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    Chapter Nine: All the Things That I Need


    Sinajfae

    Chapter Nine
    All the Things That I Need

    The bell hanging from the inside doorknob chimed softly as Madeline entered the coffee shop, a brown paper parcel under her arm. Since the blue diamond job nine months ago, Madeline had taken on a handful of her own regional contracts that mainly involved running local deliveries via her motorcycle, though a few included burglary. Although it didn’t sound glamorous, she was operating on her own and slowly building a name for herself. All her clients had been pleased with her punctuality and tact, and a few were impressed enough that they specifically requested her by name.

    Inhaling the rich, roasted aroma of the freshly made concoctions, she walked briskly past the coffee counter and entered a lounge area walled with bookcases and magazine racks. Sofas and easy chairs were organized smartly around low tables where about a dozen or so customers relaxed, drank, and read. She was to make her delivery to a man in his mid-twenties, and he would be wearing a powder-blue hoodie with a sleeveless black vest over it. 

    He wasn’t hard to find. 

    Nestled into one of the plush armchairs, his face was buried in a fashion magazine as Madeline approached, setting the shoebox-sized package down on the coffee table in front of him. She unzipped her black jacket just enough to reach inside the inner pocket and retrieve the documentation that served as proof of delivery.

    “If you could just sign this please,” she requested politely, reaching a bit deeper into the same pocket to pull out a pen.

    She was not expecting the warm smile that greeted her when she looked at the client again. His brown eyes appreciated her mischievously as he lowered his hood, revealing that his silvery-white hair had grown a bit longer since the last time she’d seen him. His face was still the same as she remembered, only now he had a tiny diamond nose piercing that complimented his features.

    “Scott?” Madeline questioned, returning his smile. 

    With an outstretched hand, he invited her to take a seat in the empty chair next to him.

    “Long time, no see,” he grinned, voice frosted with a slight English accent Madeline didn’t remember him having at last year’s Halloween party. “You’re looking as beautiful as ever. How’ve you been?”

    Madeline was at a loss for words. After a couple of stammering attempts, she took a seat, setting the documentation and pen on the table.

    “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting to see you. I’m a bit surprised.”

    “Likewise,” Scott admitted. “I was told to hang out here and pick up a package for my boss. I had no idea it would be you delivering it.”

    Madeline glanced casually at the shipping documents. It was for a Rupert Cole. He must be Scott’s sire.

    “Yep, that’s me,” Madeline laughed softly. “Courier to the important people. What are you two doing in town anyway? I thought you said you lived somewhere in England?”

    “Cole is in town for an annual business symposium. I asked to come along for a change of scenery and the hopes of running into you again. Must be my lucky day.”

    Madeline blushed openly.

    “We’re here for a few more days. You and I should do dinner or something,” Scott suggested. “No strings attached, I promise. Cole is going to be busy with panels and charity dinners and other extremely boring things I would rather not attend with him. Please, Madeline, be my alibi?”

    His pitiful expression was too sweet to refuse. 

    “I would love to,” Madeline confessed with a smile. 

    “Would tonight be too soon?” Scott asked. “If so, perhaps…”

    “No, tonight would be fine,” Madeline interrupted. “After this delivery, I’m pretty much done for the day.”

    “Well, since I’m from out of town and don’t really know my way around yet, why don’t we do this…”

    Taking the pen, Scott signed the delivery papers to confirm he received the package and then wrote his cell phone number on the very bottom of Madeline’s copy. 

    “Give me a call when you’re ready, and we can meet here, or at the Sheraton across the street. That’s where we’re staying. Then we can figure out where I can take you.”

    “Sounds good,” Madeline said, tucking the pen and folded paperwork back into her jacket pocket as she stood, glancing the watch tucked up under her jacket sleeve. “It’s a little after 8:00 p.m. now, so will 10:00 p.m. be okay?”

    “Perfect,” Scott winked flirtatiously. “See you in a couple of hours.”

    Madeline gave a little wave before she turned around and made her way out of the coffee shop and into the night. It had been a long time since she’d gone on a real date, and she was feeling like a giddy high school girl. Scott was attractive and appreciative of her, and after getting to know Maseo and his crew, she knew it was possible for vampires to be good people. 

    Her contract completed, she rode her motorcycle back to the loft apartment to email a copy of the receipt to Syriem. Once she was done with business, she stopped off at her bedroom briefly to slip out of her jacket and then headed off to find Levi. He wasn’t in the kitchen, nor was he working out, but his motorcycle was parked in the loft, so she assumed he was in his office. Maybe he got a job offer and was verifying information. 

    A few feet from his open bedroom door she heard voices; his and someone else's. 

    “I don’t know how much more I can take,” a delicate female voice said in Japanese. “I dislike all this hiding and not being able to make my feelings public...”

