A SURREAL BLUE ROGUE AGENT:

VOLUME 1

CONTAINS TITLES:

BOOK 1: DO OR DIE

BOOK 2: AND THE HEART GROWS FONDER

BOOK 3: LOVE SO MENACING

BOOK 4: LOVE SO WICKED

BY

AUTHOR E.R.BAINE

DO OR DIE

Chs 1 – 10

PROLOGUE

THREE YEARS AGO

Audrianna looked out at the expanse of the surrounding hills and was awed by the beauty of the tropical rainforest. Trinidad was truly a beautiful place. A few feet from her was a steep cliff face that gave way to a ravine. She heard the sound of running water at the bottom, a few yards below. The mellow morning enchanted her, and the whistling birds raised her spirit and put her mind at ease.

She hugged herself in the purple fur coat she wore. Naked underneath, her black skin was starting to bear goose-bumps. She shivered. Hearing the crunch of forest leaves, she turned to look at the person who had intruded on her space. Viktor Maxckmillian, the Russian Junior Ambassador from the local embassy. She had known him for years before he received the post.

His approach was purposeful as he emerged from the canopy of trees. He wore slacks but no top, only an overcoat. He was both strong and tall, a well-chiseled male specimen. His jet-black hair was long and flowing, past his shoulders. The ends were tipped with grey, though he was barely over twenty. Audrianna bit her lower lip against the impassioned feeling inside her that his stare wrought.

“You didn’t have to follow me,” Audrianna yelled at him from a few feet away, scowling as he quirked a brow at her, never hesitating in his approach.

“I’m not going to disappear on you again.” He stood inches from her now. “It wouldn’t make any sense now that you know who I am and where I live.”

He gazed at her, a lazy smile on his face. “I’m not taking any chances, especially where you’re concerned.”

Audrianna shrugged, nonchalant.

“Have you an answer for my proposal?”

She shrugged again.

Her eyes diverted sideways. She did not witness the twinge of sadness that flashed across Viktor’s features. His expression soon gave way to one of pique, and then arrogant anger. He reached for her, gripping the fur on either side, and swung her so that she tilted backward, arching her body over the cliff.

Shocked, Audrianna clung onto him, her body exposed. She looked at him determinedly, meeting an equally determined expression.

“Viktor!”

“No!” He ground out. “Now, you listen to me. Everything I have worked for, everything that I have sacrificed, has been for this.” He pushed her closer to the edge and she cried out. “You are in possession of me, woman, and I own you. Your hesitation impugns us both. There is no going back on this. I warned you before, if all that is left for us is the depths of hell, then we embrace hell- together.”

“Alright, yes.” Audrianna glanced down at the steep drop below. “Yes, I’ll marry you. Just please calm down.”

Viktor yanked her forward into his arms and hugged her tightly to him. “Dammit Audrey, you drive me to hysterics.” Both their breaths were ragged.

Audrianna placed a hand on his pectoral, her naked body mashed against his. “I think you came to me partly insane.”

Viktor smiled. “You’re driving me over the edge.”

“That is not funny.” She listened to his erratic heartbeat, watching her hand rise up and down with each breath he took.

Viktor heard the smile in her voice and looked down at her, turning her face up to him with the crook of his finger. The top of her head barely met his chest.

“You’re not going to apologize to me, are you?” Audrianna asked.

“Apologize? For what?”

Audrianna feigned exasperation. “For coercing me to accept your marriage proposal. You threatened to throw me off the side of a cliff.”

“Sweetheart,” Viktor was unapologetically emphatic. “I make most of my millions from men who feel their lives threatened unless they give in to my demands; I’m not going to stop at my v’wife.”

She laughed at the way his accent sometimes affected his pronunciation whenever he became emotional.

Viktor twirled her round and lowered her to the ground. Audrianna screamed in delight. He straddled her, their pelvises aligned. He entwined her hand in his. “This is it Audrey, we did it, you and me.”

The purple fur coat lay open on the ground. Viktor seemed mesmerized by the sight of their hands locked together. Their union felt irrevocably right. He had never been incredibly confident about any other triumph.

His eyes moved from their engaged hands to the play of light refracted by his studded ruby, emerald and sapphire ring, that danced on Audrianna’s stomach.

“Are you listening to me?” Audrianna asked.

Viktor looked up into her eyes and Audrianna’s voice caught, witnessing the passionate emotion she saw there.

“No,” Viktor said right before he took her mouth in a breathless, passionate, all-consuming kiss that left no room for discourse.

Viktor’s other hand cupped her breast, pinching her nipple until it grew hard. She whimpered. Audrianna slipped her hand over his firm chest. She caressed his shoulders, the back of his neck. Viktor moved his other hand down to the apex of her thighs and fingered her clit gently. She groaned. He pressed harder. She squeezed her thigh over his hand. He trailed a hot row of kisses from her lips, down the center of her chest. His tongue laved her other nipple, and she gasped.

His mouth trailed lower until it landed on her opening. He suckled between her parted legs until she was wet and ready for him. She writhed and arched up to meet him.

“Ohh, Viktor. Please hurry!” Audrianna begged.

With a hand on each side he pushed himself up to look down at her. “Say it, plead with me again.” He unzipped his trousers and unleashed his cock.

Audrianna stared down at him; it was obvious he already wanted her so bad. She felt herself blush.

“Mmmm.” Audrianna lifted both arms around his head, tangling her fingers in his hair, pulling him close. “Viktor, please,” she whispered softly in his ear, her eyes closed. “Fuck me… hard.” She felt so embarrassed by what she had said, defying her demure self, that she covered her face with both hands.

Viktor growled, burying his head in the crook of her shoulder. His heart rejoiced, and his cock felt taut. He struggled not to cum. Holding her at the waist, he rolled backward, bringing her with him. He lifted her up.

Audrianna had the view of the surrounding hills before she looked down. The top of Viktor’s head was at the edge of the cliff. She caught a jaw-dropping glimpse of the bottom of the ravine before he entered her and Audrianna had no other impulse than to look into his eyes.

She was mesmerized by his intense gaze. She felt him thrust inside her. She shuddered with each slick feel of movement and throbbed around him.

“Move, baby, move.”

Audrianna, staring down at him, pushed up on his chest. His look of need for her only emboldened her to take the lead in their sexcapade. She moved up and down his length, rocking her hips. His hands on both her buttocks, he supported her motion.

His thrusts matched her momentum until the ecstatic sexual pleasure reached crescendo, and she convulsed around him, squeezing him. He groaned, climaxing inside her.

Audrianna collapsed on his chest. Her soft panting mellowed as she drifted into a languid peace. Moments passed and she felt him still inside her, start to push into her again. She gave a breezy laugh. Her eyes popped open and she gazed at the surrounding tropical rainforest and thought,

How insane is this?

CHAPTER 1

PRESENT DAY

“Xin, is the target in sight?”

Xin inhaled sharply, fighting off a sneer that threatened to crack his quiet exterior. “Xie xie,” Xin replied softly over the phone. He couldn’t believe that Victor’s harsh undertone had the power to stick needles into his composure. Nothing got past Xin’s thick skin. “Tag him!” The commander’s response was curt.

Xin clapped the cellphone shut and tapped it against his pursed lips. Sitting on a folding chair, off-center of the sparsely furnished room, he eyed the last of the exiting thugs with mild interest. Xin hailed him, inclining his head to encourage him to come near. The man hesitated, glanced back at the troop, and then quickly stepped forward to be addressed by his superior.

The man who hailed him had short black hair and wore dark glasses. He wore a dark grey suit and a metallic tie with an engraved silver tie clip that fastened to a crisp, plum-colored shirt.

Bending over, listening closely to what the mysterious Asian man had to say, he did not realize that this man was a figure only he could see.

Xin, using his thumb to hold the cell phone to his palm, extended his four fingers to stab the man through the protective black army gear in his lower abdomen.

“No, look at me, look at me,” Xin said as he coaxed the man’s attention from the sudden pain in his side to look into his eyes as he inserted the small phone into his flesh. “You’re fine. You feel no pain,” he told him. Xin used his fingers to slowly push the cell phone deeper into the man’s side before he removed his coarse hand and the gash quickly healed, leaving a contused wound.

Xin covered the spot by pulling the man’s jacket over the area and smiled. “Now, hurry along before they realize you’re gone.”

The man swallowed hard as he slowly gained his bearings coming out from under the strong trance. He felt sick as though he wanted to throw up, but he couldn’t fathom the reason. He shrugged it off as just the intensity of the job at hand; for protecting the subject from attack would not be easy. He inhaled to calm himself. As he left the room, he almost gagged on the saliva that had accumulated in his mouth. He covered his mouth, coughing to clear his throat, and was shocked to see a spattering of blood in the palm of his hand. This confused him even further.

“Hey! Roger!” Looking up from his bloodied hand, he saw his teammate waving to him from the entrance.

I’m fine. No pain no gain, he thought as he rushed to meet up with the rest of the group. He ignored the slight twinge he felt in the side of his lower abdomen as he ran.

* * *

“How’s your arm.” Mat looked at Lincoln as he flexed his right arm open and closed. They both stood at the back of the group of men that would be engaged in battling Audrianna’s abductors.

“Not a problem.” Lincoln whispered back. A triple amputee, Lincoln wore special high quality bionic prosthetics that were grafted in aesthetically pleasing synthetic skin. His arm and legs looked and mimicked natural limbs. He had forsaken an integral doctor’s visit to fix a categorical malfunction in his arm to be present for his Boss’s meeting.

Cory Broderick, the commander in charge of the operation, was in front of the group giving a briefing. The two aides listened in quietly. Corey finished the briefing and Lincoln called the officers to attention.

“I can’t stress this hard enough guys,” Lincoln circled the men seated in the room dressed in military fatigue. “This is a “No Fire” operation until specified otherwise. Understood?”

The men nodded emphatically in response.

“Good.” Lincoln nodded in Broderick’s direction.

Broderick looked over at Mr. Maxckmillian who was at the time taking a private call.

“The receiver has b een placed,” Viktor heard Xin say. He sighed as he disconnected the line on his cell and gazed at the members of his wife’s security team. His eyebrow rose at Lincoln Huntington, his wife’s personal aide, who was now in charge of the rescue mission to save her from the abductors.

“Zat it?” he asked in his heavily laden Russian accent.

Lincoln’s reply was equally terse. “For the CPA meeting, for now- yes. We will act as soon as we have her coordinates.”

“Khoroshiy.” Viktor Maxckmillian swiveled the black ergonomic chair around to face the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that overlooked the coastal city of Port-of-Spain. They had an all-encompassing view of the of the Gulf of Paria. The slashing, ominous waves, coupled with the encroaching mass of blackness in the sky that gave way to sparse strips of white light that barely touched the oceanic surface spoke of treacherous weather.

Viktor’s act was as much of a dismissal as the group expected, and the fifteen military-trained men began leaving the regional office of Maxckcom International, located in the Eric Williams Financial Complex. As their steps receded, Viktor heard one steady, assured foot land beside his desk.

“That there be devil’s weather.” Matsenêstse King, Viktor’s blond-haired, green-eyed Texan aide muttered under his breath. Mat had sharp, strong features and a square jaw that relaxed into an easy smile far too often. His hair was tapered short and neat.

Viktor’s eyes slanted to his right. Hearing the door slam behind him, he turned his chair around. His dark blue eyes were guarded.

Lincoln stood by the door, clutching the knob. Viktor released a harsh sigh. “Something else…” Victor paused to think of the right words, “on your mind?” His eyebrow raised in query.

Lincoln released his tense grip on the knob to approach the thick, wide glass desk. He came closer, to stand before Viktor. Viktor relaxed in his seat and arched backward, casually folding his arms over his broad chest. He looked up at Lincoln’s massive six-foot four-inch frame, whose shadow eclipsed Viktor’s body. Lincoln’s honey-colored eyes bored through Viktor’s. Lincoln’s strong jaw tensed. “Is there any phone call so important that you could ignore a briefing about your own wife’s kidnapping?”

Viktor blanched, more from inner rage than embarrassment. He lowered his eyes, “You seem to have the matter under control.”

“Do you have any idea where she is?”

Mat’s gasp was audible.

Viktor’s smirk was incredulous. “You driving something at here – Lincoln Huntington?”

“I want to know who was on the other line of that call you got earlier. What do you know about Audrianna’s kidnapping? You see, the world of Audrianna Maxckmillian, which is totally eclipsed by the all-knowing Viktor Maxckmillian, holds no secrets from you; but the rest of us are not privy to it .” Lincoln’s left hand clenched the secret Contingency Plan file painfully. “If you know who has her, then I want to know now.”

Viktor’s fists landed with extreme force on the glass desk. “Do you truly believe v’at I-” Viktor paused to take a deep calming breath. “Do you think I could ever, ever, delay my wife’s homecoming for the sake of one-upmanship over you?” Viktor’s voice was savage. “Over anyone?” Viktor stood up swiftly with a force that shot his chair backward. “I would never betray Audrianna in this way.” Viktor’s height nearly matched Lincoln’s. “I know you don’t respect my ethics, but give me some credit for the way I handle my business. Whoever took my wife – I don’t know – but be sure, they will regret their actions this day.”

A tense silence filled the room a moment before a sharp rap was heard against the door. A good-looking brunette, Miriam Whitfield, staggered into the office and collapsed unceremoniously in one of the empty guest chairs. “Alcohol please,” she gasped for breath. “Anything will do.”

Viktor buzzed his assistant secretary Emily and ordered a scotch and tonic. Emily, a petit, raven-haired girl with strict bearing, walked in with a tray of bottles of scotch, gin, tonic, and empty glasses. Miriam passed on the gin, deciding on the rich, dark liquid. Emily poured the liquor into one of the glasses. Miriam swiped one immediately, quickly downing it in one, strong gulp.

Miriam pumped her elbow backward, bringing her fist to her shoulder blade. “Aha, now that’s the stuff!” she breathed.

Mat grinned, releasing a slow, low wolf-whistle. Gotta love a gal that can hold her liquor, he thought. Miriam grabbed another glass, about to down another shot, when Viktor lost his already thin patience.

“Miriam!” Viktor’s voice was quiet but curt.

Miriam stilled. The glass of scotch paused, the glass rim right at the tip of her lips; a sly smile animated her face. Her left eyebrow quirked upwards, her eyes lowered from Viktor’s stern features to the chilled golden liquid. Her gaze became shuttered.

“Faulty wiring: a leak gone unnoticed, water pooling over some exposed wires, a minor electrical explosion, a life lost. That’s the story I’ve been pushing across the internet and it’s been picked up by the AP.” Miriam swirled the scotch confidently in her hand. The ice cubes chinked as they clashed against the glass surface, knocking against each other. “I’ve got someone on the report from the fire services, the police department, and the private ambulance service. They’ll all concur with the initial on-site findings – an explosion due to faulty wiring.” Miriam drained the glass. Her mouth pouted in a soft moue. “Ohh,” she released a soft breath. “Bully for us.” She placed the empty glass on the waiter. “The only casualty was one of ours. A national would have muddied the waters…the body bag is already in transit to New York.” Miriam nodded to the assistant and made a small gesture with her index finger, waving it up and down, indicating she’d have another.

“Z’ank you, Miriam, for z’ee brief,” Viktor said through clenched teeth.

Miriam sighed, familiar with her boss’s cue for when it was time to make a quick exit. She grabbed a lime wedge from the serving tray, the bottle of scotch, and two glasses. She shoved the wedge in her mouth. The two glasses clinked against each other as she held them neatly together with her right index and middle fingers. Standing, she raised them along with her hand to salute her boss. Miriam then sauntered through the exit as Emily held the door open for her. The assistant departed as well, closing the door behind her. The three men were once again alone in the room.

Viktor turned to observe the menacing weather through the window once more, his back to the two assistants. Lincoln observed the Russian’s stiff posture. Victor wore a dark silver pin-striped waistcoat with matching trousers. His lengthy raven hair was wound into a close-fitted Dutch braid that fell squarely down the middle of his back. The end of his braid was bound by a fat black rubber strap. The bit of loose hair at the end of his braid always captured the attention of onlookers for its striking shock of white-grey color.

Lincoln opened his mouth to address his superior once more, only to give pause to the shrill ring of the office IP phone. Viktor waved Mat aside when he advanced to pick up the receiver. Viktor answered on the second ring. “Dobryy denʹ, Viktor Maxckmillian.” As he listened to the voice over the phone, his face suddenly paled and he sat down slowly in his chair. The voice on the other end had unmistakable similarities to his missing wife. Viktor shut his eyes when he realized that he was instead speaking to her mother. He released a short breath over an inaudible, muttered curse. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair, dragging his hand down his face gently, using his thumb and index finger to massage his closed eyelids. “No, Mama.” Viktor stopped to listen. “Yes, she is a very ungrateful girl, I’ll make sure she comes over to you before the day is out, of that you could play lotto.” Viktor shrugged off the well of reassurance that surged through him at the sound of the quiet giggle that erupted in his ear. Yes, the both agreed he was no good at colloquial slangs. He ended the conversation with his mother-in-law, only to field another call.

“Viktor, how are you? I have yet to speak to your wife today. I am having trouble getting a hold of her – is she still unavailable? Tonight is the one true night she can see the Saturn’s rings at optimal clarity.”

Dammit! Viktor cursed silently. Had he known his wife had this many personal engagements on a daily basis, he would have reined in her private schedule long ago instead of leaving her ‘daily’ to be settled between herself and Lincoln. His wife was an amateur astrophysicist. Witnessing Saturn’s rings for the first time was all she could talk about the whole week. Viktor kneaded his chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Really, hmm, I’m not aware of her being busy, ‘ve meeting has overrun – she may run late.”

“She is well then?” Dr. Eli asked, concerned about his colleague.

“Yes, she is over the moon about the meeting, so to speak. She has long to arrive; after all, you have all night.”

“Yes, very well then, I will see her soon.” Dr. Eli left the conversation at that. He was not too familiar with the Russian diplomat. He had only met him on occasion when he was with his wife.

Viktor hung up the phone, but it was a moment before his tight grip on the receiver was released. His strong resolve remained hidden behind the look he gave the two assistants, who gazed at him with questioning eyes. “Find her,” he ground out.

Viktor stood grabbing his tailored jacket from over the chair’s back and hastily drew his arms through the sleeves. Lincoln’s cell played the beginning of the Niki Minaj song “Beez In The Trap”. He pulled the phone out and glanced at the screen and then froze, his eyes locked onto it. He slowly turned to face the other two men, displaying the cell’s screen message. The Google map with the red icon representing fixed coordinates could not be misinterpreted.

Viktor, already adept at masking his emotions, easily hid his annoyance at the fact that Adrianna’s explicit location was divulged to Lincoln so quickly. Viktor wondered at Xin’s mounting challenge to his authority at every turn. This further shrank the time available to him to manage his deliverables – Audrianna to Dr. Eli by dusk.

“We have a decisive lock on her GIS coordinates.” Lincoln looked at Viktor. “Would you like to lead the SWAT team?”

Lincoln had to hand it to Viktor; he appeared genuinely puzzled by the question.

“Me?” Viktor replied.

“Given your former profession, I thought you would rather like to handle the undertaking yourself.”

Viktor blinked, aghast. “As an actuary?”

Lincoln sighed. “Are you willing to keep up the pretense, even now, though your wife’s life is on the line?”

Viktor sighed in response to Lincoln’s clipped tone. He laid a reassuring palm on his shoulder. The men were nearly equal in height; Lincoln had only two inches over Viktor. Viktor looked squarely into Lincoln’s eyes and said quietly, “I trust you,” before he grabbed his briefcase and headed towards the door.

Leaving the job of finding his wife in the hands of his U.S. Army-trained aides, Viktor headed towards the elevator. Trinidad was a small island, and he had no time to lose to arrive at the coordinates before Lincoln and his team. Audrianna’s security team was highly trained in combat, a daring mash-up of ex-Marines, Interpol agents, and volatile assassins. They had no doubt taken the kidnapping as an affront to their very existence. Yet Viktor’s training was undoubtedly of a more lethal vein than any human could dare measure against. Audrianna was his wife. He would make sure the person who had taken her drew his last breath the very second he laid his hands on him.

Viktor related to his secretary that she was to remain on call until further notice. He reached the elevator, pressed the button and waited. He then slowly turned to his right to face the approaching auburn-haired man. Viktor’s brow furrowed as he sought to recall the young man’s name. Viktor extended his arm and grasped the callused hand the man extended. “Brighton,” Viktor inclined his head, “Darksmith.”

The man had a somber, disquiet disposition about him that left others unsettled in his presence. Viktor had remained unperturbed by him.

“Sir,” Brighton addressed him as he reached for the case held by his apprentice, who stood beside him. “Your “Hell’s Embrace” as per your request.”

Viktor stayed the man’s hand by gently tapping it with his index finger. He waved his finger negatively. “No, no.” Viktor spoke softly. “Not here, we’re too overexposed.”

Viktor turned at the sound of approaching footsteps. Lincoln and Mat drew close, the doors to the elevator opened and Viktor entered. Three young women of African descent dressed in white tube tops, black leather jackets, and leather pants stood waiting his arrival in the elevator. Viktor sighed in exasperation. His silver-lined suit should have been enough to deter them from following him.

The trio of werewolves was a part of Audrianna’s pack; they protected Audrianna on occasions, and one of their own had been the only casualty in the attack. He had hoped to not have to bring them with him, he had never agreed to them being a part of her entourage. But he was not in the mood to turn them away.

They all wore their natural hair in a corkscrew hairstyle that massed at the shoulder. One’s complexion was a fairer shade of almond brown than the others. The ultimate goal was to be a decoy for Audrianna in case of an attack such as the one that occurred last night. But all that had resulted in is the death of one, and the kidnapping of his wife. Revenge must be at the forefront of their minds.

Their expressions gave away no measure of discomfort as he turned to the elevator’s opening and beckoned Darksmith and the young boy inside.

The doors to the elevator were about to close when an index finger slid through the cracked opening. With the strength of his artificial index finger Lincoln forcefully, and easily, slid the doors back into its slit. Lincoln looked down at Viktor.

“You’re not heading to command center?”

“Sorry. We’re heading up. Prior engagement.” Viktor flicked Lincoln’s finger from the open door, but his finger only moved because Lincoln moved it, not because Viktor could. Lincoln folded his arms and watched as the doors began to close, not before Brighton gave a half-hearted wave delivered with an expectant expression in Lincoln’s direction.

Lincoln gave Brighton a brief, non-committal smile before the doors shut.

Mat turned to Lincoln and leered at him. He lifted his curled fingers and gave him the fig sign, wriggling his thumb beneath his index finger. Only a decades-long friendship kept Mat from landing in a world of hurt by offending the towering Lincoln Huntington with his brash teasing.

Lincoln, in response, flipped Mat his middle finger. His eyes silently told Mat, “Go fuck yourself.”

CHAPTER 2

Viktor led the Darksmith and his apprentice through the double doors of the top floor, past the portraits of former Ministers of Finance who had reined over the national Ministry of the preceding years. He led them to the second conference room, which had the title “Scarlet Ibis” engraved over the double doors.

Viktor barged into the room unceremoniously. They had booked the room for a meeting and had assured the building’s caterers that they would provide their own helpers. They would remain undisturbed until the watchman made his patrol later that night.

Viktor surveyed the board. His manservant Grigori, a pale figure with a bushy beard and mustache and an aristocratic nose, stood on the far side of the room facing the expansive windows. His attention had been drawn to the darkening skies. “Striking view, isn’t it.” His gaze never wavered; his reflection in the glass was a clear mimicry. “Like having a clear view of what is to come.” Grigori turned to face Viktor.

He sniffed Viktor’s collar, his brows shot up, Grigori snickered at the scent of silver that lined Viktor’s waistcoat and jacket that assailed him, “ a tad…immature?” Grigori lent accusingly.

Viktor’s attention had already been caught by the sight of the other young boy in the room. He sat on a chair in the corner. Nikolai, sullen, looked out at the same intense weather. The dark clouds rolling in from the horizon were nearly upon the shoreline. The deep-barreled rumbling and flashes of lightning promised a dire circumstance to the evening. Viktor sighed, annoyed. He drew himself up beside Grigori. “What the hell Grigori, this is not a family affair!” he ground out quietly.

Grigori looked at him, unfazed by his master’s aura of malice. “I am not to leave young master unattended. He is quite traumatized by the events that occurred last night – you should have a word…” Viktor walked away from him.

Had Viktor paid attention to what he had said? Grigori scowled as he watched Viktor grab the weapon that had wanted repair. Grigori’s attention, too, had been stirred by the remarkable aesthetics of the club. Hell’s Embrace, Viktor’s superior weapon, had been chipped badly during his last battle.

The club was about two and a half feet in height, its weight – hefty. Though as a man of strong build Viktor felt no extremity in wielding it. The wood the club was made of was jagged, but smooth to the touch, as though chiseled from a tree trunk and then sandpapered with exquisite care. Its crown was encrusted with clear, hard crystals and black moon rock. Spikes adorned its circular rim.

Viktor waved his arm in a clean, effortless downward motion. Whoosh; the sound sliced the air. The top of the club sparkled like stars in the night sky, as though with energy born from the swift movement. Viktor was visibly appreciative of the weapon. He brought the club to lay across his palm. Sighing, he walked across to Nikolai.

The boy’s puffy eyes and red nose were marked signs that he had been crying. Viktor spoke resoundingly in his native language. “You see this club. I’m going to find the man who took your mother, and I’m going to use this club to beat him within an inch of his life…” He looked down, dead straight into the boy’s unwavering stare. “Then I’m going to kill him.” The exchange seemed to cheer Nikolai up, because a slow smile dared to grace his lips.

“Fantastic,” Grigori thought, pulling out his ringing cell phone. “At least they seem to speak each other’s language.”

“I trust the club is to your liking.” Brighton would rather take his leave now and make an early flight out of the country. This stop was one of four for the evening, his obligation to the Maxcks were purely sentimental.

“Ah yes, heavier than I am used to…” Viktor kept admiring his piece.

“That may be ‘cause of the added inner component you requested.” Brighton pointed at the weapon in Viktor’s hand. “Dead center, as per your instructions.”

“Hmm…” Viktor folded his arms. Still holding the weapon, he brought his other hand upward to stroke his chin using his thumb and index finger. “Brighton…” He paused. “After this…we need to have a word.”

“Viktor,” Grigori addressed him from behind. “That was your master interrogator. He is stuck on the highway, he will be another twenty minutes. Brian is just now drawing that symbol you’re so fond of on the roof top, and Kelly should make it in time for the transportation ritual…”

“We have no time,” Viktor said decisively. Lincoln was probably on his way to Audrianna now, the epic Lincoln Huntington was sure not to wait for backup, thought Viktor. Aside from the urgency of the matter of his wife’s kidnapping, Viktor was not yet sure if she was being held for ransom or for another reason altogether too sinister to comprehend.

“I’ll protect you.”

His boastful words came back to haunt him now; he closed his eyes to the vivid memory. “Marry me, I’ll protect you.” He had promised her.

Viktor walked over to the long window, surveying the black man on the roof of the other building. He was barely out of sight, using the paintbrush in his hand to quickly fashion the Star of David on the roof. “Spare me…” Viktor breathed. He extended his arm in a swooping arc; Hell’s Embrace glowed, emitting a soft hum. “I’ll grab Kelly – Darksmith, how good are you tactically, in the field?”

“I’m no fighter.” Brighton was quick to reveal with raised brows.

“But you are armed,” Viktor stated.

Brighton gave no answer.

“Viktor.” Grigori approached him as Viktor made a mental check of everyone aligned with him: the three wolves, Darksmith, Kelly in transit. “You mean to transport these four men, and yourself, plus one in transit without knowing precisely where he is and without a proper marker to keep your locations in check – have you ever done it before?”

Viktor kept his eyes trained on the toe of his grey, Versace, patent leather dress shoe and the inane thought flitted through his mind that he hoped the decorative lines of the shoe would not dizzy him. “I’m doing it now.” Viktor did not look up. “Everyone, stand where you are and do not move a muscle, do not even blink – and if you can help it, do not even breathe.” Viktor flexed his arm, gripping the club’s handle. He could hear the sound of metal clang as he was deftly in tune with his instrument of destruction. Only Viktor could hear it, only he could see the vibration of the ground, the heartbeat of each man he was to bring with him on his journey. There was the harsh sound of metal dragging slowly against steel as though a clammy echo of a creaking door had been opened, and then Viktor saw nothing but the black.

They were gone. Grigori looked at his charge, sitting in the ergonomic chair, staring at him questioningly. And who is this kid? Grigori thought to himself as he stared at the young apprentice of Darksmith. Ahh yes, Grigori Rasputin: healer, supreme master of the mystic arts – errant babysitter. Grigori thought wryly.

He clapped his hands together and wore an effectively bright smile commanding the attention of both children. “Okay,” he rubbed his hands together, speaking lively. “Who is up for some chocolate ice cream and some cake?”

***

Kelly sat in the convertible. His red BMW drew stares from the locals, as it was clearly expensive. They must wonder who he was, but Kelly was not concerned about the attention he drew to himself. Dressed in a black turtleneck sweater, black overcoat, and slacks, he sat in the driver’s seat checking his emails on his smart phone – in that instant he felt an oppressive hand placed firmly on his shoulder, making him gasp. He whipped his head to see who could have possibly caught him, Kelly Payne, off-guard. His eyes met blackness.

Kelly started. His feet were no longer neatly tucked into the driver’s seat of his newly-refurbished car, but planted on a hard unseen ground. Kelly fell backward, and his derrière hit asphalt. He cursed. “Damn it Viktor, some professional courtesy is not only welcome,” Kelly said, picking himself up and dusting himself off, “It is advised.”

Kelly stared at his employer’s broad, tensed shoulder and took heed of his stance. He automatically reached for the weapon secreted on the inside of his overcoat.

“You are a thousand years ahead of yourself to be dictating to me, scrub,” Viktor snorted.

Kelly sucked in a deep breath; his cheeks swelled with the torture of curbing his tongue rather than correcting Viktor on his wrongly-worded metaphor. He released a calming breath as he drew out his nunchucks.

Kelly’s weapon of choice strayed from the conventional nunchaku. Far from the ones sustained by Bruce Lee, they were not made solely of wood, but were silver-gilded with gold.

The top of the nunchaku were held together by a short silver chain; the body of each long silver-gilded stick was referred to as the shaft. Holding the batons’ top between his thumb and forefinger, he swung the nunchucks upwards, towards himself, catching it squarely in his palm.

“Payne.” Viktor turned his head briefly to look back at him. Kelly’s head was bent. He did not catch the telling stare in Viktor’s eyes. “The level of concealment is limited and we’re heading into terrain where an ambush is highly likely.”

Without looking up, Kelly acknowledged him with a short nod. Catching the nunchucks in the palm of his hand, as one slender shaft met the other, he lightly pressed a small mechanism that allowed him to freely control the many, rows of two-inch blades embedded in the weapon, which he incorporated into his fighting style. Spinning the nunchucks deftly between his fingers, the blades escaped through slits in their exposed surface. The blades did not all come out at once, but in a pattern only Kelly, and one other, were able to intuit: a unique, consistent pattern.

“I’d also like to keep the blow-by-blow to a minimum.” Viktor was firm on this regard.

Unbelievable, Kelly thought. He couldn’t believe that he was letting the misuse of all these common English idioms slide. Oh, to be Maleficent is a godsend, Kelly thought, his eyes trained on Viktor’s back as he now spun the nunchucks with such speed that it appeared to be one long stick, the blades coming in and out of the shafts in quick succession. A novice would have had several fingers lopped off at this stage. Kelly was no novice.

Kelly’s mind vaguely wondered at the other occupants that shared this darkened place.

Humph, Darksmith thought. Another pretty boy. Darksmith observed the lanky blond newly added to the group before looking back at Viktor. They were surrounded by – nothing. They were in a bubble, a vacuum, a minor dimension controlled by Viktor himself. Aside from the statue poses of the three little women who gave the faint whiff of dog to Darksmith’s sensitive nose, blondie, and Viktor here, there were no other markers to speak of.

Darksmith gritted his teeth. His mouth pressed together in a sneer, he touched the long, thickly stemmed weapon at his side. I most certainly do not want to be here, he thought quietly to himself.

“Kelly, process as many heads as you can, as quickly as you can. I want to know exactly where she is as soon as you know. Darksmith, cover Kelly, nobody touches him. Girls, you can let loose as soon as I’ve got Audrianna’s distinct position – understood?”

“We want what you want,” one of them concurred. Viktor snorted in disbelief. They only kept themselves in check because of Audrianna. They were more unrepentant with him than their master.

Viktor paused. “Hold back as much as you can.”

Beep-beep, beep-beep. Everyone grew motionless. “What’s that?” Kelly’s voice sounded hoarse. He looked in Viktor’s direction.

Viktor’s head was bowed. His attention appeared to be caught by something on the ground.

Beneath Viktor’s stylish dress shoes lay his cell phone, the screen glowing. Almost out of juice, it beckoned its owner for replenishment. Viktor had used the device to acquire exact GPS coordinates to complement his mystical compass trajectory spell. It had worked, not for the first time.

His foot was on his cell phone. Looking down, he stared at it. He stepped off the device, stooped down and clutched it. His hold only tightened as he stood up, placed the phone in his pocket, gathered his wits, and flexed the arm that held Hell’s Embrace.

Hefty reasoning and the calculations of a purposeful raiding party became fogged by the fury that intensified with the stillness of every second they waited for the right moment to attack. A slender trickle of sweat escaped the furrow of Viktor’s brow to slither down the side of his nose. The perspiration was not due to fear. Fear, panic, derision of the enemy – these were all emotions that were scaled down to a level of inferiority that would be overshadowed by skill and due diligence in the time of combat. Trained in the method of combat science, the act that had been whittled down to a measured reflex when needed, he found himself displeased that he must struggle to find the inner voice necessary to soothe the rage that threatened to control his actions.

Viktor closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. My time here, in this moment, is too crucial for me to allow my anger to take control.

I must remain calm, now more than ever… I must prepare to protect everyone in my team from direct fire. I must cover all dead space…

Beeb-beep, the phone went off again, beckoning Viktor’s anxiety. His eyes flew open. He exhaled roughly, his jaw muscle flexed. Twisting his neck to the side caused a small cracking sound to escape his muscular shoulders. He raised Hell’s Embrace straight up, directing the crystal crown overhead.

“Now!” he yelled, blasting a spectacular stream of white, electric, luminous light towards the top of their black enclosure.

CHAPTER 3

The black walls that surrounded the company of six slowly dispersed, puffing up vertically like plumes of smoke. The trajectory of the blast became visible. The inside of the transport helicopter exploded, and so too did the occupants as the force of their entry became evident. Their pocket dimension had been set up to emerge inside the man with whom Xin had placed the phone. Viktor had blown the dimension walls apart, along with the helicopter the man had boarded. They had landed from the inside out, causing a large explosion. Everyone in the man’s vicinity had been killed.

The helicopter was a transport chopper; not fit for landing, it had a ladder and pulley at the entrance, presumably for hoisting an infirm patient for transport. The party of six fell to the ground on impact.

The explosion had the effect Viktor had surmised of eliminating a number of combatants on contact. It also had the dubious effect of attracting everyone’s attention and did not make for an ideally stealthy approach. The eyes of everyone still on the rooftop fell on them. A screeching alarm blasted the silence, alerting all others to the intrusion at the base, and the six fighters were immediately under massive direct fire.

Viktor turned; he was at the back of the line. Kelly was in front, using his numchucks to deflect bullets. Viktor cursed. He raised his club to fire – but a long, thin silver projectile appeared from the side, penetrating the stomach of an attacker. The force of the object did not end with the first impact, but continued, pulling the attacker off his feet and causing him to slam into a fellow combatant. The projectile, sinking into the flesh of the second combatant’s side before hitting a third, dragged all attackers backwards into the side corner of a wall. The wall broke off and all the enemies were heard screaming as they followed it over the side of the building.

All stood and looked back at the direction from which the projectile had originated. Brighton Darksmith lay heaving with exhaustion, holding a long thin weapon that looked like a recoilless rifle. The stares leveled at him turned witless.

Viktor walked over to him and offered him a hand up. Brighton took it and stood, righting himself. Viktor looked upon him, thoughtful, making Darksmith feel uncomfortable under the direct scrutiny before a bullet whizzed by, grazing the side of Viktor’s cheekbone. Specks of blood and broken skin splattered into the air.

Two assault rifles. It was then Kelly brought out his second numchucks from inside his jacket, spinning both pairs in the form of X’s with either hand so fast they resembled straight, golden batons. He deftly deflected all the bullets streaming toward them. The bullets flashed and sparked as they flew into each golden shaft.

The two combatants stood side by side, effectively blocking the only entrance to the roof. Their accuracy was skewed, though, a tell-tale sign of their lack of experience in using the Kalashnikov. They decided to advance, believing a smaller gap would give them a better shot at him, in between the spin of the nunchucks. Kelly’s movement did not allow for breaks in speed. Their strategy amounted to futility, and closing the gap only allowed Kelly a better shot at them when deflecting the bullets. He parried both rifles with the ease and fluidity of a trained professional. He had sheathed the blades, and this had allowed his free-form tactics to become sharper.

The rifles were on semi-automatic. The short bursts of gunfire veered off in either direction, due to the combatants’ stance in shouldering their rifles. Kelly used the brief reprieve from being in the direct line of fire to accomplish a change-up. He skilfully turned around, grinned at his counterparts as he flung both nunchucks under his arm, caught them at the baton stick’s middle on one end, and turned once more to face the shooters. Lunging forward, holding both sticks in either hand, he swung both diagonally across in front of him.

He effectively deflected a bullet, sending it flying to hit the AK-47 shooter on his left in the hand holding the gun’s grip. The shooter yelped. Another bullet came at Kelly from the shooter on the right. Kelly swung both numchucks above to his chest in a criss-cross style, deflecting the other bullet into the other shooter’s head. The bullet shattered the skull, entering the brain, and the man slumped to his death.

With his compatriot dead beside him, the man began to panic. The alarms still rung loudly, the clouds crackled, the rain started to drizzle steadily. The man began to fumble for the vertical selector lever on the left side of the AK-47. If he hadn’t noticed when one of the initial bullets Kelly had deflected earlier had ricocheted off the lever rendering it ineffective, he noticed its stub missing now.

Before he could reach for the other safety so he could place the rifle in full-automatic mode, he felt a sharp, unbearable pain at his abdomen. He looked down to witness the unthinkable; a black hand had pierced his middle straight through. He then looked into the face of owner of such an arm, and it held the prettiest brown eyes he had ever seen. That was his last thought as his neck was caught between two inhuman jaws.

CHAPTER 4

The other young girl of African descent had semi-transformed into a wolf. With her head that of a large werewolf, her body grew into an oversized human. She had run up behind her sister and latched onto the man’s neck before spinning to a stop and spitting the head over the edge of the rooftop. She then transformed back into a small-sized human.

Great, Viktor thought, as he absorbed the scene before him. Remnants of the blown chopper and body parts lay burnt, askew at their feet. The smell of burnt flesh and aviation fuel assailed their nostrils. Smoke from the blast also hung low about their ankles, held there by the cold night air. The rain would be pouring on them soon. Viktor advanced towards the entrance. No survivors from their entrance. He cursed.

“I recall you saying earlier that you needed some alive?” Darksmith stood behind him, looking into the shadowy stairwell.

“Not if direct fire doesn’t allow it.” But this was too much overkill, Viktor thought.

“Right then.” Darksmith advanced into the corridor. Above the blaring sirens that called the men securing the property to arms, footsteps could be heard shuffling cautiously in their direction. Darksmith reached to his side and pulled out a bronze hammer, the head of which was shaped like a fist. Darksmith grasped the hammer tightly with both hands, lifted it above and over his shoulder. Its handle length appeared to increase by way of magic. The fist opened into a palm, and Darksmith then swung the weapon onto the ground with a dull clang. The floor erupted with waves that were visible to the naked eye, and also what seemed to transport a blue, flickering electric pulse down the floor of the corridor, turning the corner, out of their sight.

A few moments after the disappearance of the wave, resounding screams of pain could be heard along the corridor. Viktor led the team round the bend to discover the bodies of men in bulletproof vests and grey security fatigues littering the floor.

“Kelly.” Viktor crossed over the men walking further down the corridor. “Get to work.”

* * *

Xin glanced up at the twin full moons in the sky. Ahh, he thought, always a comforting sight. Eyes closed, he breathed in the dewy, cold night air of the tropical jungle that surrounded him. The crackle of thunder overhead disrupted his musings and his eyes fluttered open on a heavy sigh.

The darkness of the jungle was no match for his natural, unimpaired night vision. He saw all, from the dark African violets more than fifty feet away behind him that grew in abundance round the white building that had come under Viktor’s attack, to the colorful, very venomous red and yellow coral snake nest that lay hidden beneath some loose rocks a mile in front of him.

Crickets’ chirping in Trinidad was different than most. It was long and hard, matching that of a whistle being blown for hours at a time. There were many crickets in the Aripo Mountains, their high-pitched screech competing with the warning alarm that was triggered by Viktor’s crew blowing up the chopper.

Xin looked back up at the two-story building that stood carved into the cliff face on an embankment, smiling at the broken propeller of the helicopter that lay dangling off the side of the roof. The bloody, burnt, smoking arm of a dead man hung off one propeller, which threatened to fall off the side of the building. At the very least Audrianna would not be ensconced at a secondary location. She was as safe as she could be – for now.

Xin turned and looked ahead at the thin, disappearing path before him. The path was crooked, with jagged rocks jutting out of the ground, slippery brown leaves en masse to tread upon – it was not the most convenient terrain to get a comfortable foothold.

The second-wave security team heading up the path to support the base operations staff could be heard two miles down the path. The sound of their feet trampling on soft forest mesh was amplified by Xin’s were-hearing.

About twenty-three men, he deduced as he stepped back until his body was squarely hidden beneath some low-hanging palm leaves. He unsheathed his katana-gun. The moon beams’ glare travelled up the blade’s length as he brought the sword straight up, parallel to the centre of his body. Xin grasped the hilt securely beneath the trigger guard. It was an uncommon attachment for a sword to sport. He quietly waited for the approach of the first combatant to the small clearing.

The clearing was further hidden by overhanging leaves, which blocked the mouth of the passage. Anyone arriving would have to remove the hanging palms from in front of them before coming directly before Xin. Boulders that were almost level to Xin’s waist flanked each side of the passage. He brought his sword up and waited. His heart rate slowed and mellowed as his mind restrained his anxiety and shoved it into a recess of his mind that he would never acknowledge. Xin, eyes closed, braced his nerve with the will to react quickly to the first entry into his deadly trap. He kept himself quietly poised as he waited.

He listened as the first armed enemy brushed aside the low-hanging palm leaf. And he waited…and then…he heard the armed man’s track into the clearing…Now!

Xin brought his sword down swiftly, with such deadly force that the blade cleanly severed the head of the first man at the top of his neck. The force of the blow tossed the head flying into the air. The man’s body collapsed onto its knees as another man entered the clearing. Xin stepped forward further. Facing the next man directly, he brought his katana sideways from left to right, effectively slicing the other opponent’s neck. The head was sent flying, blood splattered in the air . Blood spewed from the gaping wound at the apex of the shoulders, gushing like a minor spring as that body collapsed upon the first.

Xin reeled backward, his left leg a shoulder’s length in front of his right, his sword lowered, waiting for the other combatant to make his appearance.

The other man entered the clearing, looking down to assess the obstacle that he nearly tripped over. He had no time to be surprised at the bodies at his feet before Xin brought his sword upward in a sweeping arc and the blade severed his neck.

A whip of lightning flashed across the black sky, illuminating the clearing in which Xin awaited the next man. His eyes closed, Xin swung his sword downward, expecting to feel the counter-pressure of the wall of flesh, but the blade met thin air instead. His eyes flew up to meet the shocked wild fear in the eyes of the fourth perpetrator, who assessed the bloody scene before reaching for his hand gun and firing off two shots in Xin’s direction.

Xin straightened and pivoted on his right foot, dragging his left foot to his right side from behind. Facing away from the gunman, he pulled his katana forward above his head. The blade against his back, Xin steadfastly blocked each shot from entering his body – sight unseen. He then waited for a lapse in firing to quickly turn around, wielding his sword in a 360-degree turn, counter-clockwise, drawing the sword down heavily.

Shwoop; the blade slashed the flesh of the neck hard, sending the man’s head spinning through the air. Blood splattered in an uneven spiral, and the rest of the man’s body tumbled to the forest floor.

Fuckin’ shit!

Xin cursed silently. He coolly slashed the air beside him with the katana shaking off the blood and flesh with a vwip.

Xin was vexed with himself for allowing the last man to get some shots at him. He had hoped to cut down more men at this stage, but because of the early release of gunfire it was already time for phase two. He could hear the other men speed up, advancing towards his point. Untroubled by the bloody cadavers at his feet, he sidestepped the slaughtered guards.

Xin crouched down by the side of the path beyond the boulders and felt for the ropes he had tied into a heaving line knot and stashed beneath the dense carpet of wet leaves. The ropes were extended across the path at particular intervals, parallel to each other, and camouflaged by fallen leaves. Xin held the loop of the knot and waited as the footsteps of the men to come nearer and nearer. As feet of the front-line guards trampled on the hidden ropes, Xin stood, yanking on the heaving knot. The ropes rose, causing the men to collapse upon each other as they lost their balance. Xin then attacked the men where they lay. Coming upon them he proceeded to stab them on the ground in the jugular and heart. He gouged out their stomachs, moving quickly.

Xin managed to slaughter nine more men before an armed gunman at the rear spotted him and opened fire. Xin then jumped over the boulders to his right and disappeared into the darkness of the night forest.

CHAPTER 5

“ Payne!” Viktor barked, looking down at Kelly. Kelly nearly jumped at the unspoken threat in the violent spew of his name. He eyed Viktor warily, crouched on the floor as he cradled the head of one of the armed gunmen in his hands. He shook his head.

“Shit!” Viktor expelled through clenched teeth. “Not good Kelly-not good at all. Try one more then we move door-to-door.”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, commander.” He saluted him, never without his sense of humor. Viktor did not waver at the official address. He spun around and continued to monitor the hallway beyond.

Kelly yanked a thin gold acupuncture pin from the base of the gunman’s head, which he had used to puncture his spine. The pins were constructed from nano-technology and served as a transmitter between the gunmen and Kelly, who often used them in his interrogative techniques. With an unconscious combatant, it was proving difficult to force the information he wanted to the forefront of the enemy’s thoughts. He had to feel himself around thoughts of vague, dreamlike elements.

Kelly righted himself, carelessly letting go of the gunman’s head. It landed with a hard thud on the floor. Kelly went to the next unconscious man and stabbed him at the base of his head.

Viktor looked out upon the dark corridor. This compound was familiar to him, but he was not prepared to search door-to-door until he had an exact location for his wife. On the other hand, time was slipping away and he could bet money on the SWAT team being moments from charging onto the scene.

Viktor’s ears perked up and he glanced at his team behind him. The girls and Darksmith all looked at him knowingly – more men heading in this direction. “Wait here.” Viktor stared steely-eyed into the darkness as he walked down the corridor.

