FINN DE MORISCO
Four Months Later
“SHUT up, Caitlin!”
“I’m not going to shut up!” Caitlin flung the door closed, making the frame tremble and sealing us in my bedroom. “I don’t care if Mom and Dad feel too bad to tell you to grow the fuck up. Christina and Cynthia can whimper away about how heartbroken you are. Don’t fuckin’ care! Get out of the damned bed, pull on your big-boy pants, and get to work!” Her red face clashed with the current cotton-candy color of her spiky hair.
I turned away from her, pulling the white duvet over my ears. “You’re the last person in this family who has any right to cast stones. Go away.”
The blinds, of their own accord, shot up to the top of the windows with a clang, and sunlight flooded the dark room. I buried my head deeper under the fabric.
She growled from the opposite side of the room. “Don’t think the covers won’t be next.”
“So desperate for a man you’re turning to your own brother now?”
Her voice lowered. “You know, your lesbian humor used to be much sharper. And with as much weight as you’ve lost, there’s not much to see anyway. I’m going to count to five.”
I sat up, anger flaring. “Really! Count to five? Screw you, Cate! Try it. I’ll have you knocked back and frozen to the wall the rest of the day.”
She crossed her arms. “I wish you would. Some sign of life would be encouraging. Any sign of life.”
I glared at her, then flopped back down and burrowed once more. “Try it.”
The bed shifted as her weight sank next to my back, and her arm came to rest on my shoulder. Her voice was suddenly low and soothing. “I’m worried about you, Finn. Really I am.”
“Whatever, Cate. This strategy change doesn’t become you. Go back to threatening me like a six-year-old. It suits you better.”
“I am worried. You never go in to help Mom and Cynthia at the bakery. You don’t eat. You come home in the late hours of the morning, if you bother to come home at all.”
“You don’t even live here. What do you know?”
“It’s not like it’s a secret.” She removed her hand. “If you want to spend the rest of your life at a bathhouse, the least you could do is learn to be sneakier so it’s not rubbed in Mom’s and Dad’s faces all the time.”
A guttural scoff escaped her. “So, you’re back to being Mr. Innocent, huh?” I felt her weight leave the bed. “Fine, pretend. At least start helping out with the stores. Even if it doesn’t make you feel better, your family needs you right now.”
Sitting up once more, the covers pooling at my waist, I turned to face her. “Again, Catlin, you’re the last person who should judge. How long were you out of commission when Alice, or whatever her name was, left? Six months? More?”
I swear I could hear her teeth gritting.
“Allison. Don’t pretend you don’t remember her name. And that was different.”
“Different. Really? How? Are lesbians entitled to more grief time than the rest of us?”
“Because we’d been together over five years, you selfish little brat. How long were you and Demon-boy together? Not even enough time for bread to mold. That was barely worthy of being classified as a hookup, let alone a relationship!”
Without even a twitch from me, the door slammed open and Caitlin hurled through. Judging from the sound before the door shut her out, there was a Caitlin-sized hole in the drywall.
CAITLIN got what she’d wanted. There was only so long I could lie there and seethe. Not that getting up had changed much. If anything, the motion of moving around only increased my agitation. Even driving wasn’t helping soothe me. I pulled onto the Five, cutting off a Honda Civic in the right lane.
I’d have given anything to have Caitlin’s tirade not echo my own thoughts. I wished I could just dismiss them as my sister being her normal, bitchy self. While that might still be true, it didn’t negate what she’d said.
For weeks after Brett left, I’d been thoroughly heartbroken. Several times a day, I’d have panic attacks where I’d have to teach myself to breathe anew each time. I searched endlessly. For Brett. For the vampire. For any clue at all. The voice allowed me to use every spell I could think of, and still I couldn’t locate him.
Even the nymphs were no help. Only Amalphia showed, and she simply waxed philosophical about choices and the paths our lives take being fluid. Whatever.
Nothing. I’d found nothing. It was like he had vanished.
At first, I’d been consumed by the fear that the vampire had found him and killed him. Then the fear moved to him harming himself. Chances were his demon bloodline made him immortal, but maybe if he were determined enough….
