After being medically discharged from the military, Cian Huntsman finds solace in two things—working out to keep his mobility and online gaming. In one game, he comes across PraernaTheResilient. Cian engages the man. He soon finds himself fascinated by him, and they share many conversations, even outside the game.
Cian soon realizes he wants more from Praerna and asks if they can meet. To his disappointment, Praerna says no, reminding him that he prefers online anonymity due to a disfigurement—hence his name—resilient. Having scars himself, Cian assures Praerna that whatever it is won’t matter to him. To Cian’s disappointment, Praerna shuts down communication with him.
Unable to let it rest, Cian enlists the help of an army buddy and hacker to aid him in searching for Praerna via his IP address. Once found, he goes there to surprise his friend…and maybe get some answers. What he finds is that the paranormal world exists and that Praerna is a gargoyle. Cian learns that his obsession with Praerna is caused by the Fates, as they are mates—the other half of each other’s souls.
Can Cian come to grips with his new reality in time to help the gargoyles when his buddy warns him that others in the area are searching for them, too?
Oh…wow! I, uh, I never expected you to ask that.
The words showed up on Cian Huntsman’s computer screen, and he watched with bated breath for more…for an actual answer to his question. He’d been conversing with a man with the screen handle PraernaTheResilient for nearly six months. A few weeks prior, Cian had shocked himself when he’d realized that his heart raced with anticipation every evening while looking forward to chatting with Praerna.
They’d met on a game they both enjoyed—an adventure game where you completed missions and quests to win bonuses and prizes for your character. After doing a number of missions together, they’d begun chatting about things other than the game. That had led to them moving their dialogue to a chat platform.
Every night, Cian met Praerna to chat, even if the other man didn’t have time to play their online game together. He’d learned that Praerna worked nights, so technically, while Cian was winding down for the day, the other man was just starting his. Cian was still a bit uncertain as to what Praerna did, knowing only that he worked at a large, secluded estate and his duties shifted from week to week.
One of the first things Cian had asked was about Praerna’s name, why he’d used the term resilient. Praerna had explained that the prior management had been strict and harsh. Infractions or mistakes in one’s duties had been met with the harshest of punishments.
Cian got the impression that, while Praerna hadn’t said it, he suspected there had been physical abuse.
When Cian had asked why Praerna hadn’t left, his answer had been a little vague, saying only that it was a family position he couldn’t get away from. After that, Praerna had quickly assured him that things were different. The people in charge now were kind and encouraging, creating a wonderful environment for everyone at the estate.
Cian sort of wondered if Praerna wasn’t part of some kind of religious commune. Except, most of them didn’t have the sort of technology his friend seemed to have access to. When Cian had set up his gaming systems, he’d used the best equipment he could get his hands on—some of it almost military grade—and when Cian talked about it, Praerna seemed to know exactly what he was referring to.
So many contradictions with him. So fascinating.
To that end, Cian had finally taken the plunge and had asked if he and Praerna could meet. He wanted to see the guy who made his heart race with anticipation. Once he’d had the idea of asking for a meet-up in real life, Cian hadn’t been able to get it out of his head.
It had taken him nearly two weeks to gather the courage.
Except, Praerna still hasn’t given me a response.
Frowning at his screen, Cian confirmed that Praerna was still online. He hovered his fingers over the keys, trying to decide what to say. After a few seconds of hesitation, he began typing.
I know that probably came out of left field.
Cian paused and swallowed. He wondered if this was what it felt like to ask someone on a date. Not something Cian had bothered to do since he’d been discharged from the military.
But we’ve spent so much time talking that—
Pausing again, Cian tried to decide how to finish that. He scrubbed a hand through his short hair. While lowering his hand back to his keyboard, he tipped his head to the side and cracked his neck. Cian plowed forward. After all, he could never get what he wanted if he didn’t try.
I feel like I know you. I feel a chemistry that goes beyond a computer screen. I want the chance to see if it’s like that in person.
Cian hit enter and leaned back in his chair. Resting his hands on the armrests, he tapped the fingers of his right hand on the padding restlessly. He stared at the screen, mentally willing Praerna to agree.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t what came across the screen.
Wow. I am so flattered. So very, very flattered. You have no idea. But I really can’t. I told you about the strict interaction policy that my leaders have in place. It’s there for a reason. I promise. And, no, before you ask, I’m not in prison or anything. It’s really for our safety.
Plus, I know I never really said, but I’ve loved talking online because I don’t look like you. I’m…disfigured. I look different than you. I was born this way. Going in public is impossible for me. Please understand.
Disappointment crashed through Cian. Rubbing his jaw, he read the words twice. He shifted in his seat and felt a twinge in his thigh. Cian lowered his hand to his leg and gently massaged the bumpy skin through his sweats.
Cian lowered his gaze to his covered limb, thinking about the deeply marred flesh underneath the fabric. While he’d touched lightly on his background—that he’d been medically discharged from the military—he hadn’t gone into specifics. Cian thought maybe he should. Perhaps it would help.
Returning his hands to the keys, Cian began typing once more.
I understand disfigurement. I understand scars. I mentioned being in the military. Remember?
Surprise filled Cian as he read Praerna’s quick response.
I remember. Being in the military is a detriment, to be honest.
Seriously? Cian quickly typed the word, his curiosity piquing. Why?
Damn. Most people are pretty respectful and grateful to ex-military. We put our lives on the line so people can enjoy a life of freedom. Why would it be a detriment?
Praerna’s answer appeared on his screen in segments, as if he was worried about what he’d just shared.
Didn’t mean to offend.
Um, groups like us…that are different…can be persecuted by those who don’t understand tolerance for those different.
Sometimes, the military has been used to hurt us.