Chapter 1 : Destiny
Destiny. A term I'd never really believed in. I figured some things in life were meant to happen and others just couldn't be explained. I did, however, have some faith in karma. Sometimes people got what they deserved and sometimes they didn't. Personally, I never had much of a problem with karma. I tried my hardest to be a good person and in turn felt life had awarded me appropriately. I'd had an easy childhood with wonderful parents who loved me endlessly. I'd gone through school making plenty of great friends and able to keep the special ones close. I hadn't had much luck in the way of men but I hadn't been hurt too harshly either. Complaints-wise, I didn't have many.
I loved what I did, working with animals. It'd been my passion ever since I could remember, feeling the constant need to love and take care of those that couldn't take care of themselves. When I wasn't working I used my free time to do some soul searching. I was single now and I'd spent so much of my life focused on men that I'd hardly gotten to know myself. About eight months prior, I'd ended a serious relationship and had decided it was time for me to enjoy my time being single. I wanted to become my own best friend.
Tonight, it was my best friend's birthday and she had organized a dinner at a nice restaurant and a night out on the town afterward. All of our best friends would be there and seeing as how we were all in our mid or late twenties, half of them were in relationships or married and the other half were still trying to figure out how the heck to afford a trip to Miami and still pay their bills on time. I was one of the few in between. Comfortable in my life and undeniably responsible but not quite settled yet. I was twenty-six going on twenty-seven, lived alone in a one bedroom loft, working as an assistant to a wonderful veterinarian by day and a photographer by night. My photography didn't make me much money but I loved it. Every other weekend I'd do a wedding or a shower and all the time in between I spent capturing beautiful moments in daily life. Photography was my passion but animals were my heart and as long as I had them both in my life I was happy. I didn't need much more than that.
"Well, you know what I need? I need for Mal to not be late tonight because being fashionably late stops being cute after the tenth time. I love him but our schedules are completely opposite."
I smiled at Harper, the best and most loyal friend I could ask for who also happened to have very little patience for men. Her boyfriend, Malachi, was known for being late to literally everything, whether it be five minutes or fifty. And he was late now, seeing as we had just sat down at the restaurant Harper had picked and he was nowhere in sight. "Maybe he's taking so long because he's out buying you that BMW you wanted and he's having a hard time picking a color."
Harper laughed, her brilliant green eyes flashing with that birthday glow. "If that's the case, he can be late for the rest of his life. A BMW is apology enough!" She tucked some of her long dirty blond hair behind her ear and smiled at me. "So I heard Carter is coming with him. Is that okay?"
No, no, absolutely not.
"It's fine. I've moved past it so it won't be awkward."
Yes, yes it will.
Harper gave me the look that said she knew I was lying but didn't speak on it. "Alright, if you're okay with it I won't tell security to throw him out on the curb. Let me know if you change your mind though."
I nodded. "You've got it." The one thing I loved and envied about my best friend was her strong personality. She was kind but not a pushover and didn't hesitate to put a person in their place if they deserved it. I wasn't quite the complete opposite but sometimes I felt like it. I was more of the passive aggressive type and tried my hardest to show that I was okay on the outside while dying on the inside. This part of my personality was something I was working on. Luckily, Harper's sharp tongue was almost always around to defend my honor.
"Harper! Should we order a round of drinks?" Our friend Zoey had shouted from the other end of the table, the waitress beside her. Zoey was a wild card and always the life of the party, her hair color changing as often as her mood. At the moment it was a jet black that blended half way down into a deep blue color, curled into perfect ringlets that reached halfway down her back. She was of Mexican and Irish decent which created a beautiful mix and left her with flawless caramel skin and dark brown eyes that matched perfectly with her full lips and pointed nose. Next to Harper, she was runner up on the best friend scale and just as loyal. The rest of the people present were either coworkers or cousins of Harper's, numbering twelve people present. Now just missing were Harper's boyfriend and my ex-boyfriend.
And now everyone was here.
