|Contact me for more information about this novel.||Read Chapter 2 of Darkness of Morning|
Sitting at the table in the cafe, Kara wrapped her hands around the mug of chai in front of her. Summer was fading and the nights were becoming chilly. She watched Dylan at the counter as she ordered them dessert, and when Dylan pushed a strand of hair behind her ear the familiar gesture made Kara’s heart swell. Dylan smiled over her shoulder, catching Kara staring at her.
In an attempt to become less recognizable, they’d dyed Dylan’s usually dark hair a light brown. It suited her. She’d refused to cut it and it now fell almost to her waist. Wearing faded skinny jeans tucked into boots and a fitted American Eagle T-shirt, a shirt she never would have worn back in their Chicago days, she looked right at home among the teenage crowd that filled the cafe.
Kara loved the lighter hair on Dylan, but she wasn’t nearly as happy with her own dirty blond hair. It was closer to her natural color, but she’d dyed it lighter for as long as she could remember. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but it seemed like anyone from Inbetween who was looking for them already knew where they were when they attacked anyway.
The first attack had come just days after Kara was released from the hospital. That had been in a suburb of Chicago; a single assassin so untrained in hand-to-hand combat it had been laughable. Baron blamed it on the instability of Inbetween after Demitar’s death. Still, they moved. The first few attacks had been like that and after each one they packed up their few belongings and moved again.
Two months after they left Inbetween, a run of real attempts started. Apparently Alster was getting sick of the failures. The first of those came in small town Ohio and they’d left a house burned to the ground, the assassin’s body inside. They headed east and fought for their lives again before crossing the Ohio border or even settling down. That one had been close. Baron, tired from driving, had been overwhelmed. It was only because the attacker had been too busy gloating over him that Kara had been able to take him out with a chunk of concrete to the side of the head.
After that, Kara and Dylan convinced Baron to overcome his aversion to firearms and buy a hand gun. He had to wear a glove when he used it, but it was effective. The assassins seemed to be just as adverse to guns as Baron had been, refusing to get one even after it became clear that they couldn’t overcome them without one.
It had been over a month since the last attack, and the three of them were finally starting to relax. They’d been living in a small town in upstate New York and it was almost starting to feel like home.
Dylan set a plate down in the middle of the table. A thick slice of cheesecake drizzled with chocolate sauce and a dollop of whipped cream took up most of the plate. Kara took her first bite before Dylan even sat down.
“Oh my God, this is amazing,” Kara said, jabbing the plastic fork into the cake again.
“Save some for me,” Dylan teased. They ate in silence, both enjoying the dessert too much to talk around it.
When it was gone, Kara pushed the plate aside and took Dylan’s hand. Dylan froze up, her smile fading as she pulled her hand away. Her eyes darted around the room and the desert seemed to roll in Kara’s stomach.
“People are watching,” Dylan muttered. No one was watching. They were all too engrossed in their own little groups.
“I thought we were past this.” Kara sighed and leaned back in the chair. Lately it seemed like Dylan was regressing to the closed-off, scared girl Kara had known before their time in Inbetween.
Dylan shook her head and reached across the table with both hands. “I’m sorry, you’re right. We are absolutely past that.” She opened her hands, waiting for Kara to take them. Kara gave her a cold look, but she had to force herself to do it and Dylan knew it. Dylan put out her bottom lip in an exaggerated pout and Kara laughed.
“Okay, don’t pout about it.” Kara took her hands. Dylan squeezed them and leaned forward. Kara met her in a quick kiss.
“Aw yeah, get some,” a teenage boy in a football jersey called from a nearby table. Dylan flipped her middle finger at him and turned to Kara.
“Told you people were watching.”
“Well he didn’t seem to mind,” Kara pointed out. She glanced sideways to see the boy nudging his friends, all of them watching now. Dylan was still smiling, but Kara knew she’d be pushing her luck to keep the closeness up with the jocks making lewd comments. “Let’s get out of here.”
Dylan nodded quickly. That alone told Kara just how uncomfortable she had been. When Kara took Dylan’s hand on the street again, she felt her tense, but she didn’t pull away. The longer they were in the human world, the more uncomfortable Dylan seemed to be with their relationship in public. In their home she was the happy loving girlfriend, eager to make out or cuddle, but in public she was getting nervous.
