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    Chapter Three: Where the Past Belongs


    Shinlocke

    Chapter Three
    Where the Past Belongs

    She awoke early the next morning to the sound of an unfamiliar alarm clock. Slowly Madeline stretched, coming to stare at the locked bedroom door. The scent of freshly brewed coffee from the kitchen permeated the air, its aroma clearing the fog of drowsiness from her head. Tossing aside a blanket she didn’t remember getting the night before, she crawled lazily out of bed and walked toward the dresser to grab some clothes Levi said he’d placed there days ago. Without giving her attire much thought, she grabbed underclothes, the pair of jeans, and a what happened to be one of her most comfy t-shirts. Bringing it to her nose to smell the comforting fragrance of her own laundry detergent, she wondered how he knew it was one of her favorites. Perhaps it was the fact that frequent wear had made the fibers softer than her other shirts, but it would have been ridiculous for him to consider such a trivial thing, wouldn’t it?

    Despite the bath last night, she felt like taking quick shower. Her eyes still felt puffy from all the crying, and she was hoping the water would help them look more refreshed. As she entered the bathroom, she recognized her own hairbrush on the sink counter, and quickly realized she didn’t have any makeup. Closing her eyes hopefully, she place her hand on the knob of the top drawer and decided to tempt fate by opening it. Low and behold, all her makeup, her toothbrush, and a few other toiletries were stacked neatly inside. He was definitely thorough, and the feeling of her violated privacy was giving way to one of gratefulness.

    She showered, got dressed, and was out of her room in about 30 minutes.

    When she exited, she found Levi dressed in jeans and a grey henley shirt, his bare feet propped up on the cocktail table, laptop on his lap.

    “I made coffee,” he said, eyes locked on the screen, which cast an electric light on his features in the dimness of the living room as he typed. “Thought we should take it with us. Rental car should be delivered in about 5 minutes.”

    Madeline looked through the kitchen cabinets and didn’t see any travel mugs.

    “Cabinets above the fridge,” Levi called out from the living room as if reading her mind.

    There she found a bag of disposable cups with lids, similar to the kind the popular coffee shops around town would serve their own brews in. Pulling out a set of two, she walked over to the coffee maker and stood there with a dilemma. She honestly didn’t know how he made the coffee as good as he did. 

    “I got it,” he said, appearing suddenly from over her shoulder and reaching for one of the stainless steel canisters that sat on the countertop.

    “Thanks.”

    Stealing a glance at his face while he twisted the top off of the container that held the imported chocolate powder, Madeline noticed Levi’s eyes were brown this morning.

    “Contacts,” he responded indifferent to her silent inquiry. “The less attention I bring to myself today, the better.”

    “So normal that it’s boring,” Madeline said, repeating his words from the night before. “Got it.”

    After adding the chocolate to the cups, Levi poured in some half and half, eyeballing the measurement.  After finishing with a pour of coffee and a quick stir, he popped the tops on the cups and handed one to Madeline. He then slipped a pair of black boots over his bare feet and they exited the condo, heading downstairs to the rental car that was idling out front of the building. 

    It took about 40 minutes to drive to her old apartment. Levi insisted they stop at a well-known bakery along the way to pick up some breakfast. She questioned as to why they just didn’t go through one of the dozen or so fast food drive-thrus instead, to which Levi wrinkled his nose, obviously disgusted by the suggestion. When they arrived at her old building, Levi parked right out front next to Madeline’s old Acura, and they approached her front door arm-in-arm. He removed something from his pocket and slipped it into the lock. Madeline didn’t see what it was, but the door opened right up as if with the actual key. They stepped through promptly and he shut the door behind them, locking it.

    “I know this is going to be quite a blow, so take your time, “ Levi said gently, releasing her arm.

    Every drawer and box in her living room was either pulled out or pulled apart, but nothing else appeared to be broken. Papers from her plastic file box were tossed all over the ivory carpet. They had definitely been looking for something specific. Levi immediately set down his half empty coffee cup and began to put the contents back into drawers and straighten up the living room. Madeline walked over to her small computer desk and began to file papers back where they belonged, and sorted her current bills into a separate pile. Looking around for her purse, it had been emptied out on the floor on top of some more of the papers, but nothing looked to be missing.

