The Devil’s Elixir has just hit Amazon today, and the first reviews are already trickling in from all over the world. Deeply grateful right now!
October 17, 2018
17. Oktober 2018
The Devil’s Elixir has just hit Amazon today, and the first reviews are already trickling in from all over the world. Deeply grateful right now!
October 17, 2018
17. Oktober 2018
As promised, here’s more of my new paranormal romance with sci-fi icing, folks.
So what’s the story about?
Reporter Juliet Jochs travels to the Carpathians. Her job—investigating a mysterious and unnaturally beautiful Carpathian prince. Pretending to work a public profile for him, she actually wants to uncover his shady dealings and later expose them in the international press. If the prince discovers Juliet’s hidden agenda, she knows it may cost her life. But as she finds herself trapped in his fortress and his masks begin to peel off, she fears she may lose her sanity.
Prince Radek Matthayus has dark powers that suck Juliet into a whirl of hypnotic desire. He attracts her from the shadow, but he never seems to put his body on hers. She comes to crave his touch more than air, falling under his spell like in a dark dungeon. She must keep her head above the water if she is to save herself, run away and not look back. But can she resist opening the last door to his most terrible secret?
Read chapter I here.
Two days later, Herald invites me into his office. I’m nervous as I close the door behind me, ruffling the curls that make a yellow halo around my head. I cross my legs awkwardly on the chair, pulling at the rim of my skirt to cover my knees—I wouldn’t want him to think that I’m trying to seduce him in some cheap way, right?
“One moment, Juliet.” He holds up a finger without looking up from the paper he’s reviewing with a frown before signing. It takes a while until he acknowledges me again. This might seem condescending to others, but look at it this way: Herald Gruff is the boss at a highly reputable magazine, one could go deaf on the bustling in the cubicles room just outside his office alone. That’s a lot of responsibility, not to mention it requires a fuckload of authority, sure he seems an asshole.
“So,” he says, pulling out a drawer and pushing a file under my nose. “Because technology isn’t to be trusted nowadays, I’ll approach this sensitive subject in paper form.”
I glance from the file to him, trying to process “don’t trust technology” and “approach subject in paper form.”
“But our work is entirely technology-based. We’re an e-zine, we don’t even sell printed issues. Actually, we loathe all things ‘printed’, don’t we?”
“Just open it,” he prompts, his greying hair quivering at the sudden jerk of his hand towards the file. He’s a bit older than me—okay, a whole chunk older—but he’s got a good body, since he swims daily, and intelligent if not pretty eyes. There’s something of a skinny bulldog to his face, but he was once obviously attractive. Not that it matters. Nothing is more attractive than a man who exudes self-control, power and authority.
As I leaf through the file, he says, “Radek Matthayus, the prince you picked on a few days ago at the press conference.”
“This isn’t much more than what I’ve covered on him,” I note as I go through the file rapidly. “It doesn’t say a whole lot, either, the guy is very private about everything.”
Herald leans back, pushing his hands through his ashen hair. It’s good to see him a little relaxed.
“I believe this guy is blocking foreign investment in infrastructure in his country from the shadow. He’s influential enough to do that and more. I want you to discover his reasons and then help me expose them.”
I blink at him like an idiot. This opportunity isn’t only huge, it’s a career-making turning point. A you-almost-got-me smile stretches on my face, while I wave a finger at him.
“Come on, what’s the catch?”
He looks at me sternly. “Catch?”
“You’re not offering me this job just like this, are you? I mean, this is huge, and probably for someone with far more experience. Why me?”
There’s a pause and steady eye contact before Herald replies. “Because you’re the only person the dark prince has shown interest in in a very long time.”
There’s a zinging in my ears, and my stomach twists. Shown interest. This feels surreal.
“What did you just say?” I whisper.
“We don’t have time for stupid dialogue, Juliet, I’m sure you heard me the first time.” Herald points to the file like an unhappy teacher at sloppy homework. “Everything here is merely a tenth of what we need to discover about this dark prince.” He leans in, gaze pointed like a gun to the center of my forehead. “Read it, and you’ll understand why I say ‘dark.’”
“But, Herald.” My voice cracks on his name, and I clear my throat. “In wha, er, in what way did he show interest in me?”
He smirks, giving me a once over. “I was surprised at first, too.” He leans back in his chair, more relaxed this way, motioning with a hand towards me from head to toe. “I mean, it’s not like you’re not cute and all, but compared to the kind of women who must surround him….” He purses his lips and whistles, waving his hand like he just touched something hot—which he obviously doesn’t consider me to be. It’s as if he’d forgotten all about the night two weeks ago, the office party, when he crammed me in a corner of this very office and kissed me, confessing under his breath that he secretly wanted me.
I still vividly remember his eager tongue, tasting of vinegar from the wine he’d been drinking. Even though I wanted him, I wanted him sober, smelling and tasting nicely. I felt his desire rock hard pressing urgently against my mound, and pushed him away on an impulse, saying, “Not like this.”
“You have nice natural blond hair, curly and all, but face it—it’s too short, barely even reaching your shoulders, it’s a mess on top of your head. With your pale eyebrows and eyelashes and snow-white skin, you look like a pretty corpse,” Herald continues cruelly, analyzing me with sharp eyes. “You could use some contrast, like dye your hair and your eyebrows or something.”
Jesus, what comes next, pump up your lips, get a nose job—God knows I could use one? I push myself off the chair, swiping the file off his table.
“Why are you doing this, Herald?” I demand, pacing slowly around and pretending to leaf through the file. It’s easier for me to stand up for myself when I’m not looking at him, he’s too intimidating and easily angered. “Is it because I ran out of here two weeks ago? Because, if that’s the case, you could make a move on me now, sober, and I wouldn’t say no.” I glance at him. He’s smirking, dark eyes glinting at me from under ashen eyebrows, the corners of his mouth pushing his cheeks aside into a wrinkly smile that speaks of experience, resilience and authority.
“Get this job done properly, and you’ll have that and more, Juliet.”
My heart gives me a pang of outrage. Is he offering himself as a prize? No offense, I might not be the prettiest, or the smartest, but I am like a lifetime younger… Then I want to slap myself. How can I be so conceited? He’s far more valuable than me in so many ways. If I can prove myself to him, then I might assume some of all that value for myself. I raise my chin, closing the file and holding it against my chest. I’m looking at him from higher ground, since I’m standing up, feeling grand, even if for only a moment.
“You can rely on me for this job.”
“I hope you appreciate that I trust you with it, considering your lack of experience and your young age overall. You are only twenty-two, in the end.”
I squint at him. “There’s a reason why you trust me with it, which reminds me. In what way has the prince shown interest?”
Herald purses his lips, pondering before he answers. “His people called the e-zine to inquire about you. They wanted to hire you, and offered to purchase you from us if it must be. I figured his interest must be serious, since he can have anyone he wants, you know.”
My ears start buzzing.
“Purchase,” I repeat quietly. “But what could he possibly use me for?”
“You’ll find out.” He gets up from his chair, pacing to me. I barely register the time lapsing until he reaches me, placing a hand on my shoulder. I tilt a bit under it. Looking straight into my eyes, he says, “I agreed, Juliet. I agreed to trade you, but I have my own agenda.”
“You traded me like I’m a thing?”
“No. I traded you like you’re Ronaldo.”
I have this overwhelming urge of hurting him. As I begin to realize what’s happening here, rage heats up my face. “How can you be sure I won’t betray your agenda to the prince?”
He smiles, which makes his cheeks look like a wrinkly bulldog’s again. “I’m sure, because the prince can’t offer you what I can. You see, while he can pay a thousand times better, his headquarters is deep in some obscure, impossible to penetrate mountain forest. Money won’t be of much use there, not to mention that the social environment… Well, I imagine it’s not what your half German half American upbringing has taught you to strive for and adjust to. I, on the other hand, offer you money and position when you’re back here in Berlin.” He brings his face closer to mine to look even deeper into my eyes, and I realize I’m pushed against the wall, clutching the file as the only shield between me and the intimidating power house that’s Herald Gruff. “Because I will have you back. And when that happens, with what you gather on the prince, we’ll go huge. You’ll have fame in the entire national press, all doors will be open for you, and you’ll be made editor-in-chief immediately.” He shrugs, taking distance and letting his hand drop off my shoulder. “Many will offer you career choices, though. If you’ll want to go for a position at one of the 5 best journals in the country, you’ll be free to do so. We can set that in stone through contract right now, if you like.”
I must admit, career advancement baits me. It makes me salivate. When I’m alone I fantasize about power—me in a black Armani suit to starkly contrast with my blond hair, pale face and pale eyes, looking striking if not attractive to whoever walks into my sky rise office.
Soon I’ve signed two contracts—one that transfers me to the prince’s company, and one stating my liberty of choice when I’m back with Herald. The job description I have with the prince’s firm is still drawn in general lines, but it includes my writing reports on what he intends to do with the real estate he keeps acquiring all over Europe, and about the work he does back home. Pretty much creating a better defined public persona that he can then display for himself outside his country of origin.
The whole contract thing has kept me at the office for two straight days. Been going through papers all night and all of today with Herald and the company lawyer. The train now lulls me to sleep with its swaying as it takes me to the periphery of Berlin, where I’ve lived with my sister Runia since the pictures business—told myself all those reasonable things about the hacker and all, but I still can’t be alone at night.
Runia is a caregiver for the elderly and people with disabilities, so she has a keen eye for signs of sickness and the like, which means she’s on my case as soon as I kick off my shoes.
“Jesus, Juliet, you look like you just broke out from the morgue.”
“Just another day in Paradise.”
On my way to the only bedroom I pass by a blur of her lean shape that resembles mine—basically a stripe in the landscape, firm bumps at the level of the breasts and butt. Her hair is much longer though, so it flows down her body in bouncy waves that are as beautiful as a doll’s. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to secure her a guy’s long-term attention in cold Berlin.
I hit the bed face down and only open my eyes again twenty-four hours later, when I’m left with five more hours until I’m to embark on a plane that’ll take me from the Berlin airport down to what I’ve heard is no man’s land. Runia has swapped her usual night shift with a colleague in order to assist me with my luggage and ask me a ton of questions, making me face stuff I really don’t want to deal with right now. Stuff I’d rather stay blind to.
“Have you considered that Herald could have dark reasons to put all of this on your shoulders? I mean, come on, it’s a huge deal, top secret, and if you screw up it can mean serious trouble,” she says while she stuffs thick sweaters over my rather flimsy stuff. I told her as much as I could tell her because, indeed, if something happens to me Herald would probably try to bury the whole thing, so someone should know where to have the Interpol start looking.
“I hear the Balkans are warmer than Germany, Runia, you can go easy on the winter stuff.”
“It’s autumn, and I’ve heard their winters are even more vicious than ours. I mean, have you read Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’? They have serious blizzards. Anyways, what if Herald has—”
“Listen, Runia,” I interrupt, holding up my hand. “This is a huge opportunity for me, all right? I don’t know who else would have trusted me with it at my age, and especially after less than six months experience in the media.”
“But that’s exactly my point. I know you’re ambitious Juliet, I admire that about you and I wish I was made of the same stuff, but don’t let the rush of a fast career blind you to—”
“Honey.” I walk around the bed and take her pretty face between my hands. “If I get what Herald needs on the prince, I’ll have all doors open. This will be the hardest, most vicious, most dangerous fight of my life, but it will also be the last, Runia.” I square my shoulders, reassessing my situation and feeling good about it. “And I’m ready for it.”
She looks at me, pressing her lips together, unwillingly accepting that I’m doing this. “What about your feelings for Herald? Are you sure they aren’t playing a role in this decision? The main role?”
“Of course they play a role. He wants me, Runia, he’s shown me that more than once. The way he looks at me and the way he came on to me that night…” I’m sure that stuff will feel a lot better when he’s sober. “But I have to prove myself to him. He’s not some desperate sugar daddy who’ll take the first model who’ll call him ‘lover,’ he wants substance, he wants a woman with real power to her.”
Runia shakes her head slightly. “As I said, I always admired your ambition and your brains, big sister, but when you’re in love, you’re downright stupid.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
But Runia has already pushed my hands down from her face and gone on to pick more clothes from the wardrobe.
“Tell me more about the prince. What’s in the file you brought the other night? You fell asleep on it,” she explains, sorting clothes. “I would have looked inside if you hadn’t been sprawled all over it.”
“A good thing you didn’t.” I check my briefcase for the file. It’s there, tucked safely between other papers I’ll need. “This is literally the kind of business you don’t want to know too much about.”
