Authors: Dannika Dark
Tags: #paranormal fantasy
I tensed when it reached the third ring.
My throat nearly closed. “Sunshine?”
is this? I don’t know this number. I’m hanging up.”
“You know me.” I walked to the window and looked down at the tiny cars zooming down the street. “I’m not sure where to begin.” There was a pause as I took a deep breath. “Sunny, it’s me, Zoë.”
“No, you are not. I know Zoë’s voice, this isn’t funny.”
“It’s me, Sunshine. They never found my body, so you had nothing to bury except memories. I’ve changed, I don’t look like the Zoë you remember.” My eyes were betraying my stony heart. “I hate crying,
don’t hang up.”
The skeptical voice returned, a little softened. “No one calls me Sunshine.” Silence fell between us. “If it is you, then what was the nickname I gave my brother?”
As children, Kane once found Sunny’s diary while snooping through her room, so the nickname became a private joke. Sunny’s home life was difficult, but she was a tough cookie and more optimistic than I could ever hope to be. Kane left home years before she did. It was hard to keep a lock on him, but he remembered her on birthdays, sent her money, and dropped in to visit on occasion.
Sunny wept. “But it doesn’t
“I wanted to hear your voice again. I’ve been through hell, and I need a little sanity.”
“You called the wrong girl, then.” She sniffled, attempting to laugh.
I didn’t need to glance at a clock to know how much time had elapsed. My internal stopwatch started the second Simon walked out of the door. He never left me alone for long, flashing through empty alleys to get there quicker. Tricks he shouldn’t have been doing in public—but Simon was a rule breaker. His mind worked like one of those complicated Swiss watches with all the tiny moving parts, and I couldn’t risk him catching me.
“Why didn’t you come see me?”
“I live in Cognito. How soon can you get up here?”
“How did you end up there?”
“I can’t tell you everything over the phone; we need to talk in person. I don’t have much money, but I can wire you some for a plane ticket. Sorry I have to be so secretive, but you can’t stay with me. You’ll have to find a hotel.” My knuckles turned white as I made a nervous fist. “Are you there?”
Her laughter broke the tension. “You live in Cognito? I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this.” She sniffed a few times, trying to clear her stuffy nose. “I never told anyone about Kane’s name except Zoë; I have to believe this is you. Yes, I’ll come. How’s the weather up there?”
“Warmer than usual, except at night. Bring a raincoat,” I said. “By the way, how did everything turn out with Marco?”
“Marco wasn’t the man I thought he was.” Sadness weighted down her voice. The last time we saw one another, I was shocked to discover she was in a relationship. “What happened to you… was my fault.”
“You dropped me off at the train station, Sunshine. That’s all.” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.
“I have to go,” I interrupted. Simon’s footsteps sounded in the hall, so I lowered my voice to a baby’s breath. “I promise I’ll call you back. Text me, but
call. Let me know when you book the flight. I love you, sis.” I dove for my purse and slipped the phone inside the zipper just as the door swung open.
Simon set the plastic bags on the kitchen counter and held a container with my favorite cheesecake inside.
“I know how much you like your sweets. For
, you’re going to give me Australia.”
I peered over the edge of my book, watching my Ghuardian enter the main room of our house.
Justus smelled green and fresh, like a sunny morning after a spring rain. It was his favorite soap, the one with all the little green flecks in it. He lifted a heavy arm wrapped in tribal ink and leaned against the doorframe. I set my book down on the expensive leather sofa as he stalled.
Justus was like an ice cream cone: every woman wanted a lick. It was one of his gifts as a Mage—leaking raw, sexual energy—luring women, powerless to control it. Women felt an irresistible pull to a Charmer, but for whatever reason, I was unaffected by his magic. He was already a handsome man to begin with. An angled jaw outlined his strength, and cobalt blue eyes reflected his integrity. He shaved away his dark blond hair to a coarse stubble, and he had the most powerful legs I’d ever seen on a man. Of course, it was the smug attitude that preceded his looks when he entered a room that put me off; there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance.
I saw Justus without all that charm—as an ordinary man with flaws. He snored, lacked table manners,
thought he was right, and was about as lovable as a porcupine, avoiding physical affection. He had no problem with heavy petting at the bar, but when it came to personal relationships, he shut down. Buried beneath that tough exterior was a compassionate man. In rare moments, kind words fell from his lips. The breakthroughs were brief, and I feared his walls were too fortified for anyone to crack—even me. Simon insisted it was good for Justus to have a woman stand up to him, so I considered my combative nature…
“Silver, I have something to tell you.” A deep crease settled in his brow.
After Simon dropped me off, we went about our normal routine and I hadn’t seen Justus all day. I sat up to make room for him, but he didn’t budge a muscle.
His deep, baritone voice filled the room with just a trace of an accent I could never place. “I have business matters to attend to and will be gone for a couple of days. Simon will join me.”
“Should I pack now?”
Juicers—who steal energy for a high—are a threat. They frequent Breed bars in hopes of finding young Learners, like me. Flashing, borrowing light, and the ability to tell time are common gifts we all possess. Every Mage receives at least one
gift: I am a Unique. Our light is more potent, but our talents remain an unknown among the Mageri. Rumors circulated for years that a Unique could harness lightning and increase their power over time. I was too young to be anything extraordinary, but I wondered who I might one day become.