Dylan relaxed as they turned off the busy main drag and onto a side street. When they were on their own dark and quiet street, Dylan stopped, tugging Kara to her and kissing her deeply. Kara returned the kiss eagerly, pressing against her. Dylan’s hands roamed over her back and slipped under her hoodie to rest against the warm skin at the small of her back. It was Kara who stepped back, flushed and feeling a little overwhelmed.
“Come on.” Kara tugged a laughing Dylan toward the narrow townhouse they were renting with Baron.
The house was dark and locked. Baron was out checking in with some contacts from Inbetween and they had the house to themselves. As Kara unlocked the door, she felt Dylan’s hands slipping under her sweatshirt from behind. She ran cold hands around Kara’s waist, tickling her stomach. Kara froze, door unlocked, as Dylan brushed aside her shoulder length hair to expose her neck. When her warm lips found Kara’s neck, her hand jerked to life, twisting the handle and letting them into the house.
Dylan stood in a dark club. It was crowded, but she knew no one near her. For a moment, she thought she was somewhere in Inbetween, but that wasn’t true. Everyone around her was human. There was no sign of any of the fairies or other strange creatures that inhabited Inbetween, so she had to be in the human world. She looked around, wondering where Kara was.
A moment later she spotted her. She stood across the room, laughing and dancing with Baron, Lockler, Ivy, and Fay. They moved in a tight group that seemed somehow brighter than the rest of the crowd. Dylan tried to work her way towards them, but the crowd held her back. She managed to shove a few feet closer to Kara, but the group had moved further away.
“Kara!” she called. It was no use; the music was too loud. She called again more forcefully, pushing the words from her so hard that her throat became sore. Kara hesitated, starting to turn toward her.
Before Kara could see her, a man dressed all in black and seeming to be more of a shadow than a real being, stepped into view. Kara turned to him, listening intently and obviously forgetting she had heard Dylan call. A moment later the crowd filled in more tightly between them, entirely cutting Dylan off from the group. She was ashamed to feel tears on her cheeks; ashamed at how upset it made her to lose them. She turned, pulling the closest body to her and losing herself in the dancing.
Kara’s eyes snapped open, her heart already pounding and her head alert. Outside the bedroom door, a board creaked. Beside her she felt Dylan tense and knew Dylan had heard as well. Months of constant running and moving had left them both light sleepers, always ready to move at the first sign of danger. A full moon shone outside, providing enough light for Kara to see Dylan when she glanced her way. Dylan met her eyes with a look of measured fear. They never knew what sort of attack they might wake up to.
If someone from Inbetween was outside the door, it wouldn’t be the first time. Usually the assassins found them out of the house, but one had crept up on them in their sleep before. The difference was that this time Baron wasn’t there with them. Kara’s mind flashed to the gun. Did Baron have it with him, or would it be in his room? Could she make it to his room?
Kara put a finger to her lips and began to slowly push herself from the bed. Bending, she slipped on a t-shirt and pajama shorts. She’d wanted Dylan to stay behind, but wasn’t surprised when she heard the soft moan of the bed as Dylan climbed out of bed. Kara glanced over her shoulder at Dylan, waiting for her to dress as well.
As brave as Kara tried to be, she was glad to have Dylan at her back. They paused breathlessly at the door, listening to the movement out in the hallway. Dylan’s hand wrapped around Kara’s arm, tensing as Kara reached for the doorknob. Instead of turning the handle, she pressed her ear to the door and heard a quiet voice. Her shoulders relaxed. She met Dylan’s eyes with a small smile and opened the door.
Baron stood with his back to them, talking quietly on a cell phone. He turned when Kara and Dylan stepped from the room. The months away from Inbetween had served him well; he wore the fugitive look like a second skin. His black hair, always shaved before, had grown an inch and perpetually looked like he had just rolled out of bed. Stubble covered his cheeks, and his body was leaner than ever. He wore brown contacts to cover his golden eyes which somehow highlighted his Asian features more than his real eye color had. Kara knew she and Dylan had changed similarly, but it seemed more drastic on him.
Baron insisted on preparing them for hand-to-hand combat and the training had made Dylan healthier than before. Where earlier her limbs had been skin and bones, they were now toned with muscle. Her eyes were clear and alert, no longer looking fogged by drugs. Her once frail frame now looked ready for action.
Kara knew she looked better as well. Her body was leaner than it had been, her muscles pronounced from all the training. She thought she might have even grown a couple inches.
