You’ve had a chance to meet not only Winston but Elsa, the heroine of Wandering Soul. It seems only fitting that I should introduce you to the hero as well.
Dante’s backstory piece is quite the opposite of Winston and Elsa’s. It’s the tragic and very permanent ending of one of Dante’s most important relationships. It’s also one of the most pivotal moments for Elsa and Dante—the first time they see each other. She’s in her astral form, traveling back in time. He’s experiencing the worst moment of his life.
The characters in my Paranormal Romances have to walk through the fire to reach their Happy-Ever-After. Have some tissues handy.
Copyright © 2015 Cassandra Chandler
“You should not be here, Heinrich.”
Dante approached Heinrich slowly, taking care not to let the catwalks sway overmuch. Though there were ropes one could use to maintain balance, it unnerved Dante to see his mentor with only a thin piece of wood between himself and the floor of the theater far below.
Heinrich’s words were accented by his native German when he spoke. “I suppose that is true. But I like to come up here every now and again. It is good to seek some perspective on one’s life, is it not?”
Dante stopped close enough to catch Heinrich should he lose his balance. There was a pallor to the older man’s skin that had increased daily for some time. Dante’s concern had also grown, but he was uncertain how far he dared press for answers.
“Is something wrong?” Dante asked.
“Many things.” Heinrich’s eyes appeared glazed, as if he was not truly observing the rehearsal going on below. “Distance is sometimes necessary to achieve true perspective. Do you believe that, Dante?”
“I am glad for that.” Heinrich took a deep breath and rubbed his left arm as if he was cold.
“Would you like my jacket?”
“No, just your company.” He cast a glance at Dante, then quickly turned away.
“Of course,” Dante said. He did his best to keep the hurt from his tone.
That even Heinrich was among those who could not stand to look at Dante pained him greatly. When others saw Dante’s mask and thought of the disfigurement beneath, he scarcely felt it anymore. He had grown numb to the masses, to their fear. But Heinrich was his mentor—one of the few people who would actually speak to Dante. He wanted Heinrich to not care about the scars beneath Dante’s mask.
Heinrich chuckled. “Do you remember the day I found you at the circus? The mastermind who designed incredible mechanisms for their performances.”
Dante would not go into detail about how very much he remembered. Heinrich had not yet grown the beard that currently covered his face, but only a shaped mustache. He had been holding his hat in his hands, and smiled as Dante approached.
After clearing his throat, Dante said, “I will always remember the day we met.”
“As will I.” Heinrich nodded. “But it was not that day.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I met you the day you were born. The very moment. But the last time I had seen you before I found you at the circus… Well, you were too young to remember me. I and your mother…we were very close.”
The board seemed to sway beneath Dante’s feet. Why had Heinrich not mentioned this before?
A sleeping dream that Dante had fought since that day at the circus woke within him. He had not allowed himself to think of Heinrich as a father-figure. Only as a mentor. But if Heinrich had been present when Dante was born…
“I had been searching for you both,” Heinrich said. “For years, while I also worked to start this theater. I needed a means to support—” He let out a wheezing breath, rubbing his chest.
Dante’s heart was thundering in his ears, making him light-headed. If Heinrich was experiencing anything similar, it was most certainly unsafe for the pair to remain on the catwalks.
“You are unwell,” Dante said, daring to rest his hand on Heinrich’s arm. “Let me help you to your room. We can speak more after you have rested.”
Heinrich shook his head. “No. It must be said. Now. The theater is lost to us.”
“The debt-collectors are circling. It is only a matter of time.”
“But the house is full for every show. My devices—”
“Your devices are a great part of what has drawn people to our performances, and for that I thank you,” Heinrich said. “But no amount of ticket sales will ever be enough for Klaus. We must start over again. I fear your brother has gambled us into bankruptcy.”
When Heinrich looked up again, his eyes glistened with tears. “I am so sorry not to have told you this before. I thought it safer to moderate my affection for you.”
Dante’s mind reeled, but at least this he understood. Of course it was safer not to be known as the sire of a deformed freak. He held no ill-will toward Heinrich—his father. All he could feel in that moment was joy and hope.
He had a family. It did not matter if he had to keep it a secret to protect them. He had a—
Heinrich doubled over, clutching his chest. The wheeze of his breath became a gasp.
“Heinrich!” Dante yelled.
Dante heard a matching shout from below just as Heinrich fell forward over the rope railing. Leaping after, Dante grabbed Heinrich’s arm with one hand and a rope that looped down from the rafters with his other. The force of their weight jerking against his grip almost made him slip, but he held on.
His father hung limply from his hand, head lolling to the side as they slowly spun from the inertia of their fall. Dante’s hands were weakening, the rope biting into his skin as he slid lower.
“Please, you must… I can’t hold on! Heinrich!”
There was no sound, no wheezing breath, nothing. Just the rustle of fabric as Heinrich’s arm slipped from Dante’s grasp.
Time seemed to slow as he watched Heinrich fall. Dante thought their gazes locked for a moment, but Heinrich was just staring—staring at nothing…
He landed in the seats beneath them, the sound sickening, his body, his neck, at angles impossible to support life. Shouts from the actors rehearsing below drowned out Dante’s own scream.
His father was dead.
For the briefest of moments, Dante considered letting go of the rope. It would be too easy to stop fighting, to stop trying. To let all the fear and hate that surrounded him daily just disappear. But he could not bring himself to relinquish the gift of life that his parents had given him. Dante pulled himself back up onto the catwalk, laying prone upon the board as his tears soaked into the wood.
People were sobbing beneath him, shock and grief thickening the air. He heard Mary’s voice, and Edgar’s. They would come to Dante if he did not rise, and he did not want either to risk the catwalks while distraught. If he lost Mary too, he would not survive it.
He rose to his knees, holding the rope railing to steady himself, and saw a light…
At first, he thought it was someone coming across the catwalks with a lantern, but the light was too large and diffuse. He blinked away his tears to find himself staring into rich chestnut eyes set in a golden light that was almost too bright to look upon.
Had he fallen as well and did not realize it? Had he died and this was an angel sent to ferry him to Heaven?
Her form was slight and feminine, but he saw no wings at her back. Sadness seemed to emanate from her, and a deep longing welled up within Dante as they stared into each other’s eyes.
The angel reached for him, and he lifted his hand in return. Before they touched, Mary ran through the figure as if she couldn’t perceive it at all, and the golden light vanished.
“Dante!” Mary dropped to her knees before him and threw her arms around his neck, sobbing.
Edgar stood behind her, one hand on the rope railing and the other clutching her shoulder to keep her safe. Dante wrapped one arm around her and patted her back, meeting Edgar’s gaze. Edgar nodded, then quickly looked away. Though he did not mind Mary’s affection toward her own mentor, Edgar preferred to avoid Dante’s company.
At the moment, Dante wanted solitude. His mind was over-full. Heinrich was—had been—his father, and now gone. His brother Klaus had need of Dante’s help if they were to save their family’s theater. And the golden light, those longing eyes…
Through his grief and confusion, the comfort the angel provided remained. She had come for Heinrich. And with that, Dante was assured that Heinrich was in a better place. He held onto that hope as he rose, helping Mary to her feet.
Poor Dante… He has a long way to go (over a century!) to find his Happy-Ever-After. But never fear—he’ll make it!
The wait is almost over to read about his journey in Wandering Soul. It’s available on July 7! I recommend re-reading the piece where Elsa and Winston meet while you wait 🙂