Malachi had just walked up to where our table was located in the private back room of the upscale Japanese restaurant we were at. If there were anyone in the world perfect for Harper, it was Malachi. He reached five inches over her 5'9 height and had the most lovable personality of anyone at the table. He was mixed with African and German which had given him dark curly locks that he kept cut short and light beige skin that blended well with his golden hazel eyes. He was Carter's best friend as well as business partner and never missed an opportunity to dress well, thus why he was always running late. Tonight he donned a fresh pair of navy slacks, a white collared shirt, and a neatly ironed navy blazer left open. Harper loved the fashion guru side of her boyfriend no matter how much she complained about his timeliness. In a way, it was her way of complimenting the amount of effort he put into his appearance.
"Sorry, we got stuck on the bridge because of some accident. Luckily, nothing can keep me from my baby's birthday dinner."
Harper rolled her eyes and stood to greet her boyfriend as he shook hands with everyone.
I stood to greet him next when I saw the one person I was never prepared to see over his shoulder.
As much as I wanted to deny my attraction to him, he looked good and I was always unable to push away that familiar flutter of my heart whenever I saw him.
Carter was similar to his best friend in style but gave it his own twist. His mom was Australian while his dad was Irish and they'd managed to create one of the most handsome men in Manhattan, the same height as his friend with the build of a soccer player and the face of a model. His dark brown wavy locks were always perfectly swept back by hair mousse and his electric blue eyes had the ability to pull you in and make you forget your own name. For tonight's occasion he wore a tailored black suit and light grey collared shirt, his brown leather shoes glinting in the red restaurant lights. He always looked good and it always drove me nuts.
It took only a few moments for Carter to notice me and as soon as his blue eyes locked with my hazel ones, I was a goner. Malachi gave me a hug and said something that I barely registered before turning to make small talk with Harper's cousin. I had about five seconds to calm my nerves as Carter headed over to where I stood. He stopped a bit closer than comfortable and placed a hand in his pocket, lifting the corner of his mouth. "Hello Ava."
I smiled politely, straightening my posture although I knew my five eight frame would never reach his six two, even in the small heels I wore. "Hi Carter. How are you?"
"I'm good. You look great."
"And you cut your hair."
I couldn't tell from his expression whether he liked my new look but if he didn't he was doing a good job of hiding it. My normally long thick chocolate hair was now just above shoulder length and streaked with a lighter brown color. Instead of the large curls I usually had, I'd calmed them into waves and pinned one side back behind my ear. My style of dress hadn't changed though so I was wearing a simple black silk dress with crisscross straps in the back that reached my knees and a simple gold arm cuff. Carter and I had always looked like your ideal couple and even now we looked like something out of a Vogue photoshoot.
"I just felt like a change."
Carter reached up and touched a ringlet that hung by my cheek, his blue eyes never leaving my face. "Change looks good on you."
I smiled and broke the gaze, glancing down at his collar. "Thank you. I like it too. I feel like it's more me."
Carter dropped his hand and pushed it into his other pocket, his body stiff as a board. "It is. Keep it."
Malachi interrupted then, coming up behind Carter and placing a hand on his best friend's shoulder. "Ava, let me know when Carter starts bothering you so I can handcuff him to the table leg."
I smiled at Malachi, feeling some of the tension between Carter and I lift. "He's doing alright so you can keep your handcuffs put away for now."
Carter grinned as he responded to his friend but his eyes never left mine. "You better hide those handcuffs from Harper before she remembers why she was mad at you in the first place."
"Too true. Let's sit down and distract her with conversation before she has a moment to think." Malachi winked and turned around to pull out his girlfriend's chair at the head of the table to which she smirked knowingly at him as she sat.
"After you." Carter pulled out my chair and waited until I was seated before taking a seat himself in the chair beside mine.
I knew what he was doing. Pulling the gentleman card to get back in my good graces whether or not his intention was to restart our relationship. Unfortunately, it was working. That was one of the two qualities I'd always loved about him: his drive and his manners. Two of the things his father had instilled in him despite their complicated relationship.
Aside from the awkwardness I felt of all of us together after my break up with Carter, Harper was happy and having a good time. So I needed to be a good friend and put aside my feelings for the night and treat Carter nicely.
