The night breeze bit at Dom’s skin as he grabbed his duffel bag out the car and threw it over his shoulder. With a heavy sigh, he trudged up the porch steps and into the house. As he shut the door, he paused, noting the dark hallway sat strangely quiet. But he shook it off.
It was three in the morning. Maybe for once, everyone was asleep.
As he took another step forward, the barroom light flicked on and Aidyn crossed his arms as he leaned against the molding of the archway.
“T’s brothel burnt down five nights ago. Same night you left.” His brother tilted his head, scanning him with suspicion. “You have something to do with that?”
Two pairs of feet patted down the stairs and hushed whispering had his heart ticking up a beat.
“Why do you care about the damn brothel?”
“Because everyone who worked there is dead, including T who happened to be my friend.” Hard lines etched between Aidyn’s brow. “Did you torch the place?”
Fuck. He shouldn’t have come back home, but the reason he did stared at him with wide eyes as she stood in the middle of the staircase along with her sister. They had an audience now—everyone in the house awake and looking at him as if he were guilty as sin.
Zeke was the only one who seemed unsurprised.
“No. I didn’t.”
“Then where have you been for the last five days, Dom?”
“None of your damn business. But I won’t lie . . . I’m happy somebody finally burnt that shit show to the ground.” Dom walked toward the stairs but paused and turned back to Aidyn. “And he wasn’t your friend. He was your dealer. You’re just angry you’ll have to find your coke elsewhere.”
His brother uncrossed his arms and his fists clenched at his sides. “If you didn’t burn the place down, then where’d you go?”
“Up north for a few days. Okay, ma?” Every time he left without them, he came home to an interrogation.
Aidyn’s eyes lit up. “You went to Salem, didn’t you? You went to see her again?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I told you to leave her alone.”
“I’m sorry I like to check in on my dead brother’s kid every once in a while.”
Zeke burped. “You sure it’s not your kid?”
He glared at the drunk bastard. “It’s. Not. My. Kid.”
Aidyn shook his head and took a step forward. “Doesn’t matter. You’re gonna get them killed if you keep going up there.”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist. No one saw me.” Pivoting on his heel, he stomped up the stairs and shoved past Jade and Erica. “The hell are you looking at?”
He got to his room and kicked the door closed, chucked his bag in the closet, and dropped onto the bed. A knock sounded on the door but he made no move to answer it. He closed his eyes, every muscle relaxing as he sank further into the bed. Another rap on the oak had him blowing out a breath. The assholes really wanted to keep going at him, huh? Shaking his head, he cut his eyes and pushed off the mattress. He jerked open the door and looked out, expecting to see his brothers.
Instead, he had to look down.
“What do you want?” he asked gruffly.
Nervously, Jade glanced down the hallway and then back to him. “You need to see something.” She motioned for him to follow her to her room.
Another deep sigh fell from his chest and for some damn reason, he followed her. He pinched the bridge of his nose and wiped his heavy eyes while Jade stood at her desk, fumbling with her things. As he lifted his head, she opened her bag, pulling out a piece of paper, and handed it to him. His whole face stared up at him, cloned on the paper with precision—every fine wrinkle of his forehead down to the harsh scar.
His thumb ran across the edge, dark ash caking along his skin, and the heavy scent of coal wafted to his nose. He swallowed down the hard lump in his throat and blinked back a hundred emotions.
“I didn’t draw it.”
Guilt coiled in his chest as an old wound ripped wide open. “Who gave this to you?”
“I found it in my sketchbook.” Her eyes flicked about the room and she took in an uneven breath.
“Who. Gave. This. To. You?”
She rolled her eyes as her hands fidgeted. “This guy in the art class I take.”
“What’s he look like?”
Crossing her arms over her chest, she glanced at the paper in his hand. “He’s, uh, got these really, really silver-looking eyes. Black hair. Your height.” And then she looked at him, eyes pinning him with a curious stare. “Your skin color—he’s got your skin color. His name’s Michael. You know him?”
T’s brothel burning down suddenly made sense. And here he was with Aidyn blaming him for the whole damn thing when the real culprit was a ghost hidden in the smoke.
“When’s the next class?”
“Wednesday, but I’m not going . . .”
“No. Go.” He crumpled the paper in his hand. “Where does Jason usually pick you up at?”
“Pibblies Cafe on Main street.”
He took one last glance at the balled paper and then chucked it into the small trash bin below the desk.
“That day at the river . . . it was you?” Jade asked.
Realizing she no longer stood beside him, Dom turned to find her in front of her closet. Her gaze traveled between him and the coats, and right then, he knew she knew, and there was no lie in the world he could come up with to make her believe otherwise.
Jade forgot how to breathe, her feet becoming her sole focus as her cheeks burned hot. She cleared her throat as she tried regaining her bearings, only to look up and notice that Dom was staring at her, waiting for her to speak. He was reading her emotions, and of course, she had them out like an open book.
“You,” was all she could say.
He tongued his cheek and stiffly nodded.