    “Shhh,” Levi responded in a comforting tone Madeline had never heard him use before. “It won’t be forever. You’ll see.”

    “I know, but…”

    Madeline’s footsteps slowed as she listened to their conversation, but she couldn’t stop herself from what felt like walking in slow-motion through Levi’s doorway. 

    Before her he stood, with only a towel wrapped low around his waist, embracing a petite woman in a short white bathrobe. Her long black hair was wet from a shower, and her thin arms were wrapped around Levi’s bare waist, face buried in the tanned skin of his defined chest. Chin down, he repeatedly kissed the crown of her head, arms cocooning her body lovingly.

    He noticed Madeline in the doorway.

    “What is it?” he asked, no hint of alarm or embarrassment in his tone as he continued to hold the woman close.

    “Um, I’m finished for the day,” she managed to get out. “And.. and I was going to go out in a few hours.”

    Without waiting for a response, Madeline turned and headed to her bedroom, her strides growing more hurried the closer she got. She could feel her jaw hanging open in response to what she’d just witnessed, and wondered to herself why the pain in her heart was so knotted. She expected as much from him. She knew how he was. She’d taken messages for him from various women. She’d lied to hook-ups that had become too clingy to get rid of them for him. But to see him like this… 

    Her chest and stomach twisted awkwardly as if she’d caught him cheating. Was it because he was being nice, and not lecherous, to this woman? That had to be it. Up until this point, he’d been nice to, and only taken care of, her. Only her. But now there was this other woman, and the atmosphere was sobering. She knew she had no claim to him, so why was she feeling so devastated? Was she this much in love with him without realizing it?

    Behind the locked door in her bedroom, Madeline took a couple of deep breaths in an attempt to settle her fluttering heart and steady her thoughts. 

    I have a date, she told herself. Someone who has expressed interest in me, and remembered me enough to come back to the city hoping to run into me. I need to calm the fuck down and focus on that. 

    Clearing her throat, she opened her closet and began to select something to wear while she thought about where she and Scott should go.


    --------------------------------------------------


    “Was that Madeline?” the woman asked Levi back in his room, as the red-headed girl came in quietly but left in a whirlwind. “She’s not as unshakable as you described.”

    “I think she was shocked by the scenery.” Levi chuckled.

    “Well, that would put her in an awkward predicament,” the woman acknowledged. “Are you going to go after her?”

    “Why?” Levi asked.

    With a disappointed sigh, the woman slugged Levi in the bicep.

    “Always the asshole, aren’t you?” she whispered under her breath. “One of these days I hope you will not always be an embarrassment to me.”

     

    --------------------------------------------------


    “Guess who has a date tonight?” Scott sang as he approached Cole, who was seated at the well-appointed desk in their business suite going over some paperwork.

    “Excellent,” the older gentleman responded, still reading through a schedule of events outlined in the business conference program. “Did you get the package?”

    “Of course,” Scott replied, setting the parcel on his sire’s desk. 

    Taking a letter opener from the desk drawer, Cole began to slice away at the brown paper. “I want you to be well fed for your date. This meeting with her is critical. You must provide what she needs you to be. To get her away from that demon. Master Gideon’s instructions are perfectly clear. Become whatever she desires. Be her perfect boyfriend. Get her completely away from that monster by earning her trust.”

    “So where do I go to feed here?” Scott asked. He was unfamiliar with this city and where the dregs would be located. Normally, he was given prepackaged sustenance from Cole, and although he had been trained on how to feast on actual humans, he had little practical application of the skills and nuances.

    Cole picked up his phone, typing a few addresses into an email and then forwarding it off to Scott. 

    “Any of these locations should be sufficient,” Cole responded in his aristocratic British accent. “Dress the part, and do clean up your mess. Let me know where you were so I can have someone attend to any details you might have missed.”

    Scott nodded and left Cole to get changed. Feeding on vagrants meant looking like one so passers-by wouldn't look twice. Humans, for the most part, despised beggars and homeless. They avoided eye contact, even if there was a scuffle going on, which made them perfect for meals when prior arrangements for blood couldn't be made. 

    Tossing on a pair of dirty-looking, worn jeans, and a blood-red hoodie, Scott exited the hotel into the cold February night and headed to the first address on the list Cole had sent him. The address took Scott to the corner of an old two-story brick building which housed a locally-owned convenience store, a florist shop, and a coffee shop that wasn’t part of a large chain. There were a couple of men with scraggly faces and soiled clothes sitting on the curb out front, bagged booze in their hands, indicating Scott was in the right place. Hands in his pockets, Scott walked around the building noticing an inconspicuous, unlit alley. Inhaling, the familiar smell of human piss was overwhelming, bringing back memories he’d thought were long buried. Although he hated to admit it because he was above all that now, he was no stranger to dark alleyways, junkies, and drunks.

