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


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

26. Chain of Events

     Several blocks away, at the precise moment Lily’s hand touched Daniel’s chest, Dominic jerked awake, Katy stirring in his arms at the sudden movement. He murmured soft words, stroked her hair until she drifted back to sleep, then cocked his head and listened intently, wondering what had startled him from a deep, sated sleep.

     Hearing nothing, he smiled to himself—there’s a disturbance in the Force, Luke—as he played with a long, silken strand of Katy’s hair, twining it around a finger before bringing it to his nose. Her scent was on his skin, in his head, weaving into every corner of his body. Somewhere between wild sex in the living room, the shower, and her bed, Dominic had finally unraveled her braid, pleased beyond reason when her hair fell in a thick curtain of chestnut waves to her waist.

     “I smell smoke,” his enchantress murmured, interrupting his thoughts.

     “Thought you were asleep, Red.” When she tried to lift her head, he pressed it back into the hollow of his shoulder, not yet ready to relinquish the soft warmth of her cheek against him.

     Throwing her leg over his thigh, she wiggled tighter into his side, then began stroking her hand in gentle circles over his chest. “I was, but then I smelled the smoke. Don’t you smell it?”

     “The only thing I smell is you.” He pulled her on top of him, smiling at her squeal of surprise. “One kiss, then I’ll go see if we started a smoldering inferno in your apartment while we were—” Chuckling against her lips, his words were drowned in her hungry kisses.

     Several minutes later, all thoughts of leaving the bed forgotten, Dominic suddenly caught a faint whiff of…brimstone?   Carefully rolling to the side, taking Katy with him, he kissed her softly, then said casually, “Let me check that we're not burning the house down.” When she tried to keep him close, he laughed and slid away, rising from the bed in a smooth, fluid motion and headed for the living room. “Keep the bed warm,” he murmured, “I’ll be right back.”

     Once his back was turned, a fierce scowl replaced the grin he’d given Katy. The stench of brimstone could only belong to his father’s Hound—another secret his father didn't know he was aware of.  Fuck. That meant his father knew he wasn't in London, knew he’d lied.  His hands balled into tight fists.  He would not allow his plans to be foiled, would not accept that his years of work and scheming might be for nothing—

     No. No, this was just a minor setback. Squaring his shoulders, he strode to the large window in the living area that overlooked the park, a perfect place for the Hound to hide, to spy for his father. Dom felt a feral growl begin to climb up his throat. Katy. His father would know about her now, but worse, the Hound knew as well.

     Eyes narrowed, he stood clearly, boldly, at the window, making no attempt to hide. His eyes quickly searched the landscape of old, gnarled trees, thick shrubbery and the tall forest ferns of the deep ravine until he caught the glimmer of red in the impenetrable darkness. As his sight sharpened on the twin orbs, the Hound stepped out of the gloom, staring up at Dominic with hellish, glowing eyes.

     Dom returned the look, baring his teeth in a rabid snarl as his vision suddenly honed to a diamond-edged clarity. He could see everything, down to the smallest leaf, as if it were broad daylight…well, if broad daylight was a bright, fiery red. Dom didn't know what was happening, but apparently the Hell Hound did. Eyes wide for a fleeting moment, he abruptly dropped his head, stumbled back into the shadows and disappeared.


     Jamieson Cantrell boarded his Gulfstream G650, settled into his butter-soft leather seat and barked instructions to the pilot, his voice cold and authoritative as always, not betraying for a moment how furious he was.

     When he’d received the call that the Hound had found Valentine in Seattle, he hadn't been too surprised that the thief had somehow discovered the book’s owner. What else he’d discovered remained to be seen, but before Cantrell had been able to give the Hound further orders, the creature had informed him Dominic had also been found. In Seattle. With a woman.

     Leaving a message for his secretary to cancel all appointments until further notice, Cantrell had immediately scheduled a flight, packed a small bag and had his driver take him to the private hanger at San Francisco International where he kept his planes.

     He didn’t know what his son was up to, or why he’d lied about being in London, but by all appearances it seemed Dominic was doing nothing more than chasing some female and wasn’t involved in the Lily Donovan business. Jamieson, however, didn’t entertain for a single moment that random chance had taken Dominic to Seattle.

     As the plane rose into the air and turned north, Cantrell closed his eyes, calming his thoughts as he put aside his anger.  No, he didn’t believe in coincidence. He would find out what his son was up to, and perhaps this mystery woman would be a nice incentive to accomplish that. A smile of anticipation curled one corner of his cruel mouth.


     Standing in an alley, Taurin leaned against a brick wall, staring across the street at a business called Enchantments. From the light of the street lamp, he could see through the front windows, could just make out shelves filled with books. Though it was dark on the first two floors, lights were softly glowing from the top floor of the old Victorian house. He knew Daniel was somewhere inside that building. The medallion had brought him to this alley, so Valentine must also have stood in this very spot, maybe staring at the house just as he was now.

