Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter VIII

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 VIII

It’s the third dress that I try on, the third one Gertrude dismisses. She stands there perched on her pumps, white jacket and pencil skirt perfectly starched, shiny blond bob flawless, ever-present white gloves covering her elegant hands. I wonder why she always wears them, but she intimidates me too badly to ask. Her expression is stern and sour, making me think of a woman General whenever our eyes meet.

I’m all twitchy and flustered because we’re at this mega high-class store surrounded by ridiculously expensive cocktail dresses, and Tristan is just walking to the glass doors from his bulletproof black car. I watch him and the bodyguards flanking him in the mirror. I recognize the bear-looking Demerol – he’s so hairy, he’s virtually furry; he’s taller and broader than Tristan, but it’s easy to see he fears his boss; he glances at him too often, as though he’s waiting for a pat on the head like a big dog.

Tristan is just about to walk in, and my heart rate speeds up. It’s that forbidding air of his that cuts me to the bone, I tell myself. He crosses the threshold, dressed in a dark gray suit that highlights his boxer build and authoritarian stance. His white blond hair is casually ruffled, his irises sparkle like ice, and his angular face looks so young and handsome it’s hard to believe he’s real. I surprise myself hoping he likes me in this dress – green always suited me, making my skin look good –, and fire whips up my cheeks. But, to my dismay, Tristan looks me up and down coldly.

“You’re not done yet?” His gaze turns to Gertrude, who shifts her weight from one leg to the other, at a loss.

“We’ll find something to suit her in a minute,” she mumbles.

“You’ve had hours. Time’s up.” Tristan walks to one of the trolleys and begins unhooking dresses from the rail. He tosses the first one away, right into Demerol’s hands, then another and another.

“Too slutty. Too widowy. Too slippery.” He freezes with the next dress in his hands. Holds it at an arm’s length, inspects it. Hands it to Gertrude, ignoring me. “This one.”

He walks over to the beige cushioned sofa and drops on it like the boss he is, pulling out his smart phone. Cheeks still burning, I take the hanger from Gertrude, barely daring to touch the expensive fabric like it’s a sacrilege. I draw the curtain to the fitting room, and breathe out in relief. This little bit of privacy is worth gold right now. Tristan’s presence takes such a toll on me that it’s hard work just being around him. I feel I have to watch my every move, my every word, my manners. Why do I even care what he thinks about me? I sure didn’t give a crap the first and second time we met. Only yesterday he had me betray my own brother, I should resent him like Black Death. But ever since the club night and Marie France’s potion I go giggly only when I think of him, and my voice fails me whenever he’s around.

The zipper gives me trouble. I grimace in the mirror, my arms twisted awkwardly behind my back, trying to get the darn thing to zip up. It’s too tight. My breasts almost spill out of the cups. I’m embarrassed to show myself in this strapless thing with my chest and shoulders bare, even though . . . I cock my head to the side.

The light inside the fitting room might be deceitful, but I like the way my Latina complexion contrasts with the cream-colored lace dress. I have far from perfect skin, and it rarely looks so complimented. Still, the dress is too small at the upper back, and it’s bursting at the seams at my hips. I decide to dismiss it, but that moment a head pops in.

“You done?”

I spin on an axis, and stumble backwards against the mirror. I slap my hand on my chest as my eyes find Gertrude’s face.

“God, you scared me.”

She measures me up and down. “She needs another one,” she calls over her shoulder.

“Why?” That’s Tristan’s voice.

“This one’s too tight. Not sure your father wants to make his appearance with –”

“Let her come out, I want to see.”

With a scowl Gertrude shoves in a pair of cream-colored stilettos that match the dress. “Put these on.”

I step into the shoes, take in a deep breath, and walk outside of the fitting room.

Tristan drops his smart phone and looks up at me with the cold gaze of a judge. I feel my cheeks catch fire like someone just bit them.

“It’s perfect,” he says. He’s sitting with an arm stretched over the back of the couch, legs apart, aggressive. His bodyguards stand flanking him behind the couch. He seems an Ice Prince indeed, powerful and defiant in his beauty. A vicious grin curls up his lips. “She looks exactly like she’s supposed to – the escort of an elderly billionaire, all tits and ass wrapped up properly.”

The contempt in his tone angers me. Before I know it I’ve stepped forward, and jutted out my chin. I haven’t been so bold since the day I met him. “Your father sees far more in me. I can help him get information from the Russian mobster, information that you, his son and chief of operations, cannot.”

Everybody in the room stiffens and holds their breath, from Gertrude to the bodyguards to the middle-aged saleswoman who’s frozen on the way to me holding a clutch that matches my dress. Tristan looks arctic daggers at me.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you understand Mark Stahl’s decisions, Isolde,” he purrs dangerously. “He’s wanted you on his team, yes, but remember that I remain the head of that team.” He bends from his waist and places his elbows on his knees. “To be honest, I think he likes you in a plain carnal way, Isolde. It’s been a while since he’s displayed a woman on his arm. Think about it – the mighty Mark Stahl, the man who’s kept out of sight for years, the man who runs the entire pharma industry from the shadow, wants to show you off as his escort. Doesn’t that make you wonder?” His tone drops, and he’s looking at me from under his eyebrows. “Maybe he’ll want you in his bed.”

Disgust explodes all over me. Then I hear myself say the most preposterous thing. “And how would you feel about that?”

He blinks. I realize I haven’t seen Tristan blink often, he always kept his stare inhumanly steady on me, but this time my words seem to take him by surprise. He leans back, his face regaining its cool expression in a moment. “I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s not like he’d marry you. He’ll use you and toss you away.”

I meant ‘would you be jealous,’ not ‘would you worry about your father’s heart’, but this response will do. It makes it clear once again that I’m no more than road kill to the Ice Prince. I sink my gaze and nod my head. My chest tightens so much it feels like a heavy ball, and I realize I want to hurt him. Badly. I feel the corners of my mouth curl downwards in a bitter expression. I keep my head down, and thereby my feelings to myself, bringing my hands together and pressing them against each other in front of my lower belly.

“Can he even, still, you know. I mean, he is old. And very ill.”

Tristan pauses. “Are you actually considering –?”

My eyes shoot up, finding his. The words fly out of my mouth. “I’m a virgin, Tristan.” That’s enough to stamp shock on his face, but I got more. “I figure, since I waited till twenty-six to be with a man, I might play my cards right and land myself an outrageously rich lover. Even if it’s short term, surely some advantage would come out of it.”

Tristan stares at me, while my blood seems to gurgle in my veins. I can’t believe what I’ve just said, the picture of myself that I’m painting for him. But I want to hurt him so badly, punish him for his indifference, for the brutal way he talks to me that I don’t care how I do it.

He gets up in a flash, so unexpectedly that I back off. He looks me up and down with an expression so cold that it’s impossible to gauge, and starts towards the exit. Demerol hurries to open the door for him and, as the bear-looking bodyguard holds it, Tristan stops and looks back at Gertrude.

“Make sure tonight Miss Isolde Molnar is primped according the special purpose she kindly shared with us.” He walks out the door, and tears of frustration creep up to my eyes.

***

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Read the FIRST CHAPTER of Tristan and Isolde Reloaded here and the SECOND CHAPTER here, THIRD CHAPTER here, and CHAPTER IV here, and CHAPTER V here, CHAPTER VI here, and CHAPTER VII here.

Further chapters:

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

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A smile was on his face. Despite the fact that he was supposed to connect with the egg donor of this lovely child, he had no thoughts of doing that or returning the kid at the appointed time. His timing was perfect. The child—Lanie is such an idiotic name; I’ll have to come up with another one—would be five in a few days. In time, she would forget there had been his loser ex in her life. She—Sheila will regret divorcing me—had battered through his training, all he’d gone through to make her a compliant and complacent wife. She’d run away after he ordered her to get an abortion.

Good thing the bitch ignored me. I wouldn’t have this gorgeous child to raise to be like me.

Granted the child was weak now, but he would fix that, as soon as he made sure they vanished forever. No one would stop him from raising his daughter as he saw fit, and that meant keeping her away from her weakling of a mother.

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Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter VII

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 VII

ISOLDE

Gertrude shoves me from behind, and I stumble over the threshold into Mark Stahl’s room. I refrain from swearing, and step to the side of the door, my eyes skimming over the pillars and vaulted ceiling.

The library downstairs where I met Tristan a few days ago knocked the air from my lungs, but I’m more resilient to the opulence of this old castle now, on second impact. Still, the place gives me an eerie feeling, a chill that makes my skin pucker. It’s like a cold whisper in my ear about things being done onto people within the confines of these walls.

There’s semi-darkness ahead. Curtains are drawn before ceiling-high windows, light only faintly making it through cracks between them here and there, licking the rug. Gertrude either has the eyes of a cat, or she knows her way around the room by heart, because she stalks confidently forward. I can see the sheen of her gloves and her patent leather shoes in the middle of the room, where she stops like a reporting soldier.

“The girl is here, as you requested, milord.”

Something creaks, like old wheels turning. A twisted shape emerges from the shadow, rolling forward. I open my eyes wider as it approaches, to see better, trying to make sense of this crumpled form. The brass spikes of wheels become clear on each side of it, then the rest of the . . . installation. I draw in a sharp breath and take a step back. My back hits the closed door.

Mark Stahl is in a wheelchair, surrounded by tubes, cables and devices. He’s like a mummy on mobile life-support, thick veins visible in his forearms and neck through flesh that looks like fruit left out to dry for far too long. He must be very old. Unnaturally old.

His glassy blue eyes, the liveliest part of him, inspect me up and down with interest. The device at his mouth – seemingly an oxygen mask – is removed with a high-tech buzz, and then he speaks. My nails pierce my palms. He sounds as old as he looks, his voice a scrape that seems to hurt his vocal cords with every word.

“Special, indeed.” His eyes lick over me. My hands claw into the fabric around my body. The whole day I’ve been clutching this darn old coat, but then again, this day has been the scariest of my life.

“Mr. Stahl,” I murmur, trying to keep my voice from jittering. “To what do I owe the honor?”

“The honor is all mine,” Mark Stahl says. Speaking seems to cause him pain, but still, he doesn’t spare words. “If you’re of such value to Marie France Cassel that she personally intervened in your life, then you’re of great value in yourself.”

He rolls closer, and I stiffen by the door. The closeness of this man is like the silent crawl of a viper. His leathery, blotchy hand reaches over, touching the rim of my coat like I’m a holy relic. There’s so much reverence in the way his fingers skim over it that I’m baffled.

“Isolde Molnar,” he whispers, “the girl who got the attention of gods.”

“The first of which was you,” I retort without thinking. A smile like a loose seam appears on his face.

“Tristan said you were a well of smart replies.”

Tristan. My heart starts in a gallop. I want to blurt out the questions, when did you adopt him, and from where, but I bite my lip. Mark Stahl looks at me from under his eyebrows, almost a cunning scowl.

“He also says Marie France wanted the glass that he’d drunk from. But I hear there was more than that involved. It was she who’d fixed his drink, your brother the bartender having been conveniently away from the bar – probably maneuvered by her people. Do you remember the exact alchemy she worked on my son’s scotch?”

Good question. I narrow my eyes, trying to remember. “I haven’t really paid attention, I was –” It hits me. “ – impaired.”

“In what way?”

I’d cut my hand, and Marie France might’ve squeezed my blood into your son’s drink; I might just be part of that alchemy. But I dread to say it. I don’t know what consequences it might have. Tristan is already unfriendly enough, and there’s this permanent thundercloud of violence hovering over him. I wouldn’t want it to explode in my face. “I was worried about the guys I was about to pass by. The ones who’d given Frany – Marie France – a hard time, and then me. I was studying them.”

“I hear my son took care of those pricks after your talk, yes?” He has a gentlemanly, protective tone. As if that’s what he educated Tristan to do, aid damsels in distress.

“Yes,” I whisper and lower my gaze. My chest caves in – I’d hoped Tristan had done it in a fit of jealousy. I’d hoped that he might feel attracted to me. I still hoped even on the hotel corridor less than an hour ago, when his features hardened as if he were made of metal, and his razor sharp blue eyes cut through me. The readiness of violence engraved in his face, his “I got nothing to lose and would stick my teeth in anyone who dares challenge me” expression, it had me chilled to the bones. But his young Scandinavian beauty still compelled me.