    Dropping down to her knees next to the coffee table, she was starting to feel numb, like everything around her was hazy and she wanted to wish it away like a bad dream. As she slowly placed the bills into her bulky black purse, and the began putting everything else back inside one thing at a time, Levi finished with what he was doing, walked around her, and headed down the hall toward her bedroom. 

    “The kitchen didn't look touched the night I came to pick up your things,” he shouted from down the hall, “You’ll want to double check that though.”

    Madeline nodded wordlessly, and finished packing her things back into her purse. In a daze, she stood up and walked into the kitchen. Levi was right, the kitchen looked the same as she had left it before she went to bed that night. Swinging her purse over her shoulder, she headed slowly down the short hallway to her room, steeling herself for what she was about to see. She remember how everything was thrown all over when they busted in. Her dresser drawers had been flung open and emptied, leaving clothes strewn everywhere. 

    She wasn’t expecting the sight that met her when she rounded the corner.

    “H.. how did you ..?”

    The room looked almost normal.

    Levi was leaning over one side of her bed with a handful of socks, picking up a few more before putting them back into her dresser. There were some clothes here and there, but nothing like it had been that night. For all intensive purposes, it looked like nothing had happened at all.

    “That should be good enough for the movers,” he said, standing up straight.

    “Thank you,” she whispered sincerely. She knew he must have done this for her benefit, and sent her to the kitchen as a distraction. 

    “Let’s just say I know what it feels like to be aggressively uprooted,” Levi responded.

    Madeline glanced over at her alarm clock and noticed it was about 9:30 am. They had 30 minutes until the movers were scheduled to arrive, if they were on-time. Levi instructed her to grab anything of importance that she wanted to take back to the loft, and keep it separated so they could personally pack it up and move it directly into her room. As she did that, he headed to the kitchen to start emptying out the fridge. With his sensitive nose, it wasn’t the most pleasant job, but it had to get done. Luckily, the place had only been vacant for about a week and a half, so nothing smelled overly foul. Everything from it went into a trash bag. 

    Next was the cabinets. There were some processed boxed foods that were far from expiring, but he couldn’t stomach bringing them to his place. They too went into the trash. 

    Outside, he could hear the sound of a large truck backing up in the parking lot. The moving company was early, which was okay because he and Madeline were practically done. Swinging the trash bag up and over his shoulder, Levi went out through the front door to welcome the movers. He explained they were going to hold a few boxes back for immediate use, and the rest was to be packed up and moved to the address he had provided them. He’d used these movers often, so he knew they could be trusted with the task at hand. He then set the trash bag down outside the front door before going back into the apartment to get Madeline. 

    She had stacked up all her favorite clothes on one pile on her bed, and in another pile were various things a human girl her age would have found precious; some stuffed animals from her childhood, birthday and Christmas cards from her grandma, old family photos, a few other knick knacks, and a handheld game console with cartridges.

    “Time to head over to the leasing office. You ready?”

    “Yeah, there wasn’t much I needed to box up. Just some mementos, and more clothes. I’m ready.”

    “But first,” Levi said reaching into his pocket, “You’ll need this…”

    Looking down to see what he was going to offer her, Madeline saw something sparkle in his palm. 

    It was a ring.

    Tentatively, she reached into the palm of his hand and picked it up. It looked like a real round-cut diamond set in silver.

    “It is real, and it should be your size,” Levi said, noticing how she was trying to assess the gem. “It’s yours to keep. Think of it as incentive to do a good job today, and your payment.”

    She didn’t know what to say. Other than her necklace, she didn’t own any expensive jewelry. Of course she realized it was mainly a prop, an engagement ring to flash to the leasing officer, but she didn’t care. It was gorgeous. Slipping it onto her left ring finger, she took Levi’s hand and they started to walk over to the office. His hand was soft and warm, and she let herself get sucked into the scripted fantasy, unaware that she was actually blushing.

    On the way over, she spotted one of her neighbors ogling Levi. Turning to face the woman, she smiled brightly and waved.

    “Friend?” Levi asked calmly while perfectly keeping up the romantic facade.

