Home > Nevermore (Crossbreed #6)

Nevermore (Crossbreed #6)
Author: Dannika Dark

Chapter 1

Nobody gave hugs like Crush. The moments after returning home to my father’s trailer were filled with intense emotions. I hadn’t explained to him why I was there; I just wept in his protective embrace. I cried for all the people who’d hurt me over the years, cried for the decisions I’d made, and through it all, my father reassured me that everything was going to be okay. Sometimes that’s all a person really needs from a parent.

Before we sat down for a seriously overdue talk, I took a long shower. Blood wasn’t the only thing that swirled down the drain. I also let go of the anguish that had wrapped its thorny fingers around my heart from the argument earlier that evening with Christian. The intense feelings I felt for him scared me, and I needed to take a step back to assess the damage.

“Three marshmallows, just how you like it.” Crush set a cup of cocoa in front of me. The black mug had the Harley-Davidson logo on the side, which went with the bikes in his garage. “I’ll get you some clean clothes in the morning.”

I glanced down at the long Harley shirt I’d borrowed from him. “I can just wear this. My jeans should be fine after they run through the wash.”

Crush had a direct way of throwing looks at a person so they knew exactly what he was thinking. He arched his eyebrow and dipped his chin before reaching into the laundry basket in the hall and fishing out my bloody sweater. His fingers poked through the rips in the back. “Mind telling me why your clothes have knife holes and you showed up at my door looking like roadkill?”

I sipped my hot drink, the steam warming my nose. “Rough day at the office.”

He stepped on the trash can pedal and dropped the sweater inside before the lid slammed shut. “Between the broken button and a busted zipper, the jeans aren’t salvageable. I’ll get you something decent in the morning.”

“Don’t you have to work?”

He approached the round kitchen table and pulled out a cheap vinyl chair, the metal legs scraping against the linoleum floor. When he sat down, he folded his arms across the table. “Fuck work. You think my boys can’t run the shop for a day?”

I sat back. “Like that time when you stayed in a trailer that Christian rented out?”

Crush stroked his grey mustache and goatee. “He told you about that, huh?”

“We’ll argue about it later.”

I looked around at his humble surroundings. Home was much bigger in my memories, but I was also smaller then. Why hadn’t he upgraded to a larger home or bought new furniture? The same brown recliner sat in the living room to my right. The same shag rug, tattered couch, linoleum floor in the entryway and kitchen, and even the same magnets on the fridge. Nothing had changed.

Except me.

He eyed the silver rings on his fingers—one of a skull, one a set of wings, and another representing his service in the Marine Corps. “I gassed up my truck and wiped down the seat while you were in the shower.”

“My truck,” I said, correcting him.

He belly laughed. “Yeah, your truck. It’s clean now.”

“Thanks.”

Crush took off his rings one at a time. “It’s not my business why you’re here, but if you’re in trouble—if someone’s gunning for you—I need to know.”

For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t want to tell him the whole truth just yet. Not until I’d slept on it. “I just wanted to get away. We finished a job transporting all the higher-authority officials to safety during the outage. It was a logistical nightmare, but everything worked out. Well, except for that church bombing. I guess you heard all about it.”

He leaned back, a look of admiration in his blue eyes. “I never thought my little girl would grow up to save the world.”

I rubbed my temple. “Doesn’t feel like it sometimes.”

“No one ever said hero shit was easy. It’s the hardest, most thankless job you’ll ever have, next to raising a kid. Take it from a Marine.”

I sipped my drink. “Thanks for letting me stay.”

“Letting you?” He chuckled, laugh lines wrinkling the corners of his eyes. “This is your home. We’re a team, remember? Stay as long as you need. I only got one condition.”

My eyes flicked up. “What’s that?”

Crush leaned in real tight. “I think it’s time I know exactly what my daughter is. All that blood… and not one mark on you.”

“Christian didn’t tell you? I just figured you two had cozied up to each other and talked about my personal business.”

“Maybe I’d rather hear it from the horse’s mouth.”

I set my drink down. “I don’t want to discuss how it happened, okay? That’s my condition. But here are the facts: I’m half Vampire and half Mage. Obviously I don’t have all the Vampire traits, but I do have these.”

When my fangs punched out, Crush reared back in his chair. “You’re shittin’ me,” he muttered.

I wanted to sink through the floor at his startled reaction. My fangs retracted, and I stared down at my cocoa. “I have all the traits of a Mage. My flashing ability is somewhat limited, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a crossbreed or just developed my skills late. I only recently learned to do it. I don’t need to sleep or eat as much as everyone else. Maybe I’ll bore you with the details later.”

