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         Part #3.50 of The Nocte Trilogy series by Courtney Cole
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Dare Me


  Dare Me

  A Nocte Hotshot

  Courtney Cole

  Lakehouse Press, Inc.

  Contents

  Dare Me

  Copyright

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  Preview of Nocte

  About the Author

  Dare Me

  a Nocte hotshot novella

  by

  Courtney Cole

  ***

  They say she’s crazy.

  She’s not.

  They don’t know the truth.

  She does. The problem is, she doesn’t always remember it.

  But I do.

  My name is Dare DuBray.

  I’m in love with a girl who is is erratic and beautiful, and a little bit mad.

  But that’s ok.

  We’re all a little mad, aren’t

  Copyright

  Copyright 2016 by Courtney Cole

  Names, characters and incidents depicted in this novel are products of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously.

  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental and is beyond the intent of the author or publisher.

  No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the author or publisher. If you are reading this book and you did not purchase it from the author/publisher, or it was not given to you directly by the author/publisher, then this book is pirated.

  Piracy is a crime.

  Please delete any pirated book and purchase it through an authorized distributor.

  One

  Reality is just a notion, really.

  It’s fluid. It changes and bends, and it isn’t always as it seems.

  That is certainly something I’ve learned.

  Take my reality right now, for instance.

  I stare across the crowded room at her, at Calla. My Calla.

  She sits among the disturbed, the truly crazy. Yet she’s utterly graceful, bewitching in her beauty, even while wearing a thin hospital gown. She’s slender and feminine, dainty, yet strong. She’s willowy and ethereal, her dark red hair flowing around her shoulders, her eyes wide and blue and bright. She’s got the curiosity of a child, and possesses that strange ‘something’ that women would pay a million pounds to buy.

  She glances up, and sees me looking at her. She smiles shyly and looks away, hiding her face behind the curtain of her hair.

  Right now, she doesn’t know she’s mine.

  She will, of course. She’ll remember, because she always does, once the pieces all come to her and fit together. But for now, she’s in the dark. And while it should be hard for me, impossible almost, it’s not. Because I have faith that it will always come to pass the way it should.

  Right now, however, I must woo her. I must court her. I must allow her to get to know me.

  Again.

  It all starts with hello.

  I walk to her with purpose. I don’t pretend to amble or stroll. She looks up, her eyes wide.

  “Is this seat taken?” I ask her, as I always do. My accent is unmistakably British. She’s startled, a deer in the headlights. But she smiles and waves at the chair. Her hospital bracelet encircles her slender wrist. Calla Elizabeth Price, Female, it says.

  But she’s so much more than that.

  “Go ahead,” she tells me, and her eyes sparkle. She’s chewing her nails again, I see, as I glance at her hand. I want to remind her to stop but I can’t. Not yet. I’m not supposed to know her details.

  I smile at her. She flushes. Her cheek-line tinges a pretty red. I love it when they do that.

  “I’m Adair DuBray,” I tell her. “But you can call me Dare.”

  “I’m Calla,” she tells me. “Like the funeral lily. It’s nice to meet you.” She stares me up and down, bluntly taking my measure. “Why are you here at the hospital? Surely it’s not for the coffee.” She eyes the coffee cup in my hand.

  “You know what game I like to play?” I ask casually, sipping the Styrofoam cup. They don’t allow glass in here. I don’t want to lie to her, of course, but I can’t tell her the truth either. So avoidance is key.

  “No, what?” her brow furrows.

  “Twenty questions. That way, I know at the end of the game that there won’t be any more. Questions, that is.”

  Calla startles for just a moment, and then her mouth curves into a grin. “You hate questions, too?” she asks. “I’m so tired of talking about myself in here that I could die.”

  “You won’t,” I assure her smoothly. She arches an eyebrow.

  “I won’t die?” her mouth twitches. “How can you be so sure?”

  “I’ve seen things,” I tell her, waggling my eyebrows. “Dark things.”

  I’m serious, but she laughs, because I said it as a joke. I’m not kidding, but she has no way of knowing that.

  “Well, good,” she decides. “I’m not ready to die, I’m afraid.”

  “Don’t be afraid,” I tell her, and I look her directly in the eye. “Don’t ever be afraid.”

  She’s uncomfortable now, and I’ve gone too far. I back-track, smiling casually.

  “What time is lunch in this place?” I ask, attempting to change the subject. Calla glances at the sterile clock on the sterile wall. She doesn’t belong here, but she isn’t angry about it.

  “At eleven,” she answers. “Whatever you do, don’t get the chicken.”

  “Do we get a choice?” I’m surprised by that. I assumed we’d be fed one kind of slop on a multi-compartmented plastic tray. She nods.

  “Yeah, if you want to call it a choice. You get to choose Bad or Worse.” Her teeth tug at her lip, and her eyes flicker up at me.

  “Why are you here?”

  I return her gaze without blinking. “Is that an official question?”

  She rolls her eyes again, but nods.

