It’s coming soon, I promise. In the homestretch…
In spite of his directive to Camilla and her willingness to comply Sam didn’t want to embarrass her. After they parked at the restaurant he went around to the Mini’s driver’s door and opened it for her. He stood in the door opening, shielding her as best he could as he looked around, scanning the parking lot for eyes that might see them.
The restaurant sat in strip mall between a 24-hour gym and a dry cleaner. Being the lunch hour, most of the foot traffic near them was headed to or from the restaurant. No one seemed to notice them. The coast was as clear as it was going to get.
“Okay,” he said.
Camilla swung her legs out of the car. Sam’s heart lurched as she yanked her dress up her thighs and lifted her bottom off the seat.
He looked around again, but in his heightened state of excitement and apprehension saw nothing.
Behind him Camilla stood up, pulling his attention back to her. She bumped the car door closed with her hip and said, “I’m ready now.” She looked and sounded happy.
As they headed for the restaurant entry Camilla brushed her hand against his. Sam thought she wanted to hold hands, but when he took hers she pressed something soft and silky against his palm. He knew what it was, and a glance confirmed it. The underwear she’d taken off was a red lace thong.
He stuffed her panties into his jeans pocket and took her hand as they crossed the parking lot. “They felt a little moist,” he said.
Without breaking stride Camilla leaned and pecked him on the cheek. A few eyes cut their way. “That’s your fault sir,” she smiled. “I’m ripe enough to burst.”
They reached the restaurant entry just behind a group of suited men and women probably on lunch break from their office. The last man in the group, a blonde, thirtyish Ken doll with a haughty too busy for peons because I own the world manner gave Camilla an appreciative once-over as he held the door for her.
Camilla cooed, “Thank you” to Ken.
Ken smiled at her, flashing his inhumanly brilliant teeth. “You’re very welcome.”
Walking behind Camilla, Sam reached over her shoulder and took over holding the door for her. He said “Thanks” to the Ken doll.
Ken’s eyes darted from Camilla to Sam and back to Camilla. His smile changed to a false one—one Sam had seen all too often in his life. Ken’s smile said, Hey, I’m not racist. See how I’m still smiling even though you’re with a black guy?
Okay, they were in another city in another state. No one knew them. Sam decided to see if he could push two buttons at once: one for spite and one for fun. From behind Camilla he leaned to her ear and just loud enough for Ken to hear said, “What if I told you no more playing with yourself until the month’s over? Would you do it?”
Without missing a beat Camilla said, “I wouldn’t like it sir, but if you insist of course I won’t.”
Ken followed his group to the hostess station. He looked back at them three times on his way.
The Man lifted his face from between Angelina’s thighs, away from her most intimate place.
The tidal wave of bliss that for delicious minutes had washed away her embarrassment receded, leaving her shame laid bare. She had never before felt so exposed, so vulnerable. Adding to her embarrassment was that she’d never been made to feel what The Man just made her feel with his boldly deviant act. With his mouth and tongue he had transformed her. He had made her become someone else; a woman she didn’t recognize.
The Man crawled up and over her until he perched above her, bracing himself on his lean-muscled arms. He stared down at her. Under his knowing examination her face burned. She could not meet his gaze because her eyes could not deny what he had done to her—what he’d made her become: that woman she didn’t recognize.
He spoke her name gently. Angelina closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at him, couldn’t let him see her shame and her truth.
With her face turned away and her eyes closed she said, “What is it?”
She felt his masculine desire brush along the inside of her thigh. The contact made her shudder—or was it the memory of that weekend last month that made her body respond to him?
“I want you,” he said, confirming his body’s demonstration.
Curiously, The Man’s tone sounded like a request. Angelina wondered why this time he would bother to ask. When he’d taken her before—when her husband offered her as payment for their debt—The Man had not asked her permission. He’d taken her from their apartment to his home and told her what he wanted and what he required her to do. Because she and Charlie owed The Man so much money there was no question that she would comply. So why would he ask her now, as if they were courting and he required her permission for intimacy?
Angelina opened her eyes but kept her face averted. She didn’t need to see The Man. The memories of his handsome face and his varied expressions were etched in her memory.
The first time—on the Friday evening last month that began the weekend of her taking—she had prayed to God for deliverance from her burden. By that Saturday morning she had thanked God that at least The Man was handsome. On Sunday, during the hours when she would normally have been in church, she’d known she was going to Hell if she didn’t repent for becoming what The Man had made her become. He had used her, yes. But while complying with his demands she had become someone else. That guilt, that sin, was hers.
