"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov


Thursday, January 24, 2013

10. Lily Meets Daniel...After A Fashion

Eight hundred miles to the north, Lily Chareau bolted upright, heart pounding, the scream echoing in her ears.  Disoriented, chilled to the bone, she stared with unseeing eyes at the familiar walls of her bedroom, still caught in the throes of her dream. 

Mind reeling, Lily remembered a golden building, filled to dizzying heights with books, millions upon millions of books, in every imaginable color and size, shape and thickness.  She’d been floating down a multitude of aisles, past floor after floor, the vastness of what she was seeing incomprehensible, then she had softly drifted onto a glowing counter of some kind, in front of a man.  Tall, handsome, black hair tousled around his shoulders, his hand reached out to her.  But no, wait.  Not her, he was reaching for a book.  Distracted, she wondered if the vivid green of his eyes was real, or just a reflection from the emerald light radiating from the book.  He looked over his shoulder at something, then furtively tucked it inside his shirt, confusing her by the look on his face of unease, urgency.  Stealth. 

Strangely, the moment the man had put away the book, she could no longer see clearly, as if she were looking through gauze, though the heat from his body, the scent of his skin became more pronounced.  Startled, Lily realized her vision was clouded by the fabric of his shirt.  As if she were inside his shirt.  He spoke briefly to someone, she sensed him walking, but before she could begin to grasp what was happening, another man suddenly appeared, a vague outline seen through the material.  Trapped under the first man’s shirt, she felt the jolt of shock run down his body when the second man grabbed him and called him…what?  His name was Valentine?  Daniel Valentine?  An odd name, but she didn't give it much more thought over the new, pressing concern of the intense heat building around her.  Lily thought she could actually see smoke curling over the Valentine guy's skin.  What a bizarre dream this— 

Without warning, everything had gone utterly, totally black, her stomach had lurched as if she were free-falling a hundred stories to her death in an elevator. Screaming with horror and dread, Lily had frightened herself out of a dream turned into sudden nightmare. 

Now fully awake, but still trembling with residual panic, she pulled the quilt around her shoulders and took several shaky breaths, thankful when her racing heart began to slow.  This was the kind of weird dream—or night terror—she ought to write down.  There had to be a wealth of hidden meanings buried all over place.  Katy would have a field day with this one. 

Deciding on a hot cup of tea to warm her up, and help her settle back to sleep, Lily got out of bed, donned her robe and slippers, then made her way to the kitchen.  Turning on the kettle, she was surprised at the time; it had only been an hour or so since she’d gone to bed to read.  She put a teabag in her mug, got out the milk and sugar, all the while trying to dissect the dream. 

It made sense she would have books on the brain since she owned a bookstore.  Though what was the message in the grandiose and awe-inspiring size of the dream bookstore?  Her subconscious telling her to expand the business?  That made her smile.  Not likely.  Her bookstore was just fine the way it was. 

Okay, table that part of the dream for now.  Next, how about the handsome guy.  That one was almost too easy.  Ever since Katy had met Dominic at the bakery last week, there had been no end to the daydreaming, long sighs, or moment by moment details of every meeting and phone call.  It was no wonder Lily was fantasizing. 

Tea made, she curled up in her favorite chair in the living room, pulling a soft woolen throw off the back and over her lap.  What was the dream guy’s name again?  She sipped the tea, trying to remember, but already the dream was fading.  Reaching into the little drawer in the end table, she pulled out a tablet and pen and spent some time jotting down what she could still recall.  For some reason, the name of the green-eyed man was eluding her.  It was something…funny?  Curious?  With a deep yawn, Lily gave up.  It didn’t really matter, it was just an odd dream. 

Putting the mug in the dishwasher, she yawned again as she headed back to bed.  Tomorrow night was the Halloween party and there was still much to get done.  The bookstore had been having Halloween parties for years; each one trying to outdo the previous year.   Lily was looking forward to this one in particular because she would finally get to meet the man who had swept her best friend completely off her feet. 

The mysterious and elusive Dominic Cantrell was coming to the party.

Monday, January 21, 2013

9. Daniel Succeeds...Or Does He?

Acquiring the book was one thing, getting it out of the Library was another.  While Cantrell sat at the top of his high-rise corporate empire, Daniel was the one taking risks, facing the fallout.  Because how could this possibly work? 

