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  1. Earlier
  2. 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.
  3. Shinlocke

    Test Welcome

    This is a Test
  4. Chapter Two The Perfect Answer Warmth. She didn’t want to open her eyes and extinguish it. It took Madeline only moments to realize she wasn’t in her own bed. The plush pillow-top cradled her body, and its king size allowed her to sprawl out endlessly compared to the small twin bed she was used to at home. Soft sheets draped between her and the thick, but lightweight, duvet. Truth be told, she felt like a child who’d just been tucked into bed, back in the days when everything was right with the world. But that wasn’t reality. Bolting upright, her eyes adjusted to the light and she began to take in her surroundings. At first she couldn’t tell if it was a bedroom or a hotel room, everything was all so clean and the decor was perfectly coordinated in a warm palette of wood browns and wine reds. She glanced at the door. It was a plain, white wooden door with a common brushed nickel interior knob. Definitely a bedroom door. The soft light filtering in through the gauzy beige curtain announced it was daytime, perhaps midday. Meooooow… Startled by the sudden noise, Madeline yanked the covers up to her neck with both hands. It was at that point she realized she was naked under the sheets. Gone was the dirt and grease from the floor of the shipping container, and her whole body smelled of floral soap. Her long, paprika-red hair had been carefully brushed, and there were even a few meticulously placed bandaids on her sore feet. Did he do this? She began to feel very violated, and very angry. Cheeks burning red, she wondered how she’d managed to remain unconscious throughout the whole thing, blaming it on her exhaustion. What kind of a man does something like that? Instinctively, she reached up and wrapped her fingers around the oval pendant that hung from a silver chain around her neck. Given to her by her late grandmother, it used to belong to her mother. Madeline didn’t remember too much about her mother, who passed away when she was only four years old, but the pendant was her only momento. It was a harlequin black opal, and she only took it off to shower. She let out a sigh of relief, knowing she would have been devastated to find it missing. After a few moments of silent reflection, Madeline drew the courage to find out if she was alone or not. “Hello..?” Madeline called out timidly. The only response was the purring of the cat curled up next to her, and the sound of a shower running in the distance. “Hello…?!” She repeated, this time a bit louder and more confident. The cat stood, it’s paws sinking into the deep duvet, and leaned its body against her waist, eyes closed as it pushed its head demandingly against her to be petted. “You’re a friendly one,” she responded, raking her fingertips through the soft, black fur. Suddenly, Madeline’s stomach growled. So hungry. She glanced around the room again and noticed a simple, yet pretty, floral-patterned sundress draped over a clothes valet in the corner near the window. Her sundress. From her apartment. Apprehensively at first, she slipped off the king-size bed and then rushed towards the dress. Folded neatly underneath it were a bra and panties. Also taken from her apartment. She wasn’t sure whether or not she should be grateful or furious at this point. Getting dressed as quickly as possible, she walked to the bedroom door and placed her ear against it. The carpet was fluffy and thick, but even that didn’t ease the tenderness of her feet as she stood silently. Listening, she could still only hear the sound of running water. Hand lightly on the the doorknob, she looked down at the cat who was now seated on the floor to her left, flicking it’s tail and looking up at her as if she was crazy. Holding her breath, she cautiously turned the knob and opened the door toward her. Outside the bedroom, as to be expected, was a hallway. With every mindful step she took forward, she could feel the dull pain on the bottoms of her feet. Between the floor of the shipping container, and running over who knows what on the asphalt last night, she couldn’t say she was surprised. The black cat darted past her down the hallway, taking a sharp right. Following it, Madeline ended up in the kitchen. It was modern and spotless, with rich oak cabinets and stainless steel appliances. The hardwood floor further reminded her of her hurting feet, but she bared with it and pressed on. She felt a bit intrusive opening the refrigerator to look for something to eat, but she really was starving. Besides, whoever was here must have realized she would be famished. To her surprise, she found the refrigerator just about barren. There was a half a dozen eggs, a carton of orange juice, some ham, and a carton of half and half. Going through the cabinets and drawers, she found those pretty much empty as well. Luckily, she found some white dinnerware, a trio of glasses, a skillet, and some flatware. She managed to crack a few eggs into the skillet and cooked them along with some of meat she diced up. She was so focused on frying, stirring, and the delicious aroma rising up from the pan, that she didn’t noticed the figure that had sat himself casually on the onyx countertop at the other end of the kitchen. “You cook? Nice.” She nearly knocked the pan off the stovetop with her startled convulsion. The man who had rescued her last night sat with one leg propped up on the counter as he leaned against the backsplash, sipping from a nearly empty bottled water. He was wearing grey sweatpants and a white sleeveless t-shirt, and his black hair was still wet from being freshly shampooed. Madeline was surprised that his eyes were still the same shade of green as the night before. As odd as it seemed, perhaps they weren’t contact lenses after all. He appeared to be in his late 20’s, although there was something about the way he looked at her which made him seem older. “I’m sorry,” she managed to form the words after gathering her composure, “I was just really hungry. I didn’t mean to…” “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure they didn’t feed you well,” he said taking a final gulp from the plastic bottle. “And you’ve been out for almost two days.” Two days? She had thought it was just last night. Which meant that over the past week or so she’d been given maybe a dozen cold cheeseburgers. Some partially eaten. “Th...thank you.” She looked down at the pan once more, making a few final stirs before guiding it out onto the plate she had set on the counter next to the stove. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him hop off the countertop, toss the empty bottle into a recycling bin in the corner, and then slink over to the drawer right next to her. He had this very fluid way of moving that was both agile and a touch feminine. Her heart began pounding as he pulled the drawer open and took out a couple of forks. Handing one to her, he helped himself to a few bites of what she had just prepared. “You’re pretty good at whipping up stuff up, huh?” He asked after savoring the warm flavor of the eggs. “You don’t cook?” Madeline responded, trying to make conversation to steady her nerves. “Not at all.” “But you have food in the fridge. Things that can expire.” “Sometimes I have guests over,” he said, lowering his voice seductively, “They cook.” She began to tremble, and found herself suddenly backing away. She knew she was still emotionally fragile from her captivity, and this was... A deep chuckle rumbled in his throat. “Sorry, I’ve started this off all wrong, haven’t I?” He apologized with a disarming smile as he set his fork down on the counter and offered a simple bow. “My name is Leviticus, but you can call me Levi. I was generously hired to rescue you, Miss Madeline McCaffrey, from those fae.” “Fae?” She asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously. He couldn’t be serious. “As in fairies?” “Exactly that,” he replied, measuring her reaction. “Surely you noticed they couldn’t have possibly been normal people?” She nodded slowly. So that confirmed it. It wasn’t hallucinogens or anything of that nature. What she saw was real. He took a step forward, putting himself back into close proximity, and brushed his fingertips through her long red hair as if assessing it. “Normally I don’t retrieve living things, but in this case I’ve made an exception.” He could feel her pulse quicken at his unwanted contact, but it was not completely driven by fear. There was a considerable amount of desire interwoven with it, and he was rather surprised at its richness, despite the fact she was fighting to hold it back. It was like a dense, nectarous syrup, and he could only imagine how satisfying it would be at full fruition. Madeline backed away even further this time, feeling her hair tug from his grasp. He was too close. Who was this person and why was he being so forward? She took another small step backwards, stuttering