The moment I tried to open the front door and found it locked, I knew I was in trouble. The note on the bar from my mother telling me she and Roger had gone out to a late movie sent a shiver of fear through me. I didn’t want to be home alone. I hadn’t asked Miranda to come stay the night with me because I’d planned on sleeping in bed with my mom tonight. I walked into my bedroom and scanned every inch of it for long blond hair. No sign of the freaky soul. I glanced back at the bathroom and thought of the shower I really wanted. Going in there and turning on the shower and closing the curtain scared me. I kept getting visions of horror movies I’d seen, where bad things happened when someone took a shower. I’d never be able to take a shower without Mom home. Maybe not even then. Oh crap! I was going to become the incredible stinking girl! If I tried to convince my mom to come into the bathroom with me so I could shower she’d think I’d lost it. I plopped down on my bed and let out a defeated sigh.
“What’s wrong?” a voice asked from my doorway. I shot straight up screaming. However, it died almost immediately when I saw Dank leaning against the door frame watching me.
“Dank.” I took a deep breath to calm my racing heart.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were so wound up about this,” he said, frowning and walking into the room. I sat back down on my bed and let out a shallow laugh.
“Well excuse me if strange souls showing up in my house, talking to me and touching me freak me out a little.” I shot him an accusatory look. “Then, I ask you about it and you curse into the darkness and get all angry.” He walked over and sat down at the end of my bed. “I’m sorry about that. I shouldn’t have scared you that way.” There was no mistaking the concerned tone of his voice.
“Well, can you tell me what is happening, who she is?” I asked. He shook his head and immediately turned his gaze away from me.
“No, that’s the only thing I can’t do for you. Ask me anything else in the world, Pagan, and I’ll make sure it’s yours but that I cannot do.” his voice sounded intense and pained at the same time. It disappointed me but I knew pushing the subject was pointless.
“Why are you here, then?” I asked remembering how less than an hour ago I’d left him in a corner booth with Kendra curled up against his side. He stood up and walked over to the window and stared outside.
“Until I know everything is fine…until I take care of what must be done, I’ll be spending the nights here in your room.” He turned back to me with a determined expression. “I have to protect you.” He motioned toward the door. “If you want to take that shower, I’ll make sure you’re completely safe while you do so.”
Heck yes, I wanted that shower. I started to get up and then sat back down, glaring at him. “Can you read my mind?” This wasn’t the first time he’d known what I was thinking.
He grinned wickedly at me. “Not exactly. It’s more like I can feel your fears so strongly I can hear them.” I nodded and thought of the time he’d chuckled where only I could hear him, as if he’d heard me in the cafeteria thinking about him and Kendra.
I stared back at him. “You heard me in the cafeteria when you were with Kendra, I wasn’t scared then.” He raised his eyebrows slightly. “You weren’t?” My face grew warm and I turned and left the room before he could see me blush.
I started to close the bathroom door when I turned and looked at the walls knowing a soul could come in at any time.
I stared back down the hall where Dank lay lounging on my bed. He couldn’t see the soul if she came into the bathroom.
His head turned immediately toward me. A slow wicked smile formed on his mouth.
“I would love to accompany you into the bathroom while you shower and if I were truly as wicked as you think I am, I would do just that. However, I can feel any soul intent on entering this house before they even come inside. I would be there before any other entered. You’re safe with me right here,” he finished with a wink. I closed the door quickly before he said anything else to embarrass me.
* * * *
I slipped on a pair of cut-off sweat pants and a tank top instead of my usual night gown. If I was going to have company while I slept, I needed to wear clothes. My heart raced at the thought of Dank being in my bedroom, on my bed and I took several deep breaths to calm my thoughts and emotions.
“Pagan, honey, are you in the bathroom?” Mom called from the hallway. I opened the door and glanced past her to the bed where Dank still lay lounging.
“She can’t see or hear me. Calm down.” I looked back to my mother, who stood, smiling in the doorway. “Did you have a good time with Leif?”
“Yes, we won the game and went out with Miranda and Wyatt afterwards to the Grill. It was nice.” I said thinking of his kissing me and once again my mind went back to the incredibly sexy nonhuman male in my room, who I couldn’t seem to keep out of my head.