Taking a deep breath, he settled his thoughts.  Never mind that now.  There was no sense in second guessing, or postponing the inevitable.  Closing his eyes, Daniel visualized the familiar niche between the marble pillars at the Library.  Instantly the soft susurration of the waves, the smells of sea and sand disappeared, and he felt cool marble at his back, the unmistakable golden glow of the Library bathing his eyelids. 

Opening his eyes, Daniel was surprised to see there was no one standing at the circular counter and no one in his immediate vicinity.  He waited several heartbeats, then carefully solidified his body and walked quietly forward, his senses ready at a moment’s notice to disappear back into shadow. 

Cautiously approaching, he reached out to take one of the cards from its slot.  At the touch of his fingers a map glowed to life on the surface, highlighting the floor, aisle, shelf, the precise location of his own soul book—a book he had never called, not even to discover who his parents might have been, or why they had abandoned him—and yet now, here in his hand were the clear and precise directions, the opportunity to find answers.  For the first time, he felt a yearning to know, to understand, rather than his usual anger at having been tossed away, not desirable enough to be loved or cherished. 

The temptation was so compelling, it startled him.  Quickly shaking away the unexpected distraction, Daniel checked his surroundings, uneasy that the vast, arched entrance and lobby area of the Library remained empty of both patrons and librarians.  Hurriedly, he brought the card close to his mouth, then breathed across the crystal face, “Lilith.” 

In the interminable wait, Daniel wondered if one of the Ethereal wardens would come to haul his ass to the pits, or worse.  Though maybe Cantrell was completely full of shit after all, and nothing was going to happen.
He replaced the card and was preparing to leave, already anticipating the conversation with Cantrell, when he was taken aback by a beautiful, emerald green book suddenly appearing on the counter in front of him.  The size of a standard hardcover, the delicate book had an intricate gold scrollwork pattern etched into the soft leather front, encompassing the single word: Lilith.  Without moving closer, Daniel could feel a soft, barely discernible humming that seemed to fill his head, his body, tuning him to some kind of vibration, as if he were a musical instrument.  Shocked, he stepped back.  How could he actually touch this book?  The mere sight of it--the resonance--was too much.  Was this why books couldn't be stolen?  They drove the thief mad? 

Hearing a slight noise, Daniel quickly looked over his shoulder, marginally relaxing at the sight of a teenage boy standing at the threshold, staring with wide eyes at the words over the archway.  It was now or never. Daniel had to leave without the book, or take it and damn the consequences.  Returning his gaze to the ornate cover, he narrowed his eyes, briefly considering both options, but hearing the kid coming into the Library, he stopped thinking, grabbed the book and swiftly shoved it into the front of his shirt. 

Hesitantly, the boy advanced, every line and tremble of his body warring in the primal instinct of fight or flight.  Daniel knew the feeling, it was currently surging through his own body.  Smiling, though judging by the kid’s response it wasn't a particularly encouraging one, Daniel tried for casual. “Lost?” 

Shaking his head, the kid said, “I’m dreaming.”  He cocked his head.  “Right?” 

“Sure, kid.”  Daniel needed to go.  The book was doing something weird under his shirt, against his skin.  “Just close your eyes and imagine yourself all tucked into bed, and then you’ll wake up and think what a strange dream you had.”  Patting the boy’s shoulder as he walked past, he headed back to the niche between the pillars. 

Now came the part that could have repercussions beyond anything Daniel could imagine.  What would happen when--if--the book left the Library?  Leaning back against the wall, Daniel took a deep breath, hoping it wouldn’t be his last.  Just as he felt himself calm, his body beginning to fade, a hand clamped around his wrist and a deep, familiar voice growled, “Well, if it isn’t Daniel Valentine.  What mischief have you been up to these days, boy?” 

Daniel’s eyes flew open to meet the dark, vivid blue of a warden’s. And not just any warden, but one of the best and a man he knew well; once upon a time his closest friend and confidant.  ShitOf all people. Taurin. 

Evenly matched in height, both had dark hair, Taurin’s more sable than the near-black of Daniel’s.  They also shared chiseled features and strong jawlines, though Daniel had a deep cleft in his chin, and though usually the warden was open and friendly, right now as he stared at Daniel with hard eyes, friendly was nowhere to be seen.

