The Hellhound (Riders of Tyr #2)

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Chapter 40: Blinding Light

Iris

I look myself in the mirror and I still can’t believe it is me. For the first time in my life I am wearing a dress! Ava has asked me to be her bridesmaid along with Galina and Tanya and I agreed with tears in my eyes. Though she has let free rein on the other two and allowed them to wear whatever they wanted, she insisted on buying a dress for me.

“If I knew Ava was going to buy a Dior for her bridesmaids, I wouldn’t have whined about bridesmaid dresses being awful,” Tanya comments and shakes her head.

I don’t know what a Dior is, but by looking in the mirror, it must be something really good. As good as I look. My hair is up on an elaborate hairdo with a few loose strands falling at the sides and the dress leaves my shoulder and neck exposed. Galina has done my make-up and he has managed to keep it fresh and simple. I never knew I could look so good. And to think that a while back I was looking for food in filthy garbage bags...

For the first time in two weeks I can breathe a little. Tanya and Galina play a big part in that. They came in early with their usual sassy, storm-like attitude and swept me off my feet. Instead of focusing on Ava, they focused on me. I suspected Ava has spoken to them and since the bride is perfectly happy and calm, she made sure I got my mind occupied. And not think about him. Don’t!

“God, Iris,” Galina takes my hand and twirls me around, “you look amazing. Classy and sexy, innocent and lady at the same time. I am sure that bastard...”

Galina doesn’t finish her sentence as Tanya elbows her with a fake smile on her face. Rage. They are talking about Rage. He will be here. The smile shutters as my head drops and my jaw tightens. I will survive today. I have survived being whipped to the brink of death and I will survive today. And I will do so with a wide smile on my face. I owe Ava as much.

“I got to check...” I lie and make a hasty exit.

The thought of seeing him again shakes me down to my core. Part of me wishes he won’t show up, that he won’t like so many people around and that somewhere deep down he has the decency to recognize the ache he has put me through. But that means that he cares about me and not like a found, cute puppy that he has decided was too much of a fuss to keep. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t, I repeat again and again. Deep down though, under all this pain and agony, there is a part of me that wants to see him again. One last time.

“Iris?” I hear a voice and I turn.

Wood is standing at the foot of the staircase. The sun is coming in from the door and bathes him in a perfect light. His dark eyes take me all in and I know Tanya and Galina weren’t lying to make me feel better. I do look and I can see it in Wood’s appreciative look. Something flutters inside me as his eyes narrow and he swallows hard. He goes over me a few times before his look settles in my eyes with an overpowering tension. I avert my gaze and my eyes fall on the patch on his cut. It has his road name on it.

“Congratulations,” I take a few more steps down.

“What?” he looks at me mesmerized. “Yeah! That,” he touches his patch. “I am a Rider finally.”

I am now standing before him and he messes with his hair and beard tensely. He is a strong man, a true Rider, an ex-soldier and yet he seems so nervous just because I am standing before him. This Dior thing is doing an excellent job.

“You look amazing, Iris,” he says finally.

“Thank you,” I smile up to him.

“So, Bjorn asked me to check the caters,” he raises his eyebrow. “He made me the expert on the matter.”

“You do make a mean sandwich.”

He laughs. A real laughter, unburdened, genuine and rare for Wood that seems to smile a lot but laugh rarely. It makes his handsome face even more amazing. What am I doing? I fear the dress is infused with mystical powers that allow me to flirt – albeit innocently and clumsily – with Wood. My confusion and red cheeks only seem to encourage Wood that smiles softly and covers the distance between us.

“I am going to see you at the party, Iris,” he leans closer. “And I will be the first to dance with you in that dress. And the last, I hope.”

His hand comes to me slowly, almost timidly and he traces the side of my cheek down my chin. I stiffen at the touch, my mind going numb, dazed at his words, his caress, the open invitation. Then Wood lifts his chin and turns for the kitchen. I stare at his back and I am pinned on the spot.

Did he...? The thought of Wood flirting back should have been satisfying, at least. He is extremely good-looking and he is a nice guy. I do not know what brought him in the company of bikers, perhaps he too has a hidden past but he is...good. I should be glad that I have drawn his attention. But I am not. If anything, I am lost, sad, forlorn.

I walk out to check the florist to occupy my mind, forcing my damaged brain to look forward dancing in Wood’s arms but it refuses to co-operate. There is one Rider that it keeps going back to, insisting on re-playing the hot moments we shared to torture me. Rage. He is the only one. But I can’t duel in that realm anymore. It was a dream. It’s over.

When I step out in the yard, I close my eyes and take one deep breath. The sun is so blinding that the light comes through my closed eyelids, the rays caressing my body, warming my skin. But this light, this warmth doesn’t reach my soul. I am broken inside. Rage has broken me more than Daultrey ever could. Back then I didn’t know what happiness was. I was free. But now...I know that no matter what I do, I will yearn for him, my soul will be torn never to be whole again.

