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Concerto: Part 5

 

As promised, here is part 5 of Concerto, in which our pianist’s efforts become a bit more dangerous, and our writer is forced into a dark place. Enjoy! And please remember, this is a WIP, so be gentle.

 

If you’v missed the rest of the story, follow the link.

 

 

 

 

Concerto Part 5: A Duet in the Storm

 

As I refilled the kettle, the music began again, and even in the pouring rain, I couldn’t resist its pull. In an instant, I was out the door. In another instant, I was drenched to the skin, a condition I didn’t notice as I strained to hear the music against the wind. I only became aware of my waterlogged state when I slipped inside the French doors without so much as a knock and stood savoring the music as I dripped on the wood floor. My pianist gave only a quirk of what might have been a smile and kept on playing. While he said nothing, somehow I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the music was an invitation especially for me.

 

Without saying a word, he looked me up and down and then nodded to the overstuffed chair next to the sofa. A towel and a navy silk robe lay draped over the back. While the clothing I wore was not nearly as revealing as what I’d been in last night, it was soaked and heavy from the rain. His gaze caught mine and held only for a second before he returned his full attention to the piano, but something in that look, something in the undulating, intimate suggestiveness of the melody he now played made me giddy and a little reckless.

 

I didn’t seek out a private place to change, and he didn’t offer. I couldn’t imagine he would ever experience me more stripped bare than he had last night. So I undressed. It didn’t take long. I hadn’t bothered with underwear that morning in my rush to check if the occupant of the cottage at the end of the stable yard was stirring. He didn’t look up from his efforts while I toweled myself dry, and yet I felt as though he watched me, studied me, caressed me vicariously, with every phrase, every note of his music. I could almost imagine his fingers moving over me as they did the keys, and I found myself lingering in my task as though it were him I touched and fondled and toweled. When I was finished, I reluctantly slipped into the robe that was far too big for me, his storm and ozone scent pressed deep into its folds. I felt a flood of relief at the realization that the robe must surely be his and not that of another woman. It startled me, such possessiveness of a man I’d not known until last night, of a man who, even still, I only knew through his music, and yet I felt I knew him intimately in ways I’d never known another. I tied the sash around my waist and looked up to find him studying me.

 

Yet still, he didn’t speak. He only nodded his approval, and I knelt to crawl once again beneath the piano, where I found a tartan throw and a pillow waiting for me. I settled in a soft swish of silk and wool as the melody encircled me in a tight-fitting embrace. If I had expected that musical caress to be a gentle one, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was barely settled before the music crescendoed, changed key three times in rapid succession and became the wild ride of a leaf tossed about on the storm. The edge of the arpeggios sliced me like a scalpel, the blunt chords tore at me like a rusty knife, and I knew immediately this would not be a clean cut. And then, when I was sliced, torn and battered open wide enough, the music migrated and became the still wilder, far more devastating, storm raging in me. For almost a year now the dead calm of my life had been the threat of sameness never ending, oppressive and hopeless. That empty monochrome day-in-day-out had been there so long I’d barely noticed until now, until the calm vanished with the key change. As the force of the chords broke over me, I realized as I ached and raged, that I was not the leaf tossed on the storm, I wasthe storm, and there was no protecting me from myself.

 

The music became discordant and disconnected, an overwhelming pounding in my head, in my body. It matched my angry cries and snarls and rants, which I only became aware of when they ceased and the rawness in my throat reminded me that my voice had been the piano’s accompaniment.

 

I don’t know how long it went on, this tempest inside me, but outside, darkness had fallen when I calmed, when the music calmed. Strange that through all my raging and mourning, the pianist had made no effort to stop me, nor to comfort me. He had only accompanied me, mirroring my emotions on the keyboard. When I came back to myself, the music no longer raged. But I felt the melody of it like a thread in my belly pulling me, coaxing, me, inviting me to a different kind of participation in the ritual being created on the keyboard.

