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Thursday, April 25, 2013

24. The Conversation Begins


     Daniel hurriedly unlocked Lily's front door, then reached to take the tray from her hands. Frowning, he said, “This is too heavy. You should have left it downstairs for me to carry up.” Lily raised a brow, though let him have the tray without comment and followed him into her apartment, taking his measure as he walked into the living room. Damn. Had he been this big downstairs? So tall and fierce and—

      “Where should I put this?” he asked, standing uncertainly a few steps into the room.

      “The kitchen, I think.” She waited for him to move in that direction, but he just stood silently, waiting for instructions like a butler holding a large tray of food. Lily swallowed, slightly dazed by the way his presence seemed to fill what she used to think was a very large space.


      “And that would be…?”

      Jolted from her wayward thoughts, Lily blinked.  “What? Oh! Yes, well.” She cleared her throat, then stammered, “I thought, um, since you've been up here by yourself—” Her mouth snapped shut at his scowl. She ripped off the itchy black wig and tossed it into a basket behind the sofa, then vigorously raked her fingers through her hair as she walked through a door to the left of the living room. Behind her, he muttered, “I came to speak with you, not case the joint.”

      Turning on the lights as they entered the kitchen, she said, “It’s not unreasonable to be curious about the layout of someone’s house. If you were poking your nose in my business, or prying into my closets, that would be one thing, but just looking around isn’t a criminal offense.” She gave him a confused look when he snorted.

      The soft lighting overhead revealed a large gourmet kitchen with warm butcher-block counters, black appliances and gleaming silver fixtures. Daniel set the tray on a long wooden table—an old, battered, well-loved table—and gazed with appreciation around the room, admiring the subtle color of the walls, the bright cushions on the bench seats beneath the table. The room would be awash in natural light during the day from the long wall of windows and the two skylights.  Walking toward the far wall, he spied more framed photos, these of sunflowers and old men with deep wrinkles and beautiful smiles; families gathered around tables groaning with food and wine, and more smiles; girl children in bright yellow dresses, boys with gap-toothed grins and skinned knees. Daniel felt a bitter, unexpected wave of loneliness sweep through him, an emotion he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years; the pain of being the boy no one wanted, the boy left out in the cold watching the warmth of family through the windows of strangers; never the one inside, sharing in the laughter, the smiles.

      Lily caught the oddest look on the man’s face as he turned from the photos taken the last time she’d been to France visiting her parents. All the local families had come to celebrate the annual sunflower harvest, even her grandparents had come from Ireland. The festivities had lasted for an entire week, and her father had taken some of his finest photographs. Why would these happy, beautiful photos give the man such a lost, forlorn look?

      “Wine?” At his nod, she reached into a drawer and pulled out the corkscrew, then bent to her wine rack and selected a bottle. Smiling, he walked to the counter and took the opener and the bottle back to the table. Lily got two glasses from the cupboard, set them on the table, then slid the bench out and sat just as the cork popped out of the bottle. Filling both glasses, Daniel settled across from her and tipped his glass in a silent toast before taking a drink.

      After taking a sip, Lily twirled the glass by its stem as she said softly, “This is so strange. So out of character for me.” Shaking her head, she murmured, “You just appear out of nowhere, a total stranger, and now here we sit in my apartment where I rarely allow anyone but family.” She raised her eyes, a puzzled look on her face as she met his gaze. “I’m not sure what it is, but there’s...something about you.” Another shake of her head as she reached for the tray of food.

      Daniel thought he might be too nervous to eat, though he wasn’t having the same thought about the wine. Draining half the glass, he topped it up as he watched her lay a plate and silverware in front of him. He couldn’t help staring, couldn’t stop soaking in every movement, memorizing the shape of her lips, the slightly exotic tilt at the corner of her eyes, the crazy, beautiful way her red-blond hair spiked in wild tufts now the dreadful wig was gone. He smiled his thanks when she set a laden plate in front of him and casually said, “Though my family is slightly odd, and that's putting it mildly,” she grinned, “maybe that makes it easier for me to accept...things...because I’m used to the weird stuff.”

      “I’m weird stuff, all right,” Daniel muttered.

      Her face reddening, Lily sputtered, “No! Oh no, I didn’t mean you were weird. I meant this...” Lily waved her hand between them, “us, here, drinking and talking, and yet you could be an axe murderer, an escaped mental patient, or—”

      “No. I might have some, ah, issues, but I’m definitely not a psycho.” Pensively he added, “Although, you might think I'm worse once I've explained—” Abruptly snatching up his wine glass, Daniel took another deep swallow, hesitated for a moment, then shook his head before meeting her eyes. “At the very least,” he said miserably, “you'll probably question my sanity. Or your own for listening to me.”