Mark puts his thin, dry hands on the wheels and creaks the wheelchair farther away from me. I wonder why the high-tech device makes these sounds, it looks new and powerful like a space ship. But then the entire life-support gear attached to it sways a bit as he rolls around, and I realize it’s too heavy for the chair to sustain.

“I’m going to be straight forward with you, Isolde,” he says heavily, his voice robotic. I notice he holds his hand to his neck, with another device. “You’re special. You drew our attention because you have unique talents that we saw good use for.”

My cheeks burn with embarrassment. I never could take a compliment. “I wouldn’t say –”

“You weren’t aware of these talents before you met Tristan,” he interrupts, and retreats even deeper in the shadow. “Isolde, my son and I, we know exactly why we want you working for us. But we don’t know why Marie France Cassel went through all that trouble to work alchemy between you and Tristan.” So he knows. His glassy blue gaze deepens. “There must be more to you than even we had expected.”

My face is now on fire. I have no idea how to react to this. “Thank you?” I whisper shyly, and put on what must be a dumb smile.

“No need to thank, Isolde. It’s a fact, not a compliment.” He measures me up and down with interest. “But you must beware. My son, Tristan, he’s special, too, and not in a good way. The family he comes from, you see, the genes.” His gaze fills with secretive meaning. His eyes are all I see now in a crack of light between the curtains. The rest of his face is obscured, like he’s wearing a facemask. “What Marie France did might’ve awoken evil feelings in Tristan toward you.”

That punches me in the chest. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell I’m road kill to Tristan. “I won’t lose my head for him, don’t worry,” I whisper.

“Good. I like to see a girl who stands fast even in the face of such painful beauty as my son’s.”

Painful beauty. Yes. I shake my head, open my mouth to say something, then reconsider.

“You know, Isolde,” Mark Stahl says in a subject-changing tone, “I’m sure we stand better chance of catching Marie France if you make your appearance by our side more often. She might come out in the open for you again. We will go visit Boris Podgor, this Russian mobster from the underground who infiltrated her, and I’d like you to come with us.” He turns his head slowly, indeed like an old viper, and scans me up and down. “Tristan will take you shopping. It’ll be a big night when we meet Mr. Podgor, and you’ll want to look your best.”

“I’m sure I can –”

“You need to look expensive. Opulent. I doubt your wardrobe contains anything proper.”

“You don’t have to –”

“Yes, I do. Just as I have to see Mr. Podgor in person, and with you on my arm.” He may be old as a turtle, but he sounds like a boss. I feel the need to lower my head.

“Thank you, Mr. Stahl.”

His tone softens even through that robotic device that helps him speak. “Please. Call me Mark.”

***

 Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded. Feel free to roam the site – it has many goodies to offer, from personality tests to HOT psych information.

Read the FIRST CHAPTER of Tristan and Isolde Reloaded here and the SECOND CHAPTER here, THIRD CHAPTER here, and CHAPTER IV here, and CHAPTER V here, CHAPTER VI here.

Further chapters:

 

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

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Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter VI

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 VI

TRISTAN

Isolde’s brother sleeps with rich women for money. With his designer muscles from Men’s Gym and his Latino tan, he’s perfect for the jobs he does – callboy and bar buffoon. To be frank, I think he actually likes screwing older ladies.

He beams a perfectly white smile at the wilted Marilyn he meets in the hotel lobby, her lips puckered under red lipstick. By the way he scans her up and down, I think he’s looking forward to stripping her of the white fur coat covering her from shoulders to ankles. She’s the one who’d recommended “Frany C.” – Marie France Cassel – to him, asking him to get the woman hired at the club. And she’s the one who’ll lead us to her again. As was to be expected, Ms. Cassel never made her appearance again at the club after the night she manipulated my drink.

Isolde sits across from me, gathering her coat tighter around her body. She’s uncomfortable, obviously. She’s watching her brother through the glass wall that separates lounge from lobby with a look of guilt on her face – in the end, she betrayed to me the time and place these two would meet.

“You did it for his own good,” I remind her in an even tone. She just nods, and presses her lips together. Doesn’t look at me, which makes me ball my fist on my thigh. I want her looking at me when I’m talking to her. As if she senses it, she braces herself rigidly, and casts her eyes down. She makes herself smaller in her armchair, like she’s hiding.

“Relax. He can’t see you here, the pane is a mirror on the other side,” I sneer.

Again just a short nod. It hits me, and I can’t keep back a sour grin. She’s not hiding from him, but from me.

I rest back in my armchair, and study the side of her face that she offers. She has the same Latino complexion as her brother but, other than that, they aren’t very much alike. Her features are finer, her lips darker, and the small craters in her cheeks – probably the marks of chicken pox – make her look pleasantly vulnerable. Little animal. I breathe in her scent that makes me think of a stable. And lilac.

“Get used to this, Isolde.” I feel wicked satisfaction as I say the words. She’ll betray everyone and, before this is over, the only one she’ll have left will be me. “You’ll bait many people working for me. This is only the beginning.”

Demerol walks on the other side of the pane and gives the inconspicuous signal that it’s time. I push myself up from the armchair. Behind me, the men grab Isolde from her seat and urge her to follow. I know every move that takes place behind me, I can “read” the shift of air against the skin on my nape, but I still feel the need to turn. To look at her, see those wet doe eyes beg me not to do this. I curse under my breath and steel myself against it.

The elevator ascends smoothly, the numbers blinking green as we ride to the floor where Roland is banging Marilyn. We wait on the corridor outside their room for a while, my men sending away anyone walking out of the elevator to get to their rooms. When they protest, Demerol invokes a mission of the Secret Services. By the look of us except of Isolde, the story isn’t hard to buy.

I glance at my watch. Half an hour, the cameras must’ve gotten enough by now. I look at the men by the door, motion with my chin, and the one closest produces a fine wire from between his fingers. He’s dexterous with that, he used to steal cars before I recruited him. He works the lock and opens the door silently. The others follow him in, and the woman inside shrieks.

As I make to cross the threshold Isolde grabs my wrist. I stiffen and look down at her, arching an eyebrow at her boldness. She releases my hand and drops her gaze.

“He’ll never forgive me for this,” she whispers. She’s shivering. I look away and make to step in again. My men shove her from behind, signalling her to follow me. She resists.

“Don’t make me do this, Tristan,” she pleads. “He doesn’t have to know it was me who made this happen.”

Against all odds, I find myself wanting to concede. I grit my teeth. “Fine, stay here.”

I walk in coolly, my fingers skimming over the white fur hanging on a chair at the tea table. The woman stands on her knees on the bed, I see her from the corner of my eye. Roland, Isolde’s brother, is fully naked, my men holding him back by the arms against the carved wood headboard, a silken pillow resting against his private parts. The canopy hangs flowingly from the bed frame.

“Well, Mrs. Simova,” I slur as I pace, hand caressing the fur. “I’m sure your husband – the man who paid for this fine coat, that fat designer bag and, I’m sure, unknowingly, also for your lover – would very much hate to –” I pluck the small camera from the vase on the table, “ – discover who his trusted wife of over twenty years really is.”

The woman clutches the silken sheet above her breasts, her ash-blond Marilyn locks ravished, the skin on her arms sagging.

“Who are you? Why are you doing this?” she babbles desperately, her eyes darting around at the men in black who now flash more cameras in her face, producing more proof. Roland jerks from the men’s hold toward me, but they keep him back. His pumped up Latino chest heaves, and I barely refrain from ordering him thrown in the cages. Let him try to take it out on me there, the piece of shit.

“You bastard!” He glowers and wriggles. “You come in here with a whole squad to threaten a poor naked woman?”

I snort, which comes out more like a laugh full of contempt. “Poor isn’t exactly a word I’d choose to describe Mrs. Simova, young man. In fact, it’s the opposite of it that lured you to this bed, is it not?”

His knitted eyebrows form one dark line that now quivers like he’s confused. It must be the way I talk, it throws many off balance. It’s a mark of the old day I haven’t quite gotten to master over the years.

“I’ll leave out the pleasantries.” I stop by the end of the bed, squaring my shoulders. Demerol throws the picture of Marie France Cassel on the bed, right under Mrs. Simova’s nose. “You had this young man find this woman a job at the nightclub. Her true intention was to get to me, and manipulate my drink. She succeeded, and disappeared. Where do I find her now?”

Mrs. Simova takes the picture in her trembling fingers, the other hand still holding tightly to the sheet above her chest. I scan her and her much younger lover. They seem two maggots on the bed, slimy and stinking. It would be so easy to squash them. And hell knows they deserve it, both of them. Maybe I’ll send those pictures to the woman’s husband anyway when this is all over. And the callboy, I could throw down in a cage, feed him to the Dutchman. Isolde wouldn’t know, she’d be long cold by then. My insides knot at the image of her lying stiff in a coffin, and rage burns in my fists.

“Talk,” I thunder, and the woman winces.

“Frany, yes, she used to be my maid,” the woman babbles. “My husband was unhappy with her.” She gives me a meaningful, almost reprimanding look under her fine eyebrows, which are barely more than faint blond lines on a face like crumpled paper. “I’m not the only one with guilty pleasures, you see. He’s been screwing secretaries and maids for a lifetime, and this one wouldn’t give in.”

I nod, unimpressed. “Go on. I don’t have all day.” I didn’t come here with a squad to intimidate a woman and her paid lover, indeed. I’m going straight after Cassel when this is done, and I expect she has serious back up from the Institute. In the end, they create men like me.

“I don’t know where she is or what she does now,” the woman bursts in obvious despair. “I swear, I don’t.”

“No need to panic,” I say coolly. “I’ll just take the next best lead. Who got her into your house?”

She frowns. “Excuse me?”

“Who recommended her to you?” I flash a glance at Roland. “I was in contact with his sister. So Ms. Cassel must’ve known you were seeing him, and she manipulated her way into your house. So who got her working for you?”

The woman ponders. I’m sure she sees my point. “Boris Podgor, my husband’s partner. He owns a Russian restaurant down in Mitte.”

Connections bolt through my head. Boris Podgor, a Moscow scumbag who trades girls and crocodile in the underground. Particularly nasty. “Thank you, Mrs. Simova.”

I throw the tiny camera device on the bed, spin round and head for the door. Behind me, the men shift and shuffle, expertly removing all proof of our presence there, starting with the cameras. On the corridor I encounter Isolde. I make to stomp by her, and she withdraws by the wall, still clutching her coat tightly around her. Her lips form a distorted line – is she crying, or is she disgusted with me? At that thought I stop brusquely. My face snaps to her, and I can feel current flash in my eyes.

“Thank you for your cooperation.” I sound cold as ice, but on the inside I’m bustling with hot rage. Rage because I want to sink my fingers in her thick messy bun, pull her head back and bite into her full, dark lower lip until I taste blood. For a moment I picture pulling her into the next room, throwing her on the bed, and ripping her clothes off. Subduing her, branding her mine. Like cattle, she’ll be put to death when the time comes, that’s inevitable, but until then I can consume the heat of her body, the essence between her thighs. The Dutchman roars, my rod stiffens with an urgent need to feel her skin on mine. It’s so strong it clouds my head, and it’s so new I don’t bother to understand it. Just this once.

I reach for her, but the elevator doors zing open, and Gertrude walks out of it, one silky, toned leg in front of the other. She’s wearing a pencil skirt, shiny pantyhose and patent leather shoes. She’s been trying real hard to impress me, but she fails every time. Her white silk gloves give out a smooth sheen in the corridor light. She throws Isolde a bad glance.

“Your father wants to see her,” she tells me. “Right away.”

***

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded. Feel free to roam the site – it has many goodies to offer, from personality tests to HOT psych information.

Read the FIRST CHAPTER of Tristan and Isolde Reloaded here and the SECOND CHAPTER here, THIRD CHAPTER here, and CHAPTER IV here, and CHAPTER V here.

Further chapters:

 

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Pic source.

 

Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter V

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 V

My men bring her in a few days later. I’m waiting in the study, reading the last adjustments to her contract. I expect her intense dark eyes to spit soot at me, but there’s no trace of the confident, bold-mouthed young mare from last time in the girl now facing me. Even at the club, with her tits technically popping from her cleavage, she was more commanding.

She wears an old raincoat with a mock fur lined hood that now hangs loose on either side of her neck, no make-up, a thick and messy bun atop her head. I’ve never seen her hair open, but I expect it to be long and tangled, suiting the curvaceous little cavewoman that she is. Demerol says they intercepted her at the corner store buying eggs for breakfast, so this must be the morning package, no mortar, no paint.

