Dom bolted upright from his bed, skin drenched in sweat, chest heaving. His wide eyes blinked a few times and he let out a deep breath, shaking off the tremors that plagued his body. Dragging a hand down his face, he looked at the alarm clock on his nightstand. 7 a.m. He’d only fallen asleep three hours ago and the damn dream had played over and over, a repetition of nightmares he couldn’t wake up from.
He knocked an empty whiskey bottle off the sheet beside him, hearing it clang to the ground and roll.
All he wanted was one good night’s rest. Just some sleep with no dreams. Was that too much to ask for? Because he felt like he was asking a lot.
He stood, still groggy, eyes swollen with sleep he wouldn’t get. He stumbled his way to his bathroom and shrugged out of his black boxers and got into the shower. He placed his palms against the granite as the cold water cut bone-deep and woke him from his daze.
When he stepped out, he caught the reflection in the mirror and paused. He looked like a mess. Scratch that—he was a mess. Stubble along his jawline, bags beneath his eyes, and his skin the palest he’d ever seen it. To put it loosely: he looked like shit.
Not even bothering to shave, he threw on another pair of jeans and headed downstairs to the bar.
Dom eyed the bottles along the shelves. Drinking something other than liquor might do him some good. A cup of coffee sounded nice. The stool behind him screeched. He turned slightly, seeing Zeke perched with an unsatisfied look plastered on his face. And he was strangely . . . sober.
“Aidyn told me you knocked Jade out last night,” Zeke said.
“It’s not like I did it on purpose.” Dom turned away from the shelves.
His brother rolled his eyes. “I don’t care that you didn’t do it on purpose. That’s not the point I’m making.”
“Then how ’bout you make it already.”
“He also told me about that night at the window.” Zeke paused for a moment. “Was your wolf trying to lure her out?”
Dom’s gaze narrowed, not liking where the conversation was headed. “What kinda question is that?”
“Knowing you, I figured you’d probably kill her for the sport of it.”
Looking his brother over, Dom tried to adjust to the sick feeling in the pit of his gut.
His own brother believed he’d kill in cold blood. That he’d kill Jade in cold blood. Chills ran his spine. He was an asshole—sure—but he wasn’t deranged.
“I only kill people who deserve it. You know that.” His voice was low. He couldn’t even muster rage into his tone, so he sounded almost as drained as he felt.
“Did my mate deserve it?”
“That was an accident.”
Zeke’s eyes turned into slits. “So you say, but we both know what the real you looks like.”
“Yeah, we do. Don’t forget, you look the same.”
That drove Zeke silent, but it didn’t take away the boy’s hard gaze.
“You wanna know the truth about that night at the window?” Dom leaned forward and stared him straight in the eye. His brother nodded. “No, I wasn’t trying to lure her out. Now leave me the fuck alone.”
Zeke rested his elbows on the counter and linked his fingers together. “I think you should stay away from her.”
“And who are you—my mother?”
“No, she had enough sense to leave you behind.”
Dom’s teeth gritted, and he wanted to throttle the prick in front of him. He didn’t like this sober Zeke. He was better off drunk and depressed and throwing up everywhere.
“So when Marcy comes along, who’s gonna protect her?”
“If you’re not drunk and running your mouth off to that elven whore of yours.”
“Just do us all a favor and stay away from her.” Zeke looked at him as if he were a monster. “Wouldn’t want you to end up with another dead girl’s blood on your hands. But then again, you might like that.”
Dom stared hard for a minute, debating whether or not to slam his brother’s head on the counter a few times. Thinking better of it, he stepped from behind the counter and trudged out the bar, passing Aidyn along the way. The last thing he needed was both brothers telling him to keep his murderous hands off the human.
Sweet lavender hit his nose before he saw her, and instinctively his muscles tensed. Dom hesitated, pausing just before her doorway. Did he want to walk in there? Was seeing her worth feeling the guilt? He grimaced as he remembered her skull connecting with the picture frame.
Shit. He was already feeling guilty.
