Moth (Dragon Triad Duet Book 1)
August 17th, 2020
He thought he could make my life hell.
But it already was.
The one time Hannah Dewitt tries to live a little, she winds up in the crosshairs of a local thug who seems hellbent on terrorizing her.
As it turns out, there is more to Rafe than meets the eye, and their connection stokes her creativity like nothing else.
Drawn to him despite the inherent risks, she can’t resist feeding the flames of this unlikely attraction no matter how hot they burn.
But Rafe isn’t the only monster in her life. Another looms in the background, and he won’t let her go so easily.
Chapter 1: Part 2
Disclaimer: The following copyrighted material is unedited and subject to change.
“Let her go. You can leave.” The younger man waits until the bouncer complies and returns to his position outside of the barrier.
“Rafe,” Mara pleads, “just leave her alone—”
He holds up one finger, and it’s like time stops. I freeze solid, unable to move. Once a few seconds pass, he sits back and leisurely turns the page as if he has all the time in the world. To violate my deepest thoughts and innermost secrets. Gawk at my rawest, unedited writing. Delve into my brain unbidden.
Again, I feel my mental reins strain. “Stop…”
He doesn’t. I don’t think he even hears me. Casually, he licks his finger, then turns the page. Licks. Page. Reads, seemingly riveted by what he’s seeing—and that’s the worst part. The fact that makes my cheeks catch fire and my nails sink into their respective palms.
His two seatmates snicker, rolling their eyes. “Knock it off, Wei.”
“We’re interested in buying ass, and he wants to read some fucking little diary—”
“You can go.” He inclines his head toward Mara, who grabs my hand, surging for the exit. “Not her—” I feel his gaze on the back of my neck, locking me into place. “She stays.”
“The hell she is!” Mara snaps, whirling to face him. “Leave her alone! I mean it, Rafe. Or I’ll call the police. Your issue is with my dad. Then keep it that way—”
“And tell them what?” He sits straighter; his tone honed like a whip. “That your daddy likes to rack up his gambling debts when he isn’t managing that little restaurant of yours into the ground? That he’s dug too deep of a hole to come out? Or that his daughter has to play snitch to save his neck? Come on, Mara, I thought you and your family enjoyed living in a safe, peaceful neighborhood. Keep running your mouth, and it won’t stay that way for long.”
Mara stiffens at the barely concealed threat. Her fingers tighten around my wrist. Tighten…
“Though, you know what? Call the pigs,” the man goads, his laughter cold. “I hear a few even like girls like you, too. Ask around. Or maybe you can go work for Gino and learn firsthand? At least then you’d get paid for it.”
Mara’s face pales as she lets me go. “You’ll be fine, Hannah,” she insists, but she hurries from the enclosed section without me. “I’ll be watching. I won’t take my eyes off you. I promise.”
As she fades from my peripheral vision, my brain does that thing again. Shuts off. Focuses on the most important actions to perform at this moment—breathing. Standing. Staring.
The younger man is still watching me, his head cocked as his fingers continue to molest the pages of my journal. That violation stings more than any other. He’s carelessly wandering over words he couldn’t possibly understand. Mutilating phrases that have literal blood, sweat, and tears mingled within the ink. He’s mauling me with every swipe of his fingers.
And I can’t even look away. His eyes hold me captive, sparkling the more my irritation grows. Like he knows every thought I’m thinking. The hate I’m feeling.
And he’s relishing in all of it.
“Go.” He inclines his head, but again, he isn’t speaking to me.
The two men beside him share a look, but they stand, shaking their heads incredulously. “Damn. You always did have the weirdest fucking taste,” the one with the goatee murmurs, barely audible above the music.
The other man isn’t as subtle. He raises an eyebrow and looks me over, then he cranes his neck to seek out Mara standing along a nearby wall. “You traded that piece of ass for this?”
“I said, fuck off.” The younger man doesn’t take his eyes off me. His tongue traces his lower lip in a quick strike. A threat? Or a warning?
“Go,” he repeats without shifting his focus. “And leave the Chan girl to me.”
