In the Shadow of Death: Chapter Seven

In The Shadow

<<<<< BACK TO CH. 6

That familiar ache that began just behind the eyes woke Scarlett just after 3 a.m.  She called it “The Ache of Inspiration,” and it always happened at the most inopportune times.  Once she had lost a boyfriend because she’d been overcome by the muses in the middle of a moment of passion.  She still laughed, thinking of the look on his face when she’d suddenly left the room and began painting, completely naked.  But what no one understood was that it wasn’t her choice.  Once that spark of inspiration hit, she had no choice but to answer its call.  It was a demanding lover that did not wait, and it did not matter if she were sleeping, taking a bath or standing in line at the grocery store.

Scarlett rose from the bed and stumbled around, still weary from the Halcion and sleep.  As she groped around in the dark for the light switch, she kicked something that crackled like old newspaper.  The shopping bag full of clothes Raze had bought for her.  It hadn’t been there before.  She assumed it was still down in the studio space.  He must have set it down in her room earlier when she’d been pretending to sleep.  She grabbed it up and began rifling through, looking for something to wear.  She pulled on a pair of snug fitting jeans that sat low on her hips, but all of the shirts she’d purchased weren’t exactly painting attire.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a large wardrobe that sat in the corner.  She opened it up to find a large television and stereo system on the top shelf where one might have once hung clothes.  There were three deep drawers below the shelf and Scarlett opened each one, looking for anything that might be of use.  She finally got lucky, finding an old sweatshirt folded neatly in the bottom drawer.  As soon as she pulled it over her head, she could tell it belonged to Raze.  It swallowed her small frame.  She could smell him all over it and her stomach fluttered.  With a sigh of frustration, she gathered her hair into a low ponytail and tied it behind her head.

Opening the door slowly, Scarlett slipped out of the room and sneaked down the hall toward the stairs.  She peered at Raze’s room as she passed and could see a soft light coming from under the door, as if from a television set that had been left on in the dark.  She bit her lip and tiptoed past, praying that the floor wouldn’t creak.  She didn’t know how she was going to face him in the morning and it wasn’t something that she could work out right now.  Now she had work to do.

Scarlett breathed a sigh of relief as she made it down the stairs soundlessly.  She’d just stop in the kitchen and make herself a cup of coffee, but when she came around the corner, she saw that Geoffrey was standing at the counter.  The old man was in his pajamas and moved slowly around the room, making a pot of coffee.  She started to derail and go on out the door, but it was too late.  “Miss Munro,” he called.  “What are you doing up?”

“Good morning, Geoffrey… or… well, it’s not quite morning yet.”  She smiled and joined him in the kitchen.  “I might ask you the same question.”

“The old don’t sleep much, young lady,” he said, pouring water into the back of the coffeepot.  “But you’re far too young for such maladies.”  He turned, giving a knowing smile and setting a cup down in front of her.  “The coffee will be done in just a minute.  Sit.”

Scarlett obeyed and watched him for a few more minutes as he flitted around the kitchen, gathering sugar bowls and cream.  He seemed to be pretty spry for his age. He was obviously at least in his seventies, yet he moved like a man with boundless energy.  “So Geoffrey… how long have you been with Raze?”

“Quite some time, Miss.  He’s been quite good to me over the years.”  He came over to the counter and poured Scarlett a cup.  “Cream and sugar?”

“Yes, please,” she replied.  She prepared her coffee, watching the cream swirl around in the dark liquid.  “He seems like a nice man.”

“Of course.  Raze has always been the compassionate sort.”

“So you’ve known him for a long time?” she asked.

“In a manner of speaking.”  He seemed to hesitate a moment, as if he were planning each word very carefully.  Scarlett could tell that he was hiding something, though what it might be she couldn’t imagine.  Constantine was like some kind of billionaire boy scout.  At least, according to everything she’d read about him.  She smiled behind her coffee cup as she took a sip.  Perhaps there were some skeletons in his closet.

“How old is he?”

Geoffrey chuckled.  “Much older than you think.”

“Oh he can’t possibly be more than thirty-five or forty at the outside.”

The older man smirked, but did not respond.  “I’m afraid Mr. Constantine is somewhat of an enigma to us all.  I only know what I have observed of him.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, he doesn’t confide much.”

“No kidding,” she grumbled.

“Just because a man doesn’t say a thing, doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it.”

“I just wish I understood him a bit more.”  Scarlett sighed, resting her chin on her hands as she leaned against the counter.  “I mean, I’ve been here for a couple of days now and I still don’t know what he wants with me.  The paintings, of course, but there seems to be something more.”

“Raze has always felt a need to seek out those with no hope and help them find it.  He loves your melancholy, though he wishes to take it away.  Your art speaks to him in a way he’s never known.  He understands you, Miss Munro.  Though you may not know it just yet.”

