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  • Opposing Mr. Blackburn 22

    50 Put Out There “What about Kane?" I teased her. She defended Eric and I as her territory, but hadn’t mentioned Kane. Yet. “Oh, that man's not going anywhere." Angelina crossed her arms over her chest and cocked a hip. Her lips twisted in a sour expression. “Is that a threat in your voice?" “Only toward him, if he tried to leave me behind." She bobbed her head saucily. “Tried that once." A deep voice rumbled from behind us and arms wrapped Angelina. “Didn't take. She came right back." The smile on Angelina's face told me who the man was, before I registered who the voice belonged to. She was already overlapping her hands on his arms to return his embrace. Kane. “Years later!” She scoffed. “Still returned!” “Came right back seems a bit of a stretch.” Her voice raised in amused affront. “You did!" He defended. His voice dropping to a husky note as he added. “Once you were in my apartment." “Kane!” She rounded on him. He grinned. Showing no shame as she wove her arms up around his neck. His arms automatically opened to welcome her. She tucked right into them. Peering up at him, brightly. Though they didn't do anything overtly sexual, merely bantering and hugging, the intimate energy they generated was enough to have me feeling a bit awkward remaining there. I began putting some distance between myself and them. I gave them their space. But as I backed up, I encountered a hard wall. I turned and met Eric's intense gaze. A half smile was turning his lips. “Feeling a bit out of place.” “You have no idea!” I rolled my eyes heavenward. “I know what might help.” He abruptly lunged forward and caught the hairtie holding my high ponytail and tugged it free. Sending long brown hair whipping over my shoulders and spilling down my back. “Hey!” I gasped in objection. Feeling instantly vulnerable. “You're going to have to put yourself out there a bit if you want to meet people." “In my defense, I never intended to be meeting people." I held my hair back from my face. “Well, you're here now." He said. “You can start by letting people meet you-the real you." I scooped it back and fisted it against my skull. “Give it back." I held my hand out for the hairtie.” He looked me square in the eye as he popped my hair tie over one hand. Tucking it around one wrist, and beneath his cuff, deliberately. “No." My hair was tossed from behind. “Ooh, I like this look. Wayyy hotter!" I glance over my shoulder at Krissy. By the time I looked back, Eric was gone. I spotted him a distance away, talking to other refined men in suits. Laughing together like they were made to joke about sports and investments. Eric’s element. He was oblivious to my presence now. Like he wasn't just over here picking on me like a high school bully. “You got this, already!" Krissy announced. “I don’t know about that.” I looked at her askance. “If you know when to let your hair down…You definitely do." “I do not. I just..." I realized the real story would just sound too intimate. He stole my hairtie out of my hair. Krissy would say. That guy? I’d already played it out in my head and knew she’d read a lot into it. “Guessed?" She supplied. Thinking that was the word I was searching for. It’s not. I made an agreeing gesture because I'm a terrible liar. “Well, Allie Cat, you're going to have to fill me in, on some very dark details, later." “Dark?" “Well, if your sexy boss has given you a nickname with any feline reference in it. there's some fascinating shit going on." What? How’d she gather that? “Feline?" My voice rose. “Kitten, Tigress... Cat..." She was just a little too on-the-money for my comfort. I was saved by the arrival of a well-groomed blonde man. “Kristine," He said her name in a faintly reprimanding tone. “Who have you been hiding from us?" Hiding? I looked from him to her in confusion. He was looking at me. “Greg, this is Allison with Clark & Walker." “Clark & Walker?" His brow lifted. “Quite the big hitter." “Yes." I agreed. “Convenient for me. I am interested in investing a portion of my monthly allowance." “Ah..." My gaze wandered to Krissy. “You're probably asking yourself why I didn't broach the subject to Krissy?" He suggested. My hesitation was his answer. “Well, She's beautiful and brilliant, but she could sell a cup of water to a drowning man, so I'm avoiding chatting with her.” I laughed. That’s probably true. “And you think I’d be more factual?” I asked, amused. “I know you would. I’m not going to risk two minutes talking to her, sweet thing that she is.” I looked over his shoulder at her. She was already sweet-talking another couple. “Don’t worry. She knows I’ve already told her as much.” “Okay.” I guess I’m not betraying her by trying to get him to invest. I cleared my throat. “You did mention an allowance. Would that be