    Pulling his hood up to cover his unique silver dye-job, Scott slinked into the alley like a predator. About twenty feet in he came across a man sleeping on a box next to a large black bag of trash. Scott wrinkled his nose at the urine and whiskey that permeated the narrow space between the buildings. On the other side of the man, a woman leaned against the bricks, her eyes rolled back as she relished in some high or another. She didn’t even notice Scott approach.

    He laid his hand on her throat lightly, startling her. 

    “Imma gonna scream,” she managed to gurgle out, “Don’t touch me.”

    “But you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Scott purred. “For someone like me to touch you? I imagine I’m the best looking man who’s touched you in a long time, aren’t I?”

    As he spoke, Scott exhaled, focusing on the pheromones his kind were able to produce during the feeding process to calm the prey. This too was something he had little practice with, but his skills were enough to get this wretch of a rail-thin woman to give him a dirty little smile. 

    “Let’s make a deal then,” he continued. “I’ll let you touch me if you let me touch you.”

    The woman nodded with a yellowed grin, placing one of her hands right on Scott’s crotch. Maintaining a smile, Scott leaned forward and rested his lips on the woman’s neck, tasting the salt of sweat on her damp skin. He kissed gently, licking the flesh clean as her hand worked up and down his pants in the false hope that she was turning him on. As he was taught, when her breathing became heavy with lust, he bit down hard into her throat, holding her head back against the bricks with his right hand. Between whatever drug she was on, and the influence of his natural endorphin, she didn’t make a peep as he gnawed into her throat, gulping down the life her heart was pumping into him one swallow after another. Her hand slipped away from his body just as the strength left her legs. 

    Letting her down gently onto the urine-soaked concrete, he rushed to the slumbering man faster than the human eye could make sense of. Sharp teeth sank into the man’s throat, piercing through the skin so violently that Scott’s teeth rested deeply against his trachea. He had decided as soon as he entered the alley that this one was going to be violent, and violent it was. Crunching down, he destroyed the windpipe before the vagrant could even make a sound. He drank his fill, but couldn’t finish it all. Two full bodies were just too much, but he wanted to be gorged for his date so that he looked and felt as human as possible. And he had succeeded.

    Scott sighed in ecstasy. 

    This was so much better than drinking blood from glasses and out of bags. 

    The control. 

    He had control over life. Whether it departed slowly and with pleasure, or in a nightmare of pain and agony, it was his choice to make. He was half tempted to hit another address just to feel the rush again, but it was getting close to when Madeline would call and he needed to get back to the hotel to get cleaned up. 

    Pulling his hood up tight over his head, he left the alley and waited until he was a few blocks away before he called Cole. 

    “Two at the first address,” he informed. “Wasn’t clear enough to relocate them.”

    “Understood,” Cole responded. “I have cleanup in route.”

    “Heading back, I’ll be home in a few.”

    As Scott ended the call, he looked down at his hand. It was warm and supple and had a healthy color to it. Smiling, he tucked his phone back into his pocket and made his way back.

     

    --------------------------------------------------


    Madeline had arrived at the Sheraton by cab before calling Scott on her cell phone, for the simple reason that she didn’t want to give him even an inkling of what direction Levi’s safe house was in. Taking a comfortable seat in the luxurious lobby, she dialed his number and waited.

    “Hello love,” he answered, again with the slight accent that made his voice charming, and without so much as a pause to confirm it was her. 

    Madeline giggled.

    “I’m downstairs in the lobby,” she said biting her lower lip to suppress her grin. 

    “I’ll be right down.”

    He checked himself in the mirror before leaving the main bedroom of the hotel suite. He chose to wear black skinny-jeans with silver and black converse shoes. A navy blue, long-sleeved, button-up shirt fit loosely around his upper body, fashionably untucked. His silvery-white hair was wavy and full of body. He looked like a punk with a gentleman’s face. 

    Whistling happily to himself, he grabbed his keycard, slipped it into his wallet, and exited the suite, taking the elevator to the lobby below. As the doors opened to the ground floor, he was still pleasantly whistling, brown eyes scanning the room for his red-headed date.

    The first thing his eyes locked on were her long legs as they uncrossed and she rose from her chair, sauntering over to him in strappy heels. She was wearing a short black skirt which hugged her hips, and a loosely knit beige sweater which offered a peek at the tight black crop top underneath. Her long, beautiful red hair was loosely braided over her left shoulder, a single silver clip pinned as decoration, sparkling against the auburn backdrop. Draped over her arm was a long, green, knit coat to shield her from the cold outside.

    “Well, damn,” Scott grinned, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking illicit thoughts right now. You look stunning.”

    “Thank you,” Madeline blushed. 