“Uuuuuu, I’m scared.” She pretends to be bracing herself and tremble. “You sound like Corleone.”
“I’m not joking, Runia.”
“At least do this for me.” She walks over, holding out her hand with a small gadget that I have to frown at to identify. “I know Herald said no technology because it’s easily hacked, especially by people as powerful as the prince.” She glances down to the small gadget. “But I’m pretty sure no one will take this seriously. Keep in touch.”
I take it and turn it in my hand, amused. “How did you even get the idea?”
She shrugs with a clever smile on her face. “There’s this thing about people with disabilities, especially the mentally challenged ones, that no one considers—They think outside the box by default, and disregard all rules. They have the most innovative minds.”
I’m deliciously surprised. This is one of those moments when I wish I were a selfless, people-loving caregiver like Runia, and marvel at the human genius where the entire world least expects it.
Turbulence has shaken the plane often enough to make me pray for my life. I haven’t prayed since I was six. Just as I thought the worst part was over, dragging my luggage from luggage claim, I bumped into a boisterous family of gypsies that tried to steal my purse. Hadn’t the cab driver the prince had sent for me intervened, I’d be stranded in No Man’s Land Romania without papers or money.
“Better watch it, miss,” he says in a thick accent as he picks up my luggage and leads me to the car. He’s a middle-aged man with a big gut, dark eyes, and a very friendly attitude. “You have better chance of surviving here without papers than without cash.”
This is another world, that much is certain. Everything seems old, the buildings withered and erratic, the people tired and angry, and the roads—don’t get me started on the roads. My organs shake inside of me from all the holes and ditches in the ground. After driving in a busy, emissions-smothered ring around Bucharest, we emerge into the plains, the road a meager streak cutting through, industry buildings on each side.
“It looks like business is picking up in your country,” I say, watching the halls glide by through the window.
“Picks up, yes, but not in interest of the common man,” the driver says, and continues praising his country’s natural resources and beauties, which he’s been doing continuously since we left the airport. He keeps checking the expression on my face in the rear-view mirror, so I have a causal smile in place at all times, though he doesn’t persuade me. This place is exotic, yes, but in that way.
I feel my jaw drop as we first pass a rickety cart trailing in the cloud of dust left behind by a racing Porsche. It’s almost disintegrating under a load of hay and wood, pulled by two runt horses and a drunken peasant with a lopsided hat and a long mustache.
“What in the world is this?”
“Get used to it, miss. Plenty more picturesque items where this came from.” The driver laughs hard.
The next thing I know, we come to a stop, waiting for a shepherd as drunk as the man in the cart to steer his herd of sheep across the road. They’re slow and curious, some of them stopping and watching us leisurely with grass between their teeth, chewing slowly.
I’m shocked and thinking about Herald’s words—for all the money in the world that the prince would pay me, staying here isn’t an option. When I think that we’re still inside the European Union, I could burst into laughter, but I refrain, especially because I find the context to ask the driver about Prince Radek.
“You say the prince sent you for me. Do you know him personally?”
“Prince Radek is a very private person. Very few people in town know him personally, but we all saw him on occasion.”
I tilt my head to the side, meeting his eyes in the rear-view mirror. “You’re a local from the prince’s town?”
“I live in Bran, the resort at the foot of his castle.”
My brain swells as it wraps around the information. I grab his seat. “You mean to tell me we’re going to the Bran castle? Like the one from Bram Stoker’s novel? Like the one from the Dracula movies?”
“Yes, yes,” the driver confirms, his big gut jumping up and down as he laughs hard. “Excuse my amusement, miss, but you’re sweet.”
“But he can’t be living there, that’s one of your major tourist attractions?”
“That’s right, but there are deeper layers to that story, miss. The prince has secretly bought the castle from the government years ago, yet has agreed to keep it as a tourist attraction and let the government cash in the proceeds.”
“So hand in hand with the government indeed,” I whisper, eyes darting left and right as I make connections in my head. Sure he manipulates the right people in the right places, he probably also bribes them with money from all the prosperous business around Dracula’s castle. The driver doesn’t dispute the theory either.
“It’s not impossible, miss. The prince’s family has always been well connected.”
In my enthusiasm I grab even tighter to his seat, pressing myself to it. I’m greedy for information, and this opportunity is gold. “What else can you tell me about him? I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot to say, but—”
“You have a crush on him, miss?”
The blood rushes to my cheeks. “Where would you get that idea?” I squeak.
He shrugs. “Everyone who meets him in person falls for him. It’s almost like a curse. All the girls in town, maybe some of the men, too.”
I remember the prince’s exceedingly attractive face, then the moving pictures of him as a ghost that he’s had the hacker manipulate into my phone.
“To be honest, I think he’s a terrible person.” I lean back and cross my arms, looking outside. It’s almost evening and we’ve reached the hills, the higher mountains shrouded in fog in the distance.
“This is indeed breathtaking.” I gawk at the sight.
“Wait until we’re reach the Carpathian heart,” the driver says like an eager accomplice. “It’s out of this world.”
“Out of this world is pretty much everything I’ve seen so far,” I mutter, but when he throws a, “What?” over his shoulder, I’m grateful he didn’t catch it.
What I get to see of the forests until the night falls is dense and uniquely wild. So much unlike the woods with man-made feel from my travels. I let down the window and peer into what turns out to be a precipice so deep that I can’t see the bottom, all black and hollow, draught messing up my hair.
“Pull back,” the driver calls. Startled, I draw my head back into the car.
“Why? It’s not like—”
“Don’t put parts of your body out there, miss,” he admonishes. “You don’t expose yourself to the Carpathians like that at night. They’re ancient and dangerous.”
I can’t hold back a laugh. “Oh, come on. We’re not in some Dracula movie.”
His gaze stays fixed on me in the mirror, and I wonder if he shouldn’t be watching the darkening road instead. My heart shrinks in my chest, I feel uneasy. Some strange power seems to have taken over, the car seemingly driving itself and floating as if the holes in the ground have disappeared miraculously, replaced by the smoothest asphalt.
“You’re not here as a tourist, miss. If you were, you’d be seeing a backward region with nothing to hold your modern interests, and none of this would be happening. But you’re here as a guest of Prince Radek.”
None of this would be happening echoes in my head as the car slams into something front-on, the impact throwing me between the front seats. I manage to catch myself with hands against the dashboard and keep my head safe, so there’s no reason to doubt what I’m seeing through the slowly cracking windshield as I raise my eyes. I feel them widen in dread, my fingers gripping to the dashboard.
Stay tuned fro more next week, folks 🙂 Subscribe with your e-mail address and make sure you’re notified as soon as a new chapter is out. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Loves, the muse is here, and I pray she’s here to stay 🙂 Here is the beginning of a new novel I intend to release for Halloween, Prince of Midnight. Let me know what you think.
Prince of Midnight
My first press conference is a nightmare. We’re talking a monstrous gathering at the old Opera House that traps me between other reporters, more experienced than me, and more ferocious than my ribs can take. Their jabs to my sides are merciless as they battle for the best spots and best visibility to be picked for questions, but I’ll be damned if I give in.
“Move out of the way, blondie.” A guy around my age with ambition written all over his face tries to shove me. Gripping my overlarge smart phone to my chest with one hand, I hold on tightly to the rail before me with the other. Keeping a spot in the first row is always a struggle, my rather fragile frame suffers, my hair is electrified like a white-blond version of Jackson 5, but fuck it.
Hang in there, Juliet Jochs. For the prize.
My prize, my target, my beacon is Radek Matthayus, a prince from the Carpathians. Though I haven’t seen him in person yet, I know all there is to know about the scrap of public persona he maintains. In short, he’s young, eccentric, a Casanova, and so immensely rich that he can’t be clean. Where he comes from, clean businessmen don’t make it like he did. In only a few years he increased his family’s inheritance by no less than fifty percent.
“Ladies and Gents, I give you prince Radek Matthayus, our patron and benefactor,” the master of ceremonies finally announces, rubbing his wrinkled hands together. His lips draw in an ass-kissing smile, while his eyes turn to the spot where Prince Radek is expected to appear.
The commotion stills for a few blessed moments that allow me to fill my ribcage with air. Clapping of hands announces the prince is close. I crane my neck to get a glimpse of him as he walks up the side stairs onto the stage, his shadow licking the velvet curtain as he moves flowingly towards the master of ceremonies.
There are few pictures of him on the web, none of them clearly focused, but enough for me to recognize him. Tall, black suit, dark hair and blue eyes, his face too pretty for a guy, and too young for his notorious money-making skills. After the master of ceremonies thanks him with heavens and earth for buying the old Opera House and saving it from being torn down and transformed into yet another mall, Radek takes the mike.
“It’s an honor to become the owner of this magnificent symbol of your history.” His voice is musical, trapped somewhere in his boyhood years, hypnotically pleasant. It distracts me from what he says next, but I snap right back to myself the moment questions are announced.
My arm shoots up into the air at once with all the others but, no matter how hard I try, the master of ceremonies doesn’t pick me.
Of course he doesn’t. I’m a new reporter, and young ones are usually too ambitious for their own good. At least that’s what I heard him say once after a shadowy auction that Radek also won, but I didn’t get inside the auction itself to see it.
No doubt, the master of ceremonies knows I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room. Is Radek Matthayus supporting corrupt officials in his country? Has he helped boycott all attempts of building infrastructure in order to block foreign investment? Who is he bribing in order to get his hands on the most valuable pieces of real state in his country and beyond, and what is his ultimate purpose for amassing properties all over Europe? He usually keeps his business shrouded in mystery, but the old Opera House is too much of a national gem, so it proved impossible to keep the transaction behind closed doors. The entire national press is here, from shark to small fish.
Blocking real questions is the only shield against exposure of dark affairs. Only inquiries about renovation make it to the stage, about other properties the prince intends to acquire, even a question about his love life. The prince is very private about it, but he gives the brunette who asked a seductive smile.
“Sadly, I haven’t met the love of my life yet,” he says in his musical voice that makes the brunette flush. Boy, is she obnoxious with those needle-enhanced lips and fake fingernails. I crease my nose.
“But I sure hope Cupid takes his aim on me soon,” he concludes.
The brunette isn’t the only one who sighs like a hopeful idiot upon his answer. This beautiful bastard has women at his feet, and he sure as hell knows it. He plays on it, seducing them, depleting them of attention, admiration, adoration, sex, then throwing them away like broken shells.
“Maybe Cupid’s arrows just splinter against your steely heart,” I call out on an impulse. All heads around turn to me, including Prince Radek’s. Eat this, pretty bastard. “Considering your looks and wealth, you must be spoiled for choice. I’m surprised you haven’t found someone to your liking yet. Unless you think none of your admirers is good enough for you.” I shrug. “Just sayin’.”
Prince Radek’s eyes lock on me. His irises are turbid blue, like murky water, impossible to see through. But one thing is crystal clear—behind them lies a poisonous snake.
“You’re prejudiced, Miss Jochs,” he muses, tilting his head to the side and narrowing his eyes. Startled, I glance from him to my nametag, then back again. Wow, what an eyesight.
“I don’t get around that much. Part of my work requires solitude, part of it bleak attorney offices and long negotiations, rarely ballrooms and select social circles, as you might imagine. I don’t actually meet so many women.”
He’s lying. He must be. His porcelain face that’s really too pretty for a guy compels you to stare. His skin stretches young and flawless over a masculine bone structure, his lips blood red and carnal. The more I look at him, the less I’m able to look away, and his feline smile tells me he’s used to that. The guy’s a born seducer, a magnificent beast that breaks hearts for the fun of it.
His attention leaves me shortly after our exchange, but he glances at me every now and again. Before he leaves, followed by his bodyguards, I manage to snap a few pictures of him with my smartphone. I check their quality a few times, delete the bleary ones, and keep two that Herald, my boss and crush, should be happy with. Oh, he’ll be so proud of me when he sees my interaction with the shadow prince all over national press tomorrow morning.
I wake up in the middle of the night from headlights flashing between the slats of my blinds. I glance at the electronic clock on my side-table. It shows a glowing red two a.m. that hurts my eyes—pale blue is a color that makes eyes sensitive even to a blur of snow.
My tongue sticking to my palate, I step into my slippers and drag myself to the kitchenette for a few long gulps of water when I notice my smartphone blinking a weird white. I frown at it with the water still in my hand, struggling to understand. It usually blinks green when the battery is full, red when it’s almost empty, never white. Confused, I pick it up, punch in the code and swipe. Then I drop it and the water like they burn. The glass smashes on the floor, but the phone remains intact after it hits the counter.