through her next sentence. “Did you..? When I was asleep, did you…?” “Do anything inappropriate?” He responded calmly, finishing her sentence and letting his hand fall to rest casually on his hip. “No. I sponged the dirt off of you, took care of your cuts, and brushed out the knots in your hair. Couldn’t have you getting my guest bed all filthy. I also managed to bring over some of your things from your apartment, so you’d feel more at home.” She exhaled softly, relieved. “It takes a lot more than handling an unconscious, nude human body to get me excited.” The last remark did not go over well. He could see her expression start to sour, and returned it with a smirk, the same amused smirk he had given in the warehouse while watching her tenacity. Before responding to him with a smart-ass comment of her own, she reminded herself once again that she was still mentally and physically exhausted. She had just been told fairies were real, and there was still psychological damage undoubtedly making her vulnerable right now, as well as keeping her from thinking clearly. “So you… you retrieve things?” she said, desperately trying to change the subject. He walked over to one of the sleek, stainless steel canisters which sat on the counter and popped it open. The aroma of roasted coffee beans drifted through the kitchen. “Yes, and there are some things I need to explain to you, so do you mind if I make us some coffee? I know it’s the middle of the day and all, but I can’t seem to have scrambled eggs without having coffee.” “Sure,” Madeline replied. To be honest, coffee sounded perfect at the moment. He scooped the roasted beans directly into the grinder on the coffee maker, pressed a few buttons, and the small appliance whirred into action. Taking her lightly by the elbow, he guided her out of the kitchen in the direction opposite from which she entered, past the living room and out a sliding glass door to a balcony. It was a high-rise residential building in the city, and from her best guess, they were about six floors up. “Seven.” “Huh?” “We’re seven floors up,” Levi replied. “I could see you mentally counting them.” Fearlessly, he leaned back against the railing and noticed her apprehension. “Are you afraid of heights?” he asked her curiously, tilting his head a bit to the side. “Nope, just gravity” she replied. Her response brought a bright, gorgeous smile to his face. “Well, have a seat,” he grinned, motioning with a sweep of his hand to a small cafe table and chairs made out of teakwood. “I’ll go get us that coffee.” He went back inside through the open glass door leaving Madeline alone on the balcony. As she took a seat at the table, she gazed out at the city below and wondered just how many people out there were not what they appeared to be. And of those, how many have hurt people? How many had killed? How much of it was hidden, and for how long? Within a few minutes, Leviticus returned with two cups of hot coffee and the rest of the plated breakfast she had made. Cupping the warm mug in both hands, she took one sip. It was delicious. She could tell it had something to do with the chocolate. It definitely didn’t taste like the typical chocolate syrup used at all the corner coffee shops. It was smoother, richer, and more decadent. “This is really good.” Did she actually see a blush on his cheeks? He raised a hand to the back of his head and ruffled his hair. “Thanks.” Taking a deep breath, he weighed in his mind just how much to tell her. He had specific instructions on what to tell her, but knew that if she was the curious type, she would not be satisfied with just that. “As I was saying earlier,” he began, “I was hired to get you to safety. But before you ask, I can’t tell you by whom. It was part of the agreement, and I don’t break contracts. I retrieve property and return it to its rightful owner, working through a broker. If whomever hires me wants me to know who they are, I’m told through the broker. If not, I get the details of the job and make my own choice whether to accept it or not. I take on other types of jobs as well, as long as they don’t conflict with my personal interests, and I rarely, RARELY, work for humans.” “I take it you’re not human then?” “No. I’m not.” She suspected as much. A normal guy off the street wouldn't have been able to give modern-day fae such an ass-kicking. She was tempted to ask him what he was, but figured that might be a very rude question to ask, especially of someone she hardly knew. “So if you can’t tell me who hired you, can you tell me why I was taken in the first place? I keep going over it in my head and I can’t think of one single thing that would make me important enough to kidnap.” “Well, you’re definitely important enough to somebody that was affluent enough to hire me,” Leviticus responded casually. “I was told to get you to safety, and make sure you had that necklace on you. I can tell you that if they went to the trouble of hiring me, this is probably just the beginning of your problems.” “Great” she grumbled, removing one of her hands from the mug of coffee and absentmindedly reaching up to touch her pendant. Rolling it in her fingers, it glittered like a kaleidoscope in the afternoon sunlight. “Those were my explicit instructions. Anything I should know about the necklace?” “It was my mom’s,” her voice became solemn, “She passed away when I was four.” “I’m sorry.” “It’s okay,” she replied, looking down at the mug of coffee. She thought back to her mother. She remembered her long red hair, and her bright smile, but little else. At times she wondered if those were really her own memories, or those from a photograph she had. She did remember bits and pieces of the afternoon grandma came to pick her up from daycare instead of mom. This lady she had never met before drove her to a small house that seemed so far away at the time. All her toys were already there, and she was told the bad news, mom wasn’t coming home again. Something bad had happened. All Madeline had left were family pictures of mom and a necklace. Grandma had told her that her mother would have wanted her to have it, and that it would bring her close to mom’s spirit when she wore it. It was a gorgeous, sparkling opal, and Madeline would stare at it for hours as a child, watching the light dance off the rainbow of colors set in the black stone. She had hardly removed it since. Growing up with grandma had been wonderful. She was kind, helped Madeline through school, taught her to cook, and to appreciate music. She also taught Madeline how to be independent and the importance of being strong, both in mind and body. She was a bit eccentric, talking to herself from time to time, or acting like she was talking to the grandpa Madeline never knew, but never anything that made Madeline feel uncomfortable. About five years ago, grandma passed away. Madeline was able to sell her house for enough to pay off the rest of the mortgage, and had money to spare to get herself into an apartment. Levi had done his own research into her family background before he took the job to rescue her. He didn’t ask Madeline about her dad because there wasn’t a father listed on the birth certificate. Her mom, Elizabeth McCaffery, had been a single mother. The rest of the story pretty much went as Madeline told it. After her mother’s death, her grandmother, Dorothy McCaffery, was granted full custody and raised her granddaughter on her own modest pension. Her grandfather, Albert McCaffery, had passed on some twenty years ago. Levi had searched even deeper into Madeline’s family background hoping to find something that would directly, or indirectly, tie her to the fae, but came up empty. For all intensive purposes, she was a normal, lower-class human girl. However, it was very possible someone had covered up her or her family’s tracks. There had to be something, he just hadn’t found it yet, and that intrigued him. No simple, lower-class human was worth that much money. “I guess you can say the necklace is important to me, but I can’t imagine why it would be important to anyone else, unless they wanted to sell it.” Reflecting back on the night she was kidnapped, she remembered how they shoved her down on her bed when she tried to run out of the room. When they grabbed at her necklace, she thought they were going to rape her. A paralyzing chill ran down her spine as she dwelled on that single moment. “They only tried to take it off me once, now that I think about it,” she said, her voice a bit shaky from the memory, “When they first broke into my apartment. Then they started to go through my jewelry box. Maybe it’s not this necklace they were looking for? Do you think they will try again?” “Probably. Without knowing why they were so interested in the first place, I can’t even guess if it will be the fae that come back looking, or others.” “Others?” “Vampires, shapeshifters, phantoms... basically if you’ve heard of some sort of monster, they exist in one form or another. Myths always have a basis in truth.” He could tell she