Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Ch. XV – Dark Desires

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 XVDark Desires

TRISTAN

Thoughts knot inside my brain, and I spin on an axis, hurrying towards the exit. I run up the grand stairs so fast the air whips around my face, and I barge into Mark’s luxurious bedroom through the high double doors.

Mark and Isolde are sitting across from each other at a small round table by the high window, curtains aside to let them admire the star-filled night sky among tree branches. Mark’s blue eyes shoot at me from his pruned old head as he adjusts his wheelchair to face me.

“How may I help you, son?” The speaking device distorts his real voice.

“I’m sorry to intrude.” I glance at Isolde. Her hands grip to each other on her lap, ankles crossed. She’s defensive. My eyes slide down the curvy shape of her body wrapped in the cream dress that, admittedly, I’ve been wanting to tear off her since the moment she presented it to me at the store. I square my shoulders and look back at Mark. “But the girl needs to go now.”

He raises the arches of skin where his eyebrows used to be. “And why is that?”

Because I don’t want your foul hands on her. My jaw tenses, and my fists ball behind my back. “It’ s been a very long night. The club, Podgor, and she’s been feeling sick.”

He doesn’t look convinced, and I take a step forward. “She saw a man die tonight, Mark, if I may remind you.”

Mark’s body slackens in his chair. He must realize he’s been overeager. Very well, then.” He gives Isolde a tired smile, and my jaw tightens.

“I’ll have the staff prepare a room for you here, Isolde,” he says. “You’ll be more comfortable than at your apartment, which I expect you to move out of as soon as possible.”

Move in here?” The words leave my mouth before I can restrain my tongue. I sound too sharp, and Mark seems taken aback.

“Yes, here. With her powers now activated, she needs a safe place. A sanctuary.”

I hate the idea so much I barely keep back a growl. I don’t want her within his reach. I don’t want her within Gertrude’s either.

Isolde surprises us both by standing up brusquely, almost knocking back her chair.

“I appreciate your kindness, Mark.” She shoots me a glare as she emphasizes his name. Is she making a point of how close they’ve become? “But I’d rather keep my own sanctuary, my own place, plus that I need to be with my brother. Make sure he stays safe as well.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I step in, gripping Isolde’s delicate wrist in my hand that seems a hammer compared to hers. The contact sends a soft tingle through my skin, a fully new sensation, but she pulls away.

“I’ll make sure that she’s well protected,” I tell Mark, still looking at her. Her gaze is burning, defying me. “I’ll have her apartment building monitored, men at every corner, two undercover constantly surveying the entrance.”

“The back door from the inner yard as well,” Mark demands softly.

I snort. “Of course.” I’m your right hand and personal bodyguard, you sorry bastard, don’t tell me what to do. I understand he’s trying to prove his position as my boss to impress Isolde, and anger punches me in the gut.

I turn around to restrain myself, and stomp toward the door, expecting Isolde to follow. She does after she kisses Mark good-bye on the cheek – I’ve learned to perceive what happens at every angle around me long ago, it’s a must-have skill in the cages. I swallow hard, and force myself to keep walking.

Mark’s glassy blue stare stings the back of my head as we walk out. I can sense he’s growing suspicious, but right now something else takes over my mind. I’m hyperaware of the soft sound of Isolde’s steps on the stairs behind me as we descend, and that puts a ball of fire in my stomach, the most awkward sensation.

Demerol is already by my car at the curb, and hurries to hold the door at the back.

“No, the passenger’s seat,” I demand.

Isolde steps in, looking messed up, but somehow snappy. She frowns, seeming irritated. I take the car keys from Demerol, planting a razor sharp glare right between his eyes. I could slash him across the face for wanting her the way he does. His looks alone are enough to stain her.

“I’ll drive. And we don’t need company,” I grunt.

With that I slide into the driver’s seat, slam the door shut, and fire the ignition. The tires spit out gravel as we drive away, leaving Demerol behind in a cloud of grey dust.

During the ride I can’t help glancing at Isolde from the corner of my eye, and I do it often enough for her to notice. Damn it, get a grip.

She makes herself smaller in her seat, bracing herself as if she’s feeling naked, cold, awkward, all sorts of uncomfortable, but I can’t stop. I’m pulled to her like a flea to honey. By the time we reach her place I’ve played a scenario in my head at least five times, a scenario where I pull over, bend her over the hood of my car and bang her brains out. Would it be enough to have my fill of her?

She opens the door to get out of the car, but then I notice something strange out in the night, a slight shift in the headlights. I grip her wrist to keep her in.

“Wait.” My eyes narrow, infrared kicks in, and I see them. Young men and women, party people hovering in front of the entrance to Isolde’s apartment building, waving beer bottles, tattoos and crazy hairstyles. This is Berlin, and this side of town is especially prone to sorry-ass “funk”, but something’s off. It’s almost three in the morning, on a weeknight. Not exactly the peak of “party mile” time.

“What’s wrong?” Isolde inquires, her eyes narrowed to peer outside through the windshield. Despite the headlights, we’re too far from the building for her to see things half as well as I do.

“This is not right,” I say, and pick up my phone. The call goes to Demerol. “Get a team, fix an undercover, and prepare to tail.”

“Surveillance of Isolde Molnar’s place?”

“Yes.” My tone sharpens even more. “You get them over here, but then you’ll be working with me. So don’t get an extra car.”

I hang up and open the door, addressing Isolde. “Let’s go.”

She’s looking at me inquisitively as I offer her my arm. Hers hooks around it and, even though she looks uncertain, she lets me lead her towards the entrance.

The gathering in front of the block pulls to the sides and lets us through. Some stare open-mouthed, some ogle us, and some – very few – frown defiantly. There’s no power on the stairway, and my x-ray vision is helpful when Isolde skids over a stair edge. Her body slams warm into mine. As I steady her my palm sweeps up her arm, feeling her goose bumps. Is it from the cold, damp air, or from my touch?

This is a crumbling block by the railway, smeared with graffiti, and I already know that Isolde’s apartment is right by the tracks. But when she pushes the door open and hits the lights the shabbiness of it still hits me.

She throws her keys and purse on a small chest of drawers by the door, and leads me down a narrow corridor to the living room. The train shakes the walls and, right after it’s passed, she turns to face me. She’s scowling, but she’s obviously nervous too. She shifts her weight awkwardly from one leg to the other as she speaks.

“Listen, Tristan.” Her voice is dry and shaky. “You were right back at the villa – I am tired, which is the only reason I didn’t intervene much in your talk with Mark. But know this.” She even points a finger at me. Seriously? For the first time in ages I want to smile, but I repress it. “I acknowledge you as my boss, but you won’t boss me around in my private life. The world technically switched poles for me ever since I met you, and in order to keep my sanity, I’ll keep at least a bit of the old world with me – this place.”

Listening to her, I pace around the room. I stop by the old glass case she must have inherited from a grandma or something, and pick up a porcelain ballerina, feeling strangely amused.

“No one is asking you to relinquish the old world, Isolde.” I turn the ballerina in my hand, inspecting it. “Only your contact with it.” I turn around to look at her. God, how I want to bite into those carnal lips that seem made of cacao silk. “Have you ever desired to be special? Of course you have, all of you little animals do.” I walk around her like a tiger around its prey, sniffing her scent of fresh meat and lilies. She listens petrified, her whole body unmoving but for her chest, rising and falling with her heavy breathing.

“Well, now you are special,” I purr. “The people outside, I think they’re here for you. The mafia bosses behind Podgor, they’re rich and powerful, and they get wind of things extremely fast. You didn’t have the time to write an entire article about Podgor, but you announced it’s coming soon, and now they’ll do anything to stop you from publishing.”

I halt in front of her. She’s so much smaller than me, so frail, and this vulnerability makes my shaft twitch in my pants. Her eyes are stuck on my lips, as if she’s afraid to look me in the eye. A fist seems to clench around my heart, and I want to sink my hand in her rich long hair and tug her head back. To kiss her. Fuck, this needs to stop. I wrench myself away from her and stomp to the glass case again.

“You want to keep at least a sense of freedom, of independence, and I understand that, Isolde.” My tone is meant to make her feel mocked. “I’ll grant you that. But you’ll have to suffer my presence here, in your home. Often.” Why the hell did I just say that?

Her voice trembles. “To what do I owe the honor of being protected by the mighty Tristan Stahl himself?”

Protection, yes. “You’re exposed to dangers that only I can face up to,” I throw over my shoulder.

Isolde walks closer behind me, slowly, carefully. My pulse quickens, and my throat clogs for the second time in one night. I force myself to keep my back on her.

“You speak of little animals, special people, and dangers that only you can shield me from,” she says. She’s so close now I can feel her voice vibrate between my shoulder blades. She grips my elbow gently to turn me around, and this time I respond like a marionette. I meet her soft brown eyes that look up at me with the purest interest anyone has ever shown. “What makes you special?” she whispers. “Who was Tristan a moment before he met Mark Stahl?”

At that question something cracks deep in my mind, like an old gate being wrenched from its rusty locks. The showers room swirls around in my memory, the other boys’ screams, the poison spraying down on my face. Anger shoots through my veins, and The Dutchman roars deep inside me.

I reach for Isolde, determined to crush her lips under mine, and her ample breasts beneath me, but before I can act on it the door creaks open. A man walks in. Isolde looks at him, and color leaves her face.

To be continued . . .

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Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

 

How about a Tristan and Isolde retelling?

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 itTristan and Isolde Reloaded. Enjoy!

CHAPTER I

ISOLDE

It’s lunchtime, and the café is packed. Can’t discharge the self-pity just yet. I make a beeline for Nadine’s red head among the boisterous corporates that litter the place, hoping she’ll help me feel better. She types in a frenzy on her smartphone, but tucks it away as I drop in the chair across from her.

“How did it go?” She really hopes for the best, I can tell.

“Sorry to disappoint. I’m overqualified. They took someone with fewer degrees, an impeccable collar and, of course, male.”

“Oh, Isolde, I’m so sorry.” She reaches over the table and puts her hand over mine.

I appreciate her compassion, even though I could use more encouraging lines right now. Maybe something like, “there are plenty of opportunities out there.” But there aren’t, and she knows it. I know it. Berlin is oversaturated in my field, and my peasant girl face, no-name suit and cheap briefcase don’t exactly increase my chances.

“Don’t worry, I expected it.”

“What did I tell you about negative expectations? You’re calling this upon yourself.”

“It’s not being negative, Nadine, it’s being objective. No one needs another market analyst. The world is full of them. I’m useless.”

Nadine replies and keeps talking, but nothing she says helps. I lean back in my chair, looking around and feeling angry at the world, starting with this place. It’s pretentious, expensive and kitschy – for all the leather seats and marble pillars, our waitress is wearing a skirt and sneakers. Even my decrepit sense of style feels offended, so the sin must be capital.

“You’ve been successfully foreseeing market trends for months now, Isolde,” Nadine says. “Your predictive calculations are mind-blowing, almost clairvoyant. They should’ve been of some help during your interview.”

“Shoulda, coulda.” While she’s right, I have nothing to show for my “successful” anything. “And who is going to endorse me on my predictions? I haven’t had a client in six months, those calculations were mere mental weight-lifting. A means to keep myself in shape.”

“I can endorse you. I was your client – sort of, since you never let me pay.”

A smile spreads over my face. True, dat. One of the most powerful people in Germany is buying Nadine’s services as a consequence of my guidance. She met him at an exclusive conference that I dug out for her, and that cost her a fortune and high-up connections to attend. The contract she’s supposed to sign today is a huge deal. Not many people can brag to have ever even met the mighty Mark Stahl, founder of Stahl Biotech, face-to-face, let alone work for him personally. His headquarters is top secret, not even his employees see much of him, if at all, and he picked one of the places he owns to meet her.

I expect him or his people to be here soon, so I hurry to sip my cappuccino, dreaming of something stronger. I’m not a drinker, but today I can’t wait to get home and fix myself an Aperol Spritz from my brother’s spoils from the bar, and drown my sorrow.

Customers finish their lunch and leave table by table, men in dark suits and stiff attitudes typical for a mogul’s bodyguards replacing them. Soon there are only few “real” customers left, the café almost entirely populated with Stahl’s men, which makes sense. If he wants to keep anonymous, he can’t just pop up in public and wave like the Queen, he’ll need good cover.

But the café staff didn’t see any of this coming, it seems. The skirt-and-sneakers waitress stares puzzled, clutching to her chest the electronic device she uses to take orders. The bartender is virtually shrinking behind the mahogany counter. Tension grows. It’s too much for me. I’m grateful I’ll soon sprint out the door in the direction of my Aperol, not having to share with Nadine the burden of this meeting.

“Okay, I should go now.” I take one last sip of cappuccino as I stand up. But as soon as I’ve grabbed my briefcase a rough hand grips my shoulder from behind and pushes me right back into my seat.