I analyzed and overanalyzed the pictures I took of Radek Matthayus after the conference, and I’m pretty damn sure he wasn’t looking my way in either of them. I’m also sure the last thing I did before I put away my phone was NOT looking at his picture, so why does the screen light up to it? And why is he looking straight back at me, like he knows where I’m standing and what I’m doing, when I know for a fact I photographed the side of his face TWICE?
The blue in his eyes seems strange too. Frowning, I bend down to get a better look. No, the blue isn’t strange. His eyeballs seem rolled backwards, revealing the whites, his skin pale, a ghost staring back at me. His blood red lips go pale as death, and a grin begins to stretch along his face slowly, the skin cracking.
I jolt backwards, knocking down the stool behind me. On the kitchenette counter, the screen goes dark. I don’t feel safe enough to fall asleep again, yet by the time dawn begins rippling along the horizon I’ve formed a reasonable theory in my head—Radek Matthayus is a powerful man who can pay big for manipulating technology. He must have had some tech wizard hack into my phone from some basement, and scare me witless as punishment for making pretty boy look bad all over national press. The more I think about it, the more my ego swells. One way or the other, the prince has taken serious notice of me.
Stay tuned for more next week! It will get dark and dangerous 🙂
Jumping up and down with joy, folks! A month ago I started a new book project that is advancing fast towards release, namely it should be out there by the 15th of June! But guess what–you guys get to enjoy it in advance, chapter by chapter (or, better yet, episode by episode) on here as an online series. This book can be read as a standalone, same as all of my books, since I don’t like to make my novels overly dependent on each other or condition my readers to read all of them. You can enjoy one or all of them if you choose to. This one is a sequel to The Executioner, Part One and Part Two already available on Amazon. Now this is what the sequel, The Devil’s Elixir, is about:
Leona Ignat is sex starved. She lives a secluded life as a teacher, and has occult abilities that abstinence sharpens. But when a mysterious stalker begins watching her from the shadow, Leona’s spells turn into deadly curses. Her powers run amok, and so do her hormones.
Nathaniel Sinclair is a monk. Gifted with all the allure of the forbidden fruit, Leona can’t help but lust after him. But Nathaniel is only here to protect her, and help re-channel her energies. He fights to keep her powers in balance and to find the shadow stalker, while Leona is faced with an even more dangerous villain—the consuming need to lead the world’s most resilient monk into temptation.
Enjoy CHAPTER I 🙂
THE MAN IN THE SHADOW
“You call this a teacher?” Pavel Tudose blurts. He’s the lecherous biology teacher at the Vocational School for Gypsies and Other Social Trash, as Leona calls it.
“Look at her!” He pulls Leona’s lapel, then lets go with disgust. “She sports the black outfit of a mourning governess, but the dress is so tight her tits might as well spill out.”
Leona looks him up and down. There’s a stain of sweat under Tudose’s armpit. He’s wearing the same slacks he’s worn all week, beard unkempt and eyebrows like bushes with dandruff. She keeps her hands together in front of her, her fingernails sinking into the back of either hand in order to keep from slapping him.
“I’m the only English teacher this shit hole could get,” Leona spews.
“Shit hole?” Tudose repeats, ostentatiously appalled. He turns to principal Serena Gheorghe, one finger still pointing at Leona, the stink of his sweat wafting over. “Did you hear that? You want that foul mouth teaching our teenagers?”
“You sure wanted this foul mouth all around your penis. When I made it clear it’ll never happen, you lost it and promised retribution,” Leona says, glaring at him.
“You little tramp,” Tudose exclaims, stricken that she dared tell. He moves to grab her, but Principal Gheorghe’s voice stops him.
“Remind me, Pavel, why did you bring Miss Ignat to my office?”
“You mean to tell me you forgot?” Tudose shrieks. “I caught her making out with a boy from 12 B just outside the classroom! He barely just turned eighteen!”
“Say what?” Leona exclaims. They hadn’t told her why she’d been summoned to the principal’s office until now.
“I remember that quite well, thank you. But I’ll need a name,” the principal demands.
“Armando Gabor.” Tudose throws Leona a vindictive look. “One of her own.”
He means also a gypsy.
The principal’s eyes fly over to Leona, narrowing. She’s a well-groomed woman in her fifties with a carefully designed chestnut perm and warm brown eyes, but now they cool with sternness.
“You’re not taking this guy seriously, are you?” Leona says, unable to control the volume of her voice anymore. “Armando Gabor is this school’s number one troublemaker, you know that. Yes, he grabbed me, yes, he does it often, he says things to me, like he says things to all young teachers, but we never made out! This is a gross lie!”
Doubt lifts from the principal’s face, and she nods at Leona. She knows the goods. Armando Gabor makes virtual headlines in this school every single day. Placing her hands on the desk the principal rises to her feet. Leona is grateful the woman finally takes charge, because her fingernails left searing scratches on the backs of her hands by now. Darn it, this scratching thing has turned into a nervous tic.
“Pavel, we’ve known each other a lifetime, and I treasure your dedication to this school,” Serena Gheorghe says. “You’ve always been willing to help these children form a set of values, but look at yourself now. You’re bullying your own colleague.” She pauses to let her words sink in. Beside Leona, Tudose is shaking with anger, his cheeks stained with red blotches. His blood pressure must have shot through the roof, sultry heat emanating from his body.
“This woman,” he grunts through his teeth, “has just called this school a shit hole. How can she possibly contribute anything of value with that mindset?”
Leona’s temper flares, and she makes a half-turn to him.
“Between you and me, you’re the useless one in this school.” She presses her own index finger into her own chest to mark every sentence. “I am one of these kids. I am a gypsy. I grew up in a family where the guts to break and enter, surprise a couple in bed and rob them was celebrated and respected. Where a woman worth marrying was illiterate. Where a real man was a pimp in a dark alleyway. I know these kids, I would have become like them, hadn’t someone given me a chance at a different perspective, at education. Yes, this place is a shit hole. But if anyone can help make it better, it’s people like me.”
Tudose’s eyes fill with hatred.
“You’ll never be anything but gypsy trash,” he grunts between his teeth. “The only thing worth a fuck about you is your ass.”
“Pavel!” Principal Gheorghe intervenes, outraged. As for Leona, this is where her reason shuts down. Anger boils in the pit of her stomach, and she can feel her whole face redden. She loses grip over her tongue. Before she knows it, she’s pointing at the biology teacher, her mouth moving of its own accord.
“You deserve to feel the flesh melt off of your bones like wax off a candle.”
Principal Gheorghe tries to appease her with light hands on her shoulders, but the bell rings, and Leona scurries out of the principal’s office before tears of frustration can flood her eyes.
She grabs the register for 12 B from the register cabinet and walks up to the classroom. This is where she has to put up with Armando Gabor’s brashness, twice a week. Today, though, she’s not up for it.
“Here’s our piece of crispy ass,” Armando shoots from the last desk by the wall. Leona tosses the register onto the teacher’s desk. She normally avoids his gaze, but all this strategy has ever accomplished so far was spur him on. Hell, for all she knows, he could be the one spreading the rumors about him and Leona making out on the school hallways.
Well, today things change. She grabs the edge of the desk with both hands, and shoots him a mortal glare, meeting his dark-russet look. He’s leering at her, his young gypsy face handsome if it weren’t for some teenage acne, his hair styled in a bad-boy ruffle. The tips of his hair are dyed blond. Leather jacket over a body that girls in the classroom drool over, shredded jeans and dirty boots, he’s sitting on the desk.
“Take a seat on the chair, Mr. Gabor.”
“I’m confortable like this. Might get even cozier if you come and join me.” He pats his thigh, then grabs his crotch.
“Take the chair, and I will.”
There’s sudden silence, while everyone stares with surprise spread over their faces. Whohohohoho they eventually burst, laughter and balls of paper flying all over the place. Only Armando’s jaw is still slackened, and he’s looking at Leona in shock.
“Do it,” she slurs. “And I’ll be right there.”
The class goes crazy, while Armando frowns, trying to understand what the hell is happening. Leona knows he’s much smarter than he lets on, so he surely expects there’s a catch. Still, he grabs the chair, drags it the necessary distance from the desk, and takes a seat. As promised, Leona squares her shoulders and walks over. She stops by his side, and bumps his thigh with her knee, nudging him.
“Be a gentleman.”
Armando offers his leg for her to sit, his features locking as he’s trying to hide his bewilderment.
“You.” She pats his desk mate’s shoulder, a chubby ginger haired kid with glasses. “To the blackboard, pick up the chalk, and write what I dictate.” She lets her arm glide over Armando’s shoulder while she talks, under his leather jacket to his back. Everyone stares, mouths open, the classroom so quiet only the rustle of paper here and there is audible. “Everyone, copy from the blackboard or, should Bobi here write it wrong, write as you know is correct.”
The chubby kid pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and walks heavily to the blackboard. A “kick me” sign is still glued to his back, but no one cares right now. Leona puts up a far better show. Armando looks up at Leona, daring a naughty grin and opening his mouth to say something, but she holds up a finger to stop him, without touching his lips.
“Do not speak, hunk,” she says, loud enough for the class to hear. “But when everyone’s looking away, you may start to touch me.”
The Inspectorate will catch fire when they hear about this, but to hell with it. She’s not gonna help any of these kids by patting their heads. For years it has been tried and tried and tried again, and they’re still ending up being pimped and dealt to in dark alleyways. They need someone who speaks their own language. Someone who’ll buy their crack and then slap them over the face with it.
She turns her attention to Bobi, her fingers already finding the area on Armando’s back.
“Go ahead, Bobi, write this: I. Shall. Not—” She speaks slowly, giving the kid time to write. She’s ready with her fingers around the right spot on Armando’s spine. As expected, Armando can’t believe his luck, and his hand touches her knee, going up her thigh, over her black pencil dress. Everybody is looking, more or less obviously, as expected.
“—touch my teacher in the manner I would touch a lover.” She says the words slowly, pressing hard enough for her fingers to activate the spots on Armando’s spine through his t-shirt. The young man’s features distort as he realizes something’s wrong.
“What the fuck,” he cries when he notices his fingers cramp and crumple, stiffening in the shape of claws. The grin stretches over Leona’s face as she drives her fingers harder into the nerves around his spine, drilling through the kid’s taut flesh.
“I shall not touch my teacher in the manner I would touch a lover,” she repeats like a spell. Armando jumps up from the chair, causing her to stumble from his lap. He’s thrashing around with his fingers still clawed.
Getting off the floor and cursing inwardly for the glitch, Leona continues to chant. “I shall not touch my teacher in the manner I would touch a lover. Or my hand will wither and fall off. I shall not speak to my teachers in the manner I would speak to stray dogs, or my tongue will dry and die. I shall not grab a girl against her will, or my cock will prune out and hang like a rag in the wind.”
She imagines that last part would be funny, if everyone weren’t so stunned at what’s happening with Armando. Girls and a few boys start screaming, while he begs, “Please, please, make this go away!”
Leona grins. “I would have to touch you again. But I imagine you don’t want my hands on your body anymore, do you?”
“Just fix this!”
“Come here.” Leona beckons him over with her finger. He hesitates, then gives his own hand a scared look and hurries over. He’s a head taller than Leona, and she realizes she might have to fear his retribution when his shock and fear subside, but now the fireball is on the roll. She winds her arms around Armando to make it look like a hug, hands going inconspicuously under his jacket from his waist. She drives her fingers into the right spot, and his begin to regain flexibility.
“Remember,” she whispers into the kid’s ear. “I know what spots to hit to make everything else I said happen, too.”
Released from the embrace, Armando looks at his hand, then at Leona. His eyes narrow, but not in the dangerous expression she expected—the boy is curious how she did it. Maybe there’s still hope for his future, as outrageous as this would sound to other teachers.
“Go back to your place, now, please,” she says, turning her back on him and walking behind her desk.
With a satisfied smile, Leona turns her attention to the stunned Bobi. When the kid meets her gaze he closes his mouth, pushes his glasses up his nose, and swallows audibly. She approaches the blackboard, inspecting the words he’d written: “I shall not touch my te.” He didn’t get to finish, of course, his attention sucked towards Armando when he’d started screaming. She didn’t expect any less than perfect spelling, really. Bobi is as close to a nerd as they come in this place.
“Now, let us finish that sentence,” she says.
Late in the evening, as Leona’s steps echo along the corridor towards the exit, and the lights go out in her wake, fear begins to nestle in the pit of her stomach. What if Armando Gabor got over the stun already, been through the relief stage and by now decided he wants retribution? In the end, she did humiliate him in front of the entire class. He was the badass leader, and now she made a fool out of him.