Then the fear turned into anguish. I quit being afraid he was in danger. The truth was he’d left me. Whatever he was facing, whatever nervousness he’d had, it was me he’d left. Me that he deemed not good enough. My family droned on and on and on about how it wasn’t me, it was him. I’m such a great catch. How could he not love me? The problem had to be in him, in the demons he faced. Demons he faced! Demons! Mom actually said that, with no irony at all. Demon. I wasn’t even good enough for a demon. Yeah, yeah. I’m such a great catch. Such a great guy. So sweet. So handsome. So strong and dependable.
He left. The bottom line is he left. Me. He left me. He didn’t want me. That lovely realization hurt me more than the fear that he was dead. That he was out there somewhere, simply happy and relieved to be away from me. I wasn’t sure which I was more ashamed of—that he was glad to be away from me, or that the thought hurt worse than the idea of him being dead.
If I started to forget that, even for a moment, the voice jovially brought it all rushing back.
Anguish turned to anger. Anger. That’s where I’ve stayed. Anger and apathy. The sequel to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
My family had no idea what to do with me, and rightfully so. I have no idea what to do with myself. I honestly don’t think I’d ever really been angry before. That was Caitlin’s role. I was the anti-Caitlin. Now I make her look like a novice.
What makes me the angriest? Even more than knowing I wasn’t good enough for him, not even good enough for a breakup involving more than ten seconds in the front of my truck before he booked it? That I loved him. Really, truly loved him. Still do. The fool. I love him. And Cate’s right—there is no way I possibly could. We knew each other for eight whole days! Eight! I even know how many hours. I’ve counted. I went from “hello” to “be the father of my children” in eight days. Now, four months later, I’ve let eight pointless days ruin my life. Cate’s right about another thing. I need to grow up. Wish I knew how. How to stop hurting. Stop being angry. Stop being numb. Stop loving someone who threw me away.
I don’t remember talking to myself before Brett, but I do now. I narrate my pathetic life. Have entire, in-depth conversations with myself. Hell, I even have them with Brett. And the voice, of course. Everyone wants me to talk to them, just get it all off my chest.
If I got any more off my chest, it would make vomiting seem subtle.
I slammed the gear into park and was out of the truck before I’d even realized where I was. Didn’t pause when I figured it out, though. Of course this was where I’d end up. This was where I always ended up.
It surprised me they’d concluded I was spending my time in the bathhouse. The thought of Caitlin discussing me at a bathhouse was revolting enough, but my mom too? I wondered which would freak them out the most. Me wasting my life at a bathhouse or here? It’s a pretty safe bet the bathhouse would be the sunnier option.
The voice that greeted me as I entered The Square didn’t even faze me. Sometimes when I walked alone at night in Old Town or did my nightly haunt of Brett’s grandmother’s house, or any other time at all, it bothered me. But not here. The voice was at home here.
Welcome back, sire. The sarcastic sneer no longer caused my hackles to rise. It didn’t take long between visits, did it? What’s wrong now? Your family make you angry? Might have to go back to work? Another boy break your heart?
I passed Gifts without looking in. I knew that witch would be watching. She did every time. She always knew when I was here. Just a few more moments and I’d be able to shut out the voice. I’d been getting better at it. See, Caitlin, I have been doing something productive over the past four months.
Shut me out? Why, that’s just hurtful. And here I am, simply trying to help you become the man you were born to be. Help you to embrace the power inside you. Let your anger start to—
Talking about Brett to my family wasn’t going to happen, but I really wished I could ask my father about the voice. I no longer thought it was a figment of my psyche. It was real. It belonged to something or someone here in The Square. The blistering fire that accompanied it in my dreams seemed less like an illusion as well. Telling Dad about the voice would be harder than talking to him about the supposed bathhouse, and that was never gonna happen.
Crossing over to Hemlock Street, I cast a glance over my right shoulder. Sure enough, there she was, her sour face watching me from the window of Gifts. As before, she neither looked away in recognition of being caught staring, nor offered any acknowledgment of any awareness of me.
Without a response of my own, I turned back around in time to throw open the door to Bar and slip inside. The red light radiating from behind the glass bar fell over the few patrons, giving them a unifying washout of color.
The blonde barely spared me a glance as she handed a froth-laded tumbler over to a rotund witch. “’Sup, Finn?”