was considering all the possible fiction vs. reality situations deeply now, as her gaze was a dozen fables away, and clearly shaken. His voice softened, hoping to cushion the blow of the reality she was going to have to deal with from this point forward. “Think of it this way - most of the world is dead to what’s going on, draped in blindness, like there's a shroud of gossamer keeping them from seeing what's really there. Everyday things reinforce that blindness. Take the news for example. Or social media. All the trending stories are just distractions. They keep the public fighting and arguing differences of opinions, and redirect any focus from things that are actually important. And the few people who rip away the gossamer, be it by chance or by choice, realize that to survive they have to support the deceit and the distractions. If they don't... well, you know what happens to people spouting nonsense about monsters and conspiracies...” He leaned forward, green eyes locked curiously on the pendant. “May I?” he asked politely. Madeline nodded and set her coffee mug down on the polished, wooden table. He took a seat, dragging it right up to Madeline. He was so close she could once again smell the exotic, woodsy scent she first encountered the night she clung to his back on the motorcycle. Carefully, with his index finger and thumb, he lifted the pendant so expertly off her skin that she didn’t even feel his touch. He stared at it intensely and rubbed it between his fingers so it caught the light at different angles, completely ignoring the increased rate of Madeline’s heartbeat. It warmed to the friction of his touch, which he expected, but he couldn’t detect anything unusual about it from this rudimentary inspection. It appeared to be a genuine black opal, with a multi-colored, diamond pattern blazing with depth and clarity. It had none of the characteristics he was specifically looking for, which would have flagged it as something more than just a precious stone. He could mess with it further, but that would require her to remove it and give it to him for a bit of undisturbed study, which he wasn’t in much of a mood to do. “Sorry, but I don’t see anything other than a fine quality black opal.” He let it slip from his fingers and fall back against her skin a few inches under the base of her throat. It felt very warm when it landed, but it soon cooled back down to her own body temperature to the point that she could no longer feel its presence. “Do you remember anything else while they had you?” Levi continued. “Anything they might have said, or anyone that came to see them?” Levi already knew they were petty thugs as far as fae went, so it was obvious they were working for someone higher up on the food chain. Madeline thought deeply, trying to remember their conversations. They talked about beer, and they argued over their card game and if someone had been cheating. And then there was that one phone call. “They did take a few phone calls while I was there. That one guy did. The one I strangled,” she said, smiling briefly in between bites of egg. “I think it was the second day I was there. He made a call to someone, and then told the other guys that there was going to be a delay because something happened in court. Maybe someone got arrested or something?” Levi knew what that meant. Whomever arranged her kidnapping couldn’t move her because of some unexpected activities in the fae court, which meant the person behind this was probably an actual courtier. Beneficial to them was the fact that it was against court policy to kidnap humans, so whomever was behind this was going to lay low for a while. Picking up the coffee cup once again, Madeline took a couple more sips, trying to appear calm on the outside even though she felt she was shaking to pieces on the inside. There was a gentle, late afternoon breeze reminding her how good it felt to be free from her captives, but was her future going to be spent running? And how long could she run? Realistically? If Leviticus hadn’t been there to save her, it’s possible she could be dead right now. She certainly was no match for fighting off something like the fae if they wanted to outright kill her. Sensing her troubled mind, Levi rose from his chair and walked around to where she sat. Placing his hands lightly on her shoulders from behind, he tried to reassure her. “Not all the monsters are bad,” he said calmly. “For instance, not all fae are like the ones that kidnapped you. Just like with humans, there are the good and the evil. And someone cared enough to hire me to rescue you. That in itself is a sign that you are not as alone and defenseless as you feel right now.” His hands felt warm and relaxing, and despite the path that lay before her now, she felt a little better about it. Then again, she didn’t know if she was trusting of him because she was still in a fragile state of mind, or if he really was a kind person. “What do I do now? I am afraid of going back to my apartment. They know I live there, so it would be stupid of me to go back. I have to disappear, don’t I?” She sounded so sad, and yet so resolved in her decision that Levi wasn’t really sure how to respond. She definitely couldn’t go back. It would be too dangerous for her. “Normally, I would have been sent a drop-off location for the objective,” Levi began, “Which is you, in this case. Odd thing is, I haven’t heard a peep from my broker in nearly two days, and that’s unusual.” The last communication with his broker, Syriem, was the night he brought Madeline to his condo. He figured once she was safe, he would get instructions on what to do with her, who to take her to, etc… But there had been no response. That made things troublesome. He couldn’t just kick her out. Stepping away from her, he slowly walked over to the balcony railing and looked out over the city. The caliber of her desire, which was above her species’ normal grade, would be an asset to keep close by. It would be like having his own rechargeable battery if he played his cards right. Not knowing why her emotions were so potent both bothered and fascinated him, and he’d never had a live-in pet before. It might work out, and it might not. Either way, it would only be for as long as it took for the client to claim her. “We can head over to your apartment tomorrow and start the process of getting you off the grid. You can store your stuff here for now,” He said still overlooking the city, with his back to her. “I don’t have my keys though,” she replied, “But I can call the leasing office and have them let us in.” “That’s not going to be necessary,” Levi replied, turning around to face her. “We need the whole process to appear so normal that it’s boring, so we don’t even want your leasing office to know anything other than you’re moving out. Getting into your locked apartment is going to be the easiest part.” Madeline’s blue eyes widened as she put two and two together. “So that’s what you meant by retrieving stuff,” she realized. “You’re a thief.” Levi frowned. “Don’t make it sound so degrading,” he responded, put off by what the word implied. “There are a lot of precious things that get stolen from good people. And more often than not, those good people don’t have any way to get things back on their own without risking their lives. I steal from the greedy and manipulative and return the items back to their rightful owners. I don’t steal just to fence stuff. Unless someone pisses me off.” Guilt spread across Madeline’s face. “I’m sorry, that was really rude of me,” she apologized, looking away. “I didn’t realize.” She paused a moment in thought as she took another long sip of the rich coffee he had made. “That actually sounds like a really rewarding way to live,” she continued rather quietly. “To be able to give people back what they had stolen from them. To give them back hope. I bet you make a lot of people extremely happy.” “The people I steal from aren’t too happy about it.” “But you can take care of yourself. The way you fought was amazing.” “It’s rarely that heroic.” Madeline gnawed her lower lip, apprehensive about what she was about to ask next. “Could you teach me how to fight? I’m not expecting to be able to be anywhere near as good as you, but I have taken some karate classes, so I know some basics at least, and I’ve been told I’m very good at it. It will increase my chances of survival.” Madeline began to raise her voice nervously. “And in return, I’ll owe you a bunch of favors… I don’t know… maybe help with trivial jobs or be a lookout or something? Please… at least it will give me a better chance to live through this.” There was a very long pause as Levi considered it. In fact, he was surprised at himself for actually even thinking about it at all. He’d never taught anything to anyone before, let alone a human. Still, she was impressive in the warehouse, all things considered. She didn’t hesitate for a second when it came time to try to get herself out of that cage, even though it meant exposing herself. And she handled the