As their eyes locked, and Taurin opened his mouth to say something, Daniel wretched his wrist out of the man's grasp and shot out of the Ethereal faster than he thought was humanly possible.  For a split second he felt a hand reach for him, touch his shirt, heard a roar of outrage, then abruptly he found himself sprawled on his back in the middle of the safe room, his head pounding with a furious thrumming beat. 
And the book, with Lilith etched in gold on its emerald green cover, was burning deep into his chest.

8. Daniel Tries Again

Daniel stood at the window watching the traffic hum across the Golden Gate in the waning light. From the second floor of his restored Victorian house, the view encompassed the bridge, the Presidio, Alcatraz and the Marin Headlands across the Bay. It was the reason he’d brought the rundown old money pit in the first place, and he’d never regretted it. Tonight, however, the view was just background to his thoughts. 

Last week his plans to steal the book had failed miserably.  Deacon had returned from his impromptu tour, settling himself and the woman on a bench near the Library entrance, giving every appearance of staying for eternity. Frustrated, Daniel had accepted defeat.  No matter he had a safe haven at home, he still couldn’t leave his body for hours on end. 

Now, after a heated and threatening phone call this morning from Cantrell, Daniel was angry enough to turn himself in, rather than put up with the bastard for another minute.  His hesitation to follow through, however, was twofold: In his heart--justified or not--he knew what he chose to do with his life made a difference; but more importantly, his new raison d'etre was to take down the Cantrells, no matter what he had to do to accomplish that. 

Turning from the window, he walked toward his bedroom, something a friend had once said crossing his mind: If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by. Smiling, he stepped into his walk-in closet, pressed lightly on a small section of molding, and when a door slid open, he moved inside the concealed room. With any luck, he'd see both Cantrells drift past. 

Opening the small refrigerator, Daniel pulled out a bottle of water, popped the cap and took a long drink before settling in the custom-made recliner that sat in the farthest corner of the room. He took a few minutes to admire the space around him, from the soundproofed, pale green walls, to the soft ambient light that rose from floor level. Taking another swallow of water, his gaze wandered over the two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, full to overflowing on either side of his chair, then focused briefly on the far wall where his desk, laptop, and surveillance equipment gave him every angle possible of his house, inside and out. Along the final wall beside the door, he kept the small fridge and cupboard fully stocked, with protein bars, trail mix, and when he needed a quick sugar rush, an impressive selection of candy bars. 

Daniel had built the room, done the work himself, installed the latest in security technology, and no one on the planet knew it existed. Exactly how he wanted to keep things. Setting the water down on the table next to his chair, he closed his eyes, certain of the protection he’d given himself. Until this room, whenever he’d travelled, he had never felt completely safe, never trusted that someone wouldn’t accidentally kill him as Sister Mary Margaret had almost done all those years ago. 

Banishing the past, he sighed and let his mind go quiet, picturing the mountain path he always climbed, each step taking him deeper into a place of peace and calm. When he reached the top and could look out over the world, the landscape was far below, though all around him jagged peaks thrust through the clouds, black against the pure, iridescent white. He imagined one of those clouds drifting toward him, folding him in a blanket of warm protection. When his body began to glow with a gentle light, he opened his arms and leaped off the mountain. 

Like an adrenalin junkie, he loved that immediate rush, the sense of throwing all caution to the winds of fate. It had taken years, and many, many moments of deep fear and terror before Daniel learned the freedom in utter surrender. 

Soaring through the jeweled mists between the fifth and sixth levels, Daniel’s destination was once again the Library, glowing like a beacon above him, though he wasn’t going there just yet. Pausing for a moment, he scanned the threads twisting and twining in the atmosphere; there had never been a time that he didn’t marvel at the colors, the vision of so many souls--most unaware they were in the Ethereal, their dreams forgotten when they awoke. Now and then he could see a dream, like a movie, take shape in front of him, but unless there was something sinister or criminal about it, he didn’t watch, it just seemed too voyeuristic. 

Daniel had been traveling in the Ethereal since he was small boy, so there weren’t many places he hadn’t been, other than the levels off-limits above the Library. He’d even been on a few of the lower levels, though not until he’d been confident of getting back out again. 