He probably thought she was crazy—hanging his jacket and shirt in her closet. A frown settled on her lips, and she stepped to the walk-in and ripped the clothes off the hangers. They still smelled like burning leaves, a musky, dark scent she had grown to love. They’d been the only proof that someone had saved her from the water. Even now, the bits and pieces of that day were foggy. Some of it black where her memory had just lapsed over it. She held out the clothing to him.
The lines around his mouth deepened as he took them from her.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked, rubbing her forehead and feeling like a grade-A idiot.
“I didn’t want you to know.” His black eyes slid up to her. “In fact, it’d be a whole lot easier if you forget it ever happened.”
Was he serious? “Forget?”
With a curt nod, he neared her until they were only inches apart. “Keep your mouth shut about this. Don’t go telling Zeke. Got it?” He paused, glancing down at the clothes again. “Don’t tell your sister you remembered either.”
Of course Erica knew. Out of all the secrets the woman couldn’t keep, she had managed to seal her mouth shut for this one.
“Don’t worry, I already can’t remember half of it.” She placed her hands on her hips, wondering if her imagination was doing a number on her. “I was going to say thank you but since it didn’t happen . . .”
His eyes narrowed at her words. “Glad you understand.”
With a step to the right, he went around her and stalked out the room, his fist clenching the clothes in his hand. Rubbing her aching temples in a circle, she plopped down onto the black duvet and grabbed a pillow and hugged it to her body.
It was then that she decided to be honest with herself. Since that day he was drunk in the bar and she had caught a glimpse of those blue eyes, she had known he was the man who had rescued her from the river. Hell, when she saw the wolf, she had known. She’d been drawing those vivid blue eyes for three years, and his looked exactly the same. Coincidence? She thought not. But the truth of it still settled like an anchor in the pit of her gut.
It was one of those things she’d known but hadn’t wanted to believe.
Somebody like Dom wouldn’t go out of their way to help a stranger, much less a human. At least, she thought that before the other night. He saved her without much complaint and had gotten sliced in the process. Not to mention, he cleaned off her face afterward.
She buried her face in the coldness of the plushy, red pillow. The only thing that confused her was the fact that Dom didn’t want anyone to know that he saved her from drowning. It pissed her off because she wanted to tell his brothers he wasn’t as evil as they made him out to be . . . in fact, he wasn’t evil at all. Just misunderstood.
If he wanted her to forget it happened, then she would; she owed him that much. Truthfully, she’d be forever indebted to the man because she had been on the brink of death. And that was the one part of that day she remembered clearly—the darkness.
The black metal of the Challenger steamed under the heat of the midday sun. Dom popped the hood, a soft smile lighting his face as he stared down at the rebuilt engine. Forty-three years of upkeep, mainly because he had no life, had paid off.
“I talked to Len.” Jason pulled him from his reverie. The smile slipped from Dom’s face, and he dropped the hood. Jason, however, kept his happy-go-lucky grin, and Dom had the urge to knock it off the blond faerie, “After some sweet-talking, I got her to give me these.”
The fae held up two crystal bottles. They were no bigger than a pint. Dom snatched them from him and read their labels: Drink me. He let out an annoyed breath. Len needed to drop the Alice in Wonderland obsession. Every potion she’d ever given him read the same thing.
“No need to thank me.”
“I wasn’t gonna,” Dom said, studying the dark contents of the bottle as he spun on his heel.
Dead leaves swirled in the wind as he trekked across the freshly mowed lawn.
Jason caught up with him, nearly jogging to keep his pace. “They work for about a month—two if you’re lucky. But Len said she’d find out what was causing the dream by then.”
As long as he got some sleep, he didn’t care. He was going insane, and that mess with Jade the other day hadn’t helped at all. With a grip on the brass handle, he shouldered open the back door. Jade and Erica were huddled around Zeke as he fried steaks on the gas stove. Dom made a beeline for the fridge, his nervous gaze darting to and from Jade. Not once did she look his way.
She was mad at him, and he was fine with that as long as it kept her from speaking about the whole incident. If Zeke caught wind of it, he’d tell Jade why Dom was at the river in the first place. And that would wipe away any good impression he had made.
Not that he cared if he looked like a good guy . . . He just didn’t want her to think he was a bad one.
“Jesus, I’m so hungry,” Erica said, with a mouthful of french-fries. “My period must be starting soon.”
At that, Zeke dropped the spatula on the floor. Dom’s eyes grew large and he made a wry face, his cheeks heating.
“Good job at making everyone uncomfortable, Erica.” Jade nodded and sipped her coffee. “Good job.”
“Get over it, boys. Periods are a part of nature.” Erica stuffed another French-fry in her mouth. She looked back to Jade. “So, every Halloween Fort Andrews holds a major parade in the streets like Mardi-Gra-style and I wanna go.”
As Dom listened, he pulled a bottle of water out the fridge. He leaned on the counter and chugged the cool liquid, dousing out the burn of his scratchy throat.