He reached across the table and placed his weathered hand on mine. Crush had thick fingers, and oil stains outlined his fingernails. But his touch gave me more comfort than his words ever could. “You’ve always been different since the day God gave you those eyes. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

“You’re not repulsed by it? Vamps have a bad reputation, so I just figured—”

“I’m not ashamed of what you are. You got that? The fangs caught me off guard, but you’re still the same Raven.”

I withdrew from his touch. “Am I?”

“Nothing can change the core of who you are. You’re not the same little girl who left home, but you’re still my Cookie.”

I smiled wistfully. “Don’t get all mushy on me now. Where’s the bulldog I know and love?”

He peeled up the sleeve of his T-shirt and flexed his bicep. “I still got the big guns.”

I belted out a laugh. “You got something, all right. Secrets, for a start. How long have you known about the Breed world?”

Crush scratched his neck and scrunched his face. “See… I never actually lied to you. If you had asked me about it, I would’ve come clean and told you the truth. But sometimes you do what’s best to protect the people you love. I wanted you to have a normal life.”

“Too late for that.”

He drummed his fingers on the table. “They don’t usually tell kids, Raven. My hands were tied. What if you’d gone to school and told all your friends that Shifters, Vampires, and all that fairy-tale shit was real?”

“I went to school with a girl who was convinced she was a reincarnated poodle.”

“That was elementary school.”

“Actually, it was eighth grade, but I digress. Nobody would have believed me.”

“No, but maybe they would have sent you away to one of them funny farms.”

“Why didn’t you tell me once I was old enough?”

He reached back and took his hair band out, shaking loose a mixture of salt-and-pepper hair. “It didn’t matter by then. You were too busy trying to do things on your own.”

“So how did it start? When did you find out?”

“Since way back in my military days. I did a tour with a guy who turned out to be a Shifter. We were buddies—saved each other’s asses. One day a sniper got him in the throat. Thought he was going to die in my arms until the fucker turned into a wolf.” Crush’s laugh had all kinds of nostalgia wrapped up in it. “He had a lot of explaining to do.”

My eyebrows reached for my hairline. “Before you met Mom?”

He rested his elbow on the table and propped his chin against his fist. “Yeah, before your mama.”

“Did she know?”

Crush didn’t answer.

I gripped his arm. “Did she know?”

He pulled back. “I don’t want you having any bad feelings about your mama. She was a good woman and the best mother. The best. She took real good care of you—better than I ever could.”

“It wasn’t just the alcohol that drove her away, was it?”

His eyes slanted down. Crush was a tough old biker, but talking about my mother always turned him into a pile of mush. “By the time I got out of the service, most of my buddies were Shifters. I went through a bleak period in my life, and they pulled me out. As dark as it was when I drank, that was nothing compared to the early days. I’ve been through a lot of hard shit in my life, Raven. Seen things a man shouldn’t see. Things I’ll never talk about, and that’s just a fact of life. Sometimes all a man’s got is his friends. But then your mama came along, and I had something good in my life. But I fucked it up. You know all about that.”

I didn’t want to punish Crush for his past sins; I just wanted to understand the man I didn’t know. He’d struggled with alcoholism for a long time, and now I could imagine the ultimatum my mother might have given him. The idea of Breed would scare anyone, and I’m sure my mother—like anyone—hadn’t wanted to raise her daughter around wolves. A mother’s instinct is to protect her young no matter what sacrifices she has to make.

“I always knew I wasn’t good for her,” he admitted. “I loved her fiercely, but she deserved a man who would choose her over everything else. I had too many demons and not enough strength to let go of the booze and my friends. She knew that life would put you in danger.”

I wrapped my hands around my cup. “She shouldn’t have asked you to give up your friends. I get why she did it, but that’s crazy.”

He pointed his finger at me. “Don’t go talking bad about your mama. What’s done is done.”

Yep. What’s done is done.

My thoughts drifted back to Christian, and I realized how we were in the same predicament as my parents all those years ago. In order to choose each other, we had to be willing to give up something that mattered to us, and that something was Keystone. After Houdini restored my memories earlier this evening, I decided the risk was worth it. But Christian was still holding back.

Maybe I wasn’t enough.

I tilted my head to the side. “Do you still hang out with Shifters?”

He rubbed his mouth and jaw, his dark blue eyes slanting away.

I went slack-jawed at the idea I might know one of them. “Who?”

“Uh, just about all of them.”

“What!” I blinked in surprise. “Even Ren?”

Ren had been Crush’s close friend since forever.

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