 

It was an effort to crawl from beneath the piano. I scrabbled up to my knees and then climbed my feet, legs trembling,
shoulders tight. This time I found the man’s gaze focused completely on me, even as he played. I stood for what felt like an age under his scrutiny, almost as though he were inspecting me for storm damage. There was no sympathy, which was just as well, I wanted none, but there was satisfaction, as though for a job well done. Then with an abruptness that startled me, he shoved back the bench. At first I feared he’d stop playing, a thing I realized I wasn’t yet ready for. But he continued to play with his left hand, beckoning to me with the right. He invited me, not onto the bench next to him, but onto his lap.

 

Interview with a Demon: Part 2

 

 

 

While I am not a journalist, my role as scribe (with a small s) for Magda Gardener and her consortium sometimes involves the odd interview, and this one may be the oddest one I’ve done so far. While it’s uncomfortable enough working for Magda, it’s even more uncomfortable when I am shanghaied into doing an interview with a demon, which she has neither authorised nor knows anything about. I doubt she’ll be happy about it when she finds out, and she will find out. Come to think about it, I’m not overly happy about it. It’s not that easy to do an interview when you’re shaking in fear. Let the good times roll!

 

 

 

Part 2: In which I Meet the Guardian

Read Part 1 Here

 

It took me a little while to realize I was dreaming. It took me a little while longer to realize that my dream was, for lack of a better word, a lucid dream. It was no dungeon, no jail I entered. It was, instead, a topiary maze. It was night, and yet the ambient light made it easy enough for me to discern my path. There was no question of which direction I should go. I just wound my way through, not really in too much of a hurry to meet what I knew awaited me beyond. The nebulous space in which Susan imprisoned the Guardian was unassailable, though there were no bars, no high walls, no razor wire. In fact the space that contained the demon was of his own shaping. Due to his partnership of convenience with Reese Chambers during their desperate battle with Cyrus in the deserted subway tunnels of New York, he was rather fond of Reese, who is not only Alonso Darlington’s lover, but a brilliant landscaper and gardener. That being the case, the Guardian had turned his space into a garden, which became more and more elaborate as he was given more and more freedom to interact with Susan and those around her.

 

“Off you go then,” I heard Talia’s voice from far away. “Happy demon hunting, KD.”

 

“I am not fond of that woman. I find her most unpleasant.”

 

I cleared the maze into a night garden drenched in moonlight. In fact the garden, I recognized as the one Reese had created for Alonso at his Lakeland manor house. In front of me just where the edge of the fell plummeted into a deep valley with a beck, a man dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, reminiscent of Reese’s clothing choices, paced back and forth. He neither stopped pacing, nor did he look at me. His laugh was soft and rich, self-deprecating, which I had not expected. “Of course the little succubus and I did get off on the wrong foot, and at the moment neither of us is inclined to make amends. Though I suppose I should be grateful to her for her help in settling me into such an accommodating prison as my dear Susan. And of course in bringing you to me, KD. Please, sit.”

 

Behind me the same winged back chair Talia had been sitting in appeared. When I sat, I realized I was empty-handed.

 

As though he anticipated my reaction, he said, “you are in my dream, my dear, KD. You have no need of pen and paper or Dictaphone. I promise, when you wake up, you will remember everything I need you to know.”

 

Another chair appeared next to mine, and the Guardian seated himself at such an angle that I could only make out his profile, and that not well. He kept his head turned as though he observed something at the opposite end of the beck. “I ask that you do not attempt to look at me directly. It will be … disturbing for you.”

My pulse jumped, and I could manage little more than to nod my understanding. Apparently that was enough. It seemed like ages that we sat there in what might have passed for companionable silence, but the truth was, I had no idea what to say or how to start an interview with a millennia-old demon. Of course I had rehearsed questions, written an outline, but that all vanished from my head now that I was in his presence. I needn’t have worried. He took the struggle out of my hands and began it for me.