She stops in front of the exit door, clutching the handle of her briefcase tighter. She straightens her back. You won’t let these pricks intimidate the shit out of you. She places a hand on the rusty door latch, scrutinizing the schoolyard beyond it through the bars that protect the glass.
A screeching sound draws her attention from behind, making her look over her shoulder. The door to the students’ closet is ajar, moving loosely in the draught and evoking the start of a horror movie in Leona’s mind.
Unable to resist, Leona heads for the closet. The only company she finds is her own reflection in the mirror, which is cracked at one corner, and smeared with prints and other sticky stuff. Low moans seem to come from the last stall and, though her heart is thudding in anxiety, she can’t fight the urge to walk over. Someone might be in trouble, and the only help around at this hour is her. The janitor is probably lying drunk in the small storeroom at the other end of the hallway.
By the time she reaches the last stall the moans have stopped. Leona stays in front of the door, the line of blackness between it and the doorframe an invitation for her to push it open. Her heart beats faster, as if it knows something terrible awaits beyond it. Her fingers tremble as they touch the dirty stall door and give it a slight push, which reveals someone’s foot with a worn shoe. Seems the person is slouched by the toilet. Panicking, Leona pushes the door all the way.
It bumps into the person’s other foot instead of the wall, but it’s enough for Leona to take in the full view—Pavel Tudose is on his butt with his back at the toilet, head tilted backwards over the toilet seat, half his face, beefy neck and upper part of his chest crumpled as if the flesh has disintegrated. His tongue sticks out of his mouth, blackened and porous, still gurgling with some kind of pus, as if worms are eating it away. Leona gives out a sharp cry, her first thought being her own words for him in the principal’s office. But then her terrified gaze lowers to the large stain of blood on his shirt at the level of his stomach, and she understands this has been murder. A murder committed in the exact fashion of her curse. She notices a sandglass shaped bottle in his hand, but her time has run out. Blood rushes from her head to her feet, and she blacks out.
Leona is sitting on a sofa in the teachers’ lounge, a blanket around her shoulders, rocking back and forth. Her mind has been blank for a while now, and her stare fixed on the floor tiles. She’s loosened the tight bun that she’s normally wearing on top of her head, releasing the strain at the root of her hair, her thick black mane draped over one shoulder to the side.
She’s aware of the policemen swarming about the place, the spinning lights that play on her cheek, the fill of voices and rip of tape they use to seal crime scenes. Apparently they keep finding evidence related to the murder, drops of blood, and did they say acid?
“The bottle in his hand contained acid,” she hears the detective repeat somewhere close to her. She lifts her eyelids to see he’s speaking to principal Serena Gheorghe. The woman is bracing herself, her shiny perm a bit messy from all the times she’s run her hand through it.
“We still have to determine whether it bears the prints of anyone else besides the victim himself,” the detective concludes. Leona catches him glance at her and, noticing she’s back to herself, he heads over.
“I already told you everything I know,” she says in a cracked voice as the heavy man hunkers down before her, the hem of his worn-out beige coat splaying over the floor. He’s got salt-and-pepper stubble, receding hair, and drooping, detached eyes. He doesn’t seem moved by any of this.
“People tend to remember details as the shock lessens, ma’am,” he says in the same impassible voice he’s interrogated her in just half an hour before. “Just thought I’d make sure there isn’t anything that came back to you and that you might want to share.”
Leona gives him a tired smile, now looking him directly in the face. She still doesn’t feel anything, not dread, not sadness, not anger, but she is a bit amused. “You suspect of me, don’t you? At the very least you think I’m hiding something.”
Leona shrugs. “Why would I? It would only make my own life difficult, isn’t it?”
The detective keeps looking at her, saying nothing, his gaze impossible to interpret. Well, Leona could care less if she’s a suspect or not. She’s so tired all she wants is to sleep for like a decade or so.
“Listen,” she says, her shoulders sagging. “I know that hiding anything or making things up would only make this hard on me. Plus that I watched enough Navy CIS to know you guys have a lot of tricks in the book, and I’m no match for them.”
“You might be quite a match,” the detective says. “Your ex-boyfriend, Inspector Hector Varlam, must have taught you a thing or two.”
The name snaps in Leona’s head. “Mr.—” Did he even introduce himself yet?
“Marin. Detective Constantin Marin.”
“Well, Detective Marin, Hector Varlam was never really my boyfriend, and he’s been out of the picture for three years now. I spent two of those years in a monastery to get over that part of my story. He did bring quite a few things into my life but, I assure you, tips and tricks to get away with murder weren’t among them.”
“But an unhealthy obsession was, right?”
“What do you mean? I wasn’t—”
“Obsessed with him? Maybe not. But you seem to have sparked obsession in him.”
This can’t be right. “What makes you say that?”
The detective motions with his head curtly in the general direction behind him. “See that woman over there?”
Glancing in that direction, Leona sees Pavel Tudose’s wife crying and gesticulating between two police officers, right this moment actually pointing at Leona. She can’t hear what the woman is saying, the acoustics in the teachers’ lounge has always been crappy, and now with so many people it’s impossible to hear that far. But her hatred of Leona is alight in her distorted face.
“According to her,” the detective continues, “her husband has been keeping pictures of you in a box under a plant in his study. The wife discovered them a few days ago and confronted him, but that only led to domestic violence. Apparently, the man was stalking you, and some of the pictures even have traces of semen on them.”
Leona’s flesh creases, and her nose too.
“Now, connecting two obsessed men and the acid,” the inspector goes on. “It was said acid that made the victim’s flesh melt off his bones. Those were the words you used when you cursed him, right? Well, at first glance it looked like, in his madness for you, he offered himself as sacrifice to your fantasies, but the stab in the stomach ruled that version out. Someone killed him, someone crazy enough about you to be capable of murder.”
That someone would be so crazy about her…
“But if the murderer could have made this look like suicide, why not only use the acid? Why stab the man and make murder only more obvious?”
“It actually makes a whole lot of sense.”
For the first time the detective’s face betrays emotion. His drooping eyes sparkle, like he thinks he’s on to something. “I think this murder is an offering to you, and the perpetrator wanted you to know it.” He leans in so close that Leona can smell the scent of cigarettes on him. “I think the murderer is an obsessed stalker, namely Hector Varlam, Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to—”
“Actually, she does mind,” a deep voice rumbles from the crowd. That voice is enough to make Leona’s heart jump into her throat.
She looks up to see Viscount Nathaniel Sinclair make his way among the people in the teachers’ lounge. His overly muscular figure in a black shirt grows larger and larger as he approaches. People move out of his way with open mouths, and some even go, “wow,” “I’ll be damned,” and “what the fuck!” And no wonder, really. The Viscount isn’t your average gym pump, he seems a real-life Hulk, one with a handsome face and slightly dark skin, making it impossible to place his origin beyond “somewhere exotic”.
“And who are you, if I may ask?” detective Marin says, doing his best to hide his bewilderment. He gets heavily back to his feet.
“Tell him, Miss Ignat. Who am I?” Nathaniel’s sparkling eyes meet Leona’s awe-struck face. They make such a contrast to his skin that it’s compelling for any human’s eye. Leona’s throat goes dry. She’s often slapped herself inwardly for the sin of lusting after him, since he’s basically a freaking monk. What a freaking waste….
“He is….” What is she supposed to say?
“I am her spiritual adviser and confessor,” Nathaniel says and offers the detective his hand, since Leona is consistently failing to speak.
“Oh, a priest, then?” The detective measures Nathaniel up and down. Detective Marin is fleshy, and he sports a worthy gut, but he’s half the Viscount’s bulk, and two heads smaller. “You don’t look like a priest.”
Actually he does, in some weird way. The black clothing he always wears, even his huge, protective bulk. He has a strange, compelling beauty though, which gives him the hellish sex appeal of the forbidden fruit.
“I’m of a less known confession,” Nathaniel rumbles softly.
“But why are you here? Did Miss Ignat confess to you anything she should now tell me?” Marin looks at Leona with a suspicious frown.
“No, detective, I assure you. But Miss Ignat has been in the monastery for a reason, and that was to process the trauma Hector Varlam had put her through. As you probably imagine, I’d like to avoid that trauma returning.”
“Well, I don’t know the details of her relationship with my former colleague, but if it was a traumatic one, shouldn’t she have turned to a shrink instead of a priest?”
“Mr. Sinclair was all the support I needed,” Leona intervenes, also getting to her feet. Her knees are shaking, and she gathers the blanket tighter around herself to mask it.
In truth, Nathaniel never spent time with Leona at the monastery, even though she worshipped him like a god and lived for the glimpses she got of him. Every time he’d glance in her general direction she’d cling to hope, but he looked away without a twitch on his face, and she remembers that painfully well.
“I would like you to stay in town and available at all times, Miss Ignat,” the detective says from behind Leona as she starts pacing towards Nathaniel, blanket even tighter around her. Excitement swells in her chest as he places his huge, warm hand on the small of her back.
“You will have access to her, detective,” Nathaniel says. “But it will have to go through me.” He hands the inspector a business card, which the detective flips over and then again over.
“You also happen to be a lawyer, Mr. Sinclair?”
With a cordial smile for the detective, Nathaniel’s warm hand applies a little pressure to the small of Leona’s back, and she starts walking. All her colleagues, their families, friends and police staff are staring as she and Nathaniel leave the teachers’ lounge, his bulk a huge guardian by the side of her slim figure.
“I gather they never saw you in the company of a man before,” he says in a low voice. It’s the first time she hears it in years.
“You made it pretty clear that male company is to remain a no-no for me.”
“I’m glad to see you didn’t disregard my instructions.”
“Come on, Viscount. You would have found out, and confined me back between the monastery walls in no time.”
Leona and Nathaniel emerge under the overhang outside the teachers’ lounge, rain pouring down beyond it, thick bubbles splashing onto the cracked asphalt in the small courtyard that surrounds the teachers’ exit.
“Why didn’t you use this exit when you were leaving the school earlier this evening?” Nathaniel inquires calmly. Leona’s chest tightens, and she turns halfway to look up at his face.
“The janitor had already locked it. Why? You suspect of me, too?”
His bright irises fix her face directly, making the muscles in her core clench. “I hear you cursed him in the principal’s office. Considering your talents, a direct influence isn’t excluded.”
He presses the button on the umbrella stick in his other hand, and the umbrella opens above them. He shields Leona from the rain until they reach his car, where he opens the door for her to get in. His presence strains poor Leona’s starved hormones. She grabs the edges of the blanket tightly and reminds herself that, even if she hadn’t sworn off sex forever, Viscount Nathaniel Sinclair is as much off limits as Jesus Christ.
Still, she masochistically enjoys the prickle in her stomach as he slips into the driver’s seat, making the car tilt. But after only a few minutes she begins to wonder about their destination. The pouring rain leaves thick rivulets on the side windows, blurring the nightly city lights, teaming up with the sound of the wipers.
“Where are we going?” she says.
“I’m taking you home,” he replies in his gentlemanly tone. “Then we’ll have a talk.”
“You want to talk at my place?”
Leona turns to the side, with her shoulder against the back of her seat to face him.
“If I remember correctly, you avoided being seen at all, let alone with someone, even less with a woman. Your identity as head of the Order of Lords is top secret. You mean to tell me that, after you made an appearance worthy of a stage back at school, you want to take it up a notch and make a show at my place, too?”
He frowns at the road. “Your place is safe. I made sure about that.”
“Made sure?” It hits her. “Oh,” she whispers as understanding deepens. “You have me monitored. I thought you trusted me.”
“I can’t trust anyone who knows the Order’s secrets, Leona. Not after everything that happened with the Executioner, and sure as hell not after I found you in bed with the chief villain, inspector Hector Varlam.” He throws her a glance. “That’s how we first met, remember?”
The shame from that night strikes, weighing like a stone in Leona’s chest. She drops her eyes to her shoes. The motion of the car makes her sick, but she can’t look at Nathaniel right now.
“Well, I suppose I should thank you for watching over me. If it weren’t for you, I would have ended up in police custody tonight for sure. But, as you may know, I live with my aunt in an old house in the peninsula, which we share with a big gypsy family. Everyone would see you, plus that I’m not allowed to bring men at home.”
She still can’t look at Nathaniel, but she feels his sparkling gaze on her head. “I know who you live with. As I know that you’re not allowed to cross the threshold in male company, and that you’re not allowed to spend nights out.”
Leona looks up at him as she understands more and more of this. “I never actually had a chance, vow or no vow at the monastery, did I? The gypsy family, they’re your people, right?”