  “I’m here to visit. I let them think I’m a patient though.”

  She grins now, amused. “So you’re undercover?”

  I nod, very seriously. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.”

  “Well,” she plays along. “What is your undercover diagnosis?”

  I arch my eyebrow again. “Question number two, already? Wouldn’t you rather just figure this one out on your own? That would be more fun.”

  She laughs now. “Maybe you’ve got Paranoia. You’re definitely secretive.”

  I grin. “Secrets. Everybody’s got ‘em, Calla. Even you.”

  She’s startled by that and seems to physically draw backward. “It seems like I’ve heard that before,” she says, and her eyes are troubled.

  “Don’t you hate déjà vu?” I ask easily.

  “Yes,” she answers simply. “I do.”

  “Well, pay it no mind,” I tell her and I can’t help it, I reach out and clasp her hand in my own. Her slender fingers are cold, and she needs a sweater. “You should go get a wrap, and we’ll go for a walk outside.”

  She stares at me, her gaze bright and clear.

  “I’m not allowed outdoors privileges yet,” she tells me, and she pulls her hand away from mine, clutching it to her chest.

  “Rain-check, then,” I say lightly. She nods.

  “I feel like I’ve met you before,” she says. “Is that silly?”

  No. You know me inside and out, through and through.

  “I guess I just have one of those faces,” I shrug.

  “You’re British, but your last name is French,” she points
out, but she’s careful not to use a question.

  “I’m an enigma,” I tell her, and I sit back in my seat. She stands up.

  “Of that, I have no doubt.”

  She walks away, but she pauses at the door, and as she does, she looks back.

  At me.

  She slips away, though, out of sight. When she’s gone, I feel the void of her absence immediately. I feel how the moon must feel every morning when the sun rises.

  Cold.

  Two

  Mental hospitals are not quiet at night.

  Screams echo down the halls, not because patients are actually being hurt, but because some think they are, and some are simply afraid. Afraid of the dark, afraid of the unknown, afraid of being alone. Fear is a powerful weapon, and we tend to wield it upon ourselves.

  I wait in my narrow bed, my sheets folded perfectly down to my waist. I stare at the ceiling and count the squares while I listen for the nurses. They’re doing their rounds right now, one door after the other after the other, peeking in and checking. I wait until they look in on me, and then I sit up on bed and shove my feet into slippers.

  I know where she is.

  It’s the first thing I did when I arrived… I sneaked down the hall and found her.

  She’s there now, in her room, with the door slightly ajar. She never likes the door closed. It makes her feel closed-in. She’s always been that way.

  Checking the empty hall-way for nurses, and finding none, I peer into Calla’s room.

  She’s sitting on the edge of the bed, ethereal and lovely, even in a hospital gown. There is one window, with shatter-proof glass, of course- and the moon glimmers in. The moonlight makes Calla’s skin even paler, and her eyes even more luminous.

  I nudge the door, and she looks over her shoulder and when her gaze meets mine, she startles, then relaxes.

  “Dare, right?” she asks, although I know she hasn’t forgotten.

  I nod. “Yep. All day and all night.”

  She smiles, and her fingers play with her hospital band.

  “What brings you to my room, Dare?” Her question is soft, but it is not timid. Her eyes meet me and she is almost defiantly assured. I supposed she has to be here. She knows she doesn’t belong, yet here she sits.

  “I’m restless,” I tell her. “Do you mind if I come in?”

  She shrugs, and smiles again.

  “Make yourself at home,” she offers. “But if Nurse Helga comes by, you have to hide under the bed.”

  She giggles.

  “That’s what I think of when I see her, too,” I tell her. “The big nurse with the iron fist and the blond bun?”

  Calla nods. “Of course. The other ones are all nice.”

  “Nurse Helga gave me a shot in the arse when I first arrived,” I say, and I rub at the spot out of sheer memory. “It still hurts.”

  She laughs now, outrageously amused by my pain.

  “The idea of you bent over a table getting a shot…” She is still giggling, and that makes me smile.

  “Thanks for laughing at my pain,” I tell her wryly, and she’s still laughing. When she finally stops, she examines me.

  “You don’t belong here,” she says abruptly, and she’s suddenly dead serious. Her fingers have stopped fidgeting, and her gaze is direct.

  She stares into my thoughts, into my soul.

  It makes me want to flinch.

  What does she see?

  I shrug. “Do any of us think we belong here?”

  She’s the one shrugging now. “Probably not.” She gestures to the empty space on the bed next to her. “You’re already here. You might as well sit.”

  She’s trying to be nonchalant, but I know her.

  I know her so well it hurts.

  And she’s dying to get to know me.

  Again.

  I sit though, as though I’ve never kissed her or held her. As though I don’t know her body like the back of my hand. I’m careful now to stay a respectable distance from her, making sure my thigh doesn’t touch hers, even though they’ve been intertwined before.