“But why?  No one has ever understood me or even wanted to try,” she said.  “And I learned a long time ago not to open myself up.  Baring your weaknesses and fears to the world only makes them vulnerable to exploitation.”

“You think Mr. Constantine means to exploit you?”

“No, I don’t.  That’s what’s so frightening.  You see, everyone in my life, as long as I can remember, has wanted something from me.  Sex, money, adoration… but I can’t figure out what it is that he wants from me.  Whatever it is… I’m terrified I won’t be able to deliver.”

“Perhaps there is nothing.  Perhaps it is he that wants to give to you.”  Geoffrey smiled and topped off her cup of coffee.  “There you are.  Now… off you go.  I can sense the urgency of inspiration radiating off of you.”

Scarlett returned his smile.  Though she did feel her muses shouting in her head, she wished for a moment that she could stay here with Geoffrey.  He made her feel comforted like an old grandfather or favorite uncle.  “Yes, I suppose I’d better get started before I fall asleep again.”  She stood up and went toward the door.  “Thanks again for the coffee.”  Geoffrey nodded and waved goodbye, leaving her to puzzle over his words.

****

As soon as she was gone, Gabriel shed the image of the old man in seconds.  The gray hair and wrinkled skin dissipated like smoke and she stretched, glad to be rid of such a meager form.  Strangely, she could see why Azrael was so taken with this human.  She had a fire that was quite unexpected for one in her position.  Gabriel wished she could hate her.  Scarlett had cost her the only love she would ever know.  Angels weren’t supposed to fall in love with humans.  It just wasn’t done, but Azrael had fallen in love with Scarlett’s soul to such a degree that it had become an obsession.  Thousands of human years passed and he followed her through lifetime after lifetime.  Gabriel’s heart ached when she thought of it. The letting go.  The realization of the fact that he could never love her as he loved this flawed, pathetic human.

 

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In the Shadow of Death: Chapter Six

In The Shadow

“It really is a gorgeous night, tonight,” Scarlett remarked.  “Initially I’d thought you were insane to want to walk.”  The air was crisp and clear.  Overhead were a billion stars, twinkling around a misty moon.  Definitely not what she had expected from a city purported to be dreary and gray.  There was no snow, but the crunch of autumn leaves under their feet was a worthy substitute as they made their way down the sidewalk back towards RazCon Towers.  The doors of a tiny jazz club were open and they could hear the soft, lazy strains of a saxophone and piano playing.  After dinner, he’d taken her to a small clothing shop that specialized in restored vintage pieces.  She came out of the shop with three pairs of jeans, several tops and the clunky leather boots of her dreams.  Even better, when she’d gone to the register to pay, he pushed her out of the way and handed over his credit card, despite her protesting.  She nearly laughed at the absurdity of how the evening seemed to come straight out of some silly romance novel.

“I rather like the cold,” he replied.  “Everything just seems brighter.  Especially at night.”  He looked up at the sky, casting his elegant profile against the moon.  His eyes were closed and she could see the feathery eyelashes that lay against his cheek.  The moonlight bounced off of the lines and curves of his face and again she was struck by his extraordinary beauty.  Even in the cold of the evening, he sent a blast of heat straight to her center and she shuddered visibly.  He noticed and stopped.  “Are you chilled?  I didn’t think about your not having a coat.”

“I’m alright,” she replied, crossing her arms over her chest and hugging herself against the chill.  “I was silly not to bring it.”

“I agree,” he said dryly.  He took his jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders.  It swallowed her frame and she pulled it tightly around herself.  It was warm with the body heat that lingered.  Inhaling deeply, she could smell him all over it.  A woodsy scent, clean and pure like the unspoiled snow that gathers on the uppermost branches of a cedar tree that mixed with the earthy smell of the leather.  A distinctly male scent that made Scarlett tingly all over.  “Whatever are we going to do with you, little one?” he teased.

Something inappropriate almost escaped her lips, but she caught it in time, covering with a tiny cough.  “Sorry… a tickle in my throat,” she said.  “But don’t bother trying to save me.  People have been trying for years.  I’m surprised David didn’t tell you that.”

“He did, in his own way I suppose.”  He took her hand and Scarlett inhaled sharply, almost startled by his action.  “Your hands are like ice.  We should get you inside.”  He said little as they continued down the street.  People passed them by with knowing smiles.  She even heard his name whispered and caught a few hungry stares.  It made her feel both smug and self-conscious.  All those feelings of not being attractive enough or seeming awkward rushed into her cheeks with a flush of heat.  She curled a little closer into his side and began to walk faster.  She wanted out of the street.  She didn’t want to be stared at anymore tonight.  The drugs had made her lazy and she was nearly frozen to the bone.