fae pretty fearlessly given the fact she had just found out that whole world even existed. She definitely wasn’t timid, and it might be amusing. To see how far he could push her. To see at what point she would break. He was fairly sure she would get discouraged after a few weeks or so and that would be that. Not to mention she was a pretty little thing he would get to play with. “Sure. Why not,” he replied. “It isn’t going to be easy though. And you will owe me many favors.” She brightened up. At least she had something to focus on beside the possible dangers she faced. “You can continue to stay here for now in the guest bedroom,” he began. “Not sure if you noticed, but it has it’s own full bath. And for the time being, I don’t want you going out on your own. The reason I mention that is because there will be times I am gone, often for weeks at a time, so I wouldn’t be around to keep an eye on you. Let’s go back inside.” As Madeline stood with her coffee cup in hand, Levi grabbed his cup and the empty plate and stepped through the opened sliding glass door. Motioning for her to have a seat on the couch, he walked into the kitchen to put the tableware in the sink, and then walked back out to the living room to close the sliding door to the balcony. As he took a seat in the adjacent armchair and propped his bare feet up on the oak coffee table, she couldn’t help but feel his proximity within the walls of the apartment. She internally scolded herself for checking him out at a time like this. Before meeting her gaze, he smiled as if he knew what she was thinking. “I will try to focus my work around this location so I will be here more often than usual. I’ll leave you some numbers you can call if you need groceries delivered, or something needs to be fixed in the condo while I am out. I’ll cover all costs upfront, so you don’t need to worry about money, but I do expect you to cook for me when I am here.” Madeline nodded. “When I’m here, we’ll be training. When I’m not here, you’ll be studying languages and cultures. The first language you are going to learn is Japanese because it’s my native language. I’ll make some calls to prepare us for tomorrow, and we’ll need to go over the details and develop a scenario.” Suddenly, the cell phone that had been sitting on the coffee table began to ring. He could feel her gaze on his body as he looked down at it, and even allowed himself a bite of her desire. “Moshi moshi,” Levi said as he picked up the phone. “Well for the moment, I have her staying here since I don’t have any further instructions. Uh huh. Is that so? It would have been nice to know that going into this one. I guess that all works out in the end since I agreed to take her in…” There was some stern scolding on the other end of the call, along with something that sounded like a strong warning. Levi just chuckled. “You don’t like the idea of me having an assistant? Don’t get all worked up about it. I think she’ll probably give up early into the process. Or she’ll sleep with me and get her heart broken…” Madeline’s eyes flared. There was a very threatening sound on the other end of the line this time. One that cut Levi out of his joking spirit immediately. All pleasantries left his face, and his voice was now cold and sharp. “And why not?” He listened patiently to the poor lack-of-a-good-excuse, but was clearly not a fan of being told what he could and couldn’t do. “If she’s that important to the client, then they need to take responsibility for her. As long as she’s with me, I’m doing things my way. I am not making any promises about anything. Do I make myself clear?” Apparently intimidated, the voice on the other end was quieter. “Yeah, you tell them that.” With a tap to his screen, Levi ended the call and slid his phone back across the table, obviously irritated by the conversation. Madeline sat in shocked silence. Did he just say he expected her to either sleep with him, or just give up? Unbelievable! Feeling the sting of anger, she clenched her fists and blurted out a much censored version of what she was really thinking. “You ASSHOLE!!” She picked up the nearest thing she could get her hands on, which thankfully was not the coffee mug, and hurled a throw pillow as hard as she could towards Levi’s head. He could have easily caught it, but instead chose to let it hit him square in the face so she could feel satisfied. She then stormed off into the room he gave her, not seeing the way he smiled at her from behind. That fire, he thought, You need to hold onto that. He got up slowly, realizing he was going to have to make an attempt at apologizing now. He ruffled the hair on the back of his head as he thought about what he was going to say. Walking towards the guest room, he was surprised that she hadn’t slammed the door shut, so he stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. “Sorry,” he smiled arrogantly, “I had to say those things. My broker was getting on my ass.” Madeline sat on her bed, arms crossed, looking unimpressed at his excuse. “It seems that whomever hired me decided I’m suppose to keep tabs on you now. They have indicated that they won’t be making any contact with you at this time. Which is bullshit in my opinion.” “Why would they send someone to rescue me and then not even let me know why?!” Madeline rose from the bed, throwing her hands up in the air, frustrated. “That IS bullshit!” Levi felt relieved that the other part of the conversation might have blown over quicker than he expected. “But I am still mad about what you said,” she said as she walked up to him, glaring. Okay, maybe not, he thought. “I am NOT going to give up. I PROMISE you that.” “So you’ll sleep with me then?” he asked with a playful grin. It was too easy. He couldn’t help himself. She stopped right in front of him so that she was inches from his body. Looking up into his green eyes, she spoke clearly and confidently. “You’ll be begging me.” For a moment Levi was speechless. He definitely wasn’t prepared for that kind of a response. And Madeline found that her actions had deflated her anger, and with it, her resolution. Sometimes she hated her fiery, strong will. This was one of those times. For a few seconds, the two of them stood in uncomfortable silence. Then the door buzzer rang. Neither of them budged or broke eye contact. It rang a second time. “I need to get that,” Levi said matter-of-factly. “I made a dinner order earlier in the day.” Madeline nodded in acceptance and they both stepped apart at the same time. As she watched him walk down the hall, she couldn’t bring herself to follow him right away. She felt embarrassed and awkward right now, and really wanted to go hide somewhere. In the distance she could hear the door being opened, and a muffled conversation. After the door closed, she heard the rustling of a paper bag, and smelled the scent of Chinese food drifting toward her room. “You want to eat now, or can I show you the rest of the place first?” Levi yelled from the kitchen. Madeline stepped out from her room, thankful their conversation was traveling in an entirely different direction now. “I guess I could put off eating for a bit,” she responded entering the kitchen just as Levi set the paper bag on the counter. “I didn’t realize there was more to see, but is that food going to be safe out on the counter with your cat around?” “My cat?” Levi responded a bit puzzled. Madeline nodded. “Oh, you mean the cat that was in here earlier,” Levi continued. “It went out the door when the food came.” Shouldn’t they go looking for it? Seeing her reaction, Levi laughed. “It’s fine. He lives on this floor and knows his way around.” As he spoke, Levi headed towards a door that Madeline thought might be a pantry. She was not prepared for what was on the other side. Instead of a simple two bedroom apartment, Levi’s place was actually a loft. Behind the door from the kitchen was a large open space with hardwood floors and minimal natural window lighting. There was a multi-station gym, some balance beams, a punching bag, rock climbing wall, and a Wing Chun wooden practice dummy. At the end of the room was a freight elevator, and parked next to that was the motorcycle they had rode in on the other night. “This is where we’ll be training,” Levi stated. “You’ll need to raise your stamina, dexterity, and bring your self-defense skills up a lot. I’m not going to be training you in a traditional program, because there are specific ways you need to fight specific attackers. The whole situation boils down to this… the more of my teaching you can absorb, the more your chances of survival increase.” Madeline nodded, still trying to take it all in. “And there will be other types of training as well,” he continued. “I’ll have to teach you to ride, for one. But don’t concern yourself with that right now. First things first, and you’ve already been hit with enough today. How about we eat?” “Sounds good,” she replied as she followed him out and back into the kitchen. He didn’t have a kitchen table, so they took the bags out