The compound structure had three levels. The first level was below ground, a main storage area and sleeping quarters for the help. The second level was the main foyer, which led into a dining area, study, and garage. The third level housed the kitchen and bedrooms. That was how Viktor remembered it from the last time he was here, five years ago; the first time he met his wife. He didn’t want to go from room to room, guns blazing, just in case there was a protocol to kill Audrianna as a means to instigate a cover-up.

Viktor took a few steps into the darkness before he came across two gunmen. They fired shots at him – one held a hand gun, the other an AK-47 at full automatic. Right before the shots came into contact with his body, they were deflected off into another direction, encountering a mystically-charged force field, projected by Hell’s Embrace, which surrounded him and protected Viktor from all harm. Once armed with Hell’s Embrace, Viktor could attack at will, all the while being automatically covered from all direct fire in this full defensive mode.

Viktor reached out, held each man by their necks with either hand, and squeezed. Any officer would only dream of being this close to an unarmed target. The men fired. Groups of shots hit Viktor’s chest and shoulders, as the men were raised above his head against the wall with his bare hands.

Eventually they managed to fire shots at his head, but it made no impact on their current situation. Viktor, teeth gnashing, eyes coldly intense, continued to squeeze with a viselike grip at the men’s throat until each man went dead still. He released them, allowing their bodies to slump and crumble to the floor. He grabbed their collars and dragged them to the opening of the room where Kelly and the others waited.

“Anything?” he ground out at Kelly.

Kelly responded with a shake of his head, looking down at the knocked-out figure in his lap with the needle in its head. Kelly, sweat-drenched and fatigued, felt the strained muscles at the base of his neck. He reached behind his shoulder and squeezed to alleviate the tension. He looked up at Viktor. “Nothing- yet. Many of these men were kept out of the loop, probably just hired thugs. At this rate we’ll be the ones knocked out if we have to brace for more of them coming at us.”

“Try these.” Viktor released the men roughly before Kelly. “If you can’t get anything from them, then we move on.”

Kelly slapped his palm to his forehead and dragged it up to his hairline, wiping away the sweat. Looking down at the two unconscious men thoughtfully, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out what looked like a gold cigarette case. He opened it to reveal more of the gold-plated needles he used to infiltrate the minds of his prisoners. He and removed two before returning it to his pocket. Holding the two men by the nape, he pressed them forward at the waist. They slumped over, unconscious, the backs of their necks exposed to him. Kelly stabbed each man with a needle, pressing them into the flesh hard.

He gritted his teeth at the pain of the double exposure to the senses. His mind became full of the aggregate memories of each officer. Usually, one ‘brainstorm’ was jarring enough, without losing control of the senses, but the inconsistency of brain activity of two men in unison strained the limits of his cognitive abilities. “Holy shit!” He ground his teeth from the pain, hugged his waist, and doubled over. Wave after wave of each man’s memories crashed through his mind, overpowering him like a twenty-foot tidal wave.

His head felt the pressure as though jumping from a skyscraper. Still, he forged on with his mind spiraling out of control, sifting through the memories of the unconscious men as though they were his own. Then one of the men stirred, groaning, as though he too felt the probing of his mind like a physical touch. But Kelly knew better; only he was aware of the feelings during this connection.

Sensing an ideal opportunity, Kelly, straining against the tension that had built up in him, yanked the needle out of the man who hadn’t moved. He then bent over the man that was fighting his unresponsive state. Bracing his hands on either side of the man’s head, he concentrated.

His breathing erratic, Kelly finally staggered to his feet. “Oh man.” His eyes flew open. “I think I hit something.” He paused, massaging his eyes. “And a name. Someone they report to.”

“Do you have her location? Did you find my wife?” Viktor grabbed his shoulder forcefully.

“I think so, in a room on the next level.” Kelly felt calmer now that he’d stopped processing the men’s thoughts. He drew in deep breaths, steadying himself on his feet. “Two doors past… the left of the stairs.” He paused as he caught his breath. “Opposite a window.”

“Good,” Viktor said as he whirled around, heading for the darkened hallway. “Alright,” Viktor gave the three young werewolves a seething look, “It’s time now. Let loose.”

The three young women smiled at him. They had been trembling with the need to rebel against the ordered operation and hunt for the men who had killed their friend in the earlier ambush. From this moment forth there would be no holding back.

Viktor led his rescue team through the corridor, which turned left four times before it met a staircase. At the top of the stairs they met a barrage of bullets. Viktor led his team down the stairs into the direct line of fire. The men kept firing at him, backing up as they did so, shocked as they realized the fierce man had walked by them unaffected by their gunfire. They noticed too late the snarling, hairy beasts in front of them.

The petite femmes had transformed into werewolves, standing on their hind legs. The men’s faces contorted in fear as they shrieked before they felt the ripping of their tender flesh by large black claws, and their heads being seized between the jagged teeth of supernatural creatures.

Viktor brushed past each man with a machine gun, quickly drawing their fire and leaving them unaware of the approaching doom from the blind spot over their shoulder. He finally reached the door, where a sentry stood blasting at Viktor’s head with rapid fire rounds from an AK-47.

Viktor clutched the man’s head on either side. The man’s head became hot as it grew colder and colder. He released the rifle, letting it collapse to the floor. Thin streams of blood escaped his eye sockets and his nose. Almost immediately, the man’s whole face turned blue, then a light purple, then black, in rapid succession until the whole face resembled that of a black, charred, charcoal mask. His whole head became light ash and crumbled in on itself. The man’s body collapsed and blood from the hole in his neck pooled in the flimsy ash that was once his skull. Viktor then turned purposefully towards the closed door and kicked it open.

A lone gurney lay before him in the center of the room. On it laid his wife.

CHAPTER 6

Xin felt the bullet land squarely in his right shoulder from behind, nicking his collar bone on entry. He howled and nearly turned into a werewolf at that moment. His teeth gnashed as the wound bled. He felt the hairs on his neck nearly give way to the sharp bristles of his supernatural self. Luckily, he reined in the werewolf transformation. Not yet, Xin thought, deliberately calming his beating heart. Then he stilled. His nose twitched at a familiar smell – vampire.

Xin stood at his full height, his face a mask. If he was having fun before, now he was deadly serious. “Vampires, here?” Xin snickered. He turned, spiraling out of the darkest fringe of the clearing and slashing a gunman across the back diagonally from left to right. He was dead. His body did not regenerate. He was human. But there was a vampire…somewhere.

“Hmph.” Xin placed his hand in his pocket, casually walking into the jungle canopy that shrouded his presence. As he did so, three men with firearms walked into the clearing Xin had been using as his vantage point since he had arrived on the site.

Xin watched the men closely circling the clearing. He studied their expressions. The dead bodies they had encountered so far on their way to base headquarters must surely have them spooked. If he weren’t so astutely trying to accomplish a stealthy approach, he would surely have enjoyed having a fit of brazen laughter at their expense.

The men were anxious and their movements were jerky. Beads of sweat leaked from beneath their black berets down the side of their faces, disappearing into the damp open collars of their black fatigues. Their eyes frantically searched the dense darkness of the tropical jungle around them.

Xin stood up. The clearing was not much to bolster his position: everyone was about six or seven feet from each other. He withdrew his twelve-inch hunting knife and held it by the blade, lifting his throwing arm. As the man farthest from him turned around, Xin flung the blade with such force into the man’s chest that the gunman was thrown back to land hard against a tree trunk. His rifle released a few shots, drawing the attention of the two men closest to him.

Xin used the diversion to come upon the remaining men from behind. He pierced the shorter of the men through his jugular with his blade.

No, Xin thought to himself quietly.

He drew his sword upward, slicing through the rest of the man’s neck before the blade entered the other man’s head, slicing it at such an angle that the head was severed diagonally, leaving one eye intact. The third man was dead before the body of the second man collapsed to the floor.

“No,” Xin thought again. “Not a vampire.” But there was no mistaking that dank, familiar smell of rotting corpse. “Hmph.” Xin swung his sword to allow the guts and blood that had collected there to slide off. He deduced that the vampire must have been on the island a long time, having to deal with the Caribbean heat, in order to allow its body to pass along its scent so strongly to a human.

The gunman stuck to the tree was still firing at him. Xin grabbed the body of the third man whose head-top was lopped off and proceeded to use it as a shield as he advanced towards the gunman.

The man’s aim was irregular; the bullets from the rifle tore into the “shield’s” lower abdomen and legs. Xin covered the few steps to the enemy right away. He drew the corpse he held with his left hand up against the arm that held the rifle and the handle of the knife in his chest. The burdensome weight preventing the gunman from reciprocating, his rifle fired shots at the earth.

Xin then pressed down on the corpse, placing pressure on the handle; he looked down into the eyes of the gunman until they rolled back into his head.

Xin stilled.

Another one?

Smiling, he swiftly swung the sword upward, overhead. The tip of the blade landed dead center into the head of an armed gunman who had been hiding so as to catch him unawares.

So, the others exposed themselves to draw me out, did they?

He slowly eased his index finger onto the trigger that rested at the collar of the katana. Xin pulled the trigger, and a bullet escaped the spacer of the katana and blasted the head of the gunman clean off.

The unique magazine hidden in the hilt of his katana couldn’t retain many bullets, so he made sure the ones there were capable of maximum effect. He normally resorted to such tactics when dealing with vampires. Firepower that exploded on impact made all the difference…against a human it was a total waste.

Hmph , all human…

Xin heard the rest of the men heading in his direction. He turned right and darted towards the building. A bullet entered his midsection from behind and he released a fierce howl before he leapt a yard into the air.

In mid-air he felt the proportions of his human form contort grotesquely into an abnormal shape. The drastic change was so sudden and crippling a regular human unfamiliar with the pain would have lost their mind to the agony. But for him it was a clean and welcome occasion that he could acutely manipulate. His whole body convulsed as he transformed. Thick, dark-grey, bristling hairs grew out instantaneously along the stretch of his back. Brown fibers mirrored the effect on the other parts of his body. Human ears gave way to long, thin ears that burst out on either side of his head. His human face transformed into the massive embodiment of an overgrown jackal.

With the transformation into a were behind him, he landed onto the side of the building. The strong claws of his large, newly-formed jackal paws grappled the stone face, chipping away at its white brick finish.

Xin, now a fully formed were-jackal, scanned the crowed of overzealous pursuers firing at him. He still wore the dark suit, which had been especially tailored to suit his needs for transformation. A young pup would have been left bereft without such attire in a sudden- transformation situation such as this.

Xin turned his blade downward, his thumb rest handily on the butt cap. With one sure press of the hidden button at the base of his katana-gun handle, he detonated the grenade that was hidden inside the hunting knife that he had planted in the gunman moments earlier. The gang of gunmen was decimated by the explosion that ripped through the tropical jungle. Burnt body parts flew into the air over the ball of fire that surged and threatened to go further than the three mile radius it had impacted.

Xin sheathed his unique sword and dutifully began the arduous task of climbing up the side of the building with all fours, bullet wounds in his back.

CHAPTER 7

Viktor found it terribly disturbing that he had to fight for his composure He stared at his wife, lying unconscious on the gurney. His wife’s skin, the color of dark chocolate, had lost its luster and was now ashen. Her cheeks were sunken; her lips dry, and cracked. She wore a hospital robe that did nothing to veil the fact that she was bare beneath. A catheter had been connected to her bladder and was strapped to the inside of her right thigh.

Viktor’s teeth gnashed together. His breathing quickened harshly. He raised his fisted hands to pound either side of his head.

Get a grip man, get a fuckin’ grip…

She looked so small where she lay. At five feet, two inches, most men towered above her.

She was so small, so innocent – in all of this…Don’t lose it, man!

Her scalp is what sent him over the edge. Her bare head was exposed and her soft, relaxed hair was nonexistent. Viktor stared, unresponsive. Her head had been shaved.

They cut off her hair?!

AND THE HEART GROWS FONDER

Chs 1 –  27

PROLOGUE

Atlanta, Georgia

Audrianna Maxckmillian examined the report on her screen, re-evaluating the Critical Assumptions she’d concluded for the companies she had deemed would be successful takeovers in the coming year. She sat at an antique armoire with the laptop in front of her, and couldn’t help but glance at her reflection in the mirror. Her bald head still irked her. She squeezed her head on either side and willed herself not to be perturbed by it.

“Mommy! Mommy! Watch me! Watch me!” Nathan, her four year old son, appeared beside her.

Audrianna laughed. “What is it, baby?” She hugged him to her.

“I’m not a baby,” he declared, pushing her away.

She released him and he stood, posing with his hands on his hips and a very serious look on his face. He puffed out his chest and began bobbing his body up and down, starting to sing the beginning of a popular children’s cartoon in Russian. Audrianna had to hold her breath to keep from expressing her dismay

at having to see her son perform the same act for the fourth time this morning.

“A!” Viktor walked in, trailing behind their daughter. His hand secured a small, bushy brown teddy bear to her shoulders. “I thought I told you to stay in your room and not to disturb your mother.”

Nathan squealed as he climbed on top the bed, rolling himself inside the comforter.

“Mommy! Mommy! Look, it’s Chubby!” Nadia, Nathan’s twin sister, showed her the teddy bear Viktor kept from falling.

“So, is Daddy following you around with that that whole day?”

“No!” Viktor was adamant.

“Yes!” Nadia cheered.

“Off of that bed and go to your room,” Viktor ordered Nathan.

“No, Chunky Nasty!”

Viktor scowled. “What did you just say?!”

Nathan giggled and rolled up in the covers

like a pig in the blanket. Viktor pulled the sheet toward him. Nathan wriggled.

“I want to poo poo,” he screamed.

“I want to pee too,” Nadia said.

Audrianna sighed. “No, you don’t.”

“Yes, Mommy, I want to go to the toilet too,” Nadia begged.

Audrianna sucked her teeth in long, old fashioned, Trinidadian stupes.

“I’ll handle it,” Viktor said, although he knew Nathan only said he wanted to go to the bathroom to avoid getting in trouble for what he had just said, and Nadia only wanted to go because her brother said he wanted to. “You continue what you are doing.” A small, soiled jockey came flying into Viktor’s chest from the direction of the doorway. He made haste to catch it with his right hand. “Nathan! You don’t have to undress to use the toilet.”

“Ah, fool you!” Nathan laughed, escaping the room. Viktor scowled darkly as he ran after his son. Nadia skipped behind them, holding onto the legs of her teddy around her shoulders. Chubby Teddy hung upside down without Daddy managing to hold it in place.

Audrianna sighed, hanging her head in frustration before she looked back at the screen and focused on her report. A loud clash could be heard and she got up once more to search for the root of the sound. What now? she thought.

She entered Nikolai’s room to find him lying on the floor, holding his knee tangled in the sheets. The waiter that held his breakfast was collapsed on the floor.

“Oh, baby.” Audrianna scooped him up and laid him on the bed. “Are you okay?”

Viktor loomed in the doorway, assessing the damage. “Jumping on the bed again. I thought I told you to stop.”

He turned in the doorway. “Arianna,” he rasped for the maid. “I should make you clean up your own mess…”

Tears welled up in Nikolai’s eyes and streamed down his cheeks, still clutching his knee. Viktor looked none too impressed.

“Are you okay?” Audrianna cooed.

“Oh, there is obviously nothing wrong with him, Audrianna! Go to your room and finish up your work,” Viktor barked.

Audrianna scoffed, hands on her hips. “Don’t take that tone with me.”

Viktor looked miffed and sighed. “Look, you go and finish your job. I’ll handle the kids today. The sooner you complete your report, the sooner we can leave for the Carolinas. Now go!”

Audrianna sighed in exasperation. Nathan, fully dressed, and Nadia, teddy in hand, came running, curious as to what was causing all the commotion.

“Nikolai, you hurt?” Nathan asked.

“Aww,” Nadia sympathized. “Let me kiss it and make it all better.” She got up on the bed and kissed the injured knee.

Nathan patted Nikolai’s knee. “You need a plaster? I have a octopus plaster.”

“No, no, no! He doesn’t need a plaster. All of you, back to your rooms now!”

“No, I want to stay here. Chunky nasty!” Nathan hugged Nikolai.

“Me too,” Nadia whined. “I’m staying too.” She hugged Nikolai across his stomach.

Nikolai, annoyed with the attention, started to push the twins away. “Get off me,” he said.

The twins looked at him before they both started to force him down, hugging him mercilessly.

“No, I’m not playing!” Nikolai screamed.

The twins laughed. Audrianna hugged him close too, kissing him on his cheeks. Nikolai squirmed.

Viktor walked over to the bed. He hooked the deliriously happy Nadia and Nathan around their stomachs and headed out the room. He caught Arianna at the door and filled her in on the mess created by Nikolai to clean up. Viktor then yelled at Audrianna to get back to work.

* * *

“Right.” Audrianna clapped her hands above her head. “It’s over,” she said with glee. The glow of the laptop illuminated her face. It was later that night when she watched the document save and shut her laptop. She glanced at the bed in the mirror. Her husband was not there.

She got up and ventured outside. The townhouse they occupied while in the city was both modern and comfortable. Audrianna loved the style of the darkly polished mahogany woodwork and high ceilings. She walked down the spiral staircase with deep, red velvet carpet to the foyer below. She turned toward her husband’s study. She peeked inside. “Hey, daddy. What ’cha doin’?”

Viktor sat in his chair and seemed engrossed in what was on his computer screen. Grigori stood behind him. He looked up distractedly. “I’m almost done here.” He looked back at his desktop. “I’ll be up in a minute.”

She smiled at them. “I’m starving. I’m just stepping into the kitchen and then I’ll be up myself.” She left.

Viktor nodded, watching the replay of the scene of Audrianna’s attack on the men in the clearing from before. He was none too pleased with Grigori for recording the incident.

“Do you always think it best to usurp my familiars to spy on me?”

“You forget yourself, Viktor.” Grigori was engrossed in reading the ancient text in his hands. “Golub’ is Audrianna’s familiar now. It is only natural that one’s familiar would want to put all else to task in favor of the life of its master.”

Viktor gritted his teeth in displeasure at the ‘dig.’

“Always have to get one in, right, Grigori?”

Grigori snickered. “Nonsense, my lord, it is all for you after all.” He pointed at the screen. “And do take notice of what I had mentioned to you prior. The men there had clearly not been disintegrated, their matter has not been scattered in the wind. They were not destroyed, not in our total sense anyway. Neither were their bodies converted into a more unseemly strain.”

The muscle in Viktor’s jaw began to twitch. “Get to your point.”

“Ah, yes, sir. I believe we are seeing the return of the special power documented in your aunt’s text, sir.”

Viktor shrugged. Standing, he switched off the monitor. “One incident, ever, does not the end of the world make.”

“Ah, well, yes, I suppose you are right, sir. Lest we become excited over one sure incident, mind, we should wait for things to escalate and become a proper burden before we make plans to protect the world from absolute destruction, much like the humans do.”

Viktor looked at him, unmoved by Grigori’s words. “Good night, Grigori.” Viktor walked out the study.

“Good night, dear sir.”

Viktor left the study and turned to the stairs. Changing his mind, he headed toward the kitchen. He pushed open the doors. The multiple cupboards, huge stove and long table were made of cool steel. Audrianna sat with her head bowed over the container of ice cream at the far end. Viktor found it odd that she was eating straight from the container and had not transferred it into a bowl. “Save some for the rest of us, will you, hon?”

Audrianna glanced up at Viktor with a gleam in her eyes and grinned without contrition. “Mmmmm, I forgot how this stuff tastes.” Her voice was low, resembling a growl. She dipped her whole hand into the container, scooping up the vanilla and shoveling it in her mouth. She swallowed, hard, smearing the ice cream all over her face and dirtying her night gown. “Mmmm.”

Viktor stood motionless. He squinted. He did not want to believe what might be happening. “Come again.” He began a slow approach toward his peculiarly behaving wife. “Audrianna?” he questioned softly.

“She’s not here now,” she sang, though he was sure now that the voice was not her own.

Viktor cursed. “It’s you?”

“Way to go, sucker. Tsk, tsk, tsk. You struck out, better luck next time.” Audrianna rubbed her hands together. She stood and cracked her knuckles, the sound was abrasive.

Viktor was nearly upon her now. “So you’ve come back, have you?”

“Ho, ho, ho, come back? Might you have mistaken me for some other fellow?”

He raised his arms to grapple with her. “You are like that other one, and nothing new.” He reached for her and his arm clutched her diagonally over the shoulder from behind. His left hand glowed, trying to cover her face. “You are likewise no match for me.”

Audrianna grabbed the wrist of his left arm painfully, pulling it from her face, for she feared the light. She must always fear the light. She grabbed Viktor’s shoulder and flipped him forward, flinging him with such force he slammed against the cupboards and landed with a thud on the floor. He scrambled to his feet.

Audrianna placed a hand on each breast. “Why so testy, eh, Jack! What’s mine is yours, not so?” she yelled at him. “What’s mine is mine, and I don’t care to share.”

Viktor raised his hand to the sky and tufts of smoke gathered; the air above crackled and boomed, and darkened as though a storm raged within the confines of the dome ceiling. Viktor quietly summoned a black hole to open up above him and a mighty, wide staff with the head of a black horned Minotaur fell from it to stand on the ground with a boom. The eyes of the minotaur opened with a menacing glare directed at Audrianna. The minotaur, poised, inhaled deeply, and the length of the brown and white, swirl decorated staff looked to swell with the strength of the breath. The minotaur then released the breath on a long, loud growl, and the walls shook from the extremeness of it. The sound was like a blast and it was all Audrianna could do to block her ears from the bloody howl.

Audrianna was flung backwards, landing hard against the fridge door. She was stunned. Knocked out cold. She began to fall forward when Viktor dove to catch her before she hit the floor. He cradled her in his arms.

“Well, I say.” Grigori allowed the door to swing shut as he evaluated the scene before him. The glass windows had been blown out and the steel cupboards dented. The place looked like the aftermath of a tornado hit. Grigori crooked a brow at Viktor. Viktor’s look was of such anger that Grigori decided against any snide remarks. “Shall I help with the cleaning, sir?” Grigori thought to ask, but even those words sounded too dangerous to utter at the moment. Grigori sighed, turned around and let himself back out the kitchen door.

CHAPTER 1

Paris, France

Lincoln Huntington stared into the darkness of the night sky from the restaurant at the apex of the Eiffel Tower in France. The black, quiet vastness rolled on forever like a void. It encased the luminous buildings and dwarfed the late night hustle of Parisians milling on the sidewalks.

The serenity of the moment gave Lincoln the odd feeling of being trapped in one of those snow globes where the fake pristine scene of the city and its Eiffel Tower was encased in glass. From inside that globe, Lincoln imagined a moment in time could be captured and held. Forever.

He glanced at his smartphone; the screensaver read 11:35 pm. He grit his teeth at the late hour as he waited for his best friend and work colleague, Matsenêste King, to arrive. Lincoln rested his chin on his steepled hands on the table.

He had originally been seated with his four younger kids along with his beau, Rees, before he had opted to shuffle the kids back to their three bedroom suite at the ritzy hotel so he could meet Mat alone.

Lincoln smiled grimly. Rees had done an about-face as soon as the phone rang. All genuine smiles with the kids until he overheard and understood the gist of Lincoln’s phone conversation with Mat. Lincoln had to hand it to Rees; he had still been all smiles with the kids, albeit insincerely. Distrusting. Lincoln didn’t think the kids had caught on, thank God. He didn’t want to give them the impression he was on shaky grounds with Rees.

Lincoln had already managed to defuse the explosive argument they had after their arrival.

Lincoln had just put the kids to bed for the night when Rees asked that they have a good talk.

Uh, oh. Warning bells had gone off in Lincoln’s head almost immediately. Lincoln took a lucky guess as to what Rees wished to discuss: the third lover in their relationship, Lincoln’s job. Rees had been incensed before, getting on his case about his increased work hours. Lincoln reminded him that he had told Rees that the job and kids came with the package, and there would be no exceptions. Rees insisted the demands from his job had worsened and Lincoln needed to actively try to reduce his workload.

“Get an assistant!” Rees said.

Lincoln shrugged his thick shoulders. “I already have an assistant.”

Rees bristled. “Get another one!”

They had gotten into a back and forth until one of the kids had woken up to use the bathroom. Then when Neecy went back to sleep, Rees further accused him of bringing the kids on their weekend getaway to use as a buffer zone between them. Lincoln denied it, though they had been a certain level of welcome distraction from the dreaded “we need to talk” discussion mantel.

Lincoln grinned wryly. Having Mat meet him on his trip in the middle of dinner to engage in an impromptu meeting was not helping to maintain the falsehood that everything was hunky dory.

Lincoln raised his head, elbows resting on either side of his flat red wine aperitif and untouched plate of feta wrapped with prosciutto. He stared at his open hands, then clenched them into fists. Both of his legs and his left arm were bionic, but through the magic of nano-technology, he could still feel the tiniest frisson of pressure made on his skin. He uncurled then curled his fingers into fists and squeezed. He thought of the power of possibility he could achieve with his two hands, and sighed.

The power to make the pieces fall where I want them to, he thought, crushing his fist painfully. And yet, I can’t deny Rees the advantage.

Lincoln exhaled as he closed his eyes, thinking that Rees was right. For a while now, he had thought there was something missing in his life; that becoming a triple amputee had made him feel the need to replace the emptiness with work. A quiet but undeniable longing for… Lincoln frowned. For what? He hadn’t meant to become an ardent workaholic. It had just… The job demanded all of you. Lincoln smiled sadly, making his position as Audrianna Maxckmillian’s aide akin to having a jealous lover on the side; just as Rees had reiterated.

Deep in thought, his long fingers laced in front of him, he was still able to deduce the evenly paced footsteps that drew up behind him for who they belonged . “This had better be good,” Lincoln said to his friend without turning to meet his face.

“This warrants it,” Mat replied, a touch of Texas rolling off his tongue. Mat brought his heavy body solidly down in the seat opposite Lincoln. He wore his blond hair long, slicked back with a side part. He was mixed with Cherokee Indian but you would never guess by the remarkably teal blue of his sharp eyes and beach body golden tan skin. Mat brought his fist to his mouth and he looked out to the glittery, alive landscape of the old Paris city. Mat hissed, “What a view.”

Lincoln’s brows met with agitation and he laughed under his breath as he took in Mat’s profile. “The situation at home must be really bad if it’s got you in a pensive mood,” Lincoln drawled, trying to mimic his friend’s Texas accent. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Lincoln did not achieve the affectation that much.

Mat just looked at Lincoln, staring at him with the same emotionless eyes for what seemed like countless minutes. The uncommunicative message there made Lincoln develop a disheartening abrasion in the pit of his stomach. And before Mat could open his mouth to relay the details of the urgency, Lincoln cursed, “Holy shit.”

***

Mat and Lincoln left the restaurant. Lincoln was dubious as to the reaction the news of him ducking out early of their long awaited vaca would get from Rees. At the hotel, Mat waited in the lobby to give Lincoln some alone time with his family.

CHAPTER 2

In the confines of the Honeymoon suite, leaning against the doorjamb, Lincoln stared at the bed. His hulking six foot four inch frame blocked the doorway. His thick, mahogany, James Franco-mimicking-James Dean hairstyle mussed from a frustrated comb through with long, strong fingers. He stood poised, arms crossed and hunched over, contemplating …

Through his dark shades he looked at the empty, luxurious king size bed draped with black and gold satin sheets and as many as six black silk pillows lining the headboard, while he listened to disturbances coming from the bathroom. Lincoln sighed and closed his eyes, resting his head back against the jamb. Rees exited the bathroom and walked over to him and Lincoln breathed in his wispy cologne that always reminded him of the breeze blowing in to the shoreline from the Caribbean Sea. He brought his head back up and opened his eyes to face what Lincoln knew to be a pissed expression.

Lincoln pushed himself off to stand upright. Dressed in a black Armani Suit, crisp white undershirt that featured a contrasting black collar; a dark, long trench coat that reached his ankles, and designer shoes, Lincoln was the ultimate image of cool sophistication and elegance. Clenching his gloved hands at his side he took the one step that closed the distance between them. At his great height, Lincoln towered over most men and Rees was no exception. He stared deep into Rees’ angry steel grey eyes while Lincoln’s expression was hidden behind the dark glasses.

Lincoln hissed softly, “I know this won’t square anything.” Then he grabbed Rees roughly by the shoulders and dragged him against his body, crushing his lips to his. Rees stiffened momentarily from the sudden impact, then at once became malleable under Lincoln’s white hot assaults. Wave after wave of longing overflowed his body and a warm, hard flush filled his veins.

Rees’ mouth opened to Lincoln’s wicked tongue and Lincoln lashed out greedily, demanding his surrender. Their tongues mating, Rees groaned. Lincoln sucked, taking in everything offered. Lincoln’s arousal surged against Rees, causing him to shudder. Then, as a twinge of foreboding slinked into Rees’ heart, he made to reject Lincoln’s heady advances seeking to press against Lincoln’s iron chest, struggling to get out of his massive hold. But Rees’ efforts were weak. If Rees wanted to protest, he couldn’t, because Lincoln just wasn’t having it.

Lincoln reached out, cupping Rees at the back of his head to hold his mouth to him as he reached down, releasing his thick length that stretched all the way to his navel. Lincoln drew Rees’ hand to his erection and Rees, still locked in the white hot kiss, stroked him. His other hand, of its own volition, stopped pushing at Lincoln’s chest and made to urgently assist in fuelling Lincoln’s rising phallus.

Rees felt his own incessant desire lay weighty atop any fool hardy notion he may have had to deny Lincoln his sex tonight, until it gathered and became a pure, venerable bounty that squashed Rees’ misgivings under its magnificent force.

Finally, when Rees gave into his mad desire to be possessed by his lover, he could only think, breathe and feel Lincoln. His burning kiss branded his soul, his fuming cologne intoxicated him, and everywhere Lincoln touched him made him feverish to be penetrated.

Lincoln had Rees bent backward as his other arm grabbed his butt, roughly mashing their groins together. Rees’ hands left the teasing of his cock to snake upward under Lincoln’s parted coat to tug his shirt from the confines of the waistband. When Lincoln dragged his lips off Rees, Rees’ protest was an audible “No.”

Then Lincoln hissed, “We don’t have much time to do it right, just this…” Before long Lincoln’s hands gripped the curve of Rees’ white tee at his chest and ripped it, splitting it down the middle. Lincoln chuckled, exposing Rees’ pearl white skin, and he bent down to whisper in his ear, “Next time we won’t bring the kids and we’ll go sunbathing on the beach, in the nude.”

The suggestive lilt in Lincoln’s voice stroked Rees’ fiery imagination and he purred, arching into him, the intensity of the emotion causing the tip of his manhood to quiver with approval for Lincoln to take him. Lincoln palmed him on a low growl.

Lincoln continued to destroy Rees’ soft, cotton pyjama pants tearing them away at the zipper, shredding, and roughly tossing them aside. Lincoln was delighted to find Rees wore no other protective clothing, allowing his turgid manhood to grow against Lincoln’s cool palm. Rees shuddered at the contact.

Lincoln stretched his other hand behind Rees to fondle his ass and he stilled. He looked into Rees’ eyes with genuine surprise. “You prepared yourself for me?”

Rees blinked the seduced glaze from his eyes and, with an embarrassing flush, buried his face in Lincoln’s chest. What could he say to deny it? He wanted to talk and be open with Lincoln and have them discuss what was wrong with their relationship, and it was tantamount before all else. But he also wanted Lincoln’s sex and when his mind was occupied with fury over Lincoln’s denial and unwillingness to talk; his mind unwittingly drifted to the memory feelings of Lincoln. Lincoln’s coarse touch, Lincoln’s sultry taste, Lincoln’s manly smell; his own sex had throbbed with unwanted desire for him. And before long he was preparing himself for his entry.

He shelved his pride in the face of Lincoln’s hard core sex.

He felt terribly embarrassed.

“You’re so beautiful.”

The uncommon catch in Lincoln’s voice caused Rees to look up at him. The revealing, strong light in Lincoln’s eyes could not have been denied at such close proximity, and Rees looked amazed by the true sentiment being shown to him by the too often unmoved man. “On my way over here,” Lincoln’s voice was tender, “I was delirious with thoughts of only you, and wanting you…by the time I made it over here all I could think of was…” He stopped, and all at once the tenderness was gone. He gritted his teeth, looking away, “fucking.” he spat.

Lincoln looked at Rees again, his eyes on his jet black hair, his runway model features, his soft swollen lips. Lincoln wanted those lips on his erection.

“Holy fuck!” Lincoln said as his gaze lingered on Rees’ parted lips. His cock stirred. He inhaled very, very deeply, trying to regain a sense of stability in manoeuvring his thoughts away from the idea of satisfying his robust lust. But he inhaled Rees sweet scent. It penetrated his senses, saddled itself right on his good intentions, and his manhood was languishing from the skin to skin contact it craved. He exhaled, clenching his eyes tight.

Lincoln grabbed Rees forcefully by the shoulders, backing him up to capsize onto the bed in a sitting position.

He brought his hand up to massage his closed lids, pushing up his shades only to feel the sticky substance on the fingertips against his shut eyes. It was the tangy substance Rees used to prepare for sex that Lincoln liked so much. Lincoln cursed and excused himself to the bathroom, leaving Rees looking bewildered over the abrupt exit.

Secluded in the bathroom, Lincoln breathed in cool air unaccompanied by the tormenting scent of everything Rees.

The bath was cool white tile with silver flourishing, silver faucets and towel handles. He opened the sink tap to allow the cold water to wash off the slick moisture from his gloved hands. He dried off with a towel, removed the gloves and placed his dark specks on the counter, and began to wash his face. After towelling off he looked down.

Good, he thought nonchalantly. Now for my dick.

If I could just get my Johnson to play cool and stop actin’ the fool I could get control of the situation.

He decided not to rub this one out. Instead Lincoln let the faucet run cold water, filling the sink halfway, he then placed the towel in the water, wrung it, and then put it over his exposed arousal. He released a shaky, uncomfortable breath on a slow hiss. Not nearly cold enough, he thought, but enough of a shock to calm his lustful appetite.

Lincoln was a big man, when he was aroused his erection was huge. Lincoln tried to focus on the jarring effect of the wet towel in a desperate attempt to at least get the tip back into the fold.

Rees rapped lightly at the door. “Lincoln, are you alright?” He tested the door handle. But Lincoln had locked it and he couldn’t get in.

Lincoln blew hard through clenched teeth, wishing the cool addition to his cock would quickly trigger his unhappy mojo to get with the game plan and act nice. “Sure sweetness.” Then he cleared his throat when he realized how rough he sounded. “I’ll be out in a sec.”

Lincoln dumped the towel in the hamper, eased himself painfully into his briefs and adjusted his privates. He couldn’t hide the fact he had an erection, but at least he’d done all he could to tame the beast.

Lincoln zipped himself up, repositioned his glasses on his face and unlocked the door. He emerged a much quieter giant on the other side, dwarfing Rees with his massive height.

Rees, after two years of being together with this juggernaut of a man, still appeared captivated by the thick build of muscles that rippled beneath his lover’s clothing. Lincoln crossed his long arms over his wide chest. His smile was a tight offering, still hinting at frustration. Rees couldn’t help but notice Lincoln had sheathed his shaft and the big erection still bulged noticeably. As Rees stood staring at the confined column, it looked to quiver.

“Are we…” Rees began, still staring.

“Going to talk,” Lincoln growled over him sternly. He cleared his throat once more. He sighed and on a soft murmur he said, brushing Rees cheek lightly with the tip of his fingers, “You were right. I did bring the kids along to diffuse the little skirmishes that often pop up between us.” He scratched the back of his head in annoyance. “Aww hell, I’m the most level headed guy in the world when it comes to resolving disputes, but when it comes to my life I sometimes can’t acknowledge something bad is happening, and then I have to question myself and my methods. And I don’t like to be wrong.” Lincoln moved to sit on the edge of the bed. “I’m never wrong about anything.”

I also have an old, bad, depraved habit of using sex to solve my problems. He thought quietly, but that was a can of worms worth keeping the lid on for another time.

Rees, still naked, walked over to the bed. As he turned to sit beside Lincoln, Lincoln’s eyes became riveted by the glistening, clear gel that had streaked down the side of Rees’ inner thigh and nearly reached his knees. Lincoln swallowed hard.

Yeah, bitch could be riding me like a moped ’bout now. Stop it you insufferable piece of shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. I wish my inside voice was a real person sometimes so I could strangle it and shove it in a trash compactor.

Rees sat next to him on the bed. Lincoln reached behind them for a pillow and used it to strategically hide his groin. Using his big arm to clasp the pillow strongly against him, he smiled at Rees’ doubtful expression. Lincoln sighed.

Okay, I’m ready. We are not going to do anything else tonight but talk, Lincoln thought adamantly.

“Alright.” Lincoln collapsed backward on the bed, one arm behind his head, the other keeping the pillow in place. “Talk.”

***

The Next Day

Lincoln exited the elevator into the hotel’s foyer. He strolled towards the sliding double doors of the entrance, observing to his right, seeing Mat in the lounge area, he placed his index and thumb into his mouth and released a piercing whistle honed from years of haling taxi cabs on the streets of New York City. The uncommon sound brought the attention of aghast onlookers. The bellhop almost forgot himself, saving the bags of the new arrival he was attending to from collapsing on the floor.

The bartender in the other room could have sworn the screech affected the glass on the bar’s counter top causing it to vibrate.

Mat, accustomed to Lincoln’s showy display for attention, seemed unmoved by the sudden disturbance. He glanced towards his right from where he sat. Knocked out of his steadfast slumber, in the cozy tan couch of the lounge area adjacent to the foyer, he was instantly alert. His eyes rolled, clearly annoyed. He pushed himself out of the couch, and gathered his ruffled coat and brief. He strode towards Lincoln coolly.

Lincoln’s brows shot up above his dark shades. The skin above his nose squished into folds of critical disbelief. “What is your problem?” he asked.

Mat glared, “You said you would be five minutes – it is now six-thirty in the morning.”

Lincoln looked at him as though shocked, “Say what, bitch? I don’t know what you talkin’ bout.”

Mat simply gave him a fiercer stare. “Oh, you think you are sooo cute, don’t you?”

Lincoln chuckled, using his index finger to push his shades squarely against the curve of his nose. “You know I’ve never been a one minute man.”

Lincoln and Mat stepped out into the cool, bright morning of Paris. Lincoln shaded his eyes from the glare, his mind wandering on what might have spurred Mat to seek him out on his vacation. “This had better be shitting profound”.

CHAPTER 3

Cyprus

The private plane arrived on the flight pad in Cyprus on a chilly Wednesday evening. Lincoln and Mat exited the plane without passing through customs on account of their diplomatic aide passports. They entered the black stretch limo.

Lincoln did a double take at who was lounging on the seat at the far end. The Bricklayer. Holy shit. Lincoln released a slow breath on a cool whistle. For Maxckcom’s number one underworld heavy hitter to be involved, this must be a real doozy of an operation.

The Bricklayer may as well have been named after his look of being built of hard muscle. To get all fired up in his grill, must be like attacking a brick wall. Like Audrianna would say, “Fuss’ the guy was big.” And he was tall, even taller than Lincoln. The guy could give The Rock and Cena a run for their money. He was the colour of molasses, and not an ounce of fat on him.

“Yo!” The Bricklayer nodded in greeting, nursing a toothpick between pearl white, even teeth.

“Wow, Brick.” Lincoln’s smile was cheeky, a little provocative. “I bet you’re black all over.”

Bricklayer laughed, with the forever seductive twinkle Lincoln could not get enough of in his eyes. “You want to find out just how much, Slick? Huh?”

Mat’s glanced up at the ceiling. “You two need some private time, I could share the front seat with the limo driver.”

Lincoln and The Bricklayer laughed. The Bricklayer was not gay, but he was downright incorrigible. The Bricklayer was named after his most notable profession that entailed moving money. A nick fashioned after the casino guys who laid down bricks of hundred dollar bills. He knocked the tinted, sliding glass window separating the driver’s prying eyes from the action underway in the back seat. “Yo! Drive.”

The limo pelted off the tarmac onto the main road at dead, max speed. Two hours later they pulled up to the entrance of a gated community.

The massive, black decorative gates opened up to a long, straight driveway that carried on for the length of a football field. The luxury property was encircled with green, leafy oak trees lining the path, lending to the atmosphere of absolute seclusion. The place diverted from the normal island, sultry, country feel of Cypress and lent more to an English landscape.

Lincoln’s eyebrows shot up as he noted the expanse of the custom designed plantings of the ostentatiously landscaped centre garden as they drove along, and immediately realized he had been mistaken. The grounds did not house an entire community, just a single home.

Someone dished out a lot of money to make this place look like it wasn’t in Cypress.

The limo passed two more dark sedans, stopping in front of an old, elegant residence backed by the similar, out-of-town oak trees. The setting gave testimony to the definitive impression that its occupants lived a life of excessive luxury.

Decades of renovations that must have been made to make the residence appear modern did not fall short of making it look extravagant. Several white curved, marble stairs led to the landing. The grandiose architecture featured six white marble columns, nearly fifteen feet high, arranged in a semi-circle portico that supported the massive roof above the veranda. The walls were American Georgian red brick spanning two stories. Two rows of multiple windows lined the front and sides of the house. The lights were notably off except for the two below at the side, and the shades were drawn in that room. A lone shadow could be seen pacing in that one.

It had been a few weeks since Lincoln had been honoured by his magnanimous employer’s presence. He came into closer view as the limo drew up in front of the entrance to the home.

Leaning against one of the columns, was the man of the hour himself, Viktor Maxckmillian. His muscled body was dressed in a Versace biker jacket with metallic studs that lined the collar, featuring a gold zipper and black leather pants with pocket openings also lined with gold zippers. He wore a soft white inside shirt. He looked all kinds of crazy-sexy-cool with his right leg bent outward at the knee and the foot resting against the column at his back. His other strong leg was straight. Arms folded, head upturned as he leaned against the column with closed eyes. His long, black braid with the white tail-end was flung over his shoulder and rested on his chest.

Lincoln’s long strides ate up the stairs in no time and he aimed for the large white wooden doors. Mat and The Bricklayer followed.

“You’re late,” Viktor said mildly, eyes still closed.

Fuck you, Lincoln seethed inwardly, but hid his loathing well.

Lincoln had a few inches on the Billionaire Aristocrat, however, Viktor’s status alone had the uncommon audacity to command attention of all others around him.

Lincoln stopped. He spread his arms in a not-too-wide appeasing gesture and shrugged, turning towards the deceptively peaceful man. “I’m here now.”

Viktor’s eyes opened, and they were bright and instantly sharp. He turned his head to gaze upon Lincoln, his wife’s aide. Viktor pushed himself from the column and strolled toward Lincoln.

The man had the ability to eclipse all other equals in the room. The broad shouldered muscular billionaire, clean shaven with long dark hair, scowled at Lincoln with meaningful disdain. Lincoln merely stared at the Russian. Viktor turned and walked back into the open doorway. Lincoln followed, Mat and The Bricklayer keeping pace behind them.

They entered a spacious foyer with a centre table that displayed a vase containing what Lincoln could only perceive as wild flower decorations. There was a rug with a circular, black and white pattern that broadened from the centre beneath an old oak table, until the end of the carpet was met. Lincoln followed Viktor past the ornamental furnishings; past the unimaginative display of the black and white pattern flooring towards another entrance. They entered a study with floor to ceiling book shelves and a small ordinary office desk and chair.

Lincoln met the surprise of a lifetime with a tight lipped expression. Opposite the desk on either side seated on comfortable, cushioned brown leather back chairs, were Viktor’s cousins and associates in business. Markova Maxckmillian was seated to the left, and Mayakovsky, her brother, to the right. Neither acknowledged his entrance.

With a measure of unease, Lincoln reached up, massaged the back of his neck briefly before lightly scratching a false itch in the space between the end of his earlobe and his jaw. His hooded eyes slowly slinked sideways from one Maxckmillian to the other. God, this must be some deep shit.

Viktor walked over to the bookshelf and leaned back against the flat siding that faced the draped windows and the pacing, outwardly nervous man. He took up the same stance as he had outside, but with his thumbs stuck into either side pocket of his pants. His head bent backward, eyes closed. He was simply too cool for the room.

Lincoln was a bit perturbed by the subdued, non-engagement by the two cousins. Maya and Mark were fairly pleasant to him at all times. The tall, short of hair, broad-shouldered, impeccably dressed in business attire Maya, normally exhibited a warm, congenial forbearance which was a stark contrast to the virile, self-contained Viktor. And the dark haired beauty, Markova, was always expressive, animated and bawdy. It was a wonder they were never effusively awkward around their stern cousin Viktor. His own quiet, dark presence concealing itself to that corner of the room.

The cousin’s unmasked disquiet caused Lincoln to act with reserve.

Lincoln glanced at Viktor as though from him, he could get a feel on how he should proceed. Viktor, looking at him with narrow, hooded slits for eyes nodded forward in the direction of the man behind the desk.

Lincoln, with a decidedly conspiratorial look, raised a silent query to Viktor by bringing his right hand up and dragging his index finger across his throat suggestively.

You want me to kill this guy? Lincoln’ action meant to infer, accompanied by a Miley Cyrus tongue-sticking-out-of-mouth-sideways gesture.

Viktor responded with a wry, unimpressed shake of the head and turned his gaze downward towards the papers in the man’s hands.

The banker, having caught the outward exchange between Viktor and Lincoln, had blanched and looked to have aged a thousand years in the space of two seconds. The papers he now held were crushed in his hands, sweat dotted his brow and upper lip and his body shook with alarm.

Maya and Mark also caught the dubious exchange between Lincoln and Viktor. Bearing the banker’s reaction, they looked at each other and snickered.

Nothing like the threat of violence to ease the tension in a room.

Lincoln walked over to the desk, reached across, and took the papers from the banker’s outstretched hand.

“You have to sign those,” Viktor commanded.

Lincoln nodded. He took a pen from his pocket, put the papers on the desk, leaned over and signed on the dotted line agreeing to what; he did not know. Sure, by all means, allow me to give my life away with the stroke of a pen.

Once the document had been signed the tension in the banker appeared to have eased. Lincoln felt the burden had possibly been transferred to him somehow. He shrugged mentally. Whatever. This job couldn’t squeeze out anymore from his life than it had already.

CHAPTER 4

Dammit to all to hell as fuck, was I wrong.

Lincoln stood uncaring of the hundred dollar bills flipping through the money counting machine before him. His mind went back to the moment he signed those papers, or as he mused, the night he got fucked six ways to Sunday.

He and two other men sat in a dingy room that smelled like old mould, and new money. The dark-green paint coating the walls looked more like it had been mashed in with the heel of someone’s shoe, then scrubbed off with sandpaper, rather than smoothly painted on with a brush. The one light fixture dangling from the centre of the flat, lime-green ceiling, illuminated the room; but not by much and did not do the interiors any favours. The sofa was dirt brown, rough, hewn, antique. The only new things in the room were the grey folding chairs and the three by two foot rectangular, pine wood table the men shared in their task of neatly securing the money and stacking it together in multiple bricks of ten thousands. The longer end of the table was jammed against the wall.

The automated money counting machine sat on top, sporting ten pockets and an eight inch touch screen that allowed Lincoln to organize how much money each pocket should count. Right now, each was set to count a batch of a thousand of the hundred dollar bills. The grey pockets were detachable and could be arranged as desired. Lincoln favoured a pyramid structure, and arranged the machine pockets in that fashion. He fed money through one side of each pocket and they fanned out the other side in flapping waves as they were counted. Each counted at least one thousand bills a minute.