 

“I have always chosen the ones I take. It’s never a random act. I choose them carefully and with a great deal of planning and forethought. You see I have plenty of time, and the anticipation is a delight unto itself.” It made my skin tingle and my stomach clench, his use of the present tense, as if he were not in a prison at all, as if he were free to do as he chose. He didn’t ask me if I understood what he meant by taking. I understood all right and didn’t think I was quite up to a less euphemistic description. There was a sense of him shifting in the chair, more than likely to put me at ease rather than because he had any need of it. Then he continued. “Of course I occasionally act impulsively and take when I haven’t intended – a moment of weakness, of answering a craving, of catering to an urge. I have needs, after all, just as everyone does, and sometimes my baser instincts take control.”

 

When I made no response, he added, “you must understand, when I speak of instincts or biological need, it’s only in an effort to help you comprehend my story. In truth, I have neither. My insight into what drives human nature comes only from the experiences of those I’ve chosen through the ages. It’s only through my taking of them that I’m able to share my story with you in any way your mind can grasp.”

 

“I see.” I spoke from a dry throat.

 

“Of course you don’t see,” he responded without censure or ridicule. If anything he sounded rather sad. “You can’t possibly see, but I am compelled to try and convey myself to you, an impossible task for both of us, and yet here we are.”

 

“Indeed,” I managed. “Here we are.”

 

“As I was saying, most of the time, I choose very carefully, the way I chose you.”

 

If I’d had a pen, I’d have dropped it. I remembered only too well what had happened to Annie Rivers when he had chosen her, and what he attempted to do to Susan and Michael. I don’t know if I gasped, or maybe made some other sound of distress. I do know that there is nothing comfortable about being chosen by a demon, and I was on the brink of calling Talia to get me out of the dream.

 

Then that velvety chuckle washed over me. “Relax, my darling little scribe. I’m only joking. Though I’m told,” he added as an afterthought, “that I need to work on my sense of humor.”

 

I’m sure my resulting laugh sounded a little hysterical, though well-laced with genuine relief. Then I found my voice. Whether he understood humor or not, in spite of the poor joke, he had managed to set me at ease. At least a little bit. “You’ll have to forgive me for being so jumpy. I’ve never interviewed a demon before, and especially not without Magda Gardener’s permission.”

 

“Magda Gardener, yes.” He paused as though lost in his thoughts and then said slowly. “Perhaps our clandestine
meeting is my joke on Magda Gardener. Perhaps I wish to see if she thinks I need to work on my sense of humor.”

 

This time I genuinely laughed. “I’m not sure whether I’d pay good money to see her response or pay to be in another country when she finds out.”

 

“Oh, I’m betting you won’t be able to escape her reaction even if you want to darling KD.” I could almost hear the smile in his voice. Then he shifted in his chair with a contented sigh, and the way my skin prickled and the fine hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention, I knew he was now facing me. “Shall we get on with it then, in anticipation of hastening our dear Magda Gardener’s response.”

 

Concerto Part 3: Too Much to Bear Alone

 

Sometimes a story takes a little while to unfold, and sometimes the path I thought something would take when I began
it isn’t the one that the story insists I go down. That’s when the fun begins. From that point, I honestly don’t know where the characters will take me with the tale they have to tell. With part 3 of Concerto, I’ve reached that point. That’s why this episode is a little longer. This was the episode that dragged me in, and I needed to ride it out to its full conclusion. And now I’m getting excited about this little ditty. I hope you are too. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve missed the earlier instalments, catch up here:

 

Concerto Part 1: A little Night Music

 

Concerto Part 2: Distractions

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 Concerto: Too Much to Bear Alone

 

A writer expresses herself through words. They’re the tools she uses, not just to tell a story, but to make people feel, really feel, the life blood that flows through her tale, the very heart beat of each character, each setting, each layer of meaning. I’ve always thought that those results were better achieved with words than with any other artistic methods. Words are concrete in ways that visual arts and aural arts can never be, but I was wrong. That night as the storm outside snarled and rampaged around us, the music this strange man created became the pounding of my heart, the racing of my blood. It became my death and resurrection, my creation and destruction. It became the ache of every secret longing, every burning desire I’d ever had, all of it laid bare at his feet. And it truly was at his feet because I couldn’t stay on the sofa. It was too far away from the center of what he created, too far away from the tapestry he wove and too far away, it felt, from my own soul. In desperation to be nearer, I had, at some point, crawled beneath the piano, where I lay writhing and drowning in the wild sea of music, and wanting nothing more than to never surface again.