And now, this second time, because she and Charlie still could not pay what they owed, The Man seemed to be asking her for what he’d simply taken before. Angelina wondered if that was why he’d done this new decadent thing to her, using his mouth and tongue to make her become someone entirely new again. Was that his way of making an apology?
Without looking up at him she asked, “What am I to you?”
“You’re the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night. I can’t even guess how many times you cross my mind throughout every day.”
This was Charlie’s fault, she thought. If he hadn’t gambled away the rent money they wouldn’t owe The Man so much. If Charlie had been more responsible she wouldn’t be away from home in a strange city, naked in a hotel bed with a man she wasn’t married to.
“You use me,” Angelina said. “Why do you need to think about me at all?”
“I can’t honestly answer what I don’t know,” The Man said. “I only know what is. I know I want you.”
“We owe you money. That’s why I…we…you know…”
“Are you upset with me about before, about last month?”
Angelina’s face no longer burned, but hot moisture stung her eyes. “The things you made me do…”
“I was mad at Charlie for being a deadbeat. But you were angry at him too. I felt your anger in bed, Angelina. We were both punishing him.”
“What do you want? Why did you buy me that dress today and take me to that party tonight?” Angelina thought about what The Man had just done to her with his mouth and tongue, but couldn’t dare mention that. What he’d done was so obscene, and… “Was that your way of saying you’re sorry?”
“I did it because tonight I want you to kiss me.”
“Is that really necessary?” Angelina told herself that she had not just shuddered again.
“I’d like it if you did,” The Man said. “I’d like to think that this time you’re here with me—really with me. Do you understand?”
Angelina turned her face to look up at The Man. In the depths of his eyes she saw his truth.
She considered that she wouldn’t be here if Charlie had been less selfish and more responsible. She wouldn’t be here if her own husband hadn’t offered her as payment the way a farmer would offer a cow. This was not her doing. Whatever happened, the responsibility lay on Charlie’s shoulders.
Angelina lifted her face to The Man and offered him her kiss.
She became someone else—that woman she didn’t recognize. She decided she would get to know her.
COMING IN 2015
THE TAKING OF MRS. JONES
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
He was almost nineteen, a legal adult in New Jersey but still a kid in the eyes of many, but Sharon’s mother had always called him Mr. Reynolds. It was kind of their thing, a private joke, though Troy didn’t know what the thing or joke was. For Mrs. Douglas to call him by his first name now meant the joke was over and she was being serious.
He’d been waiting in the Douglas’ living room for nearly an hour while Mrs. Douglas and her friends played cards in the kitchen. When he arrived Mrs. Douglas told him Sharon would be right back (though she didn’t say where she was) and told him to have a seat. Since Sharon was expecting him to come over he’d figured waiting almost an hour was long enough.
He got up from the sofa, and with some sixth sense that maybe only mothers had Mrs. Douglas knew he was leaving and came to stand in front of him at the front door. That’s when she’d called him Troy.
Yeah, something was wrong. Troy had no doubt it had something to do with that dude named Gary. Gary, as in Sharon’s ex-boyfriend and the father of her one-year old son. Gary, who two months before he’d met Sharon had broken up with her and moved to Brooklyn; Gary, who two months after he and Sharon had been together came back to town; Gary, who Sharon told him she would only see when he wanted to see his son Greggie, and whom she would never see alone.
He would have bet a paycheck that Gary was the reason Mrs. Douglas was blocking him from leaving her house and had called him by his first name for the first time.
As if to put an exclamation point on his thought, over Mrs. Douglas’ shoulder Troy saw headlights turn off the street into the Douglas driveway, stopping behind his Roadrunner. Mrs. Douglas stood aside, and they watched together as the front passenger door of the car opened. The car’s dome light brightened the inside of the vehicle and they saw Sharon, holding her baby son, slide out of the car.
The dude behind the wheel was looking their way. Troy had never seen him before but he would have bet another paycheck that that was Gary.
Gary was reversing out of the driveway almost before Sharon closed the passenger door. If he was scared and trying to get away Troy saw no reason for it. He didn’t have a problem with Gary. Dudes do what they do. Dudes were always trying to get the girl. It was up to the girl to stay straight with the dude she was with. A cat couldn’t get the girl unless she wanted him to get her. So the responsibility was on her.
Mrs. Douglas flipped on the porch light. If Sharon being out with Gary wasn’t already evidence enough, the guilty worry widening her eyes as she hurried up the walkway sealed the deal.
Mrs. Douglas squeezed his arm. Troy looked from Sharon to her in time to catch the plea for patience in her eyes just before she hurried back to the kitchen to let him deal with her daughter.