Once a pocket finished its cycle, he carefully gathered the set of one thousand Benjamins and handed it to the person next to him. Lincoln then marked off the twelve thousandth, millionth bundle as being complete with a tick on the excel sheet printout on his clip board. The person seated on the shorter end of the table, added it to the nine he already had. He held the collection of bills that formed a brick on either side and slipped it in a machine resembling a desk printer. With the money fitted into the secure panels, the stack was pulled into the machine with a soft whirring sound. Less than five seconds later, the bundle was then spit out into a tray with a new currency band securing the brick. Another man then took it and placed it with dozens more of its kind in a large, black, steel trunk. The inner lining of the trunk was cushioned by pocked light grey foam sponge.

Lincoln was continuing with the repetitive task of loading up the counting machine pockets with more dough, when he felt his smartphone in the inside pocket of his designer suit jacket vibrate with a low buzz.

He took it out and a picture of Mat’s sickeningly charming grin beamed up at him from the galaxy tab screen. The pic had been sent out to him in a batch email. And since Lincoln seemed to be the only male friend on the list he wondered to himself what name Mat used to categorize the females. Lincoln smiled as he recalled the affect the email had for many of Mat’s significant others. By sending out a batch email, all his veeeeery close female friends were able to touch base with each other. And to put a long story short, they were no longer on Mat’s email list.

Reeeeal classy move Number One Stunner.

Lincoln sent Mat a text, punching in the number eight before he phoned surveillance.

“Cut for five.”

***

Mat looked at the screen of his mobile as he lounged on the back seat of the luxury sedan, his choice of car for pickup when abroad. His stoic driver, quiet, in front. Mat waited two more minutes before grabbing the single handle, Italian leather briefcase and exiting the vehicle. He wore jet black shades to match his waxy leather jacket. Tan slacks and designer shoes rounded out his attire. His look was sleek and sexy.

The eyes of the women lined up facing the bouncer, anxious to be given a chance to enter the Sex San Sokoláta night club, gravitated towards him. More than one female mouth parted in a small “Oh” as Mat glided past them with a bright lopsided smile, “Ladies.” He teased. Some of the women’s low breathing hiss and sighs were audible.

He dashed by them to whimpering sighs of “Ohhh, American.”

Mat succeeded the red curtain that blocked the black tinted glass door. Moving through the open door, he entered the nightclub.

Inside smelled like hot sweat and bad chardonnay breath. Bodies gyrating so close together the heat differential caused Mat’s shades to fog up. He removed them and his eyes quickly adjusted to the flashing neon lights that proved sporadic in the enclosing darkness of the late night scene. The music blasted in his ears and he could hardly hear the man to his right yell to follow him upstairs to meet with the boss.

His hands gripped the case tightly as he trailed behind the muscle, with another muscle flanking Mat’s back.

Mat decided that he must have become an old fuddy-duddy of late because the peace, tranquillity, and high luxury and quiet of the corporate Cessna appealed to him more often than the pumping and grinding of the party scene.

He was led across the floor through the crowd of gyrating, sweat sheen bodies, occasionally getting shaft by sweat lined, sticky dancers. They reached a door on the other side of the dance floor camouflaged by the black side panelling. The muscle in front hit the digits on the numbered electronic security tab beside the door and the jamb sprung open to reveal a long, narrow staircase.

Mat followed the muscle man up the stairs and onto the second story landing. The corridor of the landing was narrow; not giving much space between the few doors lining the corridor to the balcony overlooking the dance floor below.

The balcony was lined with one-way tinted glass. Persons below could not see who was looking at them from above.

The muscle led him to the third door, knocking peaceably.

“Yo!” Lincoln bellowed from within.

The sharp-dressed, black male twiddling with a lollypop between pursed lips, banged once on the door with his meaty hand and it flew open. Mat walked in.

It was only the second visit to his friend during the operation, and twice now Mat couldn’t help but note how unnatural Lincoln’s clean presence was in the dingy, cramped place. It was like living in the overhead cargo area of an airplane service that never saw the light of maintenance. Downright creepy.

Lincoln, eyes on Mat as he entered, snapped the fingers of his right hand garnering the attention of his workers. Then, pointing his index finger towards the now open doorway; they took their cue to leave and made themselves scarce quickly. The bouncers left as well. The lifelong friends were alone for the first time in two months.

They gave each other dap; sharing a longer version of the Michelle and Barack Obama homeboy handshake. And after quietly knocking fists, the two settled into a comfortable silence. But not for long.

Mat tossed the heavy case at Lincoln who caught it effortlessly with his hands before it landed on his lap. Mat walked over to the open case of money, releasing a wolf-whistle that settled soundly in the air above the din of the muffled hip hop coming from outside the room. “Dang nabbit. That sure is a lot of money to be playing the high stakes with.” Then he turned and yelped at his friend who sat unconcerned, his back to him in a chair that could no better house Lincoln’s large frame than a clown car with the roof missing. Mat then brought down his fist into his open palm. “Catty Whompus!”

“Huh?”

“I just remembered what you reminded me of before, you’re a catty whompus.” Mat leaned his hip against the table. “You ain’t ’xactly picture perfect in this here establishment.”

Lincoln shrugged, and massaged his eyes with his fingertips, “I feel like I should be putting Stick No Bills signs on the doors in front.”

Mat chuckled. “Way to blow your cover. But serious dude, you sure do have a handle on things down here, a few more days and you’ll be solid and all this will be done-dead.”

Lincoln flipped open the flap of the briefcase and gazed half annoyed at its contents. Six rectangular printing plates used to print currency. The one hundred dollar note engravings were authentic. Lincoln’s mind went to the final stage of the operation where he would be actively printing loads of cash.

If they continued pocketing the bank’s funds as they were now in light of the losses Maxckcom incurred because of the downturn in the local economy, the entire country may go bankrupt by the weekend; hence the use of printing plates. The order of business now was to go about settling into the money printing business, and those Benjamins were going to be the real shit.

He closed the flap and pulled out his mobile. He tapped his phone to unlock it and hollered at The Bricklayer to check in.

The Bricklayer entered with a lollypop in his mouth. He nodded at Mat, “’Sup, player?”

“Can’t complain.”

Lincoln lifted the case up from below with one hand. The Bricklayer grabbed it with both of his. A cracking noise escaped his closed mouth as he chomped down on the hard candy as if he was biting into a hard bone. Looking at the engravings, he nodded approvingly at them both. He removed the now clean white lollypop stick from his mouth and, saluting the two men, turned. After pitching the thin stick into the bin by the door, he exited the room.

Mat looked at the closed door in his wake, stepping closer behind the quiet Lincoln. He drawled with a twinge of respect to the lilting Texas accent, “He sure as sugar knows what e’s doin’.” He scratched his head, “Wonder where Vick found him.”

Lincoln released a haggard sigh. He bent over, his elbows on his knees, his hands in a loose steeple in front of him. Mat was still to his back. It wouldn’t have mattered even if Mat could see his face; he knew his expression was inscrutable.

Mat kneed the back of Lincoln’s chair from behind. “What up with you?”

Lincoln sighed. “Eleven weeks, three days, two hours and forty-three minutes. You know what that gives me?”

Mat stared at him, his face blank. “I gots no clu…”

“That’s how long it’s been since I’ve fucked.” Lincoln glanced at Mat. A sardonic look in his cool, brown eyes.

Mat didn’t know how to handle that admission. He spun around in one spot and pivoted towards the wall. He pretended to hold a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, his head fell back to the wall and he banged his head against it with each letter he gritted out, “T-M-I, T-M-I, T-M-I!”

“I can’t recount to you the amount of times I’ve walked in on The Bricklayer, el flagranté, with some new, two or three pussy going down on him like…” Lincoln flicked his wrist forward, his palm upturned. “I mean two or three on their knees, lapping him up like they need it for drink.”

Mat had nearly collapsed with laughter while Lincoln continued his story, his face and voice, deadpan.

“And he would be just standing there. I’m in the room and they would just start…I don’t walk in on them, Jah, Man I’m already in the room.” Lincoln dragged his hand through his hair. “I think this is the longest I have been without any kind of sex. Ever.”

Mat patted his friend on the shoulder, an overly kind expression on his face. “Your badge of honour my friend. Your badge of honour.”

“And The Bricklayer be hung like…” Lincoln lifted his arms and drew them apart wide, “it’s the length of a football field.” He sat back and took in Mat’s hysterics over his tale of woe. His face finally cracked a smile.

Seriously though, I’d be having the time of my life myself if I could get some, too, Lincoln thought to himself as he tipped his head back, his tall shoulders and head far above the chair’s back, inhaling deeply he sighed up at the heavens.

“I’ll pass the word on to Rees that his hubby is keeping it real cool.”

“Yeah, whatever little sleep I get I’m horizontal and the only contact with my dick is an icepack.”

Mat clapped his hands together before resting them both on his face. He groaned. “Alright, that’s enough of that.” He thought to himself trying to dampen his euphoria mentally.

Actually, the counting down mechanism to the next time he gets laid wasn’t his idea but The Bricklayer’s. Lincoln had witnessed a red head going fellatio on his dick when The Bricklayer had offered up, “Yo, you tap ass next.”

Lincoln hadn’t mentioned it before because he didn’t want to start nothin’ with this overly sexed straight male. But The Bricklayer was his homie, and before long he had been affronted enough to say, “Hey, you know I swing the other way.” But The Bricklayer had no beef towards gays and shit. Before Lincoln could steel himself to defend his ways The Bricklayer was like, “Yeah, no problem, Kemosabe. We got ass for that, too. Sugar and cream behind the bar.” He jabbed his thumb in the air backwards to indicate the bar behind and out of sight of the small enclosure of his office. Lincoln then witnessed him spray his cum all over the female giving him head. Coming hard. He remembered thinking at the time, God, where does all that jizz come from? Jeez.

Lincoln had told him he was with someone right now and they were tight. Since then, The Bricklayer had a nonchalant, teasing way of when he was doing it with a girl in his presence, he would first point to the girl lapping at his dick, put his index and middle finger to tap his wrist, and then hold his two hands apart as though cupping something lightly, and then he would push his hands forward. Time to fuck, was his silent coaxing, goading Lincoln. Lincoln would politely decline and, as though a testament to his steely nerves, he would go about business as though the slapping sounds and chorus of women’s panting and The Bricklayer’s crass sex jives did nothing for his libido.

The truth was, he wanted it real bad and was close to bursting.

Mat suddenly got real sober. He shrugged, “What can I say? Better you than me.”

Lincoln jumped up, and made to pounce on Mat, a swift upper cut by him was easily deflected by Matsenêste. Mat grinned, but without mirth. “Eh, you see this face? I’m telling you don’t mess with this face. I’m warning you.” Then he mocked Audrianna’s Trinidadian accent by saying, “A yuh see dis face, if I eh know nothing else you eh want to mess wi’d me right now, ah warnin’ yuh.”

Lincoln laughed.

“You want to laugh…I don’t have it easy right now you know eh boy.” He said, continuing in a Trinidadian accent that sounded funny with his Texas drawl. He stopped short as he pulled out his iPhone, unexpectedly serious again. “Check it…fifty nine messages, and that was just what was left today.” Mat scrutinized the screen of his mobile. “Say what, Barnaby left me fifteen for the day already. Fifteen.” Mat was aghast. “Lincoln, there is no one on my booty call list who could fuck me hard enough to have the right to text, call, or message me fifteen times in one day. Hell, I have girlfriends who fuck me often enough who could never reach that limit.”

Lincoln rolled his eyes at him, his mouth a thin line of amusement. “I warned you about giving out your cell number to those pleebs.”

Mat sniffed and gave Lincoln a “what am I going to do with you” look. “They are my corporate managers…”

“Puss-Ants! Underlings all ’round!” Lincoln passed his index finger around the inside lining of his cuff, attempting to straighten out an unimportant crease. “You aren’t doing them a favor by being nice to them. You ought to cut them off. Financials are less than a month away and we’re all suffering. Tell them to handle their shit themselves and leave you the fuck alone.”

Lincoln looked at his friend with an adamant expression and continued, “I am in the same position as you are, and no one can ever get in touch with me. I block all access to the princess.” He reiterated, referring to his boss Audrianna. “That is the only way to get these honchos to work for their guapo.” Lincoln rubbed the fingers of his right hand together in the universally recognized sign for money.

Mat frowned. “Yes. That would be true, only the biggest misconception is that the manager can make decisions without Viktor’s approval. He has to okay any changes to the project plan.”

Lincoln gave Mat a deadpan expression. “That is what the quarterly meetings, monthly conference calls, and the financial meetings are all about. Finalizing the decisions. Those calls you are getting are from Managers who are shitting their pants because they are nervous of not hitting digits for their projections.” His eyes twinkled and he drawled, “Plus, they must be pretty nervous about what you did to Barney last year. Some of them must be shocked you have that kind of power.”

Mat’s pursed lips thinned; looking irritated by the mention of last year’s incident at a major financial meeting. He walked over to sit on the arm of the grungy sofa, hands in pockets, his long legs splayed wide. “Don’t even mention that fucker around me, man.” Mat shook his head, “Man, I’m still pissed I had to do that. What ’bout you? You’ve got your figures straight?”

Lincoln shrugged off the current topic and sauntered over to the four drawer, cream-coloured cabinet set that lined the wall adjacent to the desk that supported the cash sorter. He took his mobile from his pocket and swiped it against the lock that was all Near Field Communication related. Much of the equipment Maxckcom handled these days was secured that way. Mostly because of Audrianna’s push towards efficiency, everything was becoming browser related and NFC tech. With the swipe of his mobile the lock clicked and the last drawer Lincoln had opened, the second drawer from the top popped free. Yeah, the cabinet even knows which drawer he accessed last time, go figure.

Lincoln pulled the collection of hard cover volume ledgers in assorted colours from inside, and walked over to the desk with the counting machine. Dropping one ledger on the desk, he called out , “Italy.” Then he dropped another ledger onto the first. “Paris.” Then another. “Guatemala.” The next. “Brazil.” Another. “Cuba.” One more. “Colombia.” He stood with empty hands.

Mat’s brows furrowed. “You’re missing one.”

“You think?”

Mat frowned. “Care to talk about it?”

Lincoln gave Mat a “bite me” expression.

At Lincoln’s reticence Mat’s brows shot up and he smirked, and gave him a fine-whatever-be-that-way shrug. Being that Mat worked for Viktor directly, though Lincoln’s confidant since Military school, he expected to be left out of the loop every once in a while when it came to the side of their business where Lincoln could be tarred and feathered for dealings that came up short. This was one of those touchy times.

Mat would never report back to Viktor against his friend though. Whatever. If he wanted to keep Mexico private, that is his business. Besides, if there was anyone who could clinch a deal in no time flat, it was his best friend Lincoln. Mat gave his friend an appreciative look, his expression showing he held him in high esteem.

Lincoln raised his brow at him and decided not to fall for that. Friend or no, Mat reported directly to the enemy, and Lincoln was mindful to keep his mouth shut on Mexico.

“Wish everybody was as cool like you with your end game. It’s mostly because Viktor has called everyone out three months early that people have been blowing up my mobile.”

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you ’bout that. Why the fuck three months early, out of the blue, no prior notice? I mean my bases are covered but, damn. Not even a memo, instead I get a side note in a mass email.”

Mat looked at him with a “who the hell do you think you are” stare, “He’s Viktor Maxckmillian and he can do whatever the fuck he wants.”

Lincoln grinned. “Was that the answer he gave you?”

Mat gave him a cheeky grin. “Pretty much.”

They both laughed.

Mat sighed. Bending down, he pulled his hands from his pockets and braced them on either of his thighs. “I think…I think it’s because of Audrianna’s latest pregnancy, but he won’t admit it. Taking on the extra stress now will relieve her later down the road. And, oh okay.” Mat blinked. His eyebrows shot up, mimicking his friend’s expression. Then it dawned on him quickly, “You didn’t know about the pregnancy? Audrianna didn’t tell you? Course it’s still early, guess she wanted to tell you face to face.”

Lincoln waved off Mat’s consilience. “I am so over that bitch right now and the way she handles me, it ain’t even funny. What you just told me there is not even news. Besides, she can’t talk to me about shit ’till this fuckin’ gig is done and dead. ” Lincoln leaned his heavy weight against the table, one arm crossed his stomach, his fingers of his other arm he raised to tap the side of his Louis Vuitton frames gingerly.

That was how he had drawn the line back when this whole moving money thing had gotten started. She must know he would be against it. Well, at least he had been in the beginning, but now he had gotten complacent with the grind of the dirty deed. And as time passed he was so damn over it. Right now all he cared about was finishing up this job and riding out of Dodge. But, another baby. If Audrianna didn’t know by then she could come to him with anything, at any time, she never would. Wow, company business really blurs the lines between friends, doesn’t it?

Mat gave him an uncommitted stare. “So, you’ve got Mexico in hand.” Wasn’t a question.

Lincoln frowned absentmindedly as he reached to take out his mobile again. “Word. Here comes Mexico now.” He tapped something into his cell. Then he put a call through to surveillance and told them to let up on cams right quick. Moments later, a tall man of medium build came into the room, with a dark skinned male of African descent on his heels.

The fair skinned Hispanic man sported curly, dark hair that was a bit long, touching the collar of his sharp suit, but neat. The black male’s fresh fashion mirrored T.I. Rubber Band Man shit, complete with wool hat and black baseball jacket with white sleeves, a diamond encrusted watch and a clunky cross hanging low on his chest from a clunky gold chain.

On seeing them, Lincoln’s mind nursed the famous words from that plaintive line from the movie Babe. That’ll do.

Or at least it would have to. Lincoln thought. There is no way I’m going to be sweatin’ bullets down to the wire for these accruals. No-Friggin’-Fuckin’-Way.

Lincoln stretched out his hand to meet Carlos’, “You’re prompt.”

Carlos, the curly haired Hispanic man smiled quietly, and nodded once. “No time to waste on this.” The undertone in his voice suggested his native tongue was of the Spanish variety. Carlos then gave a nod to Mat as Lincoln shook the hand of Carlos’ right-hand man, Real.

“True ’dat Mr. L,” the young man said.

To both the young men’s credit, neither of them was inclined to gawk at the stacks of Benjees in the corner, nestled nice and tight in the black iron trunks. Good. All was good.

Lincoln walked to the cabinets again, waved his smartphone against the lock, the drawer he had used before was still open. That was not the one he wanted. He knelt down on one knee to pull open the bottom drawer and removed a bulky, green zipper bag. He stood up and handed the bag to Carlos. “Everything you need.”

Carlos tucked the case under his arm and that was it. Nothing more. The two men left silently.

Lincoln collected the ledgers and looked at them with such reverence they might have been the Holy Grail. He then walked over to the cabinet and placed the collection of books representing the spending of each territory, run by Audrianna and aided by himself, into the drawer. Pushing, it clicked shut. He then bowed his head and sighed, missing the “good lord save me” eye rolling action from Mat at his heavy handed theatrics.

Lincoln then shot his arms up in the air making a soccer referee signal. His arms waving wide and open to give a time out signal. “Time for some good old JD.” He said with excessive glee.

Mat shot right up and landed a high-five on Lincoln’s raised hand before he headed out the door. Lincoln performed a sharp about face and followed behind.

Out the door and coming in close to the camouflaged balcony, Lincoln, enthralled with texting with his thumb. He placed a hand on Mat’s shoulder. “Right here, buddy.”

Mat turned and yielded, relaxing his back on the pane that concealed any upstairs activities from the clubbers.

Lincoln remained busy texting with one thumb on his iPhone. Finishing the text, he pocketed the device. “Now we wait.” Lincoln raised one of his legs to rest his heel on the middle of three, low level, horizontal, pipe shaped barriers of the balcony’s border that supported the concealing glass. “I wanted to ask you if you managed to get those images I asked for, but think if I see them I’d get pissed all over again.”

“Well, when you put it that way, now I know I have to show ’em to you.” Mat pulled out his mobile and tapped the images, showing off slides of Lincoln’s family. The birthday he had missed of his six year old girl, Neecy. The basketball playoff game of his son, Brady, that the boy sat out of because his father wasn’t there to put the heat on him to participate. And an image of his grown seventeen year old, The Hammer, posing at the end of the Breast Cancer Walkathon countdown clock in Atlanta next to his aunt. So many pics. Whoa, Lincoln felt he was running through a slide of the TV show This Is Your Life. Only tacked onto it was the long phrase – ‘that you missed in the last three months…and still counting.’ All wireless communication and email access were cut off during the money laundering project.

Damn that b’otch, and damn me for signing on the dotted line and being a wuss for not turning away the three million dollar pay check advance.

Lincoln squeezed his eyes and massaged his temples contemplatively. Yeah I guess I am part of the problem, he mused to himself.

Boom! The unexpected noise that erupted on the dance floor, coupled with a commotion, drew Lincoln and Mat’s immediate attention. The partial circular dispersion of the crowd at the bar featured Carlos and Real at the centre; strong-arming a man. The man had a look that was fraught with desperation and resolute anxiety. The crowd gave way for their rough passage.

Carlos and Real forced the man to move through the crowd towards the door that led up the stairs to the second floor. The man struggled, panicky; but Carlos and Real never gave him an inch to escape.

Lincoln pounded a fist into his palm and ground it, his teeth grinding. His mouth turned in a brutal frown. Mat stared through narrowed slits at the two men twisting the struggling person’s arms jarringly behind his back when they arrived on the landing. The two had all but dragged the man down the corridor to meet up with them.

The man, whose struggle was almost silent for the time he had resisted, took one look at Lincoln’s face and began to make audible, stifling requests for the two to release him. Lincoln indicated with a nod of his head in the direction further up the hall for them to follow him.

He led them past the money counting room, past two more closed doors to the final door that edged the corner of the railing. Lincoln pushed open the door and revealed a white tiled room that housed a small, functioning table, and a grey stained white tub against the chipped wall. A rusted shower head with a paltry drip escaping the head to disappear at the black whole of a drain at its base. The shower’s body slanted precariously at an angle while taking respite against the aging wall.

Carlos and Reel dumped the guy on the floor inside. Lincoln casually sidestepped between the two to the shrinking man at his feet.

“We noticed him taking pics of us with this.” Carlos handed Lincoln a cell phone he confiscated off the perp. “He tried to act like he was on it for selfies, posing with some chikitas, but it was totally trained on us.”

Mat pulled the door in, reducing the banging hip-hop to a muffle. The quiet inside the small room was eerie.

Lincoln used his thumb to swipe across the screen of the guy’s smartphone and noticed he had taken selfies of not only his two boys in the background, but Mat coming into the vestibule mere moments ago as well. Lincoln was none too pleased, and he showed his displeasure by using his bionic hand to crush the phone in a tight grip, producing a crunching sound that chaffed the ears. Then he leaned into the investigator, who had raised himself up at his midsection, and solidly KO’d the man so hard his head drummed the tile before becoming completely still.

Mat, eyes solemn in an unreadable face, cast his gaze on Carlos and Real, his hand up to stop them from leaving. “You guys didn’t have to…”

“No.” Lincoln’s teeth were clenched, his face turned from Mat as he looked upon the man who might surely become the latest victim of a sudden disappearance, coupled with a tragic motor vehicle accident. Lincoln’s body was silhouetted by the overhanging, iridescent light.

Lincoln righted himself and his body ditched the shade. He flashed teeth at Carlos and Real, and the smile was falsely disarming. “You did well, boys.” He patted them on the back and gave them a gentle push towards the open doorway. “Now get ghost and bring me back my money.”

Carlos and Real left with bland faces that would show as much a satisfied look, if any. Suggesting that what Lincoln had asked them to do was nothing more than pick up the dry cleaning on the way home.

Mat and Lincoln were left alone. Mat decided to bail on the rest of the evening and made to leave when Lincoln leaned on the post of the door, lit an L, and drew on the blunt with slow ease. “Yo Master, Flex,” he called to Mat. His head turned towards Mat, the left side of his face in shadow, the right side caught by the overhanging glow. His look was serious, “You don’t direct my operatives. Ever. You feel me, homie?”

Mat looked at Lincoln’s unrevealed face, and nodded. He turned and left, walking back the way he had come in, down the corridor, down the stairs and through the concealed doorway.

Lincoln watched Mat from the privacy of the camouflaged balcony. The D.J. dropped Big Sean’s Guap on the base level and Lincoln started the Swerve. The Bricklayer broke out of the room he had disappeared into earlier; gliding out the door with a Leo Walk and he continued to approach Lincoln with the dance move as he busted down some lyrics to the rap.

The Bricklayer matched up against Lincoln, and thumbed his finger in the direction of the intruder on the floor, his eyebrows touched the sky. Lincoln shrugged. The Bricklayer used his thumb to slice across his own neck suggestively. Lincoln shrugged again, not caring one way or the other how the shit got handled, long as the bitch got gone, he could have cared less if he was skunked, trussed, and dumped into the ocean. Or chopped, burnt, and buried below the club basement. He totally didn’t fuckin’ give a shit.

Luckily for him, The Bricklayer was an expert in the bitch be gone arena, so cleanup wasn’t on Lincoln’s list of duties. Fo’’sho. The Bricklayer went down the hall to arrange the disappearance of a certain knocked-out-cold intruder and Lincoln got back to enjoying the club play. Appropriately enough, Kendrick Lamar’s Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe was the next song and Lincoln let the smooth tune soothe his senses.

Fuck, where the hell was the waiter with his Jack Daniels?

***

Mat made his way to the bar because he didn’t want to wait for drinks upstairs like he had first intended. He decided to try the local Commandaria. Too sweet. He ordered Johnny Walker, paid up for the bottle. He smelled the sweetness that pinched his nose above the lathery smell of sweaty bodies before he felt the slick brush of the darlin’ against his thigh. Mat gave the little cochina a once over, and wasn’t feeling much of the loli-vibe she threw off. He gave the dizzying, miniature Barbie with overflowing implants a slow smile, intending to give her the brush-off when his celly buzzed. He reached in, leaned against the bar lazily, and checked the message. He nearly rolled his eyes in front of her as he read it. It was from Lincoln.

Don’t drink the water.

Yeah, right. As if he needed to be schooled on how to handle himself in a club. Mack daddy, yo! Besides that, after what happened with flycatcher earlier taking pics with his cell, he needed to bounce. The place was going to get hot right quick. Least we needed was someone to go missing on the premises, if the guy was CIA or Interpol, fine, the situation was what’ev. The authorities wouldn’t want t to bring any attention to themselves as much as they would. But a missing civilian would surely have local police on their tail. Of course they had a line on any and every stool pigeon within a ten mile radius of the club. But if a relative or friend wanted to make waves, they just couldn’t handle the noise, with shit wrapping up, as it were.

Mat looked at the message again before he put away his mobile. Shit. As if women were his vice.

I screen pussy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And then some for dessert.

Mat bowed down to the girl, whispered a little ditty in her ear while squeezing her palm. Her eyes grew misty and a dazed look crossed her face. What was with this chick? She looked like she was going to orgasm from a lackadaisical brush off? Yeah right, like I’d be into her? He downed his scotch, told the bartender to cap his bottle, grabbed his Johnny and headed for the exit.

CHAPTER 5

Atlanta, Georgia

Audrianna was too busy clicking through messages on her Fire Phone to register the ding of the elevator. As it reached the thirtieth floor of Maxckcom, the doors swished open. She felt a sudden grip at the back of her billowy, U-neck dress from behind and she gasped.

“Audrianna! A baby, again!”

Audrianna heard the strong feminine voice with flexed Russian accent undertones as it rolled the ‘r’ in her name. “Viktor!” The woman spat out to her cousin who was now walking briskly into view from the side a good many feet away. “Just because she is a fox, doesn’t mean she can have a litter!” Markova barked at him.

If Audrianna was very fair, the blush she was feeling would have been seen sky high on her cheeks and ears. The dress nearly reached her ankles, but was lifted a bit as it contoured the line of her soft bump. Her hand went to her face and she grinned to her hubby, a few feet away. “Sorry.” Audrianna’s shoulder gave a small lift. “Can’t defend you on that one, honey.”

This caused the brother and sister duo to laugh out loud from behind.

Viktor grew immediately tight lipped, his eyes dark slits of annoyance as Markova drew Audrianna into an aggressive embrace. Mayakovsky was next at taking her into his arms, and Viktor’s teeth gnashed. His sharp, bear incisors elongated threateningly, he tapered his instinct to growl low his disapproval of both his relatives irritating, repeated pattern of cloistering his wife whenever they met. Though he knew they did it mainly to get on his nerves because he couldn’t stand anyone getting close to his wife; touching her, talking to her, drawing her affection. He had already accepted the fact that he was a nutty Were, and it worked for him just fine. It was other people who needed to chill, because he was a Mega-Bear and Mega-Possessive and that was not going to change anytime soon. Probably not ever.

He intentionally curbed his stride from automatically quickening his pace to Audrianna and prying Maya’s arms from around her, ripping his hand from the swell of her stomach; and instead nodded them to the direction of his office. As he swivelled to lead the way to the double, glass doors to his office, he flexed his shoulders and they gave a small pop and crack as he moved his head slowly from side to side.

The offices of Maxckcom were sleek and sophisticated, following an all-white, silver and grey colour scheme. In Viktor’s office the chairs, desk, window pane, and desk lamp were silver.The floor a white rug with a square, dark grey and light grey checkered pattern the desk and chairs were situated on. The walls displayed a sleek white and cream medium stripe pattern.

Viktor took his seat behind the desk, his back to the wide area of skyscraper windows.

“Won’t Audrianna be joining us today?” Markova, or Mark as she was often called by close friends, withdrew a thick, A4, white envelope from the inside of her dark brown, mid-calf length trench coat.

Viktor grew even more irritated at the bland delivery of such an obvious dig. Markova knew very well that Audrianna could not join them for this discussion; it was about Audrianna herself and the paranormal investigation that surrounded the entity within her. A vice Audrianna was not yet aware of.

She bent the package out until flat; paused, smirked. If the drama affected Viktor in the slightest, his effortless stillness did not give away his annoyance.

Markova dropped the package on the desk and it landed with a loud slap. Using her middle finger, she flicked it across the desk towards Viktor. His hand stopped its movement by landing on top of it as it slid across the desk towards him.

He felt a measure of expectant finality in the brief moment he had to revel in having the information he’d sought before him. He had once kept the alarming disturbance about Audrianna a secret from his closest relatives. But he could not deny the fact any longer that he needed help with finding a way to disrupt the entity’s hold on her. He had far greater responsibilities now that he had the father, husband and multi-billion dollar benefactor roles going for him.

He had engaged the help of his cousins who were privy to the paranormal. And they, as it were, though they did not always see eye to eye; were willing to set aside their differences in order to help Audrianna. For them, too, Audrianna was family.

Viktor unclasped the envelope’s gold seal clip and extracted the two inch thick file of copies his cousin had collected from various sources. He flipped through the excerpts Markova had gathered from various magic books, historical and religious references around the world. Europe, the old great libraries of Ethiopia; it was more extensive than he thought it could be. Much of it photographed text. Alas…

“Nothing.” His deep-seated growl of frustration reverberated from his chest and tumbled through gritted teeth.

Markova’s growl in answer was thick with agitation and was more of a reprimand. “There is something. An old scroll that was locked away in the archives of Timbuktu has more than adequately described the same experiences you are having with your mate. But the outcome was not good. I highlighted many parts in there…”

“Which tell me nothing,” Viktor’s bark was combined with a hiss. He nailed the document with his heavy fist. “I know what that thing is. I need to know how to get rid of it.”

Markova’s return growl was just as powerful, and she leaned into him over the desk. “This is not an evil spirit you are dealing with, no demon; there is no such reference to an exorcism for expelling a Saint from a human host, let alone a Were; a Were who-”

Viktor shot to his feet, “You are not to even mention it.” His growl was fiercer than before and was just as frightening as a wild black bear of the wild.

But Mayakovsky’s patience was being beat to dust and he reacted with a low, beastly growl, giving either Were a run for their money. “Do you two mind? I feel like I’m trapped in a wild life sanctuary up in this place. More human interaction, please. I really can’t stand all this growling. How are we to keep this between ourselves? The loud noises have probably piqued her interest already.”

Viktor bit down on his canines, teeth gnashing, he took his seat slowly. Markova did the same. Both retracted their incisors, which had grown long and foreboding.

“A little appreciation is in order for the hard work I put in, don’t you think?”

Viktor was about to bark at her that he needn’t be and he only rewarded results with gratitude. Then he closed his eyes and leaned his head back and massaged the incline of his nose with his thumb and index finger. What the fuck, he could say that, then have the cleaners come in and mop his guts off the floor afterward. And in reality Markova had gone above and beyond the call, and none other was better and more reliable to investigate this paranormal phenomenon than her.

He reminded himself she was not in his employ and was doing this out of duty. His emotions were just wound tight at the moment, and he felt the tension in his body like a ball bouncing off the walls at high velocity, trapped inside a four wall box, picking up speed with every impact to each side.

“Thank you.” The release came on a listless sigh. He bowed his head. “What about our Aunt Mariya’s notes?”

She snorted. “V’at is up to you to deal with,” she said, her accent thickening as she grew impatient, “You know you are the only one who can access beyond the boundary that keeps the catacombs hidden. Don’t treat me like one of your FSB trainees where you give me a task you know I can’t complete only to blast me about it later, Viktor.” She leaned into him, resting her arm and fist onto the desk, bracing her upper body as she came in closer, her face at once serious. “Do not forget we are on the same side here.”

Mayakovsky snorted with lazy derision. Her brother with the military haircut had leaned back to nurse one corner of his cushioned seat beside her. His hand to his face, his thumb and forefinger stroked his chin. “There is also the matter of you being fearful of the beast that eats women – is it once per decade, dear sister?”

Markova took offense, “Mock me all you want, dear brother, but we are all proof of what lies beneath the very perception of reality. And you cannot deny the unearthly presence that is harboured within those castle walls.”

“Come now, Markova,” he chided. “Do not tell me you give credence to old man Sasha’s fairy tales.”

Markova sucked her teeth, “I simply do not wish to take chances with my life where there are reported cases of, not one, but two disappearances within the space of a century, dear brother.”

“Disappearances, hmm. Skilled women making themselves vanish so as not to be caught-up within the dealings of family affairs…arranged marriages; assassination attempts, yes. Monsters lurking in the shadows ready to consume a human sacrifice? Not in the wildest of gypsy tales, dear sister”

The two continued to throw barbs at one another, using the familial endearment of dear brother, and dear sister as more of a slanderous quip back and forth; before they noticed Viktor had lost interest in the conversation long before their heated argument had become full-scale baiting.

Viktor sat with his head cradled in one palm, his arm resting on the table, perched on its elbow. His other hand quickly glided down through one page, and when one reading was through, he flipped the page and went on to diligently scan another. A worried look on his face became more intense with each turn of the page.

The pair glanced at each other in unison before their dubious looks landed on Viktor.

Maya bent his upper body at the torso to rest his elbows on either knee. His hands clasped; his gaze towards the floor. “Maybe we could be of greater help if we knew more. You have given us little to go by, and information gathering isn’t exactly our forte. Unless there’s a shakedown you’re interested in…”

Viktor didn’t catch the muse in his cousin’s voice. And the air filled with tension.

Maya glanced at his sister before he continued, reciting the old line blankly, “The rain in Spain falls main-”

“Mainly on the plain.” Viktor continued, his eyes still on the booklet.

The brother and sister looked at each other and smiled conspiratorially.

“So he had been listening, but he was just acting like he was ignoring us,” he drawled.

“Seems that way, yes.” Her eyes revealed a twinkle. Then she sighed stoically, at once becoming serious. “You must consider seeing the old bat about this…”

Viktor’s head snapped up. “No,” he bit out, cutting her off.

“She is the only one alive who can help you.”

“Not going to happen.”

Maya, still hunched over, eyes downcast, quipped, “Your fear of her is needless, she never leaves Siberia.”

Although Viktor knew better than to be baited, he couldn’t help his incisors growth in malice. “Fear?” His voice raised, and nearly echoed, “Fear that shrivelled up, insignificant, one thousand year old fossilized bitch?” The air in the room was instantly charged, the papers on the desk visibly raised less than a third of an inch off the surface and about twelve fissures of white-blue lighting danced in mid-air around the trio.

The brother and sister pair were unaffected by the trauma infused into the space surrounding them.

“And it is as you well say,” Maya returned with a fierce, rough edge, “she is one thousand years old, and more than capable of deciphering the mystery of the Saints, leading you away from fiction, and adding up the facts. All you have been cultivating up until now are puzzle pieces that do not fit any one determining image of what you are dealing with. And it is my concern that you have been dealing with this predicament far longer than you have let us know.”

Maya turned piercing blue-black eyes directly into Viktor’s lightning-flashing gaze. At once the jarring electric spell engulfing the room halted. The light in Viktor’s eyes, gone.

Maya’s gaze did not waver.

“So I am right.”

“We stood by your side through endless meetings of the Were-Bear council debating your marriage to a civilian, and helped squash the testimonies of those over-reaching council members who tried to have you put away for fear of wrecking the oh-so valuable lineage gene pool with commoner blood. Especially after they had their heart set on the princess.”

Viktor took a deep breath and released a heavy sigh. How could he argue with him there?

Maya spoke, discerning his cousin’s silent thought. “Working v’ith the council is a more agreeable situation than decimating the entire line of the ruling party. Make no mistake Viktor, they are our judge and jury, not the other way around. Let’s not attach the role of executioner to their slate.”

Viktor seethed with animosity. Not towards Maya, but to the Executive Council that ruled over the Were-Bear shifting community.

“Yeah, you and me both.” Maya continued to talk as if he read Viktor’s mind. “But there is nothing to do for it, cousin; so you will continue to act like a suckered-little-bitch until we find a sure fire way to one-up those motherfuckers permanently.”

Viktor’s aggression cooled and Maya leaned back and slanted his body so as to put most of his weight into the corner of the chair. His hand came to his face and his elbow sunk into the arm as his finger tapped his cheek and his thumb pressed under his chin. “We despise them as much as you do – always remember that. And do not worry, we will get back your daughter, our niece, from them. You can put money on v’at.”

Viktor laid his head back on the rest.

Was it too much to ask to have at least one problem solved before another started?

He heard the clipped tones of Markova interrupt the smog of depression that had invaded his mind. “The executive council will soon get what’s coming to them.”

Viktor’s head snapped up and he peered at Markova. He took a deep breath. “Xin helped me rescue Audrianna in exchange for Keisha’s whereabouts.”

Viktor blinked and didn’t even see her move before he felt himself collapsing. No! Being slammed backward at NASCAR speed before his head butted into the window pane, almost upside down. The shriek she released as she leapt across the desk had been body quaking.

Markova was on top of him. Heavens help him! She was going to rip his body to shreds. And then suddenly when Markova’s full weight was on him, in the very split second she had attacked him, she was lifted up from his bulldozed body by Maya. He scooped her up around the waist and held her in the crook of his arm.

Her body bent over at the waist, at the inside of his arm, she still reached for Viktor with gnashing teeth, her fingers crooked like claws attempting to reach out and commit bodily harm against him.

“You little bitch! I’ll kill you, bastard! Inhuman swine!”

“Jeez, Louise,” Maya said as he reached down a hand to help Viktor to his feet, still confining his sister to the space at his hip. “You just can’t help causing problems for yourself, can you?”

Markova struggled against him, attempting to pull her brother’s arm away from her waist. “Let me go, I’ll kiiiiiiillllllllllllll him!” Her fisted hands flailed in the air. “Kill him, kill him, kill him!” she screamed.

Viktor accepted the hand Maya gave and pulled himself up from the awkward angle he lay in. His neck felt whiplashed, and he flexed, his neck and shoulder out of whack.

“I guess we can leave our other dealings for later. Give sis time to recoup from this drama you just hit her with.” Maya grinned, uncommonly cheery. “Be seeing you.”

Maya exited the office with his sister still in tow inside the crook of his arm, struggling to be free and spewing an ear-stinging string of epithets.

They passed Audrianna on the way out.

Viktor sat in his chair, still adjusting his shoulder blades when Audrianna walked in. She had a ‘there you go again’ admonishing look on her face.

“I wish you would try harder to get along with your cousins.” She strolled over to his side and he instinctively outstretched his arm to allow her to walk into his welcoming embrace.

He grew annoyed. “She overreacts over the littlest thing.” His expression suggested his mind was on something other than the incursion he had with Mark.

Audrianna seated herself on his lap. Viktor’s eyes were turned the other way, his elbow bent on the desk, his hand scissoring the space above his lips. Audrianna grabbed his jaw and drew it sideways, closer to her so she could see the bruise beginning to form on his right temple. She kissed it lightly.

Viktor breathed in her scent and at once his body became less hectic. More languid. He moaned as he reclined in his chair, taking her with him as she hugged his side.

“What’s this?” Audrianna’s palm was on the desk, her eyes upon the sheaf of paper.

Viktor’s hand came crashing down onto the documents. “Nothing.” He grabbed the set and swiped them to the edge of the desk. He opened the drawer and capsized the articles inside, before shutting it. “Just unimportant family-estate stuff.” Then he pushed back into the chair once more taking her with him. His head laid back, he put the crook of his arm over his eyes and the arm he used to hold Audrianna close grew tighter. It was long enough to reach the other side of her rounded belly, rubbing the side up and down.

Though Audrianna’s tummy was small, she would be giving birth in less than three months. Were’s didn’t have long birthing cycles like humans. Funny, relaxing in the quiet with Audrianna on his lap curled into him, his mind went to an innocuous incident that had played out between himself and his youngest just that past weekend.

She had been fighting to open the gold clasp to open one of the windows in her room and as he was passing by the bedroom she shared with her twin, she called out to him for help. The windows, as a precaution for their safety, had bars on them. To deter kidnappings or to keep the kids reason from climbing outside. Without questioning her he had removed the clasp with ease, and pushed the glass pane open and away from the house. She then unexpectedly grabbed one of her teddy bears and shoved it past the parallel bars and out the window. It landed on the white tile floor outside the house. After the deed had been done, she looked at him with indignation and ordered him to go get it.

He smiled at the interaction now, but at the time he was exasperated at the little trick she had pulled. He now wondered who was opening windows for his eldest daughter, the one he had to give away.

Audrianna laid her head on his shoulder. Her hands clasped together, pillowing her head. And Viktor marvelled in the quiet that surrounded them. It was in deep contrast to the contentious memory in his head. Soon the quiet that surrounded him and the sweet delicacy he considered his wife, soothed his thoughts. And his disturbing interest soon palled in comparison to the moment of simplicity he now shared with his wife.

He listened to her soft breathing, felt her weight on him, and thought to himself… Soon

CHAPTER 6

Atlanta, Georgia

“There is an accident to look out for on the east side…” Elyzabel listened impatiently for the traffic report on her radio app to get gone before the latest hip-hop tunes started up again. Exasperated at how long it was taking, she simply shut off her celly and used the remote to switch on the television in the living room.

The condo she owned featured a cozy living space and the furniture was arranged for the areas within to look spacious. She eyed the telly from where she stood in front of the wide steel fridge. She could see from her angle that the Steve Harvey show was on. His special guest was some actress talking about her new recipe book.

She couldn’t help the diagonal tailspin that wreaked havoc in her head.

Hmm, recipeeees. Food, food for dinner, appetizer, menus, catering, reception, wedding reception. What was she going to serve at the wedding reception again?

Elyzabel groaned. She pictured the banquet and what the array of food would look like. Her train of thought led to the regular palpitations she experienced and found herself grabbing at cupboards, looking for a bag to take deep breaths to calm herself.

Wait, brown bags went out of existence…when? Five years ago, maybe.

She put a hand on her chest above her heart, grabbed for a chair and eased herself onto the dainty, white furniture. She used her other hand to grab for the remote and clicked the button to turn off the telly.

Lately, no matter how remote the subject or far removed the sitch; everything reminded her of her wedding, which was only one month away.

She didn’t have to meet with Audrianna until later that evening to show her a few dresses she had picked out for her to wear. Putting together a signature look for Audrianna was part of her personal assistant duties, and she had spotted a few outfits by Prada on the runway she loved, but needed modified for the real world.

She scanned through messages on her facetime and sighed. Another rep for Versace called but she just was not feeling the vibe of getting all animated for work today. When she first started repping Audrianna and got special VIP invites to exclusives, front row seats only, she would get all fresh with herself, thinking, Uh-huh, yeah the Nuevo Richie, and I like it.

Forget you, Kanye! New Slaves, Yesus, I am blessed.

But that was three years ago and now her attitude was, Eh-Feh. She couldn’t care less about the hoochies who would turn up their noses to her as soon as she walked into a store; before they knew she had unlimited checking account access to back up fifty thousand plus purchases. That action didn’t inflate her false pride anymore.

She warmed the waffle and eggs she had set aside for herself at breakfast, poured on the powder that was supposed to make her not each so much of it. She then gobbled up the meal like it was going to be her last.

All she needed to do for the day was make sure Audrianna did not miss her hairdressing and manicure sessions, and then she was off the clock and on for the night. Kelly had left to drop off the kids at school and he was on his way back. His return route was on the spaghetti so he was sure not to come across the accident she heard about earlier.

Mmm, she thought, spaghetti.

She glanced down accusingly and jabbed a finger into the pouchy crease of her stomach, went to the kitchen and took the pitcher of the master cleanse detox liquid out of the fridge. Poured enough in a glass to nearly touch the brim, and sat down on the little table. She stared at the unappetizing liquid for a spell. The spell turned into two minutes. Then she sighed, hands balled into fists on either side of the dark glass. She felt the nails biting into her palm, and she breathed roughly through gritted teeth, sounding strained and accusing like a preacher admonishing his parishioners for committing unholy deeds.

“VeraWang. VeraWang. VeraWang.” Then abruptly she grabbed the glass and downed the liquid in one throw. “Yes,” she squealed, getting to her feet and running to the bathroom to wash out her mouth. She heard the door open as she was brushing the horrid taste from her mouth.

“Honey, I’m home.” She heard Kelly’s played out greeting and rolled her eyes.

Boy that line is getting old.

Big Sean’s 10 to 10 came blasting through the walls, causing the furniture and the walls to vibrate with the beat and she rushed out to grab the remote for the surround sound. “Bitch, I can’t think up in this motherfucker.” She turned the music down low.

“Aww, man, sugar, now what’s the point?” Kelly lay sprawled out the length of the L-shaped brown, leather-back couch. His head and most of his torso inclined on the recliner the seat shifted into.

“We need to talk.”

Kelly groaned loudly at that.

“Oh no you didn’t,” she hissed.

“No, madam.” Kelly became immediately upright in his seat. Instantly alert.

Elyzabel wagged her finger at him, a stern look on her face. “I’ll walk-”

“I believe you.” He cut her off, a solemn look on his face.

Yeah right. Her look said.

“We need to choose a cake.” She sat on the arm of the couch with her knees together, to his left, not getting comfortable. She reached over and picked up her tablet pc from the coffee table between the long couch and the wide screen television that hammered the rap music and featured swirly lines in tune with the now playing Big Sean’s You Don’t Know.

“Oh baby, as long as it got no fruit in it I’m cool with it.”

Elyzabel pursed her lips and screwed her nose, her fingers crinkled into small fists and she let out a frustrated sigh. Honestly, she didn’t know whether to be confounded with him for attaching that same type of laissez-faire attitude he had to the wedding or to be grateful that she didn’t have to cater to his needs where the wedding arrangements were concerned because he was so undemanding. She grabbed his head with splayed, crippled fingers and gave him a soft head butt. Drawing back, she sighed.