to the coffee table and Madeline took a seat on the floor. Levi indicated he was going to make them some tea, and disappeared back into the kitchen for a while. Trying to quell her internal thoughts, she began to remove the take-out cartons from the paper bags as normally as if she had been visiting a friend on a Saturday night. Sitting cross-legged, she rested her elbows on the table and cracked a pair of chopsticks apart. She wasn’t sure what he had ordered, but could identify one of the cartons as broccoli and beef. The second one was some kind of chicken, and it had a bit of a citrus smell to it. “Help yourself to whichever,” Levi shouted from the kitchen. “Or if you want, we can eat half and then switch. I don’t really care.” She decided to play it safe and go with what she was familiar with, the broccoli and beef. After taking a couple of bites in the silence of the living room, she heard Levi coming out of the kitchen with a couple of cups of tea. It was green tea served in two beautiful white and blue traditional tea cups, each one covered in kanji. He took a seat across from her, also sitting down cross-legged. It became pretty obvious that he took all his meals here at the coffee table. Clasping his hands together, he bowed his head slightly and gave a low whisper. “Itadakimasu.” From the manner of his gestures, it was clear to Madeline this was something private, and not meant for her to respond to or try to involve herself with. She’d seen Japanese people say the same thing before eating, happily, but had no idea what it meant. However, his expression of it seemed very sad. “So about tomorrow…,” Levi said raising the chopsticks to his lips and taking a bite of the lemon chicken, “I want you to think of this as your first job. You will be playing a role. How much is left on your lease?” “About two months,” Madeline replied. “Here is the plan - We’ll head over in the morning and tidy the place up so it doesn’t look like someone broke in, and get your ID, assuming it’s still there.” Madeline nodded. “Keep in mind we’ll need to contact anyone you have an account with. Utility companies, cell phone provider, whatever… so if you need to get account numbers and customer service numbers on that stuff, get it before the movers get there. Then we’ll head to the office to pay off the rest of your lease, and arrange for them to do a final walk-through after the movers are done. Story goes, you and I were dating and have gotten serious, so you’re going to move in with me. Your forwarding address will be one of my P.O. boxes. I’ll have the movers scheduled for 10 a.m. We’ll supervise them as they pack and load your stuff onto their truck. After the walk-through is done and signed off on, we’ll follow the movers back here and have them load your stuff onto the service elevator. Then we’ll take it from there.” He calmly went back to eating, as if he does stuff like this every day, leaving Madeline to go over the plan in her head. He was able to get movers scheduled on such short notice? That certainly wasn’t normal. After a moment of silence, he looked up at her. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there with you. You don’t have to remember any of that on your own. I am, however, expecting you to remember the details of our relationship. We’ve been dating for five months and two weeks, your age, only backwards. We met in a coffee shop. Barista got our orders mixed up. You’re moving ‘downtown’. And the bonus answer is ‘the rooftop patio at the Hard Rock last night’.” She was about to ask him how he knew her age, but the bonus thing threw her off. “The bonus what?” Madeline asked. That made no sense. “Just remember all that, and play your part,” he said and then paused to take a few more bites. “I assume you’ve dated before?” Madeline glared in response to his snarky question. “I guess so,” he grinned. “I just want to make it perfectly clear that you are going to have to act like we’re a couple for this. If you can’t pull that off, you might as well give up now. It doesn’t get any easier than this.” He was right. They were going to her place, a location she was extremely familiar with, to basically move her out. And moving in with a new boyfriend was completely believable. And he was definitely easy on the eyes, so it wasn’t like she had to try hard to pretend they were dating. Not to mention she had something to prove to him. That she was serious about the decision she made. That she wasn’t going to give up, or back down, or give in. She was going to handle this, and handle it well. Suddenly, the doorbell rang. “Excuse me,” Levi said as he stood and went down the hall, out of sight, to the front door. She could hear some friendly banter, so being curious, she stood and went to the door as well. Standing just inside the now closed front door was a very tall, elegant man with wavy, short brown hair and a very chiseled jawline. His golden-brown eyes sparkled inquisitively as Madeline approached, and he removed one hand away from the short-haired calico cat he was holding to offer it to her in a greeting. His clothes were nicely tailored and expensive, which was on par with anyone who could afford to live in the same nice building downtown, but he gave off the impression of being a bit too friendly. “Madeline, this is my neighbor, Caslon,” Levi introduced. “He’s the one with the cat.” “Oh,” Madeline replied, shaking Caslon’s hand politely. Looking down, she noticed the cat he was holding wasn’t the same one as earlier. “How many cats do you have?” she asked, letting out a small laugh. “More than I would like to,” Caslon replied with a French accent, and a regretful sort of smile. “Would you like one?” “Um, no,” she said, taking back her hand, “I’m okay without any pets right now.” “So, what’s up?” Levi asked, offering him a seat at the couch. Caslon declined. “Oh, nothing. I heard some noise over here and was just making sure it was you, that’s all.” Caslon assessed Madeline with his eyes, all the while scratching the cat behind the ears. “So, new roommate?” “Something like that,” Levi responded, eyes suddenly narrowing. “She’ll be here for a while, and has the run of the place. We are moving her in tomorrow actually.” “Wow!” Caslon smiled wide-eyed, a bit surprised by the situation. “Wow, what?” Levi asked. Caslon was always sniffing around whenever there was a girl over at Levi’s place, hoping for leftovers, but he was even more annoying this time. Probably because this girl was actually moving in, and not just staying the night. “So, is this a serious thing then?” He smiled as he prodded. “No,” Levi responded flatly. “Ah.” Caslon then began undress Madeline with his eyes, with an even bigger grin on his lips this time. “So, um, Madeline,” Caslon continued, “If you need anything, just come over. I’m right next door.” “Elle n’est pas une souris,” Levi interjected before Caslon could pursue with further amorous invitations. “Seriously?” Caslon pouted. “Okay, whatever. You’re no fun.” Madeline was pretty sure that was French, but before she could commit it to memory so that she could look it up later on the internet, Caslon took her hand again. “Well, it was a pleasure meeting you,” he said politely as his thumb lightly caressed her fingers. “I’m sure we’ll see each other around.” “Just go already,” Levi ordered, crossing his arms. Caslon smiled once more at Madeline, and then left Levi’s apartment gracefully. “He seems nice, a little too forward though,” Madeline observed out loud. “Is he… ?” Levi purposely ignored her question and just swaggered back to the coffee table. She thought about apologizing, but then figured it would just bring more attention to the awkwardness of the situation. But she got the point, it was rude to ask what someone was when she barely knew them, and that included Levi. The rest of the evening went by uneventfully. They made small-talk while finishing up the Chinese delivery, and then Levi made Madeline another cup of green tea before he went off somewhere to make a few private phone calls. When he came back into the living room, he briefly went over the schedule for tomorrow, and when they would wake up and head out. When she was just about done with her second cup, Levi told her he wanted her to go to her room for the rest of the evening so that she could decompress. He explained that he could tell she was bottling up all the emotions from the past week and it was only going to get worse if she didn’t release them. “Just lock the door, pretend I’m not here, and do what you need to do. I can guarantee you I won’t be eavesdropping. I may sound like I don’t know what I am talking about, and you may think you’re fine, but you’re not. I can smell it all over you.” Madeline was taken aback by his words, a look of shock on her face. She thought she had been doing pretty good, and was actually feeling a bit better, until he said that. And he could smell it? Smell what exactly? What was he, a dog? “Fine,” she responded sharply. She stood up and walked to the guest room somewhat