“Ouch!” I make to stand up again and face my aggressor, indignant, but the guy’s hand keeps me put. His grip is like forceps on my collarbone. I look to Nadine, searching her face for answers. She looks uncomfortable too, but she’s smiling.

“I e-mailed Stahl’s vice president your calculations after I met him,” she explains. “Since you used Stahl Biotech for some of your mental weight-lifting, I thought he might be interested in your results. So – ” She looks around, the smile quivering on her lips. She didn’t expect the freaking commando, and she’s clearly scared too. “Surprise.”

I blink at her, struggling to grasp what’s happening. It’s like I’ve been catapulted from my sorry life right into James Bond’s world. Before I can gather my wits a pair of blond bodyguards flank the chair to my right, and a man in a high-quality dark suit takes the seat. When my eyes settle on him I freeze.

He can’t be Mark Stahl. Mark Stahl is an old man. This guy is very young, with a strong build and a face like nothing I’ve seen before. He has white blond hair and ice blue eyes, resembling a ruthless Viking god who’s lost his way from Norse mythology. A scar interrupts his eyebrow, which adds to his heathen looks along with his chiseled, rough features. He seems a man few would ever dare cross – maybe only the stupid.

“Isolde, this is, this is,” Nadine babbles, motioning toward him, “Mr. Tristan Stahl, Mark Stahl’s adoptive son and second in command, so to say. The vice president of Stahl Biotech.”

Adoptive son. I wonder what happened before the adoption. Might sound cliché, but everything about him screams “violent childhood”, lurking beyond those eyes of steel.

“I see,” I whisper.

Tristan Stahl doesn’t greet us. He doesn’t speak at all. He measures me with those chilling eyes, and I’m so intimidated my tongue goes stiff. I can’t think of anything to say. I’m embarrassed to stare, but I can’t look away either. The tension eases a bit when his focus switches from me to the file a woman appearing on his left hands him. She’s pretty and stylish with her shiny blond bob and white leather gloves.

“Why the pharma industry?” His voice is commanding baritone, masculine and thick. It makes my belly prickle, and my words faint.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s an ambitious endeavor. You could’ve at least gone with a niche. Maybe the homeopathic field.”

“That’s not what will deliver the next breakthrough,” I say automatically.

“And what will?”

My eyes flick to the file in his hands as he leafs through it. I recognize my charts and bolded highlights. “It’s all in there, isn’t it?”

“Just answer the questions, ma’am,” the woman with the white gloves cuts in.

I gulp down the discomfort in my throat as I realize Nadine and I are the only dots of diversity in an Aryan pool. Everybody around is tall, athletic and some shade of blond, which makes me feel at odds with my Latino short-and-curvy build, dark hair and dark eyes. My German father refused not only to give me his name, but also to pass down any blond genes.

“Your results are interesting, Ms. Molnar.” Tristan Stahl draws my attention back to him. “But some of your reasoning doesn’t seem very logical. There’s little data to work with.”

“I relied a lot on my intuition, it’s true.”

He drops the file on the table. “That’s not very professional, Isolde. I may call you, Isolde, yes?”

“If my work doesn’t convince you, why take the trouble to meet me – Tristan?” I want to defy him, but I’m only glaring at his lips. I could never hold that arctic gaze of his. He relaxes back in his seat, and a wicked smile curves up a corner of his mouth. It makes him look even younger. And staggeringly handsome.

“Because I’m intrigued.”

“What an honor.”

“Are you sure you want to go sarcastic on me, Isolde?”

“I didn’t mean to offend.” I can feel his gaze rest on the top of my head as I lower it.

“You considered the Psychosomatic Research Institute our main competitor,” he says. “That’s a pretty far-fetched theory. What led you to it?”

“Intuition, I guess.”

“And what activated your intuition? It must have been some kind of data.”

“In a way.”

I pause, but he seems comfortable with the silence, waiting for me to continue. I don’t want to break the first word, but I feel like I’m sitting on needles. I crack.

“All intuition is a form of logic,” I mutter. “It’s like . . . tapping into information that’s stored in the back of my mind.”

“And what information made you look at the I.P.R.? They’re not a big player on the market, why should we worry about them?”

“That’s exactly it – they don’t work on the market yet, but on the side of it.” The words start tumbling out of my mouth, soon turning into a waterfall. I even forget all about the hostile environment. Once I get started on my work, it’s hard to stop.

“Whoever finances the I.P.R.’s research is giving them a shitload of money, no questions asked, not budget limits set, which is pretty rare in our times of austerity. Nobody invests in psychological research these days, let alone astronomical amounts. This can only mean the financers are certain they will one day profit from the Institute’s findings big time, on the market. Other pharma companies in Germany – your direct competitors – never took the trouble to look at the Institute in any depth because they don’t expect any competition from this field, the underdog, but you –” I point at him as if he were the person responsible himself, “Stahl Biotech, you paid every influencer e-zine in the country to publish trashing articles about the Institute’s dubious practices.”

Tristan glances at Nadine, probably understanding how one thing led to another: Nadine is my best friend, and she’s been an investigative reporter for years. She has friends at all major journals. When I came across those articles over and over again, I became suspicious and asked Nadine to activate her contacts and track down the source. Her inquiries led, however diffusely, to Stahl Biotech. The theory took shape in my mind – Stahl Biotech felt threatened by the Institute for Psychosomatic Research.

“Those articles claimed that the Institute’s scientists are scammers, and their practices border on the esoteric.” I lean in over the table, narrowing my eyes as I look straight into Tristan Stahl’s wickedly handsome face. I can’t believe my own guts. “But I think you are out to destroy them. You felt threatened by their research, because their results are stunning. Yes, I took a closer look at –”

“I’m not here to discuss the Institute’s research,” Tristan cuts me off, his voice splintering mine like a slap. My tongue freezes. He leans in, and a rich scent slithers through my nostrils, filling my heart with memory – mulled wine on winter nights, the magic of Christmas. I breathe it in deeply, trying to hold it.

“You’re a highly intelligent woman, Isolde. But brains and a big mouth make a dangerous combo nowadays.” He measures me from head to toe like he’s scanning me. “Take my advice – talk less, dress better, and your life will improve. Someday it may even get you a boyfriend.”

Shock and his scent muffle my indignation at first, but soon after he turns his attention to Nadine and begins discussing the conditions for their further collaboration it starts to boil inside of me. I bite my lips bloody and manage to keep quiet, but then the woman in white gloves drops a document and a ballpoint pen with Stahl Biotech imprinted on it on the table in front of me. She sneers, “Sign,” and I can’t hold back anymore.

“You really are a spoiled brat, aren’t you, Tristan Stahl?”

He turns to me, eyes glinting like metal. “Excuse me?”

“You have no doubt whatsoever that I’ll sign a document I haven’t even had the chance to read just because you’re one of the most powerful moguls on the continent. Well, guess what?” I slap the document shut – Service Agreement stands written on the cover sheet – and drop the ballpoint pen on top of it. “I do not want to work for you.”

Silence. All I can hear is the buzz in my ears. “Are you crazy?” is written all over Nadine’s face. Soon the words start pulsing in my own head, and only moments later I’m not so sure anymore. This is suicide!

Tristan leans in to me, his features locked in a handsome mask of ice. “Listen carefully, Isolde, because I’m only going to say this once: Sign the contract, or you’ll never get a decent job again in your life. You’ll be happy if a pimp hires you for your juicy curves to wipe the tables at some red light.” His upper lip curls over his teeth as he spits the last words, as if he despises me. Like I’m nothing but a worthless piece of meat, brains or not. Indignation flares in my chest, and I knock back my chair. My face is burning.

“You entitled bastard! I rather wipe a pimp’s tables and his ass than call you boss.”

My pulse drums in my ears as I grab my briefcase and stomp out of the place without waiting for his reaction. No one tries to stop me on my way to the exit, but I can feel the hostile eyes on my back.

I’m so angry I can barely swerve in the crowd at the underground, and bump into people who cuss the crap out of me. In the train I find a seat against all odds, and I manage to at least even my breathing. I realize what I’ve done, and I despair.

“Shit!”

“Everything all right, ma’am,” an older man in a shabby coat asks, holding to the overhead rail. He looks worried, so my distress must be glaring.

“Yes, fine.” Like hell I’m fine. That bastard Tristan Stahl is so fucking powerful I’ll be lucky to make rent next month. Now I find myself wondering what services I was supposed to render for him. I should’ve bitten my lips yet more and waited for him to grace me with his attention again for the details before breaking out like that.

No way! I know the world is in the hands of men like him, and I know I can’t beat that, but this I can do – refuse them my allegiance, my services, my dignity.

I get home, take the rattling piece of junk we call an elevator to the third floor – my knees are still too shaky for the stairs – and go straight for the refrigerator. I pull too hard, and the tired chipped magnets clatter on the floor, the grocery list I left for Roland this morning floating like a feather. He forgot again. I grab the Aperol and the Schweppes, but can’t wait to fix a spritz. I end up drinking straight from the bottle.

“Wow, sis, what’s with the thirst?” Roland’s voice resounds from the doorstep.

Startled, I choke on the liquor and drop the Aperol. It smashes against the floor, the rosy liquid creeping on the old tiles like anemic blood.

“God!”

“Jeez, woman, what’s wrong with you?” Roland hurries over to clean up the mess. I didn’t expect him to be home at this time, I thought I’d be alone. I watch him with my arms limp, feeling like a total loser.

What can I tell him? That I’ve screwed up my life completely, probably also his? That he might be stuck as a bartender at a nightclub forever because his big sister, who was supposed to take care of him, decided to go smartass on a freaking oligarch?

He looks up at me, his eyebrows furrowed, but his face clears once his eyes settle on mine. He comes back to his feet and takes my head in his hands.

“God, Izz, you look like shit. What happened?”

My chin trembles, and I can’t control myself anymore. I burst into tears and throw my arms around my little brother’s neck.

***

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Read on:

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 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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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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Stay tuned for the last Epilogue next Friday, to be a part of Saphira and Kieran’s final adventures! Until then, feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer.

 

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The Executioner – Ep. VII – The Man and the Shadow

I rushed backwards, waving my hands in a desperate attempt to cling to something, anything, and soon a wall of bodies replaced the gleam that had sent me frantic.

My brain banged against my skull for moments until I realized someone shook me. The physical sensation brought me back to awareness. George’s long, thin face appeared as an intermittent vision as I blinked fast, trying to gather myself. His words sounded muffled and the first thing that came through clear was, “Are you going mad too, Alice?”

“The window! I saw someone!” I squealed.

The Wretch moaned in his corner and my head snapped to him. His eyes were wide with fear, fixed on the pane, while his body struggled with invisible enemies, the chair screaming under him.

A commotion started, and before long people claimed, “There’s nothing here.” I pushed George aside but still hung on him for support as I craned my neck to see the panes. My jelly-soft legs barely kept me standing.

Indeed, darkness spread over the window, only the snow in its corners glistening like the veil of a ghost.

“I saw someone,” I whispered. Someone, I was sure of it. And indeed no wolf. The eyes had been at the same level as mine, which meant whoever had stood out there was a tall person. Outside the ground leveled much lower than inside the lodge, I’d realized that when I’d been out on the porch. No animal standing on its back legs could have as much as reached the sill, unless that animal was a bear.

“Are you sure?” George asked.

I already had second thoughts – not as to the glowing eyes, but to whether or not I should insist on it. Bottom line was: we all sank in deep shit, but panic was a bad advisor.

“No. I started when I bumped against the window, the rest could’ve been just in my head.”

“For fuck’s sake, Alice, you almost gave me a heart attack.” George scorned.

“We have enough pressure already,” another one called, his face hidden in the group.

I shut out all reproaches and welcomed Ruxandra’s comforting presence by my side.

“This whole thing is getting to us all,” she said. She allowed me some time to gather myself, but the small slaps on my hands and face were a clear sign of urgency.

“What did you get out of Marius?” I asked as soon as I could master my voice. Now, I too had a great urge to find out what the hell had put us in this situation.

Ruxandra searched my eyes, ensuring I could stand, then slapped me lightly once more. “Follow me.”

Before I could blink she started toward the door, snaking her way to the kitchen. I hurried to catch up with her down the narrow hallway, bumping into people who talked about what was to be done.

We found Damian and Hector forging the same kind of plans with a few others – including George, to my surprise, who listened with a serious look on his face, nodding. He seemed proud to have become a part of their closest gang.

Damian stood with his back at the counter, knives and other metallic, rusty objects lined on it, the sheepskin coat folded on a chair by his side.

“ . . . not before Hector and I have scouted the area,” he concluded as we came in.