 

Then when he held me totally bound by his magic, when his music had somehow uncovered the very building blocks of my own story, he broke me apart. Bone and sinew, blood and tears — he broke me apart. Molecule by molecule, he tore me down until I floated away from myself, all boundaries dissolved, no sense remaining of where I left off and the music began. My essence spread thinner and thinner until I joined with each note, rode each phrase out into the night and let the storm blow over me.

 

And when I was gone, nothing remaining of me that he hadn’t played, that he hadn’t destroyed and recreated and destroyed again, he gathered me back to myself. It was in that gathering, just before the music stopped, that I became aware of the tears on my cheeks. Then, when silence filled the room as though it were itself a part of the music, accompanied by the storm that now seemed far away, he slid off the bench under the piano next to me and drew me to his body, cool against my fevered skin, his bare chest pressed tightly to my back. In my scramble to get to him, to his music, the tartan had fallen away. He reached for it and pulled it over us, then encircled me completely in the solid muscle of his arms. His breath came in heavy gulps, as though he had been running. Mine came in convulsive sobs. He didn’t speak. I couldn’t have spoken if I’d wanted to, and I found that I didn’t. It was only when my own shudders eased a little that I noticed he too was trembling. I hadn’t thought how the music he created might affect him. I had only assumed that he controlled it, created it, made it do his will. It had angered me, at first, that with the world of sound he created, he could so completely manipulate me. But then it didn’t matter any more. Nothing mattered but that he kept playing. I hadn’t known. I hadn’t understood that perhaps, he was as much in the thrall of his music as I was. Perhaps the power of what he created around us was not entirely of his own making.

 

The storm must have eased again at some point. At some point I must have slept the exhausted sleep that catharsis brings. I vaguely remember him lifting me into his arms, followed by the chill of the night air on my face. In protest, I remember burying my face in the heat of his chest, listening to the steady thud, thud of his heart, a different kind of music, as he carried me back to my cottage and eased me down into my bed. He pulled the duvet up around me, and I reached up and touched his stubbled cheek. “Is it always like this?” I managed, my words slurring with the threat of sleep.

 

He caught my hand and pulled it to his lips. His eyes darkened as though the storm from outside had come into them, and the succession of emotions that crossed his face were too fast for me to decipher. “Sometimes …” The muscled of his throat rose and fell and, with an effort, he cleared his throat. When he spoke, the words were tight and strained. “Sometimes it’s just too much to bear alone.” Then he tucked my hand under the duvet against my chest. I wanted to ask him to stay, I wanted to hold him close, to ask him all about his music, himself, the two of which I was certain were very closely entwined with a story of their own to tell. I wanted to hold on to the moment just a little longer, but as he turned to go, I was already riding too close to the edge of sleep. The last thing I noticed before I lost consciousness completely was his bare feet treading silently over the wood floor.

 

When I awoke to the subdued morning light of mist and drizzle, the whole night had a dreamlike quality to it, and as it all came rushing back to me, I stumbled from the bed and looked out the window. The cottage at the end of the stable yard was silent and dark, barely visible in the mist. If the man played all night, he surly must sleep late into the day. Every artist has their own best time to create. I was an early morning person, usually falling into bed just after ten and rising at six. Though lately I hadn’t been sleeping well, and the nights had been an endless desert of self-doubt and struggle to hold back the encroaching panic of a life I feared I’d wasted, of success I dreaded and yet was terrified of losing. For the first morning in a long time, I felt refreshed. I would tell him that when I saw him later today, and I would make a point to see him. I didn’t even know his name, and yet I couldn’t remember ever sharing such intimacy with anyone.

 

I quickly dressed in my heavy tracksuit and fuzzy slippers against the chill and fumbled with the radiators, remembering vaguely that the landlady had explained to me how to work the ancient storage heaters. In the kitchen, I
plugged in the kettle, happy to see the electricity was back, then I built a fire in the hearth to warm the lounge where I would work … or not work, as the case might well be. Once the fire was crackling merrily in the grate and in the kitchen I could hear the kettle starting to bubble, I stood, wiping my hands on my trousers. It was then that I noticed my laptop
sitting open on the desk near the window.

