Nevermore – Dannika Dark

Nobody gave hugs like Crush. The moments after returning home to my father’s trailer were filled with intense emotions. I hadn’t explained to him why I was there; I just wept in his protective embrace. I cried for all the people who’d hurt me over the years, cried for the decisions I’d made, and through it all, my father reassured me that everything was going to be okay. Sometimes that’s all a person really needs from a parent. Before we sat down for a seriously overdue talk, I took a long shower. Blood wasn’t the only thing that swirled down the drain. I also let go of the anguish that had wrapped its thorny fingers around my heart from the argument earlier that evening with Christian. The intense feelings I felt for him scared me, and I needed to take a step back to assess the damage. “Three marshmallows, just how you like it.” Crush set a cup of cocoa in front of me. The black mug had the Harley-Davidson logo on the side, which went with the bikes in his garage. “I’ll get you some clean clothes in the morning.” I glanced down at the long Harley shirt I’d borrowed from him. “I can just wear this.

My jeans should be fine after they run through the wash.” Crush had a direct way of throwing looks at a person so they knew exactly what he was thinking. He arched his eyebrow and dipped his chin before reaching into the laundry basket in the hall and fishing out my bloody sweater. His fingers poked through the rips in the back. “Mind telling me why your clothes have knife holes and you showed up at my door looking like roadkill?” I sipped my hot drink, the steam warming my nose. “Rough day at the office.” He stepped on the trash can pedal and dropped the sweater inside before the lid slammed shut. “Between the broken button and a busted zipper, the jeans aren’t salvageable. I’ll get you something decent in the morning.” “Don’t you have to work?” He approached the round kitchen table and pulled out a cheap vinyl chair, the metal legs scraping against the linoleum floor.

When he sat down, he folded his arms across the table. “Fuck work. You think my boys can’t run the shop for a day?” I sat back. “Like that time when you stayed in a trailer that Christian rented out?” Crush stroked his grey mustache and goatee. “He told you about that, huh?” “We’ll argue about it later.” I looked around at his humble surroundings. Home was much bigger in my memories, but I was also smaller then. Why hadn’t he upgraded to a larger home or bought new furniture? The same brown recliner sat in the living room to my right. The same shag rug, tattered couch, linoleum floor in the entryway and kitchen, and even the same magnets on the fridge. Nothing had changed.

Except me. He eyed the silver rings on his fingers—one of a skull, one a set of wings, and another representing his service in the Marine Corps. “I gassed up my truck and wiped down the seat while you were in the shower.” “My truck,” I said, correcting him. He belly laughed. “Yeah, your truck. It’s clean now.” “Thanks.” Crush took off his rings one at a time. “It’s not my business why you’re here, but if you’re in trouble—if someone’s gunning for you—I need to know.

” For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t want to tell him the whole truth just yet. Not until I’d slept on it. “I just wanted to get away. We finished a job transporting all the higher-authority officials to safety during the outage. It was a logistical nightmare, but everything worked out. Well, except for that church bombing. I guess you heard all about it.” He leaned back, a look of admiration in his blue eyes. “I never thought my little girl would grow up to save the world.” I rubbed my temple.

“Doesn’t feel like it sometimes.” “No one ever said hero shit was easy. It’s the hardest, most thankless job you’ll ever have, next to raising a kid. Take it from a Marine.” I sipped my drink. “Thanks for letting me stay.” “Letting you?” He chuckled, laugh lines wrinkling the corners of his eyes. “This is your home. We’re a team, remember? Stay as long as you need. I only got one condition.

” My eyes flicked up. “What’s that?” Crush leaned in real tight. “I think it’s time I know exactly what my daughter is. All that blood… and not one mark on you.” “Christian didn’t tell you? I just figured you two had cozied up to each other and talked about my personal business.” “Maybe I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth.” I set my drink down. “I don’t want to discuss how it happened, okay? That’s my condition. But here are the facts: I’m half Vampire and half Mage. Obviously I don’t have all the Vampire traits, but I do have these.

” When my fangs punched out, Crush reared back in his chair. “You’re shittin’ me,” he muttered. I wanted to sink through the floor at his startled reaction. My fangs retracted, and I stared down at my cocoa. “I have all the traits of a Mage. My flashing ability is somewhat limited, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a crossbreed or just developed my skills late. I only recently learned to do it. I don’t need to sleep or eat as much as everyone else. Maybe I’ll bore you with the details later.” He reached across the table and placed his weathered hand on mine.