Another thing he'd learned, this from Taurin, was that anyone in the Ethereal had the ability to create whatever scenario they could imagine. With a thought he could go for a swim in a coral pink sea with green dolphins who could recite Shakespeare; fly to the moon; sit on the porch in an Adirondack chair, feet on the railing, while deer wandered in the front yard of his phantom cabin.  

Now though, Daniel needed time to think, to plan, so he thought of his favorite place, a beautiful tropical beach on the Fifth level. In an instant, he was standing on white sand, turquoise water gently lapping at the shoreline. He strolled, the sun warm on his back, palm fronds waving with a melodious rustle. Sometimes he just came here to reflect, unwind. Not today. Today he needed to be soothed, calmed. It was now or never to steal the book.  

Taking a seat on a large outcropping, waves washing over his bare feet, he toyed with the idea of calling Cantrell’s bluff, refusing to do this stupid, idiotic thing that would get him sent to the lowest, darkest, bottomless pit in the Ethereal, or outright killed. No one had stolen a book from the Library. Ever. It couldn’t be done, or at least no one had been crazy enough to try, which amounted to the same thing. Daniel couldn’t help looking at it from another angle--the thief angle--no matter he thought it was a suicide mission. 

Just because no one had done it, didn’t mean it was impossible. Earlier in the week, stuck in the shadows waiting for Deacon to stop being the ultimate tour guide, he’d spent the time running with various scenarios. By the time he’d left the Ethereal, Daniel was convinced there was no way any idea, plan or trick would work.  

The most basic tenet was the most elaborate safeguard: Only the soul who owned the book could call it. Simple as that. The only exception to the rule was in the rarest of circumstances: the book’s owner gave permission.  Daniel had done extensive research, and every bit of it concurred.  Unless it was your book, or you’d been given leave, there was no way in this world or the next to get your hands on another’s book. 

Vacillating between giving up, losing everything, and being challenged by the problem, Daniel had seldom wondered why Cantrell wanted the book in the first place, or who it belonged to. Now, however, the thought took root and wouldn’t let go. What did Cantrell want with it, a book containing each recorded moment of that soul’s journey? Where was the advantage?  Since no one had ever stolen a book before, there was no clue what might happen.  What if having someone’s book meant the bastard owned their soul, or could control them somehow? The ramifications were mind-boggling, and very disturbing. 

Daniel shook his head.  At the moment he had more to worry about than the identity of the book’s owner. His immediate concern was how to steal the book and get out of the Ethereal alive and undetected. In one piece would be a bonus. 

He’d told Cantrell this afternoon on the phone that there was no way it could be done. None. Cantrell reminded him sharply that he’d already given Daniel the means to get the book, then told him an envelope would shortly be arriving at his door, the contents making it quite clear there was nothing further to discuss. Cantrell then snarled he’d waited long enough and expected results by tomorrow morning at the latest.  Or else. 

They’d exchanged a few more words, threats made on both sides, but when Daniel ripped open the couriered envelope a few minutes later and found a series of black and white photographs showing several images of himself breaking into Cantrell’s house, his relic room, he knew his only option, for now, was to yield. 

Daniel stood, stretched, then turned to retrace his steps down the beach. As he walked, his mind turning over every likelihood, he absently removed a small piece of paper from his shirt pocket.  Cantrell had given it to him the night he’d been blackmailed into this whole bizarre scheme. 

Two brief lines of instruction, written in an elegant hand, on expensive stock: 

Using a crystal card, call this name instead of your own: Lilith.
Bring me the book immediately.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

7. We Meet the Cantrells...continued

     Jamieson Cantrell sat at his massive desk—made from two hundred year-old English oak inlaid with the rarest black Italian marble—and irritably punched the button on his keyboard that brought his son’s face into view. He frowned at the unfamiliar room in the background.

     “Where are you?” he asked, his deep voice gravelly, demanding.

     “I’m fine, Dad. You?” Dominic tossed back.

     A small smile flashed for a moment as he gazed at the broad-shouldered, handsome man who filled the monitor’s screen. “Sorry, son.  Business.  I've got a lot on my mind.”