I discovered I could move metal objects. It began in Samil’s basement when I pulled a flask across the floor by accident. It doesn’t work on all metals, and only if a Mage recently handled it. All gifts have limitations. Justus could teach me all he knew about common gifts, but I stumbled learning how to control my new skill. Other than that, the only ability I had was that I could polish off a pint of ice cream in two minutes flat.
“Is this about HALO?”
His blue eyes sharpened.
“I was in your secret room once, with Simon. I saw the red book on your desk with that word etched across the cover. It has the same symbol you put on your business cards,” I said, matter-of-factly. “What is HALO? I know it has nothing to do with a holy object hovering over your head.”
His shadow played on the wall as he threw his serious eyes to the stone floor. “HALO keeps the peace among the Breed; we share information.”
“So that’s the big secret?”
“It’s no secret I’m a member. If a Vampire pulled information from you—it could undo years of work. It is better that you are not privy to our secrets. We’re a select few of different races that represent the Breed. Our alliance is built upon trust, integrity, truth, and secrecy.”
“Trust, integrity… wait a minute, your motto’s acronym is TITS?”
A deep line etched in his brow. “You always have a comeback,” he grumbled, waving a hand.
“You spelled it out,” I grinned, deciding I liked the joke. “Halos and tits—it sounds like a strip club.”
“I think you need to stop.”
“Fine, I know how important tits are to you,” I snickered. “Why is Simon going if he’s not part of your club?”
“His services for this job were contracted, and… he owes me. We leave tonight,” he said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I’m not easy about leaving you here alone for that length of time, but you’re safe in my home.”
home,” I corrected.
The house was a subterranean fortress with secret passageways, a James Bond garage, and steel doors. It had to be because of HALO. Any position with that much importance meant danger, and the location and structure of his home added a level of comfort.
“I am explicitly ordering you not to step out of that door, do you understand me?”
“What if the house is on fire?”
“What if I want some ice cream?”
I sensed his anger percolating, so I eased off.
“Do not disobey me, Learner.”
I crossed my heart, and hoped not to die.
In a strange way, I felt naked without Justus in the house. I had grown used to him peering around corners to see what I was doing, feeling a touch of warm air on my skin when I riled him up, and the sound of his deep voice filling the wide spaces in the room. However, regaining my independence was more important than a little loneliness. For the first time as a Mage, I was leaving the house unescorted.
Sunny left a message on my phone:
I’ll be there Monday 4ish. Where should we meet?
Breed bars were out of the question; I might as well slap a sign on my head inviting all juicers to form a line. We could maintain a low profile around humans, but the rules state that I must flare in a human establishment. Flaring is an intentional act, releasing energy in small increments. It alerts other Mage that you are on the property, and basically prevents you from getting your ass kicked. The books that filled our shelves dictated these rules, and I decided the risk was low. I chose a human bar.
The problem was that I didn’t want to flare and advertise I was alone. If I tried to conceal and my energy leaked by accident, I could be discovered.
I stretched my legs over the red chaise in my bedroom and considered my options. Restless candles flickered on the wall, and the biting chill nipped at my toes.
I needed help.
My finger hovered over a name that Simon gave me a week ago. The scribbled numbers were neatly tucked in the pocket of my favorite blue jeans. I found it when gathering clothes to send to the cleaners and programmed it into my new phone.
Adam Razor. Adam appeared like a guardian angel and carried me through the darkest time in my life. He was my spiritual canteen. I didn’t know if Novis was as much of a drill sergeant as Justus when it came to his progeny, but I needed advice.
“Bueno,” he replied.
I could almost feel the breath on my ear as he sighed, but I waited for him to speak first. Pride is a bitch to swallow, and I was choking.
“Why did it take you this long to pick up the phone and call?”
“You are one stubborn sonofabitch. Here I am thinking that you hate me for what happened that night with Samil. You don’t hate me, do you?”
“Woman, I’ll bend you over my knee and throttle you for thinking something like that.”
I tucked my legs in, picking at the fringe on the cashmere throw. It felt like we were right back where we left off, and a heavy weight lifted from my heart. “That sounds more like something Simon would say,” I said with a short laugh.
“Adam, how is Novis? Is he treating you well?”
“He’s the shit, Silver. Truly. Novis has years of experience behind him. There’s so much I didn’t know.”
Adam laughed, and a flood of memories came back. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the mouth of a trucker?”
“I may have a dirty mouth, but it didn’t stop you from kissing it.” When the line fell silent, I changed the topic. “Have you been presented in front of the Council, officially?”
“Last week. We went through the ceremony with all the robes and speeches. I’m official.” He sounded proud.
“Did Novis give you a new name?”
The induction involved each new Mage receiving a new name by their Creator. The tradition was antiquated, but customs were important to the Mageri. I wasn’t so fortunate with the one my maker chose for me, but he could rot for all I cared.
“I have a name.”
“And? Don’t leave me hanging. What is it?” The silence was torture. “Are you kidding me? I’m hanging up if you don’t tell me what it is.”
I quieted. “I’m still calling you Razor.”
“No, you’re not,” he chuckled. Novis doesn’t have a last name and you know the rules.”