OMG, Crystal’s Crucible goes live on Amazon this weekend! I am so excited to share this book with the world. If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, you can find it here.
This month in The Dark Matter Between Our Hearts, the men in Danika’s life dredge up some painful memories…
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Danika sat up with a start. Waking up in Brennan’s empty bed brought memories of Friday night crashing down to Earth like the apocalyptic meteors they were. After Malik’s disastrous intrusion, Brennan had escorted her off the premises under the pretence of taking her to the hospital to get her head checked. She had expected Grayson to fret over her, but he was not even watching when she left. Probably licking his wounds. Then it occurred to her that Malik had photographic evidence of her fucking Brennan. Did he send it to Grayson? She would not put it past Malik to rub in a little salt. Shit! I really need to do some damage control.
Entering Brennan’s shower, she washed away a full night of passion, then found the tracksuit he had left out for her on the foot of the bed. It was far too big but would suffice for her trip home. Gathering her dress and personal effects, she made her way down the hall.
Brennan sat at his breakfast bar, looking like a delicious morsel in his blue uniform that reminded her of their first time together. After swallowing a bite of his toast, he devoured her with hungry eyes. ‘Fuck! I’m gonna need another shower before heading into work, a cold one this time.’
‘Seriously? I look ridiculous in this baggy apparel.’
Shaking his head, he smirked. ‘You look hot in my apparel.’
Danika had never understood why men liked seeing women in their clothes, but she supposed it was a way of staking a primal claim or some possessive bullshit. She glared at him. ‘That sounds like boyfriend talk. You know I don’t do that sort of thing.’
He sighed. ‘I had hoped four years overseas would have healed your trauma.’
‘Hardly,’ she huffed. ‘If anything, I indulged my tendencies even more when I wasn’t focussed on my studies. It’s easy to lose yourself in big cities.’
Tugging the hem of her t-shirt, he tugged her closer and slid an arm around her hips. ‘If you give me a chance, I could help—’
‘No!’ She lurched out of his grip. ‘Don’t do this, Brennan. We’ve got a good thing going with our no-strings arrangement. Please don’t spoil it by catching feelings.’
‘A bit late,’ he scoffed. ‘Four and half years too late.’
Danika gasped. ‘What? You assured me…’
‘You snuck up on me, Danny. Believe me, I was just as shocked.’ He rubbed the stubble on his cheek. ‘I gotta get to work. Can we talk about this later?’
‘Fine. Whatever.’ Crossing her arms, she assumed a defensive stance.
Springing to his feet, Brennan strode out of the kitchen. ‘Come on! I’ll give you a lift home.’
A few minutes of tense silence filled the car before she broached the other topic plaguing her mind, ‘Malik got a photo of us.’
‘I’ll deal with it,’ he gritted out.
‘But what if he already—’
‘I said I’ll deal with it!’
She stared at him with wide eyes. Brennan never employed such a harsh tone with her outside of a bedroom scene. Exhaling sharply, she turned her gaze out the window and kept her mouth shut for the remainder of the drive. The moment the car rolled to a stop outside her house, she jumped out and sprinted up the front steps, barrelling into the butler as she burst through the front door.
‘Woah! Are you okay, Miss Danika?’ Michael asked.
Her father appeared in the hall, scrutinising her appearance with a scowl. ‘Where were you last night? Your mother and I have been worried sick.’
‘Why?’ she asked in a higher pitch than usual.
‘Grayson called to check on you, evidently concerned for your well-being too. When he mentioned you went to the hospital, I tried to find you there. Imagine my surprise when they told me you did not even present to triage. We tried calling, but your phone sent us straight to voicemail.’
Damnit! ‘I was fine. Just a few scrapes. Nothing worth bothering the hospital about. I stayed at a friend’s house.’
He scanned her attire again and frowned. ‘What sort of friend?’
This is ridiculous. I’m a grown arse woman! ‘A discreet friend. Now if you don’t mind, I have things to do.’
She began climbing the stairs, halting when Dad called out, ‘What about Grayson? If you do not intend to pursue a relationship with him, at least have the decency to let him know. He cares about you, sweetheart.’