    She noticed his skin was warm, and his hands were soft, compared to the last time she had touched him. For all intensive purposes, he looked and felt perfectly human. 

    “I like the look,” she complimented. She’d seen him in a Vegas-style suit that was over-the-top, a casual hoodie and jeans, and now this. It fit him well, and the tight jeans were…

    She caught herself blushing again. 

    “Let’s blow this place,” Scott said, holding her hand in his. “I’m excited to see what you have in store for me.”

    “Are you now?” Madeline teased, leading the way. 

    They settled on a small bar a few miles away by cab. It had a warm and darkly romantic interior, served food and drinks, and had its own cozy dance floor for those so inclined. Madeline and Scott took a couple of lounge chairs at a square table near the red-bricked corner of the bar. After ordering a couple of drinks and some appetizers for Madeline, Scott noticed Madeline was occasionally staring off into space, distracted by something or other.

    “You look a bit upset,” he said after their drinks arrived, noticing her faraway look as she took a sip of her white russian. “Something happen?”

    “No,” she lied, smiling sheepishly while looking down at the ice cubes in her glass. “Sorry. I was just zoned out. Enjoying the relaxing atmosphere. So how have you been?”

    “Good, good,” he replied. “Rather happy I am not hanging out with Cole’s boring business partners. Thanks for saving me.”

    “Saving you?” Madeline joked. “You seem pretty much in control of your own destiny.”

    “You could say that. Speaking of which, are you still indebted to that shapeshifter?”

    “Yep. I don’t see myself getting out of that agreement any time soon.”

    “My offer still stands,” Scott said, pretending to drink out of the cocktail he ordered. “That is if you can handle the intense excitement that is international business consultation.”

    Madeline laughed at his comment and then felt her phone vibrate.

    “Excuse me,” she said as she removed it from her clutch purse and took a look at who was texting her. 

    It was Levi asking her where she was, so she quickly messaged him back.

    On a date. Go away.

    Ignoring the next vibration, she put the phone back into her purse.

    “Who was that?”

    “Just my mentor checking in with me,” she replied, faking a smile. 

    “Checking in with you, or checking up on you?” Scott questioned, purposely drawing an example of the action.

    “Checking up on me, actually,” Madeline revealed. “I didn’t tell him where I was going, so he’s kind of concerned.”

    “Pardon me, but he sounds like he has control issues.”

    Madeline was about to snap back but realized that from Scott’s point of view it would definitely appear that way. Best to let him keep that observation. It was better than him knowing that she needed protecting.

    She could feel her phone vibrate again, and ignored it.

    As they talked, Madeline was careful to only have one drink. She didn’t want anything clouding her judgment, and she didn’t want to look like a fool in front of Scott. 

    As they passed the hours talking, she learned that he was actually somewhat of a spoiled rich kid growing up in California, which allowed him to get into all sorts of trouble. He partied a bit too much, which led him to get in deep with the wrong people. So deep, in fact, that he was basically on the verge of being pimped out to old rich women.

    “And I was being pressured so much, I was actually going to do it,” Scott admitted, sinking back into the chair. “Me and my big shit ego. I was gonna bang every bird they set me up with until they couldn’t walk anymore more. Then I ran into Cole at a party thrown by one of my dad’s business associates.”

    Scott reached into his front shirt pocket and retrieved a black and silver e-cig. Taking a drag, the vapor he exhaled smelled strongly of caramel. Madeline was a bit surprised that he smoked.

    “It’s mostly water vapor,” Scott elaborated. “Keeps my insides from drying too quickly. And tobacco was a habit of mine before my new life, so it’s a bit comforting as well. But that’s my story. If it wasn’t for this life, I’m fairly certain I’d have been dead by now.”

    “Wow, that’s quite the story,” Madeline went back to the conversation beforehand, nibbling on a queso. “My younger days were nowhere near as exciting as that. The most trouble I ever got into, besides running off at the mouth, was getting caught having sex in the kitchen by my boyfriend’s roommate.”

    “The kitchen, eh?” Scott grinned with interest. 

    “On the island. It’s not as comfortable as they make it look in the movies.”

    “The movies?” Scott said nearly choking on his vapor. “What sort of movies do you normally watch?”

    “I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell that out for you,” Madeline responded with a hint of attitude. 

    “Still, you must have looked fantastic…”

    Madeline felt her pulse quicken by the hungry look Scott was giving her. It had been a long time since she’d slept with anyone, and even though she allowed herself many dirty thoughts revolving around Levi, that relationship was never going to happen. She wouldn’t be anything more than a toy to him. Scott, on the other hand, was obviously interested, and attractive. And she was an adult. She didn’t need permission from anyone if she decided to pursue this.

    “I’m sure you’d like to know,” she continued to tease.

    “You got that right,” Scott chuckled seductively.

