Moth Chapter 2

Moth (Dragon Triad Duet Book 1)

Blurb:

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 2

Disclaimer: The following is copyrighted material.

Hell.

Cigarette smoke.

Ash.

I can still smell him right up until the second I open my eyes…

Then poof. He’s gone like magic, and a new day begins fresh.

I’ve always been good at compartmentalizing things since childhood. With a little determination, scary events become nightmare fodder easily ignored during the daytime. When I wake up, thoughts of strange men and their taunts are a long-forgotten memory.

It’s how I cope.

As is rifling through the old shoebox tucked beneath my bed the second I lift my head from my pillow. A yawn stretches my mouth as I feel along the floor for the box, drag it out, and tug aside the lid. One by one, I grasp the objects inside it.

The first is just an old newspaper clipping, the headline unoriginal—Local Girl Found Drowned in Lake Beaver. I set it aside and run my fingers over the items resting beneath it. An old piece of taffy long past its sell-by date. A handful of unopened ChapSticks. Two never-used bottles of nail polish. A gold bracelet decorated in tiny, delicately crafted ivory daisies. And finally, the newest member of my collection—a gold lighter that feels dangerous when held after the others.

I take my time observing the shape of it in the pale dawn glow. It blazes against my yellow bedspread, the most eye-catching detail in my sparsely furnished room at the moment. I start to return it to my box, only to place it on my nightstand instead. It’s too bold to belong with my other trinkets. Maybe looking at it will remind me to get some new décor.

Anything, really.

I sigh as I take in the narrow space, devoid of any posters or pictures. Just books, most of them damaged stock foisted onto me by my boss, Mr. Zhang. I think he took pity on my lack of thrifting success and decided that volumes of history and literature make for better clutter anyway. Apart from my bed and a small nightstand, the only solid piece of furniture is a thrifted wardrobe in the corner that I fell in love with for its peeling-white-paint-over-old-wood aesthetic.

Yawning again, I march over to it and fish out a plain sweater and jeans. As I get dressed, I glance out of the window and admire the grungy, trash-strewn street below. This part of the city is already bustling with workers scurrying off to their nine-to-fives and the homeless men who troll this block with their belongings piled into shopping carts. A lazy sun teeters over the horizon, barely visible beyond a sea of skyscrapers, and I feel a smile tug on the corner of my mouth. It’s days like this when I love living here the most, right in the thick of it all—the human condition. It may not be the safe, cloistered existence I lived on my family’s estate, but in so many ways…

It’s better.

At least during the few moments of the day when I can forget that Branden moved to this city when I did almost two years ago.

Sighing, I enter my closet-sized bathroom and wash up. I’m in the middle of towel-drying my hair when I hear my ringtone going off. My heart pounds as I creep into my room and fish it from my bag. The remnants of masculine fingerprints are still smeared over the touch screen—larger than my own, oval-shaped, and marred with unfamiliar ridges. A shudder runs through me as I wipe them off with my sleeve. Then I answer the phone without really scanning the name flashing across the screen.

Only one person would ever call me this early anyway.

“Hey!” I roll my eyes up to the ceiling even as I force pep into my voice. “Yes, Brand—”

“Hello?” The crisp, feminine tone doesn’t belong to my brother, and every muscle in my body goes rigid. “Is this Hannah Dewitt?”

“Who is this?”

“So, this is you. Hannah, do you remember me?” Her voice triggers a memory. A woman with streaky makeup and tears streaming down her face as she screamed at me from behind a police barricade. “You know what happened!” she’d shouted. “Just tell the truth! Stop protecting him! What did he do to Alexandria? What did he do to my daughter?”

I rip the receiver from my ear as if the act alone can make her disappear. Vanish the same way I had to. Branden had to. “I’m sorry—” I swipe at my home screen, attempting to hang up. “You have the wrong number—”

“You know who I am,” the woman declares, loudly enough that I can hear her despite the phone being several feet from my ear. No matter how hard I swipe to make her silent. “I saw your story in the paper. It was good.” She waits as if expecting me to respond.

I don’t.

“Hannah…” She sighs. “I really just wanted to talk to you. About Lexi. Remember her?”