I wanted to punch myself for how my heart fluttered as I laid eyes on him. I’d already waved a finger at my inner self and decided that Damian Novac was a no-no. I reminded myself that, if we survived this mess, he’d only have me toss and turn at night, obsessing about the smallest gestures he made and the most meaningless of glances – like I had until now. Not to mention that we most probably owed him this shitty situation. The man was serious trouble, no matter from what angle I looked at him.

Sick of myself, I kept a low profile by the door, but Ruxandra went straight to the men.

“Have you seen this before?” she interrupted Damian bluntly, her tone accusatory.

“Seen what?” Damian’s deep, forbidding tone shattered Ruxandra’s determination, but she picked herself up quickly enough.

“Damian, you’re keeping things from us and– ”

“I thought you wanted to ask, not impute something,” he interrupted.

Ruxandra brought a fist to her mouth and cleared her voice, probably buying time to rephrase once more. As she spoke, she sounded defiant. “I see, this is a game. Okay. Let’s play. Why did you have us gather all objects that can be used as weapons?”

“So we know exactly where to reach in case of need,” he replied as if he were prepared for the question.

“Why not simply arm everybody?”

“Because I don’t want you panicking at the slightest sound and hurting each other.”

“I’m sorry, Damian, but that sounds more like an excuse than a reason.”

“Do you want panicky drunks waving broken bottles around your pretty face before somebody actually bursts in?”

“You expect people to barge in on us?”

Damian’s eyes flashed as he spoke the next words.

People,” he stressed, as if saying a name, “chased the three of us from the village back here. They tried to kill one of us. A lash whipped out from the darkness and wound around his ankle. They dragged him, his body hit against trees and rocks until he came to a precipice, where he almost saw his end. Yes, I think People will eventually barge in on us, and they’ll bring some hellish killing techniques with them.” His voice was steady, but anger lurked deep in it.

“You make it sound like People are pretty good at what they do. And yet here you are, Damian, all three of you. Why do you think you made it back?”

“What are you implying, Ruxandra?”

“I’m implying People want us all in one place,” she said, raising her chin and taking a step closer to him. “I’m implying they were after us from the beginning. They were after the whole group, whom they want to take down in one blow. I’m implying they can take us down in one blow. I don’t think they need guerilla tactics, but just wanted to scare you, so you wouldn’t leave this place again. You made it back because People let you. They chased you back to your cage, and now they’re waiting for the right moment to attack, which is why they haven’t stormed in after you. You didn’t bother to block the door, so I think you know this damned well. You know what to expect.”

Damian’s jaw tightened. “And your question is?”

“Am I right?”

“It doesn’t sound like you still have a doubt.”

“To make the question clearer still: Have you met People before, Damian?”

His features hardened even more. “I have.”

My jaw dropped. Ruxandra straightened up, even more accusatory. “Then why don’t you tell us what to expect now?”

Damian’s face sealed off all expression, turning into a beautiful, sculpted mask.

“Because it won’t do you any good.” His eyes swept over us cluttered in the doorstep. I thought his gaze rested on me a second longer than on any other face.

He grabbed the sheepskin and started to the door. Toward me. I melted on my feet, cursing myself silently. How could I be so taken with him, even now? Stupid bimbo!

Hector followed, and George scurried after them like a pet. Those of us who clustered in their way drew aside. My heart smote me as Damian passed by, leaving a trace of cool air and fir scent behind. The others trailed after them like tide, soon leaving Ruxandra and me alone, gawking at each other.

***

Previous episodes here: Prologue, Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episode IV, Episode V, Episode VI.

Hope you enjoyed this:) If you did, I’d love to read from you in a comment. If the story of The Executioner now happens not to let you sleep, it’s available in whole here. Enjoy!

Also, stay tuned for a new episode of The Marquis on Friday. Check out all previous episodes of The Marquis here.

 

The Messenger – Ep. 24 of “The Marquis”

I sit frozen in my black dress with palms joined on my lap. The funeral unfolds before my blank eyes, and so do the days after. I count them by the number of times Jeanie Simmons – Jeremy’s curly-haired, rosy-cheeked, fluffy younger sister and my dearest friend – enters with food. I nibble just enough of it to keep me alive, but my appetite is as dead as the monster who fathered me, and who now lays two meters beneath ground level.

“Are you still seeing Joyous?”

Her hazel eyes dart around, as if the walls have ears. “You know I can’t answer that, Saph.”

Of course, he’s the Marquis’ ‘cousin’ – in truth one of his fellow seprpent-killers. I lower my voice and grab her elbow. “If you are, you need to help me, Jeanie. I need to get back with the Marquis.”

Jeanie’s hand covers mine that I now realize is so clenched around her fluffy elbow that my knuckles show.

“Something must be terribly wrong with you, Saph,” she whispers.  She looks me in the eye with a curious expression. “You haven’t spoken at all since you saw Mr Lothar dead in the study, and now that you do open your mouth it’s to talk about the Marquis. Is that a way of dealing with your grief? I mean, Gunnar Lothar is dead, your own –”

“Don’t even say it,” I cut her off. “That man was a monster, a . . . Whenever I think about him I want to rip the flesh off my bones for being his child.” On a second thought I shrug. “I suppose I must be grieving, and anger makes it all more bearable.”

Stomping up the stairs makes Jeanie’s mouth close before she can say another word. The door opens and Jeremy enters the attic in a confident prance, his muscular physique barely making it through the doorframe. The police officers who came with him remain outside the open door. He walks straight to the window with a triumphant attitude.

“I’ll make this short, Saphira,” he says, staring proud out the window. “The coroner called. They established Mr Lothar’s death was not suicide.” He turns to assess my expression as he gives me the news, cocking an eyebrow. “He was murdered.”

He lets moments pass to allow the information to settle in.

“Do you happen to know anybody who had a reason to kill him?” He continues mockingly. “Someone who wanted revenge, maybe?”

The Marquis’ words from the day we went to the asylum come back to me. “Would you consider that I hurt you, if I took revenge on your father?” And yet he wasn’t the only one with a motive.

“I also know of someone who goes to terrible lengths to keep his real identity secret,” I retort. “Someone who set Vivien Grant’s house on fire to kill her. Someone who’s put her mother in the lunatic asylum and has the poor woman so terrified that she won’t talk. I’m sure the same person hung Gunnar by the chandelier too – Ivan Basarab. Gunnar knew his true identiy. Ivan Basarab is terribly dangerous Jeremy, and despite what you might think, you can’t control him.”

Jeremy’s cocky attitude turns to anger. His face goes red.

“The whole town will believe it was the Marquis, Saphira,” he barks. “They’ll burn down his manor like peasants did haunted castles back in the Dark Ages eventually.”

Jeremy’s hatred of the Marquis fills the room like floating poison. I remember how the Marquis twisted his arm behind his back at the asylum, keeping him in check despite Jeremy’s big muscles and violent struggles, forcing down his ears the information that his own father had been a rapist, a monster.

“You hate him for having told you the truth.” I hold Jeremy’s gaze, defiant.

“Maybe, a little. But, most of all, I hate him for having taken you away from me.”

***

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Enjoyed this? Please let me know your thoughts in a comment, I’m always ecstatic to read from you. Stay tuned for a new episode on Tuesday and check out the story from the start available here (Part I – Saphira), and here (Part II – The Marquis.) Enjoy!

 

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The Punishment of an Evil Man – Ep. 23 of “The Marquis”

Jeremy wraps the place up, giving his men curt orders and telling Lord Barkley to shut up each time the man opens his mouth.

“Anything you say can and will be used against you, sir, I must remind you,” he says coldly.

His men scurry around taking “prints” of the Marquis. They’re still in shock, but Jeremy managed to get them working despite that.

He moves his bulky frame around, doing what he must as head of the team, but he’s obviously distressed from what he’s found out. There’s something wild in his eyes, and the expression of his steroid- and testosterone-transformed features, square and shadowed by his three-day beard, make him look as deranged as the lunatics that inhabit this asylum. I’d like to remind him about the sewers, but I don’t dare to, he looks so angry.

Not even outside do I dare address him. We’re riding in a police van. I’m in the back holding my crying mother’s hand, her sobbing and nose-blowing accompanying the humming of the engine. Jeremy sits across from me in silence. He doesn’t even look at me. When we stop in front of my parental home I realize what’s happening, and I shake my head violently.

“No, I’m not going in there.”

“Yes you are. Your father has been worried sick about you,” Jeremy says. He sounds as cold as he had with Lord Barkley, and also a shade spiteful. As if it were in any way my fault that his father had been part of the group that had raped Catherine Lancaster. As if it were my fault that his father had been as much of a monster as mine.

“He pushed me in the Marquis’ arms himself, you know this,” I retort in a biting tone. “He was happy to see us depart together on the night he announced our engagement. But maybe it’s you who should have a word with Gunnar. In the end, the Marquis is right – Gunnar and his group perpetrated a terrible crime, and they should have to answer for it.”

“We have no proof for that crime, Saphira,” Jeremy says, keeping his glare out the side window. “I can’t corner people based on allegations alone, I’m sure you understand.”

My mouth curls in a sour expression. “You only pretended to believe me when I told you the story? Is that it?” Now that I come to think about it – indeed, why hadn’t he investigated as soon as he’d heard about Gunnar’s crime?

“No, it’s not. But I still need proof in order to take action.”

“If you only investigated Catherine Lancaster’s case, maybe you’d get your evidence,” I say through my teeth.

“If you only let me do my job without acting all smart-ass, things would be different.”

“Different how, Jeremy? Based on how you’re doing your job, these people’s crimes will remain unheard of.”

I’m aware of the poison in my tone, but I can’t help it. Jeremy springs forward and grabs my jaw in his huge rough hand.

“The Marquis of Vandenesse is London’s priority, and with good reason. London sent me back here for him. He’s the most dangerous of all killers I’ve ever investigated, Saphira, and you know his vile nature better than anyone. What changed? Why do you try to redirect me to your father Gunnar and his group of bastards? Why aren’t you vehement against the Marquis anymore?”

“Jeremy, please listen to me.” My jaw hurts from his grip and I speak with difficulty. He notices and lets go. I rub my cheek to sooth the pain as I talk. “The Marquis isn’t the evil creature you and I believed him to be. He talked to me, he told me things . . . Listen, Jeremy,” I take a deep breath and say the next sentence with a heavy heart. “I have reason to believe that my father is Ivan Basarab, the faceless Slayer. This is your chance to find out so much, Jeremy.”

“No, Gunnar is not the Slayer,” Mum reacts as if from a dream. She’s still pale from shock,  but apparently she’s coming back to herself. “But I’ve heard that name many times from him. Even a few days ago he talked on the phone with this Ivan Basarab.”

I’m completely surprised, and Jeremy too. His small dark eyes narrow. “Okay, all right. I’ll have a word with your father, even though I don’t believe this is the right time.”

“Wonderful. And then please let me return to the Marquis’ manor.”

He grins. “No, can’t do, Saphira. You’ll be interested to hear we found witnesses of the Marquis’ murder on Vladimir Pukov. His manor is surrounded, and we’ll arrest him on sight. You and the Marquis will never come together again.”

Another flash of despair goes through my heart. “But . . . There were no witnesses to what happened with Pukov. You must have ‘produced’ them.”

Jeremy’s eyes narrow into bitter slits. “Just a short while ago you were ready to testify against the Marquis yourself. Come on tell me, Saphira, what swayed you? Was it his declarations of love? Was it his hypnotic powers? Or did you actually fall for him?”

My lips freeze, but the truth must be clear in my eyes, which Jeremy stares into closely.

“If you switched sides, things will end up badly for you, Saphira,” are his last words before he looks me up and down in disgust. He opens the door, inviting both Mum and me out of the van. I’d like to resent him for his abusive attitude, but I can’t. It’s not every day you discover your father was a rapist and maybe even a killer, so he has mitigating circumstances.

My heart drums in anxiety as we head toward the house, and I’m sure so does Mum’s. The hand that squeezes mine is sweaty, and a look at her reveals wide scared eyes and stiff features. She’s still in shock, which is probably why she didn’t react to Jeremy’s treatment of me in the van. I feel lonely, naked and lost, and I long for the Marquis’ protective arms around me, for the reassuring sound of his rich voice in my ear. It’s incredible how my tormentor of yore has become my only haven.

The house looms bigger before us as we approach it. With its grey walls damp from bad weather it resembles a huge beast rising from the ocean, spreading out its jaws to swallow me. My throat clogs with panic. I don’t want to go in there, and I don’t want to face the monster who fathered me.

The door screeches open like the entrance to an abandoned, haunted house, but inside the dim corridor everything is in place, just like the last time I saw it. The stairs leading to the upper floor and the attic, the entrance to the drawing room on the right and the one to Gunnar’s study on the left, all appear imbued with an air of morbidity.

I look around, unable to move as I hear the door closing behind me. I’m trapped inside with Mum and Jeremy, and a knot moves up my throat. I’m growing sick.

