I first shared my little encounter with Alonso Darlington when the novella, Landscapes was published as a part of the wonderful m/m Brit Boys: On Boys boxed set. For those of you who’ve read my online serial, In The Flesh, Alonso is a familiar character, but his story starts long before In The Flesh. and Landscapes is his first public appearance and, one — as you’ll see from the tale I began to share with you two weeks ago, he isn’t overly happy about. I felt with the release of Landscapes as a stand-alone novella coming up very shortly, it might serve as a warning to all of you who choose to delve into the private life of a vampire. I’m risking Alonso’s displeasure again by sharing the conclusion of this little encounter with the release of Landscapes, the novella, only days away on May 24.
Read and be warned
An Unexpected Encounter with Alonso Darlington: Entry 3
The room was as silent as a tomb after Talia left. God, I didn’t want to think of that analogy, but there it was, popping up in my head, and me alone with the vampire I thought I’d created, but wasn’t at all sure I could trust. Ha! Me being Alonso’s maker! The humour was almost, but not quiet lost on me.
I could feel his gaze rather than see it. But then Alonso’s gaze was nearly as physical as his touch. When it moved over me, I felt as though every part of me had not only been touched, but completely left naked and exposed. I kept my eyes focused on my hands folded in my lap as though I were offering up a white-knuckled prayer. Maybe I was. I honestly don’t know. I do know that I was scared witless. I had absolutely no clue what was going on or what was the significance of the conversation that had passed between Talia and Alonso. I was still struggling to get my head round what had happened and the fact that something so brutal could have been arousing as well as terrifying.
After what seemed like ages, Alonso released a heavy breath and came around the desk. He leaned back on it looking down at me where I sat, still avoiding his gaze. ‘Are you a fan of mythology?’
His question startled me, and I looked up. ‘Yes, why?’
In a move so fast I missed it until I felt the electricity of his touch shoot down my spine, he knelt in front of me and took my face in his hands so that I couldn’t look away. ‘You often write … stories that involve mythology, witches, demons, things that can’t be easily explained.’
I struggled to catch my breath enough to reply. ‘I write all sorts of things. I have an active imagination, like you said.’
He made a sound at the back of his throat that was enough like a growl to make the hair on my neck rise. ‘Your active imagination conjures a lot of very dangerous people.’
My laugh sounded high pitched and thin, bouncing off the stone walls. ‘You make me sound like a witch or something.’
He didn’t smile. ‘Not a witch. Not exactly.’
I couldn’t hold back a shiver, but I caught myself quickly. ‘I write fiction. That’s all.’
He said nothing, only studied me until I closed my eyes to get away from his intense gaze. It was the warmth of his lips on mine that caused me to start, his electric touch playing over me like ripples on a pond. The room suddenly seemed tight, airless. I tried to get away from him, but he held me tight. ‘Perhaps she’ll allow you to believe that, but I doubt it.’
Before I could either panic or throw myself into his arms and offer up my neck, he stood and moved back behind the desk. ‘You’re free to go, K D. Talia will take you back to your room, and you have free run of the house for now.’ He gave a huff of a laugh. ‘There isn’t much you’ve not already seen, I suppose.’
He was right. It was an intuitive experience, finding my way around High View Manor. And it was uncanny that I should know the place so well, that it was the place I had created in my imagination for a story I’d written, and yet my creation was stone and wood all around me. I wandered the grounds when I felt claustrophobic inside the stone walls designed to keep a vampire safe from the northern sun – anemic in the winter and tireless in the summer. I wandered the grounds wrapped in the heavy jacket, which I found returned and hanging next to the wardrobe in my room, as if by magic.
I felt as though I’d fallen off the edge of the earth and ‘here be monsters.’ This was the Lake District! I loved the Lake District. My heart felt like it was home the first time I came here. But Lakeland is also a place full of magic and mystery. That the creations of my imagination should take shape in the reality of the waking world made me feel wrong-footed and not quite at home in my own skin. It was unsettling enough to see the world I had created in my head solid and stable all around me, but it was much more so to feel threatened by the flesh and blood people that until now I thought to be only characters in my imagination.
The sun was setting and I had just returned from a wander in Alonso’s garden, shivering from the cold wind that had gotten up some time in the afternoon, and had just been joined by gravy-thick mist. I heard voices in the day room, heard the mention of my name, and stopped short to listen.
‘If Talia didn’t put the story of our relationship in Ms. Grace’s head then who the hell did?’ I recognized Reese’s voice and stepped closer on tiptoes.