“We can talk here,” Nathaniel changes the subject abruptly, pulling over in front of the old dilapidated building that is Leona’s house. He lets the engine run, probably because it’s obvious she needs the heat by the way she keeps the blanket about her, and makes herself small in her seat. Thank God he doesn’t know she’s shivering because of him.
“How come you stepped in personally, Viscount?” she says. “Your identity is such sensitive information. A few years ago you wouldn’t have intervened for matters much more serious than this.”
“This matter is way more serious than you imagine.” Gravity deepens his gaze. “In one thing I agree with Detective Marin. Whoever killed your colleague, they did it for you.” He pauses, giving his following words more weight. “Either a secret admirer of yours killed the man out of jealousy or out of obsession for you, Hector Varlam being among the suspects. Or you killed the man yourself—these are the two scenarios that detective Marin would choose from. To me, there’s also a third possibility. One that has to do with your curse.”
“The curse? The man was stabbed in the gut! It was clearly murder.”
“Magic doesn’t work the way people expect it to,” Nathaniel says. “It makes things tie together, often in very logical ways. Your curse could have put the murderer in there with Mr. Tudose. It could have attracted the murderer into his life, so to say. Anyway, I’m glad to see you got over the shock of discovering him in that closet.”
“I’d be lying to say Tudose’s death makes me in any way sad. Since you’re so well informed regarding my life, did you know he tried to force my head into his lap once when he brought me home in his car?”
The muscles in Nathaniel’s arms flex, and his eyes gleam like a panther’s ready to attack. It lights a spark in the pit of Leona’s stomach, seeing him so ready to protect her.
“Why didn’t you notify the Order?” he demands, his tone now hard, contrasting with the soft-spoken giant from moments before.
“What would you have done?” she whispers, searching his eyes. She hungers for his answer. How would he have defended her?
“I would have sent my men to extract him from your life. You don’t have to put up with abuse.”
The expectation in her chest deflates. Not exactly the answer she dreamed to hear. She forces herself to look away from him before he can read the disappointment in her face. But the moment she shifts her gaze she notices two strange figures at the entrance to the neighborhood bar.
The Gossip Parlor is a meeting place for wild students and some older drunks seeking to impress the youngsters with made-up adventure stories. Loud rock music shakes the bar, and cigarette smoke floats so thick you could cut it with a knife. Leona has only been there once or twice to get vodka for her aunt late at night when all other stores were closed, but the patrons are regulars from the neighborhood. They all know her, and she knows them. All wild and loud, but decent, really. Which is why the two hooded figures looking like dealer and client surprise her. She catches a glimpse of one of the men as he looks anxiously over his shoulder, and her jaw drops.
Stay tuned for a new chapter next week loves 🙂 Until then, you can enjoy any of my other books, all available for you here. Two of them are even on promotion today, available, for 0,99!
THIS CHAPTER FEATURES MATURE CONTENT! 18+
Wickedly handsome and shamelessly rich, Tristan Stahl is a villain. A businessman by day and an underground cage fighter by night, he fears no one, and respects one man alone – his adoptive father, Mark Stahl. It’s at Mark’s request that Tristan recruits Isolde Molnar for her “special talents”. He doesn’t expect complications from this “piece of livestock”, but working closely with her turns out challenging in more ways than one. Throw a modern alchemist’s potion in the mix along with Mark Stahl’s growing infatuation with the girl, and there you have it – a retelling of the Tristan and Isolde tale with a modern, sexy flair. Enjoy!
Chapter XX – Deadly Passion
“Have you lost your mind?” My heart beats like a rabbit’s, and my cheeks are burning. Still, I can’t find it in myself to struggle from his embrace. “I’m your father’s—”
“He doesn’t have to know,” Tristan purrs. “He has no idea you’re a virgin, so he’ll have no reason to suspect.”
“But Gertrude and all your people heard me back at the dress store, when I told you I’d never been with a man.”
“Mark doesn’t maintain chit-chat relationships with the staff. Nobody will dare break the news to him.”
Anger squeezes my throat. “So you want to do me, and then throw me into his bed, is that it?”
“Yes. That’s it.”
I plant my hands on his iron hard chest and push at him with all I have. He doesn’t budge, but it serves as release for my anger. “Do you believe yourself, you bastard?” When I fail to move him, I throw my fists at his chest, beating down on him. “You want to use me and toss me like a condom, and you tell it to my face, too?”
“Would you prefer that I lied?”
I scream in outrage. He lets me beat him, his face hard, his jaw set, his gaze icy. He doesn’t move at all, he simply waits it out. The sides of my fists hurt, and I’m pretty sure they’ll bruise, but I don’t stop hitting him until I’m exhausted. I fall to my knees, crying and heaving, my dress deflating all around me like a parachute on the ground.
Shimmer in the limelight makes me glance to the side and remember that we’re not alone: the guards down by my foster father’s cross stare at us, but probably all they can see is unintelligible movement. We’re too far up. My foster father is looking, too, and I think our gazes meet.
I feel Tristan’s fingers sink into my hair, his big fist clenching on a handful. Astounded, I gaze up at him. He tugs, it’s painful, and I moan. He inhales sharply—the sight of me at his feet clearly turns this magnificent monster on. He opens his fly with his other hand, reaches in, and frees his erection. By God!
He’s huge. His shaft is a freaking weapon made of muscle.
“Take me in your mouth now, if you want to save him.” His voice is gruff with want, and his eyes flash like a beast’s ready to tear into my flesh. “He doesn’t have long, so don’t negotiate.”
His fist tightens on my hair, and the pain sharpens. He tugs my head back, touching his shaft to my lips. It smells of clean cotton. The moment he tinges my skin his lids flutter, his lips part, and he breathes in sharply, while his cock twitches on my mouth, releasing a drop of warm pre-cum. He wants me that much?
“Not here,” I whisper. “Please, it’s all I ask.”
He looks down at me on my knees before him. Keeping my head in place, he pushes his hips forward, and his shaft digs into my lips. He’s still on the outside, rubbing lengthwise on my mouth and my face, surely smudging my makeup. He pushes harder, and that weapon of a cock splits my lip. He moans deeply from his chest like he enjoys my blood.
“Tristan, I beg of you,” I manage, my lips squashed against his rough manhood, tears shimmering hot in my lower eyelids. I’m choking with indignation. “It’s my first time.”
He watches me for a few moments with a cold, unreadable expression, but then he steps back and tucks himself back in. He grips his erection over his trousers, probably to still it. My lips feel dry and cracked, and I run my tongue over the place where he’s been only a moment before, tasting my own blood and his salty pre-cum. Shock lessens, and my heart jolts—I’ve actually had my mouth on the most intimate part of Tristan Stahl’s body.
Turning to the Roman guards, Tristan’s voice booms, resounding against the cave. “Take the pig down from the cross, and drive him to the hospital. Make sure he stays alive. Keep guards on him, don’t leave him alone even for a minute.”
His attention returns to me, and my insides twist with a mix of anticipation and rage.
“Come,” he orders.
“Where are we going?”
“No time for questions, Isolde.” The way he says that, the way he looks at me, there’s no doubt—he won’t leave me a choice. I put my hand in his, and stagger up to my feet.
He slides an arm like an iron beam under me and cradles me to what seems a secret door beaten into the hard mud. I guess I could fight this, argue and scream, find a way to run with it to Mark, but it hits me with a bang—I want Tristan to be the first man in my life, even though I know he’ll be a brute. Damn you and your love potion, Marie France Cassel.
Tristan pushes the door, which makes an unsticking sound as it parts with the frame. It appears heavy like the entrance to a vault.
“Jesus, you’re strong,” I think out loud. Seems my neurons have all fainted. He doesn’t say anything.
He sets me down on my feet on a corridor smelling of mold. Above us, I can hear the muffled laughter and music of the mega theme party upstairs.
“This palace has secret passages?” I say in a quivering voice.
“They all do,” Tristan replies dismissively as he leads the way. I should want to jump on his back, screaming and scratching with indignation right now. Instead, I take a deep breath and go for another strategy.
“I always thought this place much too serious and, I don’t know, too sober for such things. Secret passageways are so France.” I even try a small laugh. I hope conversation will make Tristan see me as a human again, not just a piece of warm meat to stick his dick into.
“No one beats the Germans at secret passages.”
He turns, annoyance crossing his sharp blue eyes, making it clear he doesn’t welcome the chitchat. He grabs my hand as if he’s lost patience, and practically drags me into what looks like a royal bedroom. He shuts the doors and hauls me onto a small divan by the wall. My back knocks against it and, despite my hands gripping to silky cushions, I feel like I’ve just been thrown into a prison cell.
Tristan approaches me, losing his suit jacket and tossing it to the side. He begins unbuttoning his white shirt that clings to his fighter muscles, and something stirs in my core. Silver light from the garden filters into the spacious room through the two windows on the far wall that frame Tristan’s figure. Apart from the shirt that outlines the shape of his body, he’s all made of blackness against the light, while he can see me clearly like a deer in his headlights.
He stands right before me and lifts my chin with his forefinger. His shirt is completely open now, his blue eyes luminous like a monster’s in his shadow face. I keep my gaze glued to his, but register his other hand working on his fly, freeing his manhood. My heart pumps like crazy, and I can’t believe this is actually happening to me.
“You’ll take me in your mouth,” he says gruffly. I make out his hand moving up and down his shaft—he’s stroking himself; my pulse throbs in my throat, and cream from my private parts trickles into my panties. What the—?
“Do it without objection,” he demands. “Do it until you feel my cum down your throat, and it may just save your virtue.”
This is wrong, this is sick, but it turns me on big time. My panties are soaked.
“No,” I whisper. I see the surprise cross Tristan’s eyes, and his hand stops moving.
Slowly, I bend down, bringing my face closer to his shaft, touching it with my breath. I grip the rim of my dress and lift the skirts, gathering the material in my lap and beside my hips. I’m a step away from revealing the most intimate part of my body to him. Underneath the skirts I’m wearing black stockings up to mid-thigh, and I make sure I display them for Tristan.
“This is the first time I’m being intimate with a man, Tristan,” I say in a low, secretive voice. “And I prefer to give you my virtue than my dignity.”
He inhales sharply, as if my very words make him horny. His big hand goes around the back of my neck, gripping my nape as he bends down to me. A split second before it happens I realize his mouth is going to leave me breathless, and I take in air. He crushes my lips under his, overriding me like a wave. That vicious mouth of his that I’ve been wanting to taste for so long is now actually on mine, causing me pain as it presses on the split.
Tristan’s teeth sink hard into my lower lip. I yelp as blood squirts out, and I try to pull back, but he keeps his teeth in like a pit-bull. He sucks on my pierced flesh, and fear rolls like ice on the inside of my skin. Just how damaged is this man? He moans with the frenzy, both his hands sinking into my chignon and messing up my hair.
Once again I try to pull away, intent on using as pretext that we can’t look a mess when we return to the party, but he apparently lost every ounce of reason. He keeps his hands in my hair, his tongue sliding hungrily into my mouth. Dear God, he’s kissing me with a deadly passion, and I have no way of fighting it.
My body softens in his arms, and I give in to him. I let my arms go around his broad torso and I press my tits against his iron chest—it feels delicious. I want more, and I snake onto him, feeling his body respond. He pushes himself into me, knocking me into the wooden back of the divan, smothering me with his hot mouth. I’m breathless when he breaks the kiss, looking into my eyes. There’s the raw desire of a caveman in his gaze, mixed with bloodlust. My lips feel sore and swollen, and I shake all over.
“That smart mouth of yours makes me want to eat you alive,” he says gruffly, the sound of his voice giving me goose bumps. It’s so animal sexy, and his wintry scent now mixed with the sweat of his body is an aphrodisiac.
“I didn’t think brains were something that you looked for in a woman,” I mumble. Speaking is hard, that’s how demanding he’s been on my lips.
“Me neither.” He grins viciously, and plunges into another kiss. I can’t restrain muffled moans while his hands splay on my neck and chest, going down to my necklace and tearing it. I can hear the emerald beads hit the parquet floor in a ripple, and a flash of Mark demanding to know where they went stirs me from Tristan’s embrace. His hands harden on me, keeping me in place.