The goatee man hisses through his teeth. “Greedy fucker. You want them both?”
“You heard me.” He utilizes that iron tone again and doesn’t move an inch until the two men finally leave the section. Then he sits back and crooks one finger at me. “Come here.”
I don’t move. There’s something about being trapped like a deer in the headlights. When every muscle contracts, paralyzing you, it’s impossible to react logically. Or think. At least until something more alarming snaps you from the daze.
Like him literally snapping his fingers. Thwack!
I flinch, but my body obeys my commands again. I cross my arms and square my stance, making myself as small of a target as possible. I should run, but I can’t. My eyes won’t leave my bag. My journal. My conscience.
It’s the one possession I can’t bear to give up.
“G-Give it back.”
“She speaks.” Amusement flickers through his angular features, making me jump. His eyes are more expressive than most people’s. Like a predator’s. It’s almost too easy to tell what he’s thinking, but you’re only ever seeing half of the tale. Hunger, yes, but its presence alone is no predictor as to when he’ll finally pounce.
“Hop this way, bunny.” Again, he crooks his finger, but the motion carries a swiftness that wasn’t there before—a command lurking in the deliberate twitch of his knuckle. “Come here. Unless you want me to call your little friend back over.”
I sense it’s not a threat. He means it. He’ll dangle Mara’s welfare like a shiny toy, expecting me to jump for it.
Because I will. My feet are already propelling me toward him. Maybe it’s genetic, this inherent cowardice. This need I can’t shake to always go along with any plan, no matter how terrifying. Always.
I’m the girl perpetually depicted in horror movies. Gullible, manipulated by everyone.
By these instincts hardwired within my psyche.
To approach the figurative killer without making a sound. To find the safest spot away from him and sit, not that he seems to mind. He copies the posture of his friend, sprawled out, unconcerned. I notice he’s wearing the same dark, unremarkable clothing as the others, but one detail makes his ensemble stand out in a way theirs didn’t. My gaze fixates on his left arm, bared by a short sleeve, and I realize why.
Colors drip over the pronounced muscle, embedded in his skin. Ink? Reds. Indigo. Black. They form snippets of a scene mostly hidden beneath his shirt. The only solid detail I can make out licks down the length of his forearm in writhing tendrils—flames.
“Eyes up here, rabbit,” he warns, snapping his fingers. Rabbit? As his eyes flicker over me again, I realize what he meant. Me. As a joke?
Or a crude reference to my sweater? I glance down, eyeing the beige wool speckled with innocent white bunnies that seem to glow in the dim lighting.
“Cat got your tongue, rabbit?”
I say nothing, pursing my lips, ignoring reality. There’s an art form in silence—in shrinking down within yourself until the real you is just a blip. A memory. Completely untouchable by anyone…
Until he touches me.
The flesh of his fingertip is alarmingly soft. I almost don’t realize it’s happening at first—the brief, persistent contact disrupting my loose curls—until my nerves become electrified with his touch. Alarmed, I flinch back, nearly lurching off the couch entirely. Before my eyes, his fingers float, denied a taste of my skin.
He chuckles, leaving his hand unmoving anyway. Dark, his eyes trace the outlines of mine, hunting for a way in. I blink to keep him out, but I fail.
His smile catches me off guard, and our gazes lock. Amusement glints across the dark irises, but there’s no malice. He’s a child playing a game merely to thwart boredom, and I’m just a toy. With nothing better to do, he’s dangling me by my puppet limbs, watching me flail—all for the sake of entertainment.
“I’ll make you a deal.” He lifts my notebook from his lap, brandishing it just beyond my reach. “Read me one of your little stories, and I’ll let your friend off the hook for tonight.”
He wants a response. Demands one. His silence feels deliberate this time, nibbling away at my nerves until I have no choice but to pry my lips apart. Speak. “Why?”
He raises an eyebrow. “Her daddy owes a shit ton of money, rabbit.” He chuckles when I flinch at the nickname, hating how it sounds in his voice. A husky, teasing whisper on the verge of a growl. Rabbit. “Letting her go without a warning would be a mercy bestowed out of the kindness of my bleeding heart.”
