Home > The Wish Collector(16)

The Wish Collector(16)
Author: Mia Sheridan

Growing up, she’d never had a lot of time to cultivate friendships outside of her rigorous practice schedule and constant performances, never had time for parties or shopping, or the things other girls spent time doing together. Even the couple of boyfriends she’d had, had eventually grown bitter at the little time she’d had to offer them. Then again, maybe she hadn’t made them more of a priority by choice. Maybe her heart had never been invested in either relationship.

Perhaps all of that was the reason the bond she felt with Jonah meant so much to her.

She loved spending time with him, loved sharing parts of herself she hadn’t shared with anyone else. And she loved listening to him as well, loved the way he described his world. The way he added in small tidbits that she knew were only him, only his own vision of a certain something, like the way he likened Myrtle to a hedgehog: round and prickly at times, but ultimately the most loyal and lovable person you’d ever meet.

And though he hadn’t shared very many personal things with her by choice, she knew those were small pieces of him that he'd unwittingly given, and she grasped them and held them as precious gifts, the same way she held each minor comment Mrs. Guillot made about her deceased husband in the midst of a story.

Those were the tiny treasures all people doled out, but only to those they trusted, and Clara recognized them as such.

She’d been intrigued by Windisle when she’d arrived that first day, but Jonah had made her fall in love with it. He’d described it to her in such loving detail, his deep, accented drawl winding through the cracks in the wall, and weaving around her, lush and honeyed, like the blossom-heavy vines that climbed the gates, taking over the swirling iron until it looked to be created entirely of petals and greenery. That’s what he’d done to her, as she’d sat there, the colors in the sky bleeding together and melting into darkness. She’d felt consumed. Completely engulfed by something strong and sweet.

Jonah.

Her wish collector.

Her grit and velvet-voiced dream weaver.

Her fingers hovered uncertainly over the keys for a moment before she finally exhaled, lowering her hands and typing in his name.

So many hits came up immediately she barely knew where to start. She was shaking, she realized, and something unnamed was moving through her. This was going to change everything, of course. If the miniscule amount he’d given her—I killed my brother and I’m the monster behind the wall—hadn’t, this would. She felt it in her gut.

She clicked on images first and leaned toward the screen as he—Jonah Chamberlain—the voice behind the wall, became a flesh-and-blood man.

She sat back in her chair, blinking at his smiling photo. She hadn’t given too much thought to what she expected, but this, this was definitely not it.

Her gaze moved from his chiseled jaw to his full smiling lips to his high cheekbones and his light brown eyes topped by dark deep-set brows. Dear lord.

He had a face made for fantasy and fairy tales, created for artists, fashioned for stages and film screens and for dark, starlit nights. His hair, which he wore combed back, was wavy and a deep chocolaty brown, a widow’s peak dipping from his thick hairline and seeming to point to the perfection of his face.

She swallowed, chills breaking out over her skin. His beauty, formed from tiny pixels, and staring one-dimensional from a computer screen, felt painful to her somehow and why, she did not know.

Clara forced herself to scroll down the screen. The majority of the images were of Jonah in a suit, looking powerful and confident, as he leaned toward a microphone. Others were of him in what looked like a courtroom, and the close-up, the one that had first stopped her breath, was his photo from a law firm pamphlet. Jonah Chamberlain was a lawyer. Or he had been.

Clicking off the images, Clara opened the first article, and began to read, bile moving up her throat as horror gripped her.

An hour and a half later, Clara stood unsteadily from the computer terminal where she’d been glued to her seat. She reached with shaky hands to grab her duffle bag, knocking over the plastic cup of pencils in her jerky movements. They clattered across the surface of the desk and a woman sitting across from her shot her a glare.

Without taking the time to replace the pencils, Clara turned, fast-walking out of the library, drawing in a much-needed lungful of air as she ran across the street, away, away.

But she couldn’t escape the information she’d learned, and the photo of her grinning wish collector as he’d drunk champagne and toasted his success right before so many worlds would crumble—including his own—remained in vivid color in her mind’s eye.

**********

“You felt tense today.”

Marco lifted Clara’s bag and slung it over his shoulder as she stood. She reached for her bag, but he moved back, grinning his trademark grin and beginning to walk.

She sighed and took a few quick steps to catch up. “I pushed myself too hard yesterday. I just wanted to take it easy today so I didn’t pull something.”

He gave her a dubious look, raising one dark eyebrow as they pushed through the double doors to the parking lot. “Where are you parked?”

“I’m not. I bus it.”

He stopped, turning toward her. “You take the bus to and from the theater every day?”

“For now.” She shrugged. “I’m saving up for a car.”

He shook his head, muttering something in Italian she didn’t understand. Poor thing, maybe? Helpless female? Easy prey? Any of those were likely. Marco was the biggest ladies’ man in the ballet—and Clara was quite certain he didn’t limit himself to coworkers. “I’ll give you a ride.”

“No thanks.” Clara held her hand out for her duffle.

Marco opened his mouth and then closed it, and Clara almost chuckled at his perplexed expression. He was obviously unused to being turned down for anything.

From what she had witnessed, the other female dancers—and some of the males—went all googly eyed when he tossed them a glance.

Oh, he was attractive, she’d give him that. But he was also cocky and narcissistic and as a general rule, she didn’t date other dancers anyway. Now would be an especially bad time to break that rule; she was distracted enough.

She used his awkward pause to snag the bag from his shoulder and put it over hers as she turned away. “Bye,” she sang.

He caught up to her and she glanced at him as she sighed, speeding up her steps, though he kept up with her easily, and she knew exactly how. She was well acquainted with those long, muscled dancer’s legs of his. “You don’t think very highly of me.”

“I admire you very much, Marco. I think you’re an extremely talented dancer. But I don’t date other dancers.” And I’m distracted and sad and confused and . . . I just want to be alone.

“I didn’t ask you for a date. I just offered you a ride.”

That stopped Clara up short, a heated blush rising in her cheeks. He was right. She’d been presumptuous. In actuality, she’d thought too highly of herself. Sure, he was a ladies’ man, but that didn’t mean he was interested in every lady. It didn’t mean he was interested in her. She’d been selfish and rude. She grimaced. “Sorry, Marco, I—”

“Not that I don’t want to date you.” He dragged his gaze down her body and then back up to her eyes. “I was waiting to get you in the car before I put the real moves on.”

He gave her a wolfish stare, but she caught the small quirk of his lips. He was teasing her. Maybe only in part but it was enough to disarm her.

She laughed, glancing over his shoulder to where the cars were parked. “No moves, okay? But I’ll take the ride. Thank you very much. It’s nice of you to offer.”

Marco grinned. “Follow me.” He removed her bag from her shoulder again, and she let him, rolling her eyes as she did. Flirt.

As they were driving away, a group of fellow dancers exited the building, talking and laughing. They caught sight of Clara sitting in Marco’s passenger seat as they drove past, their chatter halting as every gaze followed. Clara looked away, focusing on the street ahead as Marco pulled out of the lot. Let the gossip commence, she thought. Awesome.

“So, Clara, what have you been doing for fun since you moved to New Orleans?”

   
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