    “No, actually she’s a huge bitch.”

    Levi purposely increased the alluring sway in his step, strutting devilishly. Madeline continued to bounce happily along, still giving a wide smile while leaning her head on Levi’s shoulder and looking like she was in complete bliss. It was hard suppressing her joy at watching the neighbor’s jaw slowly drop.

    It was a short walk to the leasing office, and Levi held the front door open for her like a gentleman. The quaint bell tied to the door announced their entrance.

    “Can I help y… Oh Ms. McCaffery! Your mail was starting to pile up and I was about to get worried. And who is this?”

    The office manager, who was in her late 50s, approached them both, but clearly had eyes on Levi. She ran her hands over her navy blue polyester pantsuit as if to smooth out any impossible wrinkles, and then reached out to shake Levi’s hand.

    “This is my fiance,” Madeline replied cheerfully. “And the reason I haven’t been around lately.”

    “Fiance? Well congratulations dear!”

    The manager reached for Madeline’s left hand to appraise the ring. It apparently met to her satisfaction because she looked back up at Madeline beaming, as if Madeline had struck gold.

    “Thanks,” Madeline continued to blush. “Unfortunately, that also means I’ll be moving out. Today, in fact.”

    The look on the manager’s face soured immediately.

    “You do realize your lease is not up, right?” She questioned, furrowing her eyebrows.

    “Yes, we do,” Levi stepped in. “And we’re more than happy to pay the remainder in full. That lets you re-lease it right away, doesn’t it? Letting you profit the difference?”

    This brightened the woman’s expression.

    “Well then, have a seat and we’ll get started on the paperwork.”

    She led them to a large office with two plush chairs across from her desk.

    “You have movers here today?”

    “Yes,” Madeline replied. “We were hoping to do the walk-through today too, if that’s possible.”

    “Oh listen to you two,” the leasing manager smiled while typing away on her keyboard. “Already doing that whole ‘we’ thing. How long have you two been dating?”

    Now it was the question and answer period Levi warned her about. Even complete strangers, he said, got really chatty when someone announced they’ve gotten engaged, married, or had a baby. It never failed, he said. 

    “Five and a half months,” Madeline answered smiling. 

    Levi squeezed her hand. Was that suppose to be some sort of positive reinforcement for getting it right? She caught herself laughing at the ridiculous idea. The manager caught on, giving her a quizzical, but pleasant look. Madeline figured she should probably explain her out-of-place laughter.

    “Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about the day we met,” Madeline continued the charade. “We were at a coffee shop downtown and the barista got our orders mixed up. I mean, how does that even happen?”

    “Yeah, how does someone mix up Madeline with Yuuto?” Levi added smiling.

    “Your English is very good,” the manager complimented, her eyes dancing all over Levi, which caused Madeline to momentarily lose her newly engaged smile. 

    What the hell was that suppose to mean? Madeline thought. 

    Levi didn’t break his sparkling smile, not even for a minute.

    “So I have to ask,” The woman continued, her attention now directed to Madeline. “Where did he propose?”

    For a moment, Madeline was at a loss, but then she remembered the cryptic bit of info Levi gave her, calling it a ‘bonus question’.

    “The rooftop patio at the Hard Rock last night” Madeline answered.

    “So romantic!” the manager squealed as she reached for some papers coming out of the nearby laser printer.

    Not really, Madeline thought to herself.

    “If I could just get you to fill this out, we just need next mailing address and that sort of thing. And the remaining balance on the lease is $1400. You can pay by credit card if you like.”

    “That will be fine,” Levi responded, pulling out his wallet and handing the agent a card.

    “I’ll be right back after I run this,” the leasing agent said as she left the office room.

    “Your English is very good,” Madeline repeated under her breath, mimicking the woman’s voice unflatteringly. “What the fuck was that about? That was pretty rude.”

    “Some people seem to think all Asians just got off the boat,” Levi answered. “And it’s been going on like that for a very long time. Believe me.”

    “That’s no excuse for being rude,” Madeline grumbled quietly.

