As a true procrastinator, I didn't start this installment until about 10PM tonight (this when I had _two_ weeks to work on it...or was it three??). LOL. I literally began not knowing what I would write...and I'm still not sure what the heck I wrote. But here it is. I hope you enjoy. :)
Indecision swept through Sam once she had their full attention. The woman, Midnight, stared at her with an expression of barely concealed contempt. Brahman simply looked ready for a fight, no matter what direction it came from. He paced the sidewalk, his large fists balling and unballing, shoulders hunched in expectation.
It was Simon, however, that Sam focused on. He simply waited, a cool façade firmly in place. She tried to read something in the depths of his too blue eyes. He had to be in pain, mourning for this woman—Livy he had called her. But where she expected grief, there was nothing but a calm acceptance of what had transpired. He did not push her for an answer, only waited. Somehow this made things worse.
Sam opened her mouth, but quickly found she didn’t know what she wanted to do. “I…maybe…”
Midnight let out an exasperated sigh and had the audacity to pull out a compact and begin fluffing her mountain of silver hair.
Simon shifted his eyes to her. The woman shrugged and put her compact away.
“We should go, whatever your decision,” Simon said at last, returning his attention to Sam. “Others may come.”
Sam darted her eyes around the parking lot. The night seemed darker somehow, the shadows longer and deeper. She hadn’t heard the man—whatever he had been—approach. There was no telling whether she would hear another. Out here in the open, she felt exposed. Alone. Vulnerable.
Her decision was easy in the end.
“We’re going after Frank.”
Simon studied her for a long moment, but finally assented with the slightest dip of his chin. “So be it.”
What Midnight lacked in personality, she more than made up for in style. She was something straight out of a James Bond movie and had the driving skills to match. Gloved hands with pearl closures gripped the steering wheel lightly as she zipped the small convertible through the darkened industrial park with complete ease, not so much as tensing as she rounded tight turns that pushed the contents of Sam’s stomach back and forth like a tin can set in motion aboard a tossing ship. The woman’s hair didn’t even ruffle in the wind.
Were she not such a bitch, Sam would’ve liked her. A lot.
Brahman glanced back at her from the passenger seat and grinned, his gold tooth glinting in the dim light, but said nothing. Sam had the feeling he wasn’t the brains behind this particular operation. Simon, on the other hand…
Sam slid her eyes over to the man sitting beside her, unnerved to find him studying her in return. She quickly glanced away only to find herself focusing on him again a few seconds later. There was something odd about him. A presence. A feeling of a memory just out of her reach—one that was peeking around the corner but would then flit back out of sight before she was able to focus fully upon it. He felt…familiar. Safe. She’d never experienced such a sensation with anyone other than Frank.
Was what Simon said true? Had she merged with this woman Livy? She wanted to set her mind against the idea, but hadn’t she seen far too much to dismiss such a possibility outright? Might that not explain why when every logical part of her mind had demanded she find Frank, her first inclination had been to go with Simon? Anywhere.
“I’m sorry,” Sam blurted out before she could change her mind. “About your…friend.”
Even as she said it, she knew ‘friend’ was far too casual of a word to describe the relationship these two strangers had shared. Heat rushed into her cheeks, and she focused on the road ahead. Midnight had at last passed through the industrial park that housed Chronos and had emerged into the city proper. Light traffic moved through the streets, but Midnight weaved through it, never once letting up on the gas.
“Give me your hand.” Simon spoke with the ease of someone accustomed to getting what he wants. Part of her rebelled against the idea of giving in to his demand, but Sam could find no good reason not to comply. It was a simple request, and didn’t she owe him this one small thing after all that he’d lost? But still, the idea of touching him left her breathless. Heady. In the end, though, she dropped her hand into his.
His fingers were warm. Soft. And now that she had the barest taste of what it was like to touch him, she wanted more. Sam had to steel herself to remain seated. His eyes lifted to her face and she swallowed hard. Whether or not he could read her mind—for all she knew he could—he knew the direction of her thoughts.
He dropped his eyes to their hands and air whooshed into her lungs again. She hadn’t even realized she was holding her breath.
“I want you to try something,” Simon said, his voice low beneath the rush of wind above the small car. Nevertheless, she heard him perfectly.
He ran his other hand over the top of hers, slowly unfurling her fist until their palms rested flat against each other. When her hand had completely relaxed, he pulled away, leaving a small object in the center of her palm. A ring.
“Move it,” he said.
Sam furrowed her brow in confusion, not knowing what he meant by that. She started to raise her hand from his, but he gripped it tight.
“No. I said, move it.”
She realized at once what he meant and a flush of embarrassment went through her. “I can’t.”
His blue eyes cut up to hers, locking her in place. “Do it.”
The car had gone quiet. She didn’t turn to look, but Sam was positive Midnight and Brahman were both focused on this little experiment. She wanted to pull away, run away, but she couldn’t. She was trapped. Even worse, she didn’t want to disappoint them. Simon least of all.
Left with no other option, she bit down on her lip and focused on the ring. It was a simple silver band, inlaid with an intricate design of symbols she didn’t recognize. She emptied her mind as well as she could, pushing out all thoughts of that evening. Her worries for Frank. Her fear of the unknown. But even more difficult, the intense heat of Simon’s scrutiny. She let go of it all—even the motion of the car. It was just her and the ring.
Her awareness seemed to fade as she lost herself to the ring. Simon watched her, waiting for the barest trace of movement, needing it as much as he needed to draw breath. How different she was from Livy. Where Livy had been a contrast of delicate features and an inner strength that had commanded respect and admiration, even from the surly Nemo, this girl was timorous, yet strong of bone and muscle. Livy had been dark, an exotic beauty who kept a solid wall built up between her and the world. Samantha was like reading a familiar book—the story of her life and thoughts there on her face for everyone to see. Each so different, yet somehow the same.