“I am not going to have a wedding with chocolate everything. You have to break the tie on this.”

“Alright, which one do you like?”

She hit herself on the forehead with the tablet. “That is the tie you have to break, I have three in mind. Whichever one you choose, we’ll get.”

Kelly, wearing a pink shirt under a denim jacket, blocked his yawn with his hand and scratched the right side of his peck. “Can I taste them first?”

She waved her hand at him, “You don’t have to, none of them are fruit. Two layers will be chocolate. You have to decide on the design.”

“Don’t you know what’s best with the arrangements, and um…” He leaned over to rest his elbow on his knee cap, drumming his four fingers on his chin, “Colour schemes and stuff?”

Her eyes went heavenward and she gripped the tablet to her generous bosom. “Honey, I tried to tell you that it’s not fair for you to pay for everything, but don’t get to choose nothin’.”

“Aww, it’s not nothin’, baby.” He gave her a light peck on the cheek. Forgetting himself, he laid back into the unfolded recliner section of the couch and breathed easily. “You do what you want, it’s your wedding.”

She corrected him right off the bat, “It’s our…”

“Our wedding,” he talked over her. “Yeah, yeah, chill. You know what I meant. All this extra shit is just not my drama, that’s all.”

She pursed her lips at him in a Louise Jefferson spouting George kind of way. When she first met Kelly she thought of him as a gentle soul to be cuddled. And true to himself, he didn’t have disagreements about any of the preparations she had made. Not the venue of the church.

So he was damned if he was going to have wedding in a Baptist church and she fought to get her own way with that. And he didn’t put up a fuss with appetizers.

Well, they were going to have White Chocolate Mint Ice Cream, and he was just going to have to eat it.

“Like I give a fuck,” he’d said.

But he was damn well going to have a final decision on the wedding cake, and choose one of the ones she liked the most out of all of them.

She failed badly in trying to resist the tug she felt at the sash that hung from the slip knot of the knee-length, red and black patterned sarong she wore. She fell into the space beside him on the recliner.

Elyzabel was not a lightweight; she had some ample curves on her. And he caressed her butt, finding it pleasing. She kept her eyes level with his not daring to take a peek down there, to where she was sure was beginning to swell in anticipation for…nothing. Because that is exactly what was going to happen unless he picked a cake right now.

Not looking down, she positioned the tablet on the apex of his growing organ. “Pick one.”

He pouted and his finger lightly touched the screen of the tablet, looking at her, he leaned forward and hissed quietly, a soft breath caressing her ear, “That one.”

“That one?” She breathed, her finger coming next to his on the screen.

“Yeah,” His voice was low, and deep. Suggestive.

“Okay.” She kept her gaze with his. She bit the red tipped coiffed nail of her index finger with her white teeth.

“Alright then.” She cleared her throat as she slid the tablet to the side and off his lap.

She patted the bulge at the zipper of his jeans.

He laughed, arms slipping around her back, “Lightweight.” He yanked her across his thighs.

She grinned at him. “I wish you could be serious about stuff…sometimes.” She straddled his lap with her thick thighs and curvy derrière.

The hem of her dress rode up to pool at the top of her thighs. Kelly grabbed the bunched fabric and in one swift movement peeled the dress up and off her. Her fair, caramel coloured skin was clad in a black bra and panties. He urged her closer to him and captured one pert nipple through the fabric in his mouth, while he worked to unclasp the fastening from behind. Encircling Elyzabel’s body was a marvellous tattoo of a rose vine that snaked round her bosom, her stomach, hips and reached all the way to her calves. A lush rose with vibrant red and pale pink petals was sprawled for fascination viewing over her breasts. There were a cloister of rosebuds at her smooth apex and beautiful rose flowering on her ass. Just the thought of her sexy nakedness got Kelly on the rise for sex.

Elyzabel could feel her sex moisten with desire and as he suckled her she groaned, stretching down to unzip his pants to free his manhood. His length sprung out and, at the feel of it grazing her between her legs, she gasped with pleasure. She vaguely registered the next song on the speakers pumping Big Sean’s Milf.

The bra undone, Kelly pushed it up and out of the way, capturing the other unclothed nipple in his mouth. He drew on it between his teeth and she giggled with sexual excitement until he gave it a little bite, then she gasped as her body shuddered.

He removed the bra entirely and drew back, rubbing her hard nipples with his thumb. He gazed into her misty eyes and whispered, “Go for it baby, it’s all yours.”

Elyzabel backed up lower onto his body. Feet on the floor, both arms braced on either side of him, she deep throated his erection to the base, and a rough groan escaped Kelly, “Hot damn! Thank you, Jesus.”

Kelly reached into the breast pocket of his denim jacket, pulled out one of his six piece and lit up a hand roll.

Watching through the smoke he exhaled, her sucking his dick into her mouth, her head bobbing, was so erotic he felt near climax from just watching her. He felt her tongue on the underside of his head and cold sweat beaded his forehead from the restraint it took to make his body not come in her just yet. He savored every up and down stroke that his cock remained inside her mouth. Too soon he felt his erection spasm with pre-cum and it almost went full throttle for Elyzabel’s generous sucking. “Fuck Lyza, get on top of me.”

Elyzabel rose up and both her mouth and his cock were glistening. He could see his fluid dripping a line from the corner of her mouth to her chin and he cursed. She was dazed, almost out of it from the pleasure of drawing on his sex, and he loved it. With a groan he righted himself, bent over and pulled her panties off of each delectable curve of her legs. She shuddered at the reveal, now totally naked in front of him.

Kelly lowered his jeans further down his hip, still smoking that reefer. The blond hair on his groin was darker than the waves of hair on his head. Elyzabel stepped out of the pool of panties at her feet and climbed back on top of Kelly. He pulled her hands to his mouth and suckled on her fingers, she felt herself losing control even more. He then stuck his thumbs in his mouth laved them with his tongue. Then he made sure she was positioned above him, kneeling over his raging phallus, with knees on either side of him. He pulled down her moistened fingers, easing them to her core, and he urged her on, “Come now baby, run with it.”

Kelly planted his thumbs on either side of her sex, and watched enthralled as Elyzabel eased her fingers inside herself and massaged her sex.

God, she was beautiful.

Her heavy breasts bounced with each shiver of her body. Her hair was wild and wisps of it were plastered to her forehead and neck. Her whole body released a glow of arousal making him want to -.

He felt the wet come from inside her drip onto his tight balls and his hard erection pulsed. He slipped his thumbs inside her, massaging her to utter wantonness. And, as if responding to a siren call, his phallus jerked. He yanked her fingers away and eased his cock into her. She shook around him. God he was big, and firm, and stretched her out and she ached with the contact.

“Motherfucker yes, aww fuck.” Her hips bore down on him and he was in her to the base. She moaned. The slick feel of his hardness was always just too good. He cupped her breast and suckled the tip again, he rolled his hips and the pleasure was so exquisite Elyzabel’s mind went blackout. All she could do was feel.

“Aaah. Ohhh.” The sounds escaping her mouth were indiscernible. Panting gibberish.

She held his strong shoulders as he twisted her body around, first to the side and then manoeuvring her so she lay beneath him, without losing the rampant pace of his thrusting hips, while never completely pulling out.

Then on one decisive plunge, when his arousal stretched and stayed jacked up inside her core and was too unbelievably –

She felt herself orgasm in the worst way, tightening up around him, milking his cock, she exploded into bursts of fireworks and her mind turned completely to mush. She was out of it.

Only when her spasms died down did he pull out of her. He stood, planting his feet on either side of her thighs, his erection stood out and above her. Glistening. Hard. Her mouth watered at the sight of his massive length, and she wanted him again. His body was almost a silhouette with the light play on the widescreen TV at his back and he started to strip.

Kelly peeled off his denim jacket, chucked his black tie, removed his pink shirt, and peeled away his pants. Damn he was hard, not just his sex, but all over. She wanted him to fuck her and put the flex of his entire naked body into it. She instinctively cupped her breasts together. She wanted to get dirty.

“Bitch, cream me,” she whimpered an enticing command.

Kelly, eyes glowing, knelt, sinking his knees near her shoulders and slid his hot, hard cock between her soft, plush mounds. Gliding his cock in and out between the two as she squeezed her breasts together. The hollow between her breasts became slick and hot with his pre-cum and she bent her head to meet the tip of his erection. For a moment he jabbed his head and kept it at her mouth as she sucked and pulled and tantalized the slit of his erection with her experienced tongue. His penis bobbed up and down the centre of the rose tat pattern on her breasts. He groaned. A guttural rumble that exploded from his chest and then he pulled away, only to increase the vitality of his thrusts.

She felt and heard the slapping of his wet, rock hard balls beat into her chest and –

“Fuck, babe, I’m gonna’ let loose.”

His cock jerked, and he came all over her. She squeezed her tits on him, feeling her own sex quiver and moisten for more. She bent her head and sucked at all he gave her. His hand gripped her head and kept her there as his penis continued to kick.

“Motherfucker.” Kelly shuddered, his body tensed, torso pumping.

After he had given her all he had, she looked at him, opened her mouth and gargled. Eager to show him her acquiescence. Then swallowed everything. She licked her ruby red lips, allowing her tongue to dab at the corners of her mouth and lave her swollen lips seductively.

“Fuck that shit’s hot.” Kelly’s voice was a rough whisper. Then he came in closer to her, hunching down, his mouth met hers for a deep, slow, long kiss. Elyzabel felt her naked body encased in his soft hardness as his arms embraced her. He leaned into her, pushing her more into the recliner, then he withdrew. Only to draw her legs up high above his shoulders and he pushed his quivering hard sex into her core all the way to the base and she shuddered. No time to recover from the earlier sex, he started pumping into her again.

She lifted her arms up to hold her legs behind her knees, but he raised them and placed them on either of his strong, muscled shoulders. Then his upper body moved forward and he kissed her again, his lower half increasing speed.

The intensity of his thrusts rocked her body and he pressed over her, his hands extending beyond her head, digging into the back of the recliner. His entire presence: his hard, massive, sex sweat body dominated her senses as he penetrated her.

Then at the height of the momentum, she saw stars. He came with her, and her sex milked him for all he was worth, and she experienced a mash-up of orgasm upon orgasm.

When he released her mouth on a dim-witted cloud of pure ecstasy, she heard the coyness in his rough, wholly masculine voice, “Heh, heh, heh. Fuckin’ nailed it.”

Before she could get over her tripped up state, he started pumping his hips, shooting in and out of her again. All she could do was moan.

***

Elyzabel woke to find herself mashed between the throw rug on the floor and Kelly’s six foot muscular frame. “Mmm.” Her eyes were misty. “This ain’t gonna work.” She could hardly breathe.

“Mmm.”Kelly grabbed onto her. A forearm around her behind, the other around her waist, he yanked her body effortlessly, making the smooth roll that transitioned their bodies. With her laying on top, and him below, his sex still inside her. And God help her, she flexed around him and moaned when she felt his cock kick in her.

The beat on the surround sound now blasted Lil Wayne’s Love Me. The smoke from Kelly’s earlier blunt still permeated the air. She was getting hot for him again. And as though sensing it, Kelly lay still, but his cock stretched.

For the love of God…Elyzabel tried to be as still as possible. “We have got to stop fucking.” She felt his chest rumble in response.

“You ain’t want more of that D, E?”

“Mmm,”

“Just say the word bitch, and I’ll pull that motherfucker out.”

Elyzabel sighed. God, this felt good. Just lying there on top of Kelly, listening to his heartbeat, feeling him stir inside her. Just being still like this.

She loved how solid he was and how cool it was he could handle her weight.

She felt him grip the soft curves of her ass and surge inside of her and she gasped, instantly pushing herself off of his chest to brace for the pounding she knew would come. She looked down at his eyes. A dark, molten blue.

His purr turned into a growl, “You didn’t say when.”

Her breaths came in short, uncontrolled pants as he increased the speed of his thrusting hips, her knees chaffed the carpet. Her breasts bobbed back and forth. She felt his short nails biting into her soft tush, heard him growl his need, felt his teeth latch onto her hanging nipple and once more she had the unexpected thought that, here they were again, rutting like wild animals in heat.

Every friggin’ chance we get.

The heat that had never completely vacated her loins grew even hotter as she moved her hips to meet his wild thrusts. The frantic lovemaking took possession of her like a shotgun through her system, with wave upon wave of the orgasm killing any coherent thoughts she may have had.

Elyzabel’s head was still a fuzzy mess when she awoke midday, resting comfortably on the sheets of her queen size bed in her luxury bedroom. Face down, she groaned. The smell of weed was thin in the air and no doubt accounted for how dull her senses were for that time of day. She didn’t smoke it much, but having Kelly around was equal to having fired off a six pack a day. How he always managed to be so lucid on the stuff was beyond her.

She rolled over. The top sheet was off the bed and her head had missed the pillows. Her eyes opened, misted over and she glanced down and sideways. The pillows were in a pile mounted on top of each other from when Kelly had had her bent over them earlier. Crap, how long had they gone at it for? Hmm…she was still naked, and her celly was not in here.

Elyzabel glanced up at the decorative clock face on the wall in front of her bed. Fuck, it’s been four hours. The windows were open; Kelly had already started to air out the place of the reefer. Good. She didn’t want the place smelling of that trash when her sons got home.

She leaned over and hit the Glade air freshener. It would not be enough though so she rallied herself to walk through the condo later to spray more fabric and air freshener throughout the house. First she needed to get her body to listen to her brain. The connection between the two was lost somewhere between missionary on the couch, and sixty-nine in the bedroom.

How did they manage to make it to the bed? She groaned. I hope he didn’t carry me. Elyzabel was embarrassed of situations like that because she was no thin waif. It didn’t bother Kelly. But still…

Languid, and spacing out, she couldn’t help but have her mind wander over everything and nothing. She thought about how lucky it was that she had found Kelly, a great guy who had a solid head on his shoulders and good with her two boys. Unlike their fathers, Kelly was not a guy she had to tell to do something more than once. She thought back to earlier when he had picked a cake. He was just so childish sometimes, but he did choose the one she thought he might like. He had a weird way of being serious even when he wasn’t being serious. But all in all, this was the most adult man she has ever been with. And considering that she was twenty three, and had two kids under the age of seven by two guys under the age of twenty, that was saying a whole lot.

She sighed. Kelly was twenty five and he already had his own successful practice. She grinned thinking back to when they first met and he gave her his social and told her she could look him up ’cause he was serious. She blushed, her credit at the time a year and a half ago was so baaaad. But becoming the high-flying P.A. to a fancy billionaire’s wife had certainly changed all that.

She inhaled. The smell of weed was even thinner. And at least he never lit up around the children.

Her body unconsciously sank deeper into the mattress. No. I can’t doze off again. Or I’ll wake up with him inside of me and we’ll just end up…

Elyzabel smelled the hot Italian dish and knew Kelly was warming leftover pizza from the night before. Kelly strode into the room wearing nothing and carrying a saucer topped with four steaming slices of pepperoni, burger and pineapple slices. He pressed his foot solidly on the end of the bed and launched himself up and over her with one step. She felt the bed give heavily under his weight.

“What are you so happy about?” He pressed himself-and his cock-into the side of her thigh. “As if I didn’t know.”

She looked into the sapphire blue eyes of the reason why she could not stick to her diet. “I was just thinking your dick is like the souped-up engine of an Indy 500 Ferrari that never runs out of track and never needs a pit stop.”

Kelly laughed. A purely masculine, deep throat laugh, with his head thrown back, shoulders quaking, and baritone voice bellowing throughout the room. “Now that’s a classic.”

He leaned in closer for a drugging kiss and whipped her on top of him with one arm, before placing the plate of pizza slices on the bedside table. He reached down and eased his length into her. She shuddered. He grabbed a slice of pizza. “This is how you do it. Pussy on the dick, pizza in the hand.” He grabbed the remote and pumped up the base on the Ocho Cinco. Kelly felt her breath catch as he revved up inside her again.

Mounted on top of him she spread her fingers on his chest, squeezed her fingers together and dragged them down lightly. The gentle tug on his chest hair made him purr and flex his neck and shoulders backwards.

“So romantic,” She drawled sarcastically.

He pumped his torso upward and she dug her nails into his waist. Too late. She felt his whole body flex beneath her. The sensation travelled from her sex, up her spine, and blossomed in her chest, causing her nipples to grow hard. It was delicious.

He grabbed her around the waist and breathed in her ear, “When I’m done with this, I’ll be eating you next.” And he caused her to vault backward, landing back bent over the pillows they had piled up earlier. With her legs spread wide, it was like she was caught in a backward summersault. She felt him thrusting in and out of her as the ravishing of her sex continued.

CHAPTER 7

Viktor pushed in his wife’s chair as she fitted herself into the lunch table. They had opted for the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta Grill. Viktor eased himself into the seat adjacent to his mate. The boy, Nikolai, sat across from him.

He picked up the menu. Viktor was starving, but what he craved was not served on the menu. He eyed his dark-skinned wife through lowered lids. He fancied the imprint of her swollen breasts in the simple slip dress she wore. Felt her laying on him as she had earlier in the office, like they were still there. But his lower region didn’t feel as peaceful now as it had then. And he did not think the fire in his loins would quiet down until he managed to sink himself deep inside her later.

Viktor cursed the time it would take for him to have to wait until later came.

Glancing at the waiter, he then turned his attention to Nikolai. He asked him in Russian if he would like the Crispy Pork Belly Bar-B-Que. Before the boy could answer he repeated the request to the waiter, opting out of the starter for the three of them.

Audrianna cut him off. “Don’t you think you should let him decide for himself?”

Viktor leaned closer to her, resting his elbows on the table. “Audrey, the boy barely speaks a word of English, let alone can he read the menu. No one turns down meat.”

Audrey was indignant. “You should explain it to him and let him decide. How else is he going to learn?”

Viktor snorted. “Save the tedious learning experiences for when I am not here.”

Pouting, Audrianna turned her attention to Nikolai. Viktor had to admit the boy looked tense, sitting stick straight, head buried in the menu trying to look not confused. Viktor rested his chin on steeple fingers, his eyes on Nikolai, contemplating the boy and his circumstance.

It would take a year of learning English before he could be enrolled in the local private school.

Audrianna reached over and further explained the menu choice Viktor had made for him. She fiddled with his hair, combing her fingers through the dark strands. She brushed some imaginary lint off his shoulder. She caressed his baby face cheeks, speaking to him soothingly until he turned to her and smiled.

Finally, not being able to stand it any longer Viktor released a low growl that matched more to the sound of his inner Were-Bear than a human imitation.

God help him, she was driving him mad with jealously.

Audrianna glanced at him questioningly. Panicked, Viktor glanced the other way. He reached for the back of his neck and massaged his tight muscles. He felt the strain in his shoulder blades from the unhampered release. He took a few breaths to calm his craving. The name that referenced the feeling Weres often felt for their mates.

The craving left Weres stymied, crippled, illogical. Their only concern being for the one they loved. It clouded their thinking with uncommon jealousies towards others who would unwittingly grab the attention of, or fondness for, their mates. In this case, it was Audrianna showing tenderness towards an eleven year old that hit Viktor right in the gut. Viktor tried to tamp down on the unwanted feeling.

Audrianna bestowed a radiant smile upon Nikolai. And Viktor nearly blanched. Unable to prevent the knife in his gut from twisting any deeper, his hand shot out. He grabbed Audrianna by her forearm and squeezed. His hand travelled down her arm to her hand and he squeezed again.

She gave him a funny look and said, “Hi.”

So simple, but God she was looking at him with such adoration his heart skipped a beat. He grinned at her sappily.

If they weren’t in such a public place he would smash his head onto the table. Maybe throw his body to the floor, raise the table and have the leg mash down on his temple. Fuck this fucking craving thing. And fuck him for carrying the shit with him, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.

A cool breeze nipped around them and Audrianna looked behind, taking in the quiet scene of the city from the terrace. The sky was a little overcast and the area was dipped in shadow. Viktor studied her profile a bit before the waiter came over to deliver their meals.

Some of her hair had grown back and she kept it natural. She had a hair appointment that afternoon and had told him the new style was a surprise. The slope of her nose was softly turned, not aristocratic like his own. Lovely full lips, delicate cheekbones and small chin. Not for the first time, he marvelled at how soft she was in her womanhood compared to his hardness. His hand instinctively reached out to caress the soft curve of her stomach and the new babe.

That caught her attention and she turned to him, leaned over and kissed his cheek while hugging, pressing his hand to her stomach.

He heard the mocking sound of a gag reflex coming from Nikolai’s direction. He broke off the kiss to scowl at the boy. Audrianna laughed and that caused him to slap his hand down on the table, displeased with what he deemed as candid approval of the boy’s bad behavior.

“Oh, lighten up honey. Remember you said you would stop being such a tight…” Audrianna let the sentence trail off. Viktor’s features were none too lighter.

“Audrey, there is a difference between …”, he paused and his brows furrowed, “tight, as you would say, and disciplining the boy properly.”

He stared at Nikolai, hard. And, unbelievably, the boy stared back at him, sucking breath into his cheeks and making a cross-eyed blowfish face.

“Viktor, stop staring at him as if you want to hurt him, it is making him really uncomfortable.”

“Tell me what is it about his face that makes you think the boy is having a bad time of it.”

Nikolai finally couldn’t hold his breath any longer and released the air in his cheeks in spurts and blinked away the crossed eyes. He laughed.

Viktor turned his told-you-so look to Audrianna. She shrugged and smiled warmly at Nikolai. She pinched his cheeks. “He’s such a cutie.”

Viktor fumed, “Audrey, how is he supposed to become a captain of industry with you cuddling him all the time?”

Audrianna ginned at him, her eyes lit up in surprise, “Does that mean you’re going to bring him into the company and show him the ropes?” Her hands clapped together and she began to get seriously excited.

Then Viktor looked at her with the oddest wide eyed “deer caught in headlights” expression. He hated disappointing her. And anything negative connected to any of the kids ranked high on her list of disappointing behavior. He looked at Nikolai and could not hide his dubious expression.

Nikolai seemed to only catch English words on and off, but he could tell his Mommawas happy and that was all he needed to know to be all smiles. For some reason Viktor could not pinpoint, he found the revelation quite annoying.

Audrianna squeezed his arm and he felt the warm rush from the affectionate touch. He battled with the overbearing craving again and thoroughly lucked out. He sighed, hopeless. He fell into his accent, heavily. “We v’ill cross that bridge when we come to it. I’s z’at not v’ee American saying?” Great timing. The waiter came with the meal just before he made a complete asshat of himself.

Besides, they had a rule not to discuss anything at all related to the company at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Dining was definitely family time and not to be skewed.

The thing was, he had scheduled two meetings with separate parties at this time. One was the reason behind his family dining out now. The person was to come and carry out an impromptu assessment for him. The other meeting was with the company attorneys. Their main offices were in Los Angeles, but were meeting Viktor directly after the luncheon to introduce him to his new attorney representative. The rep would relocate to Atlanta, strictly for Maxckcom convenience.

The waiter put the meals in front of them and Viktor was taken aback by the salad Audrianna had just stuck her fork into. “Is that all you are going to have?”

Audrianna looked at him, her face serene. “I’m not all that hungry.”

“Yes but you should be on a diet of all meat, hungry or not. You aren’t just eating for yourself. For the next four months that baby is going to suck out everything and you have to feed it. And if you don’t give it enough, it will go after your food, too. I am tired of having this talk with you for each pregnancy.”

“Relax Viktor. I’m following the diet Dr. Ross gave me, and it is for both me and the baby. I’m eating just enough for the two of us. Besides we have two more months to go and I don’t want to gain more weight than I have to, eating nothing but meat all the time. I ballooned on the last pregnancy and I’m not going to go overboard on this one.”

Viktor pursed his lips. What is up with women and this obsession they had with their weight?

Viktor decided he would order something extra to go. He could do with something a little more sweet himself. His Were-Bear side was in the mood for – his wife’s thigh brushed against his and he couldn’t help but to look down. His eyes went to her thigh, then trailed up to the apex between them, covered by the dress she wore.

Hmm. ..definitely sex. In the mood for sex. Sex…and chocolate.

Viktor had the most alluring vision of his sexy, dark-skinned wife. Chocolate being poured all over her, one tantalizing leg lifted into the air. In a tub filled with liquid chocolate that reached her shoulders. Wearing nothing except liquid chocolate.

The vision nagged at him as he caught the waiter’s attention and questioned him on what dessert he would recommend. He ordered, and when the chocolate mousse came, he willfully dampened his sex-drive, taking a gargantuan chunk out of the sweet chocolatety goodness.

He looked across at Nikolai and was glad to see the human was eating better. He was way too scrawny.

Fifteen minutes into the meal, Viktor received a text. He noted it was from the person he was scheduled to meet. Alejandro. He excused himself from the table with wanting to make a private call, just as his guest was being led to their seating by the waiter. On Alejandro’s arrival Viktor shook the man’s hand and left to make his call.

The waiter brought a chair over and Alejandro took a seat next to Viktor’s empty one.

“I didn’t know you were visiting with us until this morning, Alejandro. How is Atlanta treating you?” Audrianna asked.

“It has its appeal.” Alejandro took a sip of the tall, water-filled glass the waiter brought for him. When he raised the glass to his lips, the hard plastic of his Vital Sign Suit could be glimpsed peeking out at the base of his neck. It caught Nikolai’s eye.

Nikolai, curious, stood up, causing the chair to screech backward a little. “What’s that, with the timer on there?”

“Nikolai,” Audrianna was quick to scold him. She tapped the side of her nose at him. “It is impolite to point.”

Alejandro parted the collar of his lilac shirt a bit before he fingered the suit. “Oh this. It is a creation of your father’s esteemed company, New Life. I have a disease.” The boy visibly recoiled and Alejandro laughed. “Oh, no, no, no, young man, it is not contagious. The suit helps track my vitals, transmitting them to a remote device that monitors everything from my blood sugar, to my indigestion.” Alejandro balled a fist and hit his chest heartily with the side of it. “It ensures my body’s functions are kept in balance at all times.”

Nikolai stood up, reached over the table and knocked on the exposed gun metal grey casing that walled Alejandro’s chest.

Audrianna scolded him for his bad manners. Alejandro brushed off her admonishment with a wave of his hand.

“No, by all means,” Alejandro’s Latin-American accent was unmistakably demure. “Allow the boy his fancy. Curiosity is good, no?”

Alejandro leaned forward. One hand tucked in the crook of his elbow on the table, the other stroked his chin affirmatively. “Go ahead, ask me anything.”

“Why-why do you wear that?”

“It is because I have too many diseases working, as one may say, with each other to cause me much pain. The suit relieves this agony. It also keeps me abreast of what is going on in my body. I can adjust anything from my body temperature to my cholesterol level, at a moment’s notice with this here…” Alejandro knocked on the hard fabric as Nikolai had done previously, “Suit.”

Nikolai became a bit standoffish with his next question. He sat back down slowly. “What diseases do you have?”

“Ohh, ho ho.” Alejandro grinned to take the seriousness off the subject at hand. “Too many and too difficult for you to say, for either of us to say. Your tongue will become tied.” Then he laughed. “Do not worry. I can tell what you are thinking by the look on your face. What I have is not very contagious-you cannot get it by touching, what doctors would call direct contact with the skin. In any case, I am not dying from them anytime soon.”

Alejandro laughed and crossed his arms at the look of relief on the boy’s face. Alejandro answered a few more notorious questions before Audrianna thought it best to cut off the little “question and answer” session to discuss with Alejandro how things were going on with him otherwise. After all, Alejandro was not in the U.S. for business purposes but for a little Rand R, away from his hectic schedule in the Caribbean. Audrianna, though she appreciated the effort he made with her son, she felt uncomfortable with the intrusive Q and A.

“Yes,” Alejandro addressed her at one point. “I am enjoying the Georgia hospitality quite much. The suite here at the Ritz-Carlton is like a second home for whenever I am to come to see you.” He grinned warmly. “But let us get together to really discuss tact for what is going on in Venezuela, before I prepare the Accruals for the General Meeting. No?”

A pensive look crossed Audrianna’s face. “Call my office for a meeting, for you I’m free whenever.”

Finally, Viktor made his way back to the table. Alejandro took hold of a napkin from a dispenser in the centre of the table, withdrew his push-point pen from his inside pocket and scribbled shortly on the napkin before standing up to take his leave.

“I hope this will suffice.” He handed Viktor the napkin before he could regain his seat at the table.

Viktor glanced down at the message, giving Alejandro a curt nod. “Mmmhmm”

“Young boy, I hope we see each other again soon.” Alejandro reached over to clasp Nikolai’s hand, giving it a strong shake. “Senorita,” He clasped Audrianna’s firmly at the fingertips, “Buenos Dias.” He gave her a deep bow before exiting the party.

The uncommon exchange between Alejandro and Viktor was not lost on Audrianna however and she gave Viktor a “what-have-you-got-there” look, pointedly eyeing the napkin in Viktor’s hand.

Viktor folded it and slipped it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He gave her an upturned nose and said lightly, “Never you mind. Eat your,” he wriggled his nose, “greens.”

Audrianna mocked his wriggling nose action. Turning her head to look down at her plate she had to catch herself from almost wriggling her nose at her meal in earnest, too. Yep, she was soooo not a vegetable person. Nevertheless, she stuck her fork in the meal and continued eating.

They had come close to the end of their meals when the waiter came bustling over to their table, followed by two men in business suits with stylish briefcases.

The older gentleman with graying blond hair, baggy eyes and dour features was instantly recognizable as the companies’ counsel, Mr. Burk. “Mr. Burk.” Audrianna raised her hand for a firm handshake.

“Good evening to you Mrs. Maxckmillian.” Mr. Burk then turned what could be perceived as a homely smile to Viktor. “Mr. Maxckmillian, it’s a pleasure.” He shook Viktor’s hand. Mr. Burk stepped aside to reveal the man wearing the calf length trench coat behind him.

“As we discussed earlier I would like for you to meet our new hire, Mr. Morrison.” Mr. Burk clasped the man around his shoulders and urged him forward, while patting him on the chest formally with his left hand. The man outstretched his arm in greeting. “Now don’t let the term ‘new hire’ fool you.” Mr. Burk harped. “Stole him away from Brandon, Lee and Wallerfield right before they went bust.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially, “Got a shit-load of clients with this acquisition too.”

The new hire appeared to blush, obviously not used to Mr. Burke’s untamed tongue. Out of his element and not quite sure how to follow up such a candid introduction, the man stuck his hand out to greet the couple. “Mr. Maxckmillian and Mrs. Maxckmillian. It’s such a pleasure to be representing you. I have caught myself up on all of your companies’ histories and acquisitions and your portfolio is quite impressive.”

Mr. Morrison noted the difference in handshakes of the pair. Audrianna was more open and welcoming. Her husband’s? Dubious. Mr. Morrison knew he would have to work harder to garner a good opinion from him.

Mr. Morrison was dark skinned, more a solid brown than tan. He was bald and it made his whole head look round. About the same height as Mr. Burk, which meant the top of his head came just to Viktor’s shoulders. He wore silver framed wire glasses with round lenses. His smile made his cheeks beam.

Mrs. Maxckmillian did not sit back down. “Well, it is lovely meeting you Mr. Morrison, but I’m afraid I must bail on you this evening.”

“Quite alright Mrs. Maxckmillian.”

“Please call me Audrianna.” She put her hand out in farewell. “Ciao.”

The two Attorneys got to their feet again in a gesture of respect to her leaving, but sat back down as Viktor stood. Mr. Burk let the waiter know that he would have a glass of water. Mr. Morrison shook his head, declining.

Viktor, both hands on either of Audrianna’s forearms, squeezed her with a note of gentle affection in his eyes, he whispered in her ear, “Go straight home.”

Mr. Morrison did not catch the whispered farewell that came from Viktor, he did catch the rolling of the wife’s eyes though. Then the two shared a silent “tet a tet” only couples together a long time managed through their own silent language can accomplish.

“Do-what-I-say.”Was the stern look crossing Viktor’s already angular features.

“Yeah whatever.”Mr. Morrison discerned the wife’s facial reaction.

Or at least that is what Mr. Morrison made it out to be. He had tried googling the couple earlier to find information on the pair but nothing had turned up. Hmm. He noted the long, lustrous hair of the Billionaire and the white tip at the end of the braid that lay over his left shoulder.

But some billionaires were like that, he thought. Maybe they used one of those reputation defender sites to scrub all details about themselves off the web. Could hardly believe that; for as long as these two have existed, and for as much wealth as they have, that they could have lived this long without having an exposé done on them from time to time. Or maybe they were like those rich brothers from Germany that owned the famous supermarket chain who were so secretive that there were no pictures of them on the web at all. Perhaps they guarded their privacy with a very heavy hand.

Mr. Morrison’s head jostled various musings as the lady left with their small child in tow. “Your boy really resembles you sir.”

Viktor sniffed as though smelling something distasteful in the air. He waved off the compliment with his hand. “Nikolai is not my son.”

Mr. Morrison’s eyebrows shot up at that. “Oh, I’m sorry sir-he just looked to have your eyes. And he does not seem to have …er…”Mr. Morrison’s voice trailed off. It was on the tip of his tongue to mention the word “colouring” noting his wife’s African-American heritage. But the boy looked quite, well, pale. “Is he adopted by chance?” Or maybe a relative…

Morrison noted Viktor’s features reconstructed as though contemplating a conundrum. His lips pursed, eyes grew clouded and wavered sideways. He turned his head towards the street over the terrace. His wayward index finger tapped the skin above his top lip. Morrison wondered why… Nikolai, was it? Why Nikolai’s origin would be such a touchy subject.

Viktor looked at him with such a blatant stare he expected him to fully change the subject.

“He’s a stowaway.”

“Huh?” Morrison hoped his response did not look as dumb as he sounded. He needed to ingratiate himself to this man who was quite frankly, the firm’s most important client.

He paused. “He…took residence on my private plane and did not make himself known to us until we were well on our way to America. He has been with us ever since. He was a street urchin my wife befriended in St. Petersburg.”

Morrison presumed he must have heard Viktor wrong. Because if he hadn’t, he supposed he was telling him that he and his wife were caring for an undocumented, immigrant child. Which currently implicated them in kidnapping of sorts. Must be the accent, he must not be hearing him right.

Great Scott! Could go for a scotch right about now. Forget the Aquafina starter.

Morrison rolled his neck, allowing his head to loll from side to side, steadfastly averting his gaze to the suddenly awe inspiring table cloth before him.

“Now then, let’s get down to biz.”

Thank heavens for Mr. Burk who butted in to draw them onto another subject giving him time to surreptitiously wipe sweaty palms against his suit pants.

CHAPTER 8

Go straight home. Honestly, who did he think she was? Some type of ninny to keep tabs on straight through?

Plllllllleeeeeeease.

Audrianna jumped out of the black sedan that chauffeured her and her son around town. She glanced up, paying reverence to the dark clouds and rolling thunder before she ran to the stairs of the cathedral. She held Nikolai’s hand as she walked up to greet Father Arie John.

Meeting him on the top step she barely shot past his middle, in heels. He welcomed her with a smile as he always did. “Rain will be coming soon.” He was disturbed, looking up at the darkening sky.

Audrianna slipped past him, dragging Nikolai in hurriedly. “I can feel the drizzle now.”

The heavy oak door gave an old fashioned, long creaking noise as the priest pushed it shut, closing off the outdoors.

Audrianna took a moment to marvel at the quiet in the dimly lit foyer.

This is special.

“Yes, it is.”

“Huh?” she breathed. Strange, she was sure she hadn’t said that out loud.

“Sorry, I just assumed.” He cleared his throat. He raised his hand in the direction of the isle between the pews. “Please, this way. Or might you want to talk up here. It is rather quiet today. Not much in number of parishioners are here.”

Audrianna noticed just the one woman with her head bowed at a pew.

“Yes, we can get much privacy today. Let’s sit here. I like to watch the altar sometimes.”

Reminds me of my childhood, going for communion. She mused, eyes on the altar.

“It is rather comforting isn’t it?”

Audrianna smiled. “It is as if you can read my mind. You’re the only other man in my life that can do that.”

“Other man. Oh, you mean…” Father Arie swallowed hard. “It is just that, well…” He struggled for words, “Your face is an open book, Audrianna.” He licked his lips. “Please, we can sit here.”

She slid into a pew directly in front of the altar. Father Arie trailed behind her and sat near the end, closest to the red carpeted isle. The pews were modern crafted, varnished cherry wood. The walls were a dull grey and mounted on them were plaques depicting various scenes from the New Testament. The ceiling was redwood, dark, and so far up, some corners were blackened with shadow. The altar gleamed gold from the dimmed lighting above. The whole experience lent to a cozy atmosphere.

“Right here, I like to sit sometimes and gaze upon the altar. It does render a calming effect. There is much comfort in the experience.” He caught her uncommon stare. “What?”

Audrianna giggled, “Now you’re really scaring me.”

His brow furrowed.

“I like it here because it reminds me of when I was younger. My school was an R.C. with a church in the courtyard. This is quite similar, but bigger in many aspects. I was just thinking of how quiet and peaceful it is.”

He smiled, “I think mayhap we enjoy the similar, simpler qualities life has to offer. There is unity in our unshared experiences, nothing bad about that.”

Audrianna glanced over at Nikolai. He was holding on to the backs of two pews parallel to each other, two isles to her right, using them to brace his arms as he rocked back and forth without touching the floor. She called out to him quietly, to not to go beyond the room.

He nodded his acquiescence before continuing farther up the aisle, away from where she and the Priest were seated.

The woman who had been kneeling earlier stood up and made her way toward the double doors to the outside.

The fact they were nearly alone was not lost on Audrianna, but she found herself to be comfortable in the priest’s presence. In her mind she saw Viktor’s image of Father Arie as “another man” to be over reaching.

Besides, I can handle myself.

Viktor became more overbearing and anxious because of the incident that had happened a few months ago. Audrianna refused to refer to it as a kidnapping.

Besides, I would have escaped on my own. Eventually. He was nuts to think he would ever have to worry about me. And besides, father Arie was harmless.

Audrianna turned so the front of her body faced Arie. She crossed her legs at the thigh, and rested her head on her hand; her arm was braced on the back of the pew.

“How are collections going these days? With the economy in the shi-,” she managed to hold her tongue in time, “dumps, you must not be seeing as much help as you used to.”

Arie shrugged. “Better than expected. You and your husband’s charity have helped St. Agnes fair better than many of the parishes of late.”

Audrianna noticed he kept his eyes turned down and thought the grip of his clasped hands in his lap was much too tense, and she frowned. “Do you need anything?”

“Hmm?” He still didn’t look at her.

Audrianna raised her head and leaned in closer to him, lessening the gap between them a little. She felt compelled to touch his wrist gently, but didn’t. Viktor’s nagging cut into her conscious thought and she refrained herself from doing so. She frowned in annoyance for taking his jealous harping to heart. “Is there anything you need specifically while you are here? I know your appointment was approved by the were-bear counsel,” Audrianna had to force herself not to roll her eyes at that, “But, I kind of feel as if you are my charge. If there is anything you need, please tell me.”

His eyes shifted sideways in her direction, though they were still downcast. “I need?” He took a deep breath and his eyes trailed up the length of her body for as long as it took for him to release a slow sigh. When his eyes did meet hers, Audrianna thought she saw more of an intimate heat there. She blinked and felt mistaken because his eyes then looked more light and prone to laughter than horny. Audrianna turned her gaze away in a blush at the erotic thought.

“Can you recommend a mechanic in the area? I am only familiar with New York, and I need someone who I can trust won’t go overboard with fixing it.”

Audrianna was taken aback by the request. “What trouble are you having with it?”

Embarrassed at his non-macho plight, Arie looked downward, then he looked into her eyes.

Aha, there it was, the laughter. She had to admit his smiling gaze put her at ease more than anything else.

“I haven’t the slightest idea.” He laughed. “Cars are not ideally my strong point.” He turned towards her, mirroring her pose. “I hope that doesn’t make me any less of a man in your eyes.”

Audrianna scowled, wrinkling her nose. “Heavens no.” She held back from enquiring more about the problem he was experiencing. She loved everything about cars. Loved racing them, too. She didn’t want to seem to be a know-it-all and in turn brand Arie as a pushover in a field that was of determinedly masculine origin.

His pose was more relaxed now. His broad shoulders beneath the dark jacket and black undershirt were impressive. His Caucasian skin was darker than Viktor’s, who she always seemed to use these days as a measuring stick for men. Arie’s cheeks always carried a slight red blush.

She liked this. Just the two of them chit-chatting about nothing in particular. Since she became Mrs. Maxckmillian her world had become small and getting smaller all the time. Viktor kept a lockdown on who she could meet most days, and even those were scheduled. Hard to have friends pop in for small talk like she was once used to. These unimportant musings with Arie often filled the void. The fact there was no hard core sexual tension between them lent to that feeling of easy going banter she craved most.

They spoke about nothing in particular with Audrianna glancing over in Nikolai’s direction whenever he made a noise that echoed in the chamber, drawing more attention to the fact that they were semi-alone.

Audrianna crisscrossed her arms and rubbed her upper arms to ward off the chill flowing into the chamber from the outside drizzle. Arie frowned and in one fluid movement shook off his jacket,draping it around her before she could say no.

“Please.” He smiled.

“Thank you.” She grabbed hold with her hands on either collar and drew it around her. It was big, reaching her knees as she sat beside him. Audrianna couldn’t help but notice his scent was musky and, not for the first time, warned herself she was with a man who was not her husband.

“But I should be going anyway.” Audrianna breathed. She made to stand when her body gave way to an untimely sway. Her head felt stuffy and she blinked hard. “That’s weird.”

“Whoa.” Arie slipped a strong arm around her shoulders and at once Audrianna’s side met the hard wall of his chest. “You okay?”

“Weird, my-everything feels all wobbly,” Audrianna’s voice was a whisper. She felt drained of energy and became unsteady on her legs. Feeling weak, she leaned heavily against Father Arie. Her body trembled a bit before her vision blurred and she passed out.

***

Viktor’s thoughts turned off the events of the day’s lunch meetings to the one topic that never vacated his mind. Audrianna. He was off to the office to touch base with his secretary.

Afterwards he planned to visit with Audrianna upstairs in the penthouse suite where they stayed when they planned to put in long hours in the city. This way they could keep the kids close and not disrupt family life too much with their hectic schedule.

He resisted the urge to call her. To find out if she had made it home okay. To find out how she was doing. Or maybe just to hear her voice…because he wanted to. Just to still his beating heart.

God, I need an enema.

He was afraid she would accuse him of crowding her too much. And Lord only knows, that woman does not like to be handled. It is a wonder how he got her to agree to take a husband. He smiled. He would just pop in upstairs after he checked in with…

After stopping the luxury sedan in front of the building, he noticed the stasis bubble immediately on looking at the entry. Then on entering the building he noticed the security guard. Andy, his brown face frozen in a cheery expression, eyes mirroring the iridescent glow of the flat ceiling lights.

Viktor’s mood became acidic in response to the intrusion. His mood became more glacial as he entered the glass-walled elevator and travelled up the commercial building’s thirty-eight flights, witnessing the suspended animation of the moving people on each floor.

He suspected who was to blame for the suspended animation technique, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. He brought his hands up, clasped them together, and cracked his knuckles. Maybe he ought to pop the motherfucker one for good measure, make him think twice next time.

The doors opened and Viktor turned sideways around the curved corridor to his office. The walls bore a fabric that mirrored the feel and look of Chambray cloth, and coloured grey with thin white lines in a defined pattern. The floor was smooth, white carpet. He meandered to his secretary’s desk and, sure enough, there was his secretary. Her head had stilled with a tiny crease marring her brow. A quizzical expression on her face.

Were they also caught up in this suspension mode? Were his kids caught in suspended motion too? Audrianna? Though he kept the penthouse sheathed with a protection spell, the idea they may be like this made his blood boil.

His glass wall office just ahead had a special feature he controlled with an automated button on his desk. He could make the glass turn dark so no one could see inside, or he could make the glass clear as he pleased. All the executive level offices on this floor had them built in. But the feature to darken the glass was off, and he could see the figure relaxing in the guest chair with his back to him, blowing cigar smoke circles.

Viktor knew the door would not budge with a common push of the hand. He used his mind to make it slam open and clash with the bare, synthetic glass wall. Viktor’s voice rattled the office furniture, having the effect of a level five earthquake, “Lucifer.”

The vampire continued to puff on his blunt.

Viktor strolled slowly to the window overlooking the city of Atlanta. He could see the top of the CNN Centre, but his mind was not on the view. His voice was less of a god, more of a human who was vaguely curt, “To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this evening?”

“It has been brought to my attention we may have a vampire hunter in the area. And this being your territory, I thought it best to enlighten you on the matter. This, in the name of open communicado and what not.” The vampire puffed on his blunt. “New era of openness and we’re all aligned and all that shit, you know it.”

Viktor made sure he wore a pleasant smile before turning to face the vampire, who in another century would be considered his mortal enemy.

Vampire Lucifer was clean shaven but for a goatee and a well-kept moustache. His long, auburn hair fell straight over his shoulders until a few inches before the cut tipped his waist, where it crinkled in waves. The iris of his eyes glowed red, with the blood vessels of the white sclera glowing golden. His face was angular. His jaw a firm square. His lips parted and the smoke curled in thin trails from his mouth and dissipated in the air. His uncaring mask of a “warm sunny day” riled Viktor’s nerves. But Viktor kept his mind block engaged, because he knew Lucifer was nothing if not sly and used multiple techniques at once. Mind reading was one of his specialties.

“That is disturbing news.” Not really, Viktor thought. But his face mirrored concern he did not feel. He made to sit down. “How unfortunate-”

Lucifer spoke over him, “The loss has amassed to eighteen thousand over the last three years.”

Viktor paused while descending into his chair, taken aback by the large figure. He sat down slowly. “Oh. Not a human cutting down Vamps at such a large rate. You are looking for a supernatural being.”

Lucifer rolled the blunt between his index and thumb, speaking on the release of a puff of smoke, “Killings stretch from Gibraltar to the South pacific, with a culmination of sorts in Cali, ATL and New York City. This is why we believe these meccas are the killer’s stomping ground. Or at least calls one of these three his home. Witnessed anything unusual on your end?”

“No,” Viktor said truthfully. And that was disturbing. That large of a bite taken from the Vampire population should have caused a stir sooner. A blip on the radar. But if the killer spread his activities across the Atlantic…No. It still should have come upon his radar and, if not his, then the shifters and weres in the area should have sounded the alarm on something wrong in the area. A vampire being dragged into a dark alleyway; or an uncommon number of mounds of dried ash. Viktor refrained from smiling at the idea. This was definitely cause for concern. Those were a lot of unexplained deaths to go unnoticed. “A super of this quality on the loose, is bad for all species.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“How are you sure it is the same person?”

“Corpses turn up bloodless. Slit throats from ear to ear. Exposed so only the carcass remains at daylight.”

Hmm. A bloodless vampire corpse would only loose flesh to the harsh sun rays.

Viktor folded his arms and leaned back into his chair. Not forgetting his earlier anger, just setting it a little to the side. “I find it highly unlikely it is a Were. That sounds much too clean an attack.”