from a parent's penchant or trust fund?" “I am," He proudly gripped the edges of his coat. “lucky for me, a trust fund brat." “I have some ideas.” I volunteered. “Walk with me?" As we strolled, I listed some of his options. I veered down the center row and walked toward the Clark & Walker booth. Another man fell into step with us. He was leaned around the first man, in order to listen to the conversation. He seemed to be curious about a particular investment option I’d mentioned. When I glanced at him, he promptly apologized for intruding, but requested that I continue. I proceeded with my pitch. By the time we reached the booth, two women had joined us as well. I did as Angelina had directed, when we’d prepared the 'Pitch Files'. Opening to the first page and circling my name and referral number. “Here's my info. I'll be happy to answer further questions." Greg nodded. Twisting toward a booth behind us, which was running charity donations. he called to the girl behind the table. “Kellie! Talk to this one on your break. She has some valuable input I’d like us to look into." She waved in assent. Within a couple hours, I was surrounded by people firing questions at me. At one point I saw Angelina walking by behind them, to check on me. She gave a wink of encouragement. Bouncing a thumbs up in my direction. A man in a tailored striped suit approached. “You're with Clark & Walker?" I smiled. “I am." “I would like to question you at length regarding some aggressive mix investments." “Sure. I can be available in thirty minutes." I projected, based on the few people I was still doing question and answer with. “I’m afraid we may take longer than that. I need to review a complete list of investments, and I need you to bring an invoice draft so we can work out the particulars and you can give me an investment.” I looked over at Angelina behind the booth, for permission. She gestured to the man. “It’s what we’re here for!” “Okay. Dinner this evening?” I looked to him. “Does seven thirty work?” He adjusted his jacket. “I have a few late evening meetings after I leave here.” “That’ll be just fine.” I nodded. “I’ll have a car come around for you. Will Frederick’s do?” “Sounds fine.” I said. Assuming the most professional demeanor I could. He dipped his head in farewell and walked away. “Oh, wow.” Angelina rushed over to proclaim. “That’s Frederick Mazjeck.” I gave her a bemused look. “Who?” “He owns Frederick’s!” Angelina did a little dance as if I should know what that is. “You’re going to have to clue me in, Angelina.” “It’s the nicest restaurant in the state.” “Oh!” “Make sure though, that you insist on paying with your card.” She nodded to my pocket, where there was the slight swell of my pocketbook. “Okay…” “It ensures that they can’t get the wrong impression by you allowing them to buy you dinner.” “Oh! That makes sense!” I suddenly understood. I started to walk away. “I’m going to go find some more people.” “Allison.” She stretched over the booth to catch my arm. “Yes?” “For the love of God, don’t forget your invoice.” “Oh.” “He clearly plans to invest. He just wants to work up a draft of the paperwork with you. Take one of the Pitch Plans with you too so you can reference the numbers.” “Why is this so exciting?” I asked. “Because he makes so much that he’s always looking for investments and tax write-offs. I suspect he’ll want to invest a hunk of change.” “Oh!” She was nodding profusely. “Good work woman. Now get back out there.” “Yes, ma’am!” I laughed. “More money to be made.” Angelina did a little happy dance. I bumped into someone and looked up, already recognizing that scent. “Are you putting yourself in my path on purpose?” “I am, actually.” “Why?” “For fun. You’re not paying any attention to where you’re walking. Besides, that startled look on your face is pretty entertaining.” “Ha ha. Are you trying to give me high school flashbacks.” Of when you were a bully. “Wouldn’t that be interesting?” The husky note in his voice told me he meant the other parts of our time together. “You’re terribly funny.” “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.” “Yes, it does.” “Perhaps you’re right.” He agreed thoughtfully. “I do like the feistier side.” “You’re on a roll.” I shot him a surprised look. “Well,” He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked around. “so far the day is going well. I have a couple nice options coming up.” “For investing?” He rolled his eyes to look at me. I shifted. “I knew that’s what you meant.” “Sure, you did. Stop being so self-conscious. Looked like you’re doing quite well too.” “I guess I’m doing dinner with Frederick Mazjeck.” “I saw that. Quite an investment hook if you can land it.” “I can.” I said defensively. “I know that.” He whispered near my ear. “You just need to convince yourself.” With that said, he turned and wandered away.