He winks, prompting me to go against my instincts once again.
“Why is that her problem?” I croak while glancing at Mara. Lurking on the periphery, she hasn’t left me at least. Her eyes meet mine, wide and frightful, and she waves toward me in a frantic motion. Run! As if leaving would be so easy.
“Why?” His harsh bark of laughter draws my attention back to him. He forms a fist and props his chin onto it, probing deep with those merciless eyes. “I don’t know what cul-de-sac you skipped out of, but here in the real world? We pay for the sins of others, whether related to us by blood or not. It’s the way the fucking cookie crumbles. You suffer for Chan, and she’ll have to bear the weight of her daddy’s gambling addiction.”
It sounds like something a movie villain would say, but in a sense, he’s right. I know that better than anyone. Be them the sins of a father, or a brother…some of us are destined to live out our lives tainted by the crimes of others. No matter what we do, they haunt us.
Constantly. My phone buzzes, the screen lighting up, and even from here, I know who’s calling. Branden.
Laughing, the man picks it up from the couch and glances at the home screen. His already permanent smirk stretches. “Should I answer it?” he ponders, inclining his head toward me.
He’s baiting me.
But I bite, lurching forward even as I clutch at the edge of my seat with both hands to keep from really moving. “Don’t.”
Am I even worried for myself? No. Maybe Mara instead? Or my fragile freedom. This space. Branden would stop at nothing to drag me back into the cage he’s built around me and lock it shut for good if he suspects for a second that I’m not playing by his rules.
In some ways, this man should answer the call. Once he’s done with me, Branden would burn this place to the ground…
But I wouldn’t wish his wrath on anyone.
He chuckles again, stroking the outside of my phone with his thumb. But for all his games, his eyes keep flicking toward the screen, reading the name I’ve programmed in for my brother—Bran <3. The heart is symbolic, but he wouldn’t know that.
He lifts his thumb, letting it hover over the touch screen. When he lowers it, I suck in a breath. Rather than the green answer button, he strikes the red one to dismiss the call instead.
Relief escapes me in a sharp exhale. Branden will just call back, irritated that I didn’t answer, but already bored, the man drops my phone into my bag and shoves it aside.
With little effort, he reclaims my journal and flips it open to a different page. I recognize the various scribbled lines—my latest piece, the rough draft of an essay assignment. The single essay that may or may not decide if I continue school next semester.
“You write about lying a lot, rabbit,” he remarks while scanning my words. “Maybe you really are a fucking reporter? Lies spilled like bated breaths. Suffocation inevitable. Drowning…” Smirking, he looks up, forcing eye contact. “What’s a bunny got to hide from?”
“Why do you care?” I rasp. Internally, I’m more shocked that he could make that kind of assumption from a few words scattered throughout.
He chuckles, seemingly amused by my reaction. “Deceiver. Falsifier.” He’s rattling off my various scribbled titles by heart. “You must have plenty of secrets to tell, rabbit.”
“And you must be really bored to pick on some random girl over a journal.”
“So she bites as well as speaks.” He raises an eyebrow, another wry smile playing over his mouth. “I’m curious, rabbit…” he tells me, leaving the implication dangling so that I’m forced to ask.
He sits back, stroking his chin. “Why you have those sad, fucking bunny eyes.” A newer emotion makes his eyes narrow further—annoyance. “A normal person would have run by now, rabbit. They would have made good on their threat to call the police. Otherwise, they’d be crying. Begging. You haven’t done a fucking one of those things—” His teeth flash, his gaze piercing. “Why is that?”
I clench my jaw shut, but a reply slips out regardless. “I guess you just like terrorizing people—”
“And you haven’t answered my question.” He sits forward again, bracing both of his hands on his knees. Then he lunges.
I don’t even have the chance to react before he’s beside me, his arm thrown over my shoulder, his breath on my throat. Then ice. Cold. Sharpness…
I recognize the feeling, and I go rigid, picturing the size of the blade he must have tracing along the very edge of my windpipe. Nothing too large. A pocket knife? He holds it there teasingly, daring me to pull away.
