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Authors: Carrie Butler

Honesty (Mark of Nexus) (15 page)

BOOK: Honesty (Mark of Nexus)
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The bastard never saw it coming.

I crashed into him, sending us both barreling into their living room. Wanda shrieked from the couch, and Rachel gasped behind me, but I couldn’t stop the momentum. His back slammed against the carpet with a heavy thud, and I bashed my fist into his jaw.

talk about my family,” I gritted out, watching his eyes flicker between fear and rage. “And don’t ever disrespect these women in front of me again. You hear me?”

“How dare y—”

I grabbed him by the throat and slammed him back against the floor again. Something rattled on the coffee table. “I
if you heard me.”

He gripped my wrist and strained, his stale breath panting into my face. “D-Don’t stand there like an idiot, Rachel! Get this psychopath off me.”

I wasn’t as strong as Wallace, but I was sure as hell stronger than a human. There was no way he could get up.

.” The tears in her voice froze me before she took a tentative step in my direction. “Just…go.”

I was protecting her from this jerk. Why was I the bad guy?

“I’m not leaving you with him,” I mumbled. “You don’t even get what’s happening here.”


I finally looked up to find her face had turned as red as her hair.

Behind her, Wanda looked on with sad, anxious eyes. Had I disappointed her, or was she still nursing the wound Gene’s words had left? Neither of their reactions made sense.

“I get it,” Rachel repeated, steeling her features. “And you’re just making it worse, so I think it’s time to leave.”

I pulled my arm back in a numbed stupor. “Do you hear yourself? You’re sticking up for a man who abuses you.”

“I have never laid a hand on that child!” Gene roared beneath me. “How dare you make those accusations in my house. I ought to press charges for this.”

I fixed him with a stare so lethal he shut the hell up.

“I’m fine,” Rachel murmured, dropping her sack onto the floor as she backed away.

“Rach…” Acid churned in my gut at what was unfolding.

“Just leave me alone!”

And with that, she bolted for the stairs.


I didn’t stay long, after that.

In fact, I’d barely made it to the still-open doorway before I took off. My heart was surging in my ears, and my eyes burned like I’d just gotten pepper sprayed. Since when was doing the right thing so offensive? I guess the old saying is right, after all. No good deed goes unpunished.

So, now what? I’d fucked things up with Rachel. I couldn’t do rounds anymore without thinking about that damn kid in the parking lot. What was I supposed to concentrate on?

I gunned it all the way to the apartment, barely remembering the drive there. I genuinely hated everything.
Nothing in this world made sense to me. Hell, maybe I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

For all I knew, my bloodline had descended from aliens humping humans, oh-so-many years ago. Or maybe the government had experimented on my great-great-great-great-grandfather. However it worked out, I obviously didn’t belong here.

I jerked my key in the lock and twisted. The place was dark, aside from a DVD menu on repeat, but I caught the outline of a massive figure lying motionless in front of the TV.

“You dead, Tits?”

“For all intents and purposes,” he muttered, face down in the carpet.

“Sounds good to me.”

An old, familiar song looped on the menu, halting me in my tracks. “What the hell are you listening to?”

Tits popped his head up. “It’s a movie.”

“But what song is this?”

For Once in My Life
?” he asked, more than told me. “Frank Sinatra?”


My mind jumbled a dozen memories from childhood—dancing with my mother in the kitchen, my father holding me up to put the star on our Christmas tree. They always played tapes of this stuff. Wallace and I had thought it was stupid.

I tightened my fist around my keys. Jagged grooves cut into my palm, and I smelled something metallic. Blood mixed with brass. As if the real memories weren’t bad enough, flashes of the nightmare I’d had a week ago joined in. Talking to my parents again, not being able to stop them, Wallace going off with Rena, Grandma leaving me…

“You okay, man?”

My lungs panicked for breath, and I shook my head. “Just remembered something.”

“Oh.” He pushed himself into a sitting position. “Did you want that stuff I dug up on Gene What’s-his-face, first? There’s not much. A domestic thing and a restraining order.”

I worked my jaw. “I’ll check it out tomorrow. I’m gonna head back to Scion for the night.”

“Homesick?” he teased.

“Something like that.” I took quick strides down the hall, grabbed a couple files I’d stolen from ERA, and crammed them into a backpack. When I came back, he furrowed his brows.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“I’m peachy,” I lied, shouldering the bag. “Thanks, though. Catch you tomorrow?”


That was all the notice I felt like leaving.