“Move it,” he urged, watching her clear green eyes for the slightest response. She was locked in total concentration. Simon couldn’t help but notice the slight smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Yes, she was everything Livy had never been. Different. What if...
The first moment of awareness came with the barest tingle at the base of her elbow. It seemed to crystallize there, gathering momentum and strength. At the last moment, she very nearly turned away, afraid of what was about to happen. She held firm, though, her hand clutched in Simon’s, his gaze locked upon her. Heat rushed up her arm and shot through her finger tips.
The ring moved.
It was for just a moment, but it moved, levering itself into the air to hover above their clasped hands. Sam gasped and the ring dropped.
She met Simon’s eyes. A smile curved the corner of his lips, and a wash of emotion swept through her.
His smile wasn’t for her, she realized. It was for Livy.
Frank stepped into Dr. Lispenard’s office and knew at once the doctor wasn’t there—hadn’t been there for some time. Everything was as it had always been. The deep mahogany desk near the window, the bookshelves lined with thick texts that served as a constant reminder of how damn brilliant the man was. Lispenard always joked that big books gave people a good impression—would make them think you knew what you were talking about, even if you were a complete quack.
“I know many quacks, Frank. They have clients because they make people believe they know their shit.”
Frank had raised an eyebrow, glancing at the books. “Should I be worried?”
Lispenard had laughed then. Throwing back his graying head, he had laughed full-out. “Not at all. I actually do know my shit.”
And he did. The man was a fucking genius. And Frank, his greatest challenge. And despite his best efforts, he’d also come close to being his greatest failure.
He had been seeing the doctor for over two years now. Progress had been minimal. Two steps forward, four steps back. Until a couple of months ago. That was when Frank had had a breakthrough—a glimpse at something so ethereal in nature that at first he thought he had simply willed the memory into existence. But then it had come again, with such clarity he had known it was real. The only problem was that it didn’t make a damn bit of sense.
His first clear impression had been the heavy sound of his own footfalls…
The ground is rough beneath his feet. Uneven. Each step echoes in the narrow corridor, the sounds amplified. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack.
It’s cold, and wet. The ground is slick beneath his shoes. He’s in an alleyway, the walls close on all sides. The light is dim, long shadows press in on him. In the dark there are voices, their words a steady hum in the background.
There’s a smell in the air. Tangy, bitter…he knows what it is without having found the source. Blood. Someone has died here this night. Not a natural death. No, the chill and heaviness of the air mark this place. Evil has been here.
At first he doesn’t see the body. It is simply a discarded pile of rubbish. Nothing of importance. But still he’s drawn to it, unable to turn away.
Dim light from the window above brings her features into faint relief. She is worn, a woman who has known a hard life. And she is dead.
Blood rings her neck, the flesh torn and gaping. Her features are relaxed, as though she were in peaceful slumber. If he reaches out to shake her, she’ll wake up. He does, only then noticing his hands are stained. Blood. Blood everywhere. And he has a knife…
Frank jerks back to the present, blinking at the stillness of the office. Where there had been cold and death, now there was only quiet comfort and familiarity.
How had he slipped under again so easily? He’d never been able to do so without Ispenard’s assistance. Never.
And he’d never had such a clear vision before either. It was almost as if…
Realization flooded through him like a cold chill. A name rose to the top of his thoughts. “Polly...Polly.” That had been the woman’s name. He was sure of it.
He paced, rubbing the back of his neck. Something niggled at the back of his mind. “It can’t be. It’s impossible.”
Even as he said it, a small part of him believed. He stiffened, his thoughts spinning in all directions at once. A rage burned inside his chest, pouring out of him with a ferocity he’d never known before. With one fluid motion, he swept everything from Dr. Lispenard’s desk onto the floor. His rage didn’t stop there, though. Next he went after those fucking books.
Midnight pulled the convertible to an abrupt stop in front of a small, square office building. It looked normal enough surrounded by half a dozen similar buildings. Free of the car…and Simon, Sam took a deep breath. Whatever that had been about, she knew with utter certainty she never wanted to experience it again. The man was in love with Livy, not her. Yet for a brief moment she had let herself believe…
No. It was all so stupid. And Frank was here and he needed her.
A sound broke through the air and she jumped in reaction. The others hadn’t heard it though. That much was clear by the surprise and concern on their faces. Well, at least Simon and Brahman looked concerned. Midnight simply looked bored with it all.
“Frank’s in trouble,” she said, directing her words at Simon. He nodded, stepping in front of her and entering the building first.
Soon the others were able to hear it. Crashes and bangs coming from one of the rear offices. Sam’s breath froze in her chest. What if one of those things was in there—what if it had Frank? Without a thought to her own safety, she edged past Simon and burst into the room. Only later did she realize that Simon had let her go. He had known. On some level he had known she would be safe to enter. He wouldn’t have risked Livy otherwise.
Frank stood in the middle of complete destruction. Books, half torn, their bindings ripped open and shredded lay around the room in fluttering heaps. Anything small enough to be ripped or broken had been. Even the dark couch sitting before the large desk was destroyed. Gaping holes poured out white stuffing. Whomever had done this had left no stone unturned and no lamp unbroken.
“Frank?” Sam said, surprised by how small her voice sounded. He stood in the middle of everything, chest heaving, his face slick with sweat. She couldn’t believe he’d done all this, but clearly he had.
His wild eyes landed on her, unfocused, no recognition lighting up his features. One of Sam’s favorite things about him was the way that he looked at her. All heat and tenderness. That look wasn’t in his eyes now.
This wasn’t Frank. Not the Frank she’d known at least. He lunged at her, and she stumbled backwards, reaching out for a steadying hand.
She found Simon’s and held on.
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