Mom laughed. “Nice, huh? Poor kid, he hasn’t got a clue you’re one hard nut to crack. Ah, well, that’s good for now.
One day, the right guy will come along and you’ll be so swept away, you won’t be able to see straight. Enjoy the others until then.” She kissed my cheek and headed toward her room.
As I stepped into my room, I stared down at what appeared to be a sleeping Dank. I closed my bedroom door softly, not wanting to wake him. He opened his eyes and stared up at me, smiling.
“There is no chance you would let me sleep on the bed too?”
I shook my head and laughed. “No, there isn’t.” He sighed and sat up, “I’d already guessed as much but I was hoping for a moment of pity from the ‘hard nut’.” I frowned, hating that he’d heard my mother. I really didn’t want Dank to know I wasn’t completely in love with Leif. It was better that way. I went to my closet in search of the sleeping bag I’d bought to go camping last summer.
“I don’t sleep Pagan, I was teasing you.” I turned around and frowned. “Okay, I guess that makes sense...for normal souls. They don’t have bodies but you do, then you don’t. It’s like you can just choose if you want to be human or soul. That isn’t normal, is it?” I asked, not sure exactly how any of this worked. The one thing I knew was that it did not work the way I’d always been taught. Sunday School had it all wrong.
He chuckled and sat down on the love seat beside my window. “I’m not a soul, per se. That’s all you can know.” He reached for the guitar I hadn’t noticed standing in the corner behind the chair.
“Go to sleep, Pagan. You’re safe and you need rest.” He began strumming on the guitar and I turned to my bed and pulled back the covers before slipping inside. The lights went out and I glanced over at Dank.
“No need to sleep with the lights on. I can see either way,” he explained. I nodded and forced myself to close my eyes. I wanted to ask more questions but I knew he wasn’t going to answer them tonight. The sound of the music began to soothe me. Dank’s low voice joined the guitar and I got lost in the sound and the safety of his presence...
“You weren’t meant for the ice, you weren’t made for the pain.
The world that lives inside of me was not the world you were meant to contain.
You were meant for castles and living in the sun. The cold running through me should have made you run.
Yet you stay. Holding onto me, yet you stay, reaching out a hand that I push away. The cold is not meant for you yet you stay, you stay, you stay. When I know it’s not right for you.
The ice fills my veins and I can’t feel the pain, yet you’re there like the heat that sends me screaming in fear.
I can’t feel the warmth I need to feel the ice. I want to hold it all in and numb it till I can’t feel the knife.
Your heat threatens to melt it all and I know I can’t bear the pain if the ice melts away.
So I push you away and I scream out your name and I know I can’t need you yet you give anyway and I run wishing you would run too.
Yet you stay. Holding onto me yet you stay reaching out a hand that I push away. The cold is not meant for you yet you stay, you stay, you stay. When I know it’s not right for you.
The blackness is my shield. I pull it closer still.
You’re the light that I hide from, the light that I hate.
You’re the light to this darkness and I can’t let you stay.
I need the dark around me like I need the ice in my veins.
The cold is my healer. The cold is my safe place. You aren’t welcome with your heat you don’t belong beside me.
I hate you yet I love, I don’t want you yet I need you.
The dark will always be my cloak and you are the threat to unveil my pain, so leave. Leave and erase the memories.
I need to face the life that’s meant for me. Don’t stay and ruin all my plans. You can’t have my soul I’m not a man. The empty vessel I dwell in is not meant to feel the heat you bring. I push you away and I push you away. Yet you stay.”
* * * *
The sound of my mother’s off-key singing and the smell of bacon woke me up. I stretched and squinted against the brightness of the late morning sun. Last night slowly came back to me and I sat up in bed and looked toward the now empty chair. I glanced around the room and realized I was alone. Had he left me? I’d trusted him to keep me safe. I got up, needing to open the door and be near my mother. Being alone wasn’t on my ‘to do’ list. I turned back and noticed his guitar stood in the corner and a small amount of comfort returned, knowing a part of him was here. However, a guitar was not him, so I rushed downstairs.