He didn’t speak again until they were standing at the small private elevator, waiting for it to arrive in the lobby.  “Since we’re down here, would you like to see the studio?”

Scarlett’s heart leapt and her face lit up with an excited smile.  “Yes, please!” she exclaimed eagerly.  The thought of getting back to painting was exhilarating.  Already she’d begun to feel that familiar itch in the back of her mind.  She supposed it sounded ridiculous and pretentious, but at times she felt so inspired that it became a necessity to get something down on the canvas.

He returned her smile and held the elevator door as it opened before them.  “Then by all means, let’s not keep you waiting.”  A few minutes later, the doors opened into another foyer, much like the one downstairs, except the reception desk was a bit smaller.  “I put it here on the floor with my office because there was a lot of empty space up here.  My secretary, Leilah, will be glad to help you if you need anything.”  He pointed to the large doors behind her desk.  “That’s my office there.”

“Very Bruce Wayne,” she joked.

“I can assure you I don’t own any bat costumes or drive a funny car,” he chuckled, leading her down the hallway off to the right.  “Your keycard will open the door and only yours.  I don’t even have access unless you invite me.”

Scarlett’s eyes went wide.  “You don’t have to do that. I mean, it is your building.”

“Nonsense.  Art is a very private and personal business.  I don’t want you to feel that you have to worry about my spying.  Not that I ever would.”  He held his hand out.  “So go ahead.  Try your key.”

Scarlett swiped the card on the box at the side of the doorknob, eliciting an angry beep from the machine.  “Oops… I don’t think it likes me.”

“Nonsense.  Try again.”  She obeyed, getting the same glaring red “No access” message.

“I must be doing something wrong,” she said, feeling a little embarrassed that she couldn’t swipe a card effectively.

Raze reached out and took the hand that held the card.  He was close behind her and she could feel his breath on her neck as he leaned over her shoulder.  “There’s a trick to it,” he said, guiding her hand to swipe the card in a slow and steady movement.  “You can’t do it too fast.”  Immediately the card reader gave a happy chirp and she heard the lock click open.  “See there,” he murmured.

“You make it seem so easy,” she said, trying to mask the lust in her voice.  She couldn’t help it.  She was drawn to this man.  Something about his voice, his movement, it spoke to her most primal stirrings.

“I’m just used to it.  Shall we?” he pushed the door open, stepping aside so that she could walk inside.  The room was a wide space, nearly bare.  Like the penthouse, there were shiny hardwood floors and a bank of windows down one side of the room.  Rows of shelves and cabinets ran down another wall.  Some of the shelves had been filled with supplies:  brushes, palettes, bottles of paint and cleaners and a compact stereo system.  “Is it alright?” he asked.

Scarlett wandered about the room, tracing her fingertips along the wooden shelving that had been built into the wall.  “Of course it is,” she said.  “You seemed to think of everything.”

“Well, I did have a little help from David.  He’s the one that told me to make sure you had a stereo system.  Though, I didn’t buy canvases or a lot of paint.  I thought you might need to pick those things for yourself.”

“Thanks… I’m a little particular.”  Nestled in the corner of the room, by the large windows, was a fluffy couch and a drawing table with stool.  “But it’s just… too much.  You’ve done too much.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like you know everything I want before I’ve even said it.”

“Everything you need, you mean?”  He strolled toward her, his movements almost predatory.  “As I told you before, I’ve been watching you for a very long time, Scarlett.  Be rest assured that there is very little that can be hidden from me.”  She turned as he approached, backing her against the wall.  His scent assaulted her again and her face flushed red.  “Tell me, do you like it?”

“Yes,” she stammered, looking up into his face.  “Thank you.”

He nodded.  Those steely eyes were fixed on hers and she searched them for any sign of teasing.  “Then you can start in the morning.  Yes?”

She nodded, her voice barely a whisper.  “Yes.”  She was nearly panting with him so close.  He was so intimidating and dripping with sensuality.  She knew that she would do anything he asked and that he delighted in that power he held over her.  “I mean… whenever you like.”

“As it pleases you,” he said, his eyes never leaving hers.  “Though I must warn you, I can be impatient at times.  More of that always getting what I want thing.”

“Do you?”

“Do I what, Scarlett?”  She shivered when he said her name.  Something about the way it rolled off his tongue.

“Always get what you want?” she asked nervously.

“Always.”

“An interesting concept,” she said.  “And what is it that you want from me?”

“Everything.”

Scarlett’s heart fluttered hard against her sternum, sending waves of desire all over her body.  A throb deep in her sex nearly made her moan, but she managed to stifle it just in time.  She wasn’t certain, but she was almost sure that he knew exactly how much of an effect he was having on her.  “You know…” she stammered.  “I haven’t had the chance to thank you.  You’ve gone to a great deal of trouble for me.”