“I hope my men weren’t too brusque with you?” I rise from the chair behind the desk, my eyes scanning the reality for differences to the picture I had of her in my mind a few nights ago. Except for the lacking grooming there aren’t many.

“I was taken a bit by surprise.” She looks up at the shelves upon shelves of books like they’re fairy tale, clearly in awe. “It’s quite a castle and a library you have here.”

“You an avid reader?”

“I’m a sucker for romance novels.”

Sucking. The lapping sounds of my jerk-off come back to me, and I want to splinter the rack of ancient weapons on the sidewall.

“As honest as always, but without the bitter part.” I sound hostile, which alarms her. I can see it in her face.

“Well, you’re my boss now, aren’t you? I thought I’d mind my tongue.”

Hell, what next? She’s gonna find a reason to say sex?

I rip my gaze away from her as I invite her to read the contract, but can’t help creeping from the corner of my eye as she passes me by. She leaves behind a trail of meaty smell mingled with cheap lily scent. I grit my teeth to refrain from literally biting into her.

They say humans unconsciously decide if they want someone as a sexual partner in a split second after they meet them, but I stopped being fully human a while ago. I do prostitutes to release my waste, but I never lusted for them, not even in the abusive way I want to possess Isolde. They’re human cattle to me, they stink and wobble, they’re drains and gutters. Seems I have to remind myself of that whenever I’m around this particular one.

Isolde takes the contract in her hands, and I almost expect her to go audacious enough to sit in my chair and start analyzing individual paragraphs. But instead she remains standing and skips right to the last page. She picks up a ballpoint pen from the holder on my desk, and signs with one swing of her wrist.

“Didn’t you want to peruse it first?” I inquire, cocking an eyebrow.

She tucks a strand of dark hair behind her ear, her cheeks a reddish hue. She’s nervous. “What’s the use? It’s either your way or the highway, isn’t it?”

“Pretty much.”

She looks around, awkward and shy. This doesn’t add up, she acts nothing like the first two times we met.

“So, do I come back tomorrow with a suit and a briefcase? Or will I be working from somewhere else?” she says.

“You work from here, and no, there’s no need for special attire. You start right away.”

I join her behind the desk, keeping a safe distance like a lion from a lamb, and pull file folders from the lowest drawer. I place them in the form of a pyramid to suggest hierarchy within the Institute for Psychosomatic Research. Isolde is much smaller than me, and all I see is her messy bun whenever I glance at her. An urge washes over me to grab it, tug her head back and lick her jugular, feel it pulse on my tongue. I grit my teeth to refrain.

“Here are your golden apples,” I begin to talk, determined to distract myself from the urges. “I know all there is to know about all the Institute’s important members, besides their leader.” I point to the X-marked file at the top of the pyramid. “You’ll use the others in order to get to him. I believe that my resources combined with your talents is the formula for success.”

Isolde stiffens. I bend my head a bit to get a good look at her face – fixed eyes, slightly parted lips. She appears stunned.

“What troubles you, Isolde?”

I don’t expect her to say something immediately, therefore I give her a few moments. She takes her hand hesitantly to a file right under the X one. Besides the X file, each one has a picture of its subject on the cover.

“Marie France Cassel,” I start about the person she’s staring at. “She might be among the hardest people to pin down.”

“She works for the Institute?” Isolde murmurs.

“Obviously.” Redundant questions annoy me, so I turn from her and start pacing slowly, keeping my eyes off her as well. “Madame Cassel majored in Chemical Engineering at Imperial, London, top of her class, but she considers herself a new age alchemist. She is praised in her field as very innovative, and mixes in-depth knowledge of chemistry with esoteric that she openly believes in – based on her upbringing; her parents were Goths. No one ever took them seriously, of course, but Marie France cherishes their memory and therefore always strived to prove their legacy veritable. She’s a modern witch, if you want.”

“Did she succeed? To prove their legacy real?” Isolde sounds faint, as if she’s afraid of the answer.

“To a certain extent.” I narrow my eyes at her. “Why the special interest in Ms. Cassel?”

She holds up the file. “I know her, Tristan. Her name is Frany, and she used to work with me at the nightclub.”

The news tears through my eardrums. Like everything that takes me by surprise, it angers the hell out of me. “Say what?”

“This woman was supposed to wait your table a few nights ago when you and I last saw each other. The guy you saved me from and his friends had given her a bad time, and I offered to take the drinks up for her. Then –” she hesitates. I’m forced to approach.

I grab her shoulders, my hands firm on her upper arms, but I pull her closer gently. Her scent of prey and lily makes my nostrils flare. This is what blood must smell like to sharks. “I suggest you spill all the beans.”

“Didn’t you see Frany at all?” she asks, clearly intimidated.

“Would we still be having this conversation if I did?”

Her eyes dart around as if she’s searching for an explanation on the walls and shelves. “The glass you drank from. Frany took it to some guy who looked like an undercover agent or something, leather jacket and all, saying the police is after your DNA.”

The wheels turn in my head. I narrow my eyes.

“What is it?” she inquires. “Please, Tristan, tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Marie France Cassel doesn’t need my DNA. She’s had it since forever. And she’d never work with the police.”

Isolde frowns and shakes her head slightly. “But why would she be so desperate to stop me from touching that glass and making your DNA useless?”

I grin. I’ve never been so close to the Institute before, especially through a member as highly ranked as Madame Cassel. Hiring Isolde has already started to pay off. “Let’s go ask her.”

***

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded. Feel free to roam the site – it has many goodies to offer, from personality tests to HOT psych information.

Read the FIRST CHAPTER of Tristan and Isolde Reloaded here and the SECOND CHAPTER here, THIRD CHAPTER here, and CHAPTER IV here.

Further chapters:

 

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Beautiful sexy couple portrait“>Pic credits. Pic acquired here.

Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter IV

Blurb:

Talented market analyst Isolde Molnar faces a tough choice – either work for shady mogul Tristan Stahl, or face unemployment and poverty forever. He’s powerful enough to destroy both her life and that of her younger brother, which forces Isolde to sign his contract. Why he wants her of all people is a mystery, like the man himself.

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! 

 

TRISTAN

 

“You okay?” Demerol inquires in the limo.

I look up from under my eyebrows. His head tilted to the side, stray dog face and all, he’s submissive. Has been for a while, but you never know with his kind of guys. After all, I test them for my team by crushing their bones in cage fights.

“Fine. Why?”

“You seem a bit off, that’s all.”

“Off how?”

He puts up his palms that resemble bear paws more than human hands, and that make the reason for his nickname – just one blow can send a man to sleep. “Hey, just saying. You seem angry. That prick at the club?”

I ponder. “Yeah, I want you to relocate him.”

“Why not end his existence directly if you want to go that way?”

“His existence is worthless as it is.” I look back down to my smartphone, even though I’ve stopped e-mailing since the club. Now I’m looking at her profile. Again. I zoom in on her picture with my thumb and forefinger. “I just don’t think he’ll stay away from her. Losers like him have a kind of stupid pride, he might take chances. And we need the girl safe for now.”

“For now? How long do you want him away then?”

I slide the phone back in my chest pocket and, with it, Isolde Molnar out of my sight. “We’ll finish her anyway after she’s served her purpose. You can let him go then.”

“Wow, you must hate her more than him.”

Rage crawls up my spine, and I feel like I could crush a fucking skull. It’s pretty much my natural state, but this has a strange irk to it. “She’s been defiant. You know what happens to the defiant ones.”

Demerol drops his head, looking at his big hands. “Yes, Sir. They’re made an example of. But it’s a waste, if you ask me.”

“Well, I’m not asking you,” I snarl, and he winces, as big as he is.

An urge to claw his face runs through my body, to have his viscous blood swell out of the trenches in his flesh. But he’s saved by the bell. The car stops. “We’re here,” the driver says, and we get out.

We make our way to the mansion through the blizzard and bald trees, Demerol keeping back with the others. It’s one of the few things I like about him – he usually makes a good flank, but he instinctively knows when the Dutchman might snap off leash.

The gravel crunches under our feet as we march down the alley to the front door. I can barely still keep the savage in check. I need to slip underground and feed it before it goes irrational, but the moment we step into the hall Gertrude rushes my way. Her white hands land on my chest. I cock one eyebrow, and she backs off.

“Your father has been asking for you all night, Tristan.”

“He shouldn’t even be up at this hour. Didn’t you give him his pills?”

“Wouldn’t take them.” She leans in, whispering like an accomplice. “He wants to know about the girl.”

Isolde. “All right.”

I walk past her and head to the grand stairs, while my men remain in the hall like a falling cloak. I feel lighter every time this happens. They’ll check out with Gertrude and retreat to recharge, leaving me to myself for a few dark, much needed hours.

For all the opulence of this place Mark’s door creaks when I push it open. I told Gertrude to have it oiled, but she keeps forgetting. Sometimes I think it’s Mark who blocks the attempts to fix it though, and uses the creak as a sort of secret alarm.

I move slowly and make out his haggard shape in the wheelchair by the window. Heavy curtains aside, blanket on his knees, he bathes in the cold moonlight, seeming so small and fragile no one in their right mind would believe he basically rules Europe. Connected to snaking tubes and IV-lines, he’s more of a cyborg than a man.

“Did you get her this time?” he rasps. I approach enough to get a side view of his blotchy, pruned face that’s as old as a turtle, and I feel something other than anger for a change. Pity, I think.

“She understood there’s no alternative.”

“I hope not too much damage was done.” He speaks slowly. His small blue eyes sparkle in the moonlight, more alive than many a young man’s, the only mirror of his intact mind.

“She’s fine.”

“Isn’t it impressive, Tristan,” he says, slowly turning his head to face me in full, “that she should resist you like that? Nobody has in years, am I correct?”

“You are.” I tighten my jaw, struggling to keep the Dutchman behind the bars it’s now rattling like crazy.

“Come on, son, tell me her story. I know you’re not a man of many words, but this is special. She is special.”

Special, yes. “She’s very unusual.” The Dutchman’s jaws snap like a crocodile’s. I could bite off heads right now.

“It’s fascinating, really. That someone of so few resources can hold on so tightly to morals and dignity. I’m almost glad my life depends on her of all people.”

Just another word about Isolde Molnar, and I’ll snap. She has virtues that are awfully rare, yes, but a part of her is still a dirty wanton, using tits and ass to manipulate men. The Dutchman roars, rattling the bars, its eyes burning. My teeth crunch.

“I’ll mentor her well,” I hiss.

“Mentor her fast. Find the right people quickly. I don’t have much time.”

The savage bustles inside, I can’t even reply anymore. My jaw is completely locked. Mark assesses me with his small, vivid eyes, and for a moment I see the General from years ago in this wrecked shell. He’s a monster, and he probably deserves to live as little as I do, but he did spare me when no one should have, and I owe him.

“Go now, lad,” he says. “I can see you need to. But I’ll hear more about the girl as soon as you regain yourself.”

I nod and stomp back the way I came. I lose my jacket and unbutton my shirt like they burn me as I haste down the stairs, and by the time I reach the hall I’ve loosened my belt too. I’m aware of Gertrude lurking, biting her lip as she watches from the shadows. She disgusts me as much as always, but then, out of the blue, I imagine Isolde’s intelligent eyes on me instead of Gertrude’s, and my c*** twitches. Even the savage is stunned. I slow down as I reach the underground, as if that can help me understand.

The inmates’ calls and cusses flood my ears from the bowels of the cages. Soon they’ll be in my line of vision, and I’ll be able to unleash the savage, but the idea of Isolde hits me again, and there’s a pang in my gut. I stop in an alcove, wishing I still had my phone with me to look at her picture. That should help, they say the real thing is always more disappointing than memory.

I lean my head against the wall, listening to the crawl of spiders and cockroaches, feeding the darkness within. It’s my element, it’s where I’m free to wreak carnage, only that this time a different kind of adrenaline pumps through my veins. It doesn’t send the Dutchman clawing and knifing the inmates just around the corner, it craves something else.

The pressure in my groin has become unbearable. Out of instinct I reach in my boxers and grab my c*** like I used to take my hand to a sore place automatically back when pain still bothered me. I’m rock solid, and the first tug drains a rush of pleasure from my groin. A moan escapes my throat, and a flash hits me – Isolde Molnar *** (the erotic content in upcoming book)

***

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded, as well as a new personality post based on your choice of stories.