     Dominic raised an insolent brow. “And that's different from any other day because...?”

     The fact his son never cowered, never gave ground, never feared him, was often a source of intense satisfaction to Jamieson. Other times it just pissed him off. This was one of those times.  Irreverence, even a dash of rude sarcasm, he could put up with, but he drew the line at blatant disrespect. “This is how you speak to your father?”

     The two men glared at each other, then Dominic lowered his eyes to hide his anger. “Mea culpa, Pops,” he said softly.

     “Pops? What is the matter with you?”

     His father’s outrage made Dominic laugh out loud, lessening the tension between them.

     Jamieson scrutinized his son before asking, “Seriously, boy, what’s wrong? And you still haven’t answered my first question. Where are you?”

     Prepared for the question, the lie flowed smoothly off his tongue. There was no way he could let his father know he was in Seattle. Adept at covering his tracks, Dom was confident that even his father’s best IT people wouldn't be able to trace him. “London,” he said easily. “I had a taste for fish and chips.”

     “You took one of the private jets and flew to London. For fish and chips,” his father said crossly.

     “Would you believe bangers and mash?” At the impatient growl, he held his hands up in surrender.  “Okay, okay. I caught the first commercial flight I could get because it would have taken too long to explain why I wanted to use one of the planes, and no doubt you would have said no in the end anyway. As it turned out, I had a two-hour layover in New York and ended up with the most beautiful Swedish model, also on her way to London. We drank great champagne on the flight, and had a very…” he paused for effect, “well, let’s just say we parted as very intimate friends this morning.” His grin was wolfish.


     “Why? Jesus, Dad, you really need to get out more.”

     Jamieson sputtered. “Damn it, I’m asking—as you well know—why you’re in London?”

     Dominic sighed, reached off screen for a glass, then took a long swallow of what would look to his father like whiskey. It wasn’t, of course, but had he really been in London, the time difference would indicate the cocktail hour, not tea and toast, though in fact, it was tea in his glass. He was slow to answer. “Truth, or edited for your benefit?”

     “What do you think?” his father snapped.

     “All right, if you must know, I’m pissed.”

     “About what?”

     Dom snarled, “Oh, come on Dad. You’re the brilliant tactician, the genius behind one of the world’s great corporations, one of the top five in the Fortune 500. You don’t know?” He was unable to hide how supremely pissed he was, though beneath the anger, he also wanted to hear what his father had to say. But as the moments dragged, Nick surged to his feet, moving out of sight and away from the intense scrutiny of his father's stony silence. Running a hand through his hair, he took a deep breath, then refilled his glass, his thoughts in turmoil. Does there ever come a time when a son can eclipse the father? Perhaps not, if the father is Jamieson Cantrell.

     “Dominic? Get back here and sit down,” his father barked. Dom smiled grimly at the tone, like he was a child instead of a grown man in his thirties. To take down the Alpha, the challenger needed strength, purpose and the element of surprise. Now was not the time. What he needed most was information.

     Seating himself back on the couch, he tipped his glass toward his father and said with a thin smile, “Present and accounted for.”  Pause.  “Sir.”

     “I’m losing my patience with you. We’ve gone over this, more than once these past three weeks.” Cantrell narrowed his eyes, “I’m assuming this childish tantrum is due to Valentine. Correct?”

     Dominic struggled to keep a tight rein on his building resentment, though it was touch and go for a moment. After what happened at the dry cleaners, he couldn’t risk exposure, especially not to the man glowering with barely concealed anger himself.

     Leaning forward, Dom set the glass on the coffee table before resting his forearms on his thighs, hands dangling between his knees. “Look, Dad, I’m pissed because you haven’t clued me in about Valentine’s objective, or why you want some mysterious woman’s book stolen from the Library of Souls. I’m pissed because you didn’t give me the assignment, like that fucker Valentine is better than me. I’m pissed because I feel like you don’t trust me, your own flesh and blood, your only son.” He stopped. Best not to lay it on too thick. His father wasn’t a fool, nor could he be fooled—except perhaps by the one closest to him, which is exactly what Nick was counting on.

     Jamieson sat back in his chair, steepled his fingers, then pressed them against his lips. Dominic waited. He’s said his piece, now the ball was in his father’s court.

