Fate introduces people at both the right and the wrong times…
So it is for Maren on the absolute worst day imaginable. When all hope was gone, and she was whittled away to little more than tears and despair, up walks Nox, an unlikely hero to save the day. Maren is about to discover that sometimes the good guys wear black, and there are times that the lines between good and evil blur beyond recognition.
Nox is a bad man with a heart of gold, or so it seems. It also seems that Maren has captured that heart with her wide, tear-filled brown eyes. Nox never saw himself going for jailbait before, but that’s just what Maren is, all woman trapped in a seventeen-year-old package. Still, what he wouldn’t do for her, including taking on the unlikely role of keeper to her unruly preteen brother. This mess could end beautifully or in some serious time spent behind bars for Nox, but sometimes, it’s worth risking it all.
She was beautiful in the dim light from above and the soft golden glow cast by the little candles on every table. She smiled and her whole face transformed to the point she looked like one of the angels in the frescoes on the walls and ceiling in here. I guess I’d hit that right, calling her Angel all the time. I don’t know why I’d started doing it. It just came natural, so I went with it.
We ate a good meal and I think it was the most I’d seen her put away since we’d first met. Over the last couple of weeks, I’d seen her cheekbones grow sharper, the delicate bones of her wrists stand out more against her skin. She’d been losing weight, likely more from the worries and concerns that consumed her than from lack of appetite.
It was good to see her smile, it was good to see her laugh, and it was damned good knowing I somehow made that difference. The waitress brought the check at the end of our meal and I smiled, peeling off some bills to pay and leave a better than decent tip. The woman smiled broadly and put a hand on my shoulder.
“You know it’s always so nice to see these daddy-daughter dates, no matter how old they get,” she said and I watched the smile disappear off of Maren’s face.
Son of a bitch.
I plastered on a stiff, fake as hell smile and gave a slight nod. It was hard to keep my trap shut as I watched the knife twist in Maren’s chest and the sparkle leave her eyes. Her face burned with her fight to hold back the threatening tears and I couldn’t do anything about it. I mean sure, I could have ripped the woman to shreds, but she didn’t know… either about Maren’s dad dying or the fact she sure as hell wasn’t my daughter. I guess, technically, I was old enough to be Maren’s daddy. Shit, I’d have had to have had her when I was something like… I did the math, Christ… nineteen. I was nineteen when Maren was born, totally doable. I could totally be her dad… why didn’t that squick me out like it should? Why didn’t I feel like a pedophile now?
Because the woman sitting across from me at that dinner table was just that… a woman. Young, sure, but old enough to make her own decisions and to hold her own. Hell, I’d been watching her hold her own for a minute now.
“What are you thinking?” she asked as the waitress walked away.
“Not sure I should say, Angel.”
She pursed her lips and nodded, her dark eyes flitting to the side, off my face, to the little guttering candle at the edge of our table.
“You’re not a little girl, you’re not my little girl, that’s for sure. We’re friends before anything else, but I sometimes wonder things I shouldn’t.” I swallowed hard and didn’t say anything else. I just watched those luminous dark eyes return to my face, searching it with one of the gravest expressions I’d ever seen someone wear for a full minute.
“Me too,” she said softly, and I felt my spine turn liquid with relief. I hadn’t scared her, and she hadn’t scared me, but now what? It definitely felt like some sort of line had been drawn in the sand and crossed; like we’d turned a corner of some kind, but into what?
Text Copyright © 2016 A.J. Downey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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