"Shots are here!" Zoey shouted.
A pink shot was passed around the table until each person had their own.
Harper held up hers, smiling as her gaze traveled over everyone. "Thank you to everyone for coming out. I love you all so much. Let's have some fun tonight!"
The table cheers-ed before downing their shots. Since I never really drank, I knew I was going to be warm and fuzzy after this. Hopefully I'd be able to keep my distance from Carter despite how good his cologne smelled.
Tonight was going to be interesting to say the least.
After dinner, we headed a couple blocks down the street to a new club in the area. A place on the twenty-first floor of a skyscraper with a rooftop lounge.
Our group started off with some mingling and drinks on the rooftop before heading to the actual club inside. Harper and Malachi were on the dance floor immediately as everyone in our group dispersed, leaving Zoey and I to stand near the bar with our drinks and gossip.
"So is it weird seeing him? I know it's been a few months."
Carter was standing a few feet away with two of Harper's coworkers, talking and laughing and looking the most comfortable I'd seen him all night. I pulled my gaze away just as he glanced in my direction and looked at Zoey. "It is but I can't just avoid him. I just don't like this déjà vu feeling. It's been eight months but all I have to do is see him and it feels like the break-up happened yesterday."
Zoey smiled lightly in understanding. "Well, at least you've had some time to process everything and get over the crappy part. Do you think you could ever forgive him?"
I shrugged, knowing I'd spent countless hours thinking about that very question but still unable to come up with an answer. "I don't know. I know he regrets everything but I don't think I can so easily forgive and forget."
"Oh trust me, you don't want to forget. If they've done it once, they can do it again. That's just how men are."
Zoey was a smart person but her opinion was definitely biased. She was constantly in and out of a relationship with her five year long boyfriend James. He would cheat and then trying to flip the blame, somehow pinning it all on her. My situation wasn't too crazy different but it was hard to listen to the advice of someone who couldn't make a straight edged decision.
"True. Sometimes. But sometimes they change..."
Zoey's eyes widened suddenly and she shushed me, whispering in a hushed tone. "Shh! He's coming over."
Crap, I had been planning to keep my distance the rest of the night. Guess that wasn't going to happen.
"Am I interrupting something? Hello Zoey, nice to see you."
Carter had just walked up and leaned around me to place his empty glass on the neon lit bar counter.
I got another whiff of his cologne and felt a chill run down my spine as he pulled away, standing beside me.
Zoey smiled politely, a better actress than I could ever hope to be. "Nice to see you Carter. How's life?"
Carter placed his hands in his pockets. "It's good. Can't complain. Would you ladies like a drink?"
Zoey kept her smile polite although it was clear she was ready to get out of this uncomfortable situation. "I'm good, thanks. I was actually going to head out to the dance floor and scare some people so I'll see you two out there."
Damn. She was leaving us alone, knowing full well I wasn't strong enough to blow him off.
My traitor of a friend gulped down the rest of her drink before walking away and grabbing one of the guys Carter had been talking to on the way to the dance floor. The deep electro beat filled the entire room and vibrated through the floors but was low enough so that people mingling around the bar could conversate without shouting. Which meant I couldn't pretend to not hear my ex boyfriend speaking to me.
Carter moved to stand in Zoey's place, facing me, and leaned one arm on the counter to place a drink order with the bartender. "Want anything?" he asked me.
I almost said no but then realized I had decided to have a little fun tonight and a third drink wouldn't kill me.
"Sure. A vodka tonic. Thank you."
Carter told the bartender and then turned his full attention to me. "So how is everything? You still work for the same doctor?"
I shifted my weight, playing with the straw in my empty drink. "Yes. Going on three years now."
"Lucky guy. Good for you."
My heart was beating wildly in my chest and I thanked God for the ability I had to remain calm on the outside. "Thanks. How is business with Malachi?"
"It's good. We just bought another restaurant and the remodel starts next week so we're doing good. Look, Ava, I wanted to apologize to you..."
Now this I was not expecting.
"I know I apologized back then but I feel like in the moment it just didn't seem genuine to you."