     Making a decision, Cantrell quietly murmured, “I need his expertise. The reason I trapped Valentine, setting him up for the blackmail scheme, is because he’s one of the few people—if not the only one—on the planet who can go to nearly every level in the Ethereal like the rest of us go to the grocery store.”

     “How does he do it?”

     “I don’t know. I’m not even sure Valentine himself knows. It’s enough that he can, however.” Jamieson paused, pressed a button on his desk console and requested a large coffee from his secretary. “I heard from an…associate…not too long ago that there was someone out there able to follow threads, listen for plots, able to steal from the rich and giv—”

     “Oh, don’t say it!” Dominic barked a laugh. “Give to the poor? C’mon, Dad, the guy’s an idiot. Do you honestly believe he’s a mastermind?” At the look on his father’s face, Dominick realized he’d said too much, revealed more than he wanted to.

     “What do you know about this?” Soft, menacing.

      He hated that tone. It always made him feel like a small, cringing child. Inwardly he cursed himself for the mistake. He was supposed to be gathering the intel, not giving it away. Deciding on casual, nonchalance, Dom smiled. “Dad, really? Everyone in the free world, and probably the ones not so free, know about him. It’s said he can walk through walls, hide in shadows, move through a room with such stealth there isn’t a whisper of sound.” He scoffed. “And you think that oaf Valentine is the greatest thief in the world? Please.”

     Relieved when his father was diverted by the coffee that appeared like magic on the desk beside him, Dominic took a pull from his glass and wished suddenly it actually was whiskey. He looked at his father while he was occupied with his secretary and couldn’t help admiring the bastard. His black hair was going slightly gray at the temples, but it just made him look more handsome, distinguished; deep, black eyes, creases around his eyes, again making him look like a man comfortable in his skin, at ease with his life. His Italian suit fit his strong athletic frame perfectly; his nose straight and aristocratic. In truth, there was nothing not to admire about Jamieson Cantrell, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world. Dominic felt overwhelmed for a moment, wondering how he could think for a single, solitary second that he could take this man. On the heels of his hesitation, however, he remembered what had set him on this course; who the man was behind the mask, and he mentally shook himself, stiffening his resolve.

     “I’ve got to go, son, something’s come up.” His father was sealing a large manila envelope, the kind usually delivered by couriers.

     “What? Just like that, before we’ve even finished talking?” Dominic balled his fists, struggled to walk the fine line between restraint and rage.

     “Come home. We’ll talk then.” Already distracted, Jamieson glanced up, surprised Dominic was still staring at him on the monitor.

     “No, Dad. Your specialty is cutting to the chase. Give it to me now. I’m not coming home, I’m staying in London for a week or so.”

     “What for? Are you going to the London office?”

     That wasn’t going to happen. “No. Let’s just say I’m taking some vacation time. And Dad? Start talking.” Dominic hesitated for a moment, then added, “Please.”

     His father frowned, clearly wanting to blow him off, then with a rush of words, he said, “I discovered, contrary to your assessment of the man, that Valentine was somehow able to use the Ethereal to discover secrets about people, follow them back to the real world, and then steal back what had been stolen--the artifacts, relics, paintings. And although most of these people are rich, influential pillars of their various communities, what could they do about the thefts? It’s not like they can contact the police.” Jamieson paused briefly, and Dom knew his father was choosing just how much to tell him. “I laid the trap as you know--you were there when we caught him--and though it was almost too easy, with the very real threat of serious repercussions the idea of stealing a book for me was the least of his worries.” Cantrell had a cruel smile.  One look, and it was clear a man with that smile would not hesitate to follow through on any threat he made, and wouldn't be bothered by something so mundane as boundaries.

     “Okay, Dad, but blackmail aside, what makes you think he’ll do it? And frankly, it might have been too easy to trap him because Valentine isn’t the Whisper at all. Have you considered that? Remember the stupid look on his face when we busted him in your hidden treasures room?”

     “How do you think he knew about the room, or about the relic, in the first place?”