But I don’t.
I can’t. All I can do is flex my fingers, grasping at the air. It’s all I can ever do.
But I’m used to my tormentor demanding silence—not this.
“Read.” My book lands open on my lap, the page a scribbled poem. I’d written it months ago, and the pain I’d felt then still leaps off the page, bled into every swirl of ink.
Haunted by darkness, shrouded in guilt. In deception, salvation found…
“No.” Speaking makes the blade press in. Scrape. But more words escape unbidden, impossible to keep in. “Get off me—”
“Read.” His impatience disturbs me more than any threat, mainly by what it reveals. He doesn’t want to scare me. He’s having too much fun provoking me. “In deception, salvation found,” he recites for me, his tone pompous with mock bravado. “From golden bars. Deceptive beauty—”
“From chains formed of secrets linked by fear. Freedom’s price paid with the blood of another.” He chuckles, tapping the knife against my throat. Once, twice. Never hard enough to cut, just enough to sting.
“You’re not afraid of me,” he murmurs near my ear, his voice impossible to ignore. “Not one fucking bit. You’ve seen a much worse monster. I want to meet that monster. I want to know what makes a little rabbit like you so damn hard she doesn’t flinch when a man presses a knife to her throat. I want—” He breaks off, shifting his gaze to the crowd. At the mouth of the section, a slim woman is talking to one of the bouncers. She’s young, her dark hair kept at bay with a glittery butterfly-shaped hairclip, her outfit a modest shirt and jeans that make her seem more out of place than I do. A snippet of what she says reaches us, mutilated by the pounding bass.
“…need to speak to Rafe. It’s important.”
“Shit.” Rafe’s eyes narrow, and he shoves me aside, rising to his feet. “Looks like we’ll have to cut this short, bunny.”
He walks past me, heading for the section’s entrance—but in his grasp is my journal. Its cover glints in the neon lighting as he takes the woman’s arm and melds into the crowd with her.
And I can’t even muster up the energy to chase him.
My hand paws at my throat, following the sting of his knife as his words echo in my brain. I want to meet that monster. I want to know what makes a little rabbit like you so damn hard she doesn’t flinch when a man presses a knife to her throat…
“Hannah!” Mara exclaims from beside me. I jump. It’s as if she appears out of thin air to grab my wrist. I only have enough sense of mind to gather up my belongings and shove them into my bag before she’s dragging me after her through the dance floor and out of the club entirely. As the fresh air displaces most of the noise, I finally realize that she’s been speaking to me this whole time.
“I’m so, so sorry. Those assholes… I knew they came here sometimes, but I wasn’t thinking. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I know! Come to my spoken word tomorrow. It will be a nice, quiet night—”
“You don’t have to apologize.” Again, it’s one of my instincts. I’m the one who spews out the apologies in the end.
Unwilling to play along, Mara just shakes her head. “Bullshit! I do. And I’ll owe ya one for life. Just… Just don’t tell anyone about that shit, okay?” She eyes me warily, biting her lower lip. “Rafe is a total dick, but he’s harmless if you don’t piss him off. Think of him as more of a gatekeeper. Living around here, you were bound to meet him anyway.”
I don’t miss the resignation in her voice. “Who is he?” I ask.
“Just the local, resident asshole,” she says. “Let’s say his uncle commands a lot of respect, and Rafe thinks he’s hot shit just because he handles business for him.”
She rolls her eyes. “Being a dick to all of the local business owners so that they pay him. All so that he and his merry band of assholes don’t become bigger dicks. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds.” She swipes at her cheek, and I stare in alarm.
We’re nearing the intersection that joins this backstreet with the main road. It’s brighter here, and I can make out the telltale smudges disrupting her once perfectly applied eyeliner. She was crying—she was that scared.
