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"Well, it looks like you brought your own storm to the library today," smiled Dina, leaning against the counter. "Should we play a guessing game so I can figure it all out or will you tell me without my charades?"

Nicholas glanced up, raising a brow at the brightness that lit her dark eyes, tempting but subtle. They scintillated with a mischievous glint, veiling the obvious worry that she tried so hard to mask under wraps. He could read her like a book now.

Although he kept his lips shut, Nicholas leaned against his chair, crossing his arms over his chest in a challenge. A cocky grin teased his lips, but he held it back. 

Dina grumbled under her breath, shoulders dropping. "I was really hoping to skip today's episode of guessing."

"We never really skip it."

"A girl can hope," she shrugged, walking around to sit beside him. "So tell Dr. Dina all about your miserable day."

"I don't think you're certified to make a diagnosis."

She scoffed, flipping the flap of her headscarf over her shoulder like it was hair. "I've interviewed enough doctors to practically be one."

"I don't think that's how it works."

"In my mind, it does," she sassed him. 

Nicholas could only chuckle, momentarily forgetting all about his parents and their hostility towards him. His eyes rested on the exotic beauty before him and her mesmerizing brown eyes that lured him away from his shackles and doubts. She stood with a angelic glow to her like she held justice and ease in one palm while the other outstretched towards him, offering an escape from reality. 

Unfortunately for Nicholas, his eyes caught the glimpse of a book hidden under a pile of papers, one of his favorite reads during those stormy days. Under the spotlight of his vision, he saw the old leather copy of The Count of Monte Cristo, a classic tale of human nature and a vicious cycle of vengeance. 

Nicholas hated to admit that the void in his heart matched the pain the Count had felt when his life had been ripped from him. He was wrongfully caged due to traitors and liars, his naive innocence being the source of his troubles. He trusted the good nature of humanity until it had drained his life through years and years and years of torture within isolated brick walls. 

The taste of vengeance was the only sweetness to his sour life.

Like the mysterious count in the book, Nicholas had once believed that all people were pure of ill will, yet as knives grew sharper and words became crueler, he learned that society and culture changed the mindset of many. No longer was human compassion valued among his peers or his family, but rather a dark, tainted evil engulfed them in clouds of greed, suffocating and poisonous to the soul. 

Dina's eyes found the object of his attention as realization dawned upon her. She picked up the book, flipping through the pages with fondness, a faint smile gracing her luscious lips of red like the apples from Snow White. It was alluring, yet he knew her smiles would become too addicting for him to even function anymore. 

"I used to hate this book," she said, voice quiet among the hushed voices of a busy library. "I hated how cruel it depicted people, how villainous allies were to the main character, but most of all, I hated how it made me feel."

Nicholas raised a brow.

"It made me feel like... I couldn't trust people," she trailed off, oblivious to the world around her as the faltering claws of the past gripped her. Dina exhaled a shaky breath, slowly lifting her eyes to meet his. A look of sympathy crossed her, a tight smile settling rigidly across her lips like a painful strain. "But that's not how real life is."

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