Nodding, she continued her ascent without another glance at his disappointed expression. Guilt and anger swirled like a muddy hurricane in her heart. On one hand, she hated herself for upsetting her dad, the only trustworthy man in her life, while on the other, she resented his expectations. He raised a valid point about Grayson though. She changed out of Brennan’s clothes, bringing his t-shirt to her nose to inhale his musky scent before folding the garment and placing it on top of her dresser.
Adopting the princess persona that she presented to the world took the better part of two hours: the skin care regime, blow-drying her hair, applying makeup, and dressing in designer threads becoming the outward expression of the psychological mask she erected to hide the broken girl within. Pleased with the results, she headed out to her car and drove to Grayson’s house.
Grant Marshall greeted her when she rang the doorbell, shadows encircling his sunken eyes. ‘Good afternoon Danika. I’m afraid Elise is feeling unwell today.’
‘Oh? Sorry to hear that Mr. Marshall, but I uh… I’m here to see Grayson, if that’s okay?’
He nodded and stepped aside to let her in. ‘He is in the guest house.’
She forced a smile. ‘Thank you. Please send Elise my regards.’ Reaching the back yard, she found Grayson swimming laps of the pool and took a moment to appreciate his body as it carved through the water with expert finesse. She waited until he neared her end before calling out, ‘Grayson?’
He stopped mid-stroke and looked up at her, his eyes sparkling like sapphires in the sunlight. ‘Danny! Please tell me you’re okay?’
She winced at the nasty bruise on his cheek. ‘I’m fine. Can we talk?’
Sucking in a breath, he gave her a quick nod. Muscles rippled and light glimmered from trickling water as he emerged like a god of the sea. Wrapping a large towel around his waist, he led her into the guest house. Covering his bare chest with a snug fitting polo shirt, he gestured for her to sit beside him on the sofa. ‘About last night—’
‘I need to apologise—’ she started along with him before biting her bottom lip. ‘Sorry. You go first,’ she insisted.
‘Are you sure?’ After taking a deep breath, he accepted her silent approval. ‘I overreacted last night and I’m sorry if I upset you. I really do want you, Danika, but like I said, I don’t want to rush things because I’d like to give us a fighting chance.’
Heaving out a sigh, she closed her eyes and sank into the void where her soul had once lived. Why do these men want a part of me that doesn’t exist?
Blinking, she focused on his sombre expression. ‘Are you a “no sex before marriage” kind of guy?’
He responded with a spluttering cough and wide eyes. ‘Uh, no. I just like to get to know a woman before sleeping with her. I must admit, I was taken aback by your forwardness last night. I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. In truth, I really did feel threatened by Malik and that was before he almost ground my bones to dust.’
‘About that… I’m sorry for biting your head off last night. Malik and I… we have a twisted history.’
‘I figured as much. Is he your ex?’
‘No, but we used to be close.’ Averting her gaze, she stared into the distance. ‘Then he… betrayed me, and things soured between us.’
‘I can see this is a difficult topic for you, so I won’t push for details, but I’m here if you ever want to tell me the whole story.’
‘Thanks.’ She returned her attention to his simpering smile and schooled her expression. ‘Thing is, my past has a lot to do with my inability to commit. I’m the one guilty of giving false impressions because I never intended to let this thing between us develop into a serious relationship. I just… can’t.’ She choked back a sob as memories sifted through the cracks in her emotional walls.
Grayson pulled her into his arms, prompting her dam to burst as he soothed her with gentle strokes along her back. ‘Hey, shh, it’s okay. I don’t expect anything from you Danika. If you just want to be friends, that’s okay with me.’
Snorting in a very unladylike manner, she retrieved a tissue from her purse and dabbed her face, thanking God for waterproof mascara. ‘Friendship wasn’t what I had in mind with you, Grayson.’ When he tensed, she quickly added, ‘I’d still like to be friends of course, but…’ she lifted her gaze in an attempt to appear seductive, but knew she failed miserably thanks to red, puffy eyes.
His lips curved into a smile that did not reach his eyes as he brushed a stray tear from her cheek. ‘I’m flattered Danny, but I can’t handle casual relationships. I think I’d make a better platonic friend and it seems like you need more of that in your life right now, hmm?’
Damnit, but he’s right! She nodded, letting him embrace her again. ‘Thanks for being honest and upfront with me from the get-go.’ Unlike Brennan, she added silently, still feeling bitter about his confession that morning. Fear of hurting him weighed on her conscience and she wondered who else she could find to fill the void. Maybe I should approach Malik for hate sex. She almost laughed at the idea, then realised how hot it sounded in her filthy head and a fantasy reel started playing—
The sound of an ambulance siren halting outside startled them and Grayson leaped to his feet, dragging her with him. ‘Elise!’