     Taurin didn’t want to overplay his hand or harm an innocent. All he wanted was to return Daniel Valentine and the book to the Ethereal. Arms crossed over his broad chest, he was running several scenarios through his mind, searching for the right approach, when a strange current of energy rolled down the building, followed by a light so powerful he had to narrow his eyes against the glare.

     Looking up, Taurin could see the entire third floor was ablaze with the blinding illumination. Clutching his medallion in a taut fist, Taurin closed his eyes and with a thought was inside the building. Quickly scanning the area, he saw the stairs and raced up two flights, taking the steps three at a time. He hit the top landing and focused on the brilliant light seeping through the cracks around the wooden door. When he heard an agonized moan coming from the other side, he took a determined stride forward, prepared to break the door down, but staggered to a halt when the light unexpectedly went out, leaving behind an ominous silence in the darkened hallway.

     Taurin carefully laid a hand against the door, half expecting to feel heat, but it was cool to his touch.  Trying the knob, finding it locked, he was considering his next move when there was the sound of a heavy thud, another moan, then fear and panic in Daniel Valentine’s deep, rough voice as he yelled hoarsely, “Lily!  Lily!"  Taurin heard the man draw a shuddering breath, heard his damning words when he groaned, “God, Lily, I’ve killed you!”

     Jaw clenched, no more hesitation, Taurin backed up a step, then kicked hard at the door with a large booted foot. It flew open and banged sharply against the back wall as he rushed into the room. A woman was crumpled on the floor, pale and still, as Daniel kneeled beside her, his shirt hanging off his frame in burnt tatters. At the loud crash from the door, his head jerked up. Eyes haunted, he pleaded with the man who by all rights had come to kill him.  “Help me, Taurin. I don’t care what happens after, just please, help me.”


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

25. The Conversation Derails

     “What is my magic?" Lily asked.  With a smile, she answered, “I can sell books.” At his snort, her smile widened. “Really, that’s my gift.” As he continued to stare at her, she found herself saying, “Okay, now and then, sometimes, I can sense…undercurrents. It’s hard to explain but that’s why I don’t like Katy’s new friend, he’s hiding something behind the mask he wears.” Her eyes roamed over his face, then she said softly, “Do you have a pacemaker, or some kind of implant?” At his puzzled look she murmured, “It’s just, there’s this hum, a strange vibration of some kind, coming from your chest and—”

     Without thinking Daniel’s hand pressed against his sternum at her words, but with a hiss of pain he abruptly surged to his feet, the bench sliding with a screech across the floor. Lily froze. Was his agitation from a painful memory, or was it actual physical pain she had just seen flash across his face? “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. Please, sit down, eat something.”

     He stopped pacing, eyes haunted as he stared at her from across the room. “God, Lilith, there’s so much—”

     “Wait,” Lily interrupted, “what did you call me?”

     Surprised, he answered, “Lilith.  Your name.”

     “No, it's not.  My name is Lily. Lily Donovan Chareau.” Narrowing her eyes, she sputtered, “Oh don’t tell me! After all this intrigue and mystery, the damned suspense, don’t tell me you’ve got the wrong person?”

     Emphatically he said, “There are no doubts you’re the right person, believe me.”  Meeting her startled gaze, he mumbled, “I guess I just assumed Lily was short for Lilith.”  Pushing the bench seat back under the table, he sat down.  “I have a very complicated story to tell you, Lily, but before we dive into that morass,” Daniel looked wistfully down at his plate, “would you mind if I just have a bite of this sandwich? I think it’s been awhile since I’ve eaten.”

     “Of course,” Lily said, watching him cut the sandwich in half before his last words registered. “You think it’s been awhile. You don’t know?”

     Ruefully, he met her gaze. “It’s been a really bad couple of days.” He paused, head tipped in thought. “A really bad couple of weeks actually,” he amended.  Taking a large, hungry bite of the sandwich, he chewed appreciatively, even closing his eyes with a groan once or twice.

     Once the edge had been taken off his hunger and he'd finished the sandwich and two helpings of potato salad, Daniel put 
down his fork, refilled both their glasses with the last of the wine and took a long, deep drink before clearing his throat to say quietly, “I live in San Francisco.”

     Lily waited for more, but he just stared pensively into the dark burgundy depths of his wine. “It’s a beautiful city.”  As the silence lengthened, she asked, “What do you do there? For a living, I mean.”

     Daniel grimaced. Shaking his head in frustration, he said, “I really don’t know how to begin to explain this.”

     Lily smiled. “My grandfather always says the way to tell a story is to start with the first word.”

     After a deep breath, Daniel took her literally and quietly began to talk about his early years at the orphanage, his life with the sisters. He paused for a few minutes, gathering his nerve, then asked, “Do you know much about astral travel, dream flying, the Ethereal?”