defiantly. After locking the door behind her, she leaned her back against it. It would be nice to take a hot bath and get back to a normal sleeping schedule, and she would show him she was just fine. He hadn’t a clue. She set the radio alarm clock to wake her up with plenty of time to get ready for tomorrow, and left her favorite station on loud enough to be heard in the adjoining bathroom. After brushing her hair, she sat on the edge of the tub and turned the faucet on to get the water running. Carefully peeling the bandages off the bottoms of her feet, she began slipping out of her clothes, leaving them in a pile on the white ceramic floor tiles. The cuts on the soles and heels of her feet stung when she first stepped into the hot water, and she quickly sank the rest of her tired body in to relieve the pressure on them. As she stretched out, she noticed two sets of shampoos and conditioners in the recessed shelf within arm’s reach. One was her own cheap brand that Levi must have brought over from her apartment, but the other set? It was in stunning, candy apple red pump bottles, with instructions and ingredients all listed in Japanese on the back. Curious, she unscrewed the top and took a sniff. It didn’t have the same earthy scent that lingered around Levi. In fact, it had a very floral scent, and it was less than half full. Frustrated, she twisted the top back on and set the shampoo bottle down with a thud, sinking a bit deeper into the steamy water. What was she expecting? That someone like him was some sort of white knight? Someone like him. She didn’t even know what he was. So many things she didn’t know, and for being self-sufficient, she now depended on a stranger for a roof over her head, clothes on her back, and her next meal. She wasn’t even certain how long that was going to last. From his phone conversation earlier, the whole arrangement seemed to be temporary. And then what? Was it going to boil down to her bending to his whims to keep from being kicked out on the street, and figuratively to her death? She had basically moved from one prison to another, only this was one she couldn’t escape from. It was going to be hers forever. And she had nothing anymore. Sure, she couldn’t afford much to begin with, but now she truly had nothing but a few toiletries and a couple of changes of clothes that could literally fit in a large shoebox. Grabbing onto her necklace, she slid backwards, putting her head underwater. She stayed under for as long as she could hold her breath hoping it would stop the tears she could feel coming. Without his distraction, her mind became busy with an overwhelming amount of doom. Her thoughts suddenly felt like a derailing bullet-train. Screw him for being right. Screw him. Coming up for air, she started sobbing. She splashed the warm water on her face, but it wouldn’t stop the crying. She didn’t want to think about having nothing, but she couldn't stop. She didn’t even have a reason she could assign the blame to, nothing to look back on and point “there’s what screwed me over”. She’d been on her own for years, but right now she felt the need to be held. She missed grandma. She knew she had to suck it up, but it was easier said than done right now. She would get through this. She would get stronger. She would survive. At the far end of the condo, in the area that was still a loft, Levi was blasting some rock music while he did chin-ups on a steel bar. The music was so loud he could feel it reverberate in his chest as he repeated his sets over and over again. Even from this far away, her hopelessness was thick in the air. He had a feeling that since the desire she emanated earlier was strong, her raging misery would be unbearably heavy. And he was right. It was salty and sour, and he didn’t want to be anywhere near her right now. He figured he’d do a hard workout to force his focus on getting through double his normal reps, burning the atmosphere out of his mind. It also cleared his head, allowing him to concentrate on some questions he had been dwelling on in her presence. For a human, the strength of her emotions were well above par. Most of his kind could gain some sustenance on the emotions of others, absorbing them like taking a drag off a cigarette. They could pick which emotion they wanted, unaffected by the other less desirable ones, with the only drawback being that they couldn't survive off that alone. But not Levi. He absorbed emotion much more efficiently, could heal serious wounds from it, but he couldn’t tune out undesirable ones. His specific kind had emotions they strongly preferred, and therefore had emotions which they strongly detested. They were born that way, and it wasn't something they could develop a taste for later on. The preferences were permanent. After working out for a few more hours, long after hearing the water drain from the guest bathtub, he felt Madeline’s negative emotions finally dissipate. He took a long shower, letting the day’s events sink in and be filed away in the back of his mind. It was this way, that he lived with no regrets and nothing shackling him to the past. Afterwards, he headed to Madeline’s room with a blanket from the linen closet draped over his arm. Unlocking her door, he silently stepped over to the bed and laid the blanket out over her sleeping body, knowing its extra weight would calm and relax her while she slept. He knew first hand how it felt to lose everything in an instant, but he also knew it was possible to survive and become stronger because of it. From her will and drive, he knew she’d survive it too.
  5. Sinajfae

    Chapter One : Not Helpless

    Chapter One Not Helpless In her half-conscious state, too exhausted to be truly alert and too threatened to dare let herself fall into a deep sleep, Madeline became aware of the sudden silence in the warehouse. She laid as close to the back of the 6-foot shipping container as possible, curled up tightly in her pajamas on a flattened cardboard box, but her baby-blue tank top and gray shorts did little to keep her warm. The far end of the shipping container had been welded with bars, much like a prison, and they prickled against her skin any time she touched them. It wasn't enough to seriously injure her, but it did hurt. Since she’d been ruthlessly abducted over a week ago from her apartment in the middle of the night, there had never been a moment of true silence in the warehouse. There was always the sound of her kidnappers' heavy footsteps, or the smashing of beer bottles against the walls. Her captors talked almost constantly, chatting amongst themselves and reminding each other about needing to keep her alive and in one piece. They would also be on their phones from time to time, taking calls from someone apparently in charge. As far as Madeline could tell from the phone conversations, she was in a holding pattern of sorts. Something had gone wrong and she was to be kept longer than expected. Kept. She didn’t even know why they had taken her in the first place. There were none of the traits of a typical kidnapping like she would hear about in the news, or see in movies or tv shows. She had no rich relatives that would have made her a prime target for a ransom. In fact, she had no relatives left at all. Her dear grandmother passed away about five years ago, leaving her on her own. Working an average 9-to-5 job. Getting by modestly. She certainly didn't have a stellar savings account or some huge inheritance. It just didn’t make sense. But more frightening than the cruelty of her kidnapping and the lack of knowing where she was being held, was the undeniable fact they were different. All four of them were pale, tall and gangly, with long, tar-black hair and dark eyes - a common look for college students playing at being dark and dreary. They all wore the same black jeans, t-shirts and hoodies which made them out to be some sort of a gothic street gang. That on it’s own wasn’t enough to stand out, but it was something she caught out of the corner of her tired blue eyes one night that shattered her belief in what she knew of reality. It had been the second night of her captivity, and she had been fighting to stay awake, but was dozing off and on regardless. Her kidnappers had been playing cards at a cheap, plastic folding table in the warehouse, when one of them nonchalantly made tendrils of dark smoke rise off his fingertips and vaporize into thin air. None of the other men at the table looked twice. At first she thought they had drugged her, but as the hours ticked by she realized that wasn't the case. A day later, one of the others had done it as well. She had never seen anything like it before. At the time, it was a startling revelation, and her innate courage was the only thing preventing her from going into a panic. She knew she had to keep her wits about her. She had to stay strong and alert. And as the days passed with no change in her captivity, her fear numbed and her anxiety calmed. The realization that they weren’t allowed to seriously hurt her