“You’re thinking it could be another Vampire. Or a group of humans harvesting Vamp blood.”

“You must be thinking the same. Few supers actually live on vampire blood, but vampires themselves.”

“Vampire blood used to be quite the commodity, especially in the days of the plague. But advancements in modern medicine have squashed that,” Lucifer paused, “trend.”

“Few supers had the power to overtake vampires themselves, ’cept vampires.” Viktor’s ’cept came out z’empt.

“All avenues are being explored.” The vampire stood. “No stone being left unturned. Keep your eyes peeled. Maybe you don’t have a lock on your kind as well as you think you do.”

Viktor’s growl was intense. “I assure you, my finger is definitely on the trigger when it comes to my race. Seems to me you have a rogue in yours.”

Viktor imagined Lucifer’s smile resembled a viper’s, if snakes had that tendency.

Lucifer picked up the broad hat he placed on the desk. “Be in touch.” Lucifer exited by vanishing. He was the picture of an image on a movie screen caught up in some type of special effect film static. His body appearing in motionless slits, with some slits disappearing in tremor movement, and then all of him was gone. And so was the technique he had used to keep the inhabitants of the building unaware of his presence.

There were way too many hours in the day…

Viktor sighed. How the fuck had this building become unguarded. I need to put in a call to Darksmith.

Lucifer was an ancient, but still. Viktor’s family was here and he needed to keep them insulated. He reached for his cell. The timer on it was fine. Compared to the varying technologies in the building whose timers would be off because of the suspended animation.

Knowing a ferocious killer was in close proximity to his family made his urgency to get into contact with them spike. He engaged an app that allowed him to look at his family. The app tracked their GPS signals, and when he used it in conjunction with his mysticism, it produced a holographic image on the screen and he saw what his family was doing. The act gave him much comfort.

He did that now, allowing the particles in the air to accumulate in a swirl above the flat screen of his mobile. Even the remnants of the smoke left by Lucifer’s blunt collected to form small, three inch tall moving holographic images of his kids. They were piling up pillows in the middle of Nikolai’s bedroom. The big TV was on a popular puppet show. He made a mental note to put a call through to their nanny to tip her off on their antics so he wouldn’t have to deal with the unnecessary mess when he got to the penthouse. Nikolai was very protective of his personal space, but for some reason Viktor couldn’t keep the twins from entering the boy’s room every chance they got.

Using his thumb he tapped the icon to log into his wife’s GPS, this caused the holographic picture of his kids to disperse and the particles re-accumulated into an image of his wife. His body grew motionless as he saw Audrianna being laid onto a bed by that friggin’, SOB priest.

Viktor shot up from his chair with a roar. “Whaaaaaat!!”

His startled secretary flew into the room with a baffled look on her face. “What…Sir? When did you?” She cleared her throat. “That is-”

“Hold my calls,” Viktor ordered through clenched teeth. She looked like she cared to discuss things further when he released a feral growl that left her speechless and backing out of the office, closing the door.

Viktor made quick work of tapping the buttons on his desk and getting the automated system to darken the glass before he summoned his weapon, Hells Embrace, from the depths of hell.

A dark swirl opened up before him and he lifted both arms as the mass, about two feet in diameter and parallel to his waiting arms, collapsed into itself and a red light glowed from within as the magical club fell forth. Then the portal closed in completely.

The club was smoothly chiselled from dark wood. Black rock encrusted the nearly flat top. He caught the heavy weapon in his outstretched hands and, gripping the handle with his right hand, he swung it forward towards the side wall.

A black swirling mass opened. It bubbled and popped and released fog as though it were a cauldron of boiling tar. But it was not hot. A portal about seven feet tall, it tracked back to his wife’s GPS. Viktor grabbed his trench coat from the white leather, two person sofa and put it on. He hid the club in the magical dimensions of his attire. Suspended from a loop on the inside of the coat, the coat’s powers allowed the bulky weapon to become non-existent in its depths, making it appear he carried nothing beneath it.

The swirling blackness suspended in mid-air against the wall of his office, and once Viktor stepped through it, it disappeared as soundlessly as it had appeared.

Viktor stood just inside the doorway of a small bedroom. At the sight of the priest leaning over his wife on the bed; heavily bracing his upper body weight with his arms on either side of her, he balked, “I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume this is definitely not what it looks like.”

CHAPTER 9

“Mr. Maxckmillian, I didn’t know you were…uh, you were waiting in the car?”

Viktor refrained from acknowledging the response and took two large steps to reach his wife’s side. He paused to look down at her.

His eyes narrowed on the stark pallor of her brown skin. “She’s passed out.”

“Yes, I asked the boy to put a call through to 911, but he insisted on calling you instead. I didn’t know you would be right outside.”

Viktor paid Arie no attention, laying his hand on Audrianna’s forehead and then two fingers on the base of her throat to check her pulse; he splayed his hand on her lower abdomen. He was about to lift the hem of her dress to check for spotting when he gave the priest a stern look. “Do you mind?”

Arie looked both indignant and shy as his cheeks and nose pinched red, but he gave Viktor his back all the same.

Viktor lifted the rim of her dress to look below and breathed a sigh of relief as he noted no blood or spotting. But she was out like a light. That was strange even for her.

“She is pregnant again, isn’t she?” The statement fell into the air like a bomb drop, and had the effect of a suspense-filled moment for when the pin from a grenade was removed and thrown into the air and everyone in the room stared at it knowing what would happen when it hit the ground.

Viktor gave the priest’s back a black look, annoyed the man showed dejected shoulders at such an assumption. He answered him all the same, “Yes.” Viktor made to lift her up and get her out of the room that oozed the scent of the priest that agitated Viktor’s nose.

“Do you think that is wise?”

Viktor’s response was immediate, aggressive. He approached the priest and with a hand on his upper-arm spun him around with such force that the young man nearly lost his balance. Anger made the crescendo of his voice heavily accented, “Say to my v’ace-What?”

Viktor could see the tell-tale nervous tic of the priest swallowing, but he prodded on. The man turned wavering eyes in the direction of Audrianna, and appeared to harden with mustered resolve he did not have before. And the act burned Viktor something fierce. It was as though the sight of her gave him courage to act and he did not like the unannounced failing one fucking bit.

“She’s a small woman. You should give her body time to heal before burdening her with more offspring.”

“Small woman? Small woman?” Before Viktor realized it, he had said the words aloud. Twice. He moved quickly, before the priest could track his approach, and snatched the white ring slip from around his collar. He squeezed the fabric, shaking his fist at the man with the stunned expression and the hand at his throat. Viktor’s voice was calm, too calm. Deadly. “For what I am about to say to you, you won’t need this.” He stared at the priest, unwavering. “What happens between us,” Viktor flicked his index finger back and forth in the direction of his wife and himself. “When we get down to business, is between us, and is of no concern to you. So whatever controversies you may fantasize in that head of yours, whether real or imagined, you keep to yourself. Leave your brain to contemplate the Sunday morning flock you contend with.” He pointed to his wife, on the bed. “This woman right here is mine, and off limits. Understood?”

Viktor seemed to water down Father Arie’s intent to some extent as the priest turned beet red. He looked away and his eyes gazing appeared to look down a bottomless pit whose distance was so vast discovering the length of the depths was more meaningful than discovering the meaning of life. The priest’s all at once dour mood rubbed Viktor the wrong way even more.

Viktor had half a mind to pitch the offending collar in his hand into the corner. And the priest along with it. Instead he grasped Arie’s hand and lifted it. He put the white clergy slip into the man’s hand and used his other hand to close the priest’s fingers around it. Viktor’s black eyes bore into the other man’s perfect crystal blue gaze held in unwavering austerity. Solid. Strong. The priest was stoic and bore no ill will.

Fearing he would lash out at the man at such a response, Viktor turned, lifted his wife in his arms, focused on the boy who stood in the doorway, and nodded in the direction of the hallway. “Come,” he said to him. Exiting the room, standing beside Nikolai he gave the boy a silent look that encouraged him to close the door.

CHAPTER 10

Viktor laid Audrianna onto the bed with reverence, as though she was a glass statue and given the slightest misstep, she would break. Then he eased off the bed and removed his shoes, jacket and waistcoat, while his mind raced at the rate of a speeding bullet.

Nikolai had wanted to stay by Audrianna’s side, but Viktor had urged Nikolai to go back to the penthouse with the promise he would give him details on Audrianna as soon as she woke up. Nothing was wrong with her, she just passed out because of exhaustion, he told the boy. And warned him not to harass his brother and sister about the mess they had made in his room. That had sent him running up the stairs.

Viktor then used his portal summoning technique to visit an estate he and Audrianna had bought when they first married. They were in North Carolina, a quaint, two story blue Victorian Manor home that had set him back nearly nine million dollars. Not set him back exactly, he was, after all, a trillionaire, and Audrianna had fallen in love with it. And that was all that had mattered. Really. And it had only cost that much because it was marked up by five million dollars because the family living in it at the time was stone cold set not to sell it. Been in their family for nearly six generations and all that blah- blah- blah. The extra five million had sent all that humbug flying out the window. Viktor Maxckmillian gets what he wants, when he wants. Duh.

He glanced around the room now with a frown that had naught to do with the sweet, mahogany flowery furnishings and lovely smurf -blue walls, but from events not more than ten minutes ago. His prostrated wife passed out in Arie’s living quarters. Small woman? Viktor’s breathing became vapid on the thought of another man relating any view of his wife. His teeth grated. The nerve.

He made his way back to Audrianna and knelt onto the king size bed. After a while of staring at her, his nerves over what had recently vexed him began to quiet until he was simply gazing at her with an open heart. Then he began to undress her.

He reached around and unzipped the dress from behind. He then slipped the soft fold of the neckline down, slipping the dress’ shoulder down past her elbows and off her arms. The soft swell of her bosom, supported by a purple lacy bra, was now exposed to him.

Looking at her sleeping face now, lids down and completely serene, for some reason the nick he had barred his Aide from referring to her came to mind. Choco. The name untethered from Mat’s lips had irked him when he first heard it and he warned him on the spot not to call her that. Mat had stared at him, dumbstruck and it had gotten a good strong laugh out of Audrianna. Hmm. He didn’t think he would ever get used to other men being familiar with his wife. It was more than just a “mine” issue. She belonged to him and the intent ran deeper than words could ever explain.

He noted the tat in bright red colours. His name a cursive slant on her left breast. Viktor remembered when she had gotten it. Apparently the small gesture was profound in some way. It meant that she was his bitch. She was pretty pissed at him for a time after she had gotten it, though Viktor had never asked her to. She said it was a rite of passage. The thought of having his name on her though always made him smile.

He continued to remove the soft dress by pulling it down her curves, past the gentle arc of her stomach, wide hips and thick thighs all the way off her smooth legs. Then he rolled the fabric up and tossed the garment aside without care.

He took the quiet time he had with her unconscious form to examine her other tattoos, of which Audrey preferred the bold, cursive kind. The words ‘Baddest Bitch’ was scrolled on the inside of her right thigh in black on a red washed background. On her right upper arm on the outside below the shoulder socket were the words ‘Sexy Bitch’. The ball of her left shoulder borea small black flag and the almost indiscernible word ‘Anarchist’ in a circle at the base of the pole the flag flew on. Sharing the same space inside the circle was another flag on a separate pole, the red, white and black Trinidad flag of her native country.

He sighed. There were times he would get incredibly excited looking at her tats, but now they gave him a feeling of comfort. The awareness she was real and with him right now made him feel an extraordinary sense of well-being. The effect was almost akin to subdued jubilation.

There was no time to capitalize on the feeling as his mind seized upon the hour, and he grew concerned about the length of time she had been out. Better get a hold of some smelling salts- the feel of the tips of her fingers gliding up the stretch of his muscled thigh as he straddled her hips soon debunked the notion she may need a doctor to take a further look at her.

He felt the light touch of her small hands make their way almost to his buckle before he forcefully removed them and crossed them to her chest, covering up her décolletage.

“Are you awake?” Viktor was genuinely surprised by the rough arousal in his husky response.

Her eyes were low lidded for an eternity before she moaned and he felt her buck her pelvis to meet his.

Fuck! He was aroused? When did that happen? He tried to talk his mind into thinking that all-in-all she was a…Viktor grated his teeth against the memory of the Priest first attesting to the phrase-small woman, and in light of recent events he should give her body a rest. Well, at least this night. Audrianna was not in her right mind to know what she could handle, he gathered.

She stopped trying to rock her hips to meet his because, though he knelt above her, his six foot plus frame warded off the attempt. She tried to get her crossed, confined arms released but Viktor refused to comply to her silent, not-too-worthy-of-an adversary struggles and then she stopped trying to break free to hold him. To touch him. To bring their bodies closer together.

When Viktor thought he was in the clear of a direct sexual attack from his didn’t-know-what-was-good-for-her wife, he loosened his hold on her and made for the covers that lay just above her head. It was then he felt the soft cupping of his hardness and he felt his balls and cock tighten from the all too loving caress. He felt her other hand make quick work of his fly and button, and all at once the belt went adios amigo.

“Mmm, Arie.” The soft reference to the other man couldn’t have gotten a more stunning response of disbelief from Viktor than if a Director had suddenly entered his line of vision, clapped down on a clapboard and yelled – “Cut!”

His breathing had time to waver before he made out Audrianna’s breathy laugh and at once his teeth gnashed. He leaned over her, bracing his elbows on either side of her head, his big body a bow over her small one. Instantly tense and unyielding, nose to nose. A rugged growl escaped his diaphragm, his accent heavy with disapproval, “Let’s see you try v’at again if you know what is good for you, Babe.”

He was distracted enough by her that he only now felt the unclipping of his suspenders and did not realize that he was completely without aide at the hips until he felt the slip of her fingers beneath the flank of his jocks. He growled despite trying to hide his intense reaction to the feel of the back of her fingers rubbing up and down the underside of his sex.

Audrianna released a satisfied feminine purr in response to his masculine growl. The two converse reactions melted together. Mixing. Their mutual responsiveness to each other was almost animalistic in their shared desire.

Viktor ignored his pulsing erection and tried to remind himself his wife was –

He felt her hand grip and slide over his length as it was unable to circle all the way around his thick size and he brought himself up on his knees, more out of her reach. She tried to accommodate for the distance by leveraging herself up and he removed her hands and forced himself to gain some measure of control over his manhood. She was weak, and he had no right acting the way he did towards her.

He tried to convince himself he was naturally overly concerned about her and it had nothing to do with what the priest had to say about his wife earlier. Nope. Not a damn thing. Small woman. The phrase still continued to grind into his head like an axe that was not content with the one clean swipe it got into his head, but continued to mash down on the spot it had landed in. Small woman. Audrianna was most definitely going to have to curb those run-ins she had with the guy.

What did he know about what his wife could handle or not?

Viktor dragged his hand down his face with a frustrated sigh. He peered out the spaces between his index and middle fingers at her. He turned his hand sideways to cover his mouth with his palm as though cupping a toothache. His voice muffled, he said, “You passed out.”

Audrianna blinked, more awake than she was a moment ago. “Huh?”

Viktor shook his head. He removed his hand from his mouth. “You passed out and I moved you here just a while ago. You don’t remember, do you?” He went over to the edge of the bed and sat with his back to her. His head bowed over his steeple fingers.

“Impossible.” He heard her say.

He peeked over at her. She was close enough that he could see the top half of her. She was slightly upright, bracing herself on her elbows. Her body did not lose the lazy, lounging vibe.

“You’re impossible.” He could not help but smile at her. “When I say you swooned, why can’t you just take my word for it?”

“Never, ever.”Audrianna’s two hands were raised, palms facing downward and flat, she twisted both of her wrists from side to side. “I, good sir, do not swoon. I simply don’t have the head for it. Might be something else, but not me fainting.”

Viktor shrugged and unbuttoned his shirt, pulling it off his shoulders as his upper arms stretched gorgeously with the commonplace movement. It went sailing in the direction of Audrianna’s discarded dress. The hardness beneath his baby white t-shirt beckoned Audrianna to smooth his back with her palm. She purred, and the sound mingled with his responsive growl. He did not look at her.

Viktor shot up to put greater distance between him and the bed. He undressed, removing all but the jocks that did nothing to hide his arousal that stood flank away from his groin.

Viktor stared as she cocked her pelvis out in anticipation of his growing male sex and how it would feel inside her. Viktor swallowed hard and his mouth went dry as the air in his lungs went on hiatus. The cause was the scent of Audrianna’s arousal; the scent fuelled his craving for her. He barked at her, “No.” But he still growled with intensity and the harsh yell served as much of a warning to her, as it did to him. They needed to stay away from each other. The distance was just too close for comfort. “Get this straight, your body needs to rest and nothing is going to happen between us until you get checked out. Thoroughly. Understand?”

The scent of her sexual frustration made his growl guttural and he grew weak from fighting the persuasion. As though sensing his lax hold on his determination his length punched out, becoming more firm and the tell-tale tip strained out from its skin. Any longer and he would have to fight the sprinkler system his cock was about to show off.

Audrianna turned her head away from him on the bed. Her hand fluttered to her barely noticeable bump. Her voice was deliberately sad. “Is it because of this? You refuse to have me.”

His leap to her was quick and ate up the distance separating them. Her eyes were closed and she felt the tickle of the white tipped end of his braid brush the side of her face. He lowered his head further and whispered, “It didn’t matter to me last night, or the night before that, and it doesn’t matter to me now.”

By the time she turned her face upward to look at him he had already advanced the distance to the door to the bath across the room. Yanking it open he tossed the last of his underwear in the pile at the corner. She missed the opportunity to get a good look at his hard ass. “You’ve got to reach down deeper in your bag of tricks to get fucked tonight, sweet cheeks.” And with that, he closed the door.

“Suit yourself.” He heard her quiet reply. He imagined her turning onto her stomach, saw that audacious tat at the base of her back, right above her buttocks that read in thick black cursive, first the top line ‘Don’t fuck’ then the second line below reading, ‘with me’. Not trusting her at all, he locked the door behind him.

***

Audrianna took a moment to revel in the silkiness at her core and looked around for her bag. She figured she must have left it in the car when…

Passed out? The thought was nonsense to her and she wriggled her nose at the uncommon notion. Highly unlikely. Noticing her hubby’s cell on the bedside table she reached for it and quickly spit out a text to Elyzabel that she was cancelling all afternoon appointments. She left it at that.

Afterwards, she remained lying on the bed, on her back, totally aroused and completely bored with herself.

Her panties sponged up her wet sex, and started to feel too confining and so she did away with them.

It was not her intention to finger her womanhood, but her fingers found themselves down below anyway. They pressed against the edge of her opening and she –

The shudder made her breath catch and it was right about when her panting started that the door to the bedroom broke free from the hinges.

***

Viktor had only just started to shower when he felt his body react to whatever the hell supercharged pheromones Audrianna was releasing in the bedroom. First, it was a ticklish sensation. It did not last long before a slow burn licked up his senses and his erection replicated that of a rutting animal in heat. Fuck! Another thing he would never get used to as a Were was being a bitch to his mate’s sex. His erection kicked, throbbed, screamed to get back to the bed and fuck your wife. Now! Or else? His cock grew rigid and his balls tightened with a release that beckoned only for her.

Shit! Fuck! Motherfucker! Damn that woman.

His mind, caught up in the ragged emotions of his groin, was totally unaware he was fighting with the lock on the bathroom door. And when it refused to give way, no matter, he made quick work of the door itself. Blasting through it like it was crepe paper and he was a bullet with a lead core base. Unstoppable. The thorny, shattered pieces were nothing. The distance between him and the bed was nothing. His leap was extraordinary. And when he grabbed hold of his wife, he did not much fuck her: although he did. But it was more of an attack on her sex than anything else.

CHAPTER 11

Kelly felt the sour face Elyzabel had on after learning Audrianna had cancelled on her was so cute. He patted her on the shoulder to get her attention, leaned in and gave her a soft, comforting, long kiss that was cut short by the quiet ding in Kelly’s inside jacket pocket.

They were over getting it on hot and heavy and were back in clean clothes sitting at the kitchen table sharing some coffee and some cool quiet. Their youngest, Shanaia, was at the sitters.

He flashed the screen to Elyzabel, his voice deep, “Yo! Work.” He nodded to the bedroom and she waved him off with a smile.

Kelly closed the door behind him. Yeah! That’s what’s up. One kiss from him and she was solid. And that’s how a man handles his biz.

“Yo! Half-white, what you up to man?”

“Just chillin’, what’s up with you homie?”

“Man I got some A-class shit goin’ on with me right here. Got to lay off that Mexicana- got a case comin’ up in Cali man, gotta keep it clean and the clock starts now.”

Kelly smiled knowing full well his friend Complex would not be able to keep himself steady on that mark. “If anyone can lock off that shit…” He let the sentence drop and they both laughed.

“It’s dem federalies, Bro, damn bitches lookin’ at me for one of them snitches.”

Kelly brought his right foot up to rest on the edge of the long, rectangular wooden chest at the base of the bed that had decorative engraving on the flat cover. He rested the elbow with the phone on his raised knee as if his homie was right with him and he was leaning in to pay closer attention to the convo.

“I’m out of oil bro.”

Kelly smiled.

“I need some pure olive oil set to deep fry some collard greens soon, boy.”

“What you lookin’ at man?”

“’Bout a twelve gallon-”

Kelly released a slow whistle, “That a shit load of collard greens you got there b’yoi.”

The voice on the other line snickered.

“I could wing it if you don’t mind the wait. Give me a week.”

“You’re on notice. On the regular.”

“Word, I’m on.”

“Later, homie.”

“Right back at yuh, slick.” With that Kelly hung up.

Hmm. Twelve gallons of pure, liquid reefer. The absolutely wealthy were lapping it up like it was Coca Cola. He would hit up Audrianna on that, the pure stuff was her department. With that thought Kelly pocketed his cell and made his way back to the living room.

CHAPTER 12

The Bricklayer spotted her instantly, recognizing the low key reporter from the bio he had gotten on the laying duck reporter they had laid dead some time ago.

Hmph, amateurs.

He looked at the woman through the one-way glass from the second floor balcony. With her long dark brown hair, bangin’ bod dressed in tight clothing, cozying up to one of the bartenders nursing the same tame white wine she had ordered one hour ago.

He had gotten a complete work-up of the guy Lincoln had ousted from the club a few weeks ago. He knew everything from who his co-workers were, to how he liked his eggs. Or rather, how he had liked his eggs.

Hmph. The dead mother fucker. Hope you like the way the ceiling of the church looked from that casket you be sporting from here to eternity. Bitch.

LOVE SO MENACING

Chs 1 –  31

CHAPTER 1

It was nearly one in the morning when Audrianna left the local Walmart sporting a biker helmet and on the hunt for an armoured biker suit. She had already bought the gloves. She was making a B-line for Hunts Point when her Samsung buzzed in her pocket.

“Yo!”

The reprimand was quick. Blunt. “Don’t ‘Yo’ me.”

Audrianna smiled, “I keep trying to tell you sweetheart, Yo is not a curse word.”

“Sweetheart is better.”

Audrianna smiled lovingly into the phone. “I miiiiiisssssssyouuuuuu.” She replied on a soft tune.

“You’ve pissed me off already. You aren’t forgiven.”

Audrianna laughed at the aggression she heard in Viktor’s voice. “What’s up honey? How are you two making out? Can I talk to him?”

“No you can’t he’s sleeping. You’re not in Atlanta anymore. I called and the kids said you weren’t there.”

He heard a modicum of nonchalance in Audrianna’s voice. “I thought I’d give myself some me time by doing some low – class shopping in NYC. Nothin’ to it, just chillin’.”

“You know I don’t like it when you go gallivanting around your old haunts. Shit always happens.”

“True ’dat. I already had to murder two plebes down in HP ’bout an hour ago. I’m in the shit right now Boss.”

There was an unusual pause. “Very funny. You shouldn’t separate yourself from the kids when I’m not there. I think it is better having one of us around them at least when the other is not around. I like knowing that all of you are together in one place when I’m not available.”

“But the girls are with them. They are fine. Nobody can protect them as good as my crew.”

“And that is another thing. You’re there in New York and your bodyguards are across in another city. Do you think z’at is wise?” Becoming more stern bolstered his accent.

“I can take care of myself. I’d rather have the girls with them than traipsing around Manhattan with me. And just so you know I really did off some lowlifes an hour ago and -.”

Viktor did not catch the end of what Audrianna had just said because it was at that time he felt an excruciating pull of his entire frame from the back of his body. It was like someone was pulling a sticky, life-size plaster off the back of his body in one swift movement. The sensation got worse. Like someone was pulling on thick, coarse rope out from the inside of his body, starting from the back of his head. The fictional rope exploded from his skin and was yanked quick and hard from the skin at his neck, the back of his arms, his upper and lower back and his thighs and calves until he felt overwhelmed by exhaustion and pain. His breathing became ragged, a cold sweat dotted his forehead. “Honey, honey? Are you alright? Are you listening to me?”

“Sweetheart, I have to call you back. Take care. I love you.” He shut off the celly and pocketed the mobile.

***

Viktor leaned heavily into the doorjamb of the one story flat where Nikolai’s biological family lived outside Siberia. He had used his powers to get there.

He was able to overcome the disturbing feeling of mounting agony quickly. His soul was strong and his soldier temperament got him to squash the feeling and act normal for the family. He had assured them that Nikolai would be raised as an Orthodox Christian. They had cried saying they had given him up at a time that they really couldn’t afford to keep him, and it was either that or getting him to beg on the street like they had ended up doing. The two now had decent factory jobs and had been visiting the orphanage they had left him at regularly. They were surprised to learn of his adoption a few years ago. No one adopted kids from orphanages in Russia.

He had assured them that Nikolai was well taken care of. And that they would be allowed to visit him again once he had become settled. Why not? Truthfully, he just wanted to get done with business and return home with his prize.

Viktor knew he could have gone through the Orphanage directly and not have gone through the trouble of locating the parents. But being part Were-Bear and Maxckmillian his upbringing wrought…No. Made it an imperative to adopt the child with the blessing of the parents.

The parents had about five more kids to raise in this small community of gypsies. He promised to help out monetarily. Not only them, but to elevate the community further in terms of bringing jobs and financial benefits to the area. He didn’t see it as a big deal. He didn’t look down on them or get the impression that they were trading in their son for financial gain either. No matter what fucker idealist may like to think, money made things happen.

He had shown them photos of Nikolai in good spirits as well as vids of him blowing out candles on his birthday cake and playing around while watching television. He assured them the boy was fine and for giving him and his wife the gift of Nikolai he was more than happy to help them financially. They did not ask, he wanted to give them. He would have been pissed otherwise. He actually had no respect for people he did not know how to make a Trillionaire such as himself; well, billionaire to the world, part with his money: as he had a lot of it that was not obligated to any valid causes. It was the gentry thing to do.

Besides, the Roma were an impoverished people everywhere, meant to live lowly by economic and biased design. Viktor had a thread of Gypsy blood in him. He felt a minor kinship with the folk. Plagued by heinous rumour and made to beg and grovel at the bottom of the food chain for centuries in order to make ends meet. He was more than happy to help out this community. He saw the act as being minor on his part.

He turned to look at the family. The father and mother had signed the papers. The kids dressed so unassuming and unpretentious, looking on in wide eyed curiosity at the fancy oligarch in the expensive digs and large fur coat. So unlike their brother Viktor gave the couple a stern smile, collecting his papers in triplicate. He shook their hands. Thanking them briefly, “Spasibo.” And exited the home.

He was sure that his presence would have drawn much attention as his threads stood out in the tired looking community, if he wasn’t using a special cloaking mystic charm round his neck in the form of a gold medallion. All he had to do was make sure he was out of sight of Nikolai’s biological family before he zipped from one spatial existence to the next.

At least that is how he interpreted what had happened to him because it had never happened to him before. He wanted to be at the feet of what had caused him so much pain. And pouf, he was in the presence of the once imprisoned demon.

His powers were growing. Or more to the point, his Aunt’s mysticism were transcending upon him the more he tapped into them. He was not a warlock by birth, but his Aunt had bestowed him with her powers on her death bed. They were immense. He had been cautious in using them at first. But it seemed the more he used them, the easier it was to assert his will in getting what he wanted from them. His will, a biting command that could be accomplished with a single thought. The possibilities were endless, and frightful. The worst of it was the not knowing. How far had the mystic arts that his Aunt had held had actually breached the natural laws of this earth before her death?

He could not stop to contemplate the growth spurts in his mystical powers at the moment. He would have to set that aside to deal with the now fading Eurodath before him. His mission fulfilled, he had risked his life protecting Nikolai.

“Please,” Viktor could barely make out the words he uttered as his countenance faded from this earth. “Please, perform a proper burial.”

Viktor knew not what to make of that, but nodded. Then, the Eurodath disappeared. The imprint left by the faded being was nothing more than a grey, stain shadow upon the snow. Viktor bowed his head. But just a second, before he raised it. Looking upon the snow leading to the stain were black droplets. The Eurodath’s bleeding out, blood splatter path. Viktor’s eyes grew vengeful. His fists clenched. Teeth gritted. He succumbed to the tactical, tracking genius in himself. He shook with an unshakable loathing he prayed he could squash when the time came for battle.

CHAPTER 2

Audrianna entered the auto body shop that was about to close up for the night. She breathed in the strong scent of adhesive, gasoline, 404 and the mix lifted her spirits. It reminded her of her favorite pastime. Speed-car racing. The mechanic in the garage area who had already discarded messy coveralls for jeans, sweatshirt and blazer eyed her cautiously through the glass from the outside as she glided into the shop sliding a coiffed index finger along the sharp straight edge of the red faux wood countertop.

The mechanic entered the attendant area.

He was the last one on duty for the day. She heard him come into the store from a back area. He came in behind the counter from an open doorway. He was about ready to tell her that they were closed for the evening, keeping one eye on her. His hand clasping the countertop had one finger hovering above the red button below the bar for a silent alarm that would put a message through to their security alarm company to contact the police.

Audrianna tipped her black helmet head to the wrung out armored motorcycle suit hanging up just out of sight against the well-lit wall inside the doorway. “How much?”

Within a few minutes she was nearing Hunts Point. Drawing closer to her destination it was getting harder for her to keep her rage in check. She was pissed that Cherí had blown Llewelyn’s dream, albeit fanciful, in her own opinion; sky high. Audrianna tried to reassure herself that maybe things were not as out of hand at the club as those two pissants she had offed made it out to be.

***

Across the street from the duplex that once fashioned itself to be an understated club that did it’s best to repel lowlifes, Audrianna looked at the shoddy building, that seemed nothing more than a come-hither for lowlifes and freaks of the streets.

Geez, they didn’t even try to make the place look like it wasn’t the ‘best little whore house in town’.

Or try to maintain the look of health of the place, she thought, looking at the broken window on the second floor that was boarded up with old planks of wood. The billowing cream curtains featured discothèque lighting from the multi-coloured bulbs inside. The front of the building was very narrow but Audrianna knew the game. Bigger on the inside, like the Tardis. Way big. Hollowed out two stories. B.O.B.’s “Headband” could be heard a mile away. There were no family homes in the area. The backdrop was a concrete city. And the wafting sea-breeze smell blowing in from the docks reminded her of everything plus a trash heap of fish sticks. Blech!

Vavavoom!, the lilac neon sign did not look so degenerate as the rest of the place. She had liked coming here in the old days because it was a cool place to hide out from home every once in a while. Funny, the po-po didn’t do slow drive-by’s and stop and frisks in the old days. Lots of the Hunt Points’ Strip Clubs were closing up shop. Audrianna really did not have anything to do with the club. Not in the past when she was with Llewellyn, and not now after he had died. Still it irked her that the shit had been brought down in stature like that.

She had made her keeper Golum’ stay at home because a walking, breathing white statue did much to attract a whole hell-uv-a lot of attention. Plus she was not sure just how high the situation could escalate and she would rather go it alone than take with her Viktor’s favourite homing beacon. Though he had gifted her with Golum’ as her familiar, she thought he only did that because they communicated with each other somehow mystically and it was the best way Viktor had to keep tabs on her. She didn’t want the familiar sounding the alarm to Viktor prematurely. Besides, she knew she could handle herself if shit got critical.

This was her grind.

It was dark. The bright white light from the street lamps made the whole block appear peaceful. Like it was the stairway before heaven. Like nothing illicit could ever happen in this street.

Through her lowered clear visor she witnessed a yellow rooster and black beetle pull up and some jokers with some durags unloaded into the club. The drivers in the cars pulled out from the curb.

Hmmm, was management in tonight?

She fucking hoped so.

Audrianna made her way across the street and up the stairs. She was nodded in by the bouncer at the door and was glad to see the inside was not as shoddy as the place looked from the outside. The high class crystal chandelier was still present. The place was clean. Not Emily Post clean but acceptable in a layman terms sort of way. No peeling off wallpaper or faded wall paint. Nice red walled atmosphere. A pole to every table. That’s what’s up.

The main stage was scaled back. Some women handled the standoffish types at the bar. The chandelier made the disco lighting beams break into decorative, blotchy patterns. A curious display for a new age strip pole fantasy life gave the experience more like a glow, club fest look.

“Impressive.” Audrianna was bemused as she asked about management and was guided past the bar to a backroom. An accounting which Audrianna was not looking for. If the biz of this strip club had become unsavoury, the evidence would be more viewable above stairs. With open drug deals going down at the bar, under the table: literally. Or out back in the alley. Just thinking about it ticked her off that the club in name only could ruin its rep and lose its New York liquor license altogether. Catching open ended raw-banging-jigglies in closed curtain areas would not be enough for exculpatory reasons.

Audrianna got in with the manager. Any pimp running a joint like this with as many facets would want to get a handle on young girls. The younger the better. If they weren’t just pushing the local strip club element. The young girls were the hook.

Audrianna was led through a doorway to the side of the bar to a back room that smelled of unnaturally strong cush and bitter, coughed up bourbon. Gross. Audrianna was seated adjacent to the young boss across the elegantly carved teak desk that Llewellyn died and left behind.

He was bald, with ‘not too dark’ skin tone. Good looking features, well-trimmed moustache, no beard. She could tell by his slouch lazing backward in the chair that he was tall. Stocky but with well-built muscle. He wore an open flannel shirt over his wife beater. Boss man didn’t come off as much a punk as he did not look like the el stupido she expected him to be. She will discern for sure by the words coming out of his mouth.

Before he could enquire what she was about she cut him off. “I’ll get down to business for sure what my boss is looking for. If you ain’t gots it I gots more places to hit up tonight.” She crossed her legs. “Nice and younnnng, below the belt, too- if you know what I mean. Not seeing too much action down there.” This got a snicker from the boss man and the two strong men on either side of his chair. “He likes it when they hurt.” They smiled. Yeah, they are getting it. The fuckers. “Small, don’t care if they chunky. More than two if you please. Knows not to talk, both during-before, and after.” Audrianna pulled out her personal card and scrolled a figure behind it she knew they would not be able to resist. “This is the amount he’s willing to cop out for it.” She handed the slip to him. “You game?”

The boss took the square cardboard slip from her, careful not to look as though he was eyeballing the ten thousand dollar figure at the back of the card much. Audrianna kept her cool, displaying a little eye rolling, looking impatient as if his hesitation was wasting her time.

He laid the card over on the ten-thou figure and leaned back. He had a right to look suspicious of her. Many of the strip clubs in Hunts Point was closing up losing out to Sin City. Politics of the sitch were that they were being denied liquor licenses, all of them: left, right and centre. Suppose this was a sting? Suppose she was wearing a wire? Suppose she had a tail on her who was packing heat and a listening device to listen in on the conversation from afar? Sure, they could do that now.

“Well Miss,” Wow, Miss? Such a lovely greeting. And she was being deliberately snide, too.

I wouldn’t address me so nicely if I was rude to me like that.

He continued in a low brow manner. But not in genuine. She thought she could deal with him. “Being that Vavavoom is a respectable establishment, I would have to take some time out to consider your offer. We don’t have that kind of ass blowing up in this joint like crazy. You gots me.”

Audrianna shrugged, “Sure, whatever. I’ll be making my rounds for the boss. So don’t be surprised if and when you call me I come up short. You gots me?”

He nodded. “True dat lil’ mama.”

Audrianna gave him a lopsided grin and was about to exit the room when she noticed the two heavies behind the boss had the same lettered tats on their knuckles.

Hmmm, that was interesting.

She glanced down and realized the boss shared the same kind of tats on his knuckles. What were the odds?

She turned to leave. Glancing around the tables she noticed that there was only the one titty on the pole for limers to gawk at. The others on each table must be in the private booth. She noticed one fella being led up the stairs.

Hmmm, that was interesting.

And the stripper had already gone braless for the occasion. That could only be one thing. Lots of head massages going on in the VIP section. Audrianna continued to scope out the joint as she left. The guy behind the bar shared the same lettered, calligraphy tats. So, they were all gang members. Who apparently didn’t trust nobody. Even the hired help. If they did they would have hired an outsider to work the bar.

At the entrance she noticed the bouncer carried the same tats on his knuckles. Calligraphy lettering. Way to go to announce yourselves to the po-po. Shitheads. Cops working undercover should spot the fucker gang bangers in no shit. If there was a desk nearby Audrianna felt she would be hitting her head against it right now. If she was not out in the open, she would throw a tantrum and walk around in circles stomping her foot about now. No doubt there would be more offenders keeping their eyes on the girls up above making sure they got what they asked for – for what was paid. Maybe a fifty for a head massage. Sixty for a titty rub. A hundred for a raw bang.

Audrianna walked calmly away from the establishment. She walked up the street in the right direction on the pavement of Vavavoom. Turning away from the direction of the wharf and more towards the direction of the red light district. Maybe there were more than ten gang bangers that she assumed ran the joint. Yep, there could very well be fifteen or twenty of those fuckers. A whore house masquerading as a strip club? It was a nest for fuckers like them. The night was quiet and the air was crisp and the lingering scent of the docks did not affect anyone who was used to it. Audrianna kept walking. She listened in on a television program declaring breaking news of a fire in the Bronx being caused by some gas explosion. She shrugged and moved on. Some ladies of the night flashed her something-something. She shook her head and walked away. She had better find herself indoors soon, this neighbourhood was not very forgiving. Day or night.

A good couple of blocks in on her walk around she realized someone was tracking her. Maybe some guy from the group at Vavavoom was tailing her. She didn’t think so. It had started a block ago. She had tested it out at the last turn around a building. Now as she walked around a fenced in basketball court she was more than sure. The guy was on her. She stepped around another corner and waited. When the shadow was close to the turn’s edge on the ground she stepped out to face the guy who was tracking her.

CHAPTER 3

Viktor’s feet crunched the thick snow packed ground at a dead run. The abductors were on foot. The vehicles must have been far beyond the purview of the surveillance sensors, or they would not have had the element of surprise.

He could alert security but he was in no mood to coordinate a strategic command at the moment. The Eurodath he had put in place to guard Nikolai had been a small fry. A weakling. Viktor had put the Supernatural Being in place as a small comfort to Nikolai to shore up his inner confidence of being left without him in the compound. Of course, hindsight is blah-blah-blah: and all the fucking shit that comes with it.

The sky was clear, bright, cloudless. The air an unfavourable deep freeze. Single clusters of trees were cast in the crooked-little-man pose and located in uneven distances of each other. Viktor could see a striking distance of up to five kilometres before him. They were not in view but they were close by his standards. With his Wear-Bear senses activated…He leapt up high in the sky and cleared all five yards in one leap. On his way down he took down a crippled, thick trunked tree. His nostrils pinched. In the initial transformation of the bear shifter form, he could smell them.

He was prepared to go all out on their asses. Make full use of his mystic powers. All three parts. His Natural Ability, the Mystic Powers he inherited from his line, and those gifted to him by his aunt upon her death bed. Three levels of his warlock ability. Three stages.

Just know you began this engagement, regardless of what comes of it, it ends with your death.

He meant to assault the enemy’s rear and rescue Nikolai at the same time. Once Nikolai was free he could attack with full force. Violently. And without restraint.

Viktor slid off the broken, jagged tree trunk. He braced his back against it, honing his senses to focus on the team two yards away ten o’clock to his north. His eyes grew obsidian. Polished. Glinting orbs. His face grew slightly into misshapen features of a black bear. His growl took no time to build. Loud and direct, and just as menacing as a fierce, human eating black bear. The horrendous sound had the desired effect of mentally disarming the party ahead of him. He felt their presence still in the quiet. Searching around to source out the wild beast that sounded just on their tail.

Viktor shook off his Were-Bear shifter features. His eyes grew normal again. Twisting his neck, he cracked his muscles audibly. He flagrantly tossed his dark fur coat wide about him as he stepped out from behind the tree that was broken in half. He took quick steps that brought him just in their sight. He was above them. They were closer to the edge of a snow carpeted bluff. Beyond them the white expanse of snow sparkled like crystal and was endless.

The five men in bulky, white parkas sporting blue rimmed goggles watched him as he came more fully into view above them. Crunching snow beneath his feet and as foreboding as a howling animal in the stillness.

The wind suddenly picked up and as quickly as it interrupted the atmosphere surrounding them, kicking up gusts of white fog, it ceased. And the air around them was still once more.

Viktor caught the distress function from two of the men. Bowing their heads. Bringing their hand up to the side of their heads as if trying to discern instruction from an ear piece. So they had an external logistic co-ordinator in play running the show from the side-lines. Observing the situation from afar on the ground. After that two men backed up sideways from the other three men. One of which was carrying an incapacitated Nikolai on their shoulder. Viktor clamped down on the emotion that seeing the boy vulnerable in a stranger’s hands like that caused him. Refusing to acknowledge any disquiet he felt in seeing harm come to the boy.

Instead he looked upon the team with purpose. The distance they gained between them was strategic. Trying to divide his focus. Viktor prevented the smirk that would usually appear on his visage at this time from showing when he realized that his opponent did not know who they were dealing with. If they knew they would have tried their best to kill him on sight.

Very well. Let’s see commander, just how well your men are trained. Viktor silently addressed the man giving the orders from the distance.

Viktor raised his hands above head and turned for good measure. “YA am bez oruzhiya ..” He yelled at them, informing them he was unarmed. He made to walk in their direction, though in truth, getting in closer was not his intent. He was in just the right position on the mount for the attack he had planned. The act was a trigger. And they warned him to remain where he stood, as he expected them to do. Now he knew exactly who was the leader on the ground. Right. Time to separate her from the group. It also got them to initiate a dialogue. Time to test their will.

Viktor smiled, knowing it would cause them unease. One of the team members pulled out a hand pistol and trained the muzzle on Nikolai’s head. It was at this time Viktor stopped smiling. His face a granite mask of displeasure.

“Why are you here? Why are you doing this?” He called to them in Russian. “You put that weapon down, you don’t want him dead.”

The other group of two that had separated a distance away trained their weapons on Viktor. No doubt it was to cover the others long enough so they can make off with the child.

Yeah right, like I was fucking going to let them take him to a secondary location now.

Viktor folded his arms. “For what purpose are you doing this? Who sent you? Which one of you is in charge of this operation?” Viktor pointed his finger at them. He then pointed a finger at the ground in front of him, “I pay each of you more now what you make for this: just put him down now and walk away.”

Ahhh. The commander did not take too kindly of Viktor wooing his men. Viktor watched as one of the two men to the right side could not help the affectation he had of putting his hand to the side of his head covered by the hood of his parka. Obviously listening to instructions from his enforcer.

The gust of frigid wind that blasted its way through the two groups, blowing snow and hindering sight and sound for a short time was of Viktor’s making. He breathed in the cold air, marking each of their scents with his shifter ability. He knew what each of their distinct scent was so he could locate them without the use of sight. No matter how hectic the battlefield got, he could find them.

“Poshelnakhui, suka, blyad!” The man accepting the commands in the earpiece yelled at him from below. Basically telling Viktor to fuck off, which was not the response he was looking for. The guy waved his piece at the other three with Nikolai indicating that they should continue on.

Ehh, eh. Not gonna happen.

“STOP!!” Viktor yelled at the group with Nikolai. He held up his hand, palm up.

The one with the ear piece cut him off. “Tut-tut-tut.” The man mocked him, almost with a smile. He seemed to laugh. “Mr. Oligarch, why don’t you turn around and go back and our employer will contact you with further instructions. If you get involved now – both of you could die. You risk his life.”

The nonchalance. The insolence in the reply – now they’ve really gone and pissed him off.

Viktor gritted his teeth. He snarled. “Turn around!? Turn around!! What-the-fuck-you-saying-what-the-fuck-are-you-saying? Don’t you know?! That’s my son you have there! THAT’S! MY! SON!”

As he screamed at them the wind picked up, howling like the cry of a banshee. Whole snowdrifts lifted off the ground fed into the blowing wind like a cluster of chunks and the wind gusts hit the group hard. Visibility was fucked up. Real bad. The teams immediately had trouble assessing their surroundings. The spate of wind torrents forced the woman to drop down on the ground. She looked up, catching a glimpse of the spot where Viktor stood. He was gone.

CHAPTER 4

A chupacabra could have jumped up and yelled ‘boo’ at Audrianna right then, and she would not have been as face-plant stupid as if she had been slammed to the ground and caught off guard by an upper-cut.

Father Arie stood not more than two feet in front of her. Her neck strained from whipping up in shock to look into his, well, concerned stare.

“I knew it. I thought it was you when I looked out from the hospice, but I thought I must be mistaken.” He swallowed hard. “But it is you, how come you are here?”

Audrianna blinked, “I could ask you the same question. What are you doing in New York? I came to visit some friends. I kind of was like raised all over, including New York. Just here to catch up. What’s up with you?”

Father Arie nodded in the direction he had appeared. “I am here for a local funeral. One of the nuns who have served here long has passed. I knew her, I came around to pay my respects and I volunteered to take up some of her duties as counsellor in the local hospice for families that come off the street. I am currently working the night shift.”

Of course you are. Not for the first time Audrianna scratched her head at just how nice Father Arie was. And kind. And considerate. If she cared to show him her badass side, she would fake putting a finger in her mouth and pretend to gag. At anyone other than him standing in front of her, she would gag and throw up. Hmmm. She sighed at herself inwardly.

She patted his arm and squeezed in reassurance. “That is such a nice thing to do.”

He shook his head. Bowing his head his face was unseen, hidden in so much shadow Audrianna couldn’t make out his expression even though she looked right up at him. “You think so.”

She sidled up to him, wrapping her arm around his bicep. His head still turned away from her off to the side as though something far away in the night had suddenly caught his fervent attention. “Of course I think it is admirable.” She bent closer to him, pulling him in the direction she had been walking in. “Especially to someone like me who only used to talk about wanting to help people. Now I am in the position and I seem to have no time for such work. I like how you put in your time to the work that you do. It is conscionable, to a person like me.”

“But you do all you can do to help when you can.”

Audrianna shrugged, “Throwing money around is easy to do when you have money. Offering your hands to do the work, that is so out there. It is just: good.”

They walked silently for a moment before Father Arie looked at her. Audrianna thought the look was a strange, sad face. Almost tortured. In pain. “Are you okay?” Her mind went to the nun that had died. Audrianna panicked on Arie’s natural, kind hearted disposition. “You don’t have to hold it in for me. Sometimes, when it comes to a death in the family, tears are the best medicine. When I lost my first husband, I cried like a ninny. Sometimes I think of him, and – Oh Lord! It is like it happened just now.”