“Well, good morning, Glory,” my mother said from the stove. She put a piece of bacon on top of a paper towel-lined plate.
“Morning,” I said in a voice raspy from the deep sleep I’d been in. The clearing of a male throat startled me and I turned to see Dank sitting on the couch watching me.
“You thought I left. I said I wouldn’t,” he said with a smile. I let out a sigh of relief and smiled weakly.
“Here, honey, go ahead and get you a pancake before they get cold and take some bacon. The coffee is fresh if you want some.” She chuckled. “You look as if you need a pick me up.” I smiled and went to fix myself a plate. “It smells good,” Dank said from his spot on the couch. I frowned, worrying about him not being able to eat.
He chuckled. “It’s okay, Pagan, I don’t need food. It’s a perk.” I poured a cup of coffee and spooned sugar and milk into it before heading to the table. “You look like you slept well,” he said, taking in my appearance. I blushed thinking of my unbrushed hair, which I hadn’t fixed due to the hasty escape from my empty bedroom. “Don’t even think of brushing it. I like it, it’s sexy.” I rolled my eyes and sank down into the chair, and took a bite.
“So, what are your plans this morning, Sunshine?” Mom asked from the kitchen. I glanced over at her as she was fixing her plate.
“Um, I’m going shopping for a dress for the Homecoming Dance with Miranda, Wyatt, and Leif.” Dank chuckled. “So, Leif’s wearing a dress?” I glared at him and then turned to my mom as she sat down at the table across from me.
“Oh, so Leif asked you to the dance? That’s exciting. You can take the visa card with you. Just make sure you don’t get anything red or yellow. Those colors aren’t good with your complexion.” I nodded and took another bite.
“Blue, soft blue,” Dank said quietly as if he was thinking about it rather than saying it. I kept my eyes on my food.
“I have a date with the computer today. My newest manuscript is almost finished. I’m excited about this one more so than I have been about any others.” Her voice had taken on the chipper tone it only had when she spoke of her writing.
“Or better yet, a really pale pink,” Dank said and I stiffened. His words felt like a caress and it was taking all my strength to keep from shivering. He chuckled, and then stood up and walked toward the door. I wanted to ask him where he was going but I couldn’t with my mom sitting here.
* * * *
“Finally, we can go get food. I’m starving.” Wyatt breathed a sigh of relief with Miranda’s dress bag hanging over his shoulder.
“Whatever, it wasn’t that bad. I mean we managed to find the perfect dresses in under four hours. I would say that was pretty impressive.” Miranda smiled smugly.
Wyatt chuckled. “No, you took four hours. Pagan had hers picked out after one hour. Leif has already had time to take hers to the car and get himself a taco while we waited for you.”
Leif held up both hands. “Leave me out of this one.” He slipped an arm around my waist and bent down to kiss the top of my head. Being with him was just so easy.
“We’re going to feed you, Wyatt, for all your hard work.” I said teasingly and Miranda giggled.
“What was all his hard work? Sitting in a chair and saying, ‘That’s gorgeous get that one,’ to every dress I tried on?”
I laughed and Wyatt shrugged. “What? I can’t think you’re beautiful no matter what you put on?” Miranda smiled up at him and slid her arm around his waist. “I love you,” she said without any hesitancy. I became a little uncomfortable in Leif’s arms. I hoped he didn’t get any ideas because those were not words I was ready to use in any form.
“I love you more,” Wyatt replied, smiling back down at her.
“Get a room,” Leif said jokingly and my tension eased. He seemed to always be able to do that for me. I watched as a soul walked around, studying people as if he were lost. That happened sometimes too. I always wondered if they were new souls, confused as to what had happened to them. It always made me sad. The soul looked over at me and I gave him a small smile but quickly turned away. I didn’t want him coming up to me and speaking. I wasn’t in the mood for talking souls at the moment.
“So, Pagan, where do you want to eat?” Leif asked and I glanced over at Wyatt who was mouthing, “Mexican” to me.
I smiled and turned back to Leif. “Tacos sound good.” Leif chuckled. “Are you sure, I can see and read lips, too, even though Wyatt seems to think I can’t.”
“No, really, I want Mexican. Salsa and chips sound good.”
“Mexican it is.”