Troy opened the storm door and held it for Sharon. With her worried eyes on him she stepped in with her little boy in her arms. Her eyes widened more when rather than close the door after her he stepped out onto the porch.
“Where are you going?” Sharon asked. Her voice trembled, as if she might cry. Troy was too mad to care.
“You knew I was coming over, and what time,” he said. “Guess you had better things to do.”
“I didn’t do anything, I swear,” Sharon said. “You know I don’t do anything in front of Greggie.”
Troy knew from experience that Sharon didn’t have sex around her son. At least she didn’t with him. Would she feel different about doing it with the kid’s father? And even if she didn’t do it in front of her son, that still left a lot on the table. All they’d needed was a blanket to hide wandering hands.
“I’ll see you,” Troy said, and immediately regretted saying it. The way he was feeling, this was going to be the first and last time he got played by a girl, even a girl a year older than him.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Sharon said. “Just let me leave Greggie with Mom and we can go, okay? Do you have money for a room? If you don’t I do.”
Sharon had never before been so up front about wanting to get down. Either she was desperate to get his mind off being mad, or she thought sex would turn him dumb and make everything all right—as if her giving him some pussy would make him forget she’d just been out with her ex-boyfriend.
The idea that she thought he could be calmed so easily made him madder. He turned away from her before he could say something that reflected his boiling temper. He was mad, but she was still a girl. He couldn’t get really nasty with her.
As he reached the porch steps Sharon said to his back, “Are you still coming to the cookout?”
Nice try, Troy thought.
Sharon’s mom was hosting a cookout on Memorial Day weekend. She’d invited him. She’d told him he was a part of the family—that he was like her son. Too bad her daughter was on the fence about how close they were and what he meant to her.
“I doubt it,” Troy said. He hopped off the porch and headed for his car.
By the time he reached his car the pain of his pending loss had punched its way into his chest, wrapped heavy fingers around his heart and begun a slow squeeze. The fingers tightened as he backed out of Sharon’s driveway and saw her silhouetted in her doorway, watching him.
He could stop. He could go back right now and the fist would let go of his heart before it squeezed too tight and killed him.
But going back meant giving up a part of himself. His pride. His dignity. Going back meant he was okay being the dog she kicked. It meant he was okay crawling back on his belly, hoping next time she would pet him instead of kicking him again.
By the time Troy reached the end of Sharon’s block he’d decided that not only wouldn’t he be her punk and crawl back to her, but he was going to make sure she never saw him again.
He had a plan, one that had been in the back of his mind almost since he’d graduated high school last year. What put his plan on hold was Sharon, though she didn’t know about his plan or how she’d altered it because he liked her, a lot.
Now she’d never know.
Troy liked to think about his future. He liked to envision how he wanted it to be, and how he would make it happen. Because of a girl he’d put his plan on hold. But now his plan was back in action.
He liked to envision his future. He didn’t have a clear picture of it, but he knew that a year from now his world would be different than anything he’d ever known.
It was early May.
Mapleton, North Carolina July 1975 Friday Night Sprouts Drive-In
“Girl, what you keep looking at the door for?” Lola asked.
“You know why she’s looking” Michele said. “She’s looking for her city boy, ain’t cha Mina?”
Mina looked away, trying to hide her smile. “Both a ya’ll need to shut up,” she said, knowing what her cousins were saying was true. She was so anxious to see Troy she felt like she was going to bust wide open.
She kept looking toward the door that opened onto the small lobby of Sprouts. The lobby served double duty as a take-out order station for fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, fried fish and chuck wagon sandwiches and assorted sides and beverages, to include beer and wine coolers. Beyond that space was the front door entrance.
“You gonna give him some?” Michele asked.
“I bet she already did,” Lola said.
Mina laughed to cover her embarrassment and her guilty thoughts. “Will ya’ll go dance or something and leave me alone? I ain’t fast like you heifers.”
Mina figured she spoke the truth. She knew Lola was doing it every chance she got with her boyfriend Wiley. They’d been going together for three years, every since their junior year in high school. And Michele, who was twenty-two, got an abortion over in Ahoskie last summer. Best everybody figured Otis Hanks would have been the daddy if she’d kept it.
Mina figured she wasn’t as bad as either of her cousins. She did it for the first time last year, with Ricky Hill, the night of her junior prom. But if she’d known he was messing with some girl up in Suffolk she never would have gave him nothing. She’d learned her lesson, though. She hadn’t done it since, not even on the night of her senior prom. She didn’t trust none of these lying fools any more.
But that was before Troy.
Troy came down from the city the first time last summer, and she didn’t think she’d ever seen a cuter boy in her life. All the girls were trying to talk to him. He seemed so shy though, which made him even cuter.