Father took a deep breath. “Oh. Really?” He nodded, turning his head sideways. “Yes, sometimes it is like that. I was about to come for a walk when I spotted you. I think us meeting this evening is fate. Your company has me feeling better already. Are you well? You look well. I haven’t been able to speak to you since the thing with your husband. I was anxious to find out how you were.” Arie sighed. “For sure, I think he screens my calls…”

“Is he?” Audrianna looked mean for a moment. “I’ll talk to him. That chauvinist lit…” Audrianna caught herself before she exclaimed “little prick” in front of the priest. The smile she gave Father Arie was slow, easy, and sweet. “I’ll talk to him as soon as he comes home.”

We’ll have words for sure.

They reached a bend and were unexpectedly hollered at by some night walkers. “Yo! Father Arie. You jonzin’ for a good fuckin’. Bout time you enjoy yourself player.”

Arie’s high red colour was even clearer under the dim moonlight and spotted lamplight. He groaned, lowering his head, raking his hand from the top of his head to cover his face as he turned his head down. He still got the nerve to yell back at the pirouetting prostitutes, “Remember sixth and ninth, always open day and night.”

They laughed at him, one of them gave him the middle finger. He didn’t seem to be bothered by it, never falling out of step with Audrianna as she walked with him in the opposite direction the prostitutes were going.

Audrianna frowned her displeasure, releasing a frustrated sigh. “I can’t believe you are okay with that.”

“Oh, it doesn’t bother me.”

“But they were so rude…”

“It is good that they are okay with me that they feel they can tell me anything, talk easy with me day and night.”

“Are you counselling them? Do you know them?”

He shrugged, “I’ve only been here about two days, but it’s all normal. I only met them last night. I met most of the people around here at Sister Warren’s funeral. They are good people, very respectful of her. She did a lot to communicate with the women of the street.”

“I think there is a time and a place for everything and at no time or place is it good to cuss a man of the cloth.”

Father Arie smiled in acceptance. “You know what? I’ll tell you a little secret. That is how it works. People were put here on this earth to help one another. But, language barriers often get in the way. I can’t pressure them to change their ways if I can’t meet them half-way on their terms. I’m not going to nag people who seek my counsel on ‘yes father’ or ‘no sirs’, it is just inappropriate.”

Audrianna snorted, “My mother used to say the same thing. Not that I don’t agree. But you give credit where credit is due, and a-prostitute-is-a-prostitute-is-a-prostitute. That’s all.”

“We can’t see eye to eye on this.” It was a statement of fact. Father kept on walking. Resolute.

Audrianna looked up at him. His head turned forward. Looking ahead.

His profile stern. But not standoffish. Not hurting, or disavowing. Only, almost knowing that it was thus so, no matter what.

Audrianna sighed. Turning to look ahead. Her Llewellyn used to think the exact same way. And she said as much. “My Llewellyn used to say that people were put on this earth to help other people, no matter what. It didn’t matter the circumstance, people were put here to help people. That is the reason why there are so many people. To make up for the people who stand by and do nothing. There should be enough people around for others to turn to in time of their darkest hour, so that they can find and get the help they need. I wish the world was that simple.”

Father Arie looked down at her and she noticed that at once his eyes were hooded. Dark once more by shadow too. He inhaled deeply. He seemed to hold his breath as though holding on to release on a spectacular opera note. But his voice came out slow, weak, and quiet as he looked away from her, “Sometimes the world is that simple. It takes time for people to realize it and to make stuff happen. That’s all.”

He turned away, as though the confessing embarrassed him and made him shy. “We are here.”

Audrianna lit up, “Oh, you’re right. I hadn’t realized it-” She laughed, “We were walking around in circles all along.” Audrianna gazed at the not so tall building with the sign “Generation Hospice” on the front.

“Please come inside and sit with me…”

“Uhhh, nuuh.”Audrianna shook her head. Retrieving her celly on the buzzing of the message. “That is my ride and body guard wondering where I strolled off to. I need to get back to them. Just around the same spot where we met up.”

“Oh,” He frowned. “But you can’t be walking about at this time of night alone. Come on Audrianna, this is a very bad neighbourhood.”

She laughed, “I should be telling you the same thing. Don’t worry ’bout me. Hunt’s Point is an old haunt.”

Yep, I know all the best places to liquor up and get high where the po-po don’t do drive-bys, or drive-slows.

“You go your way, I promise to call you later when I make it home. K?”

Another accepting stare from Father Arie made her resolve to keep her easy-going stance and look back at him.

He nodded. She turned away. “Call me.”

She had just turned a corner when she read the message on her celly. It was from the pimp at Vavavoom.

“We Out.” Bummer. Oh well. That weren’t gonna help them much. Audrianna had made up her mind before she had entered the place anyhow.

You have offended me, you have offended my family.

Those Gangbangers were gonna get dead.

True ’dat.

CHAPTER 5

Viktor’s initial launch into the fray ahead of him was disguised by the mini snow-storm he had used his powers to create. He was juiced up to his first level of mystical powers that did not include tapping into his inherited powers or the one gifted to him by his aunt. But still a formidable force to be reckoned with when engaged in combat.

His pounce to the scrambled group went unseen, but he was able to tag the members of the team with his nose and he made a clean tackle of the man holding Nikolai over his shoulder, giving him a solid punch to the stomach in the process. The man’s cries were muffled by the barrage of snow and gusts of wind that was eerily centralized in the location of the group, never veering off an unseen parameter. Visibility was still in shit street territory and the man’s comrades could not tell he was the singular person under attack, though they were within arm’s length of each other. Viktor, sucker punching the wind out of the guy’s sales with his left arm, he reached around with his right arm over Nikolai’s body slung over the guys shoulder. Grabbing the guy round the head he pulled until the man’s neck snapped and his head hung loosely over his body. Then he picked Nikolai’s body from the man’s falling form before Nikolai could collapse with it. He then placed the boy over his own shoulder.

But he wasn’t finished, he was not going to stop until the others were dead. He only needed one squealing pig to answer his questions.

Viktor’s eyes were cold, his face expressionless as he did what his wife would refer to as… ‘…get down to the business of killing people’.

With one hand he secured Nikolai on his shoulder. He had to yank another man from the collar in front of him to guide his body to him to make contact with his attack. Pulling him hard he landed a knee to the man’s groin. The bulky clothing did nothing to protect him from the sheer agony. He clutched at his family jewels as he collapsed to his knees. Viktor then knocked him out with one punch on the side of his jaw. He still used his foot to slam into his neck. And the guy on the ground was dead.

Not a second later Viktor made to closeline the other man in his vicinity. But instead of just landing a side swipe with his bent arm to the man’s chest and neck to slam him on his back into the snow, he quickly bent over him. He reached down, using his hand he covered the man’s face and closed his hand round the guy’s head and turned the man’s head sharply to the side. Cracking his neck before he could recoup from the effective body blow Viktor had dealt him.

The mini snow storm that somehow blocked the group from venturing further out a particular area had been going on long enough to turn some exposed skin blue. Or painful first degree frostbite. Then, all at once the gusts became suspended in mid-air. Snow flakes and winter chunks floated in a stunning ethereal display all around Viktor and the group of two that had first departed from the three. And all at once the suspended snow collapsed to the ground. The other two across the way had taken cover by ducking to the ground.

Looking up the woman that had addressed Viktor earlier viewed the scene with alarm. Her comrades were dead litter at his feet. Their bodies covered with the matching white parkas morosely sought to be camouflaged by the snow that had fallen on top of them. Even in their death knell scene. Trails of blood ran from their nose and from the side of their gaping mouths.

Viktor placed one victorious, District Derby on a mound of dead body and snow. The boy was held still, unconscious over his shoulder. His left arm curled around Nikolai supported on his shoulder.

Viktor looked unruffled. Too calm, for her liking.

She, and Jacob lying beside her panted from the exertion of holding onto the thick, snowy ground while trying to fight off being hurled around by the harsh wind by just will power alone.

They had been warned that something like this could happen. Albeit totally unbelievable. An attack that he could use is under cover of an impromptu snowstorm. That they should duck and cover if necessary. But at this level of conflict, who can create a snowstorm that acts in their favour whenever. Seriously?

She observed him in silence for one quick second. His eyes were hooded. He spoke to them in Russian. His face was solidly expressionless. “I’ll make the both of you have a choice. I only need one of you alive. You decide who will be the lucky one.”

“Fuck you!” She screamed at him. She aimed the weapon at his head and got ready to fire.

Viktor waved his hand upwards to slash the air in front of him, prepared to command the ice to rise in a wall of snow to block the bullet. The two long range shot gun blasts that broke the silence came in quick succession. Successfully flatling the two remaining gun men.

Their heads were dramatically blown almost clean off. Viktor swooped his arm up and once again the snow that was on the ground was drawn up into the air. Using the snow to hide his movement, he made his way quickly to a heavily snow covered bank.

CHAPTER 6

Audrianna stood across from the strip club, or brothel…whatever. Pulling on a fatty because she needed a reason to be across the street at a strip club loitering not for no reason after midnight. She waited for the next round of po-po to do their shuffle and drive. When the squad car came round the corner, drove slowly in front of Vavavoom to check out the scene she whirled around, dropping the Mary Jane and acting as though she was just a bystander rubbing her arms vigorously against the chilly air.

When the cops were on the move again out of the area she decided that this was her time to act.

“Right, time to start killing people.”

Audrianna casually crossed the street. She walked up the stairs to the entrance. She hoped she had given enough time for the club to clear out of most of its patrons. Or johns. Whatever the fuck they were.

The atmosphere hadn’t much changed since she had first gotten there earlier on in the night. The Bouncers had switched out, and there were less jigglies on the polies.

She made her way to the side, nodding to the bartender. He gave her an unconcerned, preoccupied look as he poured out a few shots at the bar from what seemed an already tipsy guy whose rubber-car-floor-mat for a face had seen better days.

At the manager’s office she knocked on the door with the side of her fist and the already ajar door swung open with a soft pong on the guest chair in front of the desk. The manager and his two goons had gone ghost. Audrianna took one last sweep of the layout to assure herself that more than likely, judging by the surveillance monitors that the manager worked second as the chief watchman. ’K.

Shit. Though she had wanted to take these fuckers out of the game first before she went all crazy-motherfucker on the place. Her goal was to first take out the watchmen, then head upstairs and start wiping motherfuckers clean off the earth – quick and deadly. Then head back downstairs and take out the muscle at the door and then the bartender before they managed to isolate her up top. But that would have been the easy way out. The upstairs bothered her because she had no idea how many thugs were up in the place.

She could take a chance, start killing people on the bottom floor and allow the commotion to draw others from upstairs, disarm the guy at the door and use his firearm to start popping off the losers that rushed down the staircase to get to the exits. She patted her stomach. She felt the less of a crowd in her way to handle the situation would be better for the baby. Didn’t want anyone shoving her or catching her from her backside. Or the front. If she weren’t pregnant she would not have hesitated to use the shoot and scoot method, firing first and using the crowd as a shield for dodging bullets and camouflaging her position.

She made her way back to the bar, settled down at the bar and ordered a light wine. She chilled for a while, lifting her visor to take some sips but keeping her head low so that her face was still indiscernible.

After a few minutes she decided to act. Deciding that waiting was a waste of her time. She eyed the stairs that led to the second floor and moved over to the landing after paying for her drink. She got as far as two steps up when she felt a meaty hand choke her arm and spin her around. She pirouetted and nearly stumbled, forcing herself not to be aggressive in her reflex of defending herself.

She adopted a passive stance while the gang banger eyed her suspiciously, “VIP only.”

She hoped she looked as contrite as she could as she pretended not to be able to make out what he said with the helmet on and Lil Wayne’s Rich as Fuck blasting through the sound system. An idea came to her and before she knew it she was flexing her hands in a cylindrical form one on top of the other and moved them up and down as though she was massaging a man’s dick. She caught the eye of the bartender who was more familiar with her presence earlier in the evening. She then jabbed a thumb in the direction of the upstairs floor. Smiling, the bartender gave a nod in the direction of the guy preventing her from going further up the stairs. The guy seemed to accept the acquiescence of the bartender at face value and nodded her up the stairs, letting go of her arm.

She nodded, smiling. She began to make her way up the stairs.

Wow, there is no way that was normal. Can’t believe that worked. Guess it’s true, talking dirty is an international language, even in the form of sign.

Heading up the stairs she glanced at the stripper pole and it was like time slowed down and stood still. Her brain did a double take and she had a flashback in time. A memory she had forgotten she even had.

Long ago, when she was fifteen years old she had stood on that table. The pole was the centre attraction for the ones turning out the most money. But it was not night time. It had been daylight hours. She had been arguing with Llewellyn to put her on the stripper pole. He had been allowing her to perform little masquerade numbers on the stage behind a type of gate that kept patrons away from her but still allowed them to push their hand through to try and grab at her and toss up money. He also let her dance as a showgirl in a hanging cage up top above the tables. But he would not let her strip for real.

“I’m telling you-you need to put me on that damn pole.” She yelled at him, following him out the door of his office, into the room with all the tables with the poles down the centre.

“Enough.” He was out of patience. He wore all white, like he always did. White suit jacket, stripped blazer and flowing slacks. A crisp blue shirt underneath. Heavy gold chains hung from his neck. Striking blue eyes hidden by dark shades. He was magnificently tall, and hard all over. His voice resonated, hard and deep.

“You want to strip.” He reached for her. Grabbing her around the waist with both hands and placing her up-top the pole in the centre with clear view of everyone in the room that worked at getting the room ready during the day for the evening events. The bartender, and about four strippers and Nelly, the guy that mopped and cleaned the floors and was now wiping down the staircase handle.

Llewellyn turned around at the bar and picked up a brick of cash that was a part of a stack being counted by the guy at the bar. He tore away the band, and settled himself in a seat at the table. He leaned back, crossed his arms, playing with a toothpick between his lips. “Strip.” His baritone command was cool. Seductive. His eyes behind the shades… intense.

Adurianna stared at him. She did not give a second glance at the others in the room. She could feel their eyes on her though as she flung her braids over her shoulder and smoothed them down behind her head. Her hair reached her waist. She undid the sash of her black robe. Allowed it to fall to the floor. She wore a purple and black number that looked more like a one piece bathing suit that had sequins fastened to her not-very-ample bosom. Even for a fifteen year old. Audrianna often lamented her non-d-cup state.

She grabbed onto the pole and …

The bold “bang” that startled her nearly made her heart stop. Llewellyn had slapped his hand, open palm onto the table. Standing, he bellowed, with a fierce edge, “Everybody out. Now.”

There was not much fanfare in everyone’s exit. ’Cept for Cheríe who gave a tight lipped, frowning-smile and a bright look at Audrianna with a devilish nod of approval. Audrianna gave the old hag her back as though she did not deduce the silent message the prostitute was conveying to her.

The others gone, Llewellyn’s focus became solely trained on Audrianna. But in truth, his attention never left hers. He always gave Audrianna the impression that his eyes were touching every inch of her body when she was in the room. Though he always kept himself at a cool distance. Never reacting ostensibly aware to her presence. Which pissed Audrianna off to no end, because the only guy she wanted to notice her was Lewellyn Payne.

He looked at her again with those enigmatic blue eyes so distinguishable their fixation could not be ignored by the dark lens of the Gucci shades. This time his voice was soft. Quiet. Nearly a deep whisper, “Go ahead, strip.”

He placed his hand to slide down the pole as he spoke to her. Capturing her gaze. Their eyes locked. And Audrianna felt his hand on the pole as though he were sensually gliding his hand down the length of her thigh.

She forced her brain to focus on the pole in front of her. To get a grip on her nerves from being all excited at the attention seventeen year old hubba-hubba Llewellyn Payne was giving fifteen year old Chiquita Audrianna Wiltshire. When he was staring at her like that it was hard to set aside in her mind just how gorgeous he was. Chiselled jaw, high cheek bones, golden Adonis skin. Soft blond hair the colour of the sun thick and wavy all over, and layered on his head.

We are going to have such beautiful babies.

The thought came unbidden as she slung her right leg round the pole to clasp it and as she thrust her hips forward with her arm outstretched clinging to the pole above her head. She lost her grip up top and fell backwards unexpectedly at the waist. Losing her balance her head was on a one way trip to lights-out-ville when she felt a firm hand clasp the back of her head and a strong arm wind round her body, cushioning her gently as she landed on the table top. Minus head trauma. Or superficial bruising.

She burst out laughing, covering her face with both her hands. Then she chided herself inwardly. That was so not funny.

“Yeah,” Llewellyn said dryly. “Most definitely not funny.” He shifted over her and all at once she felt his hard length press into her between her chest and the middle of her small breasts. They were at such an awkward angle, that his waist was at her face. Her breath caught and she couldn’t help but stare at his manhood that had gotten up-close-and-personal with her face.

For all her front’n, she froze. She was no A class ho like the jigglies that buffed the poles for the night crowd.

He held back most of his weight by extending and gripping the edge of the table beyond her head. He started to push himself off of her when she laced her legs around him to clench his thighs.

He burst out laughing. A deep throaty chortle that made her blush. “Now that is funny.” He eased back on his haunches between her legs, and plied her legs from around him. Then, taking her by surprise he pressed her legs back, yoga style. Straining her small body in the false repose of lovemaking, allowing his hardness to brush her rump. She gasped at the stretch.

He chuckled letting his face bow down to meet hers. “You’re one thousand years too early fox cub.”

Audrianna gasped. Her eyes bulged. Her mouth opened to form a small ‘O’. How the fuck did he know she was a fox breed? Nobody knew. She never shifted. She couldn’t shift.

The first time his tongue parted her lips would be an unbelievable out of body experience she would never forget. She felt his tongue graze hers, his lips caressed hers and he sucked and moisture started to pool in her uncompromised pussy. Her throat tightened on a gasp and whimpered and moaned into his open mouth as he suckled. Her hands clasped the side of his face. He tilted his head sideways and went deeper with his thrusting tongue and all at once the contact was frenzied. Their bodies pressed against each other, Llewellyn’s hands were everywhere. He mounted her and when their bodies started to rock in the age old rhythm Audrianna’s head pulsed with the undying need she felt for something to engage her sex.

The loss of contact was a sudden disruption of her senses. One second he had stripped her panties and the next he was sitting back. Calmly observing her. Wiping the mashup of her dark plumb lipstick on his mouth with the same panties. His eyes twinkling beneath those damn shades. The double doors to the side of the hall opened and he nonchalantly pocketed her panties.

Audrianna righted herself and thanked God she wasn’t wearing the see through pouf skirt she sometimes wore to dance on the stage.

Llewellyn scissor his pursed lips with his index finger and it took a moment for her to realize he was motioning for her to wipe her own mouth. She managed to swipe the back of her hand against her lips to remove her messed up lipstick before her two guardians, Quincy and Rayner, and Llewellyn’s father, came into the room.

Llewellyn stood up slowly on their approach. Adjusting his waistband. Giggling himself a bit in the crotch area. Pulling his chic vest down from the seam. Straightening his tie.

Audrianna made to stand on the table when Llewellyn put both hands on her hips and got her standing on nearly unsteady feet on the ground. Audrianna pulled at her skirt trying to neaten herself up and prayed that the liquid between her legs did not show itself in the form of a trail down the inside of her thigh.

“Yo!” Llewellyn greeted them while patting the top of Audrianna’s head that did not even score the level of his chest. “What’cha doin’?”

“Where Rocky at?” Rayner eyed the stacks of mula on the bar. “Why he not countin’ money.”

“I sent everyone out the room. Your little miss was determined on becoming the entertainment centre of the evening. She wanted to audition for the main attraction of the centre pole and I didn’t think you would appreciate her having an audience.”

Audrianna pouted crossing her arms. “He won’t let me. You guys need to put me up on that pole.”

“Audrianna, the only way you’re going to get into contact with any one of these poles is if I break one of them off and beat your ass with it.” Rayner grabbed Audrianna by a chunk of her braids, dragging her off in the direction of the stairs.

She made sure to keep her skirt lowered so no one can catch a glimpse of her bare bottom. She could see behind her Quincy getting all up in Lewellyn’s grill but she had no clue what they were talking about.

Lewellyn’s father looked at her and she noticed his eyebrows popped. She hopped it was not because he had caught sight of her underneath. She sent up a mental prayer again that it was not because he noticed she was not wearing any underwear. God please….

Yeah, she so needed to start going to church. And not just when she visited her mom in Trinidad to make her happy.

I knew he was into me.

***

“MONTANA!” The rap-reggae collision “Freaks” by French Montana and Nicki Minaj blasted Audrianna reminiscing back from the past and into the future where she stood on the same steps her relative had dragged her up years ago.

Solidifying her resolve she ascended the stairs in a conservative way as to not attract attention from the waning crowd below. Or the muscle.

She peeked into the first door. The one facing the top of the stairs. The upstairs was not visible from downstairs. She came upon some big old ugly dude bangin’ some chick and she got some shit flung in her direction for the intrusion. She quickly closed the door on the awful sight.

Well excuuuuse me. If I wanted to see some ugly dude bangin’ some overused ho, I’d visit bangbros or some shit like that. Damn. It would take me half a century to get that fuckin’ image out of my mind.

She went to the other door. She sighed. More fucking. She could hear it through the door. If the Johns were gang bangers and they shared the same tats then she could really start somewhere but…if they were just straight-up tricks…

She pushed open the door, first a crack. Sucked in her breath. Then she pushed the door all the way open. Jackpot. Guys with some bonafide gang bangin’ rep. The guys shared all the same tats. The one on the bed boning some chick dog style that was facing Audrianna’s direction had the same tattooed initials on his knuckles as the one holding up some chick against the wall and fucking her like there was no tomorrow.

No tomorrow. Shit, in the gang life…was there really a tomorrow for anybody. There certainly weren’t going to be for these motherfuckers. In total there were four…well…laying ducks. There was one now looking to press his cock into the whore on the bed sideways and there was one standing getting head from some naked chick on the ground. Whoa! All of them were naked. And none of them were wearing gloves.

Urgh. And they were really messy too. They just undressed and dumped all their clothes on the floor near the door. Including a couple of uziiiiiiis- Hey-Yo!

Wow, Audrianna thought, sticking her hands up in the universal sign of surrender as she stood just in the entryway. What were the odds?

Actually, being that this was a whore house being run by gang bangers, yep, pretty normal.

Audrianna quickly stooped down, picked up an uzi in each hand and without a word landed four shots easily before giving the men much time to react. She didn’t expend many shots either. All clean. Small room. Close range. She crushed out about three shots with each uzi, squeezing each trigger twice and landing one dudes head with each shot. Blood splatter so hard core Dexter would be awed.

And that was the shit hitting the fan.

The bitches screamed their ass off. Even more than when they were being fucked. They were frantic to get those corpses from inside them. Son of a bitch.

Audrianna did not have time to squander being still. She moved to the next room. Hoping to score the big kahuna. The Mack-daddy she had come across earlier in the office. She kicked open the two other doors and was upset to see they were just other tricks.

The music was happening. But two uzi sure shots and three squealing hos is not a sitch to be ignored by management. The music got cut off. The lights got turned on. Some shots were fired in the vicinity of the top of the stairs from the bottom and from that moment it was on.

Audrianna crouched down by the bars of the railing. Hidden from the persons wielding semis on the first floor. She saw a door being opened sideways and motioned with her hand for the occupants to come quickly. She laid down the uzi. Hoping they would take this opportunity to run past her and down the stairs to safety.

Good. I could use the cover, she thought.

Then some shit blasted an uzi and a line of bullets penetrated the wall facing the top of the stairs in the form of a curve and the people who had peeked through their doors slammed it back shut.

Audrianna mouth the words ‘fucking shit’ before taking up her guns waiting for the next explosive exchange of fire before reacting.

She needed to get out from where she was. She was already fixed in position. She needed to get ahead of the game before they flanked her. And she was the one who was going to finish those motherfuckers off.

When the next spattering of fire was on, she laid flat on her stomach. She quickly deduced the angle the gunfire was coming from, twisted her aim of both weapons through the bars of the stairs and fired as the next shots came her way. She heard a curse from below and the firing stopped. But she didn’t take it for granted that that meant she had hit the shooter. She waited for more gunfire.

She couldn’t really see the guys with the guns from her angle. If she wanted to she would have to duck to the other side of where she lay now. And the sprint across would be a gamble. And the position across from her would make her a sure shot for enemy fire and that would mean certain death.

She contemplated backing up into one of the rooms. Maybe heading out through the window…

She heard the front door bust open downstairs and the screech of tires speeding off followed. But that could be anybody. The halt of gunfire for more than a minute convinced her to check out the lower landing more closely.

She crept forward and twisted her head through the bars. She didn’t want to make herself more visible to anyone as she supposed someone could be taking cover below the railing against the wall, waiting for her to step onto the stairs. She pulled the trigger and fired off a few bullets at the edge of some stairs to scare anyone hiding there to make a move. No return fire.

Was that it? Had she scared off everyone into making a run for it? Soon the cops would be coming around and she knew she needed to bail herself.

She got up to her feet and fired a round down the stairs before she made her descent. She took three steps before she got a leg up on the side of the banister and launched herself out. Grabbing the stripper pole she twisted and turned to land with finesse onto the centre-of-attraction table. Her eyes were on the bar and the entrance. The scene depicted the aftermath of a mad dash of patrons to the door. Turned over chairs and bar stools, unfinished drinks, and various items left behind by those who just wanted out quickly.

She felt the bullets penetrate her skin in immediate succession at the same time the semi-automatic went off. There was no stilled shooting or pauses in between. It was a rat-tat-tat-tat, with no slowing down. An Uzi.

But there was no slowing down. She swung around, deciding to not take cover. But the man at the back entrance was gone. She stepped closer to the edge of the table. She jumped off, ignoring the pain in her behind.

Shit!

The peeling and wetness of her flesh at her backside felt uncomfortable. She made herself focus on the scene. She needed to get that guy dead. But at the back entrance on the ground she saw a man on the floor, his mouth gaping open, eyes rolled back into the head, with an uzi at his hand. He could not have landed there at the beginning of the firefight because her shots would not have landed any targets to the back of the room.

Whoa! Shit! His neck was broken. She stared down at him, not daring to bend over or stoop with her wound. She frowned and gritted her teeth.

“Golum’?” The all-white familiar appeared before her, in the doorway right in front of her. She folded her arms. “How long have you been here?”

He looked down at the dead man at his feet. “Not long.” He looked at her, his expression casual, “A friend of yours?”

She got in closer to him. “I thought familiar’s weren’t supposed to have a sense of humour?”

He visibly sniffed the air, then he grabbed a hold of her. He looked her up and down, he dragged her closer to him and glanced down her back. His breathing grew ragged, “You’re bleeding,” he spat.

“Shh,” She cooed, placing her hand on his chest. “Take it easy. I have a place to go for situations like this. It ain’t nothin’. Be cool.”

Audrianna glanced down at the body on the floor. Familiars were fast and did nice work. “No.” She stopped him as he made to pick her up as if to carry her. “I can’t bend…the wound…where it is. Just let me lean on you, wrap your arms around me. Hover on the floor. Glide me out of here. I’ll show you the way.”

Sirens were closing in on them. The police were getting closer. “Hurry.” She hissed. And they made their way through the back room which was the dressing area and he lent her his strength to exit the back door and beyond.

CHAPTER 7

The last two gunmen remained dead right there. Viktor remained hidden behind a tree that did not give much cover. He knew he had to move. With a sharp raise of his arm the snow on the ground elevated, transforming into a rush of ice from the ground to above that reached ten feet tall. Using the uncommon blizzard element Viktor made his way from the tree to the direction of his Siberian home.

The freezing, rush of snow barrelled against him and the sound warring in his ear was a collective sound of a chopper’s propeller and a raging avalanche. He had taken three steps when he felt a lancing pain in his left buttocks. The feeling of a sharp edged, jagged knife thrusting straight through his flesh and being dragged evenly to create a deep cut. His breath left his lungs and he bent over abruptly from the pain.

He couldn’t believe it. Had he actually been caught by a bullet. Impossible. Then an untoward thought penetrated his mind. And his insides blazed with such implacable fear and loathing, he forced out a gut wrenching cry, “A-U-D-R-I-A-N-N-A!”

Suddenly the snow wall that blocked his escape was pushed away as if by force and the snow that blanketed the earth was blasted. Peeled away. The bare ground became exposed by more than three miles. Thunderous wind blew outward from where Viktor stood and made trees bend and collapse. Tremendous boulders had been raised and gone with the pushback of wind. The bodies of the men Viktor had flattened. Gone. The uncommon outburst was over and done with as soon as it had begun. And there Viktor stood, in his man-made-clearing, mad as a bat out of hell.

Unbelievably, steam rose in wisps from the earth.

Viktor growled. It was guttural. Like a black bear. But he hadn’t shifted. He gritted his teeth making his way forward. The piercing screech from the bullhorn only irked him more.

“You know, Mr. Maxckmillian, this was never a kidnapping.”

Viktor’s eyes glistened black, shifted sideways. Then, alerted, he leapt forward and was at a dead run when the explosions started.

Land mines lined up beneath the earth and snow. When they went off they ripped apart the ground and the explosions were dramatically vertical yards ahead of him. Causing dirt, smoke and fire to rip the air. The ground shook, and started to slide, and slide, and slide backwards until it shifted and began to topple backwards and shift into position sideways. And collapse. Viktor jumped into the air, landing at the burnt, cracked edge of newly formed cliff as the excess land that had been blown away started to fall off. The catastrophic rumbling of the falling ground was devastating to hear.

Viktor held onto the cliff for dear life. Nikolai braced over his shoulder. The still capsizing debris from the explosion swamping his face. He called on his field experience to keep his mind and heart steady. The cliff face was not stable. He levelled himself and attempted to push back on the piece of ledge he held onto to bring himself further on top of the ground.

The bull horn speaker sounded assured despite the crackle in the delivery, and the fact he had to compete with the sound of the caving earth, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Not so fast.”

Viktor heard the rocket launch in the distance. He knew he was the target and had no time.

Fucking A. Viktor jumped. He felt and heard the long, vibrating ‘veeeerb’ of the rocket as it sawed overhead before he landed on the ice sheet ten yards below the force of the rocket’s explosion when it collided with the ground miles away. It blew him like a feather weight into the side of the cliff. He slipped. Not bothering to hold onto anything.

And he started to shift. He felt the harsh bristles of the Mega-Black-Bear punch out of his epidermis. Felt his skin stretch overbearingly across the plain of his muscles. And Viktor knew, this time, he was going to transform beyond the breaking point of his Were-Bear form.

His size grew in an instant, at pace with his shifting form. He used his mystical power to take control of his shape. And when he landed…his body’s mass cracked the earth. He was ten times as large as his regular Were-Bear form.

CHAPTER 8

“Mammy! – Mammy Oy! I need you. You up, oy!”Audrianna hobbled up the few steps to the unassuming veranda that greeted strangers of the quaint brownstone of the NYC block. It was close to two in the morning. She leaned in on Golumꞌ because just stretching the leg with her injury was unbearable.

The light in the living room came on and a dark skinned boy of medium height moved aside the almost translucent curtain to look out the glass of the narrow double doors. His face lit up. His, “Hey.” Sounded muffled and he glanced down, unlocking the front door. “Yo! Audrianna. Hey girl.” He moved to hug her and Audrianna pushed the young teenager away lightly.

“Mmm-mm. Not now.” Her hand held onto the crease of his shirt. “Is Mammy up. I need her like yesterday.”

The guy nodded. “Yeah, right.” His face showed some concern. “I’ll go get her. You come in and-”

She shook her head, “I’ll stay out here.” She didn’t want to get any of her blood inside the house. “Just get her, ’K. Right quick.”

“Sure, sure.” The kid went back inside calling loudly, “Mammy.” He disappeared inside the house.

Golum’ helped her to one of the dark coloured wicker chairs that furnished the veranda. But she opted for the wide, low wicker table with the crusted glass top. She laid down on her stomach. The edge of the table reached just past her hip. Her arms folded beneath her head. Eyes to the front she heard the door open again.

“Audrey?” The elderly woman made her way outside. “That you?”

“Yo.”

“M-m-m. Whoa child. What you gone get yourself into now?” The wicker chair beside Audrianna creaked under the weight of the bulbous black woman.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“Yeah, I can see that.” The woman snickered, looking at Audrianna’s still fresh wound. “I guess you want help with that.”

“It would be appreciated.”

The old woman snickered again. “Yo Rheiz!”

“Yeah Mamma.” He called to her from inside.

“Get me my kit there on the kitchen table.”

“Sure thing.”

Seconds later Mammy’s grandson Rheiz was outside handing her the old fashioned looking black doctor’s bag. The vision of Audrianna’s buttocks caught him off guard and he looked shocked. “Damn girl! Where your ass go?”

Audrianna gritted her teeth when she felt Mammy explore the opening of her injury. Stripping away the material of her black pants. She heard her open her bag and heard the cutting away of the cloth around the buttocks and felt the gentle probing.

Rheiz whipped out his celly and started filming. Golum’ made no move to relieve the boy of his cell phone. Instead, he looked at the woman administer careful examination of Audrianna’s soft flesh. The woman removed the garment and the white, fatty tissue appeared shredded and blood began to pool in the wound.

“Urgh, that’s a lot of bloo….” Rheiz’s voice waivered, and down he went for the count. Golum’ spared the boy an uncaring glance before his attention went back to Audrianna.

But this Mammy fellow was a healer. A mystical apothecary. Golum’ could sense the aura of her presence. She unscrewed a fat, small, dark blue container and dipped two fingers and when she pulled them out a clear, tough jelly slid off her fingers.

“Take care honey, you know the deal. This gonna sting…”

The woman started mashing the jelly into Audrianna’s flesh. It mixed with the blood. She flattened out the skin in place and started to drag her fingers over the buttocks. As she dragged her fingers over the cheeks the wound appeared to heal in its wake. But the technique was apparently painful because Audrianna released a slow hiss while the woman went about repeating the process several times and the fleshy wound began to heal. Her butt cheek started to look like it had before the attack. No white markings of regular healing or raised flesh to speak of.

“There,” The healer woman wearing an old fashioned duster over a night gown smiled, pleased with her handy work. “All better. Looks like there was nothing there.”

Audrianna got up and stretched out, rolled her shoulders and glanced behind herself though she knew with that angle she would not be able to see anything. She used her hand to cup her buttocks. “Wow, excellent. Mammy, you work miracles.” Audrianna unzipped her front and retrieved her wallet from inside her bra and pulled out a few hundreds. She slipped the old woman the cash. “For your trouble. And a little for the short notice.”

“I’m obliged. You ought to take better care of yourself. You can’t go getting yourself caught with no bullet with a baby on the way. How long you mated now for? Does he know you be running around getting yourself whacked with your crew? I’m sure he felt that gutting him something fierce.”

Audrianna twisted her lips. “I was never a gang banger. And second of all, I ain’t never had no crew. And third, he don’t know shit…”

“Mmmhmm,” Mammy put the money into the pocket of her duster. “You could be sure? He an Alpha-Male, he could feel when his woman done gone and get herself shot. Right in the buttocks.”

Audrianna sucked her teeth, she was not worried. Viktor was like a million miles away. She did not think she had to worry about him finding out anything. She was not planning to tell him about how she got herself shot at less than a month into her current pregnancy. She had already decided not to bring up that convo when Viktor arrived back home.

Besides, Viktor would believe anything I tell him anyway. Yup. Got him eating out of the palm of my hand.

Audrianna snorted, sidestepping the collapsed teenager on the floor. “You don’t know shit old woman.”

CHAPTER 9

“Yo! L.B., quit it with the Rear Window action over there man. Ain’t nobody follow us in here. Sit down and chillax for a few man.” Real fine-tuned his guitar. He started strumming a few notes.

Carlos peered through the window of the Motel the two were staying. His eyes trained on a car that had been on the same route as their rental and whose occupants camped out in the parking lot of the Motel. “Then what are those shits still doing in their car fo’. Those bitches are snitching on us fo’ sho’.”

“They were just coming the same place we were. If they had somethin’ against us, they would ’ve busted our gut wide open long time ago.”

Carlos cursed, letting go of the curtain. “We’ve gotta move-”

“Yeah, we will.” Real talked over him. “We’ll be off tonight. Audrianna promised us a location to begin with. We gotta wait on that. For now, let’s just keep ourselves under the radar for ’while.”

Carlos went over to one of the twin beds and stretched out. Still fully clothed in suit jacket and tie. He closed his eyes. His body looking nowhere near relaxed.

Carlos clenched his fists at his side. He wished he had his old form back. He would be able to tell exactly what those men in that car were thinking and who they were fixated on. He only felt they were up to no good. In Juarez, once branded the Murder Capital of the world, though some of the killing spree of the Mexican Drug cartels had died down, foreigners still had to watch their back for all the scammers and kidnappers that might try to capitalize on their presence in an unforgiving land.

People still tried to plant cocaine in your suitcase, or car with the hope of having you unknowingly transport drugs across the border. You can be kidnapped for ransom. Or ‘held up’ all the same. Just another day in the life in Juarez. Turn up missing and end up dead.

Time flew by quickly, light soon turned to dark. Real put on the lamp on the bedside table that separated the two beds. He had been plucking the strings on the guitar for hours. Not playing any recognizable tunes.

After dark with the lights out in the motel room Carlos peeked through the curtain. The men were no longer in the car parked outside. He didn’t trust the disappearance. He remained on alert. The mildest of sounds agitated him. The screeching crickets. The sound of the new couple dumping their luggage on the floor across the hall. The soft sounds of sex coming from the room next door. And the accompanying scream of a woman coming from a room down the hall.

The screams became more frantic. Real stopped playing his guitar.

“I’m not going.” Carlos’s response was immediate and final. He lay back down with his eyes closed.

Two gunshots reigned over the silence.

“We’re not going.” Carlos remained unmoved. Through his persistent demand he heard footsteps and the door opening. And closing. And more footsteps going in the direction the commotion came from. Carlos sighed. Cursed. Then snapped his body upright. He got off the bed, his eyes glowed green. He reached for his black shades and covered them. He felt the tyranny growing in the other room as he embarked on getting Real away from the ensuing melee.

He thought he had gotten over not having full control of his supernatural powers. But once again, not being capable of reading the minds of men, he cursed. He can feel their emotions. This he cursed even more.

He felt Real’s distress. The pain. It was physical. And he grabbed his own chest and gasped. He gritted his teeth. Taking long strides down the corridor as other occupants chose to bolt in the other direction, bumping him this way and that. Then he felt it. The guilt. He could still tell who was responsible for the hurt caused to Real. He could still read the effects of the wicked ways of men. He drew on the evil beside him and turned – landing a heavy punch to the back of the neck of the fleeing man. The guy tripped and nearly landed face down from the impact.

The guy knelt forward, determined not to release his cargo that he held by the slender arm. But Carlos did not put any thought to the short haired blonde that went down with the assailant. He fell on top of the guy, grabbed his head again and slammed it into the carpet. Then he laid blow after blow on the top of the man’s skull and the side of his head when he turned to catch a glimpse of his attacker. But too late, it was lights out.

Carlos’s hand didn’t come out bloodied as it did bruised. But he flexed his fingers out as if it hurt none. Then he turned towards the direction of the room the man had come from. He moved to the doorway and jumped the other Mexican that had Real in his grasp. He pulled him off and Carlos received an uppercut that landed to the side of his lips for his trouble.

The two men were entangled but Carlos had the other man restrained to him. But with his one arm lose the guy kept up his attack. Punching Carlos incessantly. Carlos’s head snapped back and the man planted three more punches, and Carlos’s head snapped back in response to each one. His shades had been knocked off though. His face winged back to glare menacingly into his attacker’s eyes. Seeing the green flames in his eyes caught the guy off guard for a second before he wheeled in with another swipe at Carlos’s cheek.

Carlos took the brunt of the attack, and again his head snapped back. But the next time the guy tried to land a punch on Carlos his hand met…not air, or Carlos’ face. But Carlos chest, like rubber smacking into an anvil. Suddenly Carlos had grown bigger.

Carlos didn’t give the man time to get caught up in the idea that he had almost doubled in size. He clamped down on the man’s shoulders and backed him up until he reached the window. Then he backed up the guy some more until the glass vibrated with the weight. Then he slammed the guy trough to brake the glass and he shoved the guy over the two foot wide balcony. The man’s face was a mask of disbelief as he toppled over the railing.

Carlos was dusting off glass from his body as he turned to look at his friend who was slumped on the floor, on his back, with a switch blade handle sticking out of his chest.

Carlos cursed. This is soooo fucking fantastic.

He stepped over to Real with the knife sticking out, passing a guy who lay unconscious with bullet wounds to his neck and chest.

No. Not unconscious.

Carlos kneeled over Real, looking back at the dead body. He sighed.

That brings back memories.

Carlos looking at the body, his eyes not on Real, he stretched his hand, palm up to hover next to the weapon in his friend’s chest. The wound was bleeding out, but not by much. There was a prominent red stain on his once pristine white undershirt. Then he waved his hand up as if beckoning the knife to him. He turned his gaze finally to Real as the knife started to inch out with each flex of his fingers.

When the knife made a clean break of the skin Carlos flicked his middle and index finger outward and the knife went pelting away penetrating deep in the opposite wall, despite the thick chunk of brick it had to pierce to get there.

Then Carlos waved his hand over the wound and at once it started to heal. The separate walls of flesh in the opening came together and closed in. The reddish flesh sealed, then the skin drew together. And the wound was a wound no more. It healed with not even a scar.

Real inhaled like a man out of breath. Gagging on his first intake of air. He blinked rapidly.

“Did I just…?”

“No.” Carlos got up and with his hand on Real’s arm, pulled him to his feet as he stood. They moved casually out the door. Stepping over the prostrate figure on the ground to their room.

They started to gather their things which amounted to a briefcase and Real’s guitar. They made their way down the staircase and to their car. An unassuming, grey coloured jeep grand cherokee. Unlike the days of the Harvest moon down south, this Mexican night air was too hot to inhale.

Real opened the door to get to the passenger’s side. He felt an aggressive pull on his elbow. He turned to look into the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen. They were insistent but unafraid, and belonged to the short haired blond girl that had taken some hits from the guys in the room earlier. She had executed some good punches and kicks of her own as well.

He looked her up and down now. She was petit, sported some muscle around her rib cage. Her face was unremarkably oval shaped. Cheek bones striking and her face edgy, but pretty. Her look was grungy with a tank top and sleeveless soft cotton grey jacket and pencil thin jeans.

“Yo, don’t be sneaking up on people like that.”

She was out of breath. “Sorry my bad. Mind if I borrow that.” She indicated his guitar with a nod of her head.

“Sure, knock yourself out.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She grabbed onto the neck of the guitar and walked over to the man Carlos had thrown over the balcony earlier. He had ended up on his back on the top of a low rider. His movements were jerky and slow as he came to be more aware.

The petite blond walked up to him and whacked him solidly on the kisser with the back of the guitar. Then she smacked him again, and again until he stopped moving and the blood he had garnered from the fall from earlier mingled with new blood from his broken nose. And smashed head. She walked over and handed the guitar back to Real.

“Whoa there little mama.” Real took the instrument from her turning it around to examine the back of the body. No scratches, only blood.

“You American? Where you headed? Can I hitch a ride…”

“No.” Carlos talked over her, slamming the door on the driver’s side.

“There’s big money in it for you.”

Real snickered, “And for sure big problems, too.” Real got into the jeep, pulled out a tissue from the below compartment and started to wipe down the back of the guitar. His face grimaced.

“Come ooon, you can’t leave me here, I’m stranded. That guy who got whacked up in there was my only ride.” Her pout was legendary.

Real laughed. But Carlos’ss mouth thinned. He knew where this discussion was headed. Motherfucker.

“And just who is this ‘me’ who is stranded? How old are you anyway? Like fifteen.”

“Urgh, no. As if.” She was beside herself, “Y’all I’m like totally twentyyyy-five.” She bit her bottom lip expectantly.

Real chortled.

“Okay, I’m like absolutely, like nineteen.”

“A little white chick travelling with a black dude and a Hispanic in Juarez, we’ll be flagged non-stop. And we ain’t on our way out of Me-he-co” Carlos rolled his tongue.

“Where ever you goin’ I’m goin’.”

“Be wise chikita.” Carlos continued to address the woman with his head bent to his chest and his eyes closed behind the dark shades. “Consider the situation you just come from, and the situation you now putting yourself in. Being in the car with us here ain’t as suitable as an option you just left up there.”

This statement did get a worrying frown from the woman. “I guess so. But I got no other option. I can’t hot wire a manual, and I have to bail before the cops get here. At least you guys came and helped me out before when everyone else ran off and minded their own business.”

“Hmph, with the notorious history this city is dealing with and the hired gang slayings still showing no way of stopping, can’t blame nobody for minding their own damn business when las balas comienzan a volar.”

“That’s a different view altogether when you’re the one getting nailed papi.” Her voice was aggressive Spanish, but more Latin than Hispanic. “So what do you say guys, can I hitch a ride. At least get me some distance away from here?”

Real had ditched the tissue and was squeezing out some sanitizing liquid onto his hands, he lathered the liquid and started rubbing his hands together thoughtfully.

Carlos cursed, knowing exactly what was coming after that look.

“Get in.” Real nodded to the back of the Jeep. “We can’t take you too far though.”

“Away from here is good enough for me.” She got into the back seat and shut the door.

Aww fuck, was Carlos’s last thought as he started the ignition and drove off into the night.

CHAPTER 10

Lincoln entered his fifteen acreage home late evening in the secluded, gated community of the Georgia suburb that he lived in with Rees and three kids. The interior was a mix of Bohemian and modern decorating style.

He walked down the hallway from the entrance and dipped his head into an alcove that was outfitted with a desktop, bamboo desk and chair, a hammock and a chaise lounge. Little Neecy, his six year old had on her beats headphones and was watching a That’s So Raven episode on an app. He hugged her from behind but she broke away from him and pushed him out of her personal space. Out of the alcove to the foyer.

He gave a playful scowl. Such a roundabout reaction from when he had arrived back from his months abroad. Gone were the squeals of joy and happy, happy. Now he was just old, fogey dad getting all up in her ‘all-about-me’ time.

Holding his briefcase, still wearing his overcoat and scarf, he made his way down the long corridor to the living room to the suite of bedrooms to the right wing of the household.

Drawing up close to the bedrooms he heard stirring sounds. Light murmurings and whisperings. He frowned, and as he came closer to the third door to his left. His frown deepened to a thin line. When he was able to make out the sounds of sex and the familiar voices on the other side of the door, he blanched. He gritted his teeth. Raised his fist, prepared to pong up a storm on the door. Hell, break down the door if need be.

But before he made the first barrage his mind went to his daughter. He took in a deep breath. But it did nothing to calm his erratic heart. His raised, clenched fist tightened. He forced himself to bring it down to his side. He walked past a few more doors to his study. Opened the door.

“Yo! I’m off duty until dinner. No interruptions.” He yelled before slamming the door shut. He took a few calming huffs of air into his lungs. From the noise coming from beyond his door he got the impression that the outcome he had hoped for with his outburst was happening now. The occupants of the room where the affair was taking place down the hall had wrapped up and the person was now dutifully making their escape out of the house.

Lincoln hadn’t intended for them to get that far though. He removed his long coat and scarf and draped them over the back of the sofa. Next off was his jacket. He remained dressed in his waistcoat and tie. He pulled his waistcoat down from the base to straighten it a little. Used two of his fingers to smooth out an imaginary crease at his cuff before he opened his door and marched out into the living room. His irate disposition concealed behind an outwardly calm exterior.