“Same as ever.”
I took my place on the barstool at the end. I couldn’t see the front door from my vantage point, but I could see nearly every other inch of the narrow space. My gaze slid over each figure. At first, this new little paranoid, hypervigilant twitch of mine was rather exhausting, but now I kinda liked it. A new second nature. I’d never realized how much was really going on around me until I sat back and started looking. I never would have noticed the odd tremor in the hands of the witch Marina served or the spill of the vodka on the counter as she lifted it to her lips. Was she nervous? Scared? On her way to passing-out drunk?
I might have missed Marina’s habitual covert glances at the clock on the wall, judging to see how much more time until her shift was over. It was this longing act that had let me know Marina wasn’t as hard or tough as she played at being. She wanted to leave her job early, just like everyone else.
Even the gorgeous redhead in the corner would have escaped my notice before. She held her boyfriend’s hand across the booth but kept her attention focused on me. Be happy where you are, sweetheart. Wrong tree. Wrong time. Wrong guy. Wrong everything.
The massive hulk that seemed to appear from thin air at the back of the bar would have caught my notice even if I hadn’t been paying attention. He was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. Handsome in a serial killer kind of way, but handsome nonetheless. The last thing I’d been looking for in my men lately was sweet or tender. Judging from the sneer on his face, this one was right up my alley. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one observing the surroundings. The man’s dark eyes swept over me as he took in the room, then returned to meet my stare head-on. His eyes grew darker?in anger or passion, I wasn’t sure. With any luck, both.
I began to get up, but a hand grasped my wrist. Jerking away, I tore my eyes off the man. Before I could get out the curse words that were on my lips, Marina slammed down a frosted pint. “Don’t even think about it, Finn.” She wiped up some of the foam that had flowed over onto the bar. “He’s nothing but trouble.”
“Trouble is fine, especially packaged like that.” My gaze flickered to where he’d last been. He was now seated a couple of stools down from the large witch. He drummed his fingers on the bar. “I think he’s in need of service.”
She rolled her eyes. “Not hardly. He’s probably just trying to make the room stop spinning. Although you’d think he’d be used to it by now.” She glanced over her shoulder, gave a chin thrust in way of greeting, and turned back to me. She lowered her voice, but not enough to keep others from hearing. “I wish we didn’t have to serve humans in here. Disgusting.” She shrugged. “Gotta keep the buffet line going in case a vampire or someone wants a snack.”
“He’s a human?” I gave him an incredulous look. His eyes were still drilling into me.
“Don’t let the packaging fool ya, sweetie. He’s just a Happy Meal in four-hundred-dollar loafers.”
“Really? I would have guessed demon. Or at least part. He’s huge.”
“Nope. Just biggie sized.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I’d forgotten your thing about demons.”
A sigh escaped. “I never should have told you about Brett. Not sure what I was thinking.”
“I’m not sure what you were thinking either, but I’m sure glad all the waterworks have stopped. That was getting pathetic.”
“Wow. Thanks, Marina. Your support is overwhelming.”
Another shrug. “Well, it was. Just because you’re one of my favorite new regulars doesn’t mean I’m gonna sugarcoat the truth. Hell, you’re lucky I like you at all. Neanderthal over there’s been coming a lot longer than you have, and I won’t say more to him than the price of his bill. And he’s here for days at a time. You just pop in and leave again.”
“He’s in here days at a time? You let him sleep at the bar?”
Marina gave me an icy glare. “For all your heartbroken, angsty anger and your random hookups, you’re still nothing more than a Boy Scout, aren’t you? Of course he doesn’t sleep at my bar, the piece of filth. Who said anything about sleeping? That’s the last thing he’s doing back there.”
“Back there?” I looked around her to the shadows at the rear of the bar where I’d first noticed him. “The bathroom.”
“For fuck sake, Finn, not the bathroom. In the back room. I keep waiting for you to ask to go back there, but, as I said, too much of a Boy Scout.”
The witch put her trembling hands on the bar as she leaned forward. “Can I go? I’ve always wanted to try the back rooms.”
“Seriously, Devinia. You? In the back rooms? You know there are standards.”
