Heartless (Crossbreed #9) by Dannika Dark

Chapter 1

Ruby’s Diner was one of those old-fashioned joints that stood frozen in time, and tonight it was lit up like a pinball machine. I parked my blue pickup truck on the side of the building near the row of windows. Beyond the booth seating were small tables and a long counter, but I didn’t see any sign of my father. He might have been sitting at the front of the diner, thinking I’d come in through that door, but I always took the side entrance. Aside from the food and hospitality, I liked Ruby’s because it was open twenty-four hours a day and mostly served humans. I glanced up at the sign on the window advertising today’s special: homemade chili.

I hopped out and took in a deep lungful of the warm evening breeze, which smelled like charred hamburgers. God, is it June already? I’d been with Keystone for a year now.

Halfway to the door, I spun on my heel and glared at my truck. “Are you coming?” I asked quietly.

Christian’s dark shadow remained on the passenger side for a beat before his door swung open and he got out with a long-suffering sigh. He looked smoking hot, and if I were a girl who easily swooned, I might have blushed when our eyes met. I’d selected his outfit, and he despised me for it. Not because Christian had anything against tank tops, but he didn’t wear them in public. Tonight was special. I wanted him to show off the raven tattoo on his right pec. The fabric covered most of it, but not the wing that stretched across his shoulder and arm as it reached for his back. The tips of the black feathers were dipped in blood, the right eye just as pale blue as mine.

“I don’t see why you dragged me along,” he grumbled. “You know I don’t eat.”

“Who says you have to eat?”

“Your da will have a go at me if I don’t.”

I hooked my arm in his and coaxed him to the side door. “Crush doesn’t bite. Besides, he doesn’t think you really care about me.”

“Is that so? And what have you been telling him?”

“I don’t have to tell him anything.” I reached for the handle. “Your absence speaks volumes. You’ve always got an excuse whenever I go to see him. Look, just be yourself. Wait. Scratch that. Just be respectful.”

Christian snorted. “And is your da going to share the same courtesy?”

I bit my lip and opened the door. “Grab a seat. I’ll be right back.”

Christian sat down in my regular booth while I headed to the front of the diner. Elton John was singing “I’m Still Standing” at a low volume, and one of the waitresses was shaking her hips behind the counter as she refilled the coffee machine. The real noise was up front where they were handling take-out orders. I spotted Crush in a red vinyl booth near the door. His eyes were fixed on the window, and when he caught my reflection in the glass, he turned to me with one of his closed-lipped smiles.

Crush scooted out of his seat. “Hey, Cookie.” His strong arms and the scent of cheap cologne wrapped around me.

“Hey, Daddy. I’m glad you pried your ass off the recliner to eat in public.”

He drew back and narrowed his blue eyes. “Don’t give me that sass.”

I reached up and pulled the rubber band out of his grey goatee.

He winced. “What did you do that for?”

After brushing out his goatee with my fingers, I flicked the rubber band into the trash. “Because you look like a wrestler with that thing on.”

Crush straightened his skull T-shirt. “Since when do you care what I look like?”

I glanced at the myriad of tattoos on his arms and the silver tooth that flashed at me when he grinned. I honestly didn’t give a damn what he looked like. He was perfect. But I knew if Christian and Crush got into verbal warfare, which was inevitable, that rubber band would be one less thing for Christian to poke fun at.

“I hope you brought your appetite,” I said, eager to give him the tour. “This is my absolute favorite place. I figured you’d like the retro look. And they’ve got amazing Angus burgers.”

“Extra cheese?”

“How’s your cholesterol these days?”

He clenched his jaw. “If you wanted me to eat rabbit food, you should have invited me to that salad bar down the street.”

“I’m kidding. Come on. Let’s sit.”

As we rounded the corner, I heard Crush mutter a curse under his breath. I had conveniently forgotten to tell him that Christian would be joining us. He slid me an I should have known you were up to something look but kept his mouth zipped. I braced myself as he put on his war face.