    “Yep, well nothing can really be done about it. At least you have the sense to know you can’t apply generalizations to whole groups of people. You can’t do that to whole species either. Remember that,” he lectured, booping her on the nose

    Trying not to be phased by the cute gesture, she nodded, taking what he said to heart.

    Levi grabbed the few pages of paperwork from Madeline and started filling out the forwarding address and contact number, which was to one of the pay-as-you-go cell phones he kept rotating through for mundane contacts such as this. Sliding it back to her, he offered her the pen so she could sign at the bottom.

    “Well then, I think we’re all set,” the office manager returned and handed Levi back his card. “Just come back when the movers are done and we’ll do the final walk-through and I’ll get you a copy of the paperwork. Oh and congratulations again you two!”

    “Thank you,” Madeline and Levi said, nearly in unison, as they stood and headed out of the leasing office.

    The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. After moving her two boxes worth of important items directly into the rental car, she basically sat around and watched the movers box up her stuff and load it into the truck. Levi left in the rental car for a little bit, and returned with some burgers and fries for lunch.

    “I thought you hated fast-food?” she asked, eyeing the bags.

    “I do. However, this is not fast-food. This is grilled to order, 100% beef patties and all locally grown vegetables on fresh baked rolls,” he boasted, handing her a bag and a bottle of water. 

    They ate mostly in silence, watching the movers. Levi let Madeline know there would be a tow truck coming in about an hour to take her car to a acquaintance of his that owned a dealership. After it sold, she’d get the money. He informed her that whether she liked it or not, her next vehicle was going to be a motorcycle. And if she ever needed a car for whatever reason, she would just rent one or hire a taxi.

    After what seemed like forever, her belongings were all packed up around 3 p.m. Levi reconfirmed the address downtown with the movers before letting them drive off, then the pair headed back to the office to get the manager. The apartment was in good shape, it just needed a cleaning before it could be rented out again. The manager kept the deposit of course, but at that point Madeline just wanted out. She thanked the manager for her understanding, and the two drove home. 

    By the time they arrived back at the Levi’s place, the movers were just about finished unloading Madeline’s boxes into the freight elevator, under the watchful orchestration of Caslon. Levi parked the rental car out front and grabbed the heavier of Madeline’s two boxes. He walked into the elevator just as the last of the boxes were rolled in on the dolly. Instructing the movers to take the furniture to the nearest charity, he paid them extra for the service. Madeline wasn’t going to need it anymore, and the movers were more than happy to oblige with the money they were given. As Madeline, Levi, and Caslon entered the freight elevator and headed up to the seventh floor, Madeline leaned her head back against the rough wall, letting the weight of the box she was carrying stretch her arms out a bit.

    “For not really doing anything all day,” she sighed, “I really feel exhausted.”

    “Moving will do that to you,” Levi said, as the elevator reached their floor.

    Pressing the stop button, the three of them began to move the boxes out of the elevator and into the corner of the loft, taking the two boxes containing Madeline's more precious items to her room.

    “I appreciate the help, Caslon,” Madeline said as she watched him set the final box down atop a neat stack of four others. 

    “It was my pleasure,” he responded with a swanky smile and elegant bow. “You can never have too many friends, ma mie. Remember that.”

    “You staying for pizza?” Levi asked, as the trio walked from the loft to the kitchen.

    “Unfortunately not,” Caslon said looking at his watch. “I have to pick up Tiff from the airport, and then we were going to… go out. Brother and sister time. Can’t be helped.”

    “Did you want me to save you a large empty cardboard box for your apartment then?” Levi taunted Caslon, a playful smile on his lips. 

    Caslon looked puzzled for a moment, but then it dawned on him what Levi was getting at, and his eyes narrowed. He was not amused.

    “No, thank you,” he said in an icy tone.

    “Some other time then,” Levi laughed as he politely walked Caslon to the door and locked it behind him after he left.

    “Now then,” he turned back to Madeline with a very wicked grin on his face, enticing her to follow him into the living room. “I need to call the rental car in so they can come pick it up, and then I'm going to change the tone of the day so it ends on a happier note. Wait right here.”

    “Okay…?” Madeline replied with an uncomfortable smile as she sat on the couch. 

    Levi momentarily left the room, returning a couple of minutes later to present her with a brand new laptop and cell phone. 