    Leaning forward, he brushed his fingertips through a lock of her hair and tucked it behind her ear. Close enough to kiss her neck, he whispered softly.

    “I have a very big tub at the hotel. Care to get it wet with me? Unless you prefer the kitchen...”

    They spent the ten-minute taxi ride back to the Sheraton in sexually charged silence, both fully aware of what was going to happen once they got there. As they exited the backseat of the cab, Scott took his cell phone out of his shirt pocket and messaged Cole.

    “Letting Cole know not to come back too early,” Scott said as he pecked away with both his thumbs. 

    This gave Madeline the chance to glance down at the messages Levi had left.

    One read - Don’t care. Just let me know where you are.  And the other - I need to know where you are!

    Don’t care.

    The words stung. 

    But before she could dwell about it any longer, Scott had grabbed her hand and led her through the lobby and up to the business suite. As he locked the door behind them, they kissed passionately all the way to the master bedroom, removing articles of clothing along the way. Fumbling for the faucet, he started to run some hot water into the large tub.

    “You weren’t kidding,” Madeline commented on its size. “That can fit at least four people!”

    “And in a business suite, right?” Scott laughed. “Who would have thought?”

    Wiggling out of her skirt and panties, Madeline began to step into the tub under Scott’s eager gaze. Taking his eyes off her alluring body, he commented purposefully on the only thing left gracing her skin. Her necklace.

    “Don’t you want to take that off too?” he inquired. “It’s bound to get wet.”

    Curling her fingers around the pendant thoughtfully, Madeline hesitated. 

    “I don’t normally take it off,” she said in a melancholy voice that was out of place with the sexually charged atmosphere of the spacious bathroom. “When I wear it, I feel close to my mom.”

    “I don’t think you want your mom to see what we’re gonna do, love,” Scott said, voice deep and full of impending naughtiness. “Besides, it will be safe on the counter there. You can see it from the tub.”

    Hesitantly, Madeline reached up with both hands and unlatched the chain at the back of her neck. Taking a few steps away from the tub, she heard Scott slip into the water behind her as she carefully laid the necklace down on the marble countertop. Scott watched with the utmost interest as her fingers pulled away from the silver chain. 

    And the necklace disappeared.

    His eyes widened in shock just as she turned around, so he was able to mask his expression as if it was arousal from taking in the full view of her naked body, which would have been no lie. He casually checked her neck again to make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. The necklace wasn’t around her neck, and he didn’t see it on the counter. It was simply gone, or hidden from sight. 

    As Madeline stepped into the clear water, he tested her.

    “See, it’s not very far. You can see it from here,” he said, glancing over and pretending to see it.

    “Yep,” Madeline replied as she looked over at the necklace, resting safely on the marble counter. “Sorry about that. It’s just very precious to me.”

    “No worries, love,” Scott said, tugging gently at her legs so that she straddled him in the water before locking lips passionately.

    “Did I mention I have never been with a more beautiful woman?” Scott whispered truthfully as their kisses grew more and more desperate. “Now let's make a mess.”


    ------------------------------------------------------


    Late the next morning, Madeline arrived back at the safehouse. She lazily pressed her index finger against the door lock, tapped in the code, and the lock clicked open. She did nothing to hide or downplay her arrival but was surprised to see Caslon sitting on the sofa looking scruffy and unshaven in his real pajamas, while Levi stood cross-armed in the center of the living room, fully dressed and clearly unhappy.

    “Guys?” Madeline acknowledged suspiciously, looking from Levi, then to Caslon, then back to Levi again. “Why is Caslon here?”

    “I have the best sense of smell,” Caslon grumbled helplessly.

    “Sit,” Levi ordered.

    Quietly, she took a seat next to Caslon.

    “Can I go back to bed now?” Caslon begged, rubbing his eyes, his face betraying the fact he’d been up most of the night against his will.

    “No.”

    Caslon exhaled in frustration, exhausted.

    Levi inhaled sharply in Madeline’s direction. He picked up the scent of a cheap cologne which jogged a memory from the last Halloween party, as well as sexual fluids and the disgusting aroma of rot. 

    Scott.

    “First off,” Levi began, “I can’t protect you if I don’t know where you are. Do you not want me to keep an eye on you? What were you thinking? It was like you were purposely ignoring me as if I’d wronged you in some way.”

    Looking down in guilt, Madeline knew he was right about that.

    “Secondly, and I am only going to say this once, sleeping with a vampire is a horrible idea. Given Scott’s age and inexperience, it’s not going to turn out well. I really don’t care who you go out with, it’s none of my business, but there are some species that you, as a human, should not get involved with for your own safety. You do remember what I told you about their ability to excrete pheromones that stimulate your endorphins, right? You can’t trust your attraction because it could simply be a trick. Are you in love with him or something?”