Fury flitted across the witch’s face. Her hands began to tremble more violently as her vodka tumbler rose in the air, spinning, gradually picking up speed. “You let a human—”
“And for what fucking purpose, do you think, you old cow? You really wanna take his place?”
The old witch’s eyes bulged.
“And if you break one of my glasses, I’ll make sure you get to see the back rooms, and I get to pick. They could use you for a long time in Restaurant.” The spinning tumbler returned to rest on the table, and Marina filled it once more. “Shut up and drink. And know your place.”
Looking back and forth between the back of the bar and the man, I let her words register. Raising my brow, I looked at her. “What’s in the back rooms anyway?”
“I’ll let you discover it for yourself.”
“Is it safe?”
“Fuck, no.” She let out a sharp laugh. “Well, actually, I guess it depends on your perspective. It’s safe for you.”
Marina patted my hand like she was talking to a child. “Isn’t The Square always safe for you?”
I didn’t know how to answer that. Nothing had ever happened to me here, but I would never apply “safe” as an attribute of The Square. I glanced at the man again. What had he been doing back there for days? He was still glaring at me. His loss. The back room sounded much more interesting than some huge drunk guy. No matter how good-looking he was.
“Can I go back there?”
She nodded. “Yep. All you needed to do was ask.”
The witch glared at me.
“Knock it off, Devinia. Maybe in your next life, you’ll ascend to a higher life-form. Come back as a slug. I’ll let you in then.”
“Remind me not to get on your bad side, Marina.” I raised my mug and downed the remaining beer.
“Remind yourself, Finn.” She gave me what she probably thought was a kind smile. “Maybe some time in the back rooms will help put all this demon-lover crap to rest and you can move the fuck on.”
With a noncommittal grunt, I left my seat and rounded my corner of the bar. I could see the witch’s hand-tremble increase as I came closer. With a thought, I froze her hands where they were. Her hate-filled stare intensified, but she knew better than to try another spell.
Tall, dark, and handsome watched as I came closer. On second thought, it wouldn’t hurt to have company, someone who at least knew their way around the back room. Maybe I could talk this guy into being my tour guide.
I’ve got something better for you than him. You’re gonna love it. Promise.
The voice threw me off, and I paused stupidly beside where the man was seated. He stood up, towering over me. Maybe even taller than Brett had been… is… was… whatever.
Before I could even open my mouth to inquire, the man’s hand shot out and encircled my throat. He lifted me off the ground and slammed my back into the bar. My body bent so my legs dangled in midair, and my eyes met his bloodshot, unfocused gaze as he leaned over me.
“One more look from you, you fucking little faggot, and I’ll bury this in your skull. Got it?” I heard the click of a switchblade being released and felt the point puncture my ear. “Be doing the world a favor to get rid of one more faggot wetback who only wants to—”
His throat opened up into four parallel gashes, and blood sprayed onto my face, filling my mouth and stinging my eyes.
The witch’s screams pierced my ears. In pure panic, I flung myself away from the man, which only took away my support and left me to crash to the floor.
Spitting and gagging, I pushed up onto my knees and used the backs of my hands and sleeves to get the blood out of my eyes.
His body crumpled to the ground with a wet splat that made my stomach churn.
Through the stinging blood, I could see the ragged slices in his throat, four wicked grins mocking me from below his bulging eyes. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I’ve never done anything like that. I didn’t even know my power could do that. I’m so sorry. So sorry.”
“Finn”—I felt Marina’s hands under my arms, trying to pull me up—“what are you talking about? What the fuck are you sorry for?”
I jerked away from her, returning to the man’s dead stare. “I didn’t mean to kill him!”
“I killed him.” The voice was like gravel, deep and low and not at all soothing.
I followed the voice. Behind the man’s body was a pair of black cowboy boots. I followed the dark denim pants up to a stained, muscle-filled wife-beater, then to a wide, square face. “What? Who are you?”
“I said, ‘I killed him.’” He raised his hand, and my eyes involuntarily tracked the motion. Furred hand with long, talon-like claws. I returned to the man’s face.
The man didn’t acknowledge or deny. “He was not allowed to harm you.”
Marina placed a hand on my shoulder. “I told you that you’re safe at The Square.”