I left Noah in Zac’s capable hands and got his word that he’d call my father to say the job was completed per normal. He was risking a lot for my sake, I knew that. A lot of risk for what seemed like absolutely no reason. The level of danger associated with this insane plan wasn’t lost on me.
After all, the last thing I wanted was for Zac’s name to end up in my next manilla folder.
I headed home as soon as I could, leaving enough time to arrive well before daylight, and walked towards my front door. But it was as I was entering through the front gate to our property that something caught my eye.
It was an old lady, huddled up in a shawl, standing just on the street outside.
She had grey hair and eyes to match, clearly at an age that would suggest a retirement home or carer was required. And yet she stood randomly outside my house at three o’clock in the morning, staring directly at me.
I paused for a moment and looked around, trying to see if she was with someone. But when the empty street was completely silent and devoid of all other life, I started to wonder if maybe she’d gotten lost.
…Did I really have the energy to deal with this right now though? I was already so exhausted and just wanted to go inside to sleep in my own bed, something that would be a first after many days.
I could already perfectly visualize how soft my pillow would be… just begging to be laid on and—.
“I can save her,” the old lady suddenly said. “I can save the girl.”
I took my hand off the gate handle and turned back around to fully face her, part of me still wondering if she was even talking to me.
“…Pardon?” I called back.
Wasn’t it common for older people to lose their minds at a certain age? What if she was a dementia patient who wandered off? I should probably just look up where the closest hospital or retirement home was and tell them where to find—.
“The girl. Clarissa,” she said. As if that was of any real help.
I blankly stared back at her.
“I’m not Clarissa,” I clarified. “I think you’ve—.”
“I know that,” she snapped sharply, making me flinch a bit in surprise.
“Oh… ‘kay. Well, is that… your daughter?” I asked, still trying to be polite.
“Or your carer? Do you want me to call someone for you?”
But then she started to walk towards me, her stride more steady than I would have expected given her appearance. There was something oddly strange about her too. A weird atmosphere around her.
Or maybe I was just slightly unnerved by the whole creepiness of the situation.
“Do you not know who I am?” she asked once she stood within a few feet of me.
“Ma’am, truthfully, I’m not even sure if you know who you are. No offence,” I said, starting to get more uncomfortable the longer this drew out.
“If you just wait here a moment though, I’ll head inside and wake up one of the maids. They can maybe help you out or something.”
I really didn’t care about courtesy anymore and just wanted to leave as soon as possible. There was something about this entire encounter that just rubbed me the wrong way. Almost as if I could feel the hair at the back of my neck standing up.
I turned around and tried to open the gate, but she quickly moved forward to stop me.
“Wait,” she said, and I had to bite back my instincts telling me to go.
Rational logic would suggest that there was nothing to be worried about. She was just an old lady. Frail enough looking to be pushed over by the wind alone.
“Wait, a moment,” she repeated.
…And I reluctantly turned back around to meet her eyes.
Eyes that seemed to hold an intelligence there that I wasn’t expecting.
And she spoke in a tone so low that I almost didn’t hear her.
“…Do you know the true story of the Winter Mist?” she asked.
Her expression was completely serious as I shuffled uncomfortably under her gaze. It was as though I could feel her scrutinising me, analysing my face for any sort of recognition that I knew what she was talking about.
Which, of course, I didn’t.
“Is that like a fairy tale’?” I asked. “Was it a book you used to read to your grandkids or something?”
But to my immense discomfort, she only continued to stare at me silently.
I really wanted to leave. I was so close to home, merely a foot away from being back on the property. Just a step forward and I could close the gate between us. But she was so close to me that I wasn’t sure what she would do if I tried. Clearly, she wasn’t right in the head.
However, at the sound of bird wings loudly flying into the air somewhere, she finally turned away, pulling the hood of her shawl up.
“I can save her,” she simply repeated. “Don’t forget that.”
And she started walking back down the street towards town.
…What the hell had that just been?
I didn’t waste any more time in stepping through the gate and locking it behind me, my chest still pounding slightly from the whole ordeal.
So much fear caused by just one crazy old lady.
But if I had to say one thing that was far more terrifying than the old crone, I would have to answer that it was the man waiting for me once I finally entered inside.
As I walked through my front door, I saw a light had been left on in the living room. A surprise given most people in the house should have been asleep by now.
Naturally, after everything that had just happened, I had every intention of just ignoring it and head ing upstairs to my room instead.
…However, I couldn’t help but catch the familiar scent of someone I knew only too well.