He plasters me to his body, forcing my legs apart to accommodate his hips between them. I think he’s on his knees, but he still reaches me perfectly in all the right places. His fingers hook into the rim of my cleavage and pull down, my tits springing out and filling his rough palms. He releases a groan, and kisses my neck wildly, pushing his body into mine, squeezing my breasts. His manhood twitches against my most intimate part, only my lace panties between us. My skirts are in my lap and his trousers still on, only his manhood out, which makes the contact between us so secret, so meaningful. The touch of his mouth on my skin sends pleasure all over me, making me sigh and clutch his taut triceps, arching into his mouth, offering him my neck, my chest, opening my legs wider.
“Aw, Tristan, don’t stop,” I slur.
My heart beats like crazy in expectation. I’m convinced that this is it, Tristan Stahl is going to rip my soaked panties and enter me, and my head swims. But only a big hand goes down between my legs, strokes aside the lace, and swipes over my swollen private part. He’s surprisingly gentle, but I wince with the bolt of pleasure that shoots through me. He brings his face above mine, searching my eyes. His own are luscious like a starved animal’s chained just feet away from his meal.
“How does this feel?” His voice is husky, barely controlled.
“It feels like heaven.” My lids are heavy, hooding my eyes. I can barely restrain myself, my high heels planted firmly in the ground, and my hips moving into his touch. He strokes again, now with more pressure. “Aw, yes!” I arch my head back and push my hips forward, rolling my eyes at the sensation. I’m now twisted in an awkward position, my arms spread over the back of the divan, holding tightly, and my hips off the cushions, moving to meet the moves of Tristan’s hand. He brings his big body over mine, the sides of his shirt open, his face above my eyes. I think he wants to drink in how I feel, to relish what his touch is doing to me.
“This is my first time, too, Isolde,” he says huskily. “The first time I’ve ever wanted to pleasure a woman. Damn that witch and her potions.”
His words, his touch, his scent, it all brings me to the highest point. My hips arch further up, and orgasm breaks out from my clitoris. My neck arches back, my muscles stretch and tense, my eyelids squeeze, and I release a long moan that stops in Tristan’s palm that presses on my lips.
He releases me as soon as my moans die down, my body relaxing on the divan like a mass of jelly molding to the wood and cushions. He can use me now, and that’s just what he intends to do, I realize.
He grabs the sides of my thighs above the stockings and positions himself between my legs. This is it!
His long manhood touches me there, and he begins rubbing along my slit, relishing the wetness. He does not try to enter.
I look at him baffled. “What are you doing?”
He’s frowning, his lips slightly parted, painful need written all over him. His fingers drill into my flesh, marking his want. I bite back a yelp.
“If I thrust into you now I don’t think I can . . .” He pants, rocking his hips harder into mine. “Fuck,” he growls.
His body tightens, and his sap splashes on the inside of my skirts, a few drops landing on my skin. His groans are delicious to my ears, shooting current all through me. He breathes hard, his whole body relaxing, and I open my arms to receive him. For just a moment he leans his entire weight on my body, suffocating me against the wooden back of the divan, but he comes back to himself fast. We look long at each other, and I swear my heart has just melted away. I’m falling deeply in love with Tristan Stahl, the villain, the man who just took me with a passion I never thought I’d experience from a man.
The way his eyes lick all over me, for a moment I think he feels the same. But then he gets off me, tucks himself in, and starts buttoning up his shirt. The ice returns to his eyes, and soon an alternate reality seems to have replaced the passion between us.
“This won’t happen again,” he states coldly. I blink at him, trying to wrap my head around this extreme switch of his. There’s no trace left of the passionate Tristan from before.
“Why?” The question leaves my mouth like a ghost.
He shuffles his suit jacket on, just like a client who finished screwing a hooker. “Because you’re going to be Mark’s woman. Even if it’s only for a while, it will bring you many advantages, and you don’t need complications. And neither do I.”
Rage boils inside my chest, and my mouth goes dry. I glare at him. “I was going to become your adoptive father’s woman half an hour ago, too. That didn’t stop you from pushing your penis on my mouth. You think you’re any less despicable if you never do it again?”
He stands in front of me, now completely dressed, looking as if nothing ever happened between us. Nobody would guess that he’s been intimate with me just moments ago.
“Yes,” he says evenly, fastening his Rolex around his wrist. “Look, Isolde, I’ll put this in clear terms for you.” He sits on the divan by my side, hand on the wooden back. I read contempt all over his face, which I now see clearly in the light from the garden. So this is what they mean when they say men can do you and then ditch you like a used condom. “I’m engaged to be married, and while it is a marriage of convenience, it’s also the only relationship I have interest in. I’ve fucked other women before Gertrude, and I will fuck other women after I’m married to her. As you may have noticed, I have particularities in matters of sex. I wouldn’t be able to live them out with my respected wife, would I?”
Rage is choking me. I’ve been used in the filthiest way, I’m no more than a public toilet to him. The man split my lip trying to fuck my mouth, and he enjoyed it. I take my hand to the place, hot with anger. Hadn’t he been so out of his mind horny to make him think he wouldn’t last enough for it to be worth it, he would have taken my virginity and tossed me away in the same sick manner. I want to scream at him that his warm seed is still dripping off me, but I bite it from my lips, tears salty in the back of my throat.
“Secondly,” he says, “Mark hasn’t shown interest in a woman in over a decade. That he likes you the way he does is special, and I don’t want to spoil it for him.”
TO BE CONTINUED
OR ENJOY THE HEAT IN MY FULL LENGTH BOOKS
You know me, folks 🙂 Always both eyes open for all things good books, all things hot romance, and all things good books again. Got two hot giveaways to tell you about today, and namely:
Romancing and Army of Readers – Some of these titles had me fanning my hands over my face, and I’m not one to do that often, I tell ya. Check this out.
Paranormal Suspense and Romance – One of my favorite favorites so far! It includes one of the best romance authors out there, Rachael Tamayo, I grabbed her latest book here.
Stay tuned for more, folks! I’m always reading and collecting all the worthwhile reads for you, not to mention that my latest activity as an editor with one of the fastest growing indie publishers out there has opened a well of goodies 🙂 So keep close
The day has come, folks!”The Revenge of Andrey Jones” has released, and let me tell you it’s a goody. I’ve been preparing this one for you for a while now, and when things got out of hand, I found myself on a joy ride 🙂 Full of dark romance, suspense and dark erotic, this one will surprise you! Get it for only $ 1,17 on Amazon, and enjoy a wild night 🙂
There’s a fine line between love and hate
Lila Banks is driven and cool-headed—until she meets dream employer Andrey Jones, and finds herself drooling over him. The last thing she expects is that he’s hated her for years. His father, the villain known as Big Boss, had once left his family for Lila—or so Andrey thinks. Today, he wants revenge.
Cold, calculated and almost evil, Andrey uses Lila in vile ways, but the boomerang is bound to return. Will Andrey be able to resist Lila when she turns his own weapons against him? A story of dark seduction, walking the fine line between love and hate.
Wickedly handsome and shamelessly rich, Tristan Stahl is a villain. A businessman by day and an underground cage fighter by night, he fears no one, and respects one man alone – his adoptive father, Mark Stahl. It’s at Mark’s request that Tristan recruits Isolde Molnar for her “special talents”. He doesn’t expect complications from this “piece of livestock”, but working closely with her turns out challenging in more ways than one. Throw a modern alchemist’s potion in the mix along with Mark Stahl’s growing infatuation with the girl, and there you have it – Tristan and Isolde Reloaded. Enjoy!
Chapter XIX – Indecent Proposal
I know the woman now facing me directly. Her deep brown eyes meet mine with those unmistakable long eyelashes, curved upward. Her face is heart-shaped, delicate and very pale, as it’s always been, but indeed, I can see the lady in her. I’ve known her as helpless Frany, but now I’m looking at Lady Marie France Cassel, elite chemist; if I didn’t know better now, I’d think she is my sweet Frany’s older, aristocrat sister.
The moment she recognizes me Lady Marie France turns on her heels, places her drink on the mantelpiece behind her, lifts her skirt—shiny, black, sewn with black pearls—and she glides through the crowd away from me.
I scurry after her, but she’s faster. She seems a ghost, floating casually among human obstacles, while I bump into them, and excuse myself. I keep my eyes on her and follow out of the room to another room, different people, same smothering heat. I see her take a right into what turns out to be a dark corridor where I’m forced to feel my way along the walls, into the gardens outside.
It’s dark, the gardens are scarcely lit, and the chill bites into my naked arms and shoulders. The emerald necklace turns to metal against my skin, hitting me like a small cold whip every step I take.
“Frany,” I call after the woman who’s become a dark moving stain before me. She keeps gliding away. “Lady Marie France!”
She stops and turns, her pale face like half a moon in the night. I can’t see her eyes, but I can read her surprise.
“Yes, I know who you are, Lady Cassel,” I press, slowing down, hoping I got her. But she turns, and moves away even faster than before. I grip the folds of my dress and increase pace, my chest and neck cold, and my breath steaming out of my mouth. My lungs burn, and the dress squeezes me like pliers, but I won’t give up.
Marie France crosses a quaint little bridge over the pond, and disappears into a rusty pavilion. I’m pretty sure I hear a creak, but it could be the floorboards of the bridge squeaking under my feet. When I reach the pavilion I spin in circles, but she’s disappeared. I’m sure she stepped in here, though.
I look around the dimly lit gazebo, touching and inspecting the wrought iron benches and the chipped round table in the middle. Under it there’s a lever. I wrap both my hands around the cold iron, pull down hard, and a hatch opens. Indeed, there’s the creak, the same one from before.
I take a deep breath and climb down through the hatch, feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland. I don’t know why, but I’m not surprised to find a secret doorway in the royal gardens of the Charlottenburg Palace. Maybe it’s because of the vision I had, because I kind of know what to expect.
My hair and dress catch in the edges of the entrance, and I can’t refrain from cursing. A tooth-like piece of copper hooked into a fold of my dress, and the only solution I see to free myself is tugging hard. The force I apply to the tug turns out too much, the fold rips, and I roll downwards on my back. Something like a metal slide batters my spine as I roll, and by the time I hit the ground I’ve groaned so loud that my presence surely isn’t a secret anymore.
I get to my feet with difficulty, not sure yet how much of my body is broken. My bones hurt, but as I touch myself I realize the scare was the worst part of it. If anything, I’ll get a few bruises by morning.
I look around, bracing myself and rubbing my upper arms. This place is deserted and frightening, like an ancient cave. The air is stale, and foul. Ventilation surely is an issue here, and the pressure is heavy on my body, too. I must have fallen really far underground.
The soil consists of damp gravel and sand, and it crunches under my feet as I step to the edge of an abyss that yawns before me without warning. I flail my arms to keep balance, but when I steady myself my eyes also adjust, and I gasp.
The countless seats carved into the earth all around the hole are empty, but limelight is focused on a scene in the center of an abandoned arena. This place seems a secret Roman ruin, a site where Roman military probably had gladiators fight when they missed home. Spotting movement, I narrow my eyes, hunker down, and strain with all I have to see from this distance. I gasp, taking my hand to my mouth.
He hangs on a cross just like in my vision. Streaks of blood seem to snake down his forearms and down the cross from his feet, while two men dressed like Roman guards stand on each side of him with spears in their hands. I’m sure the crucified man is Tristan, and panic makes the blood squirt from my heart. But, unlike in my vision, there’s no laughing crowd, and as I look better I see the man on the cross isn’t Tristan. It’s my foster father from years ago, his body like a flaccid peach glistening with sweat in the limelight. He’s completely naked, and he seems barely alive.
I feel Tristan’s wintry breath on the curve of my neck before his voice reaches my ear from behind.
“He knows exactly why this is happening to him.” He’s really close; the temperature of his big body envelops my back. It’s not heat and it’s not cold, it’s just waves of temperature field. Something I’ve never experienced before, I realize suddenly.
“You aren’t human,” I whisper without turning.
“Whether I’m human or not has nothing to do with this,” he says in a low voice. His lips touch the shell of my ear lightly, and a shiver that borders on pleasure runs all through me. I grit my teeth. There’s satisfaction in his voice at his next words. “Do you enjoy the sight?”
“Enjoy?” God, I’m trembling like a chicken stripped of feathers.
“After everything he did to you, retribution must feel good.”
I turn to look into Tristan’s face. My heart cringes as my eyes settle on him. Please, God, don’t let me be falling for a monster, for a torturer and a killer. I brusquely remember Marie France and her love potion.
“I saw her, Tristan. I saw Marie France. She led me here, and she must be around somewhere.”
He grins his thuggish grin, and the wicked dimple appears beside his mouth. “Yes, I know. Well, she had a surprise of her own. She expected me on that cross.”
“And she expected a full audience, too. That’s what I saw in my vision.”