    “This will be replacing that outdated computer we brought over from your apartment,” he informed. “We’ll boot up your other computer later and transfer anything of importance off of it. Any programs that tracked your IP address are unfortunately not going to be accessible any longer.  This afternoon, I want you to use this laptop to access all your accounts, pay off any balances due, and then close them all. I’ll have you use the same card I used to pay off your rent, so let me know when you need it.”

    “Do you have any numbers on your cell phone you can’t live without?” He continued.

    “No, but I do have some important pictures, and couple of saved voicemails from my grandmother,” Madeline said, her voice ringing with nervous hope that Levi would be able to salvage them.

    “Not a problem. I’ll even make a copy of them on my server in case you ever lose them. Just bring me your phone and I’ll transfer that over for you.”

    Madeline nodded quickly, appreciatively, and then went off to her room to grab her purse. When she returned to the living room, she dug around and grabbed her cell phone and handed it to Levi. He took the phone she handed him, and the new one he was going to pass off to her, and left the room. While he was gone, she booted up the laptop and began to log into each of her utility accounts one by one, paying off any balances from the bills she had stuffed in her purse, and closing the accounts. After which, she accessed her only credit card and paid that off too. Her car was already paid off with the extra money she got when she had to sell grandma’s house, so that was one less thing to do. She played a few online games, so she logged into the billing sites for those and cancelled her accounts. Oddly enough, cancelling those brought her a strange sense of sadness. She was anonymous online, so whenever she had a bad day at work, or things were just going wrong at times in her life, she was able to log in and escape for a while. 

    And now she lost that. 

    Returning a few minutes later, Levi handed her back her new phone and explained he would go over how communication would work between them from now on, only he would do it tomorrow. The rest of the evening was to be dedicated to being lazy and unwinding. Levi explained he was going to shower, put on some comfy clothes, and then watch some DVDs. Later, he added, he’d order some pizza. As he headed toward his room, Madeline figured she’d head to hers and unpack the few boxes she singled out. She folded her clothes neatly away in the dresser, setting out a nightshirt and a pair of shorts on the bed to change into. In the bottom of the second box, she grabbed her hand-held game console and walked back into the living room to find Levi already watching some Japanese series that had heroes in armor fighting monsters.

    "What on earth are you watching?" she asked with a smile as she rounded the couch and sat down.

    "Don’t judge,” Levi warned playfully, eyes back to their natural emerald green. “This is one of the few things I enjoy, something that reminds me the world isn’t all crap and hatred.”

    “Sort of like a guilty pleasure?” Madeline asked as she tucked her feet up and got comfortable.

    “I suppose,” Levi admitted, “But it’s more than that. If there’s one important piece of advice I can give, it’s not to let go of things that bring you true joy. The journey I’ve made, hell the journey everyone I know has made, has been unforgiving and agonizing. You need to have a light. A reason. Something that you can say ‘fuck this shit’ and escape to for a while. Something that while it might not center you, at least gets you a good deal out of the darkness. This is one of those things for me. It’s not going to win any awards, and it doesn’t take itself seriously, which suits me just fine.”

    Madeline was going to make a smart-ass remark, but seeing the serious look on his face as he turned back to the television, she couldn’t bring herself to utter a word of it. Not to mention she was holding onto a hand-held game, about to continue play on an otome visual novel. Perhaps that was her guilty pleasure.

    They spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the sofa together, him watching tv while she played her game. Every once and awhile he would laugh out loud, causing her to look up from her screen, and he would explain something that had just happened on his show. After an hour or so, he let her know he was going to order the pizza.

    "What do you like to drink?" he asked, "I have water, sake, and tea, but I can ask them to pick up something on the way here. Fresh fruit juice? Wine? That disgusting beverage your kind calls 'soda'?"

    Madeline couldn't help but laugh at his last remark.

    "Wine would be great, thanks," she replied, still smiling.

    Grabbing his phone from the table, he walked off to another room to make the call. She wondered why he needed to leave the room to order something trivial like a pizza, but she couldn't blame him. He had every reason to remain guarded. After a bit longer than a simple phone order should take, Levi returned to the living room and sunk back down into his sofa, hold a porcelain cup of something, and looking a lot more cheerful than he had fifteen minutes ago. 