“Please announce your husband you’re back, along with Saphira, and tell him I’d like a word,” Jeremy commands Mum.

She swallows and proceeds towards the study hunchbacked, her hands trembling on the knobs as she pushes the doors open. She stiffens in place, and her mouth falls open.

“Mrs Lothar,” Jeremy nudges her, at first only verbally, and then physically as he approaches. But as he raises his gaze from Mum to whatever greets them from that study, he bursts inside. Alarmed, I follow. A second after my eyes fall on Gunnar I scream until the veins in my neck swell.

He hangs from a rope tied to the chandelier, his feet dangling over a fallen stool. His shirt is open to reveal his hairless white stomach, and his mouth sticks thick and black out of his mouth. His fleshy cheeks are bluish-yellow, and he’s already started to smell. I breathe in the stench of death and scream long and hard until I fall exhausted on the floor.

 

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Please let me know your thoughts in a comment, I’m always ecstatic to read from you. Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in available here: ) Enjoy!

 

Pic source.

 

Prologue “The Executioner”

BLURB:

When Alice Preda meets campus heartthrob Damian Novac, she develops the heaviest crush ever. She joins him and friends on a winter trip in the Carpathian Mountains, hoping to get close to him, but this choice will change her life abruptly.

When the train derails in high snow, the group of students seeks refuge at a cottage deep in the woods, but soon they start losing their minds and dying. Alice and Damian are among the survivors and return home, but the nightmare is far from over. She discovers that a shady corporation that conducts experiments on humans and that had engineered Damian into something monstrous many years before is on their trail.

A man of secrets and obscure powers, Damian might be a villain or a hero. Though aware of the danger he poses, Alice can’t fight the obsession that draws her ever deeper. Will Damian become her lover or her executioner?

***

I met him at twenty-two, while studying English Language and Literature at the Universitatea Ovidius in Constanta. It was my last year on the campus close to the deserted beaches of our ghostly town, and my first year back on market after a painful break-up. A short while after doomsday my ex had admitted – or simply alleged, as I hoped – that his interest had never been in me, but in the wealth of my father and the future that might’ve resulted from a union with me. Being the daughter of Tiberius Preda turned out to be a stigma rather than an advantage, and as a consequence I resorted to keeping the connection secret and my lifestyle modest.

So I proceeded carefully with my new love interest. The only problem was that I didn’t really possess any other means of standing out beside my father’s name and a set of freckles that made people go, “Aw, sweet,” rather than, “Wow, hot!”

Grooming posed a challenge, too. Foundation always ended up looking like unevenly distributed flour on my skin, and my hair galvanized like caramel wire no matter what I did. Ruxandra helped sometimes and spent hours on my styling, trying to cheer me up.

“You’ll learn, no worries,” she’d say.

She was wrong. I never did. And she finally gave up with a hopeless shake of her head. “God, Alice, you do have two left hands.”

I first saw him in the cafeteria, surrounded by a group of loud laughing, overconfident boys with iron pumped chests. He drew my attention like a magnet, and a glance around the cafeteria was enough to realize I wasn’t the only one interested in him. Tall, with waves of dark hair brushing his broad shoulders, and a remarkably well-muscled body under a white knit sweater, he had as good as all wenches around drooling over him.

“Damian Novac, med school,” Ruxandra whispered in my ear, noticing my dropped jaw. She tossed a strand of ebony hair off her shoulder with a graceful move. “They call him Bane ‘cause of the looks. Women’s bane.” Large grin.

“I don’t remember seeing him before,” I said, eyes still fixed on the delicious sight.

“Meds usually have classes at the Old University, but they’re with us two semesters.” Of course – the Old University was being refurbished.

She smiled in his direction. I didn’t dare do the same, but looked around like a fox watching for hunters, making up strategies before dodging out of the bushes. The last thing I needed was getting another bullet through my head.

Damian didn’t notice me that day, or the day after. Being petite had its advantages in matters of stealth, so I could observe him from afar for weeks. He was aloof, yet his eyes – striking, pale of color and glowing strangely in the light – always intent, as if his thoughts were fixed on something way beyond those walls and his cares way more serious than the infatuations of wannabe divas. He wasn’t oblivious to their advances, just utterly unimpressed.

His group of friends, nevertheless, always surrounded him, as if searching for his approval for everything they did. Even a throaty laugh and a slap on the shoulder were always accompanied by a furtive was-that-all-right glance. So an alpha, I concluded.

“No wonder we’re all leaving wet traces like snails when he’s around,” I once whispered to Ruxandra. She laughed her bold laugh.

“So love it when your sweet mouth picks up dirt, Alice.”

“I speak but the truth.”

We left the university giggling. At that age we were still able to speak the naked truth, no matter how ugly or dirty it was. We couldn’t care less about “social acceptability”.

We sat in the confinements of Montana, a nearby wooden pub that served as a haven for furious bikers on Saturday nights, when it reeked of beer and pot. But during the day it was nice and quiet. We had our peace drinking bad filtered coffee and making plans.

Ruxandra nagged at me to get over the disaster with my ex once and for all. She took her role as image consultant very seriously, while I came up with ways of manipulating destiny into “casual” bumping into Damian at a popular and jam-packed club – the Marquette, deep in the heart of the city – or at parties organized by fellow students.

It was at one of those parties at the dorms that I finally arranged to stumble into his arms with a glass of red wine. Ruxandra had forced me into a push-up bra, a red tank top and tight jeans, but I still looked like a malnourished, caramel-furred poodle. I hopped over legs and bottles in my way, faking a fall against Damian’s chest. It was hard, and the hands steadying me big like shovels.

“S … sorry,” I mumbled.

He looked down at his ruined shirt.

“It’s all right.” His voice sounded like black velvet – deep, soft, giving me goose bumps.

I dared bat my lashes up at his face, and my heart leaped into my mouth. Up close he looked even more handsome with his pale green eyes, chiseled features and strong jaw. So handsome that he should’ve been as illegal as heroin. Despite the high heels my nose was at the level of his chest, breathing in the scent of freshly cut wood – maybe fir. Jeez, he’s huge.

With a slightly pissed frown but gentle hands, he made sure I could stand on my own feet and turned to walk away. No, no, no!

“Let me take out the stain,” I shrieked over the pounding music and clasped his muscular arm. It felt literally stone hard. Wow! “There’s some stain remover in the bathroom.”

He turned to me, the frown lingering on his brow, his deep voice polite but detached.

“I’ll do that myself, thank you.”

I panicked, thinking that he saw through my plot, so I searched for a way to keep contact and gave him an awkward smile. Reciting the words Ruxandra had made me learn by heart seemed like the only option.

“You need to wash out the wine within the next two minutes if you want to save your shirt. I have some dexterity with that, that’s all.”

He glanced around as if assessing who paid us attention. Dancing and drinking people – Ruxandra and George included – stared at us. Then a possibility hit me – maybe he scouted the area for his girlfriend or something.

At that thought, my stomach clenched. Though I hadn’t seen him with anyone during the weeks I’d observed him, I couldn’t completely exclude a girlfriend. Maybe she wasn’t from the campus. But then again, Ruxandra would’ve come upon that anyway in her subversive, shrewd investigations.

“Two minutes,” I reminded him of the time ticking until the stain would be forever imprinted in his white shirt. “Let me save your fine garment and then you won’t see me again.”

He gave a reserved smile and motioned me to lead the way. The gesture had elegance and strength at the same time, coming from a stud like him. Oh, how I’d ride you, boy!

We waited in front of the bathroom until a drunken blonde reeled out. Luckily it didn’t take longer than two minutes, otherwise I would’ve risked him changing his mind. Girls around us fidgeted and swayed, eyeing Damian. Boys already mistook the hallway and some corners for toilets as they staggered and cursed.

Damian and I didn’t speak to each other, but I was sharply aware of his presence behind me, of his breath above my head. He stood by me, my backside crushed against his thigh as people squeezed us together. I could swear I’d never felt anything as hard as his body. My heart raced, and I struggled with my burning cheeks and wild imagination as we closed the door behind us. Jeez, I’m alone with him! Alone with him in a messy bathroom . . .

Damian began unbuttoning his shirt. I swallowed hard. Still, to make my indifference to him credible, I refused the sight.

“It’s okay, I can work with it on. Keep it, unless you have a change of clothes within reach.”

“I don’t.” Again that deep voice that I couldn’t believe I was finally hearing, spoken only for my ears.

I snatched the stain remover from a pile of tubes and boxes on the washer, and rinsed the stain – half his shirt, that is. After spraying some water on it from the tips of my fingers, I began rubbing the wine into instead of out of the fabric with one hand, keeping it stretched and away from his body with the other. The large spot soon turned transparent, I could see a blur of his abdomen and his happy tail through it.

“I’m Damian, by the way,” he said.

“Alice.”

“I must say, you’re quite observant, Alice.”

Clumsy grin. “Am I?”

“I’m impressed you should notice the stain remover and think about it as soon as you ruined my shirt.”

Shoot, he knows what I’m doing . . .

“Impressed?”

“It requires some presence of mind.”

“I … I brought it, actually. Today. George is in constant need of such.” I knew George would support my allegation, he was “my people” and deep enough in this with me as not to complain I’d accused him of sloppiness to save face. He’d organized the party and we were in his dorm.

“I understand.” Damian’s eyes glittered with some kind of cunning. “Have I seen you before, Alice?”

I shrugged and faked lack of interest, ignoring the way he spoke my name and how it made my cheeks prickle.

“Maybe. In the cafeteria, or at the Marquette. That’s where I seek refuge from my persecutors.”

“Persecutors?”

“The Inquisition, isn’t it obvious?” I pointed at the haycock on my head, which earned me a weird, animalistic grin that probably wanted to be a smile. It was the strangest expression I’d ever seen, and it took me aback. I dropped my eyes to the stain again to avoid the awkwardness, which seemed to help Damian grow even more comfortable.

“You claim yourself a witch?”

“I claim nothing without my lawyer.”

“Fair enough. And our host, George? Is he one of your allies?”

“You could say that. He’s dating my best friend, Ruxandra.” As for me, I’m available and all for you, mister.

“Now I remember,” he said as if he truly just realized, “I saw you at the Marquette with him and some others. You never miss some fun.”

He saw me? “I’m forever in search of it. As are you, I noticed.” That’s right, I saw you too. My heart pounded faster as I risked the hint at my interest in him.

“Hardly. I supply beverages.”

“What do you mean?” My head snapped up.

“It’s just an activity that pays bills. And what brings me to the Marquette and parties.”

“So you’re no real friend of Bacchus’?” I realized I’d never seen him with a beer in his hand, or any kind of alcohol for that matter.

He laughed a rusty laugh. His features transformed into that animalistic grimace once more, as if he weren’t used to expressing amusement at all.

“You find me entertaining?” I asked.

“I like the way you speak. It’s a bit, how shall I put it? Unusual.”

“You think?”

He nodded, those pale, striking eyes intent and fixed on mine. I alone had his attention now, the whole world was shut out.

“I merely adjust to my interlocutor,” I whispered.

I tried to sheath my crush on him with the veil of further jokes and friendship. He acted like he bought it, and soon after the party night our groups mingled in the cafeteria.

A few weeks later, George came up with another of his plans that both our gang and Damian’s appreciated – a trip in the mountains. We got on a train with heavy backpacks and furred boots, but my hopes of finding a place by Damian’s side shattered as soon as I set foot in the compartment.

He sat flanked by a bearded, rugged-looking guy with a guitar and Svetlana Slavic, a platinum blonde Beauty Queen who I didn’t stand a chance against. She was tall, slim and bony, her grin white and large, but she couldn’t be his girlfriend. Everyone knew she danced in a private booth at the Marquette for a rich guy – a bald and fat mobster some people speculated, though nobody had ever seen him. And he wasn’t here now, so the farther Constanta stayed behind us, the more all over Damian she was. I ducked in my coat and scarf up to my nose and watched frustrated how she drew closer to him.

“Come on, Novac,” she said, her pitch too high, “I won’t bite, I’m just freezing.”

He rested one arm loosely around her shoulder and turned his eyes to the window. She leeched on to him but he kept distant, which made me feel not all was lost. I wanted to slap myself for clinging to the faintest hope and for the way I ogled him, but I couldn’t help it. He looked fantastic in his brown coat, dark jeans and what seemed like army boots. His hair spilled in raven waves to his shoulders and the stubble gave his chiseled face the air of a young barbarian.

Svetlana caught me staring. She pulled her knees up and cuddled to his chest. I doubted she did it because she saw any kind of competition in me – that was out of the question – but because she felt powerful and probably enjoyed my suffering, knowing I would’ve done anything to be in her place. She closed her eyes and pretended to fall asleep with a triumphant smile on her face.