Troy was a year older than she was, so he was already out of school when he came down last summer. She’d seen him a couple of times, but before she got a chance to meet him he was gone back up north to New Jersey. So she was surprised and happy to see him back this past May, hanging out at the Tastee-Freeze with his cousin Lonnie.
This time she made sure she went up to him and said “Hi,” even though her mama always told her to let a man make the first move. But she couldn’t take a chance on waiting. If she didn’t get to him first some other girl would, that was for sure.
“So did you give him some yet?” Lola asked.
Mina figured it wouldn’t hurt to tell the truth about that. “Almost,” she said.
“Whatcha mean ‘almost’?” Michele asked. “Did you or didn’t you?”
Mina leaned over the table in the booth so nobody else would hear her. She cut her eyes around to see who might be looking their way. “He came to see me at the house last Tuesday,” she said as low as she could. “We were on the sofa, and he was kissing me with those soft lips of his. We was about to do it when Mama came home early from work ‘cause she had the cramps real bad.”
“Girl, whatcha mean, ‘almost’?” Michele asked again.
“Well, when we heard Mama pull up in the yard we had to move quick. By the time she got in the house Troy was sitting on the sofa watching TV, and I was standing at the sink washing dishes. But my panties was under the sofa cushion.”
“So ya’ll was doing it?” Lola asked, not keeping her voice down.
Mina shot a guilty glance around, hoping nobody heard big-mouthed Lola over the music. “Girl, don’t be so loud,” she snapped at her cousin. “No, we hadn’t got to it yet.”
“But he saw your pussy?” Lola asked.
“Well, if I said I had to put my drawers under the sofa pillow, what do you think?”
“Ooh, you little skank!” Michele laughed.
“Did you see his thing?” Lola asked.
Mina felt her face flush warm. She was glad it was dark in Sprouts. She tried her best not to grin, which made it impossible not to.
When she grinned both of her cousins leaned over the booth table. “Aw shit now! Was it big?” Lola demanded.
Unable not to smile Mina said, “Well…let me just say, if ya’ll ever see me walking on crutches, then you’ll know.”
“Damn it, I knew I shoulda jumped on his ass before you got to him,” Michele pouted.
“I thought you didn’t mess with niggas younger than you,” Lola said to Michele. Troy was nineteen, three years younger than Michele.
“Shit, there’s a first time for everything,” Michele said. “Especially if he’s swingin’ low.”
“Well, don’t even think about it,” Mina said. She took a sip of Strawberry Hill from a paper cup and told herself not to get mad—that Michele was just playing.
Lola laughed at her. “Girl, that boy got your nose open like a bull and you ain’t even got none yet. Look at you, sitting here staring at the door with your pussy just a jumpin’. I bet if Troy stood outside and whistled your pussy would holler back. Little eighteen year-old hussy.”
Mina didn’t say anything, mainly because what Lola said felt kind of true. She sure did like Troy.
Somebody played Cut The Cake by the Average White Band on the jukebox. June Bug Holloway sauntered over, trying to look cool as he approached their booth. “Come on give me this here dance Mina,” he said.
“I don’t feel like it,” Mina said. She liked to dance, and liked this song for sure, but she didn’t want to be dancing with somebody else when Troy came.
“Hell, I’ll dance with you,” Lola said to June Bug.
Mina watched Lola and June Bug doing the Bump while she kept one eye on the entrance. She imagined how jealous all the other girls here would be when Troy got here and they did that new dance from up north he’d taught her called the Hustle. She liked that dance because it was a kind of like a swing dance, but not like they did down here. She liked the way he held her hands when they did the Hustle.
“Maybe he didn’t get back from Raleigh,” Michele said.
“He said the bus would be here this afternoon,” Mina replied. “He’ll be here.”
“You like him for sure, huh?” Michele asked.
Now that that fool Lola wasn’t here Michele was more serious.
“Yeah, I do,” Mina said.
“So whatcha gonna do when he’s leaves for the service?”
Mina shrugged. She didn’t know what she was going to do. And she didn’t like thinking about it. Troy said that his recruiter told him it would probably be a few months before he had to go to basic training. Until then all she wanted to do was not think about him leaving, spend as much time with him as she could until then and let God take care of everything else.
But all that was down the road. Right now she couldn’t stand sitting still anymore. She got up and said to Michele, “I’m gonna go outside for a minute and get some fresh air.”
Michele smiled up at her. “Girl, standing out there looking ain’t gonna make him come no faster.”
Mina didn’t care. If she didn’t move she was going to scream or bust wide open.