    "Because I am in such a good mood," he began, letting slip a flirty smile, "I'm going to let you ask me some questions. I know you want to."

    "Seriously?" Madeline's eyes brightened.

    “But we’re going to play it like a game,” he continued mischievously. “The rules are, any question I consider too personal, I don’t have to answer. You’ll have to use your own judgement and perception to know what you shouldn’t ask. If you ask three questions I decline to answer, the game is over.”

    “And in return?” Madeline knew there would be some sort of a catch.

    “I ask you a question you must answer truthfully. You can’t refuse to answer.”

    She always hated games like Truth or Dare, so it took her a few moments to decide if it was really worth it. How much about her life was really that embarrassing, compared to answers she might be able to get out of him?”

    “If I ask a question you don’t answer, do you still get to ask me a question?” 

    “No,” he clarified, still smiling from ear to ear.

    “And I go first?”

    “Yes.”

    Madeline saved her game progress, and set the console down on the couch. Thinking carefully, she knew that if she asked him what he was straight up, he definitely wasn’t going to answer, but perhaps there was a way to get a little bit of an answer.

    “Okay, my first question,” she said as Levi rested his arm languidly on the armrest and got comfortable with his cup of sake. “Would you be considered cute and fluffy, or a dark and scary type of non-human?”

    Levi laughed out loud.

    “I could be considered both I suppose,” he responded with a smile, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’re so straight to the point.” His green eyes twinkling with mischief, Levi stared at her with his impish grin. “Now my turn. What part of the male body do you find most attractive?”

    He could sense a honeyed aura start to emanate from her body as she looked quickly away and started to think about his question. There was that desire again, sweet and pure. His questions were frivolous, used to groom her for his purposes. And it was working. His grin widened.

    “Mmm, well…” She stuttered, still not looking him in the eyes. It was hard to pick just one thing she found attractive. “That’s a really difficult question to answer. The face is obviously most important. But… second to that would be…”

    “Let me rephrase that then,” Levi interjected, taking his tease further, “If I were to slowly trace a single fingertip over my body, which part would turn you on the most?”

    Madeline stopped breathing momentarily as she locked eyes on him, as his query played out in her mind. Her desire flared up nicely, now that she was being forced to look at him. Most satisfying. 

    “Your neck,” she answered breathlessly.

    “See, easy,” he sighed as he crossed his long legs on the sofa. “Your turn.”

    She suddenly felt like she was playing a twisted game of chess. Taking a deep breath, she focused back on the roundabout questions she was going to ask him to get a clearer picture of what he was. As she went back over the list she had been compiling in her head prior to being derailed by his sensually charged question, she remember the next one she had planned to ask and wasn’t sure if it was over the line or not, but needed to know.

    “Have you ever killed anyone?”

    “Yes,” he responded quickly, a smug grin on his lips this time. “And on that note, would you?”

    “If I had no other choice, I suppose I’d have to. Have you killed humans and non-humans?”

    “Yes, though I prefer not to,” he replied, unfazed. “Would you sleep with someone to get a job done?”

    “I honestly don’t know. If they were attractive, I suppose I could. But not females. I don’t think any amount of money could make that worthwhile,” she said, revolted by the idea.

    She was going to ask him if he’d slept with someone to complete a job, but she was pretty sure she already knew the answer to that question. She moved on.

    “Do you have to kill to keep alive?”

    “You mean like a vampire?” he questioned, take another sip of sake. 

    “Yes, like that.”

    “No,” he chuckled. “I do not need to kill or hurt people for sustainuance. Quite the opposite actually.” He noticed she was about to ask something out of turn, and raised a single finger to shush her. “Do you know how to cook food from scratch?”

    “You mean like making noodles from scratch and things like that?”

    “Making things without artificial ingredients and preservatives,” He rephrased his question. “I don’t eat things like that. I just want to make sure that when you are cooking for me, you make things the way I like it, not just tossing together some pre-made boxed abomination.”

    “Yes, I can cook that way as long as you get me the ingredients and gave me the time to make it,” she said confident in her cooking skills. “So beside food, how do you survive?”