 

For a long moment, I stood staring at it. I didn’t remember opening it. I didn’t even remember unpacking it. With a clap of thunder, that made me jump, the rain began in earnest again. A gust of wind rattled the window as though it were keen on getting my attention, and I moved to the computer. The kettle clicked off with a loud pop and lightning flashed as I bent over and scrolled to the top of a word doc simply called “concerto.” The first sentence of what was clearly a multi-page document read: I started awake from disturbing dreams that I couldn’t quite remember.

 

Concerto Part 2: Distractions

 

Happy Holiday Easter for those of you who celebrate. Happy April Fools Day for those of you who like a good joke, and happy damp spring weekend for everyone else.

Today, as promised, I’m sharing the second instalment of my new WIP, Concerto — which may, as the story evolves end up being called Sonata. Beautiful music and those who create it and mysterious isolated places have always intrigued me. Both have inspired this story. I hope you enjoy the second instalment. Once again, I remind you to be gentle with the author. It is, after all, a work in progress.

 

The music stopped with a brutal glissando, and the only sound that broke the breathless silence following was a cold baritone voice. “You’re trespassing.”

I would have answered but the fall had stunned me and knocked the air out of my lungs, which was more distressing than the wet cold stone of the patio, but less so than the chill in the pianist’s voice.

“What in hell do you mean coming outside in this weather half naked?” He was up from the piano and kneeling to throw a blanket around me before I could catch enough breath to respond. What I did manage was another undignified yelp as he lifted me into his arms as though I weighed nothing, turned on bare feet and carried me in to the lounge where he plopped me unceremoniously onto a sofa covered in richly woven tartan throws. “You’ll catch your death, and it would serve you right spying on me, trying to seduce me dressed like that. Who sent you?”

“Are you serious?” I forced my way upright on the couch shoving the blanket aside, not wanting to be flat on my back and vulnerable to meet my accuser. “No one sent me. I woke up and heard your music. It was a bit of a surprise since the landlady told me there was no one here but me.”

“So, my playing disturbed your sleep, did it?”

“No. It’s just I woke up, and the storm had passed. I heard music and …”

“And?” He studied me with a raised brow. His dark hair was mussed and slightly damp, as though he too might have just come in from the out of doors.

“I wondered where it was coming from, that’s all.”

 

 

“Well now you know.” He nodded me toward the open French doors.

But in the few minutes we’d been talking, the rain had started again and a gusting wind flung the lace curtains about as though they were nothing more than wisps of fog.

“Fine, you don’t have to be so rude.” I shoved off the couch with as much dignity as I could manage and stormed toward the patio. “You might have considered that flinging your doors open in the wee hours of the morning and playing music like that, someone would want to listen.” I braced myself for the slog back to my cottage as another gust of wind flung a cold spray in my face.

“Wait.” He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back, then with some effort against the growing gale, slammed the doors. “You can’t go out in that.”

For a long moment, he studied me where I now stood shivering, freshly chilled and wet. At last he gave a hard put upon sigh and, before I knew what was happening, he stripped out of his shirt and handed it to me. “You’re … not decent.” The muscles along his high cheekbones tensed at his words. “And you’re wet and cold.” He gave a quick nod to the front of my nightshirt. I hadn’t noticed until now that the fall and the rain had rendered it transparent. “Besides, you’re a distraction. I can’t play with you … like that.” He turned his back, and I found myself blushing furiously as I stripped and slid into his white shirt, still warm with the heat of his body. He was not a small man, and the shirt fell to my knees. It smelled of the night chill and the lightning heat of the storm, though I suspected the disturbingly arousing scent was more his own than that of the storm.