     “Because you practically had neon arrows pointing the way!” Dominic rubbed his face, agitated. “What’s more surprising is that we didn’t haul in an entire net full of thieves, let alone a dumbass like Valentine. And steal from the Library of Souls? Surely it isn’t even possible--no doubt why it’s never been done before--and absolutely can't be done by that joker.” But as he studied his father, he saw a look of desire and…something else he couldn’t identify, flit across his face, shine in the black depths of his eyes. Now was the moment for the big Kahuna question. “Why do you want this book, Dad?”

     But suddenly his father was all business. Daddy and son were apparently finished with their bonding. Jamieson’s face hardened, he straightened in his chair, once again the corporate persona firmly in place as he said dismissively, “I’ve got an important call to make.” Reaching out to sever their connection, his father paused, spared him a glance, then said, “Leave this to me, it doesn't concern you. By the time you get home, things will have fallen into place. See you next week sometime?” At Dominic’s brooding look, Jamieson didn’t wait for a reply, just gave his son a curt nod and broke the link.

     Leaping to his feet, Dom stomped to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a two-fingered portion of a very nice malt whiskey. He swallowed a decent mouthful, then walked to the windows overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. It was a busy morning in Seattle. Ferries coming and going, traffic crawling in gridlock on the Viaduct, people below his window busily scurrying to and fro. He knocked back the whiskey, set the glass on the window sill, grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. He needed to do some legwork, get some on-the-ground details about Enchantments, talk to some people who might know the two women who worked there. He knew the Internet would be faster, but right now he needed to move, get his father out of his head, get back on track with his own agenda. And he preferred direct contact to impersonal information spouted by Google.

     Walking toward the bank of elevators, he began to smile as an enticing face rose in his mind, banishing his father’s in a instant. He could almost smell the ginger blossoms, feel the silk of her braid against his palm. Dominic was whistling as he crossed the lobby, his thoughts swirling with the myriad ways he was going to tempt, entice, debauch the delicious Katy Montgomery.

Friday, January 4, 2013

6. We Meet the Cantrells...

Standing in the shadowy alcove of a dry cleaners, Dominic Cantrell stared across the street at the Victorian house that Katy Montgomery had just entered.  He wasn’t sure what kind of place it was; hard to tell by the elegantly scripted sign over the door.  Enchantments.  With a slight curl in one corner of his mouth, Dom considered the possibilities.  At the moment he was having no trouble imagining sweet Katy bouncing up and down on his lap wearing something...enchanting.  Earlier, he’d been caught off guard; was actually still reeling from the unexpected encounter with her.

Dominic had been following up on something he’d overheard his father say on the phone a few days ago, that Lily Chareau owned a business in the University District of Seattle, and because he had his own agenda—in part to find out what his father was up to—he had flown out of San Francisco late last night.  Bright and early this morning, he’d driven a rental car from his downtown Seattle hotel to the main thoroughfare in the U-District, the Avenue, to get a feel for the place and plan his next move. 

By chance and sheer dumb luck, he’d walked into the right place at the right time.  Hungry, drawn by the delicious smells wafting along the sidewalk, he’d gone into a bakery for some coffee and pastry.  While waiting his turn to order, Dom had noticed a small stack of flyers next to the counter advertising a Halloween party next Friday night at Enchantments; a party being given by none other than Lily Chareau.  Grabbing one, he was scanning it when his stomach loudly grumbled. The girl ahead of him in line—a student judging by her pack full of books and the blue circles under her eyes—turned to smile, then seeing the flyer, began an animated discourse about the party.  Before Nick could get a word in, she moved forward to order, saying over her shoulder, “Here comes the woman who works there.”  Quickly stepping out of the line, Dominic strode to the farthest corner of the room, reached for one of the newspapers stacked there for customers, and pretended to read as he waited for his first glimpse of the woman behind his father's latest plot.

And watched in amazement as a whirlwind spun into the bakery; a miniature tornado with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes as vivid as sapphires.  She had a messenger bag that had to weigh as much as she did crossed over her chest, and a dark chestnut-colored braid, that he inexplicably wanted to touch, draped over her left shoulder and hanging nearly to her waist.  Mesmerized, his thoughts curled like smoke around images of that braid in his hand, caressing, pulling, wrapping around—

Startled at his reaction, Dom shook his head sharply.  He continued to watch as she took her place in line, talking a mile a minute to the same girl he had briefly spoken to, her gestures punctuating every other word, her energy palpable.  When the door opened and two more students came in, he took a few quick strides, positioning himself directly behind her.  And nearly groaned aloud at her scent: ginger blossoms in a tropical breeze; heat and sun and ocean waves.

