Return to the Darkness - Ripley Proserpina

Chapter 1

The speed with which I actually wrapped up my life in Anchorage amazed me. In just a matter of days, I had closed down everything that had made me—well—me in this city. My house was rented—it helped that I lived in such a desirable area. My car had been scrapped, since the accident had pretty much totaled it, and all the documents that held my fake name were changed to my real one.

Rick could be so devious when he needed to be, and he knew just the people to get it done.

I’d hugged him goodbye, holding back tears I refused to shed, and left with the four men I was in love with to head back to the lower forty-eight. When I’d arrived on the bus that brought me here, we’d all been teenagers. Leaving, this time with them by my side, we were adults. In fact, half the time, I felt ancient.

Aaron slept, his head pressed against the airplane window. We’d been airborne for the last half an hour. I’d never flown before, and my stomach didn’t love the bumps. Even if I hadn’t been beyond worked up about being so far from the ground, I couldn’t have slept if I’d wanted to. I hadn’t had a restful night in over two days. I certainly didn’t count the lucid dreaming I’d done to defeat Mara as rest.

The battle with the nightmare hag had left me a little trepidatious about sleeping. The others weren’t having that issue. They were exhausted, and I couldn’t blame them. We needed to find Mr. Chee. He’d vanished, and we were all convinced we knew exactly where he’d gone. It was a place I’d never intended to see again as long as I lived—the small town where I’d grown up.

But the best laid plans…

“Hey.” Colton opened his eyes, staring at me. He was in the aisle seat, Aaron had the window, and they’d stuffed me between them in the middle. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t sure I could do this if I wasn’t squished protectively between them. I had no question of how tough I was, and didn’t need to prove that to anyone. So if I wanted to reveal a little weakness in this, then so be it.

Not everyone liked to fly.

I smiled. “Hey.”

He squeezed my fingers in his and then kissed my cheek. I loved the clean, fresh smell of his soap. “Nervous?”

“Yes. About a lot of things.”

He pressed his forehead to my shoulder. “That’s normal, Lace. This is big. We’re going back. Returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak. I wouldn’t have wished this for you.”

In my absence, they’d become each other’s families. I was part of their group now, in the center of it in some ways. They hadn’t suggested I not go. Where they went, I went, and vice versa. “You should sleep.”

He shook his head. “Think I haven’t noticed that you haven’t been?”

“Maybe I should take something.”

He kissed my neck. “Maybe you should let me hold you.”

Now there was an idea. I put my head on his shoulder and sighed. It was safe here, between them. They wouldn’t let anything happen to me.

“You know,” he whispered, “I found you in a dream once. If anything were to happen, I’d find you again.”

Chuckling, I closed my eyes and wrapped my arm around his. He linked our fingers, bringing our hands to his lips.

“You’re quite the hero,” I said. And he was. They all were, chasing me through dreams to lock Mara in a nightmare forever.

I glanced out the window. Aaron had propped his head on his hand and snored lightly, but beyond him was blue sky and clouds. The sun filtered in, bright and blinding. I was surprised he could sleep with it in his eyes like that.

It reminded me of the desert. Blue so bright, it hurt. No shade. I was willingly walking right back to that place.

“Have you been back?” I asked.

Colton sighed. “No. Well. Briefly to see my parents. But in and out. I can’t stand that place. It would be beautiful if it weren’t so…”

“Haunted.” I filled in the word for him. That town loaded with memories, none of them—for me at least—good.

“Yeah,” he replied. With his free hand, he pushed my hair out of my face. I thought he would do it once and stop, but he kept on. He slid his fingers through the strands, pushing them back before he smoothed them across my forehead and then back again.

The rhythmic motion