    Madeline paused to think. 

    “I guess not,” Levi continued. “A wise woman once told me a long time ago that if you can’t answer that question with a resounding ‘yes’, then you aren’t. I would have preferred you slept with Caslon because I can guarantee he wouldn’t lose his mind and kill you.”

    “I'm still here you know,” Caslon responded, head in his hands as if he was trying to sleep while sitting up.

    “Scott won't kill me,” Madeline whispered in his defense.

    Levi let his arms drop to his sides.

    “How do you know?” He questioned, voice not angry now, but sincere. “I guarantee he doesn’t even know that. How did you end up running into him anyway?”

    “My last package delivery today was for his sire, Rupert Cole,” Madeline replied. “Scott was there to pick it up.”

    “And you don’t find that just a little suspicious?”

    “They are here for a business conference. I confirmed that and Mr. Cole is even on the list of speakers. And I want you to know I took three separate taxis to get back here. That’s why it took so long. I was being careful.”

    “Good work. At least you verified facts, and took precautions as you’ve been trained to do,” Levi said in a half-hearted compliment. “But that doesn’t change the fact that you might have been baited.”

    He paused, letting the situation and facts sink in for a moment.

    “Listen,” he said, letting his voice soften. “I’m not going to forbid you, or anything like that. Like I said, it’s not my business, but be extremely careful. Always let someone know where you are. Give me your phone…”

    Madeline reached into her purse and handed Levi her cell phone, which he tossed to Caslon.

    “Put your number in there, and Tiff’s,” he instructed the sleepy pantherinea.

    “You don’t have to call me,” Levi continued, now speaking to Madeline once again, “But call somebody. Always be prepared with an escape plan. Hopefully, for your sake, it will never be needed. If you don’t follow my advice, I’m not going to waste my time tracking you down to keep tabs on you. If you don’t care, and plan on ignoring my advice, then I guess I am done here. I’ll keep being your teacher, but as far as being your guardian, that will come to an end. I’m not going to have your back if you don’t follow my instructions.”

    Levi kept glancing at Caslon, who was taking far too long to tap in a couple of phone numbers.  Not to mention he was suddenly grinning devilishly.

    “What is taking you so long?” Levi rushed him. “I know you’re tired, but c’mon.”

    “All done,” Caslon smiled innocently, handing the phone back to Madeline.

    “Thank you,” she replied to Caslon, slipping her phone back into her purse.

    “Now go get washed up. We have work to do today,” Levi said to Madeline.

     

    ------------------------------------------------------


    “I swear to you when she let it go it disappeared, but she still saw it,” Scott reported to Cole. “It was the strangest fucking thing I have ever seen in my life.”

    Cole sat comfortably on the sofa in the suite’s living room, analyzing Scott’s every word. Tall and regal, he was dressed in a black business suit, one leg crossed casually over the other as he thought about what the necklace disappearing meant. Reaching up, he scratched his well-groomed gray beard, which matched his short, professional haircut. 

    “Did you try to touch it while it was on the counter?” Cole asked. The elder gentleman vampire was deep in thought, brown eyes never resting on Scott while he gathered information to pass onto Gideon.

    “How the fuck could I? I couldn’t even see the bloody thing. Not to mention my hands were sort of busy,” he grinned proudly. “But this morning before she left she was wearing it again. She did mention it was precious to her. It reminds her of her mom.”

    “I will report this to Gideon, but I need you to arrange another sleepover with her.”

    “So soon? That’s going to make it seem like I’m only after one thing,” Scott commented.

    “Understood. Let me consult with Gideon and see what he thinks. In the meantime, I suppose you could back off on the physical contact, let her know you are someone she can trust. Build that part of the relationship. The original part of the plan was to be her prince. Her knight. Continue establishing that.”

    “Of course.”

     

    ------------------------------------------------------


    It took Madeline a few hours to get herself cleaned up and have a healthy breakfast before she met up with Levi in his office. Caslon had been dismissed, and even though she didn’t know him that well, she felt sorry that Levi had forced him to wait up on her account. Perhaps she should have replied after all and not been so stubborn.

    As expected, Levi was sitting at his desk when she came upstairs, checking emails.

    “You’re coming with me on my job tonight,” he said, not looking up at her at first. “It involves some breaking-and-entering, and I want to see you work.”

    “I take it it’s local?” Madeline asked.

    “Yep, which makes it the perfect opportunity. Like on-the-job evaluation.”

    “I can’t wait,” she replied, the happiness clear in her voice. “I’ll start getting my gear in order. What time will we be leaving?”

    “Midnight should be good. It’s going to take us about forty-five minutes to get there on my bike.”