Morning dew lined the window as sunlight beamed through, lighting the room in a dusky glow. In the far-right corner of the room, Jade lay with her head down on the desk. If the air around her was anything to go by, it spelled out misery.
“You bring any aspirin?” she asked in a muffled voice.
“Maybe.” His boot-steps echoed on the wooden floor.
Her head jerked up from the table. “Sorry, I thought you were Erica.”
A light purple discoloration had formed on her jaw. She looked like she just stepped out of a cage match. But even battered and bruised she still managed to look angelic.
He winced at the sappy thought and set a bottle of pills in front of her and scratched the side of his face. “You look like shit.”
She lifted the bottle and twisted off the cap. “Thanks. Could you slam my head against a picture frame again, so I can sleep for the rest of the day?”
“I could but there’d be no fun in it for me.” He tilted his head, sweeping his gaze over her.
Her arms had a few minor scrapes and cuts on them—nothing that wouldn’t heal—but he did wonder if she had a concussion.
“And what’s your kind of fun?” Jade closed her eyes and massaged her jaw.
“My kind of fun,” Dom repeated and thought for a moment. “You and me. In my bed.”
She chuckled. “Quite forward, aren’t we?”
“Well, you asked and I answered.” Dom ran his gaze over her two-sizes-too-big black t-shirt and down her blue pajama bottoms.
“Tell Aidyn I said thank you.” She shook the pill bottle.
“Why you thanking him for? I had to do all the work to get those.” He glanced about the room. “They’re just higher dosed pain relievers. They’re all I could find.”
“Where’d you get them? I’ve been searching the whole house for some.”
“Broke into Aidyn’s room,” he said with a shrug.
The look on her face said she didn’t condone his method but she didn’t condemn it, either. “Thanks.”
As she slid her chair back, her arm uncovered a piece of vanilla paper. Those damn blue eyes were staring at him again. He looked elsewhere for a distraction as Jade headed for the bathroom. The faucet squeaked and turned on, and he guessed she was washing down a pill.
He scoped the room. It wasn’t any different from the first time he was in there. Although, it was a bit more cluttered with her stuff. Posters hung on the walls. A laptop set on the wooden desk. Random stuffed animals were placed here and there. His eyes drifted to the closet where the white doors were braced open.
As his gaze passed over the clothes inside, his breath hitched in his throat. In the middle of the rack, his coat and shirt hung from metal hangers. He touched the arm of the black coat, wondering why she had kept them.
“Soft, isn’t it?” Jade had stepped out the bathroom and was looking at the articles of clothing with a smile.
“Ex-boyfriend’s, I’m guessing?”
“Nah, just . . . holding onto for safekeeping.” He raised a brow but she kept the same dazed expression. “They smell of someone.”
The organ in his chest did a wicked flip, the uneven beats making him dizzy. He let the fabric drop from his hand.
“You okay?” she asked, concern clouding her eyes.
He nodded, unsure if he was telling the truth or not as he looked back at the jacket. Should he be happy she remembered the river at all? Somewhere inside him, he did feel good about that. But he couldn’t compete with a ghost. She probably thought he was a hero, could do no wrong. And damn, he’d hate for her to lose that illusion, because it was better than reality.
Her lashes flitted and as her glossy, almond-shaped eyes locked with his black gaze, his heart fluttered and jumped . . . God, he’d never seen a mixture of brown so vibrant and swirling with so many different shades of green and yellow, melting together to make this strange color of mocha that had him frozen. And, as if his eyes had been playing tricks on him, her mocha colored stare turned into a deep caramel so rich and warm and beautiful.
His chest warmed, and the corner of his lip lifted into a smile. He heard men yelling and footsteps approaching. He covered her up with his jacket and lifted her, carrying her to a small wooded patch. He wrapped the jacket tighter around her, tucking her against him as he glanced over his shoulder and watched men armed with weapons pass by.
Her hot breath fanned across the crook of his neck, sending chills throughout his body as her nose nuzzled his throat. He walked through the thickets, pushing past the vines, and headed for his car that was stashed on a lonesome dirt road, overgrown with trees.