My foot had been on the first step of the staircase as I came to this realization, so close to finally being able to go to bed, but I knew that the light had been left on for a reason.
He was expecting me.
With a small sigh, I stepped back… and headed towards the living room instead.
“…My Raven,” he greeted me, sitting in a leather armchair.
From where I was standing, I could only see his arm as he held a drink in his hand, the chair facing away from me.
“Father,” I replied.
“I just received the call from Zac not long ago,” he said, taking a sip from the glass. “You’re later than expected.”
“Oh… Well, there was this old lady outside,” I started. “I think she was lost. Kept trying to talk to me and wouldn’t let me lea—.”
“I meant the job, Raven. You’re several hours late from the job. The agreed upon a time should have seen you home a long time ago.”
“Did everything go… smoothly?”
No. No, it had not. In fact, I couldn’t think of many ways in which it could have gone worse.
I’d dug into things I definitely shouldn’t have, opening a door to liability of my own creation. Firstly, by accidentally killing an employee for a kidnapping job… then by failing to take care of the consequences of that mistake.
Now, I was continuing to hide that consequence because I didn’t want death on my hands.
Though, I couldn’t mention any of this to him. By this point, I was already far too deep to come clean.
Besides… and I knew I shouldn’t be… but I couldn’t help but feel a little… curious.
Just what had that smuggler managed to find out? Was it related to the documents?
“Yep… it ah, it all went smoothly,” I lied. “I just had some issues getting into the building, is all. A crowd of people were drinking outside and, well, intoxicated or not, they’d still be witnesses. I decided to play it safe.”
“Is that so…?” he mused.
A nervous feeling was bubbling in my chest.
He couldn’t know I was lying… could he? But then again… there was no such thing as a secret from Eric Reid.
I knew that better than anyone.
The silence seemed to stretch on for what felt like an eternity, quiet enough that I was painfully aware of how loud even my breathing seemed inside the room. Could he sense how nervous I was? Hear the loud thumping of my heart?
But, no, that was impossible.
Because love him or fear him, at the end of the day, my father was still just a man.
A man. Not a… ‘werewolf’.
And, as a normal man, he didn’t have the heightened senses I possessed. That was always going to be something that kept us apart.
Thinking on that now, it was a stark reminder of where I’d accidentally found myself now. Facing a crossroads of two paths.
On the one hand, I could continue to live blindly in fear, hoping that the eggshells around me would not crack under my mistakes, revealing to the world just how different I really was. A path where I would follow the rules, taking each day one at a time.
Forgetting about everything I’d found out, everything I’d seen… everyone I’d met. All so I could continue to loyally serve my father. The man who raised me, doing what he thought was best for both me and the business. And, in doing so, trying to save me from myself… and others.
…Or I could reach into my pocket to where that hotel keycard now laid. A promise attached to it that maybe things didn’t need to be like that. A warm hand extended towards me through the darkness, offering sparks and a light that I’d never experienced before.
That I never thought even possible. A way to take back control over the things that constantly scared me, learning to use them for myself instead. To become a version of myself that had no limits.
If Kieran was telling me the truth and I really was what he said I was, and he was the same, then didn’t I have no choice but to at least try and explore that option? To at least take a chance that maybe one day I wouldn’t need to be so afraid?
My father could try a million different things to help me hide my secret. To contain the creature and keep me protected under his umbrella of power, hidden from the world, but at the end of the day… he didn’t really know anything. Just like how I currently didn’t either.
He was… just a man.
Just a human man. Someone who could never truly understand me.
The only real question now was… Am I actually doing this for him? Doing this out of love for him and for the business I was raised in?
…Or am I actually doing this for myself?
I heard as my father then inhaled sharply, standing up from the chair he’d been seated on, and turned to walk towards me.
That fearsome gaze of his still pierced through me, as if he could see everything I was hiding from him inside. But I held my resolve, keeping my expression steady, committed to this decision I’d made.
He walked until he stood right in front of me, staring into my eyes as he watched me carefully, bringing a hand up as he slowly reached for my face, and….
…And he gently touched my cheek.
“Good work,” he said simply. “You’ve done well.”
And, with that. he walked past me, leaving towards his own room to rest.
My shoulders relaxed the minute I heard his footsteps fade upstairs, but despite that minor relief, I was still helpless to the thoughts swimming around in my head.
Because for the very first time in my life, I had knowingly and willingly disobeyed my father, going even as far as to lie to him.
And yet, somehow, in spite of all of that… by some goddamn miracle…
…I had gotten away with it.
Or, at least, that was the case for now.