‘What?’ She chased after him as he dashed inside the main house where they found paramedics bringing a stretcher through the front door. They took the service lift while Grayson and Danika charged up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. Reaching Elise’s room, she gasped at the sight of her unconscious friend.
‘What happened?’ Grayson asked of his uncle with a trembling voice.
Mr. Marshall was as white as a sheet. ‘She would not wake up. I tried—’
‘Is she breathing? Does she have a pulse?’ he asked.
‘Yes, and yes,’ replied one of the men in dark green coveralls. ‘But her breathing is shallow, and her pulse is weak. Any idea what may have triggered this?’
‘I have no idea,’ admitted Mr. Marshall. ‘She was behaving erratic and paranoid this morning, then she complained about feeling feverish, so I suggested she rest for a bit in case she was coming down with the flu.’
Bile began to climb Danika’s gullet and she swallowed hard against the impulse to vomit. ‘Sounds like a PCP overdose,’ she rasped.
‘What?’ Mr. Marshall’s head jerked toward her. ‘No way! My girl doesn’t do drugs!’
Grayson stepped forward. ‘Actually Sir, she does. I had my suspicions when I first moved here, and she confirmed them last night.’
‘Are you sure it’s PCP?’ asked the paramedic.
‘Not a hundred percent,’ Grayson admitted. ‘But I have grounds to believe she purchased some from a local dealer.’
The paramedic helped strap her to the stretcher. ‘Thanks for the info. It might save her life.’
Mr. Marshall rode in the ambulance with his daughter while Danika travelled with Grayson who followed in his car.
‘This is why you attacked Malik last night, isn’t it?’ she asked softly.
Grayson nodded with a clenched jaw.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t realise she had become addicted.’
‘How do you know so much about PCP?’ he asked.
Her pulse quickened as she considered her answer. ‘Someone doped me with it when I was younger.’
Grayson sucked in a breath. ‘Malik?’
‘No. At least not directly. A friend of ours did it.’
‘Some friend,’ he scoffed.
She bit her lip, not ready to tell him the worst of it. The emergency room was bustling with activity when they arrived. Thankfully, Elise went straight to the top of the triage list. Danika sat with Grayson in the waiting room, lending him her silent support while trying her to stay strong. She may have drifted apart from Elise over the years, but the thought of losing her still stung.
Hours passed and still no word. Grayson was growing restless, alternating between pacing and hunching over in his chair while Danika slipped into a dark mood.
‘What are you guys doing here?’ The deep, familiar voice yanked her back to the present. ‘Are you okay, Danny?’ Malik wore a sling around his left arm and Alison hovered close behind him.
‘Yeah, no thanks to you,’ she retorted, confused by his sudden concern for her.
‘You!’ Grayson stalked toward him, deadly intent blazing in his eyes.
Danika headed him off, pressing her hands to his chest. ‘Stop! This isn’t the time or place for another round in the ring.’
‘If she dies, I’ll make sure you never see the light of day again!’ Grayson threatened.
‘If who dies?’ Malik asked in a bored tone. ‘Your princess looks fine to me.’
‘Not Danika, you douche bag! I’m talking about Elise.’
‘Wait, what the fuck? What happened to Elise?’ His tone turned genuine again.
‘Wait here,’ Danika advised Grayson as she led Malik outside where she explained Elise’s condition in a hushed voice. ‘If you really care about her, why sell her that shit?’
He shook his head. ‘I didn’t. I only give her small doses where I can keep an eye on her. If Elise took more this morning, she must be getting it somewhere else.’
‘I can’t believe you’re pushing angel dust, you sick bastard,’ she spat, recalling the incident all those years ago. ‘Makes me wonder if you put him up to it in the first place.’
Furrowing his brow, he closed the minimal distance between them. ‘Put who up to what?’
Stepping back, her breath hitched when her back hit a brick wall. ‘When did you start dealing?’
‘Put who up to what?’ he repeated, looming over her with his good hand pressing into the wall beside her face and his breath tickling her forehead.
‘Did you sell angel dust to Hayden?’