Nocte (Page 14)

Nocte (The Nocte Trilogy #1)(14)
Author: Courtney Cole

But again, what can I do?  His mind is made up.

I don’t say anything, because I can’t.  So I nod wordlessly instead.

I push my food around on my plate because when I try to swallow it now, it sticks in my throat like some sort of gelatinous sludge.  Dad and Finn keep watching me, waiting for me to protest or argue or throw a fit. But I don’t. In spite of myself, I somehow remain calm, cool and very collected until the minute that I can excuse myself and make a break for it.

I rush outdoors, ignoring the fact that Finn calls out from behind me.  I flee the yard, sucking in air as I run down the path leading to the beach.  The trail looks like a silvery ribbon in the dusky moonlight, twisting and turning through the green wet underbrush and gleaming dark rocks.

The trees form a canopy over the path, and it’s unsettling here alone in the dark.  The shadows give me goose-bumps, because I don’t know what they’re hiding.  But even still, even with the moon slivering in through the tree tops and with the wind calling incoherent words through the pine needles, I’m still grateful to be here, rather than in my dining room.

I push myself forward, away from the destructive path that Finn seems to be insistent on, and towards the path to the ocean.

When I reach the beach, my heels sink into the damp sand, and I’m thankful that it’s low tide.  My legs won’t get wet.  I make it to the rocks within minutes, and just as I approach them, a shadow steps away from the boulders.

It’s tall and unexpected, because no one ever comes here.

It pauses, and I suck in a breath.

Then it steps into the moonlight and I realize who it is.  

Dare.

Because he lives here now.

“Hey,” he greets me, his voice husky and soft and British. There is welcome in his eyes, and a sincere appreciation for how I look, a hungry expression, as his gaze flits over me.  It makes the blood flush through my cheeks and my chest.  He likes what he sees.

I swallow hard.

“Are you all right?” he asks, his head cocked and his eyes glinting in the moonlight.  “I couldn’t help but notice that you ran down the mountain.”

God.  I want to sink into the sand.  I must look like a crazy person.

“I’m fine,” I tell him.  “I just… my brother upset me and I needed a minute to breathe.”

“And when you’re upset you run down to the beach in the dark?  Alone?” Dare cocks his head again and I’m not sure if he’s judging me. I look away.

“No.  I just… my favorite place is down here.  I come here a lot. Not just when I’m upset.”

“Show me.”  Dare’s voice is husky and soft, and it isn’t a request.  “Your favorite place, I mean.”

I don’t hesitate.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because he’s been in my dreams so often, it’s like I know him already.

“Ok.”

I lead him along the beach another hundred feet or so, through the rocks and into a secluded inlet.  Hidden by the night, a horse-shoe shaped cove waits for us in the dark.

“Watch where you step,” I tell him, although I know it’s hard to see.  “This cove is covered in tidal pools.  Actually, wait here for a minute.”

I reluctantly let go of his arm and venture away to find a few pieces of smallish driftwood.  I lug it back to the cove and hunt for a canvas bag that I keep here for just these occasions. It’s not under the rock I usually keep it under, so I nose around for a while longer, until Dare calls out.

“Looking for this?” he holds it up. I nod, taking it from him.

“Yeah. Thanks.”  Pulling the lighter from the bag, I set the wood ablaze.

It instantly fills the inlet with an ethereal violet light.

Dare stares at it, mesmerized. “It’s purple.”

“It’s the salt from the ocean,” I explain.  “It makes the flames purple and blue.  But don’t breathe in the smoke.  It’s gorgeous, but toxic.”

“So look, don’t breathe?” Dare looks amused.

I nod.  “Exactly.  Instead of breathing the smoke, why don’t you turn around and look at the cove?”

He does as I ask and I can see on his face that he’s impressed.  Small pools are scattered around us, with sea life in each one, plants and shells, crabs and seaweed. Everything seems magical, as the night glows violet.

“During high tide, these are covered up.  In fact, you can’t get to the back of the cove.  But during low tide, the water is sucked out and you can walk right in and look at everything the water covers up.”

“This is incredible,” Dare decides, walking around and examining everything.  “No wonder it’s your favorite place.”  He moves lithely, casually.  Easily.

In fact, being with him is easy.  As each moment passes, I feel less panicked and terrified about Finn, and more comfortable with Dare.

Even though he’s clearly sophisticated, he’s still as comfortable as my favorite pair of jeans.  It’s like…he doesn’t judge me. He doesn’t ridicule me. He simply accepts things as I offer them and doesn’t push me for more. 

While he kneels to examine a pool, I examine him.  He’s wearing dark clothes tonight, dark jeans and a black hoodie.  The graceful way he moves makes even a hoodie seem elegant.  He’s graceful and refined, nothing like the boys were in school.

It’s refreshing.  And knee-weakening.

He turns to me, his gaze dark and curious.

“How did your brother upset you?”

The panic comes back to me in a rush, and for a minute, I stare past Dare, out to sea.

“We’re twins. He wants to go to a different college, but I don’t agree.  He needs me.”

Dare stares at me, trying to figure me out.  I see the wheels turning.  He opens his mouth, but I interrupt before he can say anything.

“You don’t understand,” I tell him preemptively.  “My brother has an issue.  A mental issue.  He’s medicated, but he needs me.”

If I meant to scare him, and I don’t know if I did or didn’t, it doesn’t work.  Because Dare just nods, unfazed.  “That’s commendable,” he tells me.  “That you care so much.”

My head snaps back.  “Of course I do,” I snap. “Why wouldn’t I? He’s my brother.”