“Your vision helped change that version of the future—to this.” He motions with his chin to the scene in the limelight. I glance at my foster father, and my fists clench on the folds of my dress.
“Tristan, please, I can’t be responsible for this.”
He stands while I’m still hunkering down. He now looms over me. “Come on, Isolde, don’t be a hypocrite. Roland told me what this piece of shit put you through, you must experience some sort of pleasure right now.”
He reaches for me and helps me up. His hand is big enough to wind around my upper arm completely, but it’s also cold and wet. I look at it, and my stomach twists. His hand, wrist and cuff are soaking red.
“Yes, I nailed him myself,” Tristan says, and he sounds like a satisfied psycho. He offers me his other hand. “Here, touch his blood.”
“What, no!” Frany! I grip his forearm, horrified. “What about Marie France? Did you intercept her as she came here? What did you do to her?”
He frowns. “I decided to let her go. Desperate as she is now, she’s going to make huge mistakes, and lead us to the others. My men are tailing her closely. We’ll get to all of her confederates, eventually.”
I glance at my foster father. “Are you really doing this for me, Tristan? When we met at the Palace you looked at me like I wasn’t worth jack. The last thing I expected—”
“Was that I’d seek revenge in your name. Exactly.” He steps closer, and his arm goes around my waist, plastering me to his body. I gasp. This can’t be happening. This can’t be freaking happening.
His wintry smell tinges my nostrils, the sleek feel of his suit licks my arms, and I think I’m having an out of body experience. It all feels like an alternate reality, me staring up into his razor sharp blue eyes from somewhere beside myself.
“I had to do something that would make this a highly incredible scenario, Isolde. Namely that I’d be down in this cave tonight, ramming nails into a man’s hands and feet in order to please you. I had to put on display my indifference to you.” His gaze is wild. The man is mighty damaged.
“Tristan, this is sacrilege,” I manage, keeping my tone extra soft. “You can’t give my foster father the fate of Christ. Please, get him down. That would please me.”
He lets go of me and squares his shoulders. “It’s pretty hard to release him now, Isolde. What you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Your foster father and I first met twenty-four hours ago, and we spent some time together since then, you see.”
I shudder, understanding what he means. I look him up and down, picturing how this monster has tortured my foster father, probably while telling him it was in my name. Now that weasel has seen Tristan’s face, and he can go to the police with it. I notice a stain of blood on Tristan’s white shirt under the suit jacket, emerging from under his lapel, wet and plastering his shirt to his pectoral.
“You intend to kill him no matter what,” I breathe, bracing myself.
“I don’t have a choice,” he states coldly.
I glance away for only a moment to ease the tension between us, and when my eyes find him again he seems even more threatening. I barely dare look him in the face as I say, timidly, “You’re the mighty Tristan Stahl. President of Stahl Biotech, head of the pharmaceuticals mafia, and you’re well connected to the very top of the world. If anyone always has a choice, it’s you.”
I drop my gaze, but I can feel those blade sharp eyes drilling into my skull.
“Well, what can I say.” His tone is deceivingly calm. “You are very smart, Isolde. You know how to manipulate words, but I’m afraid men of my caliber aren’t as easy.”
My eyes snap to him. “I’m not trying to manipulate you, Tristan. I’m trying to talk some sense into you.” I point to my foster father, raising my voice as the fist of despair grips my heart. “You’re about to take a life!”
“His life is worthless.”
“That’s not for you to decide. He’s been born into this world, he has a right to be here.”
“Well, he sure doesn’t feel the same about you, does he?” Tristan loses patience, grips my elbow, and pulls me harshly to him. I slam into his body like a ragdoll against a wall. I’m so soft compared to him, and his face is so freaking close to mine, his wintry breath smashing into my face, good God! “This man is a neo-Nazi. He believes that I deserve to live, the perfect Aryan specimen, while you should die just because your skin is a few shades darker than his. He’d never return the favor you’re doing him now, Isolde.”
It’s a struggle to keep my gaze hanging on his, but I have to. It’s either make my point now, or never. “And if you sacrifice him now to his own gods, Tristan, saying you’re doing it for me, what lesson will he have learned? He’ll only think he’s dying a martyr, and that he’s been right all along to hate the Latina bitch.”
Tristan pauses, looking hard into my eyes. “You’ll say anything to save him, won’t you?” He scans me up and down. My intuition tells me that, if until now he was only intrigued by me, now I’m in much bigger trouble. “It would seem you’re even more special than Mark expected.”
He comes so close his icy blue eyes become a blur. “Tell, me,” he purrs like a stalking tiger, “how much would you sacrifice in order to save this piece of shit?”
“What would you give me in order to safeguard his right of being in this world?”
Blood drains from my head. “What are you trying to say to me, Tristan?”
He splays his fingers over my back, my tits swelling against his iron body. “If you want me to take the risk and set him loose, Isolde, I’ll have something in return.” His voice goes low, deep, smoky, making the skin on my back prickle. “I’ll have your virtue.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
Chapter XVIII – Party Flavours
VIP treatment can be scary as heck. I’m sitting in the back of Mark Stahl’s limo, noise and cameras surrounding the car. I blink every time flashes bounce off the bulletproof glass. Mark Stahl’s pruned hand is on my knee, the white sleeve of his shirt starched and spotless. I’m sick to my stomach.
“You’ll have to get used to the attention,” Mark’s robotic voice says in my ear. The speaking device is strapped to his dry neck with transparent, thin little tubes. I struggle to repress a shudder when I look at him, an ancient turtle in a suit.
“Once they see you by my side they won’t get off your back again.” He grins. “So get used to the VIP status.”
The limo comes to a full stop, the driver walks over, and opens the door on Mark’s side. His men grip the wheels of his chair and carry him out like some ancient king. As soon as his blotched baldhead emerges from the car, journalists’ voices surge, and a bodyguard’s hand reaches in for me. I take it and step out, too, careful not to stumble on the rim of my 18th century dress with emerald green folds. The corset is tight, and my tits once again fill my cleavage, but I’ve learned how to move in such a way that they’re never in danger of popping out. Not to mention that I can count on the vintage emerald necklace to cover almost all of my chest down to the swell of my breasts.
As soon as I’m fully out of the car microphones pop under my face from everywhere.
“Was this a secret affair?” Male voice, very close.
“How long has this been going on?” A woman, close, too.
“Is there a pregnancy involved?” A girl journalist with a blurry face squashed in the crowd to one side of the red carpet. Jesus Christ, I’m actually on the red carpet, and for what?
With every step I take another camera flash hits me, making me squint. One wrong step, my feet in high heels stumble on each other, and I lose my balance. Luckily, two bodyguards catch me, one on each side. They practically carry me to the entrance, which feels like a throttle. They have to squeeze me between their barrel-like bodies to get me inside. Mark is basically carried over the throng’s heads.
“Whew, that was crazy,” the man to my right says once we’re inside the foyer. His voice is deep, familiar, and when I look up at him I recognize Demerol, Tristan’s right hand. He’s smiling down at me. By God, this man has a lot of hair.
The bodyguards set Mark down by my side. He ignores the shouted questions all around us, and keeps his eyes fixed ahead. He raises his hand, palm up, waiting for me to take it. He may seem an old frog in a high tech wheel chair, but his face demands respect. He oozes power, like there’s a huge, dangerous shadow rising from him.
As soon as my hand has touched Mark’s crumpled skin the chair starts wheeling forward, his bodyguards keeping tight on each side of us, making way. We make it through the entrance hall that is full of journalists, and move from room to room that open into each other, all opulent rococo. It’s crowded beyond belief, and hot like the in cauldrons of the underworld. It’s smothering.
“I thought this party would be much smaller. Something secret with closed circuit,” I whisper to Mark, bending slightly from my waist to his ear. My hip bumps into the top of his wheel with every step, and brushes into Demerol on the other side, that’s how tightly I’m squeezed between them. Journalists shout and slam like crazy into the bodyguards, trying to reach the mighty Mark Stahl—I learn from their yells that this is the first time Mark has shown himself in public in over a decade.
“Would I take the trouble to attend a small party, Isolde?” Mark smiles a cold smile as if only for the cameras, keeping his eyes ahead. It makes me feel like I’ve asked the most idiotic question.
“No, but the Charlottenburg Palace is a museum,” I retort. “I didn’t think it could be used as a venue for a party of such large scale.”
“It sure doesn’t happen every day,” he replies coldly. He’s been strange for a few days, and his attitude makes me uncomfortable.
We enter the Golden Gallery, the main ballroom with its gilded patterns on the walls, mirrors and high windows. I’ve seen this room empty once when I visited the museum, and it was impressive, but today it’s downright stunning. It’s hosting a theme party, women in white wigs and vintage dresses laughing on the arms of their partners.
Mark’s wheelchair glides along by my side, leading me deeper towards the center of the ballroom. People stop and stare as we approach, and laughter ceases. Some men even bow. An older lady to the right covers her mouth with her fan as she leans towards a younger one’s ear, and I can tell she’s whispering about us by the way her eyes stay fixed in our direction.
“Is this really happening, or are my eyes playing tricks on me?” a thick male voice booms, tearing my eyes away from the woman with the fan. A man with grey whiskers and rich mustache fills my field of vision. He’s wearing an aristocrat’s—or is it a military man’s?—dark blue outfit from the Kaiser’s times, knee-length boots included. He’s tall and fleshy, broad. Mark’s wheelchair comes to a stop, and I halt, too. We’re still holding hands.
“Mark Stahl in the flesh and—” The man leans back, exploring Mark. “—well, in the wheels.”
“Wolfram,” Mark greets evenly, the smile wiping off his face. He squeezes my hand. “Isolde, this is former member of Parliament Wolfram Schultze. He planted as many obstacles in my company’s way as he could back in his day. Wasn’t a big supporter of Stahl Biotech.”
Oh, wow. I like him already.
“I’m still not a fan, Mark, I must say,” Mr. Schultze says, taking my hand. He kisses it, avoiding to leer, and turns his attention back to my partner. “But I’m retired now, so no longer a problem to you.” He bends in closer to Mark and winks. “Which means I can now take you up on your offer of friendship.”
“I have no use for your friendship anymore, Wolfram,” Mark says bluntly.
“Don’t be so quick to write me off.” Mr. Schultze straightens up, and offers his arm to a woman who steps into he picture by his side. I recognize the mole above her mouth and the shape of her bright red lips—it’s the woman from my vision. She looks at me with contempt, as if she knows me from somewhere, too. Or maybe it’s just because I’m the escort of a much older and outrageously rich man.
Mr. Schultze looks around the place as if he’s searching for something or someone, and making a point to Mark. “There are people here who would love to have me on their side. I may not sit in the Parliament anymore, but I’m still invited to dinner, you know.”
“I’m sure you haven’t lost your connections,” Mark says. “Especially not the ones to the benefit of which you gave me hell.”
I glance from him to Mr. Schultze, who’s chewing on the inside of his cheek, frowning, clearly uncomfortable. “I want to make peace, Mark.”
“You want to nail me as much as always. You just changed strategy.”
I keep staring at the woman, Mr. Schultze’s partner. She’s a good-looking middle-aged lady, with a wicked vibe. In my vision she was laughing. Was she enjoying Tristan’s pain? Wait a minute—did she help set up the trap for him?
Familiar, deep baritone makes my ears perk up.
“Isn’t this an unexpected encounter,” Tristan says. He’s joining our little circle in a sheen grey suit that hugs his tall and broad-shouldered frame. I can’t help it. My eyes lick all over his figure, and I mindlessly let my tongue run over my upper lip. When I realize what I’m doing it’s too late. It’s obvious to everyone that I find him delicious, especially to the blonde with white gloves on his arm—Gertrude. My heart gives me a pang, and I swallow hard. I look away to avoid the poison in her glass-like blue eyes.
“Mr. Wolfram Schultze.” Tristan extends his hand. Mr. Schultze takes it, a bit hesitant. “I trust you remember me as well, not only my father.”
“How could I ever forget you,” Mr. Schultze replies, keeping his reserve. “Mark Stahl’s loyal Cerberus.”
Tristan gives a short laugh that vibrates against my chest. “Interesting comparison, but defense is Demerol’s specialty.” He motions with his hand curtly to Demerol, who’s still flanking me. “I’m more of an attack dog.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Schultze says, scanning my blond bad boy up and down. There’s genuine curiosity in his gaze, and respect that he seems unwilling to display otherwise. “I hear you go after those who make your father uncomfortable, rather than protect him from them.”