In a slightly desperate move, attempting to halt the images suddenly swamping his brain, Dom heard the woman order apple fritters, and bending low, breathed into her ear, “Are those as good as they look?”  She stiffened at first, but he knew the power of his voice.  She slowly turned, then had to retreat a step, tipping her head back to look up at him.  The full force of her eyes in the heart-shaped face, that sweet, lush mouth, the glow of her, hit him full force and shot straight to his groin.  For the first time in his life, Dominic Cantrell felt something perilously close to panic shiver through his belly.

They had carried on some kind of conversation; he vaguely remembered ordering more fritters than he could possibly want, though it all seemed surreal, like a half-remembered dream.  Dom managed to ask her some innocuous questions, and was unaccountably pleased when he learned she wasn't, in fact, Lily Chareau.  After receiving their pastries, he had insisted on walking out with her, reluctant to let her go just yet.  He knew she was interested; her face was an open book, and she was far to guileless to hide her feelings.

In a moment of weakness, unable to stop himself, he had reached for her braid, run his hand down the length, from the nape of her neck to the tiny cord tied at the tip of the silken rope.  Enthralled by the velvety softness, the fragrance befuddling his mind, he dimly recalled muttering something about caressing cashmere.  At least he thought that’s what he said.  In his head he'd been imagining her hair loose, was trying to judge where it would fall once unbound, pictured it covering him in a blanket of thick chestnut warmth. 
Alarmed at his uncharacteristic behavior, Dominic abruptly backed off.  He didn’t ask for her phone number, wasn’t sure it would be smart to pursue her at all under the circumstances.  Though even as she drove away and his brain came back online, he couldn't resist rubbing his hand across his  mouth, her scent permeating his skin.

Tailing her the mile or so to Enchantments, he forced himself to concentrate, to sort through what he had learned so far.  First and foremost, he now knew she wasn’t Lily Chareau.  So, on one hand, Katy wasn't part of his father's agenda, which was good news; on the other hand, what the fuck was his father’s agenda?  He smiled as a new thought occurred to him.  Getting close to Katy would inevitably get him into the inner circle, closer to the target.  Dom fingered the flyer he had stuffed into his jacket at the bakery.  The Halloween party would be a perfect excuse to scope things out while he chipped away at his father’s latest subterfuge. And ignoring his earlier alarm, and his resolve to steer clear, he couldn't stop the thought from taking root: Why not enjoy the delectable Katy Montgomery?  
He sighed, a hint of regret in the sound.  It really was just too damn bad the woman could only be a means to an end.  His real objectives had to be the other one, and the reason behind his father's blackmail of that bastard Valentine.  A sneer twisted his mouth, thinning the sensuous full lips into cruel lines as rage filled him, a spark of red flame flickering in the black depths of his eyes.  What secrets was his father still keeping?  How many more damned revelations would he have to ferret out on his own?  But the bigger, deeper question remained: Why did his father want the Chareau woman’s book stolen from the Library of Souls?

Balling his fists, Dom clenched his jaw and fought the seething storm, his body shaking from the effort.  As he struggled, there was the slight sound of a door unlocking at his back.  When he jerked around, a small Asian man, opening his dry cleaning business for the day, took one look at him, and the welcoming smile disappeared with a jaw-dropping stare of pure fear as his face drained of color.  He stumbled trying to step back and clutched the door with white knuckles.

Shaking himself, hard, like a wet dog, Dom was relieved to feel a marginal unwinding of tension in his body.  Forcing a stiff smile, he growled, his voice harsh, “No worries old man.  I’m gone.”   Getting into his car, he wondered what the old guy had seen. Judging by the reaction, it wasn’t the face he usually saw in the mirror.  He would have to be more careful, he couldn’t risk his father finding out his secrets, couldn't have his plans thwarted, not after all the work, the effort.  The pain.

Sliding behind the wheel of his rental car, Dominick Cantrell smiled.  It wasn't a pleasant one.  “I think it's about time I checked in with dear old Dad,” he murmured, heading downtown to his hotel.

----to be continued----