As she walked past the dance floor June Bug yelled at her, “Damn girl, how you squeeze all them hind pots in them dungarees?”
Her face got warm again as other eyes turned her way. She’d squeezed into her new tight jeans on purpose. But not for these fools in here.
This release will be a prelude and partial backstory to my new upcoming KNIGHTS OF PASSION series.
Who/What are the Knights? Two brothers–Anderson and Griffin Knight and their cousin Morgan Knight. Each Knight will have his own book and his own story to tell but their paths might cross. You know how I do it.
But first comes HONEY BUN.
So stay tuned. The weather is cooling off but you might need to crank up the A/C one more time this year because it’s going to get hot again.
Excerpt from THE ROCK:
Shemya Air Force Base, Alaska
The wind outside my dorm room window is roaring. Not howling; howling is what a regular strong wind does. This wind is roaring. And it’s not even the worst it can get in the wintertime here.
I’ve got my desk chair sitting next to my bed, and I’m sitting on it with my right leg elevated up on the bed as I watch television. I press my fingertips against the side of my knee, and feel a little twinge of pain. The twinge is nowhere near as bad as it feels when I try to walk. The knee brace is on the carpet in front of my nightstand. I wonder how long I’m going to have to wear it.
I’m thinking that if she were still here, she’d take my mind off my jacked up knee.
The wind roars louder. It makes the double-paned window glass shudder in its frame. I look toward the window, as if I can see through the thick draperies to the night beyond the glass. I can’t, of course. The curtains in the dorm rooms are a solid color and extra thick to block out the sun that doesn’t set until midnight during the summer. The curtains help to fool us into thinking that it’s night so that we can sleep.
The wind roars louder and slams against the window, as if it knows I’m looking and wants to demonstrate how bad it is. And it’s not even at Phase II conditions.
At Phase II, the wind is blowing between 40 and 70 knots. During Phase II conditions it’s recommended that we only go outside if necessary and that we don’t go out alone. That way if something happens to us, somebody will know.
Phase I is more serious. When the wind is blowing at Phase I force, which is over 70 knots, the rule is more basic: Keep your ass inside. That’s not a recommendation. It’s a base regulatory mandate.
Shemya Air Force Base, Alaska is no joke.
I wish she were still here.
Viktor Mogilevich’s office was located on the first floor at the rear southern corner of the mansion, at the junction at which two corridors met in an “L” shape. Inside Viktor and his men were counting and dividing up the week’s proceeds, money that was going to be laundered via various front operations in New York and New Jersey.
While Viktor and the men were tallying the proceeds, the bodyguards Mike and Ivan roamed the halls outside the closed office door, each taking a leg of the “L” so that they could see anyone approach along either hallway. When they came together in front of the office they spoke in hushed voices.
“What do you think Viktor will make Vanna do today?” Ivan asked.
“I don’t give a shit,” Mike said. “She’s a filthy whore, like all of them.”
“I would love to stick my dick in that filthy whore,” Ivan laughed.
“But you won’t – not unless Viktor says so. That’s his woman.”
“She’s not his woman,” Ivan said. “He has a wife. And he lets anyone fuck Vanna, like those lucky bastards in there right now. And then there are the losers who pay for her to spread her legs.”
“Right now all I want to pay for is food,” Mike said. “I’m going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.”
Ivan had no concerns about Mike leaving his post. Nothing ever happened on these Sunday mornings when Viktor’s lieutenants came to collect the money. On Sundays there were only a few girls and Amarante here. There was nothing to worry about.
Mike was standing in the kitchen with the refrigerator door open, trying to decide if he wanted ham or turkey or both when he sensed that he wasn’t alone. He hadn’t heard anything, but his instincts as a bodyguard and a killer put his senses on alert. He closed the refrigerator and turned toward the kitchen entry.
Nikira Horikoshi was standing in the kitchen entry. She was smiling at him.
She wore all black – jeans, turtleneck, and rubber-soled shoes. Neither Viktor nor Amarante had advised that she would be here today. Mike was about to ask her why she was here.
But then he died.
Duncan’s blow to the back of the bodyguard’s neck separated his brain stem from his spinal cord. Not wanting the sound of the big man’s fall to alert anyone, Duncan caught him as he collapsed and eased his lifeless body to the kitchen floor.
When he looked up Nikira was shaking her head and smiling at him. Her eyes burned with primal heat. She bit her bottom lip seductively and stepped into the kitchen.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he whispered.
Nikira leaned to him and placed her mouth close to his ear. “I’ve never seen you kill anyone with only your hands,” she said. “That was so sexy.”