      Lily’s gaze swept over his face, acutely aware of the amber sparks in the green depths of his eyes as they stared at each other. She saw the dull edge of exhaustion in the lines around his mouth, the shadows under his eyes, the weary droop in his shoulders.  And there was something else—she could feel a subtle vibration, similar to the low thrum of a tuning fork, that seemed to be emanating from...his chest?

     Unsettled, Lily took a quick gulp of wine before glancing across the table at him.  A slight frown creased between his brow as if sensing her unease, but when she smiled, he relaxed and gave her a crooked grin in return.  A grin that fogged her brain. 


     Another taste of wine, and she was once again able to speak.  “Of course I’ll listen to you before I call the men in white coats,” she assured him, “because I wasn’t kidding about my family being different. My grandfather is larger than life and used to fill my head with magical tales of old gods and ancient warriors. When I was a little girl, he would sing me to sleep with legends of the Sidhe, where I always starred as the fairy princess in his grand stories.” Grinning at the memories, she added, “My mother has a green thumb you wouldn’t believe, and though she’s not an actual relative, even my best friend Katy has a gift, for finding lost things.”

      “And you?” Daniel asked softly, his eyes intent on her face. “What's your magic?”


Monday, April 15, 2013

23. Two Trackers


Jamieson Cantrell swung around in his chair, his contemplation of the San Francisco skyline interrupted by the light tap at his office door.

“Sir?”  His secretary poked her head into the room but kept the door firmly blocked with her body.  “Your…ah…appointment is here.”

Cantrell hid his smile.  If she knew just how futile her attempt was to bar the door from the creature at her back, she would run screaming into a custom-fitted straight jacket.  Subconsciously though, he knew the primitive animal part of her brain was feeling the dread, the fear.

“Thank you, Miranda, and why don’t you take an early lunch.”

She stepped forward, her back to the door as it opened wide, a white-knuckled hand gripping the knob like a lifeline.   When the man crossed the threshold, his head swiveled toward her, a low, feral growl rising.  Miranda’s free hand shot to her throat, her eyes widening as he gave her a long, hungry look.

“That will be all, Miranda!” Cantrell snapped.  Startled, she jerked her eyes to him as if coming out of a trance.  Murmuring an apology, she darted from the room, nearly slamming the door in her haste to escape.

“Goddamn it, how many times do I have to beat it into you?”

“Forgive me, Master.”  The creature bowed deeply, almost groveling.  “She smelled so…”  His voice rough and guttural, he hesitated for a moment as if his tongue couldn’t manage to form words.  “It’s been long since I’ve eaten.”

 Cantrell narrowed his eyes, glaring at the fiend standing before him.  At the moment, if one didn’t look too closely, he appeared to be unremarkable, nothing more than an average man of medium build, with brown hair, brown eyes.  Under the fa├žade however, was a vicious, ravenous Hound, a bloodthirsty being of immense strength, with an uncanny ability to track anything alive.  An aberration of the demonic Hellhound, trackers were able to change their appearance, allowing them to blend into whatever environment their tracking skills led them.  With a sharp intelligence, they were even capable of rudimentary speech.  They might have been the perfect weapon if not for the difficulty they had in thinking for themselves; if not controlled mercilessly, trackers quickly degenerated into the mindless savagery of their forebears.  

 “Humans,” Cantrell snarled, “are not part of your diet just yet.  Do you understand me, Hound, or do I have to make a finer point here?”  The tracker dropped to his hands and knees, head hanging in submission.  He didn’t speak or move.  Cantrell sighed.  The day he’d fled the Ethereal, he’d been in the process of training the Hound and though he’d inadvertently brought him to this place, he’d rarely regretted doing so.  Lately however, it was getting harder to keep the beast in line.  Their diet in the Abyss consisted of blood and madness as they fed on the flesh of the damned.  Cantrell was beginning to wonder if domestic animals and wildlife weren't enough, that maybe over the years the wrong diet was starting to deteriorate his Hound.   He didn’t want to lose this asset, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d been forced to destroy what had tried to escape his control.

“Stand,” he barked.  He wrote two addresses on a piece of paper and handed them across his desk to the tracker.  “Go to the first address and pick up the scent of the man who lives there.  I believe it will likely take you north, to the second address.”  He leaned forward, his eyes glowing a deep, blood red as he coldly hissed, “You will stop at the ranch and feed before you leave town.  You will harm no humans.  When you have something to report, use this.”  He handed over a cell phone.  “Any questions?”