  • Nightmare Man 28

    84 Stalked Prey “No." I firmly asserted. My lips tightened as I glowered across the table at him. I’m not leaving him behind. I knew it, straight through to my core. I’ve been through too much to be left by myself, now. Not when I actually need him! “Jessica..." He wiped his mouth. “Much as I'd love to have your company, you'd be putting not only yourself, but our child, in danger". I looked at him aghast. “How dare you say that to me!” I nearly leapt from the table. Now people were looking at us. But the topic had become so serious that I no longer cared. “Jessica.” He said firmly. Commanding me to stay in my seat, with that simple word. “I’m not raising him alone!" I expostulated. “You can do anything.” He said more quietly. Sitting back in his chair as he gave me an assessing look. “I wouldn't have any idea what all he'd go through, or what he'd need. I’d hardly know how to raise a normal little one, much less one,” I looked around furtively. “this special.” “Jessica, you are a deeply adaptable creature. I’m not worried about it. I know you’d do wonderful. “Yes, well I don’t!” I said acidly. I realized I'd moved my hand protectively over my stomach as I said quietly. “He won't be raised feeling as alone as you did." “No, Jessica." He shook his head. “I won’t walk you into that shithole to be a weapon they will forever wield against me until eventually, you are hurt.” “I’m going.” “Absolutely not!" He shook his head as he emphasized it. “You," I dropped the fork I still gripped in my other hand, to point at him. “don't tell me what to do anymore." His brows lifted. My fear of confrontation with a stranger completely evaporated in the face of what he'd just said. I was preparing to fight. My face flushed as I gripped the edge of the table. Him, or anyone else! Just when I was preparing to leap to my feet to give him a piece of my mind, he did the last thing I expected. He stretched across the table to put a large hand over mine. “I'm not being demanding, Jessica. I'm trying to protect you, can't you see that?" “I-" “Everyone you loved left you." He said tenderly. The cruel words softened by the concern in his eyes. “You don't want left behind again. You don't think I, of all people, understand that?" My expression flickered. I felt my mask slipping and knew that my pain and fear showed through. “I can't do it alone." His gaze moved my face, and I knew he wanted to argue. But, for whatever reason, he did not. “Finish breakfast, sweetheart.” He stood over the table, empty plate in hand. “We'll argue when that occasion arises. Until then, let's remain on the same side." I chewed my cheek. After a time, I finally agreed with a nod. He gestured to my plate before walking toward the trash can to clear his plate and set it with the stack in need of washing. But when I looked at my full dish, I could no longer muster an appetite. *** As rough as breakfast had ended up being, was nothing. The real problems didn't start until after we'd finished cleaning up our meal and went to leave the hotel. We stood at the counter waiting to check out for the day. The waiting area behind us had plush blue chairs. I noticed five men sat there. One reading a paper, one staring leisurely out a window, and one playing on a phone. Hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and my nerves were on edge. My whole body was on high alert. The men were scattered through the waiting area. All looking casual. Still, it didn't look right to me. Why so many men? All travelling alone? I noticed the one reading the paper, watching me in his peripheral. I stepped closer, in order to speak in a whispering voice. I stayed well out of reach as I asked. “Who are you?" He clicked his tongue. Folding the paper closed as he made the same soft chittering sound that the darklings back at the tree, had. Oh, no. My stomach dropped. My eyes flitted over them. Watching as they all set their fake distractions aside. All eyes landed on me. My instincts were screaming that I’d entered a precarious situation. Reluctant to take my eyes off of them, I glanced toward Brandon and found he’d turned against the counter. He still rested a casual elbow on the counter. His hip cocked and