Crush had thick fingers, and oil stains outlined his fingernails. But his touch gave me more comfort than his words ever could. “You’ve always been different since the day God gave you those eyes. I wouldn’t expect anything less.” “You’re not repulsed by it? Vamps have a bad reputation, so I just figured—” “I’m not ashamed of what you are. You got that? The fangs caught me off guard, but you’re still the same Raven.” I withdrew from his touch. “Am I?” “Nothing can change the core of who you are. You’re not the same little girl who left home, but you’re still my Cookie.” I smiled wistfully.

“Don’t get all mushy on me now. Where’s the bulldog I know and love?” He peeled up the sleeve of his T-shirt and flexed his bicep. “I still got the big guns.” I belted out a laugh. “You got something, all right. Secrets, for a start. How long have you known about the Breed world?” Crush scratched his neck and scrunched his face. “See… I never actually lied to you. If you had asked me about it, I would’ve come clean and told you the truth. But sometimes you do what’s best to protect the people you love.

I wanted you to have a normal life.” “Too late for that.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “They don’t usually tell kids, Raven. My hands were tied. What if you’d gone to school and told all your friends that Shifters, Vampires, and all that fairy-tale shit was real?” “I went to school with a girl who was convinced she was a reincarnated poodle.” “That was elementary school.” “Actually, it was eighth grade, but I digress. Nobody would have believed me.” “No, but maybe they would have sent you away to one of them funny farms.

” “Why didn’t you tell me once I was old enough?” He reached back and took his hair band out, shaking loose a mixture of salt-andpepper hair. “It didn’t matter by then. You were too busy trying to do things on your own.” “So how did it start? When did you find out?” “Since way back in my military days. I did a tour with a guy who turned out to be a Shifter. We were buddies—saved each other’s asses. One day a sniper got him in the throat. Thought he was going to die in my arms until the fucker turned into a wolf.” Crush’s laugh had all kinds of nostalgia wrapped up in it. “He had a lot of explaining to do.

” My eyebrows reached for my hairline. “Before you met Mom?” He rested his elbow on the table and propped his chin against his fist. “Yeah, before your mama.” “Did she know?” Crush didn’t answer. I gripped his arm. “Did she know?” He pulled back. “I don’t want you having any bad feelings about your mama. She was a good woman and the best mother. The best. She took real good care of you—better than I ever could.

” “It wasn’t just the alcohol that drove her away, was it?” His eyes slanted down. Crush was a tough old biker, but talking about my mother always turned him into a pile of mush. “By the time I got out of the service, most of my buddies were Shifters. I went through a bleak period in my life, and they pulled me out. As dark as it was when I drank, that was nothing compared to the early days. I’ve been through a lot of hard shit in my life, Raven. Seen things a man shouldn’t see. Things I’ll never talk about, and that’s just a fact of life. Sometimes all a man’s got is his friends. But then your mama came along, and I had something good in my life.

But I fucked it up. You know all about that.” I didn’t want to punish Crush for his past sins; I just wanted to understand the man I didn’t know. He’d struggled with alcoholism for a long time, and now I could imagine the ultimatum my mother might have given him. The idea of Breed would scare anyone, and I’m sure my mother—like anyone—hadn’t wanted to raise her daughter around wolves. A mother’s instinct is to protect her young no matter what sacrifices she has to make. “I always knew I wasn’t good for her,” he admitted. “I loved her fiercely, but she deserved a man who would choose her over everything else. I had too many demons and not enough strength to let go of the booze and my friends. She knew that life would put you in danger.

” I wrapped my hands around my cup. “She shouldn’t have asked you to give up your friends. I get why she did it, but that’s crazy.” He pointed his finger at me. “Don’t go talking bad about your mama. What’s done is done.” Yep. What’s done is done. My thoughts drifted back to Christian, and I realized how we were in the same predicament as my parents all those years ago. In order to choose each other, we had to be willing to give up something that mattered to us, and that something was Keystone.

After Houdini restored my memories earlier this evening, I decided the risk was worth it. But Christian was still holding back. Maybe I wasn’t enough. I tilted my head to the side. “Do you still hang out with Shifters?” He rubbed his mouth and jaw, his dark blue eyes slanting away. I went slack-jawed at the idea I might know one of them. “Who?” “Uh, just about all of them.” “What!” I blinked in surprise. “Even Ren?” Ren had been Crush’s close friend since forever. “Especially Ren.

