
Alec’s stomach lurched and his fingers immediately went to that numb spot, working at it to ease the sudden ache. “And?”
“He’s getting married.”
Alec shifted away from her, planting his feet on the floor, trying to find something steady. Any kind of unshakeable piece would be good right now. He set his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, running his palms over his hair. When his erratic heartbeat was under control again, he caught eyes with Lydia. “I’m assuming from your tone that it’s to a woman.”
Alec huffed. “That’ll be a disaster.”
“Promise me you’ll never go there, Alec,” Lydia said in a quiet, but stern voice. “Hockey isn’t worth it. I know you love it, but you’re going to have way more years off the ice than you’ll have on it.”
Alec stared at that spot on his left hand, at his thumb digging into the muscle trying to work some kind of feeling into that spot again. He shook his hand out and slumped into the cushions. “I may need a successful wife to help me pay my bills. You looking?”
“No.” She inched over, pressing against his side and resting her head on his shoulder. “You’ll get through this, Lightwood. I know you will.”
Alec closed his eyes and grasped her hand.
He wished he could be as certain as she was.