his ankles crossed, he watched our interchange. His body language expressed that he was unbothered, perhaps even unsurprised by their presence. But I knew he could go from this to pure animal in one breath. “Remarkable how much he looks like the real prince, isn't it?" The man with the paper leaned forward. He had long black hair. A bit oily and stringy, but otherwise not notable. He had dark eyes, almost black, which was the most revealing thing to me. He’s a darkling half-breed. Like Brandon. The other men looked like it too. They all have the same black eyes. I noticed. My eyes scanned over the whole lot of them. Taking a tally of their appearances so I might recognize them in future. I’ll want to know what they look like in case I ever see them again. There was another black-haired one, two brunettes and one with reddish-brown hair. They were all huge. Nearly as big as Brandon was. They all sat with a sort of cool confidence which bespoke of their ability to snap a neck in an instant. They're the Ileck. I realized. Sliding back a step. The leader was leaning forward, his hands propped on the armrests as though he were about to launch to his feet. Brandon strode to my side. Putting a hand to my lower back as he loudly asked. “Everything okay?" His authoritative tone drew the attention of the lady behind the counter and a family passing through the lobby. Brandon’s gaze fixed on the man, alongside mine. He’s openly challenging the man to jump, right here with all these witnesses, because he knows they can’t. They wouldn’t risk revealing themselves. The Ileck leader stared at where Brandon's hand was on me. Interest written over his face. It made my stomach sink. This isn't good. The tension in the air sparked between the men. I hoped Brandon was right and they wouldn’t make a move before all these witnesses. But my heart thudded in my ears, as I worried that they might. Brandon's features tightened. I felt his hand fisting the back of my shirt. I shot him a look, and realized he was readying himself to toss me aside if they attacked. “What do you want?" Brandon’s tone sizzled with threat. “Have no fear, friend." The leader said in a coaxing tone. Settling back into his chair and adjusting his paper. Purposely avoiding the eyeline of the staring hotel habitants. “We're not here to fight. Today." With that said, he stood up and approached us.

  • His Season 18

    24 Expected Breathe. Kendra had told me. As if I hadn’t done so in a very long time. The worst part was that I hadn't even realized I wasn't. “We have them outnumbered. As long as we move cautiously, all will be fine.” Kendra assured me. “We'll have them at the Remand Center by dawn." Mother added. I tipped toward Aunt Kendra. “Is that what you want?" For the merest fraction of a second, Kendra’s face flickered with pain. But before she could answer, we found ourselves face to face with the Sager House butler. “Name?" He drawled. A quill hovering over a name card. “Melanie Ludrow, party of four." “Indeed." He leaned to do a quick head count. Before scribbling what I’d said onto a card. Once that was finished he said. “I'll announce you." He opened the door further to welcome us in. Indicating we should follow him through the foyer. Suffering a sudden pang of fear, I yanked Kendra close so I could whisper to her, "Won't they know we're hunting them, when they hear the Van Essix name?" “There's no one here with that name." Kendra shook her head. Feigning confusion. Absentmindedly waving at people, she knew. I gave her a beffudled look. “Susan and Molly have married names. Edwin and Ted list their titles." I gave her a doubtful look. “Titled gentleman, Sir Conroy and the Lord of McMaster trade." “McMaster Trading is my uncle?" I stared at her aghast. My face was written with astonishment. It was one of the most renowned names of the import trade in Kensington and Fairmont. Kendra gave me a sideways look, telling me to shut up. Then she subtly nodded. I was in utter shock. How did mother and Kendra keep me so far out of family affairs? I had a cousin of similar age to me, and yet I'd never met her before tonight. That knowledge only increased my bitterness toward the both of them. And my uncle was