helped, as well as the consistency of the racket they were always making. Only now it was suddenly quiet. She listened to the silence for a few seconds, and then looked up through the bars. Were they coming to her cage? No. They were all staring at a man who had just entered the warehouse. Through the strands of her unkempt, reddish-auburn hair, she could see he was not one of whatever they were. He had a completely different air about him. He moved with silent, determined, and sinuous steps - literally strutting into the warehouse. His jet-black hair brushed slightly past his shoulders, but in contrast to the stringy and oily hair of her captors, his looked clean and soft. He was dressed in a black, sleeveless kevlar vest that zipped all the way up to his neck, and a matching pair of close-fitting tactical pants. Not looking at all like a police officer, at first Madeline thought he might be allied with her kidnappers, but they didn't approach him as a comrade, or someone to be pushed around. They all reacted as if a tiger had just padded into the warehouse. With acute interest, Madeline sat up and watched as the man sauntered confidently to the closest of her kidnappers, one who was already summoning inky black wisps in his hands, and launched a quick right hook which snapped the captor's head sharply to the side. Then all hell broke loose. Two of the other kidnappers charged the stranger from across the room, hurling ominous ribbons of ashen shadow at him, furious that their buddy had been dropped. Madeline jumped to her bare feet and rushed to the edge of the bars, all the while watching the man in black twist his lithe body with inhuman grace as he dodged everything they threw at him. The whole fight was just impossible. The blackness that darted through the air. The speed and agility of the combatants. She had to blink a few times to make sure what she was seeing was real. Neither of her captors had landed a blow yet, and she got the impression that although they were getting badly beaten, this stranger was taking it easy on them. Then she noticed a figure moving closer to her. The only other captor in the room was backing up to the bars, raising a hand up toward his ear as if about to make a call on his bluetooth headset. This was the best chance, probably the only chance, she had to get out of here, and she needed to stop him from calling for help. Thinking quickly, she lifted her dirty tank top up and over her head, oblivious to the fact she was fully exposed underneath. She thrust both of her hands through the bars and twisted the shirt tightly between them. With the commotion in front of him, he didn't realize the taut fabric was around his neck until it was too late. She sprang barefooted onto the horizontal bar and leaned back, pulling the shirt viciously with all her weight and remaining strength. Her desperate and skin-revealing attack drew a raised brow of amusement, along with a quick smirk, from the agile fighter in black. She continued to pull back, even as the weight of the kidnapper’s body slid slowly down the bars to the floor. With the body now motionless, Madeline slipped back into her now ill-fitting tank top and frantically reached between the bars trying to grab onto his pocket for the key card. Still out of reach, she clawed at the side of the man’s shirt trying to drag his body closer, but he was impossibly heavy. A flurry of curses exploded from her lips. Suddenly, another body came sliding across the floor at a rapid pace. It collided with the one she was trying to pull towards her, and slammed it across the bars lengthwise. She could now reach the into pocket with ease. Pulling the key card out she went quickly to the lock, glancing in the direction of the fight. The stranger was still engaged with the last of her kidnappers, but on his lips was yet another wicked smirk. Swiping the card through the magnetic lock, Madeline heard it click open and wasted no time pushing her way out just as her rescuer dropped the last man unconscious to the ground. “Come on,” he said urgently, motioning for her to follow him out the same door he had entered from. He didn’t have to tell her twice. Adrenaline pumping through her body, she raced after him. Through the door was a small lobby, where another man lay slumped in a corner. Without breaking his stride, her rescuer tore the black hoodie off the unconscious figure and handed it back to her. Passing through one more door, they were finally outside. It was night, and despite the chill she felt standing in her pajamas, the cold autumn air felt wonderful to breathe in. She soon realized it was a mistake to stop for that instance, and found her wrist being grabbed tightly by the stranger with her. He picked up his pace, forcing her to do the same, as they ran down a few narrow streets in the industrial district. After rounding a few sharp corners, he stopped. “Have you ridden before?” he asked in a smooth, low voice absent of any signs of being out of breath. “Huh?” Madeline asked panting. The man finally turned to her, facing her head-on for the first time. “A motorcycle,” he answered, slightly agitated that he needed to repeat himself. “Have you ridden one before?” Madeline was caught off-guard by his looks for a few seconds. He was less than a foot away, so looking up at his face, she was able to get a clear look at his features even under the dimness of a distant streetlight. He was Asian, and more beautiful than handsome, with multifaceted emerald eyes that contrasted starkly to his jet black hair and lashes. With such a rare color, Madeline figured they must be contact lenses, they were just too striking to be real. His chin and nose were somewhat sharply angled, along with his pronounced high cheekbones, and his lightly tanned skin was smooth and flawless. And his lips… She suddenly noticed they were pressed together in a hard line waiting impatiently for her answer. “Um, no. Not really,” she replied, starting to feel the physical and emotional drain of her ordeal caving in on her. She wasn’t really sure how many days she had been captive, but it was all starting to hit her at once. He stepped over to a motorcycle she hadn’t noticed up until now, withdrawing a nylon vest from an underseat storage compartment. Taking a step towards her, Madeline instinctively backed away. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said in a gentle whisper as if trying to console a frightened child, “But you need to put that jacket on, or you’re going to freeze once we get moving.” Nodding slowly, Madeline slipped both her arms into the large, hooded jacket and zipped it up. She had been through so much, the last thing on her mind was if it was clean or not. It was warm, and for now, that was enough. With a silent motioning, he prompted her to raise her arms so he could slip them into the padded vest. Zipping the vest up over her chest, even with the cotton of the hoodie between it and her skin, caused Madeline’s heart to race. He sensed this and let slip an arrogant smile followed by a wistful sigh. Grabbing a harness from the same compartment, he began to dress her in that as well. He tugged at the straps to make sure they were secure, then he began to buckle himself into a similar harness, fastening it over his chest, and mindful of her blue eyes nervously studying him. When he was done, he handed her a helmet, kicked the passenger pegs down, and straddled the front seat. “On the sides of your harness, you should see two straps with clips on the ends. Pass them to me after you get on,” he instructed. Placing the helmet on her head first, she awkwardly mounted the bike and passed the straps forward as she was told. With an audible snap, her upper body was now fastened to his in such a fashion that it reminded her of tandem skydivers. “Now wrap your arms around my waist,” he said. As she reached around his narrow waist, he guided her hands to a passenger handgrip bolted into the bike right in front of his seat. Leaning forward, she felt the rigid muscles of his torso even through the sleeves of the jacket she wore, and noticed he was unusually warm. It was the kind of warmth that made her feel safe and even overcame the bite of the night air against her bare legs. It could have been because she had been sleeping on a cold floor for days, but the cozy sensation was rapidly causing all the tension to drain from her body. And he had this scent about him. It was woodsy and mystic, unlike any cologne she was familiar with. The engine suddenly came to life with a roar, startling her momentarily, and the bike rolled out of the alleyway. She pulled herself closer to him and tightened her grip a bit more. As the growl of the engine drowned out the rest of the world, Madeline realized how badly her bare feet hurt as they pressed against the footpegs. In the rush of escaping, she didn’t even think about what could have been littered on the pavement she had been running barefoot on. She supposed it didn’t really matter. The damage would heal. All of it.