From the back seat of the Escalade Vanna watched Amarante and Marita in the front, and cut glances at the new girl Nicole, who sat across from her in the rear. No one was paying any attention to her, so she eased her cell phone out of her pocket and held it between her leg and the vehicle door. She slid it open, and wondered if she could speed dial Viktor’s number without anyone hearing.
She couldn’t talk to him, but maybe he would take the open line as a warning that something was wrong.
They were on a rural road, approaching the stop sign at an intersection. That gave Vanna another idea. As Amarante slowed the vehicle to a stop Vanna opened her door and leapt out of the SUV. She ran back up the road toward the mansion, fumbling desperately to punch the speed dial key for Viktor’s office.
Between her nervous fingers and her desperate running her finger couldn’t find the key. She needed to stop for a moment. She veered off the road and stumbled into the forest to find cover.
Ivan decided that he wanted a sandwich too, and as he strolled along his leg of the corridor toward Viktor’s office he wondered what was taking Mike so long. He was supposed to make himself a sandwich and come back, not eat it down in the kitchen. As Ivan reached the juncture he was thinking that Mike was a fool to leave his post for so long. If Viktor found out he would have his head.
When Ivan reached the corner he looked up the other hallway, hoping to see Mike returning from the kitchen. Instead he saw Nikira Horikoshi running up the hall toward Viktor’s office with shocking speed but as silently as a ghost. It took Ivan a moment to register the wrongness of her being there, and the potential threat of her running toward Viktor’s office. That was a moment too long.
Ivan was carrying an Uzi. He raised his weapon just as the woman’s hand found and clamped around his throat. Her fingers were steel claws digging into his flesh. The pain was incredible in its intensity, so incredible that he forgot about his weapon and tried to tear her hand from his throat.
Duncan watched, amazed and impressed. The bodyguard had to be almost twice Nikira’s size. But she’d honed her ability to focus her chi to the point that with just one hand she could hold a man as helpless as a rag doll and crush the life out of him.
The bodyguard sank to his knees as his brain succumbed to the lack of oxygen and his body to the indescribable pain that drained his strength away. Duncan knew that Nikira could kill him quickly if she wished. But she didn’t. She stared into the man’s horrified eyes until they rolled back in his head. Then she braced herself with her knee against his chest and ripped his throat out.
Overkill. Definitely overkill.
When she looked back at him there was none of the sexual heat in her eyes he’d seen in the kitchen. Now they were cold and cruel, and Duncan saw in them the same madness he’d seen on that stormy night two years ago. Once again he was looking into the eyes of the monster.
She made no comment. She just pulled Beretta out of her fanny pack and moved as soundlessly as a shadow to the office door.
Duncan pulled out his Beretta and followed Nikira down the hall. For a moment he felt an animal urge to shoot her in the back of her head. It was his survival instinct, telling him that he and the rest of the world would be a lot safer if she were dead. Six billion people would be better off with a dozen members of the Russian Mafia alive than with Nikira Horikoshi walking the earth.
But the moment passed.
Duncan hoped that he wouldn’t live to regret it.
Vanna found a clearing in the woods about twenty yards from the road and stopped. She listened, straining to hear over her own labored breathing. She didn’t hear any vehicle on the road. Amarante hadn’t come after her.
She raised her phone in a trembling hand and squinted through stinging sweat at the dial pad.
“You are a very foolish woman.”
Vanna screamed and dropped her phone into the leaves. She looked around wildly, not knowing which way to run. And then she spotted Amarante coming into the clearing from the woods between her and the house. How had she gotten in front of her – ahead of her?
Vanna stood terror-stricken as Amarante approached. She saw no compassion or mercy in the tall African’s panther green eyes. She didn’t realize that she was backing away until her back bumped into a tree.
Amarante stopped right in front of her and stared down at her. A smile played at the corners of her mouth, but Vanna saw no humor in her smile.
“If you touch me Viktor will kill you,” Vanna said.
Amarante flicked her hand as if shooing away a pesky insect and a narrow, gleaming blade appeared in her fist. Vanna was going to scream, but a second flick of the African’s hand opened her throat.
“Viktor will die today,” Amarante said. “Perhaps you will service him in Hell.”
When his office door flew open Viktor expected to see one of his bodyguards, or Amarante in the entry. Instead he saw the Japanese bitch. She moved quickly into the room and to one side of the open door. A black man followed her in, moving just as quickly to the other side. Both were armed with machine pistols.
His men were shouting and springing to their feet around the conference table and dying as they tried to draw their weapons. Nikira and the black man were cutting them down with quick, cold efficiency. Viktor dove for cover behind his desk, screaming his rage and fear.