“I’m not very good at coaxing, I must admit. I mostly coerce.” Tristan displays a cool grin. That dimple appears in his cheek, and my knees liquefy. By God, everything about him is sexy and powerful at the same time. Mr. Schultze, Demerol, all his father’s bodyguards seem squashed beneath the weight of his presence.
“Tristan,” I whisper, reaching for him. Shoot, my arm is trembling. From the corner of my eye I see Mark raise an arch of skin that used to be one of his eyebrows. I’m being too freaking obvious, but I have to tell Tristan about the woman. This whole event here could have the sole purpose of trapping Mark Stahl’s engineered weapon of a son.
But before I can touch him Tristan plants a razor sharp glare between my eyes. It seems to split my forehead open. I freeze, and my hand drops to my side. Tristan offers Gertrude his arm, she smiles triumphantly at me, then they turn around and leave. Boy, was that embarrassing.
People come between Mr. Schultze, Mark and me, and soon Mr. Schultze is taken away in a small crowd.
“Keep an eye on him,” Mark says to me while picking up a glass of sparkling wine off the tray a waiter holds. The young man bows enough to make the famous magnate’s job easy. Mark passes me the glass. “The people he mentioned, those who want him on their side if I don’t—they’re definitely the Institute’s people. So switch that legendary intuition of yours on, get to work, and let me know if you notice anyone special.”
He sounds like a boss, and I can hear the anger behind his voice. I understand his reasons, too. I hunker down so that my face is well beneath his, and place my hands on his knees.
“Mark, that woman. The one escorting Mr. Schultze. I had a vision of her a week ago. In that vision, Tristan was being crucified, and she was laughing hard. This means that, if they have anything planned for him, she’ll know. That’s what I wanted to tell him.”
Light gradually returns to Mark’s face. “Is that why you reached for him the way you did?” He lets out a small laugh, like he’s relieved. “You looked like a schoolgirl with a crush, Isolde.”
Which is what made Tristan look at me the way he did. His contempt was a blow right to my solar plexus. I bite my lip and drop my eyes to the floor, to Mark’s shiny black shoes.
“I don’t have romantic interest in your son, Mark.” The lie is sour on my tongue. He reaches under my chin and makes me look up into his blotched face again.
“We’re prepared for this, Isolde,” he says quietly, his lips close to my face. He has his last meal on his breath, and I want to crease my nose, but I stop myself in time. “All the important ones are gathered here, thinking they can finally get their hands on The Ripper.”
“But, thanks to you, they’ve dug their own grave. Finally, we have them, Isolde. We just have to identify them.”
“Mark!” A man places big hands on each side of Mark’s arms from behind, peeking at him from around the life support gear. He must be someone who knows Mark well, since the bodyguards let him through.
Mark seems genuinely pleased to see him as well. They go on talking, and I remember to keep an eye on Mr. Schultze. I walk around with the glass of sparkling wine in my hand, taking a sip here and there, Demerol close behind me.
“If you keep so close people will think you are my partner,” I say over my shoulder when my tongue is loose enough from the alcohol. I’m a bit dizzy and I start to relax, but my eyes are soberly fixed on Mr. Schultze. He’s just turned to talk to someone, but his broad and fleshy back obscures the person completely. I crane my neck left and right, trying to get a glimpse around him, but in vain.
“If I were your partner, you wouldn’t be attending monster events like this,” Demerol says warmly. “You’d be tucked in bed, with cheap beer and a pizza instead of caviar and sparkling wine. But I’d treat you much better than Mark Stahl and his beast of a son.” His voice fades as he finishes the sentence, as if it took all his nerve to bring the words about his lips.
“I thought you were loyal to Tristan.” My eyes are still fixed on Schultze, and I do my best to ignore the staring crowd. I can feel their gazes on me, but my intuition gives me tension; something tells me it’s important to keep focused on the former member of Parliament.
“I am loyal to Tristan.” Demerol snorts softly. “I don’t have a choice. But neither he or his father would ever have to know about us.”
I can feel my own eyes widen at those words. I turn to him.
“Are you suggesting an affair?” I’m staring Demerol in the face, and it feels like watching a big, good-natured dog-man with a kind gaze and a soft voice. He takes a step closer, and hope flickers in his eyes.
“I’m proposing an affair,” he whispers.
I’m stunned. “Wow. That takes a lot of guts.”
“It may cost me my guts if they ever find out I said this to you.”
I’m lost for words, and embarrassed. I don’t know how to reject him gently. The best solution right now seems to be taking a sip of my sparkling wine and returning my attention to Mr. Schultze, but he’s not longer where I left him.
“Shoot!” I push the glass into Demerol’s hands, hitch up the folds of my dress to make sure I don’t stumble again, and begin a desperate search for Mr. Schultze. I hurry to the place he’d last been, wedging myself between people when I have to. Those who spot me before I’m close enough move out of my way of their own accord, and I’m sure it’s because of my VIP status as Mark Stahl’s partner—or his bed bunny, as I heard some whisper.
I finally see Mr. Schultze’s fleshy back clad in a dark blue tailcoat, and I slow down, breathing out in relief. But then he moves out of the way, revealing his interlocutor. My stomach shoots to my throat.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Hello, dear peeps! I have some awesome goodies for you today. Lots of hot, hot, hot FREE reads – because sharing is caring, and I love sharing the good stuff with you guys. Click HERE and see the Heart Pounding Romance Giveaway list with all the gems it has to offer. Hyperion-The Assassin is among them, so grab your copy if you haven’t gotten one yet.
Stay tuned for more free reads this month! Soon I will be sharing with you Spooktacular stories, part of a special Halloween themed project that I’m part of. Can’t wait to tell you more, very soon 🙂
We’re at that stage again, dear peeps – promoting. Every helping hand is much appreciated! Please help support the Thunderclap campaign that we set up for The Executioner Part Two on your social media by following this link, and I’ll be sure to show my gratitude as soon as my next (HOT) story is released, The Revenge of Andrey Jones – I will send it to you free; just leave a comment if you supported the campaign, and I’ll send you the story as soon as it’s good to go on the 20th of October. Thanks so much in advance! Stay tuned for many more goodies to come these following months, including a great many free reads by the hottest authors out there. I’ll get back to you with the first batch as soon as tomorrow 🙂
Big day follows big day follows big day 🙂 Solstice Publishing has released The Executioner Part Two today! This has been an intense ride, in which Alice and Damian’s story has had me completeley immersed in it. Theirs is a love story that consumed not only the characters but also the author – yours truly. I just ordered my paperbacks, and can’t wait to enjoy that cozy smell of new book. But if you want instant gratification, by all means, go ahead 🙂 Get The Executioner Part Two (new release) and, if you haven’t read it yet, The Executioner Part One.
And no need to stop there 🙂 If you want yet more, my short story Hyperion – The Assassin is free for a limited amount of time here. So if after Alice and Damian you’re left craving more, there’s more to get. And if you find yourself wishing for yet more consuming love, genetic and psychological engineering, and ancient mysteries, enjoy my online novel, The Devil’s Elixir! There’s no end to all the stories and the goodies. Embark on this ride with me, and enjoy dark thrills and worthwhile secrets.
Hi Peeps! Got huge news again today. My romantic suspense short story, Hyperion – The Assassin, is live and free starting today! Grab your copy and tell your friends, too. if you share this with other people (either on your blog, on social media or via e-mail) I’ll be sure to reward you richly with another three free books: The Executioner Part One, The Executioner Part Two, and The Revenge of Andrey Jones – coming out mid November – but also with many other free books by other authors every month.
Here’s what Hyperion – The Assassin is about:
Hyperion is an assassin with a fist of iron and a heart of ice. Not entirely human, he’s the only one who can fight a special kind of enemy. After being sent to the Dark Forest, he sets up camp and begins observing his target from the shadows. There’s little Hyperion doesn’t see coming, and even less he can’t deal with. That is, until his target’s young wife, Ligia, steps into the picture. A woman surrounded by darkness seeks the assassin, and threatens to melt the heart that has been frozen for so long.
Get it for FREE here! and stay tuned for more goodies coming up this week.
Today is the big day, peeps! Solstice Publishing has released The Executioner Part One in all major bookstores online and POD! Grab it now and enjoy it to the max! You won’t have to wait long for Part Two either, since it’s being released with Solstice Publishing no later than September 26th.
Grab a copy of Part One, send me a picture of yourself with it (it can be a chapter on your Kindle if not a paperback), and I’ll send you Part Two as a PDF file for free, if you’re eager to know what happens next 🙂 Also, if you already read the book because I sent you an ARC or you’ve read an early version, I’d be very grateful for a review at the link where you find the book, namely here.
Thank you all for your wonderful support, and I promise there are many more goodies to come 🙂
This is how the story of my Tristan and Isolde started, peeps! Meet the invincible fighter Tristan. What’s his secret?
Dr. Schweizer sits back in the comfort of his loge, sipping his brandy. Down in the ruins of the ancient arena, two men hang sweaty and heaving on each other. His bets are on the big one with tattoos and savage hair, but surprise! The blond guy suddenly steps back, and he crashes a fist in his opponent’s face. The savage hits the ground, clouds of sand rising into the heated air. The audience surges, and Dr. Schweizer sits up straight.
He snatches the magnifying glasses from his lady friend’s hand, and holds them up to enhance his own vision.
The young blond stands over his sprawled opponent, muscle and old scars glistening in the limelight. His eyes are arctic blue. Chills crawl down Dr. Schweizer’s back. If this boy is Stahl Biotech’s Frankenstein, he’s definitely not what the doctor expected. He’s not some monster put together of dead body parts, but rather a beast created in Hitler’s very labs decades ago. Speaking of . . .
Dr. Schweizer drops back into his cushioned seat from where he has a high view over this secret underground arena. “Can’t be him. He’s too young.”
His lady friend takes the glasses from his hand and places them before her eyes with a delicate move. “Beauty is only skin deep, Viktor. So is youth.”
Dr. Schweizer scoffs, measuring the scarred muscle pack up and down. “Beauty. You’d call this wretch beautiful?”
Lady Marie France Cassel lowers the glasses just under her eyes, long dark lashes obscuring her gaze. “I’d call him fascinating.” She pauses, looking hard at the young blond. “His face. It’s the face of a warlord, not that of a slave.”
“Pure Aryan features. The Führer would’ve sacrificed an arm and a leg for a specimen like this.”
Lady Marie France holds the glasses before her eyes again. Dr. Schweizer looks from her to the young blond brute, whose foot is on his opponent’s neck. The crowd demands an execution. The blonde’s thigh flexes, the savage’s neck snaps, and the crowd booms.
Energy surges through Dr. Schweizer’s veins as well, compelling him to stand. His eyes rest on the blond man’s face—sculpted as if in ice, no trace of emotion. He stands by the dead body, naked to his waist, those arms capable of so much damage hanging motionless by his sides.
“If it is him,” Dr. Schweizer mutters, “he’ll wipe us out. None of our fighters is a match for The Ripper, they can’t protect us.”
Lady Marie France tilts her head to the side, inspecting the fighter with narrow eyes. “Now that we know his true identity, we’ll observe him from the shadow. We’ll stalk him. Find his soft spot. Then use it against him.”
Dr. Schweizer snorts. “The Ripper doesn’t have any soft spots. He doesn’t feel. That mechanism shuts itself down completely in men like him, and all that remains is anger. It’s the only way they can live thug life at this level.”
Lady Marie France’s eyes stay fixed on the fighter. Dr. Schweizer knows—beyond the hooded gaze, she’s assessing their nemesis like a high-power computer.
“If he doesn’t have any weaknesses, as you say.” Her eyes move slowly from the fighter to Dr. Schweizer. His heart skips a beat at the touch of her deep brown gaze. “We’ll make him one.”
Dr. Schweizer stops breathing. “What do you have in mind?”
Lady Marie France’s gaze deepens, and the doctor understands. He looks to the amulet hanging from a golden chain around the woman’s neck, now resting just above the swell of her breasts.
“You think your potions can take down The Ripper?” He can’t keep back a scoff. “With all due respect, Lady Cassel, I know you’re an imperial chemist and all. But maybe The Ripper is a size too big for your skills?”
Lady Marie France’s long-nailed fingers curl around the amulet that resembles a silver cross with a white gem at its core, right where the lines meet. Dr. Schweizer knows—once the subject’s blood is in it and mixes with the essence, the gem turns red, like a ruby. Or like scotch.
Enjoyed this? Plenty more where it came from : ) PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE CHAPTERS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN BEFORE I’VE DECIDED ON THE NEW TITLE, The Devil’s Elixir. Therefore, you’ll find them under the title Tristan and Isolde Reloaded.