‘It’s better that you don’t know,’ came Alonso’s reply. ‘Our cat’s out of the bag, so to speak. That means she should have no further interest in us.’ Then he added as an afterthought. ‘Though I honestly don’t know why she would want our story shared. I’ve kept my distance from her, respected her boundaries, kept her secrets – what few I know of them. I’m no threat to her.’
‘You’re recently returned to Lakeland,’ Talia said. ‘Granted High View and the surrounding fells is all your land, and you keep a low profile, but you’re here, and she’ll want to know exactly why you’re here and what your plans are.’
‘If she’s told my story to the writer, then she already knows my motives and that I’m no threat to her.’
No threat to who? Who the hell was he talking about? I felt like little ant feet were crawling up my spine. Christ! If there were someone out there who Alonso feared, someone whose attention he wanted to avoid, what the hell would they want with me? I was scared enough of him. Whoever she was, I was pretty damned sure I wanted nothing do to with her. I was so lost in my thoughts that I nearly missed Alonso’s next statement with all its implications.
‘Anyone else who she brings to Ms Grace’s attention, well that’s not our problem, is it? And the less we know the better.’
Anyone she brings to my attention? They thought this she, whoever she was, had made me write Alonso’s story? I was beginning to get seriously creeped out.
‘She was in Vegas last spring, our dear Ms Grace. You know that, right?’ It was Talia’s voice I heard now, and I inched still closer to the open door holding my breath. ‘More jet-lagged than usual from what I understand. I wasn’t so concerned when she was there the year before. But last spring, Mr. Graves had … company.’
‘It’s not our concern, Talia.’ Alonso’s voice was tight and irritable. ‘Mr. Graves has nothing to do with us, and if the woman writes his story, if that’s why she was so jet lagged, then better Graves than us. And he can certainly take care of himself.’
‘That’s easy for you to say.’ Talia’s voice, though low and controlled, made gooseflesh prickle up my arm. ‘But Ms Grace is here in the Lakes often, and you’re not the only one who has secrets, Alonso.’
‘What do you want me to do, Talia? Hmm?’ If she’s chosen Ms Grace to write the stories then there’s nothing any of us can do about it, and though Graves might be angry, he won’t take her on, not directly anyway. There’s too much between them.’
‘Who’s she? Who the hell are you talking about?’ Reese asked, his voice raised in exasperation.
Alonso’s reply was curt, sharp edged with warning. ‘We’ll discuss this later, after our guest leaves.’
Talia spoke over a loud clearing of throat. ‘And just how long do you plan to keep our guest listening at the door, Alonso?’
Before I could turn to flee, Alonso was at my side and with speed matched only by grace, he slid an arm around me and guided me into the day room where I was suddenly the center of attention.
‘I’m sorry. I was just coming in and I heard my name and … well what you were saying was …’
‘Frightening?’ Talia came to my side and smoothed my wind-blown hair away from my face, and the feather touch of her fingers sent the feeling of champagne bubbles bursting all over my body. ‘You have good reason to be frightened, scribe.’ Before I could step away from her, she pulled me into her arms and kissed me.
From somewhere a long way off I could hear Alonso and Reese, voices raised in alarm, but after that everything happened so quickly, I can only guess at events. They came to me like scenes lit by a strobe light, fast, frantic, and disjointed. There was a woman. I can’t recall how she looked, and yet I know if I ever see her, I’ll know instantly that it was her. She was achingly beautiful and yet something about that beauty terrified me. I tried to run from her, through an overgrown garden, dark and wild and more alive than it should have been. And there were stones, all around me stones some sculpted, some grotesque, some worn away until I couldn’t tell if they were ever more than just the rock on the fells.
Then someone carrying a flaming torch walked inside me like I were the garden, ignoring all the places that I chose to share with the world and seeking out the darkness in me, the shame in me, the places I never visited myself, let alone invited company in for a look. I cried out, I screamed, I tried to chase the torch bearer away, but the more I tried, the more my darkness was illuminated.
And then I was falling down underground, at first into the ruins of a slate quarry, and then there were bright lights above me, but I walked in caves, through endless tunnels and caverns, and I walked among the dead, all the while knowing that the bright lights were above me and that above me people celebrated, people danced and drank and partied. Yet they were oblivious to the dead just below them, the dead I walked among as I followed the torchbearer through the darkness. I followed until we came to the edge of an abyss, and there, the torchbearer turned to me and spoke against my ear. ‘Write it. Write what I tell you.’ Then with the flat of her hand in the middle of my back, she gave a gentle push, and I fell over the edge.