McMaster trade. I was still shaking my head in confusion, as we followed the butler through a huge foyer. It was elaborate brown stone made brighter by yellow toned tapestries. Glowing candles bathed our path in inviting light. Guiding us toward the dual ballroom doors. There was more silence than I expected. I noted as we approached those doors. There wasn’t the usual uproar of conversation, laughter, and rattling distance. I half-expected to discover we were early, and the ballroom was still mostly empty. Instead, I found the usual bustle of people, but they were far quieter than usual. Then it dawned on me why. Kristophe had neglected to mention something to me. It’s a masquerade. People weren't talking because they wanted to remain mysterious. Though couples who obviously recognized each other, whispered in low tones. The butler made his announcement. Introducing us at the doorway, in a booming voice. Like he was made for introducing people. I grimaced as his voice reverberated through the room. Echoing off the walls and pillars endlessly. Everyone stopped moving to snap their heads toward us. They all moved as one. Their feet sliding then stomping, as they balanced to twist in our direction. Masks shrouded their faces. Black ones, brown ones, satin and silk. Some with feathers. Some with sequins. We stood staring back at them. Unnerved by the abrupt attention. I noticed a woman closest to us. She wore a black half-mask. Her eyes beneath were nearly as dark. With long sweeping lashes. She had one hand strung across her narrow waist. The other elbow was leisurely propped on it. That hand easily gripped a fat wineglass. She had an air of imposing sophistication. But so did the men behind her, watching us in that same unblinking fashion. Like we’re peasants arriving in the castle. My stomach dropped to my feet. I was duly intimidated. The whole thing was making me nauseous. We shouldn’t be here. Scanning the crowd revealed that they all possessed that same sort of elegance. A type which I was sure I lacked. "Who are these people?" I murmured toward my aunt at my hip. "I don't know. Stop standing there frozen." Kendra slapped my shoulder. "You're making us stand out even more." I took a rough step forward. Ripping my gaze from their faces. They all had an aura of something more. Something which I couldn't define but found deeply unsettling. Kendra and Cara found their way to the refreshments table. Mother and I meandered behind them. She’d caught my wrist and was pulling me close to her. Trying to keep me in view. She’s nervous too. I could tell she was far more worried about me now that we’d walked in. Cara veered sideways, her gaze locked on an a broad shouldered man with white hair. Her sudden motion had captured my attention. My uncle? I wondered. She jolted sideways and caught him by the arm. Pulling him aside from the group he was conversing with. “What the hell, father!" She said in a rushed whisper. “You didn't tell me this was a masque!" “I told you not to come!" He retorted. Tipping up his half-mask to glower at her. “This is far too dangerous! You have no business being here, Cara." “You brought Susan!" She gestured toward the crowd. My concentrated eavesdropping was interrupted by a masked face stepping into view. Strapped on a form which towered over me. I swallowed. Even behind the shadow of a full mask, I recognized those familiar eyes. “You came." He murmured. His lips moving as if he resisted beaming. My mouth whitened. I found myself echoing Cara's sentiments. “You neglected to mention this was a masquerade." “Did I?" He tilted his head in feigned question. My gaze narrowed on him. “I’m in no mood for your antics.” “Well,” He grinned. Flashing perfect white teeth. “fortunately, I brought spare masks." He lifted two. Spanning them in his hand like playing cards. “However, I didn't know your lovely mother would be joining us." He gave a polite nod to her. “Kristopher." She said stiffly. Her face was written with angst. “I do recall telling you to stay away from my daughter." “Yes." He said easily. Throwing her a haughty grin as he put an apologetic hand to his chest. “But she said otherwise."

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