He jerked open his door, laid her on the seat and got in, starting his car with the turn of the key. The heater came on at full blast. Her chattering teeth filled the silence as he reached over the seat and grabbed his and Aidyn’s extra clothes out the back.
“Can you move at all?” he asked, peering at her sheepishly.
He didn’t want to take away her dignity and strip her of her soaked clothing, but if she couldn’t do it, he would before hypothermia set in.
She nodded and he handed her a pair of Aidyn’s black sweatpants, his own coat, and a long-sleeved shirt. Looking out his driver’s side window, he heard the rustling of her wet clothes as she peeled them off. When the sounds stopped, he dared a peek at her.
“You sure you’re okay?”
He lifted his gaze, realizing he’d been staring at his feet. Blinking a few times, he shook his head as the air thickened around him, his lungs struggling to pull in a breath. He needed to get away from that goddamn jacket. Out of that suddenly too small room. And away from her.
“I, uh . . . I got shit to do . . .” he mumbled, flashing one panicked glance at her and then hurried from the room.
“Do you remember the love story mama used to tell us?” Marcy held her face in her palm as she stared out the window, eyes dancing across the water of the pool. “Of the darkness and the light?”
Amber looked up from the laptop screen for a second. “Yeah, what about it?”
“Do you think that’s how good and evil began? And if so, at what point did we decide to become bad?”
“I need you to lay off the pot and up your antidepressants. You’re killing my vibe.”
She sighed. “I’m serious, Amber. When did I become bad?”
“Hate to break it to you but we were always bad, sweetheart.”
Marcy lightly tapped her forefinger against her lips. “For the majority, I guess.”
“Mm, way before that. You forget you cut out our father’s heart.”
“That was justifiable.”
“He slapped you.”
“As I remember, you helped me burn the body.”
Her sister quieted, her fingers speeding over the keys of her laptop.
“I’ve always wondered what the Almighty did with the darkness.”
Amber wiped her dark bangs out her eyes and chewed on the end of a pen as she shifted on the couch. “It’s a folklore story meant to make the darkness look cheated.”
“You don’t call something folklore if it’s true,” a thick, familiar voice answered. “Trust me when I say the darkness was cheated out of everything.”
A grin spread across Marcy’s face as she gave the visitor her attention. “I was beginning to think you’d forgotten about me.”
Lucifer sauntered inside with a heavy brow. “How could I? You call me twenty times a day. You’re worse than my last girlfriend.”
“I’m sketchy about you, Luce. I just want to make sure you’re not going to bail on me.”
He came closer until he stood before her, towering above her with a scowl that scared the confidence right out of her. “You want to know what happened to my last girlfriend?”
He leaned down, placing his hands on the arms of the chair. She shrank in her seat and gulped.
“I fed her to my dogs.” Out of her peripheral vision, Marcy saw her sister pale and avert her gaze. Lucifer’s silver eyes flashed with a dangerous glint, “I don’t care if you find me sketchy. You call me at all tomorrow, and I will come back here and watch you rot piece by piece.” He tilted his head, eyes sweeping over her in disgust. “And from the looks of it, you’re about there.”
“Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.” Of course, her words didn’t ring true.
With a snort, he glanced at her sister. “Hello, Alice.”
“Sorry. There are so many of you.” Were.
Marcy cleared her throat. “I killed the rest of them.”
Lu’s brow furrowed. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”
“Traitors get no sympathy from me.”
Family, friends, lovers, and ex-lovers included. In her book, treason equaled death.
A smirk pulled at his lips, a secret lying in his hypnotic stare. “Hmm.”
It wouldn’t have done her any good to ask. She knew just as well as anyone else that Lucifer preferred to keep his cards hidden until he had every ace in hand.
Usually, it was Mondays people hated but today Wednesday was the day Jade hated the most. She paused outside the classroom doorway, heart in her throat, palms sweaty. God, she hated herself, her nerves, and the endless anxiety. Why did she bother to show up? People were going to stare, whisper. Granted, she was used to all of it—had been her whole life—but her anxiety never lessened. In fact, over time it seemed to just get worse.