The carnage lasted for seconds that to Viktor seemed like hours. And then his office was silent save for the echo of gunfire and the moans of the dying. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that some of his men had managed to kill the bitch and her associate. But then he heard her voice, calling to him in a sing-song melody:
“Viktor…come out, come out, wherever you are…”
Duncan watched as Viktor Mogilevich scooted out from behind his desk and moved against the far wall with his hands raised in surrender. Nikira moved toward him, stepping over the bloody bodies of his men. She held her Beretta leveled at his head.
“I have more money,” Mogilevich pleaded. “I can pay you more.”
“Oh Viktor, I don’t want any more of your money,” Nikira cooed.
Duncan couldn’t see her face, but he knew that Nikira’s expression didn’t match her breathy Marilyn Monroe imitation. The pure terror on Mogilevich’s face told him that he was looking up at the monster.
Nikira pulled a cell phone from her pocket. She toyed with it with one hand for a moment, and then tossed it to Viktor. It fell onto his lap.
“Look at it,” Nikira ordered. Now her voice had gone icy.
Viktor did as he was told. He looked at the phone’s display, and the fear on his face turned to horror. He screamed and kept screaming until Nikira placed the barrel of her Beretta against his temple and squeezed off a three-round burst that sent the contents of the top half of his head splattering against the wall behind him. Then she retrieved her phone.
As they left the office Duncan asked, “What did you show him on the phone?”
“Just a photo I took of his wife and daughters,” Nikira said. “It’s a nice family picture…I even had his dogs in it.” She laughed and added, “I don’t know why Viktor was so surprised. I told him I was going to do it.”
Duncan didn’t ask. He didn’t want to know.
Long Branch, New Jersey
One Month Later
They stood on the boardwalk together, gazing out at the ocean. It was cold out, so Duncan stood behind Maisha with his arms wrapped around her to keep her warm.
“I wish you could have seen this place the way it was when I was growing up,” he said. “It was so much nicer before the fire.”
“It’s nice now,” she said.
“But everything is burned down. There used to be all the arcades, the eateries, the rides. It was a good place to raise children. Now it’s all condos and expensive boutiques.”
Maisha turned around in his arms and gave him a soft, sweet kiss. “Well, I like this part, with just you and me and the ocean,” she said. “It feels so right with us being out here. It’s like it’s just us and God, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” Duncan said. “As long as it’s just us then everything is all good.”
She watched them through a pair of high-powered surveillance binoculars from a rental car parked a couple of blocks away.
She’s very pretty, Nikira thought. She could understand why Duncan was attracted to her. But a woman’s beauty fades over time. And after that, what does one have? After beauty fades you have to have some type of commonality to serve as the glue to hold you together.
Duncan and I have that commonality. Their commonality was blood, and death. They were creatures created together, two of a kind, like Adam and Eve. Duncan couldn’t see that right now, because right now he was blinded by Maisha’s beauty.
That’s what Nikira was thinking as she put the binoculars down and started the car. And as she drove away she was thinking that one day Duncan would come to his senses and realize the truth. All it would take was for Maisha to be out of the picture.
One day, when his wife was gone, Duncan would be able to see with whom he really shared a bond. He would understand with whom he really belonged.
Not today, but one day.
Maybe one day soon.
The warm rays of the Carolina morning sun filtered through the blinds, gently coaxing Duncan awake. He rolled over and reached out, but Maisha wasn’t there. He sat up and saw the note on her pillow:
Taking a walk.
I love you,
The clock read just past nine. He’d been up late last night painting and Maisha had let him sleep in.
He read her short note again, smiled, and decided that he’d make breakfast for her this morning – something healthy with a lot of fruit and fiber. In her condition she needed to eat good food. He got up and slipped on his sweats.
He was going to make her breakfast, but first he bypassed the kitchen when he got down to the first floor and kept going down, to the basement.
He found her with camera number six, which was mounted among the trees on the trail that ran into the woods in back of their home. He smiled at the monitor. She looked so cute in her overalls with her swollen belly. Being pregnant did nothing to detract from her beauty.
She was standing at the edge of the creek that interrupted the trail about an eighth of a mile from the back gate of their yard. She seemed to be considering.
Come on babe, be a good girl…
A fallen tree lay across the stream. He’d used that tree to cross the water when he first moved here. But after they learned that Maisha was pregnant, he’d built a footbridge for her. At its greatest depth the creek was only about a foot deep, but it didn’t pay to take chances. Of course Maisha didn’t see it that way. He’d often scolded his wife that she needed to be more careful, and to take it easy in her delicate condition.
