Thursday, March 28, 2013
Daniel fled silently up the three flights of stairs, the low rumble of Cantrell’s voice following him like a wraith. Twice he had to stop himself from turning back, the urge to protect Lily nearly overwhelming his better judgment. Quietly easing into Lily’s apartment, he pulled the strap of his messenger bag over his head and clutched it in a tight fist as he locked the door behind him.
Walking through the small foyer, he paused on the threshold of a large open room. On the far wall in front of him was a stone fireplace, two sofas facing each other with a long, low table between them, and a set of floor lamps with tassels and embellishments in the opulent manner of the Victorians. The floor-to-ceiling windows on either side of the fireplace let in soft, muted light from the street lights outside.
Stepping into the room, he pulled the chain on one of the floor lamps and slowly surveyed the entire room in the subdued glow of a low-wattage bulb. Now he could see the smaller things, treasures and keepsakes that told the stories of a life. Daniel eyed the array of framed photographs that dominated the room: on the walls, standing upright on tables, and dozens that he could see tucked like exotic decorations and bookends on the many shelves of the astounding bookcase that covered the entire length of one long wall.
Heading toward one of the windows, he dropped his bag on the floor at the end of the sofa and carefully pulled back the sheer curtain. The view revealed nothing in the quiet street save the occasional passing car. Daniel wasn’t sure how much time he had, but the sense of urgency and dread was growing. He didn’t know if the wardens could actually leave the Ethereal, though if they could and were after him, there was no doubt he was finished. And that was if Cantrell didn't get to him first.
But none of that mattered, he thought, grinding his teeth in frustration. Only Lilith mattered, and if she wouldn’t listen, or worse, wouldn't believe him, well, he’d just have to find some way to safeguard her anyway.
A distraction drew his gaze to the street below. He watched a tall, muscular man carrying a child—no, wait, not a child, he realized, but a small woman—toward a flashy car, carefully set her inside and buckle her seatbelt. He smiled at the sweet, tender moment between the couple. Until the man straightened and walked around his car. The street lights might have obscured him in light and shadow, but there was no mistaking who it was. Daniel abruptly moved away from the window, pressing himself against the wall.
As he’d wandered in the shadows at the party, staying in the stacks, avoiding contact with anyone, he’d managed not only to watch Lilith, but glean information from overheard conversations and judicious eavesdropping about several interesting things, not the least being that Katy, Lilith’s best friend and sole employee had herself a new boyfriend.
Seeing that boyfriend was none other than Dominic Cantrell had truly shocked him, though using the best friend to get to Lilith--a callous and cruel tactic--was no less than what he'd expect from the prick. There was no doubt he was exploiting the woman's connection to Lilith and judging by the devious little scene just witnessed the remainder of the evening was headed right where Dominic could press his advantage.
The light tap at the front door brought Daniel back from his reverie. Pushing away from the wall, he quietly crossed the room and stood waiting at the door. There was another tap, then a soft, hesitant voice murmured, “It’s me. I can’t get in without my keys.”
Monday, March 25, 2013
Dominic carried Katy to his rental car, tucked her into the passenger seat and buckled her in, then as he walked around the car, a movement on the top floor of Lily’s building caught his eye. He watched the windows for a moment, idly wondering who Lily was sharing all that food with, but when he didn't see any more movement, he shrugged and got behind the wheel. Then the sight of Katy drove all other thoughts from his head. He could almost see dreams stirring in the irresistible sapphire depths of her sleepy eyes as they glittered under the streetlight. She toed off her shoes, then pulled her legs up and tucked her feet under the costume's cloak, turning in her seat to give him a soft smile. “Home James,” she murmured. Dom grinned as he leaned over and kissed her nose. “And where exactly would that be, Little Red?” He knew where she lived, of course, though she wasn’t aware of that.
Giving him the address, she closed her eyes, the sweet smile still on her face. Staring, he wondered how she’d gotten under his skin so quickly, so easily. No, he thought ruefully, not under. Inside.
As he drove slowly toward her apartment, he had a hard time concentrating on the road, the traffic lights, the stop signs. Just the thought of finally having her, being with her, touching her-- Dominic fought the ache, the true physical pain of what had become a near constant desire. How many nights had he stood in the darkness outside her apartment, fighting the urge to give in, to just go to her?
All of them. Every night he battled his need. But finally, tonight the wait was over.