I woke with a start, gasping for breath. I’m embarrassed to say that I might have actually been screaming. It was Reese who held me, and soothed me back into the waking world.
‘Goddamn it, Talia!’ Alonso was saying. ‘Why the hell did you do that?’
I was lying flat out on the leather sofa with Reese kneeling at my side. But Talia was kneeling next to him.
As I fought to sit up, Talia glided across the floor to Alonso, took his face in her hands and kissed him hard. He gasped as though she had gut-punched him, grabbed at her as though to keep from falling and then stopped trying as his legs gave and he dropped onto the love seat across from me where he sat breathing like he’d just ran a marathon.
Talia pulled herself up to her full height, squared her shoulders and spoke in a quiet voice. ‘Now you know. Now we all know. And there’s nothing we can do about it.’ Then she turned and walked out of the room.
‘Do about it? What did she just do? What did she see?’ Reese sounded as though he wasn’t all that far from the panic I felt it knowing that whatever had happened inside me, Talia had just conveyed to Alonso, and I was pretty sure they both understood it a helluva lot better than I did.
If Alonso wasn’t already dead, I’d have said he looked like death warmed over, and his gaze was locked on me as though I’d just sprouted horns and a tail. Then he pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket still holding me in a cast-iron gaze. ‘Stephen, see that Ms Grace’s clothes are packed and the car is brought around for her. She’ll be leaving immediately. Oh, and see that the jet is prepped to fly her to Heathrow.’
It was full dark when Alonso walked me to the waiting SUV. Up until that time no one had spoken to me, though I had been well-fed, which was good because after whatever had happened to me in the day room, I was ravenous. The driver got out to take my bag and Alonso took my hands in his.
‘It isn’t over, K D.’ Before I could ask, he raised his hand to stop me. ‘I wish that I could tell you more, wish that I could help you, but I can’t. I know little more than to tell you that you need to be prepared because mine won’t be the last story you’ll be compelled to write.’ He shrugged. ‘I’m overstepping my boundaries by even telling you that, but perhaps she’ll forgive me. Perhaps not. Still you should be warned. You should be ready for what’ll be asked of you. At least as ready as it’s possible to be. I am sorry, K D. Truly I am.’ He kissed me on the cheek, then nodded to the driver.
I slept most of the way home, dreaming of things too disturbing and too erotic for me to share outright with you. Most of them involving Alonso and Talia, but during those dreams, I always knew that she was watching. There were moments when I could almost figure out who she was, but then like most dreams, what I struggled to hold on to vanished into mist before I woke up.
Once at home, I fell into my own bed without even undressing and slept a deep, dream-filled sleep, often feeling as though Alonso or Talia, sometimes both, were there in the bed with me, and always she watched just beyond the edge of my consciousness. I woke half-convinced that I’d dreamed the whole experience, but for the still-packed bag sitting on the floor in the hall. Even then, I thought perhaps I could have packed it in my sleep. Denial is a powerful thing. It was only after I’d gotten out of the shower and was drying myself that I noticed two tiny puncture wounds above my left breast. But even that I tried to justify as some sort of skin irritation or maybe an insect bite.
In the days that followed, I developed no aversion to sunlight, no desire to drink blood, no powerful urge to return to Alonso. Neither did Talia visit my dreams again. In the days that followed, I constantly questioned myself, tested myself, trying to discover exactly what it was about me that had changed. Something had, and yet I still can’t put my finger on what it was or why or how, but something is different.
Alonso’s parting conversation keeps coming back to me, and I wonder just what I aught to be prepared for, and who the hell she is. I keep trying to make sense out of whatever it was that happened between Talia and me, whatever it was that happened in my head, or in my imagination, or wherever it was. None of it makes any sense. But what I do feel is a sense of heightened expectation, as though something important, something that I need to do or know, is about to happen. But then again, perhaps it is nothing more than my overactive imagination exerting itself a little more than usual.
I now know who she is. I wouldn’t say that Magda Gardener has exactly become my friend. No one would say that about Magda Gardener, but I would say that as she guides me to the stories I’m compelled to tell – the story of Susan and Michael, the story of Mr. Graves and Samantha, she gives me little glimpses of herself – I don’t know if that is on purpose or inadvertent, but it doesn’t matter. What I have learned is that Alonso and Talia were right to fear her. Why I don’t know is why, in all the world, she chose me to write the stories of her Consortium. As those stories unfold, I’m not sure whether to be excited and flattered that I have been chosen, or to be terrified as each story reveals more of her own darkness. You, dear readers, will have to be the judge, and Alonso and Reese’s story is just the beginning.