Cottages glided by as the train – barely more than an old cart from communist times – moved lazily, its whistles lost in the night as we advanced to the middle of nowhere. A few times I thought Damian glanced at me and my heart jumped, but I dismissed it as wishful thinking until the train got stuck in what looked like Siberian snow, ice flowers spreading over the pane. Everybody breathed out steam and I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, shaking violently. That’s when Damian gazed long at me with a frown.

“George,” he said, lifting his arm and waking Svetlana, “Where’s the Vodka I gave you?”

George’s sleepy eyelids fluttered open. He brushed sandy tendrils off his forehead and removed his own arm from around Ruxandra, who shivered at his chest, her eyes hooded, her lips shrunken. He reached to the overhead rack and dropped a bag on her lap by mistake.

“Sorry, Rux,” George mumbled, and took down a ragged backpack. Something clanked inside. He staggered on his skinny spider legs to Damian, who stood up to support him.

“Jesus, you look like you might break into ice shards,” Damian said.

“I’m afraid my brain’s already splintered. I should’ve been the first to think of the liquor,” George replied with a stiff grin that meant to be friendly but rather gave the impression of a frozen fossil.

Damian opened the backpack and took out three small bottles like the ones Russians keep in the inside pockets of their sheepskin coats. He handed one to Svetlana and one to George.

“Pass that around,” he told them, then took a seat by my side with the third bottle.

I blinked and barely refrained from rubbing my eyes. I couldn’t believe he was so close to me, by his own choosing this time.

“Drink this,” he said softly, holding the open bottle to my mouth. A sharp smell made me crease my nose and push his hand away.

“Vodka. It’ll help warm up,” he insisted.

I sniffed at it a couple of times and finally took a sip that went like a flash of fire to my stomach. I grimaced, but Damian chuckled and looked at me like you would at a playing puppy. Again that strange expression on his face, like a predator cornering its prey. I tried a shaky smile back, my heart drumming.

It wasn’t until, trying to avoid staring too long and too intensely at Damian, my eyes fell on the open mouthed Svetlana, that I realized why he must’ve switched to my side: I was the only one without a pair of arms around me. Damian was just looking after the less fortunate. My chest deflated.

“Thanks, but I’m fine,” I grumbled and drew away, pulling my knees up.

Suddenly, the train began to wobble like a ship on a stormy sea. Girls shrieked, guys glanced around with wide eyes and, as the lights flickered and finally went out, I burst into a fit of screaming too. A hand wrapped around my arm and pulled me to a broad chest, my nose sinking in a fluffy pullover.

“Earthquake,” Damian’s voice sounded above my head. At the next jerk, he dropped back in the seat with me in his lap.

“Maybe they’re just, just, just taking us out of the snow,” Svetlana babbled.

“It ain’t no shovels moving this train,” I recognized the guy with the guitar croak.

The train came to a brusque halt in its swaying, and Damian jumped to his feet, sheltering me with the sides of his open coat. I pushed my face deeper in his pullover as he slid the compartment door open with his elbow.

“What are you doing?” George squealed.

“We need to get out of here,” Damian replied. His tone was calm, but not devoid of stress.

“What if it starts again?” His bearded guitarist friend said. “We’re deep in the mountains, we could get killed in an avalanche or something!”

“And you think we stand a better chance if an avalanche traps us in this rust box, Hector?” Damian raised his voice over his friend’s but didn’t wait for a reply.

He rushed with me down the aisle and only put me down as we reached a growing clutch of shrieking people by the exit. Fear gripped me, and my heart punched hard against my ribcage as I stretched my arm to keep him close. To no avail, I lost him as he made his way through.

In the chaos of screams and bodies squashing me between them I freaked out, but I was unable to make a sound. The door snapped open and a winter gush wheezed through, lashing my face numb as people poured out of the train and drifted me forward with them. I sank to my knees in the glistening snow and waved my arms to keep from falling into the forested abyss that gaped before my eyes.

A huge, warm hand clasped mine, steadying me, and the instant I looked into Damian’s focused face I understood he’d only left my side to break down the door. I forgave him on the spot.

He turned to help the others out of the train but missed one, who bumped hard against me and sent me like a ball down the slope. I rolled and rolled, my mind frozen as snow infiltrated to my skin from under my scarf and sleeves. A front clash with a tree trunk knocked the air from my lungs and the last thing I saw was a shower of white that filled my mouth and nostrils. I choked under the mountain of cold that gagged me, desperate to breathe in.

My head began to cloud with lack of air, and I felt my pulse give up. That moment I knew the sense of safety was a mirage, as if some tiny fairy at the back of my mind urged me to keep fighting.

I saw a bright sphere, but I knew it wasn’t the moon. It was light at the end of a black tunnel, a light that sucked me toward it with the force a vacuum cleaner would a fly. However hopelessly, I fought against the pull, which stopped by miracle as I came really close to the now huge moon. Weight started to press rhythmically on what I now identified as my chest, and I started to spin backwards, as if something drew me with the same force farther and farther from the bright sphere. As it became smaller, it warped into the shape of a child-like face with eyes bright like laser piercing at me through the darkness. A crystalline voice like tinkling icicles filled my head. “You need me . . .”

***

Liked this? Please share your feelings in a comment, I’d love to hear from you. The Executioner has been released in September this year and is available for purchase here, if you’re in for a suspense and mystery similar to the Christmas Stories until they’re out. I’m sharing this now because, with the Christmas Stories in edits and preparations, no stories will be published until the 22nd of December, and I wanted you guys to be covered just in case you wanted more. Please, enjoy!

Lila Episode 5 – The Creature

BLURB:

This is the last episode of Lila. Andrey Jones, her former target, has maneuvered Lila into a situation in which she’s being used for cruel lab procedures. But something unexpected happens, and Lila finds herself not only capable of protecting herself, but face to face with an old enemy. In this episode she discovers Andrey’s Jones true purpose for her, and what his plot has been all along.

***

They gagged and tied me from neck to ankles like a spindle, so all my struggling and screaming are useless. By the time they unload me in a bunker I’m spent, and when the gag falls all I can think about is water, but they don’t give me one drop.

A brightly lit ceiling spins as they turn me and slap me on what feels like a metal plate. Force is no longer necessary to pin my arms and my legs apart in an X-cross, I’m as easy to handle as a ragdoll. Metal cuffs bang shut around my wrists, the edges merciless on my wrist cords. Only when they start sponge-washing the mud off me I realize I’m naked, moaning and whining with my last drop of strength. I pass out.

A splash of ice-cold water brings me back to Dr. Randolph Kalb’s face over mine, his glassy blue eyes curious but devoid of feeling.

“Welcome back,” he says, his voice calm and unmoved.

The metal table swivels, bringing me upright. My stomach revolts and I barely keep from throwing up. Damp strands cling to my face and forehead as I let myself hang, but someone grabs my hair and forces me to look up.

I’m in an all glass-and-steel lab, a glass wall before me. I can make out the reflection of a meager and naked me, gadgets looking like the tools of a psycho surgeon on either side of the panel, the doctor in a white lab coat keeping a grip on my hair.

“Hush now, no need to struggle. Nothing bad is going to happen,” he says with the calmness of a psycho indeed. I can only move my eyes to the side to look at him as a metal band stretches with an automatic sound from the panel over my forehead, pinning me down.

“What are you doing?” I croak.

His grin broadens, making his wrinkles deepen and look like cracks in albino leather. “It will be painful at first. Then it only gets better. And then it gets fantastic.”

“What are you doing with me, Kalb?” I’m starting to sound desperate.

“You know,” he says as he inspects and prepares his gadgets, “There are many well positioned people who would love to be in your place now, Miss –,” he throws me a look of false puzzlement.

“Stop pretending. You know me, you and I met before. I’m Lila Banks, and I used to work with your employers.”

He turns his eyes to a syringe as he pushes the shaft through it, causing a mean-looking liquid to spit out. “You’re Lila now. When I’m done with you, you won’t be Lila anymore. You should be grateful, you know, this is an honor. And a compliment. I never waste gold seeds on arid soils.”

I realize that’s why Andrey Jones had me conveyed to Dr. Kalb – by some twists of life it looks like I lost identity and purpose, ending up a cheap prostitute, but the brains are “good soil” still. The reality goes poignant as Dr. Kalb drives the long needle into my vein. It hurts to a scream, but it’s nothing compared to the slow burn that makes my blood boil in corrosive bubbles.

I cry as my veins seem to blister and dissolve, the heat reddening my flesh. Black patches like paper burning at the edges form on my skin, and my heart pumps like crazy. I gasp, the inability to move adding to the despair.

“Come on, Lila, fight the bondage,” the Doctor instigates. “Let the rage break out.”

Rage, yes, but the agony subdues it. I can hear the Doctor’s cunning lurk behind his next words.

“I’ll lever up the incentive, then.”

The glass wall frosts and then clears, revealing itself as a high tech screen. The face on it eclipses all else besides the pain. I can feel the blood vessels explode in my eyeballs as I look in the face of Ivan Basarab, the man who broke me and betrayed me. It feels like yesterday. He smiles.

“Hello, Lila.”

A video-call. I bare my teeth in a cry, my fingers painfully contracting into claws. “Bastard!”

I recognize beyond doubt that very male masculinity. It was that combination of testosterone and brains that swayed my loyalties. An animal urge of hurting him swells in the pit of my stomach, and I become all animal instinct. I jolt from the cuffs, but they cut into my skin, making me cry out – in frustration rather than pain.

“You have every reason to be angry,” Ivan says, his voice barely transformed by technology. “I used you and maneuvered you.”

My muscles flex and harden like rock.

“And I had two reasons to do so – your brains got me away from the F.B.I,” he says as if he likes making me mad, or aims for it. “And your body reminded me of the one woman I loved. But I never loved you.”

My senses sharpen, and I can feel Dr. Kalb grinning satisfied by my side. He enjoys the pain in my face. I feel the cuff give in under the flex of my arm, and my fingers wind around it before I’m aware of what’s happening. I hit Kalb with it over the face, and his flesh tears from his facial bone. He takes his hand to his cheek, takes a second to realize what happened, and screams in dread, while Ivan’s grinning on the screen.

“He would’ve driven needles up your every vein, Lila,” Ivan’s voice lowers and deepens, infiltrating my brain. “He would’ve gotten a hard-on at your pain.”

The other cuff flies off, and my other hand as well as my feet come free way too easily. The burn in my body and Ivan’s words energize me like fuel as I advance towards Kalb, who’s screaming with a bloody face, crawling away from me. His eyes are wide in shock, as if he’s looking at a monster. He didn’t expect this coming, whatever this is.

I jump over and straddle him, and when my hands reach for his face I notice – they’re changing into knotty claws coated with thick reptile skin, nails growing out like black iron blades. I stare up at the screen, instinctively searching for an explanation in Ivan’s face. He stares right back at me and reads the question in my eyes. His gaze glows with pleasant surprise.

“Yes, Lila, he didn’t see this coming. You’re strong, you’re a gem. It went so fast, with just one needle. You’re one in a million.”

The fury succumbs to shock, and shock to dread as I fall back from Kalb and look at my hands. They begin to turn back into human flesh as the rage damps down, and Kalb takes advantage. He tries to scramble up, but I’m quick enough of wit to jump and pin him back under me before the unusual strength fades.

“What did you fucking do to me?”

The screen buzzes. My head snaps up – Ivan’s gone. My eyes flash back to Kalb and I shake him hard.

“Where is he? Where’s Basarab?”

He hesitates. I wham his head against the floor.

“Where?” My voice sounds inhuman, even demonic, startling me and making me jump up with Kalb in my hands.

“Northville,” Kalb babbles. “He’s in Northville. Under another name.”

“Northville. Under another name,” I repeat in an angry breath, and let him drop on the floor. The second before he hits it sharp metal thorns fire up from the tiles and pierce his body in so many places that he’s just a chunk of unrecognizable meat. As if he’d never been any more than that. I stare down at him, blinking in disbelief.

The doors fly open and men with guns and tactical gear flood the room. Andrey Jones is the last to enter, casual in his dark suit. The second I see him I bare my teeth in a hiss and launch at him with hands outstretched, the claws growing out from my fingers. He doesn’t move, his reddish-brown eyes fixed and calm. I try to scratch him, but he seems made of marble. And when my reptile-monster hands wrap around his neck, his skin feels cold and soothing like salve over a wound. My flesh goes back to normal as the raging power drains from me, and I fall naked and crying in Andrey Jones’ arms.

He presses his cheek on my head and hushes me, his body warm and accommodating.

“I’m sorry, Lila, it had to be this way,” he whispers soothingly.

“Why? Why did you put me through all this, you sadistic bastard?” I surge, beating his chest.

“Because I needed one of the enemy’s soldiers, and the only way was to have him make one for me. A powerful soldier, who knows their maker. The requirements were very special.”

My body feels ever more human in his arms. I look up at him.

“You have power over me. Do you have power over all his –,” I pause. I can’t believe this is Ivan we’re talking about. “Soldiers?”