Read the FIRST CHAPTER here and the SECOND CHAPTER here, THIRD CHAPTER here.

Further chapters:

 

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Pic source.

Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – CHAPTER III

Blurb:

Talented market analyst Isolde Molnar faces a tough choice – either work for shady mogul Tristan Stahl, or face unemployment and poverty forever. He’s powerful enough to destroy both her life and that of her younger brother, which forces Isolde to sign his contract. Why he wants her of all people is a mystery, like the man himself.

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 III

It’s not enough that my head spins because of the shame and liquor, but I also have to stumble down the stairs, and bump into my hunter, the shaved head from before. I drop the tray and cuss for the life of me.

“Wow, look at you, done with your rich client?” The shaved head reaches for a rebel strand of my hair, but I slap his hand off before he can touch me. It unbalances him, and he grips to the banister to keep steady. He grins.

“Have you been following me?” I spit. I don’t dare hunker down for the tray.

“Been watching all I could.”

I try repeatedly to pass him, but his bulk staggers in my way every time.

“You’re drunk.”

“You seem tipsy yourself, love.” He grabs me harshly around the middle and pushes me back against the banister, bouncing his groin into my thigh. “Been drinking and f****** the rich guy behind his bodyguards, what?”

He exudes a gross smell of alcohol as his mouth lunges for mine, and I can barely avoid it. I turn my cheek, and he ends up sucking on my face, which tears a desperate “arghhhh” from my throat. I screw my eyelids shut, as if that could suppress the reality, but it’s all there – his reek, the choking smoke, the loud base. This whole place seems to be crumbling, and I’m going down with it. The shaved head grabs my jaw and forces me to face him. Scared as hell, I open my eyes widely.

“Your lipstick’s gone. Did you leave it around the rich guy’s c***?” His fingers drill through my cheeks into my bones.

“You’re hurting me!”

My lamentation only turns him on, and he reaches under my skirt to my underwear. I flinch as his finger brushes the lace aside and strokes right there. “Aw, it’s so easy to f*** you. I’m gonna do it right here and no one will even notice. I like’em sexy Latinas too.”

He squashes my breasts against him, and I despair realizing he’s going to push that sausage of a finger right inside of me. My eyes desperately search for Roland as my usual savior, but he’s too far at the bar, not to mention the shaved head’s group of friends gathers around to block us from sight.

They’re laughing, covering the upcoming deed. The club is packed, the music too loud for anyone to make out my cries for help, the entire place a freaking jungle. This guy can prey on me like I’m a wounded deer, he can rape me even easier than he would in a dark alleyway. I succumb to fear and self-loathing, and my body goes numb.

“I’m gonna –” But a force yanks him away from me so fast that the air lashes at my face. I grip to the banister for balance, and blink clueless for moments before I realize what’s happening.

Tristan Stahl takes the foreground in my field of vision, looking so angry that it drives ice into my bones. He shows his alpha beast teeth, his boxer claw on the shaved head’s jaw, forcing the bastard to his knees. The bodyguards gather behind him, ready to fight the shaved head’s friends, but none of those losers dares step in.

“How about I tear out all your teeth with my bare hands, you piece of shit?” Tristan growls, and the hairs stand all over my arms. The shaved head’s leather-clad knees hit the ground.

“Please,” he manages, but then he screams like a pig being slaughtered. Tristan’s grip tightens on his jaw so hard that the man’s face goes red, and his eyeballs swell from their sockets. I’m afraid his head will burst like a watermelon any moment.

“Tell everyone you know that Isolde Molnar –” One of Tristan’s men grabs my arm and pulls me close to his boss as if on command, displaying me to the shaved head, “– stands under the Dutchman’s protection. Whoever touches a hair on her head turns cold. Be it sewer or Siberia, I will find them until the sun sets on the third day.”

The shaved head babbles something. Tristan squeezes harder, and the man gives out another excruciating scream.

“Yes?” Tristan hisses.

“Yes! Yes!”

Tristan drops him, and the shaved head crawls out of the way, looking back at me this time like I’m a freaking queen. I turn to thank Tristan, but he seems ill, pale and maybe in pain. His icy features distort like in movies with shape shifters, his fists balling and eyebrows scrunching.

“Consider your shift over,” he says through his teeth. “Go home and, until I send the car for you, keep your errands short.” With that he turns around and hurries towards the exit like he can’t get away from me faster, his bodyguards trailing after him. Everyone clears from their path. I stand in place, watching, feeling deaf and dumb. And craving a drink to put out the scare.

I can’t hear music anymore, and there’s an empty semicircle around me as if no one dares come too close. Everybody stares. I hunker down to clean the mess at my feet, keeping my legs close together, but soon understand that the more I try to make myself small and inconspicuous, the more I’m putting up a show. Plus that I’m shaking like crazy.

Tristan’s glass of scotch is intact and lies on the side, one last thick drop trickling along it. I have an urge to put my mouth where his has been, so I take the glass to the bar, asking Roland for a refill of the same brand – it’s shamelessly expensive, so it must be good. Stricken by the events, my brother doesn’t ask questions or protest, but hurries to serve me. I take the glass to my lips and sip, but then someone cries out my name. My head snaps back to see little Frany lunging towards me with her arm outstretched and eyes as wide as grenades.

“Don’t!”

***

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded, as well as a new personality post based on your choice of stories.

Read the FIRST CHAPTER here and the SECOND CHAPTER here.

Further Chapters:

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Pic source.

Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter II

Blurb:

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 II

Tristan Stahl is a villain. He provides the mafia with opiates, hallucinogens and the finest prescription drugs, and that’s not the end of it. It’s not the Russians, Mexican cartels or Kosovar thugs – it’s big pharma, under Stahl’s command. It’s not dealers at street corners or in dumps full of smoke and wasted losers – it’s deliveries in bulletproof vehicles and distribution in exclusive rooftop clubs. That’s the information Roland got me from his connections to the underground.

Stahl does have the power to fuck up my life completely, but I won’t go down without a fight. There is this one alternative he can’t take away from me – going to his most feared competition, selling them what I have on him. I’ve been trying to contact the Institute, but they keep their decision makers well fenced in. I have no doubt I’ll get to them eventually, though.

Meanwhile, Roland got me a job at the nightclub to bridge over this period. It was my last hope after months of searching and begging at different companies, then at restaurants, then coffee shops until I went desperate enough to take a job as a public toilet cleaner at the airport. Roland put a stop to that after just one day. Now, like Stahl threatened, I’m grateful to be wiping tables in this place that’s a sort of Hooter’s on steroids, wearing a short skirt and a push-up top. My breasts overflow from my cleavage whenever I bend over, and I want to throw up every time I look in the mirror.

But there’s a good side to the whole thing. My little brother and I get to spend more time together. Our bond deepened. Right now he’s juggling bottles behind the bar and winking at giggly broads with a crush.

“Incoming!” a girl shrieks behind me. I turn to see little Frany, the other new waitress, lunge at me with wide eyes and a tray full of drinks. The tray lands on the floor, yet I manage to balance Frany on her feet.

“I’m so sorry, Izz,” she babbles, her face all red. We both get down to gather the shards and save what’s to be saved.

“Don’t worry, not your fault.” I throw a glance behind us. Of course, as I expected, a group of guys laughs hard, slapping each other’s backs and praising the idiot who tripped her. I stand, whisk my pink apron and march to them, unable to restrain myself. It can’t get me in any more trouble than it did with Stahl, so what the hell.

“Hey, pretty boy,” I yell over the music. The perpetrator stares at me from amidst his friends as I hold out my palm. “That’ll be twenty.”

“I’m sorry, what?” He cups his ear as if he can’t hear me. I bend to him.

“Twenty for the tray of drinks you just sent to waste. You tripped the girl.”

“Do you have any witnesses to support that?” he sneers, and someone slaps the naked back of my thigh. The skirt must’ve risen to reveal my garters, which tends to send males wild in here. In my purposefulness I forgot I’m not wearing the most commanding outfit.

My face bustling with indignation, I turn around at just the right time to stop the guy from slapping me again. He grins and immobilizes me in his arms, clasping my wrists behind my back. He’s a big guy with a shaved head, neck tattoos and piercings.

“Look at you, you’re a pretty one. If I were drunk enough, I’d bite those succulent lips.” He leans into me and breathes in my ear, “I’m still shy now, but the night is young.”

I struggle from his clasp, and he lets go.

“Later, babe,” he says, and I know it’s a threat. He just made me the night’s hunt, but I expect Roland’s tanned bulk in a tank top to intimidate him when he decides to make the first move. It always does.

With flushed cheeks I make my way to Frany, who’s getting a new tray from Roland at the counter. Her face is all worried when she looks over her shoulder back the way I came.

“I’m gonna have to pass them again.” Tears glimmer in her innocent hazel eyes, and my heart breaks.

“I’ll take it for you, then.”

“But to you they’re even more dangerous. The big guy with a bald head, he’s not taking his eyes off of you.”

“Don’t worry about it.” I’ll be damned if I ever let anyone bully me again. It hurts enough that I’ve become a piece of meat wiping tables with her tits at a badly famed nightclub, I won’t be made to feel any lower than that.

I grab the tray, but Frany stops me before I take the first step. “Wait, you’re cut.”

I notice the blood on my forefinger, then the nasty wound. My ego still on fire, I don’t feel any pain. “Hardly anything to worry about.” I grab a napkin and make to leave again, but Frany insists.

“Ignore it now, and it’ll swell later. This will only take a moment.”

She squeezes my finger above the cut to drain the potentially infected blood, then dips it in a glass of scotch, and keeps it there for a few seconds. When she’s done she bandages it with a napkin, her lips moving all the while as if she’s casting a spell. She says it’s a traditional prayer that healer women use back where she comes from, a place she named a number of times but that I keep forgetting. I let her do her thing and suppress my need to sneer at her practices. I like her too much for that.

With Roland now busy at the other end of the bar she rearranges the tray herself and sends me with it to the V.I.P. area. Just to make sure the drinks reach their destination safely this time I snake among the crowd and make every effort to avoid the bully table. They can’t trip me without being obvious, but by the predator look in my admirer’s eyes I know he’s plotting something for later.

A set of stairs delimits the V.I.P. area from the rest of the club. Business people smoke cigars and drink whisky, laughing hard and closing deals – rich “work” – looking down at dancing masses. But as I approach table ten, the one Frany was supposed to wait, my legs grow heavy. I recognize the pool of blond bodyguards, and my heart jumps in my throat. I want to stop walking, but my legs compel me to approach, my eyes seeking for the Ice Prince like for a gem in a nest of vipers. The bodyguards shift from my path, and finally reveal him sitting on the leather couch.

Tristan Stahl’s white blond hair is combed back, clearing his razor sharp irises. He wears a designer suit, his jacket open, his neckline loosened, making him a perfect model for Boss Bottled as well as, maybe, Gold Gym. I’ve discovered he’s far from just a pencil pusher. He’s as feared in illegal underground fights as he is at negotiation tables.

I put down the tray, struggling to recover my wits. For a moment there I really believe this is just a humiliating coincidence, whisk my apron and turn to leave with what’s left of my dignity, but someone grabs my shoulder and pushes me down on the couch facing Stahl, just like last time. I realize I’ve been maneuvered into this situation, and my heart drums so hard it’s choking.

“Champagne?” Stahl offers in his thick baritone that goes to my head. Here the music is much lower than downstairs – the V.I.P. area is business-talk area – so I can hear him clearly. I blink a few times, then nod. A drink should at least help even out my pulse.

He looks up at a bodyguard-slash-butler and motions with his chin that I be served. “I believe I’ve made my point, Isolde. There’s no need to prolong this situation, it must be unbearable to you.”

I manage to clear my throat, but still can’t speak. Not until after I’ve drained the glass of champagne in one move, sending warmth to my cheeks, and my brain on a light spin. “Does this club belong to you, too? Like the café where we first met?”

“I have a hand in every club in town.”

“Then you allowed me to get this job?”

“I might’ve even steered you toward it.”

All the slaps I’ve gotten over my butt in the last few weeks burn my buttocks again, and anger claws my heart. I bite it down this time, promising myself I’ll have Stahl pay for what he put me through. And I know just the way to do it.

“Does your offer still stand?”

“Excuse me?” He leans in, nailing me down with the frost in his eyes. He heard me, the bastard, he just wants to have me beg. I clear my throat again.