It was there he came across his two sons. Deacon, fifteen, and Donte, sixteen. Deacon was dark skinned, with lean good looks and an athletic build. Donte was of fair complexion with sharp good looks and a crew cut. Both of them had his eyes and full lips. And they were nearing his build in height every day.

Lincoln’s eyes wandered from the two sitting on the couch. Deacon seemingly engrossed in his iphone, Donte seemingly engrossed in the football match on the ESPN channel.

Neither gave him a greeting. He walked over to the couch and pulled both of their backwards caps off by the flaps.

“Hey.” Came Deacon’s reply.

“Not in the house.” Lincoln folded both and slipped them under his arm. “I’m confiscating these in the name of common decency.”

“Urgh,” Donte made a face, “Daaad, you are so lame.”

“True ’dat. The lamest dad alive. Don’t forget to put that on my tomb stone.”

“Argh,” Donte allowed his head to smash down on the back of the sofa rest in frustration.

Lincoln continued to walk briskly down the hall to spot Betty, Neecy’s babysitter lounging in the chaise lounge with a phablet on her chest watching Neecy keenly as she typed up a storm.

Lincoln’s lips smacked apart. “Hey Betty, can I have a word with you a sec.”

She looked startled, anxious. Her gaze was watchful. “Yea, sure Mr. L.” She set aside her phablet.

“Let’s go out to the entryway so we could have our little convo in private. Shall we?” Lincoln nodded his head in the direction of the entrance. “After you.” He outstretched his arm with a bow and waved his arm out wide.

Betty beamed at him. “Merci.” She walked on ahead of him.

Lincoln scooped down and gathered her phablet, her bag and jacket that had been tossed haphazardly in the foyer of the enclave. Neecy did not pay either of them any attention, off to watching an intense episode of Stoked on the compu.

Lincoln walked unhurried behind her. He rushed, though to enter the security code to unlock the front door. Smiling he waved his arm to invite her to go outside onto the veranda before him. She smiled unwittingly at his gentlemanly gesture. If she suspected anything untoward she did not let on.

He brought his hand that held her things hidden behind his back out in front of him so she could see them. He smiled at her as she took her things, believing he was just seeing her out after having stayed to look after his daughter and the household in between the time it took for the kids to arrive home from school and Lincoln to leave work and come home. Rees worked late nights as a Dessert Chef in a popular restaurant in the heart of the city.

He held the jacket open for her and she pushed her arms through the sleeves. She took her handbag and phablet from him.

“You wanted to talk Mr. L.”

“Yeah,” Lincoln smiled affably at her, “I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to come here anymore. You’re fired.”

And with that Lincoln shut the door soundly on the surprised look on the young girl’s face.

Lincoln, seething, took a deep breath and marched over to the living room. He reached over and snatched the remote from Deacon’s hand and the cell phone from Donte. The celly, he pelted across the room and as Deacon yelled in horror Donte shouted “Dad!” as Lincoln turned off the TV.

But at the look of total calm on Lincoln’s face instantly caused the two young men to clam up.

Their eyes darted at each other and then on Lincoln. He knows, their expressions suggested

Then, Deacon raised his arms and nodded both his hands in Donte’s direction, both his index fingers extended at his brother, “This is all on him”

“No way. You not pinnin’ this shit on me. We all came together, deal with it.”

They continued to argue until Lincoln raised his voice to fever pitch. “Hey!” Lincoln raised his hands up in front of him, each held up an index finger. He drew those two fingers together and brought the joined fingers to his lips. He sighed. Closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. Still, he could not get himself calm.

He opened his eyes. Stared down at his sons. Gritted his teeth, hands on hips. He started to lambaste them. The two boys’ eyes looked shifty. Their stance was taken so they could run away at any second.

“Are you guys completely and totally insane. Fucking your sister’s nanny – while Neecy was in the other room.” Lincoln raised his balled fists, shaking with fury from head to toe. He spoke through clenched teeth. “Father in heaven, save me. I think after five tours of duty, this is the one that is going to be my undoing.”

“Whoa Dad, chill.” Donte held up his hands. “Relax. First of all, she is the one who is nineteen, we’re the minors in all of this.”

“Yeah Dad we did our homework. We’re the innocent victims. She’s the one who sucked us off.”

Lincoln opened his mouth, speechless.

Donte reached over and patted his Dad on the back. “Yea and listen. We know you’re worried that we could have gotten her pregnant but no need to worry. We know better than to bring a baby into this house.”

“Yea man,” Deacon held up two fingers, “Twice in the mouth.”

Donte smiled, “Once in the behind.”

The two teens bumped fists in front of him.

Lincoln’s mouth was still gaping open. He closed his mouth. Opened it again. He placed his hand on his chest. Took in a deep breath and blew it out in frustration. “You two have one second to get yourselves out of my sight before I reach for my semi-automatic.”

The two took a second to look at each other before they each scrambled to get themselves out of the livingroom and out of their father’s presence.

Lincoln closed his eyes and sat down on the sofa. The colour scheme was a mix of white and brown. Like the alcove. The sofa was a soft white. A white centre carpet with a low table in the centre. The table was a wicker with dark varnish. Lincoln put back on the T.V. and settled in to take in some highlights on Bloomberg.

CHAPTER 11

One Toyota lancer size bear paw landed with a quake on the edge of the broken off cliff. Then another huge paw landed. And then with lightning speed an unbelievably ginormous black bear pitched itself up over the cliff and onto the space above. Viktor’s heavy shifter form thundered onto the field, crushing trees, cracking earth. Nikolai was cushioned in his mouth. In a haze of loathing he swallowed the small boy.

Viktor roared. His breath matted the air, and the tops of trees bent in hollow acquiescence. He pounded in the direction of the rocket launcher. A rocket whizzed towards him and he caught it. The explosion that erupted in his mouth was nothing to him in this form. It did nothing to thwart his breakneck speed.

In this Were-Bear form he reached the mount of the archetype of the attack in less than three strides. He bared his teeth down on the two men now scrambling to run away. He launched at them, gathered one between his teeth and snapped his deadly teeth into the soft flesh. Blood and flesh splattered the pristine white of the mountain top. A limb got loose from the broken figure, pelted from Viktor’s mouth and hit the other man as he ran. The guy stumbled but made no move to turn around and assess the scene.

Viktor spit the bitter taste of the human from his mouth. And with a roar to compete against a plane’s engine, he took a meandering step forward, successfully smashing the other assailant under foot.

He deliberately did not move for a moment with his paw on the crushed man. Viktor allowed his tongue to swish about in his mouth for a time before he spat out more saliva and human remains to his side. He then continued to lumber forward. His huge bear paws crunching metal of cars and equipment his attackers had brought.

He turned, in the direction of the Maxckmillian castle home.

On his return Sasha was outside. Concern made him look an eternity older than usual.

Hmm. You know better than to worry about me. Viktor stood before Sasha in his massive shifter form. Blinking rapidly, his stomach gave a wave underneath and the beast heaved. Gagging. Then Viktor’s mouth opened in a snarl and Nikolai slid out on a puddle of oozing saliva. He was still unconscious. Sasha called for the staff to help get the boy and carry him in to be cleaned up and fed.

Viktor sighed. Breathed. He yawned. His face took on the features of a Bear that had had his full and now he was calm, and bored with the outcome. He turned and meandered off. Veering left, away from the castle. Sasha watched him go in silence.

CHAPTER 12

Xin had been following Audrianna’s movements for a few days now. Tracking her had proved an eye opener really. Xin sighed. Well, guess you can take the girl out of the battlefield, but you can’t take the battle out of the girl.

Xin stood next to Lace about two blocks away. Lace was a fire half-breed and a member of the Harlem wolf pack. Lace was a tall, lanky black man with a near narrow head and features to match. Xin had chosen Lace to be a part of his team in searching for Keisha. But today he had decided to just take a risk and monitor Audrianna’s movements. Especially since Viktor was not around. He was surprised that Audrianna went about her biz with little or no protection in the first place. This disturbed him. Especially since Audrianna was always the kind of girl to look for trouble.

“Yo Lace, take it in. We’re out.” He patted the young man on the small of his back before turning about and going off to the car next to a vacant lot with wire fencing and barely a lamp pole in the area.

Lace nodded. His special ability was to be able to sense things and distinguish his surroundings from afar with his tongue. A bizarre effect of lineage that came in handy in many instances. His tongue can be made to stretch as far as four football fields. Right now, it was extended five blocks away to where Audrianna had taken refuge at a healer’s place in Harlem. At Xin’s behest, Lace summoned his tongue to move.

Unexpectedly, his tongue caught a familiar scent. Lace decided to investigate. For the most part his tongue had remained on the ground for the journey, but now, five blocks away, the tip scaled itself off the ground like the head of a dancing cobra. Gliding this way and that as though following in motion to a melodious sound. And then he knew, something, or someone, familiar to him was very close to his tongue’s tip.

Lace took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, his eye sockets were empty. He sent his eyes rolling along the path of his tongue with preternatural speed. And they popped up at the tip. Lace was able to see in his mind the surroundings of his tongue, but some clarity and depth perception required him using his eyes to see directly. And who he saw floored him.

Before he could pullback in his tongue the man grabbed his swaying tongue. And squeezed. Then he saw the broad sword slash down and cut off two feet off the top.

The slash was emotionally unnerving and the pulsing wound hurt like hell, but for a second before his natural healing ability took aim at the slash and the edge burned like paper caught on fire. The edge of his exposed flesh burned until it sealed.

He made his eyes pop and roll over in mid-air to plop down on the edge of his newly healed tongue and he drew back his tongue as fast as he could. In no time at all his tongue, with all the gross of the street, was rolled up in his mouth.

“Hey, Lace, wrap it up. We got a plane to catch.”

Urgh. Lace thought of the dirt and grime that had caught on his tongue, though he knew his healing powers made sure he was never affected by the shit that came across from using his technique. His eyes popped back up in his sockets.

Then, unconsciously, a disturbance above his head caused him to look up. His eyes bulged at what looked like a flare up in the sky driving down on him.

No, not a flare.

Lace summersaulted backward and landed on the top of the black four door pickup just as the lit mortar landed in the spot he was just in and gave off a minor explosion. An explosion large enough to have blown him apart if he had still been standing there, but not enough to strike out and effectively cause harm to anyone or anything within a five foot radius.

The blast set off the pickup’s car alarm.

“Well,” Xin said reflectively. His demeanour unfazed. “That was close.”

CHAPTER 13

The raging snow storm was expected. Even to Viktor the effect of the old woman’s supernatural defence still chilled him to the bone, though he was used to the cold of Siberian winter. On approaching the dimensional crack that led to the old witch’s compound he morphed from the enormous Black Bear to his human form. This time he used his magical powers to cloak himself in a skin tight white body suit and a full length black bear fur coat.

He used his black eyes to detect the passage that was made invisible by the illusion of an immense wall of ice. He was able to make out the dark opening to a cave and he slipped through the aperture.

The instant he entered, the sound of the harsh, erupting winds grew silent. The room was small, the walls were a glacial and smooth to the touch. Though it was a wintery enclosure, the inside temperature was regular room temperature. The inside was curved, a half circle with the back of the wall featuring a dozen rows of shelving that had labelled bottles of a myriad of shapes and colours. And the bottles’ labels sported weird elixirs such as crushed Unicorn’s horn, Athena’s whisper, and Giant’s toenail clippings. Heavens knew what she had to do to get a hold of that shit.

Viktor strolled up to the lone figure stirring a large, cast iron cauldron on the spit fire near the side of one wall. Hmph, double, double, toil and trouble, huh.

The old woman, Viola…could be as old as time itself. She was an ancient. And she looked it with lines on her face that could have been drawn on by a pencil. The jowls of her cheeks and chin were deeply grooved, and swayed with each turn of the thick handle of the wooden spoon.

Viktor snorted. He believed she only portrayed herself in this toil-and-trouble creepy way to give authenticity to the witchy vibe. Viktor guessed there was an electric stove somewhere in one of the interior rooms leading from a dark passageway next to the shelve space. To his knowledge, no one was allowed beyond this room.

He faced her, on the other side of the cauldron. The scent of its contents was enough to make the thickest of skins barf.

“Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”

Viktor grated his teeth, determined not to take that bait. She knew damn well there was no door.

“So what, you just come here to stare at my good looks all day?”

Viktor raised a winged brow at her. He folded his arms. “My wife had another,” he paused, “decline in judgement.”

Viola snickered. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

“How much more should I be worried. This thing…I need to find a way to suppress it completely or get rid of it for good.”

“Neither of which is possible.”

“Anything is possible.”

“I told you-you can’t kill a Saint, any more than you can an angel, or devil. A saint is not a weakling spirit that can be exorcised with a crucifix and holy water.” She dipped her finger into the pot and tasted the awful, bubbling green liquid. “Besides, it’s been close to five years now, surely you’re used to it by now. I would think you would have welcomed him with open arms after all this time, an extra seat at the dinner table. An extra pillow in your be…d.”

Viktor was quick to clamp his hand down on the old woman’s neck and squeeze. And just as quickly he was blasted by an unseen force straight across the room to collide with the ceiling before he fell, face-planting it into the icy floor. Fuck. Whatever the power behind the force, it had even prevented him from balancing out and getting into position mid-flight for a tuck and roll. Viktor hated to admit that the old woman’s powers were both impressive, and thorough. He felt it like a body mass, a weight on his person. He did not bother to move until he felt it lighten and move completely off of him. Only then did he push himself up and march back to the old woman.

This was an age old parody that they played at many times over. And fuck him ten times over for constantly taking the bait.

The tone he took with her was conversational, ignoring the row they had just had. “I told you before your reward would be great if you were to come up with a way for me to get rid of this enchantment. Perhaps you are the wrong person for the job. Perhaps you are not as capable as you profess in the arena of expulsions.”

“I am. And may I repeat myself. I warned you before the conjuring, that such power that you sought would not be easily tamed. And now your wife serves as the progeny. You wanted to offer her the ultimate protection, and now she has it. There is no other super power who would dare contend with that power. Your debt is paid. Now you act like a spoilt brat that does not get the gift he wanted under the tree. Now you wish to dispose of such a bounty. Such complacency is unworthy.”

Viktor rest both hands on the rim of the hot cauldron on the opposite side. Gripping it hard. His teeth gnashed, “It cannot be tamed or controlled. It reveals itself at its own will-and it cannot be shut down.”

Viola shrugged, “Them’s the brakes.”

Viktor took a deep breath.

“Although,” The woman’s eyes looked thoughtful, “Perhaps…there is a way for you to,” she paused, “censor the Saint. Hmmm.” The old woman rubbed the fingers of her left hand into her palm. She looked at him and appeared to be startled as if for the first time noticing him to be so close to her. She shrugged nonchalantly, “Just a thought…” She went back to stirring her pot.

Why you vexing…Viktor strained to keep a hold of what was left of his patience. “What then, what…?”

She spoke over him, “I may have found a way for you to at least communicate with this Super on your own terms.”

Viktor blinked, he turned his head sideways to look at the woman dispassionately. He did not say anything. Some time passed with neither speaking. Viktor seethed.

Awe shit…He opened his mouth to speak.

“As I recall your aunt had this spectacular ability to create whole words where she often bent the rules of nature to her will-exactly.”

Viktor raised his head and twisted his neck, effectively cracking his shoulder muscles. “I know, she was a genius whose power was beyond measure.”

“Well,” she shrugged, caught up once more in stirring her witch’s brew. “Mayhap you are not as talented or courageous or studious as she…”

Viktor gritted his teeth on the retort.

“But, maybe, if you converged all your power into creating such a space – a contained space where the one rule of law was that you could speak with this Saint, then surely…” Her voice trailed off.

And then Viktor heard it. The incredibly loud bell ringing that made him feel that his head was stuck up the gut of a fifty ton bell at high noon and he was the clapper. Fucking shit, no you fucking don’t…Viktor bowed his head in agony at the force of the weight from the mysticism the woman used to banish people from her domain. He clenched his hands on the rim of the cauldron and braced himself. His face became pained as he felt his body fighting against a powerful wind. His cheeks were blown back, his lids frosted over and his eyes bulged. He tried to reach with his arm to grasp the woman round the neck again and…

Before he knew it he was blown away, through the entryway and tossed by the outside frigid winds of the storm barrier and onto the cold hard earth. He landed at least ten feet away from the visible snow storm.

Fucking shit. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to ask for what he had really come for. A way to keep in check this seriously crippling bond he had with his wife. For he was sure as shit that searing pain he had felt earlier had come from her.

One of the reasons he could not control his temper much these days was because of this aching need he had to rut-like-hell. Like all the time. And it pissed him off to no end.

CHAPTER 14

Lincoln hadn’t slept a wink all night. He pushed the covers off, still fully dressed. He moved from his bedroom into the kitchen and made himself a cup of warm milk. From the kitchen he moved to the livingroom. On hearing the low stereo chatter from the hall he went to check out the alcove and was surprised to note that Neecy was sleeping, half of her body lolling over the seat, with the wireless headphones from the P.C. capsized over her forehead. Lincoln cursed himself. Of course. With Betty out of the picture someone had to make sure Neecy got to bed on time.

He put down his cup and picked up his little girl. Balancing her on one shoulder he picked up his cup and carried her to her bedroom. The house was a one floor house with a basement that led to different rooms. Including a firing range, a bowling alley and twenty car garage that doubled as a bomb shelter.

Neecy’s room was a concoction of pink and white. It was big and had a mary-go-round closet that housed all her every day clothes and pageant dresses. It was also neat. Before Neecy had a baby-sitter everything had been thrown all over the place. She could never put her toys or clothes away and Lincoln could attest to the fact that he never got on her case for anything. He put her in her Black Barbie Princess Sheets. A token he had to have specially made for his daughter. Kissed her goodnight and left her in her clothes for bed.

LOVE SO WICKED

Chs 1 –  38

Prologue

“Dr. Eli,” Viktor shook the alchemist’s outstretched hand distractedly, glancing at the closed door behind him. “You were able to locate the devil’s breath?”

“Yes. The potency level is dangerous, are you sure this is the route you wish to take?”

Darksmith came to stand beside Viktor holding “Death’s Sorrow” out to him; a scythe with a blade on both ends facing opposite directions. The blades were black with mystical carvings on them.

Viktor kept his steady, firm gaze on Dr. Eli as he reached for the scythe in silence and held it in his hand. “Wait for me inside.”

Dr. Eli, hesitant, bowed to him, turned on his heel and entered the private hospital room of the medical facility where they meant to perform the exorcism of the demon. Once the door had shut behind him Viktor swung the weapon so the long, varnished wooden handle lay across his palms. “Is it as expected?”

Darksmith came closer to Viktor’s ear. “One side kills the body. The other side restores it,” He said indicating which side did which. “Just as you desired it sir.”

“Good,” Viktor walked to the door and placed his hand on the knob. “Hey,” He threw back at him over his shoulder. “Stay close.”

Viktor entered the room and nodded first at Dr. Eli then Father Arie, the exorcist. Then he looked at Lewellyn strapped on the cadaver table with padded cuffs on his wrists and feet. His wife’s ex-lover with the blond ‘dreds’ hissed at him in a rough whispery voice, “You can’t hold me here.”

“I don’t plan to.” Viktor said and held the scythe over his head and swung it down forcefully. And what a satisfying feeling it was to see Llewellyn’s severed head separate from his body, collapse to the floor and roll away. But there was no blood. The wound on the neck was black and immediately began to fester. Viktor swung the scythe upright in his palm and he turned to the priest “You’re up next.” He looked at the doctor. “Step back.” Viktor walked to the pedestal beside the doctor that held the enchanted book that was to serve as the exorcised demon’s prison. He outstretched his hand and the book opened. The pages containing images of mythical creatures flipped until two sides of blank pages were exposed.

The priest opened his leather bound text with the scripture in ancient language and began to recite the prayer to ward off evil spirits. When he started to recite the line, “Evil hearts, evil eyes, evil tongues.” The body on the slab moved. Possessed by the spirit. “Louder priest, harder. Get ready.” Viktor laid the scythe to balance against the wall and rolled up his sleeves. He extended his arms, palms up and fingers splayed as though preparing to catch a ball behind the batter.

Father Arie moved closer to the corpse and continued to chant the prayer. His voice eventually becoming hollow, louder, until it boomed unnaturally. The lights started flickering and all at once the room grew cold and the lights went out. Silence. Suddenly, the lights flickered on again. And the headless corpse on the slab was gone. They looked around them too late to notice the body had crawled above and was crouched in the corner of the ceiling until it jumped down to punch the priest in the face.

But the priest was not an ordinary human priest but a hybrid werebear-vampire shifter that came from a long succession of exorcists. And he would not be moved. He stealthily dropped the book to free his hands to focus on the attacking corpse. He held it by the wrists and continued his chanting this time in a stronger, unknown old language. And before long the corpse stopped moving, as though exhausted.

Quickly, viciously, a dark cloudy substance zipped from the severed opening and began to fill the room. Viktor, his hands still outstretched attempted to mystically control the demon that had escaped the body and was now whipping around the room with speed and intensity. With all his might he pulled on the demon and directed it towards the open book to force it into the parchment paper. And it worked, the cloud darted to the open book and was sucked into the page like a funnel. As it got sucked in an image of the demon formed on the rough, yellowish paper. First the head then down to the rest of the body, an almost spitting image of Llewellyn himself appeared complete, as all the darkness in the room disappeared into the paper.

The lights stopped flickering and Viktor stared at the image in the book. He turned at the sound Father Arie made pushing Llewellyn’s corpse off of him. They caught each other’s gaze and smiled at each other and started to laugh in relief at an exorcism well done.

“Fu-fu-fu-fu-fu.” The foreboding laugh came from the corner of the room. So dark and wicked, both Viktor and Father Arie stopped laughing, their heads whipped around to focus on Dr. Eli who seemed to double over in barely concealed laughter. Then he paused in his uncontrollable mirth to peek at the two who were now focused on him.

Viktor glanced at Llewellyn’s severed head that lay at Dr. Eli’s feet. “Fuck me!” He breathed and he grabbed the scythe and swung it at Dr. Eli’s head. Dr. Eli skilfully backed his head up and the tip of the scythe slammed into the ground. The force and power of the mysticism caused the earth to crack with a powerful boom.

The possessed Dr. Eli, with the sudden expertise of a skilled gymnast, bent his body backward until he balanced his body straight into the air on his index finger, flipped backward, and completed an aerial summersault to land feet first on the empty gurney that once restrained the demon’s former body.

Viktor growled ferociously as he too flipped backward into the air with the scythe aiming for Dr. Eli’s neck. He swung the blade down hard in mid-air as he was about to land. He unexpectedly paused in mid-swing realizing his intended target had vanished and his blade nearly struck the neck of Father Arie.

Kang-ka-lang-kang! Both their heads turned simultaneously at the sound of breaking glass. They both rushed over to the broken window. No sign of the good doctor.

Viktor growled, a fierce black bear awakened within him.

Father Arie clapped his shoulder with his hand. “As long as he is out there. Audrianna will never be safe.” He turned to the corpse on the ground.

Viktor turned to him and Father Arie softly lifted the pendant dangling from a thin chain round Viktor’s neck. Viktor looked at him, but at the same time he didn’t see the priest. His eyes were dark and his thoughts elsewhere.

Father Arie harrumphed, “Five star. Funny, I always thought you to be a six star kind of warlock. You mixing it up with the Religious Arts?” Father Arie shook his head, “Never a good idea. Stick with one basic religion. Me I like Druid Mastery myself.” Father Arie walked over to the corpse and handily picked up Llewellyn’s body. He put it back on the gurney. He got the head and rest it on the chest.

Viktor observed Father Arie’s movements, dazed. Distant. Father Arie approached him, book in hand. “Come now. Snap out of it. Shit like this happens. We need to move.”

Viktor looked at him. “I didn’t have a plan b in mind. Dr. Eli…this is unexpected.” Viktor looked at the corpse on the slab.

Father Arie looked at it too. “We can’t bring him back to life. Not yet. We need to capture the demon and have it whole in order to separate his spirit from the demon’s. And you can’t have part of it in there,” He nodded to the enchanted prison book on the pedestal. “And perform an unlocking ceremony on a demon whose other half is out here in this dimension.” They both stared at the corpse. Father Arie looked at the image of Llewellyn in the book. He walked over to it and stared at it. Hard. He then turned to look at Viktor’s hard expression. “I’ll do it. Imprison this half of the demon in me.”

Viktor looked to him, his brows furrowed

“Llewellyn was never strong enough to deflect the possession. He had too much affection for whoever the demon once was to harm it. I’m an exorcist. I’m a master in the Religious Arts. I can be a vessel and still not be taken over by an evil spirit. Put the demon inside of me. My body is as good as any prison for a demon.”

Viktor shook his head. “I promised Xin I would protect you.”

Father Arie rolled his eyes. “Oooh, come on. Am I a child to be looked after? You the nanny. A demon slayer lives his entire life in harm’s way. Do not worry. I won’t tell on you to daddy. And if I do end up being taken over by the possession chances are I’ll end up taking you over my knee and spanking you myself.” Father Arie, smiling placed the heavy tome down on the corpse.

Viktor snickered without mirth. “I’d like to see you try. I’ll not be exposing you or anyone else to a third level demon possession anytime soon.”

“Viktor come now. You knew that if you wanted to spend the rest of your life with Audrianna as your wife then part of the job was to become a guardian of the infinite vessel. Many harsh decisions come with that job. And there is no way around it.” Father Arie folded his arms.

Viktor eyed him intently, still shaking his head. “Forget it.”

“Come on? Honestly, there is a good chance this possession would louse up my face. Didn’t you once admit to wanting to mess up my pretty boy good looks one day?”

Father Arie grinned at Viktor, who in an instant lost his dazed look. His interest piqued.

“A bit jealous, no?” Father Arie waved his hand over his face and fluttered his fingers under his chin. “Audrianna, she likes huh? You know, I’m not as unaware to the great appeal of my good looks as I pretend to be.”

At that Viktor dropped the scythe and flexed his hand towards the book as though to grab something in mid-air. Pulling the image back from the parchment paper, he magically allowed the dark force to escape the page. He flung his hand in the direction of the priest and the dark cloud moved quickly from the book, and dove heavily into the chest of the priest. The air crackled and gusts of wind flooded the room. The priest glowed a soft purple hue as the demon entered his body. When the last of the demon entered him his eyes popped open and he commanded in a booming voice, “Rest!” His body stopped glowing. His lids closed then fluttered open.

Viktor moved to stand before the priest. “How am I to know you are not possessed?”

The priest shook his head, “You won’t know. Short of me trying to kill you. Always be on your guard. And keep me away from Audrianna. I understand she can’t resist this pretty face.”

Viktor rolled his eyes and this made the priest chuckle, “Heh heh heh.” Then Father Arie grew sombre. “I realise she is a trigger. I need to be able to suppress the demon within and having her around will make my job ten times harder.”

Viktor laid his hand on Llewellyn’s chest, “I have a way to preserve the corpse.”

“Are you sure you wish to do this? You strive to keep him alive even now? Isn’t he your love rival?” Father Arie grinned.

Viktor turned to him annoyed. “Where Audrianna is concerned, no one else can compete. As in everything else I have no equal.” He looked at Llewellyn’s decapitated body, and he took a deep breath. His voice gruff he recalled his family motto, “A Maxckmillian never yields, never bends, and cannot be broken.” He appraised Llewellyn’s body on the slab. “I won’t let my feelings, or petty selfishness keep me from doing what is right.” With that he grabbed the scythe. The power of the scythe caused the dead body to be enveloped by a soft, golden glow and it shifted. The head moved, rolled, and reattached itself to the rest of the body. The neck resealed itself entirely.

“Whoa.” Father Arie breathed looking at the now intact corpse nodding in appreciation. “I gotta get me one of those.” He put his fist out for Viktor to bump.

Viktor glanced at it, pursed his lips tightly, then gave the priest dap.

CHAPTER 1

“Heads up!” The Bricklayer ducked as a brick turned flaming mortar spiralled in his direction. With a sharp swish it narrowly missed his head to careen, skipping on the lawn landing forty feet away from them. “There she goes.”

He turned to look at the charred brick that was once part of a historical monument to the crème de la crème of pomp and ceremony. The Bricklayer turned his head back to the burning Palace. “My sister just took down a ten million dollar estate. Lord help us all.” The Bricklayer shook his head in disbelief.

“Technically,” Amanda came up next to him on the lawn outside the home they were just disappeared from, “this is all your fault.” Her eyes were on the blaze. She was just as mesmerized by the shooting flames that engulfed the once devastatingly beautiful palace home of the wealthy DuMonts.

Amanda, Audrianna, The Bricklayer and the two children had been removed from the compound by Lucie with her supernatural ability before the home bombed out. They settled on the lush, manicured greens some fifty yards away from the actual blaze. The crackling of burning wooden beams and crashing of ceiling floors could still be heard far from where they stood. The heat from the blaze burned their vision.

Audrianna sat with her feet curled beneath her on the lawn that stretched for miles. One of the young girls who had been in the house hugged her and she comforted her with quiet, soothing murmurs. She stroked her hair and patted her on the back. The cool night, breezy air competing against the roaring heat at their backs as Audrianna had them facing the other way so as not to have them be concerned on the tragedy unfolding at the Manor.

“Well, in my defence…” The Bricklayer stared at the burning house, shaking his head in disbelief. “I thought it would be at least a week before she started killing off the clientele.” A stretcher carrying a body with a full on head to toe white blanket covering and a lifeless arm hanging over the side being rolled away by two EMTs could be seen in the distance. The Bricklayer glanced at it. “Maybe a month before she started setting shit on fire.”

Sirens from another fire truck arriving at the scene caused them to turn in that direction. “I got rid of all the regular triggers.” He shrugged, “You know…wall clocks, pop music, I even stipulated in the program invite that ain’t nobody was to wear white. You know the regular ‘Lucie tripping off and going cray-cray over shit stuff’. Thought I had this shit locked down. Who knew the bitch would go ballistic over shit like being too nice. You know?” He shook his head, “Girl must be more of an idealist than we thought.”

Amanda left the Bricklayers side and walked over to Lucie. Lucie sat Indian style on the lawn wearing the same tight leather she had fashioned on herself earlier when the building below them was still intact. Amanda bent over until her face met Lucie’s profile. She braced her hands on bent legs. Amanda’s voice was quiet. Nay, even pleasing to the ear. “You know Lucie,” she paused dramatically, “you have nothing to worry about when it comes to people believing that you one badass motherfucker, because you nearly…” Her voice grew an octave. “Dropped down a burning building…” She sucked in a deep breath, her voice was a scream now. “With your pregnant best friend, two young children and your life long devotee still inside.”

Lucie did not pay her any attention. A contemplative look on her face.

Amanda straightened. Folding her arms, a look of unsurprised-disapproval on her face. “I‘d say you outdid yourself in the mad-ass-bitch category this time Lucie.”

“No.” Lucie shook her head. A look of regretful-disappointment on her face. “Not so long ago I would have burned down the building with all y’all motherfuckers inside.” She sighed with sadness. Bowing her head in her hands. “That cute Asian guy with the tight tushy was right, I have gone soft.”

Amanda unfolded her arms. Released a slow breath. She scratched her head with her index finger that was more of an ‘I’m thinking’ itch than a ‘something is really itching me’ itch. She turned to the others on her heel. Her arms shot up in the air in frustration. “I give up.” She yelled at the others, “There is simply no pleasing this bitch.”

Lucie made herself disappear from where she sat and reappear standing in front of The Bricklayer. He blinked heavily at her sudden appearance, temporarily blocking his vision of the scene before him. “What you…”

“Load me up with those digits for your boy Choi nigga. NOW!” Her fists on her hips, her stance hauteur, her eyes demanding.

The Bricklayer adapted her stance; his teeth gnashed. “If you think with all the shit you pulled off today that I am going to just-” His mood changed abruptly. His head whipped up and he peered ahead, his eyes dilated and his body movements appeared to be robotic. He began to recite Choi’s phone number and apartment rental automatically, trapped under Lucie’s silent psychosis.

“Five-five-five-six-one-three-two. Bellevue plaza, upper Manhattan. Apartment 34B. I have the key.”

“Fork it over.” Lucie snapped her fingers.

The Bricklayer fished in his pocket and pulled out a white card and handed it over to her. Lucie was a pro. She could force herself into the apartment if she wanted to, taking The Bricklayer’s key kept him out.

She turned towards her friends on the lawn. “Laters Bitches!” And she was out. Gone with the wind.

The Bricklayer blinked profusely. Startled that Lucie was no longer in front his face. He twisted around frantically, sputtering like a cartoon Daffy Duck that had just been cold cocked. “What cha? Where she? Who dat?” He spun around and ended up looking at the same empty spot where Lucie had once stood. He cursed. He looked at the others on the lawn. “Bitch did it to me again didn’t she?”

“Uhhuh,” Amanda giggled, “and it was way funnier than when she did it to you the last time.”

Audrianna laughed in agreement.

CHAPTER 2

“Yo!” Tremaine leaned back in the cushioned, ergonomic chair. Looking at his older brother Kelly Payne on the high-def flat screen of his bedroom wall.

“Wha’z up Bruh?”

“Aaaa, just chillin’ man.”

“Check it, hook me up with the others. I have jobs for all y’all.”

“Word.” Tremaine tapped the screen of his mobile. He leaned back in his chair and flexed his neck, pressed his thumb against the mobile screen once more. Instantly three smaller screen images made an appearance to the side of the screen of his large screen Television, next to Kelly’s square image.

“Yo,” his brother Tristan, the spitting image of his brother Tremaine flexing curly blonde hair and blue eyes showed up on screen. He was upside down, hanging from an inversion bar in his bedroom. Bare chested and in boxers. He tossed his phone aside.

One other screen was left blank while a woman’s cries could be heard. They were not cries of agony. “Aaa, Trev.”

Tremaine’s irritation was obvious, “Nobody wants to hear that, you feel me bruh?”

“Uh-uh-uh-oh-no-oh-coming! Don’t stop!”

“Trevor!” Tremaine, Tristan and Kelly all chimed in.

“Fuck Y’all niggers-I’m nearly there.” Trevor brushed them aside.

Kelly rolled his eyes. “Lets cut Trevor off. This shit is private, and I don’t have much time. Fuckin’ shit.”

Tremaine tapped on his mobile and muted Trevor’s room.

“I have a job for each one of you. Including Trevor, I’ll fill him in on his role later. Tremaine, I have a feelin’ you won’t have to baby sit Trevor on this one.”

Tremaine passed his hand through his blonde curls, they bounced right back into place. “That’s a relief.” Tremaine extended his hands and cracked his knuckles. “What’s the dealio, bruh.”

“Check it, I have an engagement coming up in Mexico.” Kelly leaned back into his chair. He pulled on the edges on the open front of his straight suit jacket downward. “I should not be gone long. I need you, Tremaine, to remain in Elyzabel’s company until I get back. Tristan, you I need to keep an eye on her from a distance. Understood?”

Tristan continued doing crunches while hanging from the bar, “Yeah man.”

Tremaine smiled, nodding, “Word sucker.”

Kelly rolled his eyes. He knew his brothers thought he was messing with his own game by marrying, and not playing the field some more years. He could tell his brother that his woman was more important to him than any covert operation, or ho, but he risked coming off too corny. So he shook off the jab. “Tremaine, watch yourself.”

Tremaine laughed, “That it KP?”

“Yeah, I leave for my flight, in three hours. I expect you at my doorstep then. I want zero complications from this man. You hear?”

“Yeah-yeah, right homie,” Then Tremaine started to sing to the tune of Michael Jackson’s ‘I’ll Be There.’

Kelly ignored him and addressed Tristan, “Tristan, yo, forget conceal and carry, I need you to be armed and dangerous. Full weapons mode.”

“I hear you man,” Tristan never skipped a beat on the bar.

“I’ll be gone at least three days. If that long. You feel me.” Kelly lowered his shades to look at the screen. The steely resolve in his stare gave instructions to the crew a new meaning. “I’m out.”

***

Kelly reached over to his mounted celly to turn off Zoom and pocket his phone when another call came through.

“Yo-pissant.” He addressed Trevor tersely.

His younger brother laughed wholeheartedly, “KP you know the deal, when-you-got’s-ta-go, you-gots-ta-go.”

Kelly stretched his tongue out over his top teeth and sighed. “Hey man, I got a job for you. I’m in need of a man with some special skills. And you’re it lil’bro.”

“Shoot.” Trevor gave KP a two finger salute and leaned into the pillows of his master bed. Still unclothed.

Kelly started to fill him in on the role Trevor would have to play in his absence. The more he told Trevor about his plan, the wider Trevor’s grin got.

“Yeah, man” Trevor laughed after he heard all the details. “I’m in.”

CHAPTER 3

Mark sneered, “I’m telling you, it’s serious.”

Maya shrugged, “Of course it is.”

Mark mashed down on her teeth, she bristled. “You are not taking me seriously.”

“In this case,” Viktor stopped outside the candy store he and his siblings were visiting that late afternoon. “I have to stick up for Maya, for I believe he is considerably more concerned than I am.”

The three were walking along Peach Street. Viktor came to a stop in front of River Street Sweets. He pressed open the door. He and his cousins entered the candy store.

The store was well lit with shining counter tops and even shinier looking candy. It was a cozy, decadent delight that smelled of caramel covered dark chocolate and biscuit dreams. The smell of cinnamon and sugar made the shifters mouths water with anticipation. Markova inhaled and squealed with delight, running up to the counter, her eyes gleaming, “I’ll have a hundred of everything in the store!” she clapped her hands at the counter attendant.

Maya smirked, “Only one hundred?”

Viktor gave Maya a smiling-frowny look of scepticism that summed up the way he felt of Markova’s so-called problems that seemed to vanish at the sight of yummy treats. Typical.

Maya came up to Viktor and shot him back the same look, reading his mind. “Nope. Atypical.”

Markova could always be easily distracted with food. Being a Bear shifter, any form of candy will do to get her to put a cork on her complaining.

Mark turned and looked at them with a pointed expression, leading them to believe she was aware of what they were thinking. They shot back at her a blank, bored expression.

“Don’t think I have forgotten what we were discussing. As soon as my order is filled, we will be right back at figuring out exactly how to handle my dilemma.”

Maya rolled his eyes. “Markova, I can hardly call a snit between you and your sex friends a dilemma.” Maya came closer to the counter to talk to the attendant, whose high colour gave the impression that she had overheard his brash comment.

A bit apprehensive she bit her lip. “Umm. Mr….”

“Yes, Joanne, these are my cousins Maya and Mark,” He nodded in their direction. “Did you prepare my usual order?”

“Oh yes sir, three bags of everything in the store. So good to see you come in for a change. So no pickup for this month?”

“Yes, I’ll need nothing else until next month. I’ll clear up my tab while I’m here.” Viktor squeezed his palm and opened them again and his black card that had a spending limit that could sponsor a modest arms deal of a mid-European nation appeared. He wiggled the card back and forth with his index and middle finger. “I’m just being the hospitable host and chaperoning my out of town cousins about Atlanta.”

Behind Viktor, Mark sucked in enough air to fatten her cheeks. She blew out the hot air from her mouth. Maya grinned at her mocking Viktor’s long windedness. It was Viktor’s turn to give the both of them an I-saw-that look. “They’ll have the same as me. My apologies for not calling in and requesting the order in advance. Don’t rush on our account we’ll seat ourselves by the window and wait while you go about your business.” It was nothing for Viktor to reach into his wallet and pull out a score of hundred dollar bills. He handed it to the attendant, “Spread this around, will you?”

The young woman blinked at the wad of cash, hesitant to reach for the money. A regular service rep with a black apron and the candy store’s logo appeared at the counter and took the dinero with a gracious smile. “I’ll take this and share it out, Mr. Maxckmillian.” The young man took out four hundreds and handed it to the woman who blinked at the money her colleague put in her hand.

“We’ll start bagging your order right away sir. Always a pleasure.”

Viktor nodded and led his cousins to the table near the shops tall glass walls so they could look to the outside. The day was collapsing into dusk with few pedestrians walking the sidewalks outside the shop window.

Maya grudgingly admits to Viktor, “You look well despite the fact you are out of Siberia, the place that gives you your power.”

Viktor sniffed the air with condescension, “Another old wives tale, spread by a king wanting to keep the masses close to the empire. I am power. Incarnate.”

Mark slapped her palm on the table. “Could we please get back to thinking how you two are going to help me solve this problem?”

Viktor rest his elbows on his knees and covered his bowed head with his hands. “Yes…your White Whale. Come with the story again.” He twisted his neck and it gave off a painful, cracking sound.

This time it was Maya’s turn to slap his hand on the table. “Oh for the love of…Viktor!?” Maya was just as annoyed at Viktor for listening to his sister’s woes. “For having to listen to this farce of a story again I blame you.”

Mark gave her brother a withering look before she recalled her story. “Four lovers- all dead in less than a week. And no one who I normally turn to for a good-hard-fuck …”

Both Viktor and Maya raised their hands, palms up. “Oy! Ve!” They cried in unison.

Mark continued – uncensored, “…will return my calls. No one! It is as if I have suddenly come down with the leprosy.” Markova cried, her balled fists shook at the heavens. Then she slammed them both onto the table bringing attention to them from the handful of patrons in the store, along with the attendants behind the counter.

Viktor held his palm up to her, “Okay, chill. First of all,” Viktor paused, turning to Maya with a woeful expression on his face. “Sorry you had to hear that again Maya, I blame myself for that…too.” He turned to address Mark. “Now Mark, I honestly don’t know how you expect us to help you deal with this. Sounds like a woman issue to me.”

That drew a chortle from Maya. “Can’t argue with you there.”

Mark frowned, her lips screwed into a closed mouth kiss. “This has nothing to do with me. Someone is threatening my lovers. Behind my back.” Her voice lowered conspiratorially, “All of a sudden they are terrified to be with me.”

“Sounds like a lot of them have just come to their senses.” Maya wiggled his brow at Viktor.

Viktor blinked, it was his turn to give off a brief burst of raucous laughter. He sighed, “Cute.”

Mark smiled, but there was no happiness in the curve of her lips. She placed her elbow on the table and cradled her chin in her hand, tapping her fingers on her cheek. “Be insensitive you sarcastic bastards,” she said sweetly. “But I would have you know that one of the men who was murdered was the only heir to one of our partners on the Shifter Counsel. Another had strong ties to the Russian parliament. If these crimes are in anyway linked to my affiliation it could land us all on Shit Street.”

Viktor and Maya stared at each other, blinking hard.

Viktor turned his sceptical expression on his dear cousin. “Mark, are you suggesting the best way to take down the centuries old Maxckmillian multi-trillion dollar empire, is through your legs.”

Maya laughed anew.

“Are you fucking real?” Viktor folded his arms.

Mark folded her arms and delivered his condescending tone right back at him. Unlike him, she resorted to speaking Russian. “Viktor, you may mock me all you like. But you of all people know that when it comes to being a shifter, especially a bear-shifter, we have needs that have to be fulfilled unlike a vampire whose sport is drawing blood to forge romance. We need it hard and on the regular. I will not be condemned or feel shamed by the where-when-and-how I get my fix.”

Maya, annoyed, sucked his teeth and looked aside, away from her.

Mark thumbed her finger at her brother, “And the way I release my frustrations are far more wholesome than his.”

Maya turned to his sister and gave her a silent warning.

She smiled with malice, turned fully to her brother. Looking him square in the eye. One arm on the back of her chair, the other braced on the table. Her voice sly, “Oh, do I dear brother?” She looked as if she was preparing to fight back in case of a physical attack.

Maya turned to her. His teeth – gnashed. He sneered at her. A low growl in his throat building into a roar. But with his eyes hooded and his fingers of one hand rubbing together, his posture was deceptively casual.

“Please you two.” Viktor’s lowered gaze was on the counter beside them. “We are in public.” He sighed. He put his elbow on the table and absentmindedly stroked his chin. “Mark, I think that the likelihood of a random troublemaker hell bent on destroying your sex life, that could in some way destroy our business, is quite out there and might I add, delusional…”

“Thread lightly cousin.” She warned him.

“Quite,” Viktor nodded, speculating thoughtfully, his face turned almost skyward. “Might I suggest that the situation you are in is that a shifter that is under the influence of the mighty calling, um… the fog of craving, has been picking off the competition one by one?” On that he turned to stare at his cousin Mark.

She sniffed, “Don’t be daft.” Mark pumped both her arms backward, drawing her elbows behind her. Her back muscles cracked.

“Yes, I too find that hard to believe.” Maya folded his arms. “The idea that my sister can cause another shifter to become stupefied is both senseless and alarming. Conjure up another theory Viktor. We have no time to waste.” Maya nodded, mocking the seriousness of the conversation.

Mark wasn’t fooled and slapped the back of Maya’s head. “Insufferable prick.”

“Well,” Viktor shrugged, falling into his native Siberian tongue. “It is either that or someone out there really, really hates your guts and is out to destroy your life by killing off the guys on your booty call list. But Mark, I would encourage you to take a really hard look at your life, and the way you say…get off,” Viktor folded his arms and relaxed back in his seat. “If all it takes to take you down, is a manipulation of the lowering of the number of people that you can fuck on short notice.”

Maya, his lips pursed on a smile, released a puff of air through his nostrils. A gurgle of laughter could be heard in his throat.

Mark sniffed derisively, “You’re one to talk, barrelling into that itsy-bitsy fox every night like there’s no tomorrow. At least I’m not stressing out the one sex-favour I have at home.”

“You’re right. I’m afraid I would have far more value in what I had to say if I had more of a leg to stand on, being home alone with no one to turn to for real affection like you.”

Mark sucked in her breath and released it through her mouth like a burring horse. She flicked her four fingers at Viktor as though physically waving him off. She looked aside. “Whatever. Fine. Be that way. I have only one more thing to add.”

“Halleluiah.” Maya eyed the attendants that were just rolling over the mountains of sweets in their direction in five separate grocery carts.

“If neither of you help me solve this problem I can make hefty trouble for the both of you.”

“You know you could have saved us the brain storming session by just threatening to ruin our lives from the start. Fine, we’ll help you set up a trap for your disgruntled ex-boyfriend.” Viktor started to get out of his seat, not all too serious.

“I wouldn’t brush off Mark’s threat all too easily Viktor. She does have a knack for making herself a nuisance on many occasion.” Maya made to stand as well.

Mark retaliated against her brother for the insult by pushing him off his chair with the power of a moving truck and using her foot to pull out one leg of the chair. Maya fell hard, crashing into one of the carts, causing it to capsize. Two bags of candy splattered onto the floor and there was confectionary everywhere.

Viktor looked at Mark, with a none-too-pleased-Wharf-from Star Trek look. Mark shot back pretty-as-you-please satisfied smile at him.

Maya rolled over to his rump and just sat on the ground looking up at Viktor. “See what I mean by nuisance.”

CHAPTER 4

Though Xin saw it with his own eyes he couldn’t believe it. And he stared. And he stared. Motherfucker. What the hell is that thing?

Xin and his companion stood floating two hundred feet below the surface in Lake Superior. Xin’s tracking of Viktor’s exploits had led him there. They both wore magically inflated bubble masks to help them breathe below water. And black tight skin swim wear.