“Are you okay?” I place my free hand on her shoulder, sensing the slight tremors wracking her slender frame. “Mara—”
“Rafe and those guys… They’re just punks, alright? It’s nothing.” She faces ahead, squaring her shoulders even though her grip on my wrist remains so tight her nails are digging into my skin. “Don’t worry about them. They won’t mess with you again. But damn, girl… You have balls; I will say that.”
She shoots me a funny look. “I’ve never seen anyone stare him down like that. It was as though you weren’t afraid of anything. And he liked it. All the dumb bitches around here throw themselves at Rafe, but I’ve never seen him get a hard-on like that without anyone flashing their tits at least.” Genuine awe taints her tone, and I shake my head, my cheeks burning.
“Yeah. I’m right,” Mara says without missing a beat. “It’s a good thing you’re a nice, wholesome girl. It’s better if you stay away from him. Though, he is cute.” She frowns, her eyes narrowing. “If he weren’t such an asshole, I’d even let him ink me.”
“Ink?” I feel my cheeks heat further. Despite my designation as a twentysomething, modern-day slang isn’t my forte. “Is that a weird way of saying hook up?”
“No. He runs a tattoo shop downtown, though he’s exclusive about who he takes as a client. It’s invitation-only as though he’s some kind of ‘illustrious artiste.’” She makes finger quotes. “I did hear he was a good fuck, though.”
In my brain, those facts don’t negate his obvious instability. Certainly not enough to explain the genuine appreciation coloring her voice. “Good sex makes up for him being a psycho?”
“Of course not.” Mara sighs and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m not a slut or anything, Mother Theresa,” she mutters, her frown apologetic. “I just have eyes. Some of us can’t be innocent little virgins who cast judgment on the rest of us sinful mortals.”
“I’m not judging you,” I say.
“Sure, you aren’t.” She raises an eyebrow. “You’re such a cliché. The sheltered, sweet writer girl who loves to people watch, sneering down on the fuckups of us normies. Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t even be friends with me if I weren’t such a pushy bitch.” She crosses her arms, convinced of that fact. “I don’t even know a damn thing about you, other than you write morbid short stories about monsters and drowning people. If I didn’t know any better, Dewitt, I’d assume you were ashamed of me.”
It’s my turn to play skeptical. “Says the girl who impressed so many professors on campus that they’ve practically begged for you to take their classes next semester.” Meanwhile, I had to rest on my grades to score the next credits I need. “I’m the idiot who banked all of my hopes on one program.”
“Well, there is that,” she concedes, beaming. “Butit’s not like you don’t have a shot at entering the Fenwick program next year. I haven’t even bothered to apply, and don’t give me that look. Anyone would kill for that internship.”
“Like I really have any chance of winning,” I say with a forced laugh.
“Yeah, right. Your shit is so good you’ve already made the paper. I’m sure you’ll ace the entry essay. What’s the topic again?”
“Inner demons,” I say, recalling the assignment that’s been plaguing me since the semester ended. “We’re supposed to describe a narrative during which we faced an inner demon—”
“But with fancy descriptive prose. You’re the queen of that. If anything, tonight just gave you plenty of inspiration to draw from. ‘Inner Demon’ could perfectly fit Rafe Wei-Shen,” Mara declares with utter conviction. The tears have already vanished, and she’s back to her usual self. “Anyway, about tomorrow. Promise you’ll come?”
“I have to work. Mr. Zhang wanted me to stay late tomorrow to help close up the store.”
“Oh, come on! It’ll be great. You can trial balloon your essay!” She delves into a vivid description of how much fun it will be—how exhilarating—much like she had to convince me to come with her tonight. Though I barely register her words, I nod along anyway.
I’m too busy staring at the object clutched within my fist as if it appeared there by magic. Or… if I’d stuck my hand into a certain “punk’s” pocket and took it while he was distracted.
The brilliant orange ombre lighter looks more beautiful up close. Too lovely to belong to a monster—though one is etched onto the front of it in gleaming, brilliant gold.
A snarling, fire-breathing dragon.
Not all monsters are destined to be bad in the end. I’ll save this one.
Or at least protect it from its original owner’s reach.