When I finished fumbling with the buttons, he once again stood facing me, holding one of the throws. He wrapped the tartan around me, moving close enough that I could feel the heat radiating off his stripped torso, and I was struck again by his size. I don’t know why I had thought a pianist must be a tall, thin wraith of a man, who lived on the music and little else. He was robust and well muscled, with a peppering of scars low across his belly.

I couldn’t help myself. Maybe it was the fact that the whole incident seemed like a dream that I half expected to wake up from at any minute, one of those that I would long to go back to once it vanished in the daylight. “And you don’t think this will distract me from the music?” I rested my palm against his chest, and he drew a tight breath between his teeth, trapped my hand with his own, then lifted it away, with more of an effort than the act should have demanded.

“Trust me,” he said holding my gaze with milk chocolate eyes, “when I play, you won’t be distracted by anything.” He curled a finger under my chin and lifted my face until my heart accelerated and my mouth watered at full lips slightly parted, so close to mine. Those lips curled in a smile and he pulled away. “That is what you came for, isn’t it? To listen.”

And just like that he turned like a man with a purpose and seated himself once again at the piano, nodding me to back to the sofa.

 

The Lady with the Hair & the Sunglasses. What the Hell does She Want from Me?

As you know by now, encounters with Magda Gardener, though never invited and quite often disturbing, have been a part of my life for the past five years now. I work for her. Whether I like to admit it or not, I’m as much a part of her collection as Alonso Darlington and Jack Graves. The role I play, however, is not nearly so dangerous, but it’s every bit as demanding. The thing is with Magda Gardener, I never know when she’s going to show up and check in on me. But whenever she does, she always leaves me a little wrong-footed and with a story to tell.

 

With the release of Buried Pleasures, the third Medusa’s Consortium novel, and the first set in Vegas, I’m reminded again of an encounter I had with her awhile ago while on holiday in the Lake District with my husband.

 

 

Somehow I suspect that the situation isn’t normal. I suspect that I’m either dreaming or having some sort of weird out of body experience, but for the life of me, I don’t know how, or when I decided to take this brief holiday from the flesh, or even if that’s what it really is.

 

But I go on about my business like everything is normal, nothing out of the ordinary. And in truth, I’ve often gone to the Twa Dogs Pub in Keswick and ordered a pint. But this time I’ve come alone, which is something I’ve never done before, and I know when I see her sitting at a table in the back of the snooker room that she’s waiting for me. It’s late afternoon, an overcast day, typical Lakeland weather, and yet she’s still wearing sunglasses. But then she was wearing sunglasses that night in Vegas, even in the tunnels.

 

I sit down across from her and she looks me up and down. Though I can’t see her eyes, I can certainly feel her gaze, like she’s looking right through me, like I’m sitting there naked. I resist the urge to fold my arms across my chest, and she gives a little smirk as though she knows exactly what’s going on in my mind.

 

My throat’s desert-dry, and I take a good solid sip of my Sneck Lifter and wonder at the wisdom of alcohol on an empty stomach. ‘What do you want from me?’ I ask.

 

I can see a golden eyebrow raise above the edge of the glasses. ‘I should have thought that would be obvious. You’re a writer, aren’t you?’

 

‘So? I reply.

 

 

But before I can say anything else, I catch a flash of bright eyes over the edge of the glasses and feel as though I’m suddenly glued to the chair unable to move. ‘You’re a storyteller, that’s what you do. You get into peoples’ heads and tell their secrets.’

 

‘It’s fiction. I make it up,’ I manage. My throat is no longer just dry, but it feels as though it’s constricting, closing, strangling me as I speak.

 

‘I’m sure that’s what you tell yourself,’ she says. My pulse ratchets up in panic, and I feel like my body is closing in on me, turning into a solid prison from which there is no escape. And just when I think I’ll hyperventilate, she offers me a quirk of a smile, and lowers her eyes to her own drink – whiskey, I observe. ‘Where do you think those stories come from?’ she asks.

 

‘I make them up, they come from my imagination, like they do with all writers.’

 

This time she throws back her head and laughs out loud, and I’m stunned by the bell-like sound of it. I’m even more stunned that no one notices. The pub’s not crowded, but it’s not empty either. How could anyone not notice her sitting there. She’s exquisite in a scary sort of way, and yet no one seems to be aware that we’re even there. I remind myself that it’s still quite likely I’m only dreaming.