He was right. It hadn't. When you find out your boyfriend is leaving you for his ex it's hard to really accept anything he says afterward.
Carter didn't look uncomfortable but he did look sincere, which was new because he never had been very good at apologizing. "I'm sorry about what happened. I was an idiot and didn't realize what I had until I'd lost it. You didn't deserve to be treated that way and if I could take it back I would."
My chest suddenly felt heavy and there was a burning in my throat, which I hoped was from my drink and not from the strong emotions I was suddenly feeling. "Thank you. I really appreciate that..." And I truly did. I just didn't know if I could ever let it go. He had been the love of my life and in one moment had turned into a person I didn't even recognize.
The bartender arrived with our drinks to which Carter thanked him and told him to close the tab. I was surprised. Carter had always enjoyed a night of drinking or a good bottle of wine at home. It seemed tonight he was taking it slow.
Carter handed me my drink and held out his own. "Cheers."
I clinked my glass against his and took a sip before making a decision I wasn't really sure about. "Want to dance?"
Carter smirked but it wasn't cocky, it was almost shy. "Sure. After you."
I avoided eye contact as I headed to the dance floor, feeling tingles on the back of my neck as Carter followed closely behind.
All I wanted in that moment was to get a little buzzed and dance the night away, losing myself to the music and forgetting all of my problems.
A while later I was a bit more than buzzed and Carter and I had moved past the awkward stage and into full-on flirtation territory.
We had danced the night away, joining Harper and Malachi a few times, and conversed like two people with no grudges between them. The club would be closing soon so Carter and I were at the bar sharing a water, laughing about an inside joke I'd almost forgotten we'd had.
"Y'know, I don't want to seem paranoid but some guy has been watching you all night and I might have to kiss you to make him stop."
I laughed and turned to follow Carter's gaze, spotting a man in an all black suit at one of the VIP tables. He didn't seem like one of those creepy men with no personal boundaries but he also had this dark aura about him that I couldn't decipher. His eyes were dark and as soon as they found mine I felt a strange feeling come over me. Like this man was not only a threat but something more. I quickly turned away and looked at Carter who was still eyeing the man.
"Do you know him?" he asked me.
"No..." I said. "Don't start anything though. He'll go away."
Carter finally pulled his eyes away from the dark stranger and let them settle on me. He reached out to take my free hand, rubbing his thumb over my wrist. "I wont. Want to see if Harper's ready to go? This place is shutting down soon."
"Yeah, let's go." I surprised myself by letting Carter continue to hold my hand as he led us back onto the dance floor where Harper was talking with Malachi, Zoey, and a couple of her coworkers, clearly past the drunk stage.
"Hey, you guys ready to head out? They're closing soon."
Harper chugged the last of the rum and coke she held and nodded, swaying to the music. "Let's go! I want pizza!"
I smiled at my drunk friend. Looked like she was having a good time.
Carter didn't reach for my hand as we all headed for the exit and I was glad. I knew the weird looks I'd get from my friends and I didn't want to give anyone hope just yet. Carter nudged my shoulder as we emerged into the warm summer night. "Did you have fun tonight?"
I nodded, staring at a streetlamp so as to avoid his eyes. "I did. Did you?"
Carter nodded as our group stopped just in front of the club and a couple people went to hail cabs. "So...I don't want to be too forward but I have to take advantage of a good moment. Can we get a coffee sometime? Just something casual so we can kind of....start over."
My heart fluttered at the sound of this. I wanted nothing more than to forgive and move on but I couldn't. There were so many factors I had to think about and I felt I'd be a fool if I forgot about them and blindly said yes. What was the reason now anyway? He'd had months to try and contact me and make things better. Why now?
"Carter...." His name had barely left my lips when someone pushed between us, shoving Carter out of the way and bumping into me.
"Hey man! Watch where you're going," Carter shouted after the stranger.
I looked up at the man and rapidly felt dread fill me. I'd suddenly become light-headed and as the man turned to look back I saw that it was the man from the VIP table earlier that had been staring at me.