“On some more, on some less,” Jones says with a kind and tired smile.

“If that’s the case, then you can’t be wholly human either.”

“I’m a different kind of monster.”

I look down at my arm, where he injected the device on the plane.

“Did you use that bug to control me?”

“No. That was a tracking device. Your body eliminated it when you transformed – too fast, I didn’t expect that. Normally it takes months.”

“Months of this torture?”

“This torture and all kinds of cruel practices. Cutting, ripping, raping. In order to activate the Reptile they need to stimulate a certain amount of rage in certain situations that are very difficult to replicate.”

“That’s why Ivan provoked me,” I realize. Andrey nods.

“If not that, then how did you -?” I don’t find the right words.

“I didn’t use technology, Lila. I told you – I’m a different kind of monster.”

I look him directly in the face. He’s so kind and gentle and darn handsome. It begins to dawn on me.

“You weren’t made in a lab,” I whisper.

“Nor was I made by a man.”

 

Epilogue with bonus scenes to be released in the upcoming Christmas Stories for Adults on the 22nd of December. Stay tuned!

UPDATE – Lila’s whole story has been published in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

 

Pic source.

Christmas Stories Suspense & Mystery for Adults

COVER REVEAL and official Story Blurbs

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The day is finally here, I’m so excited about this! And so grateful that I’m allowed to share this with you guys. It is Șeila Rațiu I have to thank for this cover design of my upcoming e-book, Christmas Stories – Suspense & Mystery for Adults, which will be released on Amazon on the 22nd of December.

She has been a sweetheart working with me on this one and presenting different cover versions until we both felt it represented the feel of these stories. What do you guys think? What does the cover inspire to you?

For some hints, here are the final official blurbs of the stories:

HYPERION

Hyperion is a former soldier with a secret. A secret that enables him to accomplish more than a normal man, making him among the few who can fight a special kind of enemy. He’s sent to a village by the Dark Forest, where he sets up camp and begins observing his target. There’s little Hyperion doesn’t see coming and even less he can’t deal with, but his target’s young wife, Ligia, does threaten to complicate things. 

SAPHIRA

Saphira is a young artist with a curse – she’s that kind of beautiful that sells. Which her parents – business people in distress – decide to exploit, dragging her to business banquets in order to find her a rich husband. It’s at one of these banquets that Saphira witnesses murder and draws the attention of the Marquis, a killer with mysterious reasons.

LILA

Agent Lila Banks’ original mission is to get under the skin of Andrey Jones, a suspicious high profile broker. It turns out he’s a step ahead of her in every way, and forces her hand to infiltrate the Jinx Enterprises as his own spy. She has to use her F.B.I. privileges as well as her skills as a financial tracker to discover who the Jinx are paying for medical experiments that seem to result in DNA modification. But she also discovers that Andrey Jones is far more dangerous than she or even her F.B.I. superiors have anticipated. 

 

All these stories are linked to each other, the common core being revealed at the end of each story layer after layer. Enjoy the previous episodes of the stories here, and feel free to roam this site for many more goodies. Stay tuned tomorrow for a new quiz, what do your Spirits say about you?

Saphira episode 6 – Dark Intentions

BLURB:

This is the final episode of Saphira. Her father throws a Christmas party in which Saphira’s (unwilling) engagement to the Marquis is announced. Her heart drums in suspense as the Marquis reveals the true purpose of his murders and his reason for wanting to marry her. In the end it all links together, and Saphira realizes the true measure of the Marquis’ danger.

***

Father got so ecstatic about the Marquis’ asking for my hand in marriage, that he throws a huge Christmas party to announce it. Mum’s all flashing smiles too, her Marge-Simpson-hair littered with ornaments and making it easy to mistake her for the Christmas tree. Me she styled into the ice queen tonight, the white and the glitter mirroring the upcoming wedding and my state of mind – frozen.

It’s as if my brain refuses to acknowledge the horror of my situation – I’m forced to marry a serpent-like monster whom I witnessed killing two men. And yet one single fact worries me – on the first night we danced together, he told me he had the best of reasons for doing what he does; I told him there is no good reason for murder; now I know there is indeed no one good reason – there are plenty.

“Saphy, I can’t believe this,” a girlish squeal rings in my ear before Jeanie Simmons squeezes me in her arms. My cheek twitches as I look at her. She’s such a pure vision with those cute curls and flushing cheeks that I dread her attraction to Joyous. He’s as much a criminal as the Marquis, and Jeanie doesn’t have a clue.

“The Marquis is every girl’s dream,” she exclaims, her small but surprisingly strong hands shaking my arms. “He’s super hot and super rich. Pretty Lauren is eating her heart out.”

Both of us glance in Lauren’s direction. Indeed, she seems pissed with arms folded across her chest, looking like one of Cinderella’s evil sisters with those pouty lips, bad-girl make-up and provocative scotch-red dress to match her hair. She lost the battle for the hottest bachelor in town, but I’m sure she’ll try to get him in her bed the way she got Jeremy, just to prove to herself she’s the better.

“You look like a fairy tale princess,” Jeanie returns her attention to me, her eyes sparkling as she looks me over from head to toes. “Silk ice-queen dress, neat. I love it!”

I don’t, but that’s beside the point. Virgin Vivien joins to save me from the fashion-talk, her noble features alight with true emotion – I can tell she’s happy for me.

“Saphira, I so, so, so congratulate you,” she says, taking my hands in hers. “I never saw this coming.”

“Neither did I,” I manage. Vivien takes it as a joke and laughs.

“You didn’t even hint at it at the banquet. I mean, how long have you even known each other?”

“A while now.”

“Was it a secret romance?” She leans in with a classy ghost of a wink.

My cheek twitches again, and my smile must look disturbed, since Vivien turns serious. “Saph, is everything all right?”

Jeremy steps in, surprising me. I didn’t realize he was around, let alone so close. “Saph, if there’s anything you need to say . . .” He’s got his no-nonsense London detective look on, injecting me with the urge to speak. He’s been on to the Marquis all along anyway, the truth might not even be wholly new to him.

The pressure is heavy, and I’m about to crack and cry out loud that the Marquis is a monster murderer who forced me into this, and that no, we do not know each other well, I don’t even know his first name. But that moment murmur increases, and clapping hands make up a crescendo. Both Vivien and Jeremy turn like opening doors to clear my sight, and I see him. The Marquis.

He walks directly to me, elegant and dangerous like a panther, his dark eyes hypnotic on that youthful ivory face. He extends his hand – gloved and black – and I’m compelled to offer mine. He leans in and takes it to his lips, his eyes fixed on my face, threatening as hell from under his brows.

Soon his arm is around me, keeping me close to his body that feels hard and delicious under his clothes. He’s using that inexplicable power he has over me to influence my feelings, and I don’t stand a chance to resist him. He leads me around to greet people, who congratulate and stare. I’m sure I look like a zombie. I can’t even speak, as if he put a spell on me that seals my lips to anyone but him. I feel like a living mind in a corpse, I want to scream but I’m unable to.

Lauren bats her lashes at the Marquis when we come to her circle, smiling seductively. He gives her a reserved smile back, no more. If I were myself, I’d probably welcome her winning him over, but I’m not myself.

After a while the Marquis and I have a moment alone with a glass of red wine, and his hold on me lessens. I take the chance to win some of his trust, since it seems like my only option.

“You were right,” I mutter with some difficulty.

He takes the glass to his lips, looking purposefully away, as if to allow me to regain some self-control. “About what?”

“You did have the best of reasons to take Pukov’s life.”

“I’m glad we begin to think alike.”

“Who was that woman, Marquis?” I dare. “The one Pukov killed?”

“He beat and raped her, then had others do the same,” he cuts. “But he wasn’t the one to kill her.”

My throat knots. It dawns on me. “The man at the Royale, he was one of them?”

“Your wit is quick.”

“My God. They’re all from Northville.”

“And they’re all here now.”

I can’t believe my ears. Instinctively I look around, my gaze sweeping over every male face starting with my father – an obsolete, dusty Godfather-type of businessman – and ending with Jeremy, who stands a protective pillar by his sister Jeanie and Virgin Vivien, frowning at his suspect – the Marquis. William “Billy” Dean – the mouse-faced notary public who’s had a crush on Lauren forever – would never fit the profile after my standards. Maybe Ronald Lord Barkley, the livid head of the lunatic asylum; he looks deranged enough.

But when the Marquis glides behind me, one arm coiling around my stomach and the other pointing discretely but clearly in the direction of the killer, my blood turns to ice grain, scraping my veins.

“It was him.”

The words make the sky drop and squash my heart. I stare frozen, unable to feel.

“That’s why you insisted to marry me. It wasn’t just to keep me quiet about the murder at the Royale,” I whisper.

“Quick wit despite the shock. I like you more and more, Saphira.”

The haze begins to lift, and the reality presents its grotesque face – my father killed that woman. He raped and killed her, taking some sick pleasure in it. Somehow my intuition confirms, even if I would have never suspected it of my own accord.

“What do you intend to do?” I manage.

“Initially I planned a slaughter,” he hisses. I become aware of his men lining the walls, Joyous and Stone Mask guarding the exit, ready to seal it at their boss’ signal that the bloodbath may begin. I doubt they’d spare the collaterals. “But when you surprised me at the Royale, I had a much better idea.”

My skin crawls. “Who was the woman, Marquis? Who was she to you?” I force myself to look aside to his face over my shoulder. His eyes are black and deadly on my father.

“She was the woman I loved. I was very young back then, and nothing like I am now. I tried to protect her, but Pukov’s men battered me to a pulp. Pukov himself never even took notice of me.”

“But how is it possible that his men could defeat you? I mean, you’re –,” I stop.

“A monster,” the Marquis finishes for me. He smiles that wicked smile of his. “I told you, I was nothing like I am now. I was an orphan in love with an aristocrat, a hopeless but requited love. A secret love. But since I didn’t have anyone in the world but her, Pukov’s men did with me what they did with every such opportunity – they sold me to my maker.”

Chill after chill crawl under my skin. “Will you do with me what they did with her?”

Mystery replaces the threat in the Marquis’ eyes, and I’m somewhat calmer. But his good will is a mirage.

“You will assist me in my revenge, Saphira. And I’ll make my revenge epic.” With these words he extends his gloved hand again, and his power compels me to take it. He says the good-byes for both of us, and invokes a romantic chariot ride as reason for our leaving the party. The bastards don’t have a clue how very lucky they are. On the inside I’m boiling. I’m paying for the sins of sadistic perverts.

They gather at the windows and in the doorstep to watch the Marquis help me into the chariot under falling snow-flakes, believing me the fairy-tale princess, when in truth I’m the sacrificial lamb. The Marquis opens his coat like a demon his black wings to look like he’s warming me, but I can’t feel the cold anyway. My heart drums in anxiety with the tramping of horse hooves as I watch the black tower emerge from the white winter night. The Marquis’ lips touch my ear, his breath warm.

“I told you I’d be taking you with me to the underworld, Persephone.”

Epilogue with bonus scenes to be released in the upcoming Christmas Stories for Adults on the 22nd of December. Stay tuned!

***

Previous episode.

Liked this? Check out the previous episodes of Saphira here, and stay tuned for the COVER REVEAL to the upcoming Christmas Stories for Adults tomorrow! The book will contain all three stories – Hyperion, Saphira and Lila –, with bonus end scenes that will only be disclosed in the book. Please feel free to roam this site for all the previous episodes to all three stories in the Stories for the Coffee Breaks section, and enjoy the suspense and the mystery.

UPDATE: Saphira’s whole story has been published in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

Pic source.

Hyperion Episode 9 – The Graal of Desire

BLURB:

The moment came for Hyperion to eliminate the Swine. He intends to do it at mass, when the Swine sits in the first row, exposed to Hyperion, who replaced the village priest for the opportunity. Yet the moment he decides to attack something unexpected stops him – only until nightfall, when the Swine’s wife, Ligia, finds Hyperion and seduces him. Sparks fly, but mortal danger is just around the corner. The final battle begins.

***

It’s a gloomy day. The church bells, slow and earnest, make it even gloomier. I’m prepared for mass at the altar, cross hanging by my neck, hands together as I summon my focus. Frost covered the windows, and the snowfall made the paths almost unusable. Yet the church is full. Even the octogenarian cripples spared no effort to see the new priest – too young, I heard them whisper, how will they ever confess to a mere boy?

The blade I used to cut the holy bread – what the monks used to insist I called only the “Body of Christ” on every attempt to exorcise me – is tucked under my priest cloak, strapped close and within quick reach. There is indeed good opportunity. The Swine occupies the first row with his minions, beautiful Ligia at his side, looking at me with those big blue eyes as if I were a god. Her golden mane is hidden under a kerchief, which I long to remove. I strangle the feeling and focus on the task.