    On his bike. Both of them. It made sense that Madeline wasn’t going to travel on her own. Less conspicuous that way. But after all that happened yesterday, that arrangement felt more than awkward to her the more she thought about it. Taking a deep breath, she built the courage to ask an important question.

    “Did your friend leave?”

    “If you mean Aya and not Caslon, yes. She left last night,” Levi responded truthfully. “She never hangs around here for too long.”

    “I’m guessing all those clothes in your closet...:”

    “They belong to her.”

    “I see.”

    A slow, mischievous smile spread from one corner of Levi’s lips to the other. He knew what this was about now. Madeline was jealous.

    “As cute as you look getting all worked up about Aya, you need to focus on this job tonight,” he smiled. “I’ve already cased the place. You can check out my findings here…”

    He slid a file folder across the desk towards her containing external pictures and a floorplan of the building. Madeline picked it up and took a seat in the chair across from his desk. The description was relatively straightforward.

    “A blackmail bait and switch?” she questioned, taking a look at the building blueprints.

    “Yep, the client has been blackmailed into giving up a piece of Egyptian pottery that’s been in their family for over a millennium. They actually supplied a fake to use as the replacement. We just need to break in and switch them. You’ll be on locks.”

    “Okay,” Madeline smiled, setting the file back down on his desk as she rose. 

    Levi could tell by her scent that she was longing for midnight to arrive so she could get to the job site and start working. Smiling behind her back as she left his office, he was pleased that although she was pretty much cornered into it, she was a good fit for his line of work.

    Back in her bedroom, she proceeded to remove some gear from the biometric-locked trunk in her bedroom closet. As she carried a couple of small soft-sided cases to her bed, she could hear her phone going off from within her purse. Suspicious as to who could be calling her, she let it go to her voicemail rather than answering it outright. When she checked it, she was surprised to see it was Scott.

    Sitting on her bed, she called him back.

    “Hey, I was just wondering if you wanted to go hit some tourist traps on the waterfront this evening,” he asked, sounding as cheerful as ever.

    “Normally I would, but I have to work tonight,” Madeline replied apologetically.

    “Well, I could meet up with you after,” Scott pressed. “Just dinner, nothing physical. I don’t want to come across as a pushy pervert.”

    Madeline laughed out loud.

    “You aren’t,” she said smiling. “But this is going to be a late night thing, so I’ll have to take a raincheck.”

    “I take it something with your mentor? I understand. You have to do what he asks of you.”

    Madeline’s smile faded as his words sunk in. No, it wasn’t because she had to. She could say ‘no’ if she wanted to. But if she did, how would she better herself? How would she make herself valuable?

    “It’s not like that,” she corrected gently. “It’s my job. I have responsibilities.”

    “Okay, well then if you can give me a call tomorrow, maybe we can go hang out somewhere?”

    “That sounds like a plan,” she responded, voice pleasant again. “I’ll give you a call tomorrow.”

    Madeline spent the rest of the afternoon picking locks and hacking mock security systems in the loft next to the climbing wall. She really didn’t need to, but it was comforting to repeat the processes so much that she barely had to think about it. With that down, she could concentrate more on surroundings and being cautious of any changing conditions. 

    After making Levi and herself a light dinner of roasted chicken and steamed vegetables, the pair suited up and took Levi’s motorcycle down the freight elevator and out to the street below. Donning her helmet, she stepped her foot onto the peg and swung her opposite leg over, resting comfortably on the passenger seat. Wrapping her arms around Levi, he confirmed the wireless comms in the motorcycle helmets were paired, and then the two rolled out into the night.

    About five minutes into the drive, Madeline decided to ask a question that first popped into her mind yesterday.

    “So let’s assume I was thinking about moving out,” she started, “How would that work?”

    “My first response would be why?” Levi questioned calmly, voice coming in clearly through her earpiece.

    “I’m sure I don’t make it easy for you to have women over, and if I want to have someone over, I certainly wouldn’t bring them to your place because it defeats the purpose of having a ‘safe house.’“

    “You could do what Caslon does. Stay in the building, but do your own thing,” Levi suggested. “But even if you did that, you never want to bring anyone into your place. You could rent an apartment nearby too, but the risk of something happening to you goes up the farther away you get. Having normal friends over wouldn’t be an issue, because I am confident you could take care of yourself in those cases, but it’s people like Scott I would worry about if you had them over.”

    “Don’t take it the wrong way,” Madeline continued. “You have no idea how grateful I am for all you’ve done for me, and I will be in your debt forever, but I think I want to try to be a bit more independent. I think I want to see how living along again feels.”

    “Sure,” Levi replied as if it was nothing. “There’s a couple of buildings around town that are secure enough for what you’ll need. We can start calling about vacancies tomorrow if you want.”

    “O...Okay,” Madeline said, feeling that weird discomfort in the pit of her stomach again. She wasn’t prepared to take action so soon. Was her company so easily dismissed?