“I don’t know. I was kind of planning to lay in bed and watch old horror movies all night.”
“That’s lame.” Erica sighed. “You need to do something different for a change. Your lifestyle is starting to depress me. All you ever do anymore is draw, eat, and sleep.”
“You do know you’re shacking up with a coke-head, right? Yet, here you are complaining about my lifestyle.”
“For your information, he quit.” Erica’s chin rose half an inch, and then she switched back to the topic. “I just think it would do you some good to get out the house. Get dressed up, get a little liquored up, and act like a hussy. It won’t kill you.”
“I’d just be a third-wheel.”
“I’ll go with you,” Zeke said as he flipped the steaks. “I need to get out the house myself.”
“Zeke’s in, so . . . ?” Her sister smirked.
Jade looked like she’d be happier sticking her hand on the stove. “Okay.”
“And you’ll get dressed up?”
“Do I really have a choice?”
With a nod, Jade grabbed her glass of water and trudged out of the kitchen, her fluffy blue slippers clicking on the floor as she walked out. Erica followed.
He cut his eyes to Zeke. “You gonna play babysitter that night?”
His brother shrugged. “Don’t worry about what I’ll be doing.”
“Really? Cuz I see you getting fucked up past your limit and losing her.”
For once, Zeke stayed quiet, not responding to the bait, and continued cooking. Odd as it was, Dom left it at that.
Five minutes later, he stood in front of his door, unscrewing the metal cap of one crystal bottle. The thick smell of lemon wafted to his nose. He threw his head back and downed a sip, wincing as the bitter, brown liquid slipped over his tongue. As he stepped into his room, his eyes became heavy. Setting the bottles on his nightstand, he dropped onto his bed with a groan. For the first time in a while, the aches in his body didn’t exist.
“We don’t have a Michael in the class,” the teacher said as he paged through a stack of papers. “We have a Mark.”
Jade rubbed her forehead. “The guy that sits next to me . . . his name isn’t Michael?”
Mr. Sturple pushed his glasses up his beak-like nose covered in blackheads and stared at her as if he was questioning her mental health. “No one sits next to you. I think you’ve got your classes mixed up.”
“Mm, yeah.” Except she didn’t take any other classes.
It seemed like nothing made sense anymore. How had Sturple not seen him back there? A striking face like his and hulking body looming in the small classroom—both men and women would notice him.
But now that she thought about it, she’d never seen him interact with anyone, and nobody ever interacted with him. God, maybe she had lost her mind. Had she been talking to a ghost? The only proof that he existed was lying crumpled up at the bottom of her trash bin in her room. At least Dom knew he was real.
Dom. It wouldn't help to ask him. He’d never tell her who the guy was or why he had specifically sought her out. She’d have better luck pulling a sentence out of a mime.
Before she made herself look more insane, she left the classroom and headed out the doors of the building. Instead of Jason sitting in the parking lot, a certain black muscle car sat in his usual parking spot. Her heart thumped loudly in her ears as she walked to it but sank pitifully low as she saw Aidyn sitting in the driver’s seat.
She stopped beside the passenger door and scowled.
“Well damn, don’t look so happy to see me.” Aidyn smirked as he cranked the car.
“He’s around the corner.”
She didn’t even bother playing dumb; she knew who he meant.
In the alleyway between Main and Reider street, Dom watched the slightly busier than usual cafe across the way. The patio tables were filling up fast with people for lunch. He brought a cigarette to his lips and took a deep drag.
A barking dog sounded behind him, the growl ferocious. He glanced over his shoulder. Twenty feet down the alley, a lone, blue, stocky pit-bull stood, it’s barking ceasing as soon as Dom made eye contact with it. Its yellow eyes eyed him for a few more seconds before turning and trotting off.
When he turned back to the cafe, there he was sitting at a table closest to the road, dressed in black, staring right at him. Dom’s blood ran cold and he held his breath, not believing his own sight. The guy at the table smirked and leaned back in his seat as if he’d found the needle in the haystack, silver eyes glinting with mischief as they often had.
A greyhound bus road by, blocking his sight for all of half a second, and when he looked at the table again the man was gone. The sidewalk empty. He finally let out the breath he’d been holding, and continued to search the sidewalks up and down.
But the fucker ghosted him.
His car pulled up to the curb beside him, the motor purring.
“You’re breathing like a madman. What happened?” Aidyn asked, leaning over into the passenger seat. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
Taking one last glance at the cafe, Dom shook his head. “No. I don’t know what the hell I just saw . . . but it wasn’t a ghost.”
He got in the car and didn’t bother peeking back at Jade. At this point, he was certain she was full of questions he did not have the answers to.
“Should we tell Jason to be worried or nah?” His brother asked as he headed down the highway.
“No, the last thing I need is his dramatic ass going into panic mode.”
Aidyn flicked a glance at him. “You gonna tell me who you saw that’s got you looking so spooked?”
He answered him by staring blankly out the windshield.
"Take that as a no," Aidyn muttered to himself.