“Your offer, does it still stand?”

“Why, you suddenly interested?”

“Say I am.”

“But you don’t even know what my offer was, Isolde. You left before we got a chance to talk about it.” The upper part of his chest muscles is visible beyond his open neckline, and I do my best to look away. Luckily he makes it easy on me by leaning back and stretching his arms on the back of the couch again.

“You wanted me to keep working on your competition, the Institute for Psychosomatic Research, didn’t you?” I say. “You wanted forecasts of their moves so you can block them. I can do forecasts. Where do I sign?”

I look around for the woman in the white gloves, smugly expecting her to have my contract ready, but she’ not here, and Stahl’s icy laughter shakes my confidence from its hinges. “Isolde, I didn’t get where I am in life by being uninformed or easy to manipulate. I know you’ve been trying to contact the Institute’s decision makers. Help them nail us.”

“Nadine told on me?” I sneer.

“Your friend just wanted to save you from the filthy swamp you were sinking into.”

“Then back to our business. What exactly will you have of me?”

“I want you to use your intuitive talents on the Institute’s scientists. They’re very hard to pin down, so I need you to divine their future whereabouts – conferences, vacations, things of the sort.”

“As I told you the first time we met, my intuition works with data that’s stored at the back of my mind. If I am to intuit my way to these people, I’d have to know at least something about them.”

“I’ll feed you the information, of course. I don’t expect you to function on thin air. I know who these people are, just not where to find them. The Institute keeps them well protected, as I’m sure you’ve learned in your attempts to contact them.”

Useless attempts. “I can hear the mockery in your tone, you know.”

“I hope you also hear the praise. I’m almost impressed, Isolde. You don’t have any money, hardly any worthwhile connections, and still, you manage to produce results, however insufficient.”

He reaches for a glass of scotch and rests back, ankle on his knee. I can’t help but noticing how the white shirt wraps the athletic shape of his body, and I feel he’d make a great villain for Marvel. He’s crushingly handsome, wealthy enough to outrage Bruce Wayne, and damaged to the core – he must be, having the mafia on its knees. I wonder how much his past before the adoption by Mark Stahl has to do with his nerve.

“Imagine everything you could accomplish if you had my resources at your disposal, Isolde,” he tempts. “I’ll not only pay you richly, but I can open doors for you that you never dreamt to see unlocked. I can bribe any gatekeeper in your way and remove anyone with more stubborn morals. You can pay back all those who ever looked down on you or slammed a door in your face.” He sips from the scotch, watching me for the effect of his words. I sip.

The crisp and cool of the champagne mess with my head, and I relax back against the couch. The club started to spin a little. All I have to do to see myself free of this dump is tell Tristan Stahl yes. Sell my soul to the devil, and I’m afraid I’ll soon be drunk enough to do it.

“If I refuse, it’s nightclubs and airport toilets forever, isn’t it?” I look at him to find that his steely eyes haven’t wavered from me.

“If you refuse, I’ll fulfill my promise about the red light.”

“You sound almost sorry,” I spit.

“Take the job, Isolde. It’ll be money and privilege, plus a bright future for those you care about.” He glances over the banister to the bar downstairs, and I know he means my brother. “It would be a waste to ban you two from social success.”

“That choice is in your hands. No one is forcing you to destroy our lives.”

“Come on. I’m technically offering you the world. A refusal would make you the unreasonable one.”

I drain my glass and tilt my head to the side, narrowing my eyes. “Why me, Tristan? Why is a mogul who can hire the smartest heads ever born want me of all people?”

“My reasons are my own.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to disclose them if you want to win my allegiance.”

Tristan Stahl’s glare slices through mine like knife through butter. “What do you think I am, a knight in shining armor? I’m not trying to win you, Isolde. I want to buy you.”

“I’m sorry, then. My services cost more than money.”

I lean in so that my breasts swell from my cleavage as I stare daringly into his eyes. They don’t lower. His scent of mulled wine and magic winter nights envelops me, but I resist it.

“You owe me more than money, Tristan. You brought me in the worst position I’ve ever been in, ever. Not even after Mom died did I have to wipe tables with my tits in order to buy food and clothes for Roland and me, and that was when I was sixteen.”

His features go all frost. “And now what? Remorse is supposed to rob me of sleep, to have me tossing and turning at night for what I’ve put you poor orphans through? You’re no longer a child, Isolde, you’re twenty-five.”

“Oh, I don’t mean to turn you back into a human, don’t worry,” I jeer. “But I’ll have you make up for the moral damage. I’ll have you do things for me, Tristan, and you’ll do them often.” The satisfaction that rinses my heart with every word that rolls out of my mouth is incredible. Maybe it’s the booze, the tribal music and his scent, but I’m drunk on how I feel. It’s all or nothing, I’m on the edge challenging a fucking lord of the underground, and I’m loving it.

“You’ll ask for nothing indecent, I hope.” It sounds like he’s mocking but not quite, as if he’s had sexual arrangements proposed to him before. I wonder if he gave course to any of them.

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t have you soil yourself like that.” I glance around at his exclusively blond entourage, all of them holding their tumblers and staring at us like they can’t believe the cut scene. “Judging by your choice of friends I guess you’d rather go albino than have a tanned ass bouncing in your lap.”

He grits his teeth, I can hear it. I’m finally pushing the Ice Prince’s right buttons. I look back at him and find his face much closer to mine than I’ve left it, a frosted sculpture with cruel eyes.

“Don’t play with me, Isolde.”

“Oh, you think this is a game for me? You’ve proven you can fucking destroy my life with your little finger.”

“Then why take further chances? Ask for the contract and sign it.”

“I will sign, Tristan. I just have a few terms of my own.”

“Then stop wasting time, and name them.”

I look around, acting tough but actually avoiding the pressure of his glare. “I run a blog. I regularly post my rants, and it already has quite a lot of awesome followers as angry as I am, but in order for it to achieve its ultimate goal I need it to spread like wildfire.”

“You want me to pump it viral? You got it.”

“No, Tristan, that kind of pumping would still be money. I’ll have the money myself because you’ll be paying me a whole lot of it for my services.”

“What do you need then?”

“Info. The exclusive, five-star kind of info.” I run my tongue over my lips. I hunger for his reaction to this. “You’ll deliver me top secret data on top secret people. You’ll reveal the true names of those who control the most powerful multinationals. You’ll feed me everything there is to know about them, from what they eat to whom they fuck. All the clean ones will be spared, enjoying their elite status, but you’ll help me nail the evil scumbags, Tristan, one by one. I’ll write the articles and put in the money to propel the blog to the top, but you’ll be the one delivering the golden nuggets.”

Maybe it’s the booze soaking my brain, along with the music and my choking pulse, but it seems the features of this young Viking prince are melting. He inspects me like I’m Alien. “You aim ridiculously high.”

“Well, I just got my hands on a ridiculously powerful weapon.” I look him up and down. “You’re a nuke.”

“At the whims of a child.”

“Oh, I won’t even go in on the subject of whims and brats. Will you do it?”

He pauses for a moment. “Believe it or not, it’s easy to say yes, Isolde.”

“I bet. Most of those I’m after must be below you in money, position and good deeds.”

“It’s not only that. But some of the names worth considering for your project are the very ones I’m asking you to work on.”

I narrow my eyes. “Are you trying to manipulate me?”

“I’ll give you the information, Isolde, and you’ll judge for yourself if they’re evil scumbags or not.”

“Okay. I’ll take it.”

“The job?”

“Yes.”

He puts the scotch down, but not a muscle twitches on his face, as if he’d never really had a doubt about the outcome of this conversation. “Well then, it’s set.”

He offers me a big hand, and I take it. His palm is callous and his knuckles like those of a boxer, which I go crazy for in a guy. I struggle to stay focused.

“Super. When do I start?”

“Just be prepared. I’ll send a car for you in a few days. Don’t ask questions, just get in.” With these words he waves me gone, and I’m stunned. I thought I had him impressed, but he’s dismissing me like I’m nothing, as if he’s lost all interest once he’s had me. I stand up, seeking his gaze, but he looks away.

“Take this with you.” He motions dismissively to the tray on the table, then he reaches to the inside pocket of his jacket for his smartphone. Moving on to the next business, I guess.

I bend to take the tray, aware his men get a good view of my butt, and wondering if it bothers Tristan in the least. It sure doesn’t seem to, and I feel like a whore. I swallow my pride and turn away, telling myself this finale has a good side to it – it makes it even easier to hate the Ice Prince.

***

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Read the FIRST CHAPTER here.

Further Chapters:

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

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THE WARLORD – New medieval romantic suspense project

Hi peeps, I’d like to ask your opinion on my new novel project, “The Warlord”, medieval romantic suspense that I’ve started on recently, while my other books are in the editing stage. The novel is about a boyar daughter taken as slave by a highly dangerous warlord as punishment to her father for not having paid the tribute. The Warlord is the most powerful knight in Prince Ekkehart’s circle, the one  bound to bring Prince Ekkehart the Secret of Immortality. The Warlord and the boyar’s daughter fall in love as they go, but alas! He is forced to marry Ekkehart’s sister, who will seek to eliminate the boyar daughter. This is the first page, and I’d love to hear what you think. Is it something you’d like to continue reading? Or would you like to see something else on the first page?

CHAPTER ONE

Northern Wallachia, February 1467

“What’s happening, good Florica?” young mistress Runia asked.

“Hush, listen.” The girl’s nursemaid reached for her arm, her face reflecting the eerie orange glow of the candle’s light. “Some of the riders are in the castle.”

Alarmed, Runia jumped from her bed. Her ears perked up, in tune with the growing beat of hooves on the ground. “We have to warn Father.”

“It’s too late for the boyar.”

“What do you mean?” The girl wrenched her arm free from her nurse’s grip and flung herself to the door, grabbing the iron latch with both hands and pulling it in one long strain. The wooden door was thick and heavy with rusted locks and chains, but it gave at last with one lengthy and painful creak.

Runia slipped out, and ran down the chilly corridor. At the nearest corner she stumbled over the hem of her linen gown and bumped into a weapons rack, sending the blades clattering on the floor. Her nurse caught up, and pulled her to the shelter of a cold alcove.

“We must escape before they find us,” the woman urged, her breath misting Runia’s ear shell. “But for that, we need to keep as quiet as ghosts.”

Male voices approached on the corridor, and the two women held their breath. The men spoke a mix of Hungarian and German, and Runia’s blood froze in her veins. She gasped, and the nursemaid covered her mouth.

“The Warlord’s minions,” the woman whispered in dread. Runia felt her eyes widen. The Warlord. Prince Ekkehart’s “left hand”. The good nurse had told Runia stories about the shadow man who plundered villages, burning alive noblemen who refused to pay tribute or who’d sought to betray Prince Ekkehart to the Ottomans.

Hoofbeat echoed on the corridor, the stench of sweat and rotten meat preceding the rider passing the alcove. Runia watched the minion in the saddle, a fleshy barbarian, his beard caked with blood. The contents of her stomach whirled in her belly, and she braced herself.

 

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The Executioner – Ep. XVI – Mad Conan

“See, what did I tell you? They found Mad Conan to blame it on. As for the old man, he’s a scapegoat,” Rux said as images of a sorry old doctor with Einstein hair, cuffed hands and fragile body in a tweed suit appeared on the screen, led to a police car by two men in black uniforms. According to the reporter, the car exploded only shortly later, the doctor and the policemen all dead. The connection to Dad fired in my head – first extraction, then death.

“Jesus, Rux, this is bad! This is real bad!”

She looked at me, startled by my reaction. In a few breaths and with no second thoughts I broke my oath and told her about the extraction, glancing at the door to make sure Mom didn’t catch me on it.

“Help me, Rux,” I pleaded. “I need to see him, make sure he’s not being held hostage and questioned like a heretic, then maybe even killed in some staged accident!”

“And who’s gonna tell you where Dr. Preda is? Apparently no one wants you to know.”

“We’ll go see Varlam at the station. I’ll find a way to get him talking.”

“You don’t have his number?”

I snorted. “How do you suppose I could talk to him about these things on the phone? Plus, if we call first it’ll give him time to think of ways to ditch us or fool us. The only solution is going to the station, and talk to him face to face.”

Rux studied me for a while. A deep-in-thought V formed between her eyebrows as she assessed my face, and the moment Mom walked back into the living room, she began talking without warning or turning her eyes from me.