    “Bad question number one, try again,” he smiled, clearly having too much fun.

    “Then, are you dating anyone now?”

    “Seriously?” he leaned towards her, a bit shocked she would ask such a childish question, and then back against the sofa dramatically. “No. I am not. And I do not. There’s no point. How many men have you dated? And anyone before you were eighteen doesn’t count.”

    “Five, and why do you think there’s no point to it?”

    “Bad question number two, try again.”

    She had to be careful now. One more overstep and she was done.

    “Are you really going to help me, or are you just messing with me?” 

    “A little of both, to be honest,” he admitted, resting his arm back on the armrest of the sofa. “It’s a mutually beneficial situation. Are you really going to help me, or get cold feet and back out when it’s time to get your hands dirty?”

    “Oh, I’m in for the duration,” she promised stubbornly. “Would you kill me?”

    “As of right now, if given a good reason, yes,” Levi replied, smirking. “I don’t know enough about you to be able to trust you. Over time that could change, but right now, if I needed to, I could definitely kill you.  But enough of that doom and gloom, how well can you hold your liquor?”

    “Probably as well as the average person. I’ve never participated in any drinking contests. I’ve also never had a hangover.”

    “That doesn’t really say a lot,” Levi chuckled under his breath.

    “Do you have any family?”

    “Bad question number three,” he sighed, disappointed. “You really need to get better at this.” His voice dropped to a low, seductive purr. “Perhaps next time you’ll get farther with me.”

    With that, Levi stood gracefully from the sofa and walked briefly into the kitchen to pour himself some more sake. When he returned, Madeline’s excitement had cooled, and he stole a quick glance at his cell phone before sitting back down on the couch.

    “Besides the obvious, was there a point to all that?” Madeline asked, switching her game back on. 

    “Yes. There are going to be times you need to get  information out of someone, and the majority of the time you’re not going to want to be direct. You’ll want to get bits and pieces in such a way as to not arouse suspicion.”

    “But when I asked you if you’ve ever killed anyone,” Madeline responded, “That was pretty straight-forward.”

    “True, but what is intrusive to one person, might not be intrusive to another. For instance, I don’t care if you know that I’ve killed because it serves a purpose for me by giving you that information. By knowing I’ve killed, it makes you think twice about crossing me. That gives me power. However, if I was someone in a prominent position, or held a respectable title, that question would have made me nervous, had I killed someone. Knowing that would give you power. Understand?”

    Madeline nodded. His reasoning made complete sense when he put it that way.

    Reaching for the remote, he continued watching his tv series, and Madeline went back to playing her game. It wasn’t much longer until the pizza arrived along with a bottle of wine. Her eyes followed the motion of Levi’s hips into the kitchen while he divided up the margherita pizza and retrieved a glass for the wine. Taking their plates and her wine to the coffee table, Levi sat and began translating the series he was watching for Madeline, adding some witty lines that couldn’t possibly have been in the show, to see if Madeline caught on. 

    The rest of the evening comfortably unfolded, and Madeline found she was actually getting drawn into the odd series Levi was watching. Being in the company of an attractive and flirtatious  man certainly wasn’t normal for her, but it was definitely something should could get used to. The more wine she drank, the more she found herself giggling at just about every word he spoke. She was tipsy and knew it, but couldn’t stop smiling at his roguish grin. 

    “Well,” he said, as an episode came to an end, “Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow I’m going to start teaching you about everything that you’re likely to come across, and hopefully some things you never will.”

    Levi smiled, absorbing some of the desire the wine warmed up in Madeline. It replenished the energy he used throughout the day, causing him to be just as wide awake as when he’d gotten out of bed this morning. Having her around was going to be incredibly convenient. Feeling the need to be a gentleman, or maybe it was his renewed energy, Levi gathered up the plates and glasses from the table and brought them into the kitchen to rinse them off and set them in the washer. In the room behind him, he could heard Madeline stretch, gather her game, and head off into her room.

    “Goodnight!” she called cheerfully from around the corner.

    “Goodnight,” Levi replied quietly. It had been a long time indeed since he said goodnight to a woman that was not already in his bed. 

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