“They’re up,” Baron told someone on the phone, giving the girls a quick smile. “I’ll talk to them, and we’ll see you soon.” He shut the phone and slipped it into the pocket of his jeans. “I was going to let you sleep,” he said with an apologetic smile, his eyes gleaming in the hall light.
“Then you shouldn’t have been right outside our door,” Dylan said as she crossed her arms over her chest. She still didn’t like being woken up, one thing that never would change. “Who was that?”
“That was the person who technically owns this place,” Baron answered. “Let’s go downstairs and I’ll fill you in.”
Kara and Dylan followed Baron down the tight spiral staircase, the thick carpet muffling their footsteps. All three of them were careful not to touch the iron hand rails. The rest of the apartment sprawled in front of them; the kitchen, living room, and dining area were all one big room. It was furnished with only the essentials, and Baron had explained that no one had actually lived there before them. Kara and Dylan sat on the couch, while Baron perched in the armchair. He looked ready to jump at the slightest noise.
“So?” Kara asked after a few moments of silence. She leaned into Dylan, snuggling close. “How are things in the Daylands?”
“Not so good.” Baron sighed, and relaxed into the chair. His tension seemed to ease as he spoke. “It looks like the rumors are true. Alster and the new King are trying to make a power play for the Daylands.”
“How?” Kara asked. She felt Dylan tense and glanced at her before continuing. “Can they even get through?”
“I’m not sure,” Baron said with a sigh. He tapped his fingers on his knee quickly. “There was an attack on the Daycourt Headquarters in Inbetween a week ago. Intel says Lockler got out, but it doesn’t look good. Initial reports say we lost a lot of those loyal to us there. Whether or not Alster tries to move on the Daylands, he is certainly pushing their agents out of Inbetween. Worse, there are rumors that the Nightlands may join with Alster’s forces to launch a full scale attack on the Daylands.”
“Why? I thought you said the Nightlands and Daylands had a peace agreement,” Dylan asked. She shifted, sitting up straight and forcing Kara to do the same. She pulled her long hair up into a loose bun.
“They do.” Baron nodded. He sank down into the plump chair, leaving his legs dangling over the arm. “But that was before Alster decided to offer them half the Daylands if they would help him conquer it.” He winced at the idea.
“Great.” Kara shook her head. She knew Alster was power hungry, but she hadn’t thought he would ever attempt something as crazy as taking over the Daylands. “We have to stop him. It’s one thing trying to kill us, but if he is really threatening the Daylands we have to go back.”
“Are you crazy?” Dylan snapped. “We’ll be killed the moment we step foot there.” Kara and Baron exchanged a quick look. Day by day Dylan’s moods were becoming more erratic. The human world was taking its toll on her again, changing her from the cool and confident princess she had been in Inbetween and back to her old self. Kara often wondered how long that clear look in her eyes would last before she started self-medicating again.
“Dylan.” Kara gave her a look. Dylan scowled, but didn’t pull away when Kara took her hand again.
Dylan took a deep breath and nodded. “Right, sorry. Seriously though, Alster has his people everywhere trying to kill us. If any of them could use their powers here or get over their gun fear we’d be dead already. You’re suggesting we go back there? It’d be like open season on us!”
“You know the two of you would be more powerful than almost anyone he could send,” Baron pointed out.
“Yeah almost,” Dylan sneered. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
“She’s worried about Rinus.” Kara squeezed Dylan’s hand. “I can’t say I’m not as well. We don’t know what he’s capable of.”
Word had come from Inbetween that Alster hadn’t tried to take over as King, but had enlisted a charming younger man to take the throne. This might have been good news if Rinus wasn’t rumored to be both more powerful than Alster and more bloodthirsty.
“Rinus is a problem,” Baron admitted. “We still know so little about him. If the new intel holds though, I don’t think he’s as dangerous as people have made him out to be.”
Dylan leaned forward. “What did you hear?”
“Seems his power and ruthlessness have been exaggerated. His power appears to be less about real strength and more about the impression of power he puts out.”
“I’m not sure I follow,” Kara said, frowning.
“He’s able to make people believe he is anything he wants them to believe. The power rumors are running rampant because he wants people to believe that. Half of Inbetween is terrified of him and the other half is itching for an opportunity to jump into bed with him. The man is one big game of pretend.”
“So he isn’t the big bad they say he is.” Dylan shrugged and leaned back into the couch again, hand resting on Kara’s thigh. “Alster’s still there and we barely got away from him and Demitar before. I’m not psyched to do that again.”
