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Deathly : The Dillon Sisters
Author: Brynne Asher





The Beholder






Bravery is in the eye of the beholder.

I know the idiom is beauty, but beauty won’t get you anywhere in life. I don’t care how you spin it, how poetic you drone on about it, or how deeply you reach inside your soul to find it.

I’m sick of beauty and the weight our society puts on it.

I’ll take bravery over beauty any day.

Some might think bravery is the important piece of that puzzle.

They would be wrong.

Bravery is only the act. The beholder … that’s the key.

They shoulder the power, the fight, and, when they come out on the other side of the battle, the consequences.

In any plain-Jane, sappy fairy tale, courage, and heroism are romanticized, polished, and dusted in glitter to shine through the darkness. They scream, “Look at me! I’m perfect. Normal. Winning at life!”

But for those of us who are not normal—let alone perfect—who are struggling to catch our breaths, bravery looks very different.

Bold, daring, and, yes, even audacious. This is the type of bravery required to walk in my designer-dupe heels and off-the-rack cocktail dress, since the real deals aren’t in my budget.


I’m working on it.

Most wouldn’t think bravery would be required for a night out with your only friend, who isn’t really that close of a friend. But for me, it is.

Psychoanalyzing every detail of every moment until I’m bleeding from my nails is a curse. It’s how I’m wired and impossible to turn off. But when I manage to, things don’t turn out well.

At all.

“Hot and cute have collided, creating a burst of beauty. I’m telling you, my heart and lady bits can hardly take it. I thought for sure I was here just for the eye candy, but I might have to dip into my 401k to make a bid.”

I look over at Kate, who has become one of my only friends in the Pacific Northwest aside from my sister. “No way. We’re here to check off a major task on my list to become a well-rounded human. Don’t ruin it for me. We’re here to be social—but just you and me, not with anyone else. We need to sit back and appreciate everything going on around us. My plan is airtight if we stick to it.”

She hikes her perfectly manicured brow. “Don’t lie, Doctor Shrinko. You’re drooling over these beautiful specimens that God sculpted just for us—I’ve had my eye on you and you’ve had your eye on a certain tall, tan, broody man. Either that or the chocolate something-or-other with curly hair he’s got on a leash.”

Dammit. I’m not usually transparent. I excel at drowning every emotion that claws its way to the surface. My father made sure I hid my feelings. “Emotions showcase your weaknesses,” he said.

My insides tense just thinking about it.

I turn back to Kate. “Of course, I’m looking. I’m like every other woman in the room. There are plenty of men and muscles here to appreciate, Kate. We’re here for the experience, but that’s it.”

I’ve lost her attention. She takes a sip of her green apple martini, zeroing in on a man across the room who’s being attacked by a Dachshund trying to lick his face off.

From the looks of it, I bet Kate wouldn’t mind tasting him too. Lust is dripping off her like the perpetual Washington rain.

I grab her forearm to stop any crazy ideas running through her head. If I’m cautious by nature, she’s the exact opposite. “We made a pact. Tonight is about getting out and doing something new, but only observing from afar.”

When she levels her gaze on me, I know I’ve lost all control because she starts talking to me like I speak to my patients. “That doesn’t mean we can’t introduce ourselves. Aria, it’s time to cross something else off your list besides going to an event only to hide in the shadows. You can do this. It’s your day. I feel it!”

My face turns to stone. “Don’t you dare—”

“It’s going to be okay.” Her words bleed with sarcasm as she twists out of my grip. “Drink your wine, hang back, enjoy the scenery if you insist on living your boring, horrid life. But you could also talk yourself out of your hole and speak to someone who isn’t a colleague or a wacko. Like a hot guy with a dog.”

“Don’t talk about my patients like that.”

She waves me off. “I’m on my second martini and I’m not letting our scheduled Uber or this buzz go to waste. I’m going to fuss over stray dogs and drool over firefighters.”

“You’re the worst friend ever,” I hiss under my breath, but it’s pointless. Her long, blond waves swish to the rhythm of her hips. And that swish is strong as she moves across the ballroom, disappearing into a sea of shirtless firefighters wrangling homeless canines, all in the name of philanthropic cuteness.

I pull in a big breath and take a bigger sip of my merlot. Then I take a step closer to the wall and into the shadows. As I survey the room, it’s not hard to forget why I’m here or why tonight was a biggie in all the things I need to cross off my list.

A slew of firefighters roam, each with their own homeless pup.

Dogs and Dates.

The annual fundraiser for the Redmond Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter. I doubt there’s anything that melts panties quicker than bare-chested heroes and puppies. Along with their annual calendar, these half-naked men and their canines will be auctioned off after the cocktail hour designed to loosen the pockets of single women. The highest bidders will be the proud owners of a puppy and a date.

Kate is right. I do have a list. It’s long and carefully curated. It’s made of things I was never allowed to do because they were beneath me. Or, rather, beneath our family name.

Rescuing an animal was always a big, fat no. Owning anything less than a pure-breed from a distinguished bloodline would definitely be beneath my family, if we would’ve been allowed to have a pet. I won’t even go into paying for a date—especially with a man who fights fires for a living. My father would have a fit and my mother would slur on about how impossible it is to live on a salary less than the top one percent of pretentious Americans.

Tonight is definitely at the top of my list, even if I’m only here to observe and experience it from afar.

Now that I have a moment to myself, I look for that curly-haired chocolate doodle who was rescued from a puppy mill. They’re nowhere to be seen.

The firefighter and the popular hybrid pup are likely being eaten alive by women with healthy bank accounts who aren’t working to pay off student loans that rival a jumbo loan.

My wine sloshes when something hits my bare-skinned legs before a deep voice I've never heard before rumbles beside me, “Been waiting for you.”

I’m forced to catch my breath as I blot the wine off my chest. His eyes—as dark and oppressive as the black nights I’ve become familiar with since I moved to this part of the country—might as well claw through my skin.

They’re that intense.

I feel that transparent.

I look away and push the jumping dog down. “Waiting for me?”


I keep my attention on the puppy who looks like it belongs on Instagram more than in its homeless reality. Because it’s easier to focus on the fur ball than the man, I run my fingers through its thick, floppy hair. “Hey, you.”

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