“There’s no way I can spend days here without something proper to wear.”

She sounded so convincing, I fell for it myself. “You can have anything from my wardrobe,” I babbled.

“You’re petite, Alice, you don’t own anything I can actually take out on the street or to campus tomorrow.”

Her eyes danced on mine, maybe in expectation for me to kick the ball back at her. But, since I was too puzzled to produce a sound, she went on herself. “I need to buy a few things.”

I finally understood her game, but Mom intervened as if burnt with a red iron before I could say anything.

“You’re sure not going out, not with darkness knocking on the door.”

Rux’s face froze for a moment but, as she turned to Mom, it had already regained its elasticity and added a rakish smile.

“What if we ask one of the boys outside to accompany us to Marvimex?”

“They’re here as watchmen and not escorts,” Mom admonished.

“Then please, have a word with them,” Rux said.

Mom gave me a suspicion-filled look, which I blocked with an innocent smile and a shrug.

“I’d love to get out of the house for a bit,” I said. “It feels like prison, and I need a breath of freedom, Mom.”

It was the begging tone that unbalanced Mom’s resolve, no doubt. After little more insistence from our part she allowed us to get ready while she went out, looking for Officer Sorescu and his colleagues. I had no idea why Rux invited the escort, but I decided to trust her judgment in the end. She always knew what she was doing.

I parted the curtains with two fingers and spied – much like old Mrs. Teodorescu from across the street did each time a car pulled up in front of one of the neighboring houses. Mom crossed the street, keeping the long winter coat wrapped closely around her body.

To my gaping surprise, she entered the corner bar where loud drunkards burned away their time gambling cigarettes and bottles, sometimes their wives’ jewelry, sometimes their wives. With its barred windows and narrow entrance the place was perfectly designed to keep interest at bay. Yes, suited for undercover tailing operations, why not.

“What if the place hadn’t existed, I wonder,” Rux said. “Would they have extracted your neighbor Mrs. Teodorescu and had an agent disguise himself as her, with apron an’ all?”

She forced a laugh that made her look and sound mentally deranged rather than amused. The picture of Officer Sorescu’s round face framed by a colored kerchief did reach my mind’s eye, though.

Rux and I went to the antechamber, where challenge number two was up – getting around George. He lay on the sofa with eyes fixed on the small TV, watching no less than Bugs Bunny. Mom must’ve turned to the old tape to keep his mind off anything heavy.

Rux stared at him, holding a finger up in front of her pursed lips – keeping me quiet, I imagined. He seemed not to be aware of our presence, his mouth open, drooling, and brows high in the expression of a retard. Maybe the colored motion on screen simply put his mind off duty. Or maybe he was high on prescription medication.

Slowly, Rux opened the doors to the wardrobe. The slower she moved the more they creaked, and George stirred.

“For God’s sake, Rux, he’s not Alien or something,” I mumbled, refusing to accept that George wasn’t to be treated like a normal person anytime soon.

“Shhhhh! D’you want him screaming and wriggling?” she retorted through her teeth.

I knew she was right but it felt wrong anyway, treating George like an inconvenience.

Rux skimmed over the shelves with an all business frown, scanned the available items – not by far satisfactory, judging by the silent scoffs – and snatched a white wool sweater and a pair of tight jeans that reminded me too much of what Svetlana had been wearing in the mountains. But as soon as Rux closed the double doors to my room behind us, I shrugged off the memory as I did the nightgown and pulled them on without protest. Time was too precious.

The jeans were a couple of years old and had gone through repeated washing along with the other pairs, but I’d only worn them once on the day of acquisition. Tony had labeled this particular pair “slutty” ‘cause it molded on my thighs “like latex leggings on hookers’ legs.” What saved them from becoming a giveaway was my “modest” wardrobe, as Rux often put it, so I’d kept them to make me feel I owned at least a little more than I needed.

A change of clothes was already folded for Rux on the rocking chair by the window. I watched her sinewy shape dance into it and recognized Mom’s elegant red turtleneck sweater and a pair of white pants.

“How do I look?” she inquired.

“When did Mom give you the threads?” If Mom had offered Rux access to her wardrobe, what was the point of shopping, especially at five in the evening?

“She didn’t. I helped myself after the shower today.” She winked. “Your clothes are all too small, and I figured Jenna wouldn’t mind. She never did before.”

“But she’ll see you’re wearing her stuff when we go out. Marvimex won’t stand, she’ll know we’re going somewhere else. Plus, even if we manage to persuade her we’re going shopping, we might not even make it to Varlam with one of those watchmen on our heels,” I threw at her, sounding increasingly desperate as I realized the holes in our plot.

“Oh, we’re going to Marvimex, all right. I can’t wear Jenna’s clothes forever, she knows that. Once we’re there, I’ll talk the guy into accompanying us to see Hector. I’ll tell him you and I have confidential information, and that our seeing him needs cover.”

“He won’t buy it.” I shook my head. “It’s weak, it won’t work.”

“Wanna bet?” Rux retorted, a mischievous grin quirking up a corner of her mouth.

In the end Rux turned out to be right. Mom didn’t even ask how come my best friend wore her outfit. The explanation must’ve been obvious.

Embarrassing as it was, we had to accept Mom’s pushing cash in our hands with bent heads. All the money I’d managed to save from tutoring activities was at our apartment in the outskirts, as were Rux’s savings from all her baby-sitting.

In less than half an hour we stood under the large sign creaking askew above the entrance to Marvimex, the rain rapping on our umbrellas. The crooked plate read “Shopping Center,” yet the place wasn’t far from a bazaar. Engulfed by grey blocks of flats with walls damped by rain that testified half century of communism, it looked like a stable with dozens of barracks in the middle of a concrete fortress. Small, round men and women wearing thick golden chains around their necks populated them, offering contraband like circus performers did their tricks. Still, many shoppers preferred the place to the Tomis Mall for its cheap and often unique wares.

Valuable objects such as antique adornment artifacts and clay pots weren’t unusual here. There were actually even stories of vintage jewelry that had made it to the manors of lords and ladies in England or even tycoons in the States for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But to me, these were no more than myths until proven otherwise.

Officer Sorescu sheltered Rux under the umbrella he held for both of them. She’d been quicker to charm him than I’d thought possible.

I caught glimpses of her profile now and then as we slithered through strings of people towards the roofed hall that housed an anthill of booths. These glimpses read seduction off her smile, and I divined the batting of her thick lashes. They produced the effect of melting poor Sorescu on his feet, and I knew she’d soon be able to touch on the sensitive subject, namely ask him to accompany us to the station for a confidential meeting with Agent Hector Varlam. Then the even more sensitive core of the subject would follow – no one was to hear of this.

I lost them from sight as a young family in shopping rush squeezed me among them, and disappeared again suddenly in the roofed hall. I’d lost my umbrella in the process too. Persian rugs hung among lamps and chandeliers of different shapes, their glass icicles clinking whenever they trickled too low and touched my hair. They gave dim and pleasant light of warm and silent colors.

It was as if I’d been teleported by some tornado in another dimension, this part of the bazaar as good as empty of life except for a few passer-by shadows here and there. I spun among the hanging rugs, curtains and lamps that surrounded me the way circus gadgets would a child. Intertwined patterns engraved into the carpet fabric had a hypnotic effect. An effect that was all-surrounding. It gave me an unsettling feeling and a nagging presentiment of danger until a powerful voice called my name.

“Miss Preda.”

I turned on my heels and gasped.

The largest man that must’ve ever existed stood before me, his head much above mine. Big to the extreme, something most people don’t get to lay their eyes on in a lifetime. A black cloak that reminded me of the garment of a priest molded on his wavy, way-too-big shoulder muscles. Cold sweat trickled down my temples.

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII, Episode XIV, Episode XV. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – for example, check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.

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The Marquis – Epilogue – THE END

It’s true what they say about London – it’s rainy, gloomy, but full of charm. After only a few days here I feel like a maiden who’s eloped with the prince of her dreams to his magic land. My heart slowly cleanses itself of all the hurt and trauma from Northville, and I actually feel this love can put my soul back together.

Kieran and I spent the first couple of weeks alone in a beautiful townhouse. In the morning we’d watch the fabled London rain together, me wearing his shirt and holding a steaming cup of tea by the window, surrounded by his strong marble arms. On each one of these mornings my heart swelled with heavenly pleasure and joy. We visited old cathedrals, places and museums, we went out to concerts and restaurants on fairy-tale dates, and I can swear all I feel is bliss. Until I think of my mother.

It’s a good thing she stayed back in Northville. A good thing for me. It’s not like she didn’t want to come and be part of our lives, but the idea made me cringe with every one of her pleas. Kieran offered to pay for her to enjoy a most comfortable life wherever she would like to lead it, but since staying with us wasn’t an option because I refused, she decided to stay in Northville, where she could contemplate her past and her wounds.

Northville. The place can never go back to normal life. The town people saw too much, experienced too much, know too much. They agreed to help keep the serpents’ secret, and now the town has become a fortress, a heavily guarded keep for the serpents’ world-changing mysteries.

Lauren remained in the dungeons deep under the manor in the end, while Zed, Joyous and Jeanie stayed behind to oversee Northville’s fortification, and only joined us again today – on my first exhibition.

We’re at one of the most renowned art galleries in London, now filled with my paintings. They’re enjoying great success, but I have a feeling that has more to do with the power and money of the Marquis de Vandenesse than with my work. This event seems more of an introduction to the Londoner high society than anything else. People are more curious about me – the Marquis’ future wife – than about the paintings, though a few persons do show themselves impressed by a few pieces which they also decide to buy. Whether for the sake of the art or for the Marquis’ favour, I’ll never know for sure. But what I enjoy most about tonight is watching the young and handsome Kieran Slate as the Marquis de Vandenesse surrounded by elegant people seeking his attention, and realizing that all his hypnotic black eyes ever seek is me.

“It must be a true blessing, being worshipped like that,” a calm voice says, and soon the woman it belongs to steps in front of me.

“Vivien!” I make a move to hug her, but the golden lace dress I’m wearing screams at the brusque move. It threatens to tear, though it cost a small fortune – a paradox of fashion I always failed to understand, and a purchase I decide not to replicate. Vivien giggles a bit when I fail to wrap my arms around her, giving her an apologetic smile.

“You’re the most envied woman in the room, Saphira Lothar, soon-to-be Saphira de Vandenesse.” She looks me up and down, her intelligent brown eyes as kind as her words and voice. “Beautiful, talented, special and loved beyond measure by your man. None of these people miss any of these things, trust me.”

“I have a hard time fighting my vanity right now, I must admit.” I squeeze her hand, hoping the gesture expresses as much as a hug would. I keep my voice down, though I want to call out how happy I am to have her here. “So wonderful that you came.”

“I won’t stay long.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you going? I mean, I doubt you wish to return to Northville . . .”

“Indeed, I have no desire to do that.” She drops her gaze, but I keep mine steady on her. I can’t help but marvel. Despite all the torture she’s been through, she’s lost nothing of her inherent refinement and style.

Vivien Grant is a highly educated young woman, she speaks four languages fluently, she’s been to the finest schools, and majored in Philosophy. She’s a true intellectual. Her cleverness is obvious in her eyes, which intimidated men all her life – the very reason she was always single, I think. But after everything she’s been through she’s lost a bit too much weight, and the black pencil dress doesn’t do much to hide the willowy lines of her body – something that makes her look like a model, and attracts the eyes of fat-bellied rich men. She’s not too tall, not too short, and she moves with the gracefulness of a ballerina. The natural porcelain smoothness of her face adds a touch of innocence to the nobility of her features, and so does her un-dyed brown hair that’s now restrained in a sleek elegant chignon.

“But where will you go?” I whisper. “And . . . why?”

She lifts her eyes and directs her gaze to someone in the room. I follow it and see Zed in the Marquis’ entourage. Though the pain that last distorted his edgy, stony features is now well hidden behind the “Stone-mask” and the ice-blue of his eyes, there’s a bitterness and sullenness about him that scream it out. I remember Joyous’ explanation about what killed Yvette, and I grab Vivien’s wrist.

“No! It can’t be! You really . . . The Black Monks’ curse . . . Vivien, are you?”

She yanks her hand away and looks around as if to remind me we are being watched, and to get a grip on my temper. “I don’t understand what happened, Saphira. I just know I can’t be around him anymore. I just . . . shouldn’t feel how I feel about him. Yvette died because of it. And somehow he holds me responsible for that, as if it’s my fault we are now bound to each other, I . . .” She looks up, blinking and seeking to dry her tears and gag her sobs.

