Authors: Dannika Dark
Tags: #paranormal fantasy
My heart sank. A lecture was one thing, but I wasn’t sure where this conversation was heading.
“Is this the part where you disown me?” I asked in a fragile voice. “I’m not making excuses, but this life was not my choosing. I’ve accepted it, but it’s hard to let go of my human life, and it doesn’t help when you start imposing unreasonable rules. I’m struggling with this and doing the best I can to acclimate. You may not approve of Logan, but it’s not your choice. I don’t know where that’s going—if anywhere—but I still have a life to live, and some decisions are mine to make. I screw up. A lot. I know this… but it’s been a difficult adjustment for—”
“Will you shut up?” he said, laughing with a shake of his head. “Or should I hand you a spade for deeper digging?”
I chewed on my thumbnail. I couldn’t pretend that what Justus said to me didn’t matter.
“Novis was right when he said we can learn from your example. You saved lives of lesser value than your own; you are a reminder that immortality is more than self-preservation. We all want to bring in Nero, but some men we chase for years.” His voice softened. “You may
have closure. Are you willing to accept that?”
It was a poignant question that led me to believe he was speaking from personal experience. My heart wanted to say no, but my mind knew he was right. Not everything wraps up neatly the way we’d like. If I didn’t look beyond Nero, then he would consume me and remove any chance of leading a normal life. Well, as normal a life as a Mage can lead.
him. What was the purpose of all of this,” I said, waving my arms in frustration, “if I couldn’t catch him?”
He caught my wrist, and lowered my hand. “You granted freedom to those who did not have it. Is that not purpose enough? Perhaps it’s not in the fates for you to find Nero.”
“I don’t believe in fate.”
The muscles in his face relaxed, and the tips of his short hair seemed to absorb the light in the room.
“Some things do not
us to believe in them. Don’t pursue something with a vengeful heart, or it will destroy you. Hate wraps a cold hand around your heart and hollows you out. You’re young; live your life. I don’t want to see you get hurt,” he said with an uncomfortable pause. “You cannot continue to put yourself in harm’s way. Time will give you the wisdom you need to make better decisions.”
“What decisions have I made that were so bad?”
He popped a knuckle. “Your trip to Hell? You shouldn’t have bartered flesh for knowledge. That is something Simon would do. He tries to guide you, but don’t be like him. He’s more broken than you realize.”
And I did. Sacrifice only means something when you’re willing to give up everything for a greater purpose. Finding Nero was nothing more than a thirst for revenge, and I knew it.
“This is not a free pass to disobey me,” he said firmly, “but know that I am honored by your actions.”
Justus placed his hand on mine and pulled away. That simple gesture was the most profound thing he could have done. He didn’t like to be touched, and I could tell that it was hard for him as he averted his eyes. “You’re just lost. No one should come into their creation the way you did. But remember that you are more than Samil’s progeny.”
My heart swelled because deep down, he wanted to do right by me. He fumbled just as much in his attempts as I did.
“Do you like the Chitah?”
I half smiled. “Yeah. Actually, I kind of do. Logan was a twist in the road that I didn’t see coming, but I like being around him. He understands me when I don’t understand myself. He gives me the space I need, and respects my opinions. Maybe I’m not supposed to pair up with someone outside of my Breed, but I need to figure that out for myself. I didn’t much like you when we first met,” I added, watching a smirk rise on his cheek, “but I trusted you. I don’t know where that comes from, but I think maybe I need to follow my instincts for a change.”
I glanced down as he slid a ring on one of my fingers. I wasn’t a big fan of jewelry, and searched his eyes for understanding.
“What’s this?” The ring was smooth and black with a silver lining.
“You mutter and moan that I spend money foolishly. I purchased that for a dollar,” he said proudly, rubbing his chin. “The lady said it was a mood ring.”
I twirled it between my fingers, watching the darkness change. It was a tender moment and I didn’t want to spoil it with jokes. Justus was a proud man, but quiet about his feelings. In his own way, he cared for me. He treated our relationship like a car: constantly tuning it up and improving the parts, but every so often, he gave it a good polish. What developed between us was natural, and something I never knew in my life. Justus was like a father I never had. We were both stubborn and would always have our arguments, but at the end of the day, he was my compass.
I stroked his brow with my thumb and he flinched, moving out of reach.
“Why don’t you accept kindness?”
His jaw clenched. “I’m a hard man, and that’s just the way it is.”
The only touch he allowed came from strangers—women at the bar—that he wanted for nothing more than sex. But when a touch meant something, Justus would push away.
“I don’t have a nose like your Chitah friend, and my telepathy is a little rusty these days,” he said, changing the topic. “Maybe this will tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”
Damn if I didn’t see that man blush.
The bristles of his short hair made a scratching sound as he rubbed a hand across it. “Teach me what the colors mean. What is your mood?”
A deep shade of violet bled through the darkness, and I peered into the reflective band and saw that time stretched before me like an infinite road of possibility.
I lifted my chin and smiled.