The Hound tucked the phone into the front pocket of his jacket, then looked at the two addresses for a moment before putting the paper in his mouth, chewing briefly before swallowing.  “No, Master.”

“Do not fail me in this, Hound.  You will not like the consequences, I can promise you.”  As he turned in his chair to look out the window, he added, “Oh, and Hound?  If you catch a whiff of my son, call me immediately.”

 
Six Hours Later…

 Taurin stood in the living room of Daniel Valentine’s house.  Standing, though he didn’t know it, in the exact spot where a few days earlier, Daniel himself had looked across the Bay pondering his next move.

The last time Taurin had felt the earth under his feet, he’d been in the Praetorian Guard, Rome had ruled the world, and he was tired unto death of fighting and warring, blood and loss.  So, when the Celtic spear punched through his chest plate, pierced his heart and drove halfway out his back, he welcomed the darkness.

Except, it hadn’t been dark.  It was myriad colors and shifting golden light and rainbow threads of life.  Syrus had found him almost immediately, as if he’d been waiting for him.  The two men had much in common and spent many long hours together, talking, laughing, becoming friends.  In the end, with no hesitation, Taurin eagerly agreed to stay in the Ethereal and join the Wardens.

As he watched the sun begin to color the sky as it set, he marveled at how beautiful this world was, so raw and untamed.  Opening the window, he took a deep breath, savoring the chilly, damp air, redolent with the salty tang of the Bay, the acrid hint of car exhaust from the street below, the faint medicinal hint of eucalyptus wafting in with the fog.

He thought for a minute about his last conversation with Syrus.  His schedule cleared, his men aware of his departure, Taurin had returned to speak with his boss, hoping for a clue how to activate the medallion.  He was also slightly uneasy at leaving the Ethereal for the first time in two millennia.  There was no concern about being two thousand years behind the times, unable to blend with the earthly world—the Ethereal was the center of all human experience after all.  No, it was more that he didn’t really want to return, didn’t want to remember the weight of life, revive old memories of loss and love.

When he walked into the office, he cleared the thoughts from his mind.  Daniel Valentine took precedence over his meaningless concerns.

Syrus told him he’d done a quick bit of research on the medallion.  All he had to do was put it around his neck and visualize where he wanted to go.  The two men had looked at each other for a moment, then started to laugh.  “Yeah, I know.  Anything that easy, there must be a catch,” Sy said, “though I don’t see what it might be.”

“I’m more interested in getting my hands on Valentine and the book, and dragging his butt back here as soon as possible.”  He smiled ruefully.  “It would be really nice if this was easy.”

“I called in a favor with one of my old friends.  He’s agreed to help out.  In fact, he insisted.”

Taurin raised a brow.  “Someone is going with me?”

“No.  Someone already there.”

“How—“

Syrus waved a hand.  “Complicated story, no time, just know that there’s someone on his way to lend a hand if you need it.”  Changing the subject, he asked, “How do you proceed from here?”

Taurin felt there was much being left unsaid, but he wanted to get moving.  The sooner he apprehended the thief, the sooner he could return.  “I want to go to Daniel’s house first and make certain he’s not there.  I’ll look for clues, maybe find some reason for this madness, then follow his trail wherever it leads.”  He shrugged.  “I’ve known him since he was a small child, I’ll find him.”

They shook in the ancient way, grasping forearms, then Taurin dropped the medallion over his head, smiled at Syrus, and imagined himself in Daniel Valentine’s house.

Shaking his head, Taurin closed the window and stepped away to survey the room one more time.  When he’d arrived, right smack in the middle of the living room, he had been disoriented at first, mainly because there had been no feeling of movement, no transitional sense of…anything.  One moment in the office with Syrus, the next standing on a plush Oriental carpet in a house in the middle of San Francisco.

Searching the house from top to bottom, he’d found the secret room.  When he looked around that secure space, he couldn’t help remembering the scared little boy he had found, the sweet child he had comforted, told to find a safe place before he went flying again.  Clenching his jaws, Taurin scowled.  That boy was gone.  It was the man he was after now.

Clutching the medallion in a tight fist, Taurin again caught a whiff of the bitter, caustic stench of brimstone.  He had a moment  before he disappeared to wonder what Daniel could possibly have gotten involved in to have a Hound on his tail.


 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

22. Taking Is Mutual

**Disclaimer **
Sex in this installment. 
 If that's a problem, then duh, don't read this.
 
You've been warned. 
 
*****************************


 Parking in front of her house, Dominic sat quietly for a moment, listening to the engine ticking as it cooled, Katy’s even breathing, the dim sounds of music and laughter from the pub a block over on the main street.  He’d been waiting for what seemed half his life--instead of a week--to be with this woman, and yet, now he was finding it an exquisite torture to sit here in the dark intimacy of the night, his body humming with anticipation. 