He was the other Marine I told you about.” I covered my face. “Oh my God. My entire life is flashing before my eyes. Ren? All your biker buddies who came over? Everyone you hung out with at the bar?” Crush shrugged. “Not everyone, but there are a lot of packs around here, Cookie. What do you want me to say?” “Even the guys working in your garage?” Crush chuckled. He was clearly enjoying this far more than he deserved. “The next barbecue is gonna be a real doozy.” “Especially since they all think I’m dead.

” I tucked my chin in my hand and stared at my cocoa. “I can’t believe that all this time, I’ve been hanging around with Breed. Were they all Shifters?” “Mostly. I don’t associate with Vamps. No offense, but I can’t trust a man who can erase my life. Not keen on Gravewalkers either. But I have a few buddies who are Relics, and I once hired a Mage to work in the garage. Felt sorry for the guy because he was a defect, always leaking raw energy. After he blew up a few engines, I had to let him go.” Crush stood up and stretched.

“I’ll tell you later about how a friend of mine did genealogy on the Graves side of the family and found a Relic.” “I’m part Relic?” “No, baby girl. That shit canceled out when they married a human. It’s not uncommon. There are probably a million humans out there with at least one Breed ancestor. Since Relic DNA is closest to a human’s, interbred kids are usually born human. That’s probably why our family left the country.” “What country?” “Some place in the UK. I don’t know. It’s all in a shoebox somewhere in my room.

We have a lot of catching up to do, but not tonight. Why don’t you turn in and get some rest.” I stood up and headed into the living room. When I sat down on the plaid sofa, I poked my finger through a hole in one of the seat cushions. “You really need to upgrade your furniture.” “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “There’s a hole. It’s broke.” “It ain’t broke until I say it’s broke.” “Do you have an extra blanket?” He reached down and yanked me up by my hand.

“Yeah, in the bedroom. You’re not sleeping on the sofa.” “It’s a pullout. That’s all I need.” “Get your ass to bed. No arguments.” Crush gave me a gentle shove out of the room. “Fine, fine. But only for tonight.” He raised an eyebrow but refused to continue the argument.

Crush had a small trailer in comparison to some of the double-wides in the area. When you walked in, there was a kitchen table to the immediate left. Straight ahead was a boxy, practical kitchen. The window above the sink provided plenty of light when washing dishes. Crush didn’t own a dishwasher, not as long as there were capable hands around the house. The fridge was the old-fashioned kind with the freezer on top, and across from it, a basic stove. The divider wall on the right separated it from the living room, which still had all its original wood paneling. On the other side of the kitchen wall was a laundry room. Nothing fancy, just enough space for a washer and dryer. The bathroom across from it was tiny and unremarkable.

I walked to the bedroom at the far end. It used to be mine. Not anymore. When I wandered in, I flipped on the light and looked around. The musty smell hadn’t changed, but it now carried traces of cigar smoke, motor oil, and aftershave. Behind the sliding wood doors to the left were his clothes, guns, and shoes—and Crush had more guns than shoes. I noticed the wolf pattern on the blanket covering the bed. How had I not pieced it together in retrospect? I shook my head while turning to the chest of drawers on the right. That’s new. Guess he didn’t want my old white dresser and mirror with the pink stool.

I shut the door and switched on a lava lamp before turning out the light. Crush didn’t have a regular table lamp or floor lamp, just the overhead light connected to the ceiling fan. I crawled beneath the blanket and lay there for an hour, watching the blue blobs floating around in the lava lamp. It used to be mine, and I liked that he’d kept it all these years. Especially since he used to argue that it was a fire hazard. Had my whole life been a lie? I could barely wrap my head around it. Still, I couldn’t blame Crush for what he’d done. He was protecting his only child. I might have blabbed to people about his friends and attracted unwanted attention. It wasn’t just the danger of humans thinking I was a kid with a screw loose, but someone in the Breed world could have ordered a memory wipe on me.

Maybe Crush had been afraid they would inadvertently erase what few memories I had of my mother. I pounded my fist against my pillow, tossing and turning as my thoughts raced. Had Viktor found the note I’d left on my bed? I wondered if Christian was still in his room, waiting for my apology. How long was I willing to stay with my father to make sure Fletcher didn’t come after him? The only thing I knew was that I needed to be here. Not just to figure stuff out but to reconnect. I’d walked out of my father’s life twice, and I had no intention of doing it ever again. The universe was giving me a second chance to set things right. I clutched the ruby pendant in my hand, my eyelids lowering as if anchors were weighing them down. I wondered if the only reason I wanted Keystone was because I had no other place to go. I wondered if I might have a place in my father’s world again.

But most of all, I wondered what Christian was doing right now

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