“But you did get away,” Baron pointed out. “The soldiers of the Daylands are still telling tales of how you defeated Demitar. They call you the warrior maiden.”
“It was luck,” Dylan muttered, looking away. She seemed almost embarrassed to be a princess, probably because she had lived her whole life as a poor human girl, not the fairy princess she was.
“No, it wasn’t.” Kara shook her head. “You’re amazing there.”
“Oh? As opposed to here where I’m so fucking shitty?” Dylan glared at Kara and pulled away from her. It had been like this for a while now. She would lean close one minute and pull away the next. “Why don’t you two just decide what we’re doing? It isn’t as if you’re gonna listen to me anyway.” She stood up and headed for the stairs.
“Dylan, please come back.” When Dylan didn’t stop, Kara went after her. “Hey.” she grabbed Dylan and pulled her around. “Come on, just-” Kara stopped, surprised to see tears in Dylan’s eyes.
“I can’t,” Dylan said softly with a shake of her head. “It’s all just too hard right now. Everything is so much harder here. I just feel like . . .” Dylan bit her lip and shook her head, not meeting Kara’s eyes.
“Okay.” Kara let her go. Dylan hurried up the stairs. Kara flinched when the bedroom door slammed.
“She’ll be okay,” Baron said as Kara sat back down. “It’s just being here that does this to her.”
“I know.” Kara rubbed her eyes. She knew why Dylan acted the way she did, but it still bothered her. “Part of me is with her though; going back there seems like suicide. On the other hand, staying here and having her get worse again-” Kara’s eyes drifted toward the stairs. “I can’t really deal with that either.”
“Sorry.” Baron looked down, avoiding her eyes. “But you’re right; we have to go back there.”
“I know.” Kara nodded with a sigh. “And I know it’ll be better for her to be there rather than here, even if it is more dangerous. More importantly, I know we have to stop Alster, no matter the risk.” Her eyes met Baron’s. “I want to stop him. I want to help Inbetween.”
Baron grinned. “Sometimes I think maybe you’re the maiden warrior.”
“Shut up.” Kara laughed and tossed a throw pillow at him.
Baron caught it easily. “I mean it. Dylan may be the Princess, but when push comes to shove I can always count on you to step up.”
“Thanks,” Kara muttered, not meeting his eyes. She hoped Dylan wasn’t hearing any of this. “I just hope we can do something to help.”
“Well an old friend will be coming with us as well,” Baron said, a small smile lifting the corners of his mouth.
“Oh really?” In the three months since they’d left Inbetween they had avoided anyone else with any ties to any of the three realms. It seemed safer that way.
“Yeah, a woman named Sera. She owns this place, or at least is in charge of keeping it prepared for any Daylanders who need a place to lay low. I’ve known her since we were kids.” Even though Baron looked like a man in his mid twenties, Kara knew he was well over thirty already. Living in the other realms meant he aged more slowly than she or Dylan did.
“So she lives in this world?” Kara had never known anyone from the other realms beside her and Dylan who lived in the human world.
“She has off and on, but never for too long. Mostly she just travels freely between the two worlds, creating safe houses where they’re needed.”
“So why is she going to be helping us?”
“Because when I tracked her down, she was the only one who had heard of Rinus before all this.” Baron glanced up at Kara to see if she would be as surprised as he expected. She didn’t disappoint.
“She knew him?” Kara asked, wide-eyed as she leaned forward. Baron had spoken to everyone he could think of in the last three months and none of them knew anything about Rinus. Even those who had lived most of their lives under cover in Inbetween were clueless. It was as if Alster created Rinus out of magic to be a convincing leader for the underworld of Inbetween. Kara wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that was true.
“Apparently,” Baron said. “She didn’t have much good to say about him.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Kara said with a short, bitter laugh. “So she’s coming here?”
“In the morning. She had to check on the rest of the safe houses. Once she arrives we’ll form a plan.” Baron tapped his fingers on the arms of the chair, antsy to get moving.
“Alright.” Kara glanced towards the stairs. “I better go check on Dylan.”
“Of course,” Baron agreed. “She’ll be okay.”
“I hope so,” Kara answered as she stood.
Honestly, she was terrified of the way Dylan was changing so abruptly. Up until a couple weeks ago she’d been fine, and then all of a sudden things began to go badly. It was like Kara was watching her slip down a mountain, but could do nothing to stop it.
|Contact me for more information about this novel.||Read Chapter 2 of Darkness of Morning|