Groaning softly, he shifted in his tight leather pants but instead of easing the pressure, his movements made it more uncomfortable.  Done with the wait, he leaned toward Katy and ran a gentle finger down her cheek, caressing her full lower lip with his thumb.  She stirred slightly, then languidly opened her eyes.  Giving him the smile he knew was meant just for him, she murmured softly, “I forgot to tell you.” 

“Tell me what, Little Red?” 

“You’re the best pirate ever.”  She stifled a yawn.  “Even better than Jack Sparrow.” 

Dominic laughed.  How could she be so guileless, and yet at the same time be so devastatingly erotic.  He kissed her, tongue probing, tasting, his mouth sucking the lushness of her bottom lip.   “I need to kiss you,” he whispered against her lips, “everywhere.”  Katy moaned, the sound igniting his craving, his need to have her. 

With a harsh sound, he was out of his seat and at her side of the car between one breath and the next.  Impatiently releasing the belt, he lifted her out of the passenger seat and into his arms.  She curled into him, easy and familiar, as if she belonged there, safe against his chest.  He nearly stumbled on the way to the porch at that unexpected truth.  Heart pounding with shock, need, fear, disbelief, he tried to open the door, but found it locked.  “Get this door open, Katy or I’ll kick it down,” he growled. 

“Lift me,” she demanded.  Her fingers slid along the lintel until she grasped the key, then he bent slightly so she could unlock the door.  Once inside he was halfway up the left-side staircase before remembering he’d supposedly never been here before.  “Am I heading in the right direction?” he asked, pausing on the stair.  Katy nibbled his earlobe, then whispered, “Oh yeah, definitely headed in the right direction.”  Dom shot up the stairs, taking the steps two at a time as Katy giggled, her breath enticingly warm on his neck. 

At her front door another low growl rumbled up his throat, but this time she was ready.  Plucking a key from a tiny pocket in her cloak, she quickly slid it into the lock.  Before the knob had barely turned, Dominic shouldered forward, pausing only long enough to kick the door shut with his foot.  He dropped Katy’s legs, but kept his arms tight around her, holding her off the ground as he kissed her, grunting with satisfaction when she lifted her legs and wrapped them around his waist. 

His mind raced with the numerous choices in her apartment where he could take her, places he had fantasized about over the past week, but before he could think straight, get beyond sweet, soft lips as Katy kissed him with a fever that matched his own, she began slow, undulating movements against him and his tenuous control snapped.  Ravaging her mouth, he spun around and pressed her against the door.  Holding her with one arm firmly around her waist, he yanked the zipper on his pants, freeing himself from the painful leather trap.  Running his hand up her thigh, Dom sucked in a breath when his large palm curved over bare flesh and he felt the creamy, silken texture of her skin.  “No panties, woman?” he asked roughly, a dark gleam in his eye.  "Another thing you forgot to tell me."

Katy tried to speak, but could only moan at the ragged sound of his breathing as he touched her, the hard reality of his need pressing into her belly.  Arms tight around his neck, she managed to whisper, “Dom...please.” 

Dominic asked, his voice almost cruel, “What do you want?”  He rolled his hips, teasing her with each sinuous move.  “Tell me,” he ordered. 

“I want…” she hesitated, then lifted her eyes and held his burning gaze.  “You know what I want, Dom.”  He held still, waiting.  Leveraging herself a bit, she slipped a hand between their bodies and gripped him.  “This,” she whispered, “I want this.”  She kissed him as she stroked, then said softly against his lips, “And you.” 

The simple honesty of her words swamped him with such intensity, he was briefly overwhelmed and could only stare into glittering sapphire eyes for several moments before abruptly giving her a searing kiss.  Raising her slightly in his large hands, he positioned her but held back.  “Look at me.”  Hunger gave his voice a deep, raw edge.  Shivering at the sound, writhing in his strong grasp as she tried to lower herself onto him, Katy stared into the black depths of his eyes. 

“No one will touch you.”  Holding her up for another brief moment, making sure she read the truth in his eyes, he suddenly lowered her and plunged deep.  “Never again.  No one but me,” he vowed.  Katy was lost in glorious, wild abandon.  As she cried out and begged for more, he didn't hesitate to give it to her.  When he bent forward and bit a taut nipple through the fabric of her dress, the force of her orgasm nearly took him to his knees.

     As the most indescribable sensations Dominic had ever experienced sent him flying, his last coherent thought was irrefutable: Katy Montgomery now belonged to him, body and soul, and he would kill anyone who tried to take her from him.