Duncanwas thinking now that he should have just moved that tree off the stream so she wouldn’t even be tempted. He continued to watch her and sure enough, she picked the tree rather than the bridge. She stepped up gingerly onto it and started across, her arms outstretched to keep her balance on the rough, rounded bark.
He shook his head at the monitor. She was going to be in so much trouble when she got back to the house.
A blip from the LED under monitor number five drew his attention. The camera for that monitor was trained on the back gate. The monitor flickered on, and Duncan’s mild concern spiraled up into shock. That monitor showed Nikira Horikoshi running through the back gate and sprinting down the trail.
She was dressed in black, and as she ran the sun flashed off something clutched in her right hand.
A hunting knife.
Duncan fought off the wave of panic that threatened to immobilize him and shot up out of his chair. He dashed to the armory and grabbed a Glock .9 mm combat pistol from the shelf, slamming a 15-round magazine into the receiver and flipping off the safety as he bolted up the basement steps.
Fifteen rounds. Enough to kill a monster?
He wasn’t aware of making the top of the basement steps, wasn’t aware of bolting through the house and bursting through the back door out onto the porch, or of leaping from the porch and hitting the ground at a dead run. His only thought was of Maisha and their child that she carried inside her.
He ran faster than he’d ever run in his life, and yet he felt as if he were moving in slow motion. Nikira was fast and had a good lead on him, but if he could just get her in sight he wouldn’t need to catch her. If he was lucky he’d get her in range before she knew he was pursuing, and he’d kill her with his first shot. If he missed she’d at least have to take cover, and that would keep her from going after his wife. From then on it would be a game of cat and mouse in the woods, the result of which would be that either he or Nikira would die. In the meantime Maisha would hear his shots and know to get away. That was all that mattered…that she was safe.
He had to catch Nikira.
He ran wildly, desperately.
He was through the back yard and on the trail, but he didn’t see her. Where was she?
He was halfway between the gate and the creek and he hadn’t spotted Nikira. Had she heard him coming and hid in the forest? If that were the case he was in danger of being ambushed. It didn’t matter. He had to get to Maisha.
He was nearly at the stream. It was just ahead, around a bend in the trail. He sprinted around the bend and there it was. He scanned the area wildly, seeing nothing at first because he was blinded by his anxiety. And then he spotted them.
They were in the water. Maisha was scooting backward out of the stream onto the far bank, her overalls soaked, her hands slipping in the mud, her face a mask of terror. Nikira waded through the water after her, that knife poised and ready.
He shouted, “Nikki, no!”
Nikira looked around, saw him and gave him a smile full of hatred and triumph. She was between him and Maisha. She knew that he wouldn’t shoot at her and risk hitting his wife.
He ran toward the stream, his heartbeat thudding in his ears with every step.
He wasn’t going to make it. Nikira was standing over Maisha now. She raised the knife. The sun caught the blade again, and it flashed like lightning in her fist. And then it whipped down in a terrible arc toward his terrified wife.
Duncan bolted upright in bed, yelling and striking out blindly in the darkness, his scream ripping out of his chest.
“Baby! Baby, it’s okay!” Maisha was clutching at his arm, trying to shake him awake.
Slowly awareness came to him, and he stopped thrashing. But his heart still beat wildly, thudding like a bass drum in his ears. His breath still escaped his throat in ragged gasps.
Maisha switched on a bedside lamp. Her face was etched with worry.
Before she could ask the question he gasped, “I’m all right, babe. It was just a dream. I’m sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep.”
It didn’t surprise him that Maisha wouldn’t be put off so easily. She caressed his arm and then placed her soft hand against his pounding chest and said, “Honey, you’re shaking. What were you dreaming?”
“Nothing. Just crazy stuff. Nothing.” I should have killed her when I had the chance.
“Was it about the past – about what happened before?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Maisha was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Honey, when you came back home by yourself you said that you had to take care of some things. You said you had to make sure that the past didn’t come back on us.”
“Yeah.” He thought he’d done that. He thought that by working with Nikki on that contract that they could put the past behind them and stop being a threat to each other. It seemed that he’d accomplished that. After the job he and Nikki had parted ways without trying to kill each other.
“Did you do that?”
“I think so, yes.”
Duncan lay down again. Maisha lay with him, with her face resting on his chest. He held his wife close; kissed her hair.
He lay quietly, holding his wife close until her breathing grew deep and he knew that she was asleep. He was glad that she could sleep so peacefully, that she could sleep the sleep of the safe and protected.
Hours later, as sunrise lit their bedroom, Duncan was still awake.
The Hitman Chronicles: Rumors of War