4. Interloper

Dripping wet from the sea, Cassandra walked back up to her hotel room. She’d taken a ground floor suite with French doors leading to the path down to the beach. She was about to open the door to slip inside when she realized there was someone inside. A man she didn’t know.

The man’s back was to her. He was examining the bonsai that Mr. Takano had given her. She’d set it on the table by the kitchenette. He poked one finger into the dirt and removed, much to her surprise, a small cylindrical object. He set the bonsai down and held the object up to the light.  

“That was a gift.” She materialized inside, right in front of him. “You can’t have–whatever that is.”

Gray eyes zeroed in on her. He scowled. “Who’re you?  

“This is my room.” Cassandra countered, irked. “Who the hell are you?”

“My name is David. David Kilpatrick.”

Her mouth twisted. “That doesn’t mean anything to me.”   

“Don’t imagine it does,” he murmured.

His eyes were sharp and challenging. Aggravating. There was an intensity to his presence that made him seem to take up more than his own space.  He exuded raw vitality. He stood about a head taller than her. His build was about average but from the way his t-shirt and jeans fit, she figured he could handle himself in a fight. Well, a fair one.

Something primal and hungry twisted deep inside her. Their gazes locked. Accidental again but this time, she didn’t try to look away. She gave in to that reckless instinct to eclipse his entire being.

He shook, transfixed as she barged into his mind. His thoughts and feelings rushed into her head. Shock. Confusion. She saw herself the way he saw her. Dark skin. Flame hair. Beautiful and monstrous at the same time. Eyes dark and full of stars.

He trembled. She knew he wanted to look away but couldn’t. She wouldn’t let him. His legs buckled. He crumbled. On his knees, he started wheezing uncontrollably. Blood trickled from his nose.  

Cassandra drew in a sharp breath as an unpleasant revelation seeped into her mind.

“Dead?” She demanded. “Mr. Takano is dead?”

She sank down onto her haunches and cupped his cheek into her palm.

“Who are the Rath, David?” She asked in a soft, deadly voice. “Did they kill that nice old man?”

He wasn’t a weak-minded one though. The deeper she dug, the more he resisted. He shut out the part of him that knew the answers to her questions. Instead, in flooded images from his childhood. A church. A hearse. A funeral procession. Dirt piling into a grave. Little boy tears. Sadness. So much sadness.

Cassandra drew in a sharp, stuttering breath. She tore her gaze away. She couldn’t dispel that awful feeling. She knew it was going to linger inside of her for a while. She’d managed to take the vial without him noticing. She stood and held it up to the light. There was a silvery fluid inside.

“Why were you trying to steal this?”

He sobered. “When did you–“

“Answer my question.” She said, countenance hardening. “I am asking nicely, aren’t I?”

David stood. Still shaky, he shook his head. “I don’t know what you are, but this isn’t something you want to get mixed up in.”

Cassandra frowned. “That’s not for you to decide, is it?”

He raised a sarcastic brow but said nothing.

“Fine,” Cassandra bit out. Her fist tightened around the vial. “I’ll be keeping this, then.”

Without waiting for him to respond, she vanished.

***

An ocean of blue-green grass graced the edge of the boisterous Irish Sea. Tucked between two steep hills, a gothic castle’s gargoyles stared into the horizon. A patch of coral and red lipped flowers surrounded the half-wild garden. Tea rose and ivy crept up the castle walls.

Cassandra followed the sound of music to the grand solarium. Inside, the scent of flowers wafted from the garden. Sunlight poured down from the skylight.

She stood in the doorway, watching her father in silence.

He was wearing his usual faded jeans and an unbuttoned white shirt. Eyes closed, He sat on an oversized cushion and leaned against the wall, strumming on a sitar. He had long lashes. They were black and curled like a girl’s. His feet were bare, his fingers long and quick.

Jonathan Baron built his song the way an architect would build a beautiful house. A house of sweet and sorrow, a house that bled and wept. It was a song Cassandra had heard before. He’d played it for that woman, Eloise, in the Fogg Island house. Mad, beautiful Eloise. The one who liked dead things.

“Hey Dad,” she finally ventured.

His fingers froze on the sitar’s strings. His eyes shot open, widened.

“Hey yourself,” he grinned.

“The prodigal daughter returns,” he drawled, twanging on the instrument.”

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