All of a sudden the Swine frowns angrily, and the corners of his mouth draw to the floor. But he pushes his chest forward as if to prove who’s number one, and my senses light up. He’s perfectly vulnerable. It’s the perfect moment, but then a row of children starts pouring between us – the reason of his anger; they come before him for sacrament, it’s the law and the letter. They’re all rags, they’re cold and dirty, and look at the pieces of bread in my hand like starving hawks. The sight brings back memories that make my heart clench.

“Mr. Mayor, in his great generosity,” I announce at the end of mass in the echo of the church, “organizes a meal for all village children this evening. His good wife will see to the preparations.” I give Ligia a meaningful look, and it’s enough for her to understand. She smiles, her eyes full of gratitude and admiration, and I have to look away in order to keep focused.

The Swine is exposed to the villagers’ surprised fidgeting and murmur, while the children can barely restrain their glee. There’s nothing he can do about it, he’s forced to comply, but his glare promises retribution. It’s mean, and his grin a display of bad teeth ready to bite and tear.

An impulse to take him straight-on fires through my limbs, and I have difficulty damping it down. A young body comes with good but also bad, such as thirst for adrenaline and violence. I yet manage to get a grip until later at the old widow’s barn, where Ligia and the old woman gather all the urchins, and where I expect to see him again. He doesn’t show up. His minions are all over the place though.

“You went too far,” the old widow whispers as soon as she finds a reason to linger by my side. Her sleeves are rolled up as she settles a caldron of hot soup by the pile of wood I cut.

“I didn’t come here to walk short distances,” I hiss.

“No, but this will make the Swine channel all his attention on you. And you need the shadow.”

“His attention was on me already. He was suspicious of my years and my interactions with his wife, so I don’t think there’s much difference between then and now.”

The woman glances at Ligia, who tries to make the children settle, but those with already full bellies laugh in mischief, daring her to chase them.

“Speaking of his wife,” the widow says, looking at Ligia, “she’s in love with you.”

My knees threaten to disjoint, and my heart flares. I stare at Ligia, no more than a girl with rosy cheeks herself, grabbing one of the bigger girls by her rags as she runs and laughs. She looks so carefree and happy. She catches me staring, and I can no longer deny the truth – I desire her.

On the first opportunity I return to church and find seclusion in the Old Father’s chamber. It’s restricted to a cot, a small table, a chair and a candle that now makes the stone walls flicker. Not even a holy face for company – indeed, enough of them just next door. The chamber is practically a small stone shed adjacent to the nave.

I light the fire in the stove, remove my priest cloak and lie down on the cot with the Bible. I never thought I’d lay a hand on it again, yet now I find myself a demon in desperate need of God’s angels. My desire for Ligia is as intense as sin, and jeopardizes too much.

I recognize her small steps echoing in the empty nave, and my blood surges as I jump to my feet. When she appears in the doorstep, the candlelight playing on her sweet milkmaid face, I realize my torso is bare. I’m uneasy as she looks me up and down, her eyes surprised and wide. I’m sure the scars disgust her, and it’s a stab in the heart. My jaw clenches as I tell myself it’s for the best.

“You shouldn’t be here, Ligia. Go home.”

“I will.” Her voice is small and it trembles. She gathers her courage and looks me in the face again, her eyes teary and loving instead of what I expected. She walks closer. I should retreat, but I can’t bring myself to.

“Just once, Hyperion, just once let me feel you,” she whispers, now so close that I can feel the touch of her cloak on my skin. Her small white hands follow, cold and electrifying. My body tightens, and I clench my fists to restrain.

“You’re so beautiful,” she mutters as she looks at my body as if I’m made of candy. It’s so hard to keep myself in check that I can’t speak. This is new and alarming.

“Let me kiss you, just this once.” She looks up at me, warm and inviting, and I can’t resist. I find myself bending my head to feel the full taste of her lips. Sweet, soft and completely new, the sensation is irresistible, making me crave more of her. I pull her to me until I can feel her breasts under my chest, my arms locking around her small waist while hers travel up my back, pressing possessive. I begin to lose myself in her consuming kiss when I hear the stomping in the nave.

I shield her behind me in a flash, and the moment the Swine walks into the room, confident stomach forward and framed by his men, we’re no longer kissing, but the truth is obvious anyway. He grimaces in rage and points a chubby, shaking finger at me.

“I knew you were here for her!”

I can’t keep back a hiss. “No. I’m here for you.”

At his slightest signal two of his men leap toward us, but I jump forward even faster, manage to get between them and grab the knife from one of them. In a second I have the knife at the Swine’s oily chin, and demand them not to touch Ligia. My blood boils as I breathe in the Swine’s smell, I’m so eager to kill him.

I urge Ligia to go, once, twice, three times, but she refuses and begs the Swine to leave me in peace, that this is all her fault. I must raise my voice to wraith anger to scare her and get her to scurry by me. The men let her pass to make sure I don’t slit the Swine’s throat, but that’s all my strategy can accomplish. I’m in the very situation I’ve been trying to avoid.

Just as Ligia bursts out of the church into the snow, the creature inside the Swine wriggles and slithers to the surface, his body hardening. His men approach with monster eyes and sharp purpose that I cannot fight fair. The blade can’t pierce the Swine’s skin anymore, and I’m outnumbered.

To be continued.

***

Liked this? Please share your thoughts and feelings in a comment. Hyperion’s whole story will be published in a Christmas Story Book for Adults, so stay tuned for Gift Promotions and other goodies, such as the COVER REVEAL on Sunday – I’m super excited about your thoughts on it.

Enjoy Hyperion’s former episodes on this site 1, and my muse for Hyperion’s fabulous works here.

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Buy Hyperion’s whole story here.

Lila Episode 4 – The Mission

BLURB:

The F.B.I. can no longer help Agent Lila Banks. Andrey Jones – her former target – was ahead of her moves. After using her for his own purposes, he framed her for murder. Now it turns out he has more in store for her – a mission that will change her forever, full of action, danger and secrets. In this episode Lila is forced on the path to track down the project Reptile Man.

***

No point insisting on, “I’m an F.B.I. agent.” They disregard that information at the police station as if on purpose. There’s no detective in a bare-walled room looking ominous and interested, just uniforms around a cuffed woman in a chair, talking to a bored clerk who pecks away at his keyboard. He doesn’t seem moved by my supposed murder. He draws the conclusion that what started off as consensual sex spiced with some bondage ended badly. I have enough experience to know I better leave it at that.

Andrey Jones’ plot worked perfectly for him, and he’s obviously bought off some of the police too. Still, in 24 hours max Chief Schwarz should be able to find me – or so experience encourages me. My perspectives darken in only a few of those hours though – I’m thrown in a cell with angry-looking prostitutes and drug dealers, but the worst one is a drag queen.

“Heard you’re a cop,” she – or he – says.

“I’m not a cop, I’m a financial analyst,” I say evenly, but he – or she – is set on kicking my ass.

“F.B.I., no less.”

I look up from the bench. The others gathered around the drag queen, looking down on me with clear purpose. One of them cracks her knuckles to make sure the message comes through. I don’t even wonder how they know – Andrey Jones put the information in here to make things difficult for me, surely. I take a deep breath and press my eyes shut as the first punch strikes like lightning and sends me crouching on the floor.

I keep enough presence of mind to retreat under the bench, which makes it difficult for their kicks to find me. But the drag queen pulls me out, and all I can do is take the snail-shell position to protect myself. It must be divine intervention that all my ribs stay intact until I hear the cell gate fling open, and the warden step in with cusses and rubber-rod swings.

The attackers now scattered, the warden grabs me under my armpits and pulls me up, then settles me roughly back on the bench. I’m dizzy and scared stiff for another hour, but the craze of the moment cooled down for the ladies, not to mention that it drained them, so I’m safe for now. Later my heart leaps to clog my throat as the drag queen stands up to resume action, but then the gate opens again and Mr. Bad and Mr. Worse make their entrance. I’m so relieved to see them I can barely believe it.

They grab my arms one on each side and escort me down a neon-lit corridor with sickly green walls. I look down at my legs in the orange prison overalls, and the realization that I’m a convict hits me hard. When a metal door opens to a prison bus I’m sure there’s no escape for me anymore – my life is in their hands. I’m tired, and I welcome the swaying and bumping drive to wherever they might take me – I’m too beat from all points of view to care about that either.

Our destination reveals itself as an airport. I’m alone with the driver in the bus when we reach it, Mr. Bad and Mr. Worse at the back. All the others have been dropped off at different institutions. My body’s all bruised and tender as they escort me through whipping wind across a field to a jet with no windows, strapping me to a metal seat like the prisoner that I am. My head hangs, dirty and sweaty strands that lost all hue of blonde hanging like rags on the sides of my face. As the machine starts trembling and the engines humming I see a pair of black shoes slipping under my eyes.

I look up to see Andrey Jones in the seat across from me, wearing a suit but looking athletic, his face business-straight but young and what I called attractive before all this, his reddish brown eyes drilling into mine. A surge of hatred fuels me, and I jolt from my seat with a cry, but the straps bite into my flesh, forcing me back down. Something softens in his gaze, making the bastard look almost hurt.

“I understand your rage. But it’s no use to you or to me.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that before,” I hiss. The edges of my eyes are burning, and I wish I could scratch him bloody.

He looks down and swallows whatever his feelings, then throws a file on my knees.

“The reptile-man. What do you know about it?”

Now I understand why my hands are free. I take the file and leaf angrily through it. I recognize the report indeed – I wrote it. I hurl it back at him.

“I don’t know anything more than this file says.”

“And what does it say?”

“You actually expect me to narrate twenty pages now?”

“Just the essential.”

I want to defy him so bad, but his stare is steady and patient. He’s more rested, and has more energy to play this game than I do. “Give me some water, my throat feels scrubbed.”

He presses a button, and Mr. Bad brings a glass of water. It feels like honey down my throat, but every gulp hurts.

“More, please,” I say as I hand him back the glass. I make an effort to look back at Jones as Mr. Bad departs. “I met Dr. Randolph Kalb back when I was with my first employers. We met in Heidelberg, Germany. He’s a high-class geneticist, and he worked for one of our subcontractors, but these subcontractors billed for the development of supplements, while Kalb’s reports were on genetic testing. I looked deeper into that, and certain tests could only be performed on humans. That’s how I got suspicious.”

“Why did you look deeper?”

“I see you’re eager to blame me of the same wickedness you blame my employers of,” I spew. “But I had to know this stuff in order to determine if it could be deduced from tax. You can’t deduce cement if you’re a hairdresser, you know, except in special circumstances. You should know all this, you’re a broker.”

“I’m not really a broker. My support comes from my organization.”

I remember what he told me on our first meeting, and let it go. “Well, we can dive into accounting details, or we can stick to the subject.”

“Stick to the subject,” he commands and squares his shoulders.

“I went to the F.B.I. with this. Chief Schwarz asked me to work with them on the case. That’s how I had the means to determine Randolph Kalb did experiments on humans, and that one of his projects was called the reptile-man, but I never discovered more than that. I only discovered what money-tracking – yes, black-money tracking too – revealed. Chief Schwarz delved deeper into the case, he knows much more.”

Jones’ jaw tightens. “And you accepted ignorance? Just like that, knowing you’d supported experimentation on humans? When you had the chance to discover the details, you just threw your hands in the air and moved on?”

“There were more important things I could do –,” and I want to list them, but Jones’ face goes stone-hard.

“More important things? More important than ending the slaughter?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I could help track down more of those bastards. It was only wise to let trained people like Chief Schwarz and the operations boys take care of the commando matters, don’t you think?”

No, Andrey Jones doesn’t think. He pulls an ace from under his sleeve.

“Why didn’t you turn in Ivan Basarab, Lila? Why didn’t you turn in your first direct boss? You nailed all the others, but him you helped get away from the F.B.I.”

The answer to that catches in my throat, but at this very moment Mr. Bad thankfully appears with the second glass of water. It’s a bit misty, like tap water, but I gulp it down and use the chance to think of how to put it. I hyperventilate, so I keep quiet and strain Jones’ patience yet more. He glares at me as angrily as a troll as he speaks the next words.

“Your sparing Basarab had consequences, Lila, as I’m sure you know. He’s a scientist himself, an early genius who graduated at fuckin’ 12, you should’ve known how dangerous he was.”

I shake my head. “He’s not dangerous. He’s not a geneticist. He’s –“,

“I know what he is. Can’t you put two and two together? His skills are even more threatening than Kalb’s.”

My eyesight begins to cloud, and my head feels heavy.

“And now, Lila, you will have a taste of the vile things you allowed to be bestowed on the world. First, you will lead me to Kalb.”

The Sandman leans in heavy on my lids, a weighty sleep making me numb – the water. I don’t feel my feet anymore, the numbness crawling fast like tentacles through my entire body. Jones takes my limp arm and injects something in it.