  6. Sinajfae

    Prologue

    Prologue The elder made it a habit to watch over them. And it was that habit which had Cameron awake in the middle of the night, streaming movies and running surveillance on a tenant across the parking lot. The first floor studio apartment was sparsely decorated with only the bare essentials, and the only illumination came from the flat screen tv and a laptop sitting on a cheaply made workstation in the back of the living room. Other than that, there was a lifeless gray sofa which doubled as his bed, and a wooden coffee table that had seen better days. It all started a few years ago, back when Cameron was instructed by the elder to install a small security camera in the dormered overhang outside the tenant’s front door. The camera was initially setup to activate much like a trail camera - when motion was detected, it would take a series of pictures. With it, they were able to maintain observations of her comings and goings, and developed a very detailed account of her weekly routines. The surveillance continued uneventfully for almost two years, however, the past month changed all that. It had been in the middle of the day while she was at work that a very suspicious set of images were taken. A tall, skinny stranger cloaked in a black hoodie had knocked on her door and then inspected the front-facing living room window. The camera was unable to capture a clear image of the visitor’s face, as the hood was purposely pulled down to obscure it. Attentive to the oddity, Cameron notified the elder the same day. A week later, what appeared to be the same hooded man was again photographed during day, prying around the front of the building. Then, the week after that, the suspicious visitor came around in the middle of the night. This dangerous new development prompted the elder to take more aggressive measures, so Cameron himself was assigned to keep a closer eye on the situation by moving into an apartment in the same complex. The security camera was then switched from motion detection to live feed, which was both monitored and recorded, and he was to notify the elder immediately of anything out of the ordinary. That had been about a week ago, and now it was nearly 1 a.m. on a weekday night in October. Cameron was lounging shirtless on the sofa, oblivious to the chill in the air, wearing a pair of well worn jeans and some scuffed up black combat boots. With his legs propped up casually on the low coffee table, the glow of the television screen bathed his thin, yet extremely defined upper body in a pale blue light. Yawning, he ruffled his fingers through his thick, spiky hair. It was an amber color, reminiscent of the traditional warm orange and honey colors of the actual gemstone, and was clearly not his natural shade. He had a face that was too pretty for his liking, with bright blue eyes, long black lashes, and full lips all framed by a square face. It was very angelic, and he hated it. On the inside, he was an enforcer. A soldier. But on the outside he looked like a boyish pushover. He purposely dressed himself in grungier, anarchist styles, in an attempt to draw away from the attractiveness of his face. Those who knew him were well aware he was not someone to be taken lightly. Among his peers, he was respected and feared. Among strangers, he’d had to assert himself physically on more occasions than he could count, making sure they knew their place. Suddenly, Cameron picked up an unusual scent carried in through the open window on the brisk night air. It was coming from the direction of her apartment. He got up quickly and went to his desk to check the camera. Setting his palms on the cold surface, he leaned over his laptop and scanned the data meticulously. The screen illuminated his face with video images of hooded strangers, three in total now, checking the front door and then rounding to the back of her building. He pulled his arm through the sleeve of his leather jacket and then grabbed his cell phone to call the elder. “They’re back,” he said urgently, holding the phone to his shoulder with his ear as he slipped his other arm through. “Three of them this time.” The elder’s calm and even voice asked him to listen. Cameron focused his senses, weeding out the noise from the tv and the local traffic, and heard the click of a lock. It was her sliding glass door. It had been locked, she always locked it. Needing to know what he was dealing with, he inhaled the crisp night air in a few hurried shallow breaths. They weren’t shapeshifters. If they were, their scent would have been more obvious, and he would have been able to determine what type of shifter they were based off of that. Also absent was the scent of the undead, which was a foul, sour smell of rot and decay. Unexpectedly, Cameron detected a somewhat mossy scent, similar to patchouli, which led him to the following conclusion. “Fae,” he said. “They’re breaking in using magic.” Cameron’s blue eyes narrowed sharply as he recognized muffled struggling, and the sounds of things being scattered. Soft things like clothes, and heavier things like books and drawers were being strewn around as if the trio were searching for something. Their bullish conduct exposed the fact that they weren’t much more than some low-born fae thugs. Growing more and more agitated, he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up as he approached his front door, preparing to pay a visit to the intruders. But the elder stopped him, questioned him. Cameron checked the air again. Still absent was the coppery smell of human blood. “No, they aren’t doing that,” he replied in a clear and confident voice. “I don’t smell any blood or other bodily fluids. Just the girl’s fear.” Instructions were being giving now, followed by cautious explanation. “Understood.” Cameron stood down. “It’s quieter now. No more struggling. I'm certain she’s unconscious. It sounds like they are moving her into a vehicle. Did you want me to go after them?” “Follow from a distance, then head back and report in.” “Understood,” Cameron responded once more before hanging up and heading out towards his motorcycle. After giving final orders to the young one, the elder ended the call. Tapping his cell phone to his lips, he was lost in deep thought for a few moments. As with most things of this nature, he knew this day would come, only normally he had more of an idea who it was coming from. Under different circumstances, he would have sent Cameron in to take them out, but this was a particularly delicate matter. Finally deciding on the best course of action, he called another number on his cell phone. The line rang almost a dozen times before it was picked up. “Sorry about that,” a male voice answered pleasantly. “I never use this thing. In fact, I had forgotten you’d even given it to me until just now. Technology is soooo... what is the phrase I am looking for? Oh yes, overly complicated.” “I have news for you,” the elder began, “And it’s not good.” “Considering your voice is still civil, I’m thinking it can’t be that horrible,” the voice, still chiming along melodiously, replied. “I’m serious, Alex,” the elder responded. “You’re always serious.” The elder could practically feel Alex roll his eyes. “One of mine has been watching one of yours," the elder continued hesitantly. “One of … mine?” “Yes.” Alex was momentarily silent. There was no mistaking what the elder meant. “And…?” “No injury or any other violations occurred. Seems to be a case of kidnapping. By Fae.” There was silence again on the other end before the elder interrupted it. “Did you want me to act? The one who reported this is very capable. He’s willing, and more than able to take care of it.” “No, we can’t have that,” Alex responded in a low voice, all pleasantries now gone. “Although I do very much appreciate the offer.” After a few more seconds of uneasy quiet, the elder swore he heard Alex rapping his fingers on a solid surface. When the noise stopped, Alex’s voice returned to it’s original lively charm. “I’ll handle it. I have a call I can make which should remedy this rather discreetly.” “If you need anything....” “My dear sir, have some faith,” Alex laughed. “And treat that pup to some BBQ or something.” This caused the elder to chuckle. “Just don’t lose the phone, okay?” “I make no promises,” Alex replied right before he pressed the End Call button and set the cell phone back on a charging pad inside the top drawer of his antique cherrywood desk. Joking aside, Alex picked up the handset of a filigree rotary phone. He brought it up to his ear, tucking it under his golden locks as he dialed with his free hand. With an old world elegance, the rotary dial purred as it rotated through the numbers. After one ring, if even that, a polite, digitized voice picked up. “I’m honored, Alesdair, how may I help you?” “I need to hire your boy,” Alex began to explain, his voice still spirited and polite. “I need him to retrieve someone for me.” “With all due respect, any request for the retrieval of living things is up to his discretion.” “I am well aware of the rules,” Alex replied. “Let him know that the Fae are involved, and that I would like the job done as soon as he deems it safe to proceed without putting the target in peril. I am offering him half a million U.S. in payment.” Alex was hoping to hear some sign of surprise at the amount of money he was promising, like a gasp or choking sound, but nothing of the sort happened. All he could hear on the other end of the line was typing. Alex was disappointed. “I have sent him the offer. If he accepts, how may I contact you for details?” “I have an annoying cell phone you can reach me on,” Alex said, sounding a bit grumpy that he had to fetch it from the drawer again. “Let me see if I can figure out what the number is for it.” After some fumbling, Alex was able to locate his cell phone’s number and passed it along. “Thank you, Alesdair. I will be in contact. And again, we are honored for your consideration.” After ending the call, the broker leaned back comfortably in a leather executive chair, tented their fingers, and awaited a response. After about thirty minutes, a reply came via email. { Fae, huh? That’s rare. } “That’s also a lot of money,” the broker emailed back in reply. { Tell them that if they give me a name and location, I’ll give them my answer in an hour. } After calling Alesdair back with the request, the broker was able to obtain the name of the person who was kidnapped, as well as the vicinity. Within seconds, that information was provided to Leviticus. It was a short email, as were most of their correspondences, and consisted of only one sentence. { Madeline McCaffrey of West Seattle. }
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