Finally, my finger moves properly and hits the red button, ending the call. I drop the phone and sink to my knees, practically crawling under my bed in search of my box. I go through the ritual of removing the lid and palming every object over and over again. The article. The ChapSticks. Nail polish. Everything but the bracelet at first.

The cherry-flavored pink balm was from a convenience store near the border during the trip from Pennsylvania. Dad drove me the entire way, and we didn’t say a single word. I don’t think he even looked at me once. Bran had blown up my cell phone, and I’d made eye contact with the bored, pretty cashier behind the counter as I swiped this from a display just below her line of sight.

The pearly nail polish was from a gas station last week. But those memories can only distract me for so long before I find myself reaching for another object, twisting the cool metal between my fingers. This stupid, fucking bracelet…

There’s a word for how I got every last item in this box—stealing. Though, I think of it more as…anchoring. Little things to tether me when it feels like I’m spiraling, and nothing short of screaming can bring me back—tiny little things no one would ever miss.

Either because they never noticed them in the first place, or because they aren’t around anymore to care.

Or they’re a deviant asshole who doesn’t deserve to own them.

Slowly, I return the bracelet and my other trinkets. Then I shove the box under my bed and start to pace, scrambling my thoughts into the semblance of stanzas. Phrases. Coherence.

I can’t control the direction they take—a dark path through two black eyes and stern, pink lips. A voice like crackling embers—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…

The answer is easy. Numbness.

Emptiness.

A pit in the core of my being that I dump every ounce of emotion into. A pen and paper are the only keys to releasing them.

Soon, I’m pawing through my end table drawer for a notepad, then pouring out a series of lines onto the page. In some ways, writing like this always feels like bleeding—purging.

As my pen scratches away, I find myself glancing up, spotting the object nestled on my nightstand beside my lamp. The tiny golden dragon laughs at me, its embossed eyes gleaming.

I don’t take my eyes off it as I scribble a title across the top of the page. Liar.

Maybe the man from the club had a point? Most of my writing centers around deception. Cheating. Lying.

It’s emotionless.

Numb.

They’re the only other states of being I’m good at embodying.

That, and being invisible. Safe. Unnoticed—until last night.

I eye my rabbit sweater lying on the top of my hamper with a pang of self-consciousness. It looks to me like she ain’t dressed to party. More like to poke her fucking nose around where it doesn’t belong. A reporter?

My outfit for today is even more muted, plain, and simple. To help lessen the effect, I drag a brush through my hair and arrange the strands around my face. It’s no use. I’m still the same old Hannah with dark brown waves, green eyes, and a forehead obscured by a curtain of blunt bangs. In defeat, I adjust my sleeves, tugging them down to my wrists to hide anything that might counteract that boring image.

As the fabric runs over my right forearm, I jump. It’s sore, throbbing if I focus on the pain for too long. So I ignore it, letting my hands fall to my sides as I enter my narrow living room.

It’s neat, consisting of a battered couch, an armchair, and little else. Peeling beige paint coats the walls, creating a somewhat cozy atmosphere—minus the hole beside my door.

It’s deep—a crater in the drywall, exposing the wooden guts beyond and part of the exterior.

There goes my deposit, a part of me remarks.

But I’m rubbing my arm again, unable to tear my gaze from the gaping, yawning hole.

Not until the musical ping of my cell phone accepting an incoming message cuts through the air.

You must have gone to bed early, Branden wrote. Text me when you wake up. I know you work today. I miss your smile.

A sigh escapes me as I reply—I’m awake.

Have a good day, he responds not even a second later.

I look up, eyeing my door. One of my first installations to this place when I moved in was a series of locks in addition to the deadbolt the door came with—four of them, all in a row.

Two sliding chains.

Two exterior deadbolts.

I undo them one by one and grab my bag before slipping out. They won’t be enough—already, they haven’t stopped their intended deterrent from getting in.

They never do.

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.

Falling for a man like Rafe was just the beginning.

As danger looms overhead and her secrets are revealed, Hannah will have to trust him now more than ever.

But Rafe has his own past and, once uncovered, the truth may send her running for good…

Or the consequences will plunge her into a series of choices from which there is no turning back from.

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