I take her hand in both of mine. “Please, Vivien. You just arrived, I just got you back. You can’t leave me again, please.”

“You don’t need me, Saph. You’ll enjoy a wonderful life with Kieran, and you’ll share your happiness with Jeanie and Joyous. I don’t fit in this picture, I’m broken and nothing can fix me.”

“With more reason. You need us.”

“No, Saph, I don’t need you, no matter how much I love you. And neither did you need me for healing, let’s be honest. What healed you was Kieran’s love that is special and perfect. Joyous loves Jeanie the same way, with a love that is natural only for superhumans.” Her voice breaks with sadness. “With the same love Zed felt for Yvette, and will never feel for me.”

Distress must be obvious in my face, because Kieran joins us and wraps a protective arm around me. “Is everything all right here?”

Vivien looks at us with her eyes full of tears but also kindness. “I wish you to be so very happy together, Saphira and Kieran, with nothing to ever shadow your love again. From the bottom of my heart, I truly wish that for the two of you.”

Unable to control her tears anymore she turns and hurries away, losing herself in the crowd. I want to follow, but Kieran stops me.

“Don’t.” He looks at Zed. I follow his gaze, and I see it – the terrible truth. Connections fire in my head as I grasp the truth.

“Oh. My. God.”

“The stake is high, Saphira,” Kieran whispers gravely. “And whether it will ever burn or not depends only on Vivien Grant.”

 

***

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having followed the story of Saphira and Kieran the Marquis! It’s been an exhilirating ride for me, and I hope you enjoyed it as well. Stay tuned for many more goodies to come on this site, from personality tests and psych secrets to new thrilling stories of suspense and love. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the tests, articles and stories, I’ll be happy to answer them. A big, warm hug,

Yours,

Ana

 

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The Executioner – Ep. XV – In Danger

“How can you be sure Dad is safe with the Intelligence Service?” Worry broke through my voice, no matter how hard I tried to keep it chained.

“Because there’s nothing safer than their protection in this country,” Mom said.

“The few words I exchanged with him back at the hospital, he didn’t seem anxious about his life. He wanted to stay here, with us.”

“Two of his colleagues and their families have been killed, Alice. Those men worked for the same organization as your father from Barcelona and Bristol, also in matters related to genetic research. The R.I.S. are certain BioDhrome were the moral author of these murders, and that back in the mountains they meant to finish you in the same horrendous way to teach your father the same kind of lesson. Therefore Tiberius is a risk factor in this house, for us and for himself. Without him we’re safer, but still. Officer Sorescu, the man you saw in here . . .” even more careful now, “he’s around with his colleagues, just in case. Melanie and George will be staying with us too.”

“Does this mean we’re confined to these walls?”

“No. The R.I.S. and the doctors, they all agree that the trauma will be slow to leave you, so a normal life is essential. Especially public places are benefic. Crowds are safe.”

She smiled as if this were supposed to thrill me like alcohol would a teen. And it did, to a certain extent. Crowds, places like the campus and even clubs were safe indeed in our town, people’s built-in curiosity would let no event unobserved. It worked better than CCTV, so there was strong reason to believe that BioDhrome wouldn’t risk taking action in open field. They’d try to get us alone, at night in lonely places or even in our homes. So surveillance and protection made sense.

But the feeling that Dad had been extracted against his will nagged. He’d been desperate like never before at the hospital, his tone had left no room for doubt. He’d been convinced that he could protect us, especially by being present.

“And if we want to talk to him? Is there some number we can call? Some place we can go, for example, I don’t know, a phone cabin downtown like in those detective movies or something?”

“We can contact Agent Varlam.”

“I see.” I proved unable to control an acid grin. So this is how Hector was forcing cooperation. By leaving us no way around him. On a second thought, what if extraction was no more than a cover? A gross lie? What if he’d thrown Dad in a nasty cell and punched and kicked information on Damian Novac out of him? I jumped to my feet, bumping into the table edge. My ears whistled in tune with the kettle on the stove.

“Well, I’d like a word with him right now,” I spat.

Mom stood up too, hand on my cheek to calm me down, blue eyes identical to mine wide and worried. Standing half a head taller though, she made me feel like a kid again.

“Alice, honey, the whole idea behind this was to keep out of touch. Why bother organizing an extraction, if family stops by at the hideout to say hello anytime they please?”

“And you accept this so easily?” I snapped and brushed her hand off. “Are you really not worried about him, not one bit? His absence doesn’t bother you in the least?”

Now it was Mom’s turn to frown and apply a hard edge to her voice. “It’s not much difference to the last years, is it?”

“But this is different, Mom! BioDhrome is serious shit, real trouble that not even the R.I.S. might be able to protect him from.”

“I am worried about your father, Alice, believe me, but yes, I admit, I’m more worried about you. And if his presence puts you in danger, then I don’t need or want to see him again until the afterlife.”

Her words sent a stab through my brain, but I kept protest and anger behind tightened lips. Mom’s honesty was sharp, like glass colliding with glass in her voice, leaving no trace of vulnerability. Moreover, Dad had been cheating on her for a long time, and she knew it. I happened to know even with whom. Indeed, why should she give a shit? I tried for a peace-making tone.

“But I wouldn’t be seeing him, Mom. I’ll just talk to Agent Varlam, make sure Dad’s all right. I need to convince myself.”

“I know you’re hard to assure of anything, sweetheart. You have a counterargument ready for anything, you’re able to question even the law of gravity, and I think you’re taking it too far sometimes. That’s why I’m telling you now: your father is safe and sound, take that for granted.”

Mom wasn’t the dictator Dad could often be, but when she stood for something there was no way past her will. Behind the mask of the kind, soft-spoken Madame Jenna everyone appreciated, she had ways of getting what she wanted, brains to bow to and the patience of a reptile. On days like this, I ate my heart out for not having inherited at least half of everything she was.

Still, I found the guts to try and make up a strategy around her in my head, but before it caught shape I heard the door from the antechamber to my room. Then light steps. Ruxandra’s steps. The knock on the doorframe to signal her presence was accompanied by a weak smile.

Her pretty face had lost much of its glow, her olive complexion now pale in its own way, her hair a washed-out black, rumpling down to her waist. Her jaw was locked despite the smile. The experience we’d been through had taken away what was left of her carefree self, I would say.

Mom smiled back and hurried to pour her a cup of coffee, eager to cover the subject of our conversation. Ruxandra relished Mom’s warm welcome like an orphan would a Christmas night with presents, and joined me at the table, huddled in my old pink bathrobe that came too short on her arms and legs.

They were all “Rux, dear,” and “Jenna” to each other, as always. They had a special relationship. Mom had made a life purpose of plunging deep into the troubles of the gypsy minority, she had dedicated them her time even though there was no trophy to be won. Rich wives of the Western World she came from did charity, Mom had told me, but she didn’t think much of it. “Raising funds for clerks. Trust me, half of the donated money ends up on their pay-checks,” she’d say.

But Mom was determined to be of use on a very personal, palpable level, and made a great “career” of social work. Many of the gypsy kids in our neighborhood, Ruxandra and her older sister Cora included, had listened to her winter stories and learned to read and write from her. Both Romanian and English. It had been Mom who’d helped Ruxandra’s mother leave her husband and find a job at the textile factory many years ago. She’d fought and achieved so much in those difficult times. A rush of admiration swept over me. My heroine.

Ruxandra took a long sip of coffee, fingers curled around the mug, then leaned her head back, savoring not only the aroma but also her surroundings. There was love in her gaze as it crossed over every detail of the room – the cluttered wooden cupboards nailed to the walls over the counter, the door to the back garden with its frosted glass pane, the pots, kettles and spoons dangling from a wooden stripe with hooks above the sink like bells waiting to be played.

“I’ve missed this place,” she said, her hand gently stroking the nylon table cover.

Mom gave her a warm smile. “It’s missed you, too.”

Despite the promising start, the conversation got stuck as soon as Mom uttered a “Did you sleep well?” Ruxandra lowered her head and pressed her lips, as if not wanting to remember. But, if she’d had nightmares, I hadn’t noticed. She’d been still and quiet. Only George’s low moaning and sighing had reached me once in a while through the veil of light sleep.

Mom tried to guide Ruxandra back on the conversational track, but all she got were attempted smiles from the trembling corner of Rux’s mouth. She wasn’t quite herself. But then again, neither was I.

Mom’s insistences on tea, cookies, coffee, chocolate, marmalade and another dozen sweets per minute were a clear sign I was a disturbing sight too. I wasn’t even sure to perceive and answer all her questions. I had this feeling they’d passed by my ears more than once, like “deja heards or something.

George woke up late in the afternoon. His sudden screams as if someone sliced him alive made us all jump, and Mom almost threw down the door to the antechamber to attend him. His pained groans sent chills down my back. Ruxandra slapped her palms over her face, her shoulders shaking in sobs.

Carefully, I took her in my arms. I threw a glance at the big, lazy clock on top of the bookcase – four in the afternoon. George had at least gotten a good chunk of sleep. Unlike Ruxandra and me, who hadn’t even found the energy of losing the pink bathrobes we still wore like overgrown babies, curled on the couch, TV on.

Without Mom to promptly switch channels as soon as the news came on, always packed with tragedies and subliminal, “This is the end of the world,” Ruxandra and I were now fully exposed to them. A report about a massacre at a remote cabin in the mountains of Bulgaria made both our eyes bulge.

The twin of our story, only that no one had been found, dead or alive. The perfectly groomed reporter’s words were like other “deja heards,” her voice matter-of-fact but disturbed in its depths. Censured images that played on the half of the screen next to her face accompanied her story.

“Blood on pieces of clothing and torn curtains. Broken windows and . . .” And this is where my ears began buzzing, muffling the sound of the TV. My blood pressure must’ve shot up.

So this one made it on the news.

“They’ll cover up in a few days max,” Ruxandra said, close enough to my ear to pierce through the buzz.

“How is that supposed to work? How could a footage like this be a mistake? They freaking filmed the mess. People are not stupid, Rux.”

“No, they aren’t. But there have been so many tragedies with so many explanations lately, that illegal experimentation won’t cross their minds. They’ll accept any animal attack, serial killer, drugs and orgies that ended up badly, you name it.”

Then the reporter said, “The police arrested Dr. Lazar Dobrev, a psychiatrist. He used to treat one of the missing persons. Dr. Dobrev set the man on the loose, even though he was known to have murderous impulses, which he shouldn’t have had trouble acting on at a height of two meters, and a hundred and seventy kilograms of muscle.”

 

***

 

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII, Episode XIV. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

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Freed – Ep. 44 of “The Marquis”

It’s heart-breaking, watching Zed bent over the bed where Yvette lies, her face like wax. I would’ve never imagined the Head of Security, the man I once nicknamed “Stone Face” expressing such intense hurt. His edgy features are distorted, his eyes scrunched shut as he bites his knuckles as if that helps him subdue the pain to a bearable level, hands clasping tightly to each other. So much death, so much pain.

“It was Lauren Morris who killed her,” Joyous whispers in my ear. We’re standing in the doorstep of a small service hut adjacent to the manor. “She killed Yvette on her way to the tower, where she planned to do the same with you. They fought, but in the end Lauren was stronger.”

“But that’s not possible,” I babble among sobs, keeping as quiet as I can in order not to disturb Zed. “I saw the two of them fight each other before, Lauren would’ve never stood a chance against Yvette.”

“Normally not, but Lauren had a secret weapon – the truth about what happened when the Black Monks’ curse hit Zed, and his fingers drilled into Vivien.”

My head snaps to him. “Something happened then?”

Joyous the Healer keeps looking at Zed as he talks, as if assessing the state of his health from a distance. “Vivien and Zed connected on a very deep level. We still don’t understand exactly in what way, but we know the first thing Zed said when he opened his eyes – after you made the painting of him – was Vivien’s name. The event had a powerful effect on Vivien as well, an effect that apparently went as deep as her DNA, which we’ll test soon. We don’t think what binds them is romantic in nature, we rather think it’s biological, but it’s still something we have yet to fully understand.”

“Then how . . . why . . . how could Lauren use that as a weapon against Yvette?”