Self-conscious? Of course. Who wouldn’t be when they looked like an abused housewife?
She wiped a hand over her forehead, sucked it up, and walked inside, instantly regretting all the choices that led her up to that moment.
Goddamn. The looks she received—teacher included—curious and judgmental. Worse than she expected them to be. But she guessed she would’ve looked at someone the same if they came to class with a bruised jaw and a busted lip.
Her table partner’s eyes were fixed on her as well, hard and a little . . . furious. Out of the class, his stare unnerved her the most. Not because he was downright attractive, but because his eyes seemed to peer straight through her, right to the whole story and into every crevice and corner of her soul.
She set her things on the desk and dropped in her seat, smoothing down the too-big black jacket she wore.
Michael's eyes curiously followed her hand down the jacket, and then he cleared his throat. “Looks like you’ve had a rough week. Bar fight?”
“Yep, with a couple of vampires.” She chuckled, even though there was truth behind it.
When he didn’t laugh or say anything, she threw him a glance. Darkness had consumed the silver of his eyes as his jaw ticked rapidly, and then he recovered with a smile as if everything in the world was right.
“Are you feeling okay?” he asked, leaning back in his seat. “You’re looking pale.”
Her stomach turned with his words, bile rising in her throat. She jumped up, leaving the room in a blur. In the bathroom, Jade leaned over the sink and splashed cold water over her hot cheeks and forehead. The nausea stopped after a few heavy breaths, the color of her skin returning back to normal.
After wiping the water from her face, she headed back to the art room. This time, everyone in the class ignored her . . . except for him. His steely eyes blazed through her, even though his face remained emotionless. If she stared into them long enough, she didn’t think she’d ever find her way out.
She sat down, opened her sketchbook, and all the breath left her lungs. The eyes she’d drawn every day for the last three years stared back at her. But they weren’t the blue she usually drew. The color had changed to an ominous black. And this time, someone had drawn the whole face to go with them.
Her hands trembled as she picked up the sheet.
“Hope you don’t mind—I drew that.” Michael gave a soft smile. “I figured you were having trouble penning a face to the eyes. Thought I'd help you out.”
She swallowed hard, a shiver crawling up the length of her spine. “Th-thanks.”
“What’s wrong?” he said, in a mocking tone. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I . . . I don’t feel good,” she mumbled, pulse quickening with each word, panic rising in her chest, heat flaring in her cheeks.
Shutting her sketchbook, she shoved it in her bag, threw it over her shoulder, and got up from the table.
“I hope you feel better,” Michael called after her as she darted out the classroom.
“Where is he?” an irate voice shouted from the front door, jarring Jade out of her book.
Heavy footsteps pounded toward the kitchen.
Both she and Jason looked up from the table, her from her book and him from his cereal just as Aidyn stormed into the archway.
“Where the fuck is he?” His turquoise eyes zeroed in on Jason as if he had all the answers, and for the first time, the brother looked downright evil, hard eyes glinting with malevolence.
Jason answered with a crunch of his Frosted Flakes.
“Nobody knows where Dom is?”
At his name, Jade's heart skipped a beat but she managed to keep a poker face.
Aidyn looked at her. “He say anything to you?”
She shook her head, not trusting her voice.
“Haven’t seen him since I took her to class yesterday,” Jason said, lifting another spoonful of cereal to his mouth. “Came back and he was gone.”
“Really?” Aidyn smirked but it didn’t reach his eyes. “T’s burnt down last night.”
“Damn, what’s he gonna-”
“It burnt down with him in it, along with everyone else who worked there.”
Jason’s spoon paused midway to his mouth. “Oh . . . that's . . . I’m sorry, man. I know you guys were like brothers.” Jason’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t think Dom had something to do with that . . . do you?”
“Considering he’s a pyro—yeah, hate to say it but I do.” Aidyn settled his hands on his hips.
“Burning up everyone in the house—that’s not his style. He wouldn’t kill innocent people.”
She pretended to not see Aidyn glance at her and scowl before he looked back at Jason. “Can we say anyone there was really innocent in Dom’s eyes?”