Two hours, eleven minutes, and forty-three seconds later, my Jeep idled a ways down from St. Francis cemetery in Scion. I’d intended on heading straight to Grandma’s, but the thing had a mind of its own. I ended up here.

No one was supposed to visit after dark, but who cared? I wasn’t a looter, and I had family on these grounds. It was my constitutional right to be here.

Or something like that.

I put out my cigarette and picked my way through rows of plots, unbothered by the way the moon highlighted each stone. Most people found graveyards scary, but I preferred their isolation. There was something comforting about the silence and anonymity of night. Something that let me lower my guard for a while.

“Long time no see,” I finally muttered aloud, dusting off the top of my parents’ headstone. “I just, uh…came to say I don’t hate Frank Sinatra anymore.”

Crickets chirped from the field, further into the cemetery.

“Don’t sound so surprised,” I went on, to fill in the conversation. “I’m a grown-ass man. Things change.”

A breeze whispered between the stones, and my shoulders slumped. “I know, language. Grandma tells me all the time…”

Before I’d realized what I was doing, I’d plunked down in the grass. “But you know what? You already have a good son, so there’s no need for me to force it.”

I imagined my mother frowning, then. She never liked when we suggested one of us was the favorite—though it never stopped us from trying.

thinks you’re watching over us,” I told them, feeling as though I had a captive audience. “And if so, I’m sure you’ve realized Wallace has a good thing going now. Rena’s great. First, she pulled him out of his shell, and then they found a way around his strength. Did you guys realize the Mark of Nexus was real? Because it is. Some guys have all the luck.”

And other guys have nothing, to balance.

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Actually, I’d still like to think you haven’t been watchin’ too closely. My pursuits haven’t gone exactly well lately. First the kid in the parking lot, then this whole thing with my friend’s almost step-dad. To be honest, I’d rather be hanging out with you guys.”

A chuckle worked its way through my body, shaking my shoulders. “But I guess that’s not going to happen anytime soon, huh? No escape for this screw-up. I’d heal too fast. Then I’d be stuck goin’ to the shrink every day instead of once a week…or whenever I show up.”

I rubbed my forehead and leaned against the side of their headstone, lowering my voice. “You know, you really can’t blame me for being the bad one, though. Wallace didn’t have to get rid of a body when he was fifteen. Do you know how many times I’ve seen it since then? Cramming that guy into an oil container. Sometimes I wake up and
smell it. Even now.”

The crickets got louder, jarring me from my thoughts.

“But whatever.” I took a deep breath and righted myself, brushing the dirt from my jeans. “Take solace in the fact that you still have one son who’s on the up-and-up. As long as he and Rena stick around—and as long as Grandma’s still kickin’—I ought to be fine.”

I patted the cool stone and blew out a breath. “But even I don’t wanna know the things I’ll do, once they leave me.”


Grandma welcomed me with open arms.

I stiffened at first, practically pulling a Wallace, but then I gave in to her comfort. Everything about this woman was warmth and acceptance and…home. With the storm of confusion I had raging inside of me, it was exactly what I needed.

“Can I get you something?” she asked, already fussing over me. “Tea? Pop? Maybe some coffee cake?”

I moved to sit on the couch, after I double-checked to make sure I wouldn’t press dirt into the floral print. “Nah, I’m good.”

Her eyes nearly doubled in size. “You don’t want

Okay, so maybe I’d been known to appreciate my grandma’s hospitality a time or two. Who doesn’t love a good meal? It didn’t mean there was something wrong with me when I abstained. “I just had dinner a little while ago.”

“Oh, that’s right. Rena said you had a date.”

I stared at her, incredulous, while she went about her tasks in the kitchen—ignoring my refusal of baked goods. “How did she know?”

“Now, now. Don’t get upset.” She waved me off and put the teakettle on. “It seems this Rachel girl reached out to your future sister-in-law to ask about some church function before campus emptied out. I guess it came up in conversation.”

“Campus emptied out already?”

“Your brother did.”

“Wait. Wallace is here?”

“In the basement. You didn’t see his truck out front?”

I wracked my brain, trying to remember anything from my way in. “I, uh…no.”

“He showed up this afternoon with that little refrigerator in his arms. His and Rena’s finals are wrapped up now. You didn’t know?”

“I guess not.” Had he mentioned it yesterday? Where the hell was my brain lately?

She scrutinized me from across the room, before coming over to press the back of her hand against my forehead. “Are you feeling all right, sweetie?”