“It was all in the way she put things. It seems she made Yvette think Zed and Vivien were now bound like star-crossed lovers who would only resist being together in order not to hurt her, and that weakened Yvette’s desire to live.”

“Joyous, are you sure about this? How do you even know what was said between Lauren and Yvette?”

His face takes on an infinitely sad expression, like that of a parent melting with pain as they see their child cry. “When Zed found Yvette she was still alive. She died in his arms, after she gave him her blessing to be with Vivien.”

Tears course down my face, bundling on the tip of my chin. This is a tragedy. I try to keep my sniffling inconspicuous, but I can’t bring myself to leave the hut, not wanting to miss the chance of helping Zed if he needs me in any way.

Other serpent-men come in and out, pretending to have things to do in the hut in order to quietly check on Zed, then they leave just as quietly and grim-faced.

I know the kind of pain that’s consuming him, and I know no one should approach him now. He needs to be with Yvette. Still, I can’t take my eyes and focus off them until Jeanie approaches and whispers between Joyous and me.

“The town people got a priest for the dead. He’d start with Yvette now, so that her soul can be on its way. She’s the only human, the rest of the dead are Black Monks and serpents, and for some reason he doesn’t consider matters as urgent for them.”

I’m more than relieved that my sweet curly-headed, milky-skinned Jeanie is safe and sound, but all I feel capable of giving her is a slight nod. She looks devastated as well, and it has to do with Jeremy. He’s not dead, though, and that moves him down on my list of priorities.

Lauren is top of it right now. I need to talk to her. I already forgave her for many things, such as having sought and used every opportunity to hurt me all my life, for having destroyed my relationship with Jeremy right before our wedding, even for having tried to kill me, but I can’t forgive her for this cruelty – when asked whether she regretted having killed Yvette, only a few hours later in the dungeons, she says with a vicious grin that she doesn’t in the least.

She says that Yvette was a plump middle-aged woman who embarrassed herself by pursuing a relationship with a man who seemed much younger than her, not to mention outrageously more handsome. She also says that she’d merely cleared Zed’s future of what would’ve proven ballast that he respected too much to shake off. That he should actually be grateful to her. Her only regret is having tormented me the way she did, now realizing I’m the only innocent person in this entire story. I can’t listen to any more of this. I turn on my heel and stomp out of the dungeons along with en escort of serpent-men.

The serpents manage to keep Zed away from Lauren’s cell, since he would surely end her, and she stands under both my and Kieran’s protection for having made the decisive move in the fight between Kieran and Basarab. Hadn’t it been for her, my lover would now be dead too. We have yet to see what to do about her.

Joyous, Jeanie and a few serpent-men escort me to the study to see Kieran. Here he’s having his last important talk before he brings his business in Northville to a final close, they say. And right before we knock on the doors they open widely to let a team of men in white medical clothes carry away a screaming and raging Jeremy Simmons. They make for such a commotion, that we instinctively clear the way to the sides to let them pass, restricting our reactions to staring after them, seeking sense of the picture.

Jeremy’s bulk is useless against the expert arms of the very same men who’d broken my bones with jets of water at the asylum. All I can do is watch as they take him away. His maddened eyes latch on to me like I’m everything to him, his fingers splaying towards me like a man’s reaching for his only hope.

“Saphira, listen to me!” His voice reminds me of the lamenting lunatics back at the asylum. “This wasn’t my fault, Saphira! This was not my fault! We are both victims, Saphira!”

He keeps calling out my name as the men in white drag him away down the corridor, his screams growing faint. A presence behind me makes me turn, and my eyes meet the beautiful face of Kieran Slate.

Our arms wrap around each other, our embrace tight like that of two people frantic to keep together, terrified they might be separated again. We touch each other to make sure the other isn’t hurt, and I must say the hard feel of his body under his shirt elates me – it gives me the feeling that he’s not only whole and healthy, but also indestructible. I couldn’t take knowing him in mortal danger again, it would surely kill me.

I cup his face and look up into his pitch black eyes, revelling in the awareness that we’re together again, and promising him and myself that I’d never leave his side again.

“I love you, Kieran, I love you so much!” I stand on my tiptoes, kissing his cheeks and his forehead that he seems happy to offer, bending down to me.

“And I adore you, Saphira.”

We kiss deeply and desperately, our souls merging with each other, forgetting time, place and the group of serpent-men hovering around us, watching. Joyous clears his throat and touches Kieran’s shoulder, bringing us both back to reality.

“There are a few more matters you might want to deal with right away. Like Saphira’s mother, for example, she’s desperate to see her daughter.”

“Take her to a room in the west wing. Saphira will come to see her after she’s rested.” He looks at me again, a delicate smile on his face. “It might take until tomorrow.”

For a moment there I ask myself if all the horror I’ve been through is the price for the out-of-this-world love that I’ve been blessed to experience. It’s so unique, intense like the strongest drug, and so much more powerful than anything I’ve ever felt, even for Jeremy. Jeremy . . .

“Isn’t that measure too drastic?” I ask Kieran a while later, after immediate matters have been attended to, and the door to our chamber closes behind us. “Locking Jeremy in the lunatic asylum, I mean. In the end, he was under Basarab’s possession while he did everything he did, even as he first cheated on me.”

“Precisely because of that,” Kieran says, removing his shirt and revealing the marble perfection of his elegant muscles. “Basarab’s possession left him seriously damaged, plus that –“ he approaches and wraps his arms around my exhausted body. “He did serve the Elite, Saphira, remember? Those old pigs that run half the country paid Jeremy Simmons to keep them warm in Northville and in his side of London, and he obliged without scruples.”

The Elite . . .

“What will happen to them?” I whisper.

“They will pay dearly for what they’ve done, but that’s no longer our concern. I want to dedicate my life to making you happy, Saphira. No more revenge, no more bitterness, no more war.”

Kieran bends his head and kisses me under the light of full moon that hazes between the vaporous curtains. I close my eyes and relish in the silky, warm feel of his lips, excited like the first time my crush kissed me, and yet feeling so at home. The most wonderful sensation, the perfect interlacing between the highs of infatuation and the depths of true love. I nestle my head at his chest, listening to his heartbeat. Maybe we still have a chance of putting all this behind us, a chance at complete happiness, even after so much evil. Maybe this love does have the power to dispel the shadow of everything that happened.

“Take me away from all this death, Kieran.”

***

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The Executioner – Ep. XIV – Discoveries

Where was Dad?

I threw the blanket aside, squirmed out of bed – squashing Rux in the process, provoking a sleepy grunt – and rushed to the master bedroom.

The curtains hung open, making way for the pale winter light through the overlarge window. The bed was made – of course, Mom must’ve been up for hours, if she’d slept at all, considering the circumstances. Having left the parental home a few years ago to live with Ruxandra in the suburbs, most of my parents’ habits had moved to the back of my brain, only to resurface when exposed to them again. As they did now. I remembered the smell of scrambled eggs that used to draw me to the kitchen when I was still a teenager. It hadn’t spoilt my olfactory senses in some years and it didn’t now either, but, as I said, old memories resurfaced.

I tiptoed to the kitchen to find Mom sitting at the table, her thin fingers slowly stroking a coffee mug smeared with souvenir photos of San Francisco – one of the few items that still bound her to her own home. Her stare was lost over the black liquid that didn’t give out steam, which meant she must’ve been staring blankly at it for some time now. Her hair, blond and crisscrossed by gray strands, fell rumpled to her slim shoulders. A fluffy white nightgown clad her thin body.

The sight was disconcerting, considering her usual innate urge of always looking flawless and making an impression of aristocracy on all eyes that fell on her, including the cleaning lady’s. Now the absence of an elegant and shiny chignon and the uncovered wrinkles on her meager face in the presence of a stranger were another definite sign something was wrong.

His sitting with her, the corner cupboard hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles, was even more disturbing. A heavy winter coat hung negligently on the rest of his chair, his chubby hands cupping a coffee mug of his own like pillows of flesh emerging from under thick sweater sleeves. His mien was grave as he set small brown eyes on me.

Round and unfriendly, that’s the impression his face made. Was he her lover? No way, my inner self spat. She would’ve gone for someone less . . . stiff. Plus, he didn’t seem to be feeling awkward, nor did he try to justify his presence.

Just a few moments of puzzling silence, then he stood up, gathered his coat and turned to the door that led directly to the back garden – something told me he’d come in through the same, but I was clueless as to the reason why he refused to use the front door. With a hand on the handle and the coat on the other arm, he turned once more to Mom.

“You know where to find me.”

She nodded, and he left.

I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Still, my sixth sense activated again and sent me with slow steps to the table, then seated me in the man’s place.

Mom didn’t raise her head. On the contrary, she seemed to sink it even closer to the mug, a hunch forming on her slim back that was otherwise as straight as a wood plank. Hadn’t it been for the thick bathrobe, I would’ve seen the skin stretch over her ribs. The truth of the man’s visit must’ve been a burden not much different from an affair. Could it be?

“So?” I managed after a while.

Her fingers still stroked the mug with slow, even moves. “We’ll be under police surveillance. I don’t know for how long.”

Police surveillance?

“Why’s that?”

“You and your friends. The . . .” she chewed on her lower lip, probably to keep back what looked like a nervous breakdown. Her cheek twitched. “Those people from the mountains. BioDhrome, they told me.”

Panic shot to the tips of my toes.“BioDhrome’s our priority now, Tiberius. They won’t stop here.”

“Where’s Dad?”

Only now Mom looked me in the eyes, eyebrows up like a crying pet’s. She looked for the way to put it, there was no doubt.

“No, God, please no!”

Mom’s expression grew from wrecked to worried, more alert now, the way it had been at the hospital. She touched my wrist, voice soft and soothing, though it cost her some effort. “No, baby, no. He’s all right, safe and sound.”

“Where is he then?”

This was the news she’d been nervous about, I could tell by the pause and fixed gaze on my eyes. “He’s been extracted, they told me.”

Extracted? What’s that supposed to mean?”

Another nervous chew on her lip. “This BioDhrome thing.” Then reconsidering, “Alice, this must stay between us. Tell no one, not Ruxandra, not anyone.”

“Just tell me, Mom!”

“Give me your word first. For your own safety, not my comfort.”

“I’m your daughter, you really believe I’d betray your secrets?” A stab in the chest accompanied the words. As I don’t betray Dad’s. “All right, may I die in chains, if a word on this leaves my mouth,” I went for one of the gypsy oath formulations I’d learned in Ruxandra’s crowded home as a child.

Mom shuddered. “Not like that, please. Your word suffices. Keep this all to yourself, for your own good.”

“No need to elaborate on that. Elaborate on extracted.”

She took a deep breath, gathering her nerves. “I’ll have to start with the beginning so you understand.”

“Please do.”

“For many years, Tiberius has been working with an international organization whose name he never told me. He’s been analyzing blood samples they delivered him. The results were always classified, your father never spoke of them. They often surprised and baffled him, which filled him with enthusiasm in the beginning. But after we had you, he withdrew in his shell like a turtle. Soon his work started to take too heavy a toll. We had midnight fights more and more often.” Her voice trailed off, lost in painful memory.

“Tell me about it,” I whispered. All those late nights when Dad tiptoed to the master bedroom, the quiet quarrels they thought I didn’t hear played like a movie in my head. All those empty weekends, Mom sunken in her books and I in mine, Dad only a picture on a shelf, even though he was still of this world.

“I put him under pressure to quit what he was doing. I imagine that’s why his heart grew cold to me, and he began seeking comfort elsewhere. Oh, dear baby, I haven’t asked – some coffee? Tea?”

With the premiere of her confession on my shoulders I nodded, and Mom put a kettle on the stove. I let her decide on whether coffee or tea and moved a few inches in to let her sit by me and slide a loving arm around my back, as if to support me through what she’d say next.

“Your father is a BioDhrome target, they tell me, because he works with their direct enemy, an organization which calls itself ‘the good guy,’ but I don’t know. They’re so powerful that they could order the R.I.S. to take your father in while we were still at the hospital in Brasov, and that kind of power is dubious. To be completely honest, I’m no less afraid of them than I am of your attckers in the mountains.”

***

Enjoyed this? Find the previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI, Episode VII, Episode VIII, Episode IX, Episode X, Episode XI, Episode XII, Episode XIII. More coming up next week! Until then, keep enjoying the goodies on this site, from personality tests to online stories – check out the dark mysteries of The Marquis here.

I love reading from you, so don’t be shy and share your thoughts and feelings in a comment.