Xin can’t believe his eyes. The being before him was one of the largest Sea Monsters he had come across in his centuries old lifetime. There was no other way to describe the beast before him. Simply – a monster. Prehistoric. It definitely showed signs of being before the era of modern day sea creatures.

Xin can only explain the creature as an in-between ancestor of the kraken, and something of a mammoth whale. Its body was long, but not thin. It had tentacles. At least three on each side. Its body mass was spectacularly huge. And it was a wonder that it lay beneath the depths of Lake Superior unnoticed, if surely not by magic. Anyone can note its presence. Only if Lake Superior itself was not very, very deep. The creature lay farthest within its depths.

Xin peered at the monster that seemed content in slumber. The waters were warm below the surface level, but past fifty feet, it was colder than the iciest snow storm.

Xin floated within the Oceans depths. Lace mimicked the bold stare Xin gave the remarkable sea creature. The sea creature was grey, with monumental spaces of white on its skin. Xin got closer, and closer. He swam until he was close enough and he…feeling the weight of the water pressing against his palm he patted the sea creature. The creature opened its large eyes and it was a breath-taking moment to behold this creature’s large lids pull open. Xin unconsciously stopped breathing. The creature’s eyeball shifted to cast upon them a look of such disdain and hatred. It moved quickly. Xin and Lace had no other plans to counteract such an alarming move as the sea creature swiftly turned, split his mouth wide open and ate both of them whole.

Xin and Lace were swallowed with such decisive vigour and with such a mountain of water that they slid past the sea creatures’ tongue as though caught in the ragged, pelting of a natural waterfall. They were kettle fish rapidly pouring down Niagara Falls.

They landed on a pillow of smooth, slippery epidermis. The bottom gave way. The skin peeling away at the centre in strips and the two were sucked in…

They slid deep, deep, deep down a cavernous, vertical tunnel. Both of them were shocked that there was no soft inside tissue or great wall of stomach to break their fall below. But a black hole of darkness that went straight down like a chute. And they fell, fell, fell…twenty – thirty – forty – fifty feet. Until…Splat!

Xin and Lace landed heavily at the bottom of a dark pit. Neither could shake the ominous feeling of solitary confinement. Using their preternatural sight, they looked around. When Xin and Lace got their bearings they found themselves not at all in a tight space, but in fact inside a chamber. Not unlike those of the Pharaohs’ in Egypt, except the walls were unusual. There was no mistaking that the walls were of silver metal. Jagged. As though carved out of steel, as if it was dug into a solid steel mass, and the walls chiselled straight at the corners and sides.

Whoa, Xin thought. This was some secret. Xin peered at the encasing in the centre. They glanced at each other with dubious expressions on their faces, then turned their attention to the sarcophagus in the middle. Walking closer they perceived the etchings on the outside of the sarcophagus to be mystical, ancient. They came closer. Xin’s hand rest on the gold cover.

He lifted the heavy, slab cover effortlessly with one hand. He stared at the face of the dead. The face was unrecognizable. Decomposed soft tissue mixed with lumps of moist ash.

Xin thoughtfully placed his finger to his chin, tapping it gently. He took a deep breath and blew at the lump. His breath made the lump of ash slant and collapse onto itself.

Gone.

CHAPTER 5

Kelly was ever so happy his flight was being delayed. Though, he initially wanted to head up to Mexico and get the whole affair behind him, as soon as possible. His trip was going to be stressful, compared to the time he could be spending with his soon to be wife. He stood at the waiting area before he was supposed to go through with his ticket.

Kelly glanced down at his woman. Elyzabelrrying her bottom lip, watching the digital announcement on the board that relayed the delayed flights.

He smiled, bowing his head he kissed her, devouring her mouth. His arms around her waist gliding up and down her back. Cupping her delectable rump. Kelly thought he was liable to go crazy over the days ahead, as he couldn’t get enough of her soft body pressed against his, even now. She moaned into his mouth and his tongue enticed hers. He felt her suck his tongue inside her mouth. The familiar feel of her lips and tongue massaging his engorged length, flashed in his mind. And he ached for her sex.

He moved his lips from hers, he gently kissed a trail from her lips to the side of her cheeks to her ear. He whispered to her, “Normally at this point I would suggest that we take it to the bedroom but you know we could never, ever make it that far anyway.” Kelly had his way of no matter what Elyzabel was wearing, he was able to make his hands reach her crack, or her woman part between her legs. He chose to do just that with the public audience of ATL at his back and Elyzabel pressed back against the wall.

She moaned both with reserve, knowing they were in a public place, and knowing he could not continue with further exploration of her body. Kelly smiled at her. A devilish, evil smile. With a salacious grin, he was about to escalate an already burning situation. He glided off of her, turning away her fingers in his hands. He had already checked his luggage so time was on their side.

It was very early morning. There was hardly a person in sight as he drew her into the men’s washroom. Kelly drew her inside a stall. He made sure to check the inside first to make sure it was sanitary, because he was not about to take Elyzabel in a stink house. ATL had some class and the bathroom stalls were clean and sterile. He backed up on the door of the stall, he used his elbow to shove the door in. He drew her inside, and closed the door.

With the success of an unseen and uninterrupted entry into the toilet he slid the latch in place. He proceeded to continue to devour Elyzabel’s mouth. He shoved her up against the door. He used his hands to clasp her butt, and his fingers clenched her bottom. He drew her body to mash against his groin and she sucked in her breath in his mouth. The contact was electrifying. Kelly was unrepentant in his ravishing of her body. His reaction was explosive knowing he would be without this contact for three whole days. The notion of not being able to feel her beneath him for hours, made him desperate to get inside her for one final moment of release.

His hands were everywhere, all she could do was to draw her arms around him and squeeze him to her, in a desperate need to hold on for the ride and not let go. Kelly started to drag her dress up her body. She wore a close fitting flowered pattern dress. Kelly drew the dress from the hem up above her hips, and put his hands between her legs.

His fingers curved around the slit of the sheath of her panties that covered her moist womanhood. He twisted it in frustration. Taking a deep, ragged breath to calm his greed, he ripped the small fabric away. She groaned, knowing exactly what was coming next. He took her yearning, mounting cries of wanting into his mouth. He did not stop kissing her. Feeling for his zipper he finally undid himself.

Shaking, he brought the top of his jeans down below his hips and he lifted her leg up to rest on the toilet. Grasping her butt with his hand. His other hand racing beneath her side, he rammed inside her and he thrust and he thrust and he thrust and with each movement he shook with wanting more and more. And she shook with wanting and need that had to be filled right this moment, or she would explode.

There was no pacing of the bodies, or regular kindness. Theirs was two people who needed to quench their thirst now more than ever in this moment. He thrust and he thrust and she tightened harder round his cock, milking him and she squeezed him inside of her.

At some point Kelly noticed an intrusion. The door opened. He parted his lips from hers, along with the hand that was on her ass. He moved it to cover her mouth, he used his quiet voice to shush her, without stopping the thrusting. The person who came into the washroom, with such benign movements and non-evil motive, compared with the feelings that Elyzabel felt in her breast, increased the tightness in Kelly’s chest.

The knowledge that they had an audience only helped exacerbate the emotions within her more, and her body strained in release, squeezing him inside her. He came inside of her, his breathe escaping his clenched teeth in a soft hiss. She shook her head at him and her eyes gave him a frantic warning. She knew, if he moved any more inside of her she, would scream in ecstasy.

CHAPTER 6

Kelly’s ex Miranda approached the door to his apartment. Glancing around surreptitiously, she pulled out the security card and swiped it through the device to unlock the door. She pocketed the card in the long trench coat, tightening the coat around her naked body. She sauntered inside in her six inch stilettoes.

She had gotten a snapchat letting her know he was totally available to her and she could come on over. Well, a pic of his junk was much of a calling card as she needed, giving her the okay for her to come over. The last time had not gone as planned. She had planned to seduce him away from his fiancé. She had come over with reminiscences of her Prada bags, teardrop earrings and Cristal of the good old days when they were together, and he used to buy her expensive stuff. Only to be shut down.

He had used the excuse it was too early in the day. He was expected back promptly, and she had given in and accepted it. She was pissed she had not even gotten a peck on the cheek good bye.

Like what the A!! Look at her compared to that cow fiancé he had, Miranda glared silently to herself.

Today was going to be that day though. She was not leaving here until she had gotten some. She thought to herself while quickly removing her coat. It just happened to be the last item he had bought for her when they were together.

She tiptoed to the bedroom door, and with a beaming smile on her face, she swung the door open. Bracing both hands on either side of the hinges, she grinned saying, “Honey I’m home!” mimicking his old annoying catch phrase she had only decided she loved after they had split.

To her shock and amazement, she glanced at the figure sitting across in the corner of the room. His ankle over the knee, relaxed in the chair.

The guy turned to her and she blinked in shock, standing there naked for the stranger across the room to see. The man in the recliner was indeed not Kelly. She blinked, stared at him, because he could easily have passed as a much younger version of her handsome, ex-boyfriend. He spoke, and the sway in his baritone voice, was just as compelling as her Kelly’s.

“Well, well, well. What have we here?” He said. The young man with the curly blond hair grinned at her. He sat with his ankle across his knee. His shades slid to the bridge of his nose as he bent his head. He looked at her with demand in his eyes, the clearest of blue she had ever seen.

“Well honey, for what may I do you for?”

CHAPTER 7

“What is she doing here?” Carlos glared at the inspiration of his most ignitable thoughts.

Real cut across in front of him arms folded giving as much of a stand offish vibe as a bullying one. “She who?” He stared right back at Carlos. And Carlos reached his arm over Reals shoulder. He pointed down damningly at the girl at the edge of the bed, unpacking her bag.

“That-little-bitch-right-there.” She didn’t seem perturbed by the foul language being used to address her. She was used to his unwelcome speech.

Real unfolded his arms and held them wide as though to hug him. Real bowed his face. His hands up in the air, he leaned into Carlos and put his face up in his grill.

He stepped back, away from Carlos. And he pointed down at the girl, “You talkin’ bout this littler Miss right here?”

Carlos gritted his teeth, “She can’t stay here. She can’t stay with us at all.”

Real folded his arms not pretending to argue with Carlos, “How you mean bruh?”

Carlos looked at her, then looked back at Real. “She will attract way too much attention. A White American girl with blonde hair and blue eyes travelling around Mexico with a black dude and a Hispanic?”

Real sat down next to Christie and hugged her to him. “Really I can’t imagine why?”

Carlos gave off a frustrated sound. He turned on his heel and left for the bathroom. He opened up the pipe and let cold water rush into the tub. He was so happy to have the tub. It was one of the things he had searched the internet for, a motel with a tub. He needed to soak in some nice, cold, icy water. He went back out and took a towel from his bag. He looked at Real who looked at the girl. Carlos gave her a seething glare before he went into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him.

Real looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. He gave her a thumbs up and a ‘what you gonna do?’ expression.

She bit her lip, looked down and said, “Maybe I should go away from you guys.”

Real shook his head waving his hand in front of her face. “Are you kidding me? This is the first time in history I could seriously say I’ve gotten on that guy’s last nerve.” He thumbed his finger at the bathroom door. “I just realized I truly can’t pass up an opportunity like this. It will never happen again.” He gave her an obliging smile.

She gave him a thoughtful look, “You are a lot meaner that you appear to be.”

“Hoho! Wait until you get to know me.” He smiled at her while he backed up to the bathroom door. He opened the door behind him, “Be right back.” He slipped into the bathroom.

Real looked at his friend who was butt naked soaking inside the tub of cold water. He was submerged, head to toe, in ice he had conjured up himself magically. His eyes closed, they popped open on his entry. Real looked down at him.

Carlos bobbed his head out of the water. Water splashed over the rim of the tub. He shook out his dark hair, once curled, now straight soaked with water, and plastered around his scalp, and stuck to his neck. Carlos blinked the droplets from his eyes. Real stooped down placing his folded arms on the rim of the tub. He rested his head on his folded arms and grinned at Carlos.

“I hate the way you are enjoying this shit.” Carlos gave him a withering look.

Real could not contain his grin. He gave a short laugh at his annoyed expression. “Really? Because I really like enjoying this shit.” He gazed mockingly, lovingly, at Carlos.

“I am not going to forgive you.” Carlos looked at him.

“I’m not going to go off on this here chick because of you and your hang ups.”

Carlos glared at him. Real just smiled right back. Carlos looked at him, exasperated. He was not going to dignify that-right-there with a response. Carlos knew that his time had limits. There was even stronger appeal for what they had to do to not make connections or to be around other people. They could not risk attracting attention. “Two guys travelling with a pretty, white girl will attract attention we can’t afford.”

“Oooh, ooh I knew it,” Real snapped his fingers at him. “You do like her? You think she is pretty.”

Carlos gritted his teeth. If this was a Roger Rabbit cartoon, his teeth would have cracked and exploded right there. His mass grew which was a side effect of his rage, and he dipped his head again below the water level. He inhaled the cold water through his nose. He was not going to dignify that with an answer.

CHAPTER 8

Viktor faltered midway down the staircase. He halted, holding onto the cherry wood varnished railing. His strong were-bear sense of smell allowed him to detect the scent of the other unknown shifter in his home.

His eyes blinked black. Then he froze. He realized what had unintentionally rankled his nerves. He had smelled that scent before. He rubbed his eyes. They returned to deep, ocean blue. He rushed down the carpeted staircase, jumped the last few steps down to the landing. He ran quickly towards the kitchen.

Audrianna stood in the kitchen of their mansion in Atlanta. She looked at the expanse of J’von’s tall back that had suddenly tensed up under his lilac coloured silk, breast jacket. “Honey what’s wrong?” She made to rest her hands soothingly on his shoulders when the door from the dining room flung open. Viktor stood bracing himself on the door jamb.

“He doesn’t need to leave on my account.” He came into the room and nonchalantly picked up a magazine that had been left open on the table.

Audrianna turned and she noticed J’von was gone. The door to the outside was ajar. She sighed, sucked her teeth steupsing and frowned. She glanced at Viktor and shrugged, “He’s not afraid of you.” Audrianna came up to Viktor and laced the length of his strong arm with hers. “He’s just self-conscious that he could get himself mixed up in an awkward situation.”

He gave her a puzzled look. “What kind of awkward situation.”

Audrianna placed her palm on his chest, looked up into his confused stare. “Any situation where you’re just there hanging back, while another couple in the room is humping like bunny rabbits, is going to make anybody feel weird and want to clear out.”

“Ohh.” Viktor leaned his hip against the round kitchen table. He pulled Audrianna between his legs. “And who are the couple getting it on like bunny rabbits. You and me?” He kissed her lightly on the lips.

An exasperated look crossed her face, “Who else?” Audrianna grabbed hold of his collar and pulled him roughly closer to her. She devoured his lips.

“Ewww.” They heard two children’s voices coming from the doorway.

Viktor ended the kiss, very slowly. He rest his forehead against hers. They stared at each other, looking deeply woeful, as they were both reminded the day was not wholly their own. That day was especially reserved for them to spend time with their kids.

Viktor turned to the little rascals blocking their eyes, standing at the entrance. “Who’s up to getting their butts kicked at Just Dance.”

Nadia and Nathaniel squealed merrily as their father chased them out of the kitchen. They raced to the living room to start the game.

***

“Who wants rabbit and stew pork for lunch?” Audrianna rolled out the two tier, silver serving tray with the bowls of stew and silver cutlery.

“Yaaay!” Nathaniel and Nadia yelled in unison.

“Me too.” Nikolai jumped up and looked more enthusiastic than usual, rushing over to the platter. Viktor caught Audrianna’s eyes and they both smiled at each other, noticing how more lively the boy had come of late.

“Here yee! Here yee!” Viktor got up from the sofa and clapped his hands, “Now everyone head to the dining table. We’re going to say our prayers first then stuff our face.” Viktor ignored the collective groaning. He scooped up Nadia and threw her over his shoulder. Nathaniel rushed over to hug his leg and stand on his foot. Simultaneously Viktor bent down to scoop Nikolai up round the waist. Viktor moved robotically to the table with Nadia and Nathaniel giggling at the horseplay, and Nikolai ignoring Viktor as he played with his Nintendo switch.

Viktor deposited his brood at the family dining table. The dining room was ensconced in a magnificent enclave. The wallpaper was a patterned parallel of green vines and robust lilac bunches. Despite its cheerful, bright colours the room still had the over encompassing feeling of intimacy.

Noon time sunrays bathed the pale blue and lilac curtains The tablecloth’s fabric glistened with soft, subdued tones. Everyone took their seats as Audrianna rolled the tray to the table. Viktor helped her fix everyone’s bowl. He placed them in front of each child.

Viktor said grace and they all said amen. The children ate a lively meal.

“Nadia- don’t wolf down your food like that.” Audrianna corrected her.

“I’m a bear mom, not a wolf.”

Audrianna smiled, “I know dear but you have to eat normally. Remember how I taught you.” Audrianna dipped the soft drink flavoured bread into the bowl of stew, picked up some chunks of pork and rabbit with the piece. She put the delicious bite in her mouth, and started to chew. All the kids followed her in doing the same. “Yeah, don’t lift up your bowl and chug down the sauce. We’re not eating bougie today. We’re using hands instead of forks and spoons, but there is still a way to eat properly.”

“Mom what does this bread taste like?”

“Oh I added red soft drink to the pack of beer bread gourmet mix I bought online.”

“I like it.” Nathaniel beamed.

Viktor once again smiled at Audrianna as Nathaniel made the light-hearted comment.

After lunch they all gathered in the back yard, Viktor used one of his ties to tie around his daughter’s head to block her eyes so she couldn’t see.

“Remember you use your shifter senses to move around and find everyone. Ears to hear and nose to smell. All right.”

She nodded briskly, “Okay.”

“Okay.” Viktor, hands on her shoulders, starts spinning her around and around. Nadia laughs and continues to spin even after her father lets her go. She then suddenly stopped spinning. Her ears started to twitch along with her nose and she chooses a direction. She bolted at full speed.

Later that evening they all collapsed with laughter, rolling around on the manicured grass. “Alright,” Viktor reaches for his daughter and unties the tie from her face. “You get it now? That is what it would be like to walk around blind. Only depending on your shifter senses, without a walking stick or a Seeing Eye dog. Okay?”

“Mmhhmm.” Nadia nods enthusiastically.

“You are to learn to hone your skills as a were-bear. Don’t depend on any one sense to hold you down in a fight.”

“Come here,” He beckoned her twin brother to come closer to him. He crouched down to meet them at eye level. “And you also learn why our donations to charity are important. You just had less than a minute without being able to see right in front of you before your shifter abilities kicked in. Imagine how it would be for you to go through that for the rest of your life, huh? You wouldn’t like that would you? Now next week we are all going to visit the children’s hospital. The wing that restores eye sight to kids just as young as you. Right. Not being able to see all the time is really sad, and some of them may never regain their full sight. We are going to talk to them, encourage them and cheer them up right.” They nodded in response.

“Good, good.” Viktor squeezed both their shoulders while looking up at Nikolai and smiling. “Now go on upstairs and take a bath, prepare yourselves for rest.”

They both ran off in the direction of the living room entrance. Viktor stood, put his hand in his pocket and walked over to Nikolai. He looked down at the boy who was slowly walking towards the entrance.

“You’re coming with us too. On a tour of the new restorative sight treatment centre at the children’s hospital. Cool?”

Nikolai shrugged. He looked at Viktor briefly before running in the direction the twins had gone.

Audrianna caught hold of Viktor’s hand. She leaned into his side as they walked over to the house. Dusk setting in at their backs. “I don’t know I just get goose bumps every time he says something.” Viktor looked down at her. Audrianna’s upturned gaze was filled with nothing less than complete adoration for him.

“Though I don’t much care for you teaching our kids to have empathy towards humans, it is still nice.”

“What?”

She sighed, “Nothing. Just still can’t believe it. My man Viktor, the family man.” She tugged at his baby blue, half sleeve, Giovanni polo shirt. “We just have to get you some proper heavy metal tees. I don’t know even in casual clothes you are still dressed up for business.”

Viktor shook his head at her. A sceptical look on his face, “Will never happen.”

“Dems’ fight’n words Mister?”

Viktor shrugged. He stopped, forcing her to halt and straighten. He tugged at her hand. She turned towards him, He slipped both his hands into hers and clasped her hands tightly. “Ah! Who knows? Maybe you would one day get me to wear commoner clothing like you’ve gotten me to do just about everything else.” . Towering over her he placed his index finger beneath her chin. Tilted her face up to him. “My motivation for everything.” He whispered to her. He lowered his face to hers and landed a juicy kiss on her open mouth. “Is you.”

The kids were all KOed from the long day of play. Viktor was busy picking toys up from the table, and the floor. Sorting them, dropping them into the various toy bins he had allowed the kids to bring from their bedroom to the living room earlier in the day.

He examined a red Lego set piece. His son was dozing with his head on his shoulder. He hugged him tightly. Nadia and Nikolai were dozing on the L shaped couch.

“You really don’t mind it if we have another bear this time.” Audrey enquired from the couch behind him, patting her protruding baby bump. “Or wolf, and no fox?”

“Hmm?” Viktor threw a quizzical look her way.

“I know you would like a fox, would you mind if we have a set of black bears, and never have a fox.”

Viktor used his thumb to pitch the Lego piece into its rightful bin. “I wouldn’t mind if it turned out to be swamp rat, so as it came from you.”

Audrianna smiled ironically behind his back. She got off the couch and wrapped her arms around his waist from behind. “I’m serious.”

Viktor sighed. He covered her hands that rested just below his stomach, with his hand. “So am I. It would not matter to me if the two of us had gotten together and all we did was produce snakes for the rest of our lives.” He turned around and held her tight, looking down at her. The look in his eyes made Audrianna breathless. “I will take anything and everything that you have to give me. That is how much I love you.” He bent down and gave her a kiss that felt like a seal of a promise. “Forever and always.”

***

“We are really killing it aren’t we?” Viktor smiled down at her. They were alone now, on the couch in the living room. The alarm on his phone went off letting him know it was 11pm. He switched it off and turned the TV up louder on the hit song by Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars, “Leave the Door Open.” He sat with her back leaning into his chest. They were both quietly observing the surface of her tummy. It moved up and down as the babies pushed and kicked inside her.

Audrianna turned her face up at him and gave him a dozing, droopy eyed expression. “Looks like they are ready to get out.”

“As parents, we are killing it in that department. I have to admit. I was worried a bit in the earlies about you, about me, about us; but mainly about you.”

Audrianna gave him a look of disdain, “Well aren’t we modest. You better be in the know. All this,” she raised her hand with her fingers splayed out and waved it in a circular motion in front of him indicating his entire body. “You see all this right here is all me.”

Viktor gave her a disbelieving look.

Audrianna tapped her pinkie finger of one hand with the index finger of the other. “Smiling regularly.” She tapped the other finger, “Half-assed jokes.” She tapped another finger, “Not walking around looking like Oscar The Grouch all the time.”

He scowled at her. “Yes by all means take credit for corrupting this well-oiled machine. It is a wonder how I ever lived my life without you.”

“Don’t get it mixed up Mister. If there is one person in this relationship who can do just fine without the other, it is this one right here.” Audrianna jabbed her own chest with her thumb, “The national bank of Audrianna Whiltshire. I don’t need your money honey, I’ve got my own. It is you who would be lost without me.”

Audrianna smiled and slipped her hand under his shirt and onto his chest revealing his muscled middle. She looked up at him, a coy look on her face. She smiled at him seductively as she yanked and twisted his nipple painfully. “Mister Sexy.”

His breath caught and he slipped his arm behind her back and put the other under her legs and scooped her up. “I’m way ahead of you.” He stood.

Audrianna squealed as he rushed them up the stairs two steps at a time.

CHAPTER 9

“Well, it’s all downhill from here.” Mat came to stand beside Lincoln in front of the dual elevators on the executive floor. Engrossed by the messages on his mobile screen.

Lincoln slapped Mat on his back. “C’mon man, that’s too defeatist even for you.” Lincoln hit the down arrow of the left elevator. He pumped his fist in front of him, “Yo! We got this.”

Just then an arm stretched between them, and pressed the arrow for the right elevator for the penthouse suite.

Lincoln and Mat both turned to nod at Viktor. Then the left elevator arrived at their floor. Lincoln and Mat entered. Lincoln pressed the button for the eighteenth floor. As the doors closed a hand pressed forward inside the elevator. The doors opened back up. Viktor came inside to stand facing them.

He then turned and gave them his back. He pressed the button to force the doors closed. Lincoln gave Mat a look of pure bewilderment. Mat met his piqued look with a shrug of nonchalance. He turned back to studying his phone. The elevator flowed down with a steady, swift movement. Somewhere between the twenty eighth and twenty ninth floor the elevator came to a screeching stop.

“What the?” Lincoln pressed the button for the eighteenth floor and then the open doors button.

“I cannot believe this. This cannot be happening.” Mat said quietly.

Viktor cursed, leaned his back against the wall, raised his head skyward and closed his eyes. “Settle down.” he advised them. “Give it a minute.”

Lincoln glanced at Viktor before he looked again at the buttons of the elevator. He hung his head on a frustrated sigh.

Great. Stuck in an elevator with Viktor Maxckmillian, my worst nightmare come true, Lincoln thought.

“If I were to go about to start tracking my wife’s finances where would I start?”

Mat and Lincoln’s heads turned slowly to Viktor in unison. Viktor looked relaxed and unbothered as though he hadn’t just dropped an explosive mine in the middle of the elevator floor. It was such a deceptively casual statement…Lincoln grew uncomfortably, instantly suspicious.

Lincoln’s brows shot up, “You talkin’ to me?”

Viktor’s eyes flew open and his look was cool but determined. He crossed his arms.

Lincoln turned and gave him his full attention.

“If I were to try and track where Audrianna keeps her money, where would I begin to look?”

Lincoln could feel Mat’s eyes boring a hole into the back of his head. Lincoln cleared his throat.

“Her money?” Lincoln’s eyes shifted sideways away from Viktor, then he scrutinized him again. “Hard to say. Audrianna moves her money around a lot.” Lincoln’s folded his hands at mid-thigh. “She even had a process where she would have her own people loyal to her move and clean her money. She even has her own bitcoin bank minting revenue somewhere in Sweden somewhere.” He then moved his hand to massage his neck. He then moved the same hand to cover his mouth. He struck a pose with the next arm folded across his chest. He stroked his chin, screwed his mouth and looked down at Viktor again. He pursed his lips, “If you want to track her money the best thing to do is to get a hold of her ledger. You’ve seen it right? She has one that she has kept on hand for years always close by. A long red bound ledger” Lincoln squinted at Viktor, “If I were you I’d start there.”

Viktor nodded. He hit the doors open button and the doors miraculously opened as though the elevator had never stalled. Viktor got off and pressed the button for the next elevator to come down. Once the doors had closed on Lincoln and Mat, Mat grabbed hold of Lincoln’s arm. “What you think that was about?”

Lincoln looked at Mat and grinned, “Marital issues.”

***

Lincoln barged into the boardroom which was empty but for Audrianna, who was taking a breather from the hectic schedule. “Alright, what is he?”

“What is who?” Audrianna sipped her camomile tea delicately as she sat resting at the nook that sported a coffee area.

“You know who. Viktor, what is Viktor? Is he a rap god? Is he some sort of alien? I feel if he was a werewolf I would detect that. I would know.”

Audrianna scowled. “You can’t even come to terms that you are seeing a water sprite. You are not going to be able to tell what Viktor truly is.”

“I have to know one of these days. Knowing could mean the difference between life and death.”

Audrianna steupsed. “Relax, Viktor would never come after you. I absolutely forbid him from going after you.”

“Oh, like that totally makes me feel better.”

“Look, unlike you, what Viktor is, is not some deep dark secret. So why don’t I just get both of y’all in a room together and you can come out to each other. Because keeping all y’all secrets straight is a real burden on me that I can do without.”

Lincoln wagged his index finger at her. Tapped his pursed lips with his finger, turned on his heel, to leave. Before exiting he answered her, “And there is no way Rees is a water sprite, he is human. If he is anything other than human,” Lincoln pointed at his chest sternly, “I would know.”

***

Lincoln entered the boardroom on the eighteenth floor. The collection of dour faces of the people sitting round the table startled him. “Whoa, who died?” He was rewarded by a crowd of light-hearted chuckles. Lincoln walked over to the window to get a conservative view of down town Atlanta.

He carried a black zipper case under his arm. His assistant Roach, a lanky, dark haired guy that conjured the phrase ‘fresh face’ to mind on first greeting him; pushed a tray of copies of the various accounting ledgers, behind him. On entry Roach closed the door.

“Mr. Huntington,” Bradley, head accountant in charge of the meeting today, walked up to Lincoln and shook his hand vigorously.

“Brad.” Lincoln covered his hand with the other hand. “All clear?”

“All systems are a go, Sir.” They walked together to the end of the long table. Lincoln took his seat at the head. “Audrianna will be sitting this one out, she will join us tomorrow as planned.” Lincoln looked around at the fifteen men and women that were a part of his contingent that helped balance the books.

There were three accountants for each ledger, going through each purchase, each change of hand; line by line. Two type setters dictating the meeting and cross referencing with their notes. Some executives representing various territories to give light on major expenses and projects were present. “Gentlemen,” Lincoln nodded, “And ladies.” He grinned at the men. “We are at the final stretch of the finish line.”

He put his brief in front of him. Snapping his fingers brought his assistant rushing with a pile of the copies in his hand to his side. Lincoln tipped his head in the direction of the men seated to his left and his assistant answered, “Yes sir.”

His assistant proceeded to hand out the bundled copies. “This is not a drill, I repeat – this-is-not-a-drill. As you all know we still have one project outstanding to get the data. So everything up to the point, where the finals come in for Mexico, have to be solid. Zero queries.”

He sat at the head of the varnished cedar table and inhaled deeply scanning his team who sat in the sophisticated, sleek ergonomic chairs before him. More than enough eyes for the rigorous accounting meeting they were going to have today. They were going to analyse the books line by line, credit by credit, debit by debit and make sure what was in the books matched what was in the bank transaction by transaction.

“Yeah,” He leaned forward. “I hate this job too.” He snapped his fingers and the woman in the grey business suit took the book from the stack and passed it down the row of men and women. It passed from hand to hand until it met Lincoln’s. He opened the book. The accountants had sheets of printed paper of the various banking transactions, of the different accounts, in front of them. They featured the accounting transactions MaxCorp had in many of the banking havens worldwide. Lincoln rubbed his hands together vigorously and gave an encouraging smile. “Okay, you know how this goes. Nobody leaves until every penny is accounted for.” He tipped his head sideways. “On your marks, get set,” He held the edge of the front cover of the blue ledger with the words Italy written in black and bold between his thumb and index finger. He smiled a twinkle in his eye he glanced at everyone in the room. “Go.”

He flipped the cover open entirely and began calling out the first transaction. “Eight point five million, three “O” eight pm March nineteenth, Europe Arab Bank, account number 1113509873562384 money transferred to Consuelo’s Clothing Store in Palermo.”

“I’ve got that one sir. Instant transfer. The shipment was picked up by Consuelo Mark Emanuel, deposited in Banco Popolare, took three days to count, stayed there overnight, picked up and left port on the Kang Nang number nine reached Germany eight days later and deposited in Deutsche Bank who were inclined to give us a,” the old, wiry man paused and glanced over at Lincoln over the rim of his silver glass frames. His eyes lighting up, “Special late night service deposit.” The group laughed at that. “Counted. All monies accounted for.”

Lincoln smiled, “Very good. Now let’s continue.” And he rattled off the next multimillion dollar figure.

***

“How did the reading go?” Mat met Lincoln outside their offices at the reception’s desk.

“Smooth, all we need to do is bring in the Mexican ledger then we’d be all set.”

The elevator doors opened and The Bricklayer alighted from the platform. A skip in his step, he came up to them. “Yo! Yo! Yo! How my peeps do?” The Bricklayer adjusted the silver diamond watch on his left wrist, which was almost identical to the watch on his right.

The Bricklayer hugged Lincoln and Mat. “Eh! Yo, I come bearing gifts to commemorate the end of another prosperous fiscal year.” The Bricklayer handed them each a size XXL black bomber jackets with writing on the back.

Lincoln looked at the inscription on the back of his and laughed. On the back of his Black bomber jacket was a picture of Asap Rocky and on the top of the image there was an inscription: NIGGA. And on the bottom was the words: RICH.

Mat glanced at his jacket and rolled his eyes and pursed his lips at what he saw there, a picture of Geronimo, on top of the image was the word: NIGGA. And on the bottom was the words: ISH.

“You do know I’m a half-blood, I have fifty percent native American and neither of us will ever be able to wear this in public.” Mat threw his jacket over his shoulder and pointed at the back of his right hand with his index finger, indicating his white skin colour.

“So what? Hang it up on y’all walls. We homies.”

Mat shook his head, smiling.

“Lincoln, my team treat you alright?”

“Everything was legit. Down to the last penny. Nothing missing.”

“That’s good ’cause money is expected to be tight next year. If what is coming, if what the old lady says is coming. We gots to be prepared.”

Lincoln nodded, “True dat.”

“Check it, I’m running surveillance for the meeting in the basement. Everything checks out. Anybody moves on us they gots to be prepared for deliverance.”

CHAPTER 10

It was 11: 35pm and Lincoln was alone in the boardroom staring out the ceiling to floor glass at downtown Atlanta. His mind wondered to Rees and the kids and what they were doing. Rees was a desert chef, he didn’t get in from work until midnight. The boys would have picked up Neeci from school, now that they didn’t have a proper nanny. Taking her home, looking after her, and putting her to bed; he had made that their responsibility.

Sometimes Lincoln would cut work short to pick Rees up on his way home. And they’d get it on in the car…Lincoln’s mind had a flashback of Rees bent over on the back seat. His pants and boxers down on his ankles. Rees’ hands braced on the car door as the car moved through traffic. Lincoln spread his legs from behind. Lincoln remembered the feel of the back of Rees’ penis on his open palm as he glided his hand between his legs from behind. His tips gently caressing the slit on the tip of Rees’s shaft.

Lincoln looked at his hand now. His palm open in front of him. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes trying to put the gentle scene out of his mind. Dammit. The quiet moments were the worst.

“Your mind on my money, and my money on your mind.” Audrianna said from behind him. She wore a blue strapless, bohemian, flowing knee length dress with a psychedelic pattern.

Lincoln smiled. He opened his eyes and swiveled the chair around to meet Audrianna face to face. “You wish.”

Audrianna walked over to sit in front of Lincoln. “So how things looking from your end.”

“A bed of roses. Thorny roses. But smells,” Lincoln visibly sniffed the air as he made to shuffle some files and seal them away inside his brief case. “Oh so sweet.”

Audrianna grinned. “All we need is Mexico.”

“Yup. And we’re done.”

“Oooo.” Audrianna squirmed tapping her belly. Lincoln gave her quizzical look. “He kicked.”

Lincoln smiled. “How do you know which one is doing the kicking.”

Audrianna made herself more comfortable on the chair. “I labeled them.” Audrianna pointed to her tummy. “This one in called the one on the left. This one is called the one on the right.”

Lincoln zipped his brief. “Haven’t heard from my contact in the state yet. Carlos and Real know their destination. When they have the ledger in their possession, we’ll know.”

“Good then it’s only a matter of time.” Audrianna leaned back in her chair. “You okay. What you miss more, your boo or your bed?”

Lincoln nodded. His eyes became hooded. “My mind done good on both accounts.”

Audrianna laughed.

“Knock, Knock.” Mat said.

Lincoln and Audrianna turned to the open doorway to see Mat standing there in his long coat, his case hanging from a strap over his shoulder.

“You ready to skedaddle partner?”

Audrianna grinned. “All dressed up and ready to go home. Come to give lover boy a ride? So he’s staying at your place is he?” Audrianna laughed, watching Lincoln stand, put on his trench coat and sling the strap for his case over his shoulder.

“Hey, hey, hey. I’ve gotta’ take care of my homie.” Mat grinned, leaning his back against the jamb, his arms folded across his chest.

Audrianna sighed in disappointment. “I really thought you two would make it work Lincoln.” She shook her head as Lincoln got up to leave. Audrianna patted his hand. Lincoln stared at her hand on his. Then he looked into her eyes. Audrianna gave him a look of genuine sympathy.

“I had really hoped that Rees wasn’t gonna be the dude that just stinks up your sheets for a while. I really hoped I wouldn’t have to be the one to identify you in a morgue.” Audrianna patted his hand once more.

Lincoln grabbed the brief hanging at his side. Holding it with both hands he slammed it into the top of Audrianna’s head.

“Owww. My hair.” Audrianna’s hands went to block her ‘do’ from Lincoln’s assault.

Lincoln looked at Mat who gave him a quizzical look. Lincoln answered his silent question. “Audrianna’s catholic, so all gays are going to catch aids and die.” His head turned to Audrianna, Lincoln slammed his case into the top of her head again. It slanted and smashed into the front of her face.

“Ahhem.” Lincoln froze and turned to see Mat grinning from ear to ear.

Viktor stood beside him, his arms folded at his chest. His face showed no emotion. He looked at his wife. “You ready?”

“Mommy?” Nadia had popped her head round Viktor’s legs to look at her mom. Giving Audrianna a questioning look she looked back and forth between Lincoln and Audrianna.

“Yes sweetie, I’m on my way, dear.” Audrianna smiled brightly. Turning her one thousand watt smile on Lincoln’s tight face and then turning it on her daughter. “We’re going out to eat tonight. Take care.”

Audrianna hustled past Viktor, grabbing Nadia and Nathan’s hand as she disappeared behind Viktor’s massive frame. Viktor turned his none-too-pleased gaze on Lincoln. Lincoln swore Viktor’s stare was so icy the room temperature dropped below zero.

Did he see it? What did he see? Not everything right?

Viktor half turned to depart, when he tapped the corner of his mouth. “Oh Lincoln, you have something here…some lipstick…on your briefcase.”

Lincoln opened his mouth, then shut it once more.

Viktor turned and walked off.

Lincoln sucked in some air in his mouth and pursed his lips giving Mat an accusing look.

Mat waited for the elevator doors to close before he burst into raucous laughter. “Man, Dude, you should see the look on your face.” Mat shook his head. “Priceless.”

Lincoln sighed. Exhausted. Viktor already didn’t like it when either of them acted too familiar with Audrianna. Lincoln shook his head, scowling. “I wonder how I’m going to pay for that one.”

CHAPTER 11

Bump. Bump. The first and second jab to the back of Kelly’s seat in the airplane was enough to disturb the most calm of men. But the third soft jab caused Kelly to skyrocket out of his seat, whip around and….Stare into the face of an adorable seven year old boy. He looked at the boy then gave the mother a once over. Both were dressed in identical pink and white striped jump suits. Kelly glanced back at the boy who had been distracted with playing on his cell phone.

He shook his head, “Tragic.”

He reached overhead to grab his carryon and he left his seat for the loo.

He dropped the bag on the toilet and looked at himself in the mirror. He turned his head left to right and sighed. Kelly unzipped his bag, pulled out his shaving cream and sprayed the foam all over his head and chin. Using his hands he rubbed the foam all over his head.

He then braced his foot on the edge of the faucet, he pushed down a button on his heel. A thin brown handle popped out of the heel of his shoe with a soft ‘click’. Using his thumb and index finger Kelly pulled the straight razor cleanly from the hidden compartment of his shoe.

He then righted himself, flipped open the razor, and very carefully started to shave his hair clean off. He dragged the sharp device from the back of his head, to the edge of his forehead. He smiled at the clean tracks the straight razor made as he pulled it over his head. Such a smooth calm process. He loved it. He then sorted out his five o’clock shadow. He then used his towel to wipe his newly bald head and clean shaven face. He pooled the water from the pipe in the palm of his hands and splashed his head and face. Towel dried and slapped on after shave that pinched his nose and burned his skin. The feeling excited him and removed his anxiety.

He reached into his bag and pulled out the white Dolce and Gabbana suit. The material flashed blindingly from the bathroom lighting. Exquisite. Kelly then started to pull off his clothes and put on the immaculate suit.

After tossing his old clothes in the bag he pulled out a gold tooth cap from the side pocket. He pushed it onto the tooth on the top row of his mouth that only showed when he grinned. To the centre of the gold tooth was a red ruby that glittered just as brightly as the suit when he smiled.

Using some Clorox wipes he cleaned the counter, the sink, anything that will leave traces of his DNA. He then tossed the used wipes in the bin, put on his white leather gloves, packed up his carry-on and left the loo for his seat.

The natural light reflecting, bouncing off his all white threads made the passengers do a double take. They had to block their eyes from his shine. Kelly paid them no mind. He put the carry-on bag back in place above head. Slipped back into his seat and nodded off.

***

“Ping” The elevator landed smoothly on the eighteenth floor.

Lincoln pressed the “Close Doors” button to hold it in place. Mat looked over at him one brow raised. Lincoln looked at him raised his arm, his tight fist level with his chin.

“Get ready, Barracuda.” He mouthed Mat’s secret code name from his time in the army, indicating that danger was imminent. Mat gave him a wry smile. Lincoln stretched out four fingers. “Four.” He pulled down his index finger. “Three” Mat rolled his eyes. Took a deep breath himself and pulled at his cuffs. “Two.” Mat tugged on his collar. Folding his arms he took in another deep breath. He willed himself not to raise his voice, no matter who or what met them on the other side of the elevator doors.

Lincoln pulled down his last finger. “One.” He pressed the button to open the elevator doors. Each sliver of the opening of the doors gave way to shouts of an eager, exasperated crowd of young men and women; mainly interns and assistant managers, eager to capture their attention to answer the most benign of questions pertaining to the annual general manager’s meeting.

Though Mat and Lincoln were determined not to play favourites, or to give in to stopping to answer a volley of foolish questions, associated with a meeting that is scheduled a year in advance, that all parties had more than a year to prepare for…

And yet there was that one query that came from left field that made them both falter. As both their outstretched hands pressed open the door of the board room they were scheduled to have the next meeting, their heads turned…

“Excuse me.” They both looked down at the young woman who looked as though she were still in her teens, with that straight as nails black bob. The professional white blouse and pencil skirt did not detract, nor add substance to her obviously fraught demeanour. And that large frog she gulped in her throat gave away her nervous heart.

“Do you mind repeating that?” Lincoln asked incredulously.

She cleared her throat. And once more…”What time is it Sir. The meeting?”

Mat and Lincoln looked at each other. Confused. Dumbfounded. Cells stopped ringing, feet stopped clacking. All the attention seekers held their breath in both amazement and fear of what would happen next.

“And you are?” Lincoln demanded.

She swallowed hard again. “Sally, Aidan Killian’s intern sir.”

Lincoln and Mat looked at each other with comprehension in their eyes. Lincoln released a spurt of laughter that slowly jarred the silence and encouraged everyone else gathered to mimic his jovial outburst. Mat pursed his lips and shoved Lincoln inside and closed the door behind him.

Audrianna raised her head from the laptop screen in front of her to stare at Lincoln, brows furrowed. Lincoln smiled at her, a twinkle in his eyes. “Looks like Dublin won’t be joining us again this year.”

Audrianna sucked her teeth, steupsing. Her hands curled into a firm fists. She shook her head. “I don’t know why that fucker thinks he has more of an advantage with me than everyone else.”

Mat took a seat adjacent to Audrianna’s head of the board room table. “’Cause unlike any or all of these other fuckers he delivers results, everyone else – half-assed excuses.”

“Still,” Audrianna tapped the pad on her laptop keyboard adjusting the cursor she opened Skype, “without him we can’t make budget.”

Killian’s bright smile overwhelmed the laptop screen. “Heeeey my lovelies.” He gasped and slapped both his cheeks. “Why all three of you this evening, and what do I owe this tenuous pleasure?”

Lincoln grinned wider. “Killian has anyone ever told you that for an Irishman you speak with a Scottish accent.”

Killian through back his head and laughed.

Audrianna sighed and extended her hand towards her frames on the desk. Rolling the bridge of her frames between her thumb and index finger, the frames made a subtle tapping noise on the desk. The banter between Lincoln and Killian suddenly stopped. Audrianna stopped the knocking.

“Killian.” she crooked her head to one side and raised a brow. “I have word you won’t be joining us this year. Suppose we deduct your privileges of utilizing the company’s private jet as you made such a good argument as to why you needed it to take care of company business between Ireland, Japan and the States to cut down on the time, and money you spend on air travel. As you are not here you don’t seem to need it. Though you can most certainly make it on time to Manchester United away games when you need to with the use of said,” she paused, “jet.”

As though on queue the chorus of defeating cheers and shadow figures of rowdy fans blasted from behind Audrianna’s top software programmer miles away in only ‘god knows where’ pub. She tried to keep her animal instinct to release a feral growl at bay.

“Killian,” her voice was exquisitely calm, “the meeting starts 8am sharp. Be here, or else.” She ended the Skype call with a definite punch of her index finger on the keyboard.

“Lincoln,” she looked over at him and smiled, “get me Hitler.”

CHAPTER 12

“That’s the ranch.” Carlos and Real were half a football field away scoping out the surrounding area, focused on the home in the middle of the desert. “Whoa it’s like straight out of True Grit.” They stared at the two story wooden structure surrounded by the wooden guard rail and the pen full of horses to the side of the house.

Carlos gave Real a quizzical look. “It’s a movie.” Real clarified.

Real and Carlos looked at the ranch, then turned to stare at each other. Then turned back to look at the ranch. Without taking their eyes off the house they reached to their side and unlocked the car door. They pushed open the doors respectively, simultaneously exiting the car. The shutting of the doors caused Christie to stir in the back seat.

Real glanced back at her, turned to Carlos and put his finger to his lips to indicate to Carlos to be quiet.

Carlos’ jaw flexed. His lips thinned, and his eyes shot daggers at Real for admonishing him on his behaviour around the sleeping interloper.

Real simply turned his attention back to the house. Carlos did also. They started to walk forward towards the uncommon looking trap house in unison.

“It’s here I can feel it.” Carlos couldn’t contain the excitement from his voice.

“Steady as she goes.” Real kept pace with Carlos as they walked together never missing a step.

With each step they took the crunch of the gravelly soil was like a jarring punctuation on the foreboding that was to come.

They knew that though they had chosen to come from behind the house, instead of pulling up in front, that it would be pure luck that the crew inside did not notice their approach.

As it turns out, luck was not on their side as the first round of gunshots greeted them less than a minute before they reached the back of the house. At the blasting of the dirt before their shoes they began to sprint towards the ranch house and on meeting the wall Carlos and Real slammed into it causing the wall to explode on impact.

Carlos swiped his arm against the body of the rifle that was trained on him, lunged forward and landed a heavy knockout blow to the killer’s face. The shooter began to fall backward and Carlos grabbed the rifle and started shooting.

Real had slipped on his brass knuckles ring with the spikes. He grabbed onto one of the men knocking him out. He used him as a human shield against swift bullets from an assault rifle while charging at another shooter. After getting close to the shooter he dumped the shredded body of his shield. He punched the guy in the balls before he knocked him out with an uppercut. Blood splattering in an arch as his spikes on his knuckles ripped the shooters chin.

He positioned himself to take the guy’s weight over his back and he flung him into the two other shooters who were advancing in his direction. He then crouched over them landing some hefty blows to their face and jaw. Carlos came near him to cover his back.

Carlos’s eyes trained on the triangular