“Yeah,” I lied. “Just a long night. I actually had something I wanted to ask you, but since nimrod is here, he better be here for this.”

“Nicholas…” She sighed.

“Sorry.” I sprang from the couch and walked over to wrench the basement door open. “Family meeting, bro!”

Wallace appeared around the corner with a raised eyebrow and a half-swollen face from his cluster. “I thought that disturbing time bomb of emotions was you. What’s going on?”

“Just following up on something I neglected to mention last weekend.”

That caught his attention. He joined us in the living room, where Grandma served tea and coffee cake—which seemed kind of mismatchy, since the thing is called
cake, but whatever. I leaned forward in my seat.

“Grandma, do you know anything about Jackie from the other branch of the family?”

Her back went rigid, but her face didn’t betray her thoughts. “If you mean her involvement in the incident last Friday, then yes, your brother has informed me.”

“Not quite.”

Wallace shot me a don’t-be-an-asshole-to-Grandma look, but I ignored him. No malicious intentions here. I just wanted some answers.

Grandma’s gaze darted between us as she straightened things on the coffee table.
Huh. Another thing that starts with coff—

“Let me ask you this,” she said, taking a seat at the end of the couch. “Did you talk to her?”

Like I could lie. Her minor gift of discernment botched that notion.

“Yeah,” I reached for my mug, “I did.”

Wallace remained quiet, even though I knew he had questions for both of us. I hadn’t given him a detailed report of everything that’d gone on that night. Things were still too fresh for him, too personal.

Grandma sank deeper into the cushions with a heavy sigh. “Very well. I suppose you’ve realized by now that your great-great-grandmother Adelyn had two children. Your great-grandpa Edwin and a woman named Florence—or Flo, as we called her. She had a son named Conrad, and he had two children of his own. Jackie and Titus.”

“I’m with you.” I rubbed my chin. “Adelyn is the Dynari woman who wrote the journal, right? It was her generation that decided to bury knowledge of the other bloodlines for everyone’s supposed safety.”

“That is correct.”

I gulped my tea, burning my tongue in the process. “She had a son, and that son had Jackie—the woman who unleashed a tornado on Wilcox’s campus under duress.”

“Unfortunately, that is also correct.”

Hot, hot.
I set the mug back down, reining in my expression to get to the matter at hand. “So, if you knew all along,
is this the first time we’re hearing about the other branch? When I helped her escape, she asked me to say hi for her, even though you aren’t supposed to have contact. Then she said something about helping me once. Pretty sure we’ve never met. How’s that figure?”

Grandma looked past me with tired eyes, her lips curling downward. “I should’ve known it’d come out. Things like this always do.”

“What things?” Wallace finally interjected. “What have you been keeping from us?”

She reached over to his chair, patting his leg. “Your great-grandpa Edwin buried knowledge of the Nexus and other bloodlines before I was born—that much was true—but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that our two Dynari branches parted ways. He and Flo got into a fight over something or another, and she moved her family out of state. We were told that branch was dead to us.”

“And you guys just went along with it?” I made a face.

“It was a different time, Nicholas. We didn’t disrespect our elder’s wishes as you do.”

do?” Heat spread a fiery trail across my shoulder blades, and I flared my nostrils. Again, I was the bad one. Did we forget that Wallace kill—

“Your generation,” she quickly elaborated. “But ultimately, I am no different. I went against my father’s wishes when I tracked Jackie down to ask for her help.”

I waited.

“You’d talk in your sleep, sometimes.” Grandma gestured downstairs, to our old room. “Those nightmares you used to get. Going on and on about the oil. The body. It was a reoccurring thing. I never asked what happened that night you boys snuck out, but you gave me no choice. Once I realized, I knew I had to do what I could to protect you—to keep this nightmare from going on any longer.”

The color had drained from my face, leaving a cool tingle in my cheeks. “You had Jackie summon a storm.”

“Like I said, I did what I had to.”

“You had lightning strike a crude oil container,” I muttered, dumbfounded. “How did you even know where?”

“Your Grandpa Freddie only took you kids to the site in the Smith’s field. That’d be where you’d go in a panic. Somewhere familiar.”

I looked at Wallace, and he shook his head. He hadn’t known either.

“Okay,” I said, pushing out a leveling breath. “Is there anything else we should know, Grandma?”

She reached forward to grasp her plate, doing her best to appear unbothered. “Well, you do have other cousins. If Faye got to Jackie, it’s possible we may be up against more than we can handle.”


BOOK: Honesty (Mark of Nexus)
4.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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