We all turned and headed into the Mexican restaurant located inside the mall. The tingling sensation that someone was watching me caused me to glance back. The soul I’d noticed earlier had followed us and stood several feet away staring at me. I could tell by his lost expression he was a normal soul. The kind I’d dealt with all my life. I turned away as if I didn’t see him. Ignoring him was for the best. That way he would continue on instead of wasting time with me. There was nothing I could do for him now.
* * * *
Please be in my room, please be in my room. I chanted in my head as I walked upstairs past my mom’s room where I heard her typing vigorously on her computer. I stepped inside and nearly sighed in relief at a very amused Dank lounging comfortably on my bed.
“I told you I would be here. Why do you doubt me?” I shrugged and thought about the fact he hadn’t been with me all day.
“Did you really want me to tag along on your date?” he asked and I smiled and shook my head. “I didn’t think so.
Besides you were with friends and out in public. All was well.
I was making sure of that.” He spoke in a casual tone as if we weren’t talking about supernatural beings. He nodded his head toward the dress hanging up in my closet, “Pale pink. I like it.”
I blushed, thinking about the fact I’d only tried on pale pink dresses. The way I’d felt when he had suggested pale pink kept replaying through my mind and I couldn’t think of any other color to try. I ducked my head and went to get my sleeping clothes.
“Kendra is wearing red,” he said simply and a sudden burst of jealousy startled me. Dang it! Why did I care? And why did he have to tell me what she was wearing? Kendra was the last person on earth I wanted to hear about. He could hear or feel my thoughts. Getting a handle on my emotions would be really good about now.
“That’s great. I’m sure she’ll be stunning.” I managed to say with only a very small amount of venom dripping from my words.
“I hate the color red almost as much as I hate blond hair,” he said with an amused tone. I started to respond but stopped myself. I didn’t believe him but what was the point in calling him on it? It wasn’t as if I couldn’t see him and Kendra together all day long every day. It was as if he constantly jabbed a fist through my stomach every time he touched her or whispered in her ear. I turned my back on him and walked over to my jewelry box to find jewelry to match. It was better than thinking about Kendra in a red dress with Dank’s hands all over her.
Warmth pressed against my back causing a shiver to run through my body. I reached for the edge of the dresser to keep from losing my balance and crumpling to the floor. I knew Dank was behind me. Even though I didn’t understand it, I knew only his touch would cause this strong reaction. I let my head fall back onto the solid warmth of his chest.
“She means nothing to me.” Dank’s voice sent tingles down my neck and across my chest. “I would never lie to you, Pagan,” he said urgently against my ear. I opened my eyes to gaze up at him, wanting to see the blue of his eyes. His lips touched the tip of my ear and made a trail up my face. Both his hands gripped my waist pulling me hard up against his body. “You tempt me. I can’t be tempted. I’m not made to be tempted but you, Pagan Moore, you tempt me. From the moment I came for you I was drawn in. Everything about you…” One of his hands left my waist and moved up to gently caress my arm. “You make me crazy with need. With want. I didn’t understand it at first. But now I know. It’s your soul calling to me. Souls mean nothing to me. They aren’t supposed to. But yours has become my obsession.” He lowered his head to my shoulder and kissed the curve of my neck. His hand moved over to slip beneath my shirt and the heat from his palm rested on my bare stomach. A pulse of warmth surged through me and he pressed me tightly against him to keep me from falling. “I want to kill that boy every time I see his hands on you.” He kissed a path up my neck and I arched my neck in response to give him better access. Nothing had ever felt like this. His touch was like a drug. “I want to rip his arms from his body so he can’t touch you again.” A low, familiar growl vibrated against my back.
“But I can’t have you, Pagan. You’re not meant for me.” His voice sounded tortured. I wanted to comfort him. He’d claimed me too. Somehow, he’d walked into my world and become the center of it. He was all I wanted. I started to tell him just how much he meant to me when he picked me up and laid me carefully on the bed, hovering over me. I reached up to him wanting to feel his body against mine again but he pulled away.
“Please,” I whispered.
Dank closed his eyes tightly as if he were in pain. “I can’t, Pagan. It would destroy us both.” And then he was gone.