He now had on a black pea coat with the collar up, his gelled black hair glinting in the streetlamp light. His eyes were what I noticed had changed though. They were still dark and sinister but they flashed red, the corner of his mouth lifting into a smile. A moment later he was gone, disappearing into the crowd.
"Y'know I love New York but I could do without some of the people. What a prick." Carter was re-adjusting his suit jacket, staring after where the man had been standing.
"Carter." I felt short of breath and my vision began to blur. What was happening? A panic attack?
"What?" Carter looked up, freezing in motion.
I looked down, time slowing as if it was now in slow motion. I didn't know when I'd reached up to grab my side but as I pulled my hand away all I saw was a dark red. What had just happened?
"Oh my God, Ava." Carter's voice had gone from annoyed to panicked.
I exhaled and felt my knees buckle, unable to support my weight any longer.
Carter caught me before I hit the cement sidewalk, cradling my head in his arm. "Jesus, Ava. Hold on. Mal! Call 911!"
I felt Carter shift and lay me down but I could barely see. My vision was foggy and the streetlight was so bright it blocked out half of his worried face.
"Stay awake, Ava. It's going to be alright."
I heard a ripping sound over the ringing in my ears and figured Carter was ripping open the slit in my dress where the man stabbed me.
"Oh my God, Ava!" Harper's panicked voice came near and then I felt her pick up my hand, squeezing it tight. "What the hell happened?" she asked Carter.
Carter quickly shook off his blazer, wadding it up into a ball and pressed it against my side, causing me to cry out. "I don't know. Some guy ran into us and he must have stabbed her then. I didn't even see him do it."
A crowd of people had gathered around us and were all watching with looks of shock and horror as they whispered to each other. Malachi was talking on his cell phone, stumbling over his words as he tried to tell the police where we were and what had happened.
Amidst all the chaos, I felt unexpectedly calm. Maybe it was the loss of blood that had numbed me but I'd only felt scared for a moment and now I was just tired.
"Ava, look at me," Carter said, sounding much more worried than I felt.
I switched my gaze from the dark sky to his face. My calm and collected ex boyfriend looked frazzled for the first time in a long time and I wasn't sure why. I couldn't speak even though I wanted to. I was so exhausted.
"Stay with me, baby. You have to stay awake, okay?"
I nodded, unable to form the simple word 'Yes'.
"Mal!" Carter shouted. "Are they almost here?!"
"Two minutes!," Malachi responded.
Why was everyone yelling? I felt fine and I was sure I would be alright. I just needed to rest a little.
"Ava! Don't you dare close your eyes."
I was starting to drift off when I heard a loud boom and the ground shook like an earthquake, bringing me out of my dreamy state. Carter whipped his head back and there was a moment of silence as a blinding light engulfed everything around us. I was only partially aware of Harper's hand releasing mine and then Carter pulling away. I felt scared suddenly. Where had everyone gone and what was this blinding light?
The ringing in my ears subsided and there was nothing but white silence. I felt an unknown presence approach and someone slowly kneel beside me.
"Hello Ava." The voice was smooth and calm, a man's voice that filled me with warmth and reassurance. A voice I had never heard before but immediately trusted. A face moved into the light and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. When they did, the first thing I saw were these electric green eyes with more depth and emotion than I'd ever seen before. I felt as if he wasn't just looking at me but looking into me, searching for something. A moment later the rest of his face appeared and I saw him.
Pale ivory skin. Dark red hair that ran down along his jaw and over his upper lip. Despite the facial hair he looked young, maybe late twenties. I'd never seen him before in my life but I was sure he knew me.
"It's not time for you to go yet."
I let out a breath I didn't know I'd been holding, my eyes filling with tears. "It's not?"
He smiled kindly. "No..."
I felt a warmth over my stab wound and realized it was his hand. "Okay..."
He broke eye contact to look down at my abdomen and as he did the blinding light engulfed every inch of my sight, swallowing him up. Every nerve ending in my body felt ignited, pulsing with an energy more powerful than anything I'd ever known existed.
And then my vision went spiraling down a dark tunnel and all was black.