“Think nothing of it.”  His lips were close to her brow.  So close that she could feel them graze lightly against her skin.  All she need do was turn her head slightly and they would touch.  “As I told you last night, I have every intention of protecting my investment.”

The air between them was heavy and thick.  Scarlett felt that they were on the verge of something, but she wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen.  Staring up at his face she examined the lines of his lips and the sharp contours of his cheekbones that stood out in the heavy shadow.  Before she knew what was happening she had stretched upward, brushing her lips across his.  When he didn’t protest, she kissed him again, this time letting her lips linger against his mouth.  His arms slid around her waist and pulled her close.  One hand slipped up her side, cupping her jaw gently as he pulled her in again.  His mouth closed over hers.  He parted her lips with the tip of his tongue, teasing it inside.  She accepted him eagerly with soft sighs, letting him nibble and bite.  He pulled back slightly, but she held fast, keeping her body melded to his as she placed kisses over his mouth and cheek.  The taste of his skin, the rhythm of his breath, took her arousal to a fever pitch and she found herself pressing her center against him.  “Scarlett…” he murmured between kisses.  He wove his fingers into her hair, pulling her head back and breaking their kiss.  “We can’t do this, Scarlett.”

“Why not?” she whimpered.  She tried to capture his mouth again, but he held her against the wall.

“I didn’t bring you here to seduce you,” he said, his expression going stoic.  “Let’s not do something we might both regret.”

“But I…” she stammered.  She wanted to say more, something that would convince him to go on, but the words died in her throat and she backed down.  “You’re right, of course.  We shouldn’t be doing this.  I seem to have a terrible way of mixing business and pleasure.”  Her eyes narrowed and she gazed at his face, searching for any signs of crumbling resistance, but he only looked away.  “It won’t happen again.”  She pushed past him and rushed to the door.   She could feel the tears stinging the corners of her eyes and she didn’t want to cry in front of him.  “I’ll see you upstairs.  I should call David.”

“Scarlett,” he began, crossing the room in two strides to catch up.  “Don’t be angry…”

She paused at the door, refusing to turn and look him in the eye. “Nonsense.  Why would I be angry?  Obviously I had too much wine at dinner and it got the better of me, that’s all.  Lucky you were here to stop me before I did something really crazy.”  She gave a fake chuckle and walked away, praying that her keycard would work this time.

Raze had the good sense not to follow her and after only two attempts at using the card, the doors to the elevator opened.  She didn’t wait for him and rode the elevator up to the penthouse, pressing the floor button several times as if it would make the machine travel faster.  When it arrived on the top floor, she rushed through the doors and up the stairs to her room.  When the door was safely closed, Scarlett collapsed on the bed and let go the tears that had been threatening to fall.  How could she have been so stupid?  Why would someone like Raze Constantine want her?  He was intelligent, successful and classy.  Of course he saw her as some kind of junkie charity case.  She was probably just another project, like that school in Africa.  Save the little junkie artist girl.  She gave a bitter laugh.  “Maybe he could have a telethon,” she said to the empty room.

Her purse fell open when she fell down on the bed and one of the pill bottles rolled out and onto the floor.  She reached down and picked it up.  She could be the junkie artist girl, if that’s what he wanted.  Two tiny pills and she might be able to sleep and forget all about Mr. Constantine and his kissing abilities.  Two Halcion and her angel might visit her dreams, making everything go away.  Popping the lid off with one hand, she shook two pills out onto the coverlet.  The little blue pills blended in to the silvery pattern on the bed, but she scooped them up with shaking fingers.  She put them on her tongue, holding them there until she could get into the bathroom to scoop water from the sink into her mouth to wash them down.

Scarlett leaned against the counter, staring at herself in the mirror.  Her makeup had begun to wear and dark circles loomed under her eyes.  Her cheekbones stood out in harsh relief and she rubbed her hands over them.  She didn’t eat much, these days.  She was too thin, almost gaunt.  It was true what Raze had said.  Her obsessions were getting harder to hide.  “Fuck it,” she growled at the mirror, turning the light off and walking into the bedroom.  She shed her clothes, leaving them strewn around the floor, until she stood naked.  She could feel the drugs creeping into her system, bathing her brain in a hazy kind of relief.  Her extremities felt heavy and her eyes were closing against her will as she lay down on the bed.  She sank into the depths of the feather mattress, pulling the comforter around her.

Downstairs, she heard the elevator doors open and Raze’s footfalls on the floor.  She wondered for a moment if he would call out for her, but he was silent.  His boots made a low thud on the stairs as he