A wave of restless impatience swept over him, followed immediately by a stunning realization: this tiny waif of a woman had turned him upside down; without even being aware of it, she had seduced him right out of his mind. When had the tables turned? Which precise moment over the past week was the one, the defining moment when it all backfired, turning him from predator to willing prey?
Since their meeting at the bakery, Dominic had begun a single-minded pursuit of the luscious Katy Montgomery. His plan had been to entice her so effectively, by the Halloween party she would be falling all over him. Unbeknownst to her, he had followed her home, to work, shopping. Everywhere she went, he was there in the shadows.
He'd called her several times each day, and occasionally they had met for lunch or coffee, but he held her at arms length. Seduction from a distance. He’d loved the whole plan. But then, an unexpected thing happened: As he followed, watched, learned what she liked, what things made her laugh with such delightful abandon--and those things were legion he discovered--he began to wonder if his plan was just plain stupid as he agonized over how bloody long one measly week could be.
One day, about halfway through the interminable week, he couldn’t resist the temptation to see her apartment, touch her things, breath her scent. He wanted to see how she lived, visualize her in bed, in the bath.
After following her to work, he returned to her apartment, the second floor of a large Victorian house, one that outwardly had seen better days. Once inside however, Dominic discovered her rooms, though small, were pleasantly charming with high ceilings, wainscoting in the tiny dining room, an old-fashioned claw-foot tub in the bathroom, and beveled glass windows that looked out over the quiet street in the front, and the large, wild Ravenna Park to the back. Her furniture, cast-offs and thrift store purchases, had been repainted or reupholstered in bright, cheerful colors in a style that reflected Katy’s personality. One entire wall in the living room was a bookcase, stuffed to overflowing; he found two more in her bedroom, one on each side of her cast iron bed--a bed covered with an assortment of quilts, and pillows of every shape and size. Nothing matched, and yet it worked perfectly; a kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and sensuality.
The whole place made him smile as he wandered from room to room, lightly touching the quilts, the overstuffed chair in the corner by a large window, books piled on a small end table, the soft throw tossed over the back of the couch in the living room. When he began to imagine her in the bathtub, with steam and bubbles flushing her face, her body, he left the house in a dizzying rush of hunger.
Nearing her apartment now, Dom shook his head, a slight smile curving his lips. He hadn’t gone back after that day. Once had been enough. Just thinking about it, about being with her, made him burn. Not only had he never waited for a woman, he’d never wanted one like he wanted her.
Dom held tightly to the hope that once satisfied, once he'd finally had her, this madness would stop and he could get back to work on the real issues: his father, the book and Daniel Valentine. As he pulled the car to the curb, he looked over at Katy, her face soft and beautiful in sleep. And tried to ignore the coil of regret that settled in his belly.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Distracted by her unprecedented behavior in allowing a stranger into her apartment, Lily bent to reach under the kitchen sink for the dishwasher soap, hoping that would explain the flush in her cheeks as Dominic and Katy rushed inside. She needn't have bothered. It was immediately clear they were barely aware of her as they laughed and chattered, lost in their own world. Irritated, she filled the soap dispenser, shut the dishwasher and started the machine before turning to face them.
Staring at the look on Katy’s face, seeing the soft, kiss-bruised lips, the sparkle of joy in her eyes, Lily felt a sudden, chill foreboding. What if the stranger—she hadn’t even had the presence of mind to ask his name!—what if he was telling the truth about Dominic, that he couldn't be trusted? This was her gentle, kind, lovable best friend.
Her deliriously happy and utterly captivated best friend.
Lily turned her attention to Dominic. He was one handsome guy, no question. He also couldn’t seem to keep his hands off Katy for two seconds. Every time she tried to move forward, he pulled her back against him and nuzzled her hair, or bit her ear lobe, or kissed her neck. Twisting, squirming, they wrestled playfully until Dominic grabbed her braid, wrapping the long rope around his hand to reel her in. Breathless, Katy laughed as she was pulled into his arms, and Lily could only watch in growing dismay as a little teasing kiss suddenly became something so sensual and urgent, Lily had to drop her eyes, feeling like a voyeur as their blatant desire for each other ignited.
Clearly, no matter who Dominic Cantrell really was, or whatever his agenda might be, there was no question he wanted Katy just as much as she wanted him.
On edge, anxious to hear the mystery man's story, and what he could tell her about Dominic, Lily restlessly opened the refrigerator as his serious, tired face rose in her mind. Rummaging, she pulled out some food and quickly began making a large roast beef sandwich with all the trimmings. Reaching in the cupboard for a plate, she placed it on a small tray, piled a large helping of potato salad next to the sandwich, added a few other leftovers from the party and an assortment of cupcakes.