  For a moment, I think of Whitley, the estate where we first met so long ago. I remember the hidden gardens, and I can smell the scents of the night-blooming flowers, the rain on the grass, the dark things in the night.

  That’s where I first had her.

  That’s where we first knew that we were in love, and tied together inexplicably.

  That’s where I would prefer to be now, no matter what other nightmares Whitley contained, it always contained Calla.

  And that is all that is important.

  “Tell me about yourself,” she says softly.

  “Nope,” I answer immediately. Because that’s not how we do this. “You get twenty questions. Remember?”

  She studies me for a minute, then looks away.

  “I don’t like games.”

  That snaps my head up.

  “Since when?” I ask it before I can stop myself and she looks at me curiously.

  “Since always,’ she answers.

  But that’s not true.

  This is different. Why?

  Of course, I can’t ask. I can’t say anything.

  So instead, I settle myself into the bed, leaning on one elbow.

  “You don’t seem like you belong here, either.”

  She thinks on that.

  “Well, if I didn’t, how would I know? I doubt crazy people know if they’re crazy.”

  “You’re not crazy.” My words are firm.

  “That’s not what they say.”

  Her eyes are so luminous, like two blue moons. I lean toward her.

  “I know you aren’t.”

  “You don’t know me,” she points out.

  “I know everything about you.”

  She stares me down and doesn’t flinch. “Oh, really? Do tell.”

  “Your name is Calla Elizabeth Price. You are beautiful. You are strong. You chew your nails. You don’t sleep well. You trust strangers, even though you shouldn’t. You hate the door being closed. You don’t like socks.”

  I announce all of these things triumphantly, but she rolls her eyes.

  “You’ve learned all of that by sitting here with me.”

  I arch an eyebrow. “So? I still know it all to be true.”

  She shakes her head now, and the gesture is sorrowful. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Dare.”

  “Oh, I know that to be true,” I agree. “Far more than you know.”

  “Why do you speak in riddles?” she demands. “You make sense without making sense. Is that your diagnosis here? Reality Disorientation?”

  I burst out laughing.

  “Reality is fluid,” I tell her. “You know that.”

  She sighs. “I knew you were too good to be true. Reality Disorientation. You’re delusional.”

  “Am I?” I ask softly, and her lips are so plump, and she runs her tongue along them. “Too good to be true?”

  She hesitates.

  “I’m good,” I assure her. “And I’m here.”

  I decide to be forward, to take her hand, and my thumb strokes hers, as I balance our hands on my thigh.

  “Do you feel it?” I ask. “We have a connection, you and me. Can you feel it?”

  She takes a shuddering breath, and her eyes flutter closed.

  “It’s called chemistry,” she says softly. “To say anything else would just be crazy.”

  “But isn’t that what you said we are?” I ask, and I lean in, and my lips meet hers because I can’t wait one more second to taste her again.

  Her lips melt against mine, and she does taste like blackberries, just like I remember.

  It’s a sweet kiss, warm and electric, and she doesn’t pull away until I do.

  When we separate, she looks as shaky as I feel.

  “I can’t wait to get to know you,” I tell her softly as I slide from the bed and walk toward the door.

  I leave the door ajar for her.

  J
ust like she likes it.

  Three

  I find Calla in the garden in the morning, or this facility’s semblance of a garden. It’s really just a large terrace with a few potted plants.

  She’s on the bench, staring into the distance.

  At first, I wonder if she’s over-medicated, but then she blinks, and notices me.

  “Oh, hi,” she murmurs, and she tucks her long red hair back with her fingers. Her cheeks tinge pink and she remembers our kiss.

  “Good morning,” I greet her politely. “I see you have outdoor privileges now. Did you sleep well?”

  “I don’t usually sleep well,” she admits. “Bad dreams, you know.”

  I sit next to her. “What do you dream about?”

  She shrugs. “My brother, mostly.”

  “You have a brother?” I ask, as if I don’t know. She nods.

  “Yes. I did. We’re twins. I mean, we were. He’s gone now.”

  “I’m sorry,” I say, my voice low. “Are you quite all right?”

  “That’s a very British thing to ask,” she points out.

  “That’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

  She laughs, but she doesn’t know why.

  “I’m going to get us some breakfast,” I tell her. “Let’s eat out here.”

  She nods in agreement. “Ok.”

  I go into the cafeteria and fill two plates with breakfast… chalky scrambled eggs, dry toast and some bits of fruit that look like candy corn.

  When I reach Calla again, she’s sitting in the grass, her legs tucked under her.

  “You’re going to get itchy,” I point out, setting her tray in her lap.

  “It doesn’t matter,” she answers. She’s shy now, picking at her toast, and I grab mine and take a hearty bite.

  “Tell me about yourself,” I suggest.

  She swallows. “What do you want to know?”

  I grin. “Everything.”

  She rolls her eyes and the blue glints in the sun, a cerulean blue, like she belongs in sea beside Athens.

  “I grew up in a funeral home,” she tells me. “What else is there to know?”

 
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