“Lose a word on me or this mission, and I’ll kill you in pain.”

I fall like a stone.

When I wake up I’m in a cage, hands muddy and tied with rope to the grates. I first feel my eyes and face, then the rest of my body to my toes. It happens fast, before I gather myself and remember what happened. As soon as I’m fully aware I scream and jolt, tugging myself from the ropes. I’m naked, oily and muddy all over. A curtain gets yanked aside and a circus clown looks down at me. I freeze, trying to make sense of it.

“There she is,” the clown says, “from a cheap brothel, she was so stoned they feared she’d die on their hands. They were happy to get rid of her.”

“No family?” another voice speaks, but I can’t see a face.

“No family. No friends. No papers. No identity. She’s tabula rasa.”

“She’s perfect.” This time the face appears to join the clown. Leathery skin, icy eyes, the impassible-faced German. Dr. Randolph Kalb. I realize what’s happening, and I cry out in dread.

***

Liked this? Check out the previous episodes on the Stories for Coffee Breaks section on this site, and stay tuned for a new episode of Hyperion on Thursday – he will maneuver the Swine into his trap as the tension builds up to the boiling point.

Here is the whole schedule for this week (Stories and Quizzes), and if you have a particular love for graphics don’t miss the cover reveal for the Christmas Stories – Suspense & Mystery for Adults on Sunday. The e-book will be released on Amazon on the 22nd of December, and it will contain all three stories of Hyperion, Saphira and Lila in full – including final goody parts that will not be included in the episodes on this site. So if you’re thinking of a nice last-minute present for your friends and family, this may just be it.

UPDATE – Lila’s whole story has been published in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

Please feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer, and take advantage to the fullest. Enjoy!

Picture from www.pinterest.com

 

 

Saphira Episode 5 -The Marquis

BLURB:

Saphira witnessed the Marquis murdering a man – though she only saw the Marquis removing his gloves by the corpse. She has thus become of interest to a murderer. He solved her father’s financial difficulties to win the man’s favor, and maneuvered Saphira to attend his banquet. He managed to sway her up to the dark tower, where she could no longer resist his power over her. His kiss had her hypnotized, and she was ready to give herself to him right there, but the Marquis retreated into the darkness. Then the door burst open and Saphira saw a face she forgot to expect. In this episode the action reaches dangerous highs as the Marquis finally reveals his secret.

***

Jeremy Simmons stares at me, his expression worried. He’s gained weight since the last time I saw him – in bed with Pretty Lauren – or his fancy suit makes him look that way. As he approaches I realize the extra weight is muscle mass. His facial features are more square and hard than I know them – a result of the testosterone he’s been taking, I guess. Jeanie said he fell in a workout fever after we broke up. He looks good, but my mind is soaked with the Marquis, his bittersweet scent, those hypnotic dark eyes and the feel of his lips on mine.

“Why on Earth did he bring you here?” Jeremy says and approaches like a man on a rescue mission.

“Don’t,” I mutter. Jeremy gets me wrong. He lifts his arms in the air then drops them, looking exasperated.

“Saphira, I’ll grovel if I have to. I’m not asking you to forgive me for what happened with Lauren, but let’s at least be civil. It’s been a long time.”

I can’t repress a smile – his ego must be as pumped as his muscles if he believes I’m still hurt. I shake my head easily and hold up my palm to stop him talking.

“All forgiven, Jeremy, no need to go there. It’s not that.”

He blinks, puzzled. “Then what is it?”

“I’m just surprised to see you all of a sudden, after all this time. Especially in the tower of the manor.”

“I was trying to get to you in the crowd when I saw our host sneak you out of the ballroom. I choked with worry. I couldn’t use the same exit, people seemed obstinate to block it, so it took a while to find another way. I was afraid I might be too late.”

I can’t believe his guts, but I refrain from comments on the matter. “Too late for what? What made you think he might’ve hurt me?”

Jeremy’s features lock. He straightens up and looks through me, his lips seamed to each other. I realize he knows things about the Marquis, and I put two and two together fast – Jeremy hasn’t been in Northville since we broke up. He had no reason to appear now. He’s a detective in London, and the Marquis is a murderer. In the blink of an eye Jeremy Simmons becomes interesting to me all over again, but in a way that’s light years away from romantic.

I manage to talk him out of the room, avoiding his holding up his lamp to see the portrait. Just a few moments later I descend the spiraling stairs with him, my arm hooked around his, my brain spinning around ways to get him talking. I fail all the way as he leads me into the crowd. Even though he sticks around, he keeps scarce of words. Nevertheless, I can see the gravity in his face whenever he looks at the Marquis.

On the rare occasions the Marquis looks at Jeremy he seems to scan the man inside out. His youthful features are relaxed as he glides in the crowd, talking to people, as if Jeremy’s presence doesn’t worry him in the least. Stone Mask and Joyous flank him the entire time, and a group’s constantly shifting to back them up, which makes it clear they’re undercover security. I can’t help stealing glances at him, compelled by his unusual beauty and the memory of his kiss.

I realize I’m always around him, beginning to act like a stalker. Refusing to sink any lower, I stomp to the wardrobe, let the valet help me into my coat and hurry down the manor stairs. I increase pace with every step, but before I get to slide on my butt on the last one a chauffeur catches me and elegantly motions to a car. He tells me the Marquis insists that I’m safe and comfortable. As the car departs I look back at the majestic manor, wondering if he’s watching me leave.

For days I keep myself locked in the attic, painting him in a frenzy, canvas after canvas. I sink my hands in the watercolor and reproduce his portrait with my fingers. My brain spins with questions – should I tell Jeremy what I saw? Should I risk it? Should I paint the scene, let it speak for itself? The answer subdues my morals every time, reminding me my own father could have the same fate as the man at the Royale if I betray the Marquis’ secret. So I ignore Jeremy’s calls, fearing his questions. It’s not the same when the piranha Vladimir Pukov resumes attack.

As usual, I don’t answer at first, but then it hits me – maybe he decided he wouldn’t let the Marquis intimidate him out of the chase. I need something to distract me from the dark-eyed murderer who’s been haunting my nights and daydreams too, so I pick up.

“Well, er, uhm, hello beautiful,” he babbles. He didn’t expect to actually hear me at the other end of the line. I’m half nice, half mocking, which he registers but doesn’t let sway him.

“I got reservations at the Apostles,” he brags. It’s the fanciest restaurant in town, in the old town center, all high ceilings and paintings to match the Sistine Chapel. The owner didn’t save a dime, and invested a lot in art, the piranha observes as soon as we’re settled at our table in a booth.

I wear a little black dress this time, like Virgin Vivien – it keeps unwanted hands off her, so I hope for the same effect now. After the same model, my hair is up in a tight golden bun, and my make-up discrete. To my dismay this only makes the piranha go serious-relationship on me, holding my hand over the table – immaculate cloth, I notice, it even smells of flowery detergent.

“I’d like to know more about your own art, Saphira,” he says.

“It’s not –”

“Hush, no,” he stretches over and squashes my lips with his finger. He’s so ridiculous looking long into my eyes and pretending to be gentle, that I fidget to keep back a burst of laughter. “I understand you like to be taken seriously. And my intentions with you are very serious.”

“So are mine.” That dark, liquid voice gives me the goose bumps. I look in the direction it came from and see the Marquis walking to our table from behind the fake wall that separates it from the rest of the restaurant. I freeze as he stops by our side, an elegant feral in a dark suit, his eyes intense down on Pukov.

Stone Mask and Joyous flank him on each side now too, only that Stone Mask’s steely eyes shoot daggers, and Joyous’ smile seems deranged like a killer psycho’s. Just a shade different from his smile at the banquet, but it gives him a whole new aura, and I think of poor Jeanie.

Beads of sweat appear on the piranha’s baldhead again, and his fleshy frame cringes in his suit.

“Marquis of Vandenesse.” He attempts to stand, but Stone Mask pushes him back down into his chair. Pukov’s eyes widen as he realizes the conflict is no longer veiled.

“You didn’t contact her in days,” Pukov explains himself, sounding anxious. “I assumed it was just that night at the banquet.” The last words fade as his look at the Marquis gains more rounded meaning – he assumed the Marquis did me that night, and then ditched me, therefore leaving the path open for Pukov to do the same. But that’s not what the Marquis picks up on.

“And how do you know that I haven’t contacted her? Did you stalk her?”

“You must’ve done the same, since you’re here.” Pukov says. Then something in the Marquis’ eyes makes more sweat break out through his skin, his face now luscious with it. “I mean you’re in your every right to, since the two of you are more serious than I thought, obviously. Saphira could’ve told me, but she chose not to.”

The Marquis flashes a youthful smile at him. “Are you blaming the lady now?”

“She did give course to my invitation.”

“She broke under your insistences.”

“I hardly think that’s fair. She didn’t have to answer my calls.”

“You cornered her from every direction. You’ve been burning her phone for weeks, had her father lobby for you, even offered him money.”

Pukov would like to grin, but he bites his inner cheek. “Didn’t you?”

“Not to get her in my bed, but to secure her as my wife.”

Both Pukov’s and my jaw drop.

“This is direct,” Pukov says. “I apologize, I didn’t realize the two of you were this far.” It’s obvious he retires from the exchange because he’s afraid of the Marquis, not because he’s any less convinced that I’m a bitch who lifted her tail, merely playing hard to get. But the Marquis isn’t willing to let him off the hook.

“Your pattern of thinking, Mr. Pukov, it’s brought ruin to innocent destinies before. It got a particular young woman raped and killed. Do you feel she provoked you the way Saphira did?”

His words fire shock in my head.

Stone Mask and Joyous tighten their presence on each side of Pukov, while the Marquis bends down to loom over him, a hand on the rest of his chair, the other one a fist on the table. It looks strong and angry despite the Marquis’ low voice.

“You pursued her affections as aggressively as you do Saphira’s. She wasn’t interested, but you wouldn’t take no for an answer. You persuaded yourself she was just playing difficult, and forced yourself on her in an alleyway. She fell limp while you had your way with her, which drove you mad. You beat her up so badly, that by the time anybody could identify her again she was dead in a dumpster, after having been roughly used by a number of your friends – for money, for days.”

My heart beats in a rage as I process what the Marquis is saying. The piranha’s eyes are wide with fear, fixed on the Marquis’ menacing face.

“Say her name, Vladimir. I’m sure you remember it. You don’t forget an experience like that easily,” the Marquis slurs darkly.

The piranha tries but fails, and the Marquis doesn’t give him another chance. What happens next electrifies me to the marrow.

I strain to understand what I’m seeing as something looking blade-sharp begins slithering out of the Marquis’ mouth. I jump up as I realize a serpent tongue undulates slowly towards the piranha, but someone’s behind me and covers my scream with their hand. I have no choice but watch how the young man with the angelic face and demon-like eyes forces the thing that moves out of his mouth down the piranha’s throat. A bubble seems to form in Pukov’s belly then further up in his chest. I can see it moving under his shirt, and I feel a violent need to throw up. The tongue twists and turns inside the piranha and then yanks out in a splutter of blood, coiled tightly around what I realize is the man’s stomach. I press my eyes shut, releasing the fear and shock into the hand that presses hard on my mouth.

When I open them I see the Marquis through my tears, I see the skin on his hands changing texture into something reptilian. The tablecloth catches fire like paper at the edges under his touch, but Joyous is quick to spill the piranha’s glass of water on it. The Marquis pulls a pair of special gloves over his hands, then starts wiping the blood off the piranha’s face with white towels that Stone Mask provides. Joyous moves just as fast and skilled while he cleans the scene, suddenly assisted by people pouring in from around the fake wall. I recognize some of them from the banquet.

I’m being led out through the back, into a limo. I’m shivering and I’m sure I’ll pass out, but then the Marquis takes the place opposite from me, looking elegant and youthful as if nothing happened, removing his gloves the way I saw him at the Royale.

“You weren’t mocking,” I breathe with my last drop of self-awareness. “You’re indeed a demon.”

“Demons are the creation of a god, Saphira. I’m the creation of a man.”

To be continued.

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

Liked this? Check out the previous episodes on the Stories for Coffee Breaks section on this site, and stay tuned for a new episode of Lila tomorrow – she will finally discover why Andrey Jones framed her for murder.

Here is the whole schedule for this week (Stories and Quizzes), and if you have a particular love for graphics don’t miss the cover reveal for the Christmas Stories – Suspense & Mystery for Adults on Sunday. The e-book will be released on Amazon on the 22nd of December, and it will contain all three stories of Hyperion, Saphira and Lila in full – including final goody parts that will not be included in the episodes on this site. So if you’re thinking of a nice last-minute present for your friends and family, this may just be it.

UPDATE: Saphira’s whole story has been released in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

Please feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer, and take advantage to the fullest. Enjoy!

(Pic source.)