 

Then she leans across the table and takes my hand in hers, and as frightened as I was only a moment ago, I suddenly find myself wanting to kiss her. Another indication that none of this is real, I tell myself.

 

‘Who do you think gives you those stories, Ms. Grace?’ Her breath is sweet against my face, like an open field with just a hint of the single malt whiskey she’s been sipping. ‘Oh, I have so many stories I want you to tell, and you’re perfect for the job, darling, because you are so open to going where I want you to go.’ And then she stands, leans over the table and kisses me.

 

For a split second I have sense enough to worry about what the rest of the people in the pub will think of the girl-girl lip-lock in which I find myself. A split second more and I realize no one even notices. ‘You,’ she whispers against my mouth, ‘have been writing stories for me for a long time.’ She pulls away just enough to look at me over the top of her glasses, and I suddenly feel as though my very heart is freezing solid in my chest. ‘‘I figure it’s time you know what I expect of you. Things are about to get complicated Ms. Grace, and you are about to become a very, very busy woman.’

 

 

 

 

She kisses me again, and I feel like the floor to the pub has just caved in beneath me. Behind my closed eyes, I see familiar flashes of a ritual in a mirrored room, couples having sex all around me, candles on an altar, a mirror that contains a monster, a ghost who has been hung for a murder she didn’t commit, a succubus devouring thought and ego and giving it back in exchange for the blood of a vampire. Death walking in Vegas, enthralled by a siren, whose voice can calm or kill. I see, in strobe-like flashes of light, an exquisite woman in a ruined garden walking among statues, statues that look so lifelike and so disturbing in their poses that I feel goose flesh climb my spine. That same woman walking the endless halls of a library filled from ceiling to floor with books bound in the flesh of the stories they contain, shelf after shelf of books, stories I’ve written, written at this woman’s command. And as she touches each of those books in turn, I realize the stories I’ve written give her power over the people in those pages, and she, in turn, gives me power to write the next story, and the next and the next.

 

Then suddenly I’m back in the Twa Dogs with her voice a soft vibration low in my chest. ‘You work for me, K D. You always have. You just didn’t know it,’ she whispers against my ear. Then she inspects me with another brief glance over the top of her dark glasses and brushes my icy cheek with her warm palm. ‘I thought it was time you knew the truth. That knowledge could serve you well in the near future.’

 

And when she removes her hand, when I can no longer glimpse the bright glint of her eyes behind her glasses, I fall with a jerk back into my chair, like I’ve had one of those falling dreams. I open my eyes to find my husband staring at me across the table. ‘You alright?’ He asks.

 

I nod, for a moment unable to place where I am.

 

‘You want another pint of Sneck Lifter?’ He nods at my empty glass. ‘You sucked that one back in nothing flat.’

 

A crack of a cue against a ball on the snooker table and a half-laughed curse in a soft Cumbrian lilt and the world comes back into focus. I am indeed in the Twa Dogs, and my husband and I have come to the Lake District on a holiday. As he heads to the bar for another pint, I rub my eyes and breathe deeply while the world around me comes back into focus.

 

‘I think you dozed off there for a minute, Sweetie,’ he says when he settles back across from me, raising his pint in salute. ‘Were you dreaming?’

 

I nod and gulp back a hefty drink from my pint. ‘Must have been.’

 

‘You look a little pale. Her again?’ he asks.

 

I only nod my response, my eyes locked on the half empty shot glass sitting on the table next to ours, rimmed in icy pink lipstick. ‘She says I work for her.’

 

‘Yeah? Did she give her name,’ he asks.

 

‘No.’ It surprises me to find how relieved I am that she didn’t, and yet, as I sip my beer and stare over at the whiskey glass, I’m sure I already know her name. I’ve known it for a long time. I just never expected to meet her in person. And I certainly never expected to work for her.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget In The Flesh, book 1 of Medusa’s Consortium

is on sale through January for 99c/p

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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