     Lily burst out laughing. At Daniel’s fierce scowl, she raised her hand in a stop gesture and said, “No, wait, I’m not laughing at what you said, truly. I’m laughing because if anyone would know, it would be me.   Not only have I lived with grandparents who were light years ahead of their time and parents who dance naked under the full moon to increase the harvest, but surely you realize, Enchantments,” she emphasized the word, “is an esoteric bookstore.  I have an entire section downstairs devoted just to astral projection, travel, dream worlds.”

     “Reading and believing can be worlds apart.”

     “Yes,” she said softly, “though not to me.”

     So, Daniel told her about his first foray into the Ethereal, becoming mesmerized by the jewel-bright threads, seeing the glorious wonder of the Library, nearly falling into the darkness, then meeting Taurin. As Lily listened intently to every word, he carefully told her about his teenage years, how he had learned to understand the threads, and to use them. Taking a deep breath, he finally got to the crux of his story, telling her how he had become the thief who stole from thieves.

     “What are you saying, that you’re like a modern day Robin Hood?” Lily wasn’t sure what to think. Was this mysterious man delusional? A lunatic after all?  Was it truly possible to do what he claimed?

     Daniel could see by Lily’s posture, the look on her face, that she was grappling with the knowledge she might be sitting across the table from a crazy person. He knew there was one sure way to convince her, but he wasn’t ready for that just yet. There would be no going back once he told her, showed her the mark on his chest.

     “I steal what has been stolen.  I return the items, give them back to the museums, galleries, places that have been robbed.  But if something has been stolen between one bastard and another? No, I don’t give it back. I find another way to deal with the provenance, then donate the funds where they can be used to help others.” He raised a brow and looked her in the eye. “And I take a percentage. Don’t think I’m some kind of hero. I’m not.”

     In the quiet kitchen, the only sounds came from the ticking clock on the wall. Lily stared at Daniel, questions rioting in her head like a pinball machine. “But I don’t understand. What does any of this have to do with me?  With why you're here?  Or for that matter, with Dominic Cantrell?”

     “I had to explain the…back story, I guess you could call it, before I tell you exactly what happened, and what it has to do with you, and Cantrell.” He ran a rough hand through his hair, then rubbed his temples, his weariness apparent in every slow, deliberate movement.  “And me, of course.”

     Lily stood. “Let’s go into the other room,” she murmured distractedly as she began to clear the table, her mind in a whirl.  “Do you want some coffee or tea? More wine?”

     “I would love a cup of tea, but let me help you clean up.”

     “No,” she said, “go sit in the living room and relax. It looks like you haven’t done that for awhile either.” He still helped carry dishes to the sink before he would concede kitchen duties to her. After discussing the tea selection, he started out of the room but stopped when she said quietly, “You could light a fire if you want.”

     Smiling at her over his shoulder, he replied, “That sounds good.”

     Buzzing around the kitchen, Lily put things in order and made the tea. When it was ready, she carried a small tray with the teapot and cups out to the living room. Setting the tray on the center table, she turned to sit down, then realized he had fallen asleep, his breathing soft and even as his head rested against the back of the sofa. He’d removed his boots, long legs stretched out toward the fire.  She sat on the edge of the coffee table and took in his length, the size and contours of him. His tousled black hair was nearly irresistible and she struggled with the urge to run her fingers through the strands, feel the texture, the weight. Her eyes dropped to his hands, folded over his stomach. Strong hands, with long fingers, like a concert pianist.

     Though she didn’t want to deprive him of the rest he clearly needed, she had to wake him, hear the end of the tale. Settling next to him on the sofa, she gently jostled his shoulder. Her mouth opened to call his name when, shocked, she realized he hadn't told her. After another shake which failed to rouse him, she leaned closer, laying her palm on his chest and began speaking quietly near his ear so she wouldn't startle him.

     But before she could whisper more than a few words, intense rays of light suddenly burst from Daniel’s chest, so bright every sinew and bone in Lily’s hand was backlit in burning clarity. At the same instant, Daniel’s eyes flew open and his hand painfully trapped hers. She tried to pull away, could see him struggle as sweat beaded his forehead, teeth clenched in a furious struggle to release her, but the light would not relent, fusing them tightly together. Vision dimming, Lily could only watch in horror as the man slowly lifted his other hand to her nape, his body shaking with exertion as he tried to resist the inexorable force pulling her head down to his chest. Their eyes locked, panic and remorse, fear and pain swirling between them.

     When her forehead touched his chest, Lily had a brief, lucid moment before she lost consciousness, where she remembered her dream: floating amongst millions of books, somehow being inside this man, the terrifying dark. 

     And she remembered something else. 

     She knew who he was. 

     Falling into the stygian blackness, Daniel Valentine's name on her lips, she also knew exactly what he had done.