Why? Ava’s words come to my mind. She was right. This tormenting question goes over and over in my head. Why did he do this to me? And how? How am I supposed to go on without him? I suck in a deep breath, refusing to let the tears free, determined not to show pain. This is Ava’s happy day and I need to be happy for her, even if it’s fake. With renewed determination, I move to the marquee.

“Iris.”

I freeze. Everything in me pauses, stops, halts. Rage. I might go away, put time and space between us but his voice I will recognize anywhere, anytime. It will hunt me to eternity and with it all he has ever said to me. Along with the one thing he never said. I clench my jaw and I open my eyes. And I whimper involuntarily. He is here, before me, close. He looks every bit as awe-inspiring as I remembered.

“Rage,” I dare look into his eyes keeping my voice cool.

I almost let myself sob. His blue eyes are shot, red, sunk in their sockets. He has lost weight and there are fresh wounds on his arms still healing. His lips are dry and cracked and his hair are tousled, unkempt. Rage, I want to run to him and comfort him but I stay put. As much I want to flatter myself that he is in this state because of me, I am no fool. I was his. If he wanted me, he could have claimed me. I look away over his shoulder and I turn my back, praying that I won’t collapse before I reach the marquee.

“Iris,” he calls me and I stop.

I feel him near and I squeeze my eyes together. His scent engulfs me, that smell that brought me to my knees that first time he came close to me, that mixture of alcohol and smoke and his musk, heavy and sensual. I bite my lips together and muster the inklings of courage I have. I made a promise to Ava. I owe her a gift. And I owe myself a closure. Better to do it now and be done with. So I turn to face him.

“I just wanted to give you this,” he speaks first.

There is a folded paper in his trembling hand. I frown as I raise my arm. When I grab the paper nervously, he takes one step back and puts his hands in his pockets. I don’t dare open it. I am scared, more scared than I have been in my life. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears and I wouldn’t be surprised if my heart dropped on the grass flopping like a fish out of water. It’s my hands that are trembling now as if this piece of paper brings immense pain to him that carries it. I unfold it with caution as if it is going to explode in my face, slowly, almost reverently. As I reveal it, I take in a sharp breath. I look and look and I still can’t believe what I am looking at.

“I...It is what you saw me sketch,” Rage’s voice is shaky. “Just wanted you to have it.”

I turn to him and this time the tears come running down without me being able to stop them. Rage narrows his eyes and I see pain in them, more pain than ever. His whole face tense, his jaw tight, his body rigid. Rage. I glance down at the sketch and I press my eyes together, one tear smudging the page.

“I am sorry, Iris.”

On this piece of paper, Rage has poured his soul. It’s me. Me in armor, a winged helmet over my long hair that the winds takes, sword in hand. A Valkyrie. I am strong, a warrior, a fighter. In the sketch I look away, chin up with a soft smile on my face. And I am astride. Not on a horse. I ride a big, ferocious wolf that looks straight at the spectator ready to attack, defend the woman on his back. A wolf with baby blue eyes.

“This is...” I try.

“... nothing but a dream,” Rage shakes his head and takes a few steps away.

Yes, a dream! I say nothing, I just rush up to him. He staggers and tries to put distance between us but I won’t have it. I throw my hands and cup his face, forcing him to look at me. And I finally ask.

“Why?”

He is stunned as if I held a bat and took a swing on his head. He searches my eyes and I bear his scorching look that drills into my soul.

“Why?” he scoffs. “Cause I am the Hellhound. You will end up hurt, dead by my hand. No, no. Not you, too.”

“You won’t hurt me.”

“I took you. I took you without...A baby... Nate. My Nate was... NO! NO! I won’t hurt you. I can’t be near you. I am bad for you, Iris,” he pushes me away and breaks into violent tears, openly crying, shaking.

I am shaken by the spectacle of that strong man crying like a child. He is my man. I am his Valkyrie. I won’t have it.

“Rage, stop!” I order.

“He is in here,” he whispers hitting his head. “He is in my blood, lurking, waiting to take me under. You will go down with me.”

“Listen to me!” I grip him brutally. “You are not him. You are not your father.”

“Go away!” he tries to step away but I don’t let him go.

“I can’t. I can’t let you go, Rage. I love you.”

He stops, his strong chest drawing deep breaths as if he is running. He is. I see him run to me, his soul crossing the dark, desolate desert of his life. I pull closer to meet him half way. I need him to come to me, break the darkness, be with me.

“I love you,” I caress his face.

He frowns in disbelief. I smile while tears still run freely. Doesn’t he know how perfect he is? How can he doubt my love? I climb on my toes so that I breathe over his lips and I try one last time, my eyes in his, my soul bare, my heart open.

“I love you,” I say with all that I have.

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