    “You okay?” Levi asked concerned, his voice ringing through the earpiece again.

    “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” Madeline lied.

    “Nothing really. You just sounded upset.”

    “Nah, I’m good. How much further?”

    “We’re about thirty minutes out.”

    “Cool.”

    As much as she was pained to admit, this was going to be for the best. If she worked up the courage to admit to herself she really liked Levi, the next natural step was to admit that it would be unrequited. Outside of the teasing he did to sate his own hunger, he’d shown no real interest in her. Given his dating patterns, if he was interested in her that way, he would have approached her about it by now. Being this close to him all the time was just going to make her miserable in the end. Seeing him with Aya… that just made her realize how much she cared about him. 

    They made small talk until they reached their destination, which Levi parked the bike in the shadow of an alleyway about two blocks away. Stepping away from the cycle, Madeline removed her helmet, letting her long red braid fall midway to her back. Storing her helmet in the compartment under her seat, she straightened out her gear and gave Levi a nod indicating she was ready to proceed. Carefully slinging the padded bag containing the duplicate artifact over his back, the pair made their way to the target, their dark clothing allowing them to remain cloaked in the night.

    As they approached the back of the warehouse, instead of moving towards the roll-up dock door, Levi silently pointed out a single metal door under an industrial light at the far corner of the building. Unlike the dock door which had a pair of state-of-the-art cameras monitoring it, the single metal door at the corner had only one, and it was an outdated model. When they were close enough, he handed Madeline a dime-sized pebble and pointed to the light bulb. 

    She judged the distance. 

    She had this.

    Feeling the weight of the rock in her palm, she bounced it a few times see how well it rolled. Satisfied she could do this, she felt Levi shift next to her crossing his arms as he waited patiently. Bring her arm back much the same way she learned how to do with the throwing stars, she whipped her hand and fingers in unison and released the stone, letting it bullet toward the light.

    The impact was precise, and the bulb shattered and went dark.

    Quietly, they approached the door from the shadows.

    Levi removed a thin, six-inch square of rubber from a zippered pocket on his pant leg, and used it to carefully remove the broken bulb from its fixture. He then reached into the small shoulder bag he was carrying and brought out another bulb of the same kind. Screwing it in, it stayed dark and would give the building owners the impression that it simply burned out. While Madeline scattered all signs of the broken bulb glass, Levi took out a small datapad and accessed the warehouse’s online security monitoring site. He’d gotten into it a few days ago, covering his tracks by cloning a preexisting admin account. With a few taps, the alarm keypad on the other side of the door was deactivated. He signaled to Madeline with a pointing gesture at the door handle, and she removed her electric lockpick and got to work. 

    Within five seconds, and under the assessing gaze of her mentor, Madeline had the door unlocked despite the darkness.

    Placing a black-gloved hand on the knob, she gave it a twist and pulled it open about two inches. Inside was dark and quiet. Levi led the way in, having a keener sense of where they were headed. Without so much as the shuffle of a sole on the concrete, she followed him silently past aisles of metal shelves until he made a right turn down one of them. There was minimal light from a couple of industrial skylights two stories above them, but not enough for Madeline to even begin to clearly read the shelf markings. 

    Levi had no such issues.

    He navigated down the aisle until he found the tag number matching the artifact they were going to switch out. Giving the area around the small locked chest a casual sniff, he confirmed that the tag number he was given was correct by the scent of the pottery inside. Handing the bag to Madeline to hold, he expertly removed the lock on the chest, switched the original with the copy, and then locked the chest back up leaving the lock at the exact same angle he had found it. They exited the warehouse just as quietly as they entered, securing the door on the way out. After they were a safe distance away, Levi reactivated the digital door alarm with his tablet. 

    After carefully securing the artifact in the compartment of his motorcycle, the pair donned their helmets, mounted up and drove off. 

    “My little girl is all grown up!” Levi beamed cheerfully through Madeline’s headset, humorously mimicking a proud parent. “I’m impressed.”

    “Thanks,” she replied, feeling the warmth of pride. 

    “Are you hungry?” he asked.

    “A bit.”

    “I’m guessing you’re not tired either.”

    “Nope. I always get a rush from working.”

    Levi smiled.

    “I can order a pizza when we get back, then we can go over some of the apartment buildings nearby that would be a good fit for you. That is if you feel like it. We don’t have anything scheduled for tomorrow, so I plan on sleeping in.”

    “That sounds good,” Madeline agreed. 

    Her quick response to him actually felt like it tripped up her heart. Her mind knew it was the right thing to do. Otherwise, she’d be torturing herself by living with him, but her heart was quietly posing the question of “are you really going through with this?”.  

    Yes. She was. 

    She had too. 
     

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