Ready to go upstairs, she turned toward Katy and Dominic. “Guys, if you don’t mind? I’m going up to bed.” Disconcerted, Lily watched Dominic’s eyes dart from her face, to the laden tray of food, back to her face. He raised a brow, then with a knowing smirk, he spun Katy around so they were both looking at her. It only took a moment. “Holy crap, Chareau,” Katy sputtered, looking at the tray, “that’s more food than you eat in a week!”
Defensively, she said, “It’s just a sandwich and some cakes. I've hardly eaten all day.” Then she caught herself and stopped. There was no need to defend herself in her own home, eating her own food. “Go away, you two.” She walked to Katy, pulling her into a warm hug. “Thanks for all the help with the party, the invitations, decorations, everything. It was the best party we’ve ever had, I’m sure.”
“You’re welcome,” Katy smiled, returning the hug. “And yeah,” she grabbed Dominic’s hand, “it was definitely the best party we’ve ever had.”
Trying to be gracious, she said softly, “Thanks for your help too, Dominic. I don’t think the Bodley twins will ever be the same.” The three of them shared a laugh, then Dominic swung Katy up into his arms and walked to the back door. He bent slightly to allow her to reach down for the knob, then as they maneuvered over the threshold, he looked over his shoulder and caught Lily's eye. With a sly glance at the tray, he smiled. “Have a nice evening.” Then as he carried a giggling Katy down the steps, his parting shot slid into the room, “Enjoy your...food.”
Lily glared as the door softly closed, the annoying sound of Dominic's laughter fading into the night. His cocky arrogance was a stark reminder that she had far too many questions. Quickly she locked the door, turned out the lights and picked up the tray. As she hurried toward the stairs, she hoped the man waiting in her apartment had as many answers.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Jamieson Cantrell was enraged. Someone was going to pay for this fuck up, and pay dearly. “Keep looking!” he snarled into his cell phone before slamming it onto his desk, not caring when it shattered into small black and silver shards. Abruptly pushing to his feet with a barely contained fury, he stalked to his liquor cabinet, grabbed the closest decanter and sloshed a heavy measure into a glass. After a deep swallow, he turned toward the floor-to-ceiling windows in his office and gazed unseeing at the lights across San Francisco Bay.
Not knowing how long it would take Valentine to get his hands on the book yesterday, Cantrell had left him to it. After all, the man had no choice but to do as instructed unless he wanted to face severe repercussions. But, by late evening Cantrell began to wonder why Valentine had yet to appear, had even begun to consider that something might have gone wrong, that maybe Valentine wasn’t as clever or talented as expected.
When there was still no sign of the man by dawn, Cantrell sent one of his men over to investigate and watch the house. By late afternoon, with no trace of activity from the house or any indication Valentine was even inside, Cantrell told his man to enter the house, and he would be there shortly. Not being a man used to waiting for anything, he’d called for his driver and marched out of his office.
There was no one in the house—not even the body he half-expected to find—though it was clear Valentine had taken off in a hurry when the door to a well-concealed safe room was found ajar, a mistake Daniel Valentine would never have made unless something, or someone, had spooked him. Cantrell had found nothing in the house or the safe room to explain the overturned table, the slightly sour smell of vomit in the bathroom, a partially closed drawer in the bedroom, though it didn’t take much to put together even these meager clues: Valentine was on the run. Rage building, he’d left his man to search the house, the neighborhood, looking for anything to point them in the right direction for finding the thief.
Knocking back the remains of his drink, Cantrell growled in frustration as he walked back to the cabinet and filled his glass again. Thoughts swirling with violence, he licked his lips as he imagined tearing the thief into nice bite-sized pieces. And if this maneuver was an attempt to fuck with him, or try to make a deal of some kind, well…apparently he hadn’t been clear enough with Valentine, but when he got his hands on the man there would be no further misunderstandings. Negotiating anything wasn’t on the table.
And where the hell was Dominic? He’d left messages, emails, called the London office, and set his IT people to locate him—which they hadn’t. Jamieson Cantrell ground his teeth. Could Dominic even comprehend the embarrassing position he’d put his father in? A man who ruled a financial empire, had dinner with movers and shakers around the globe, golfed with presidents and potentates. And he couldn’t find his own goddamn son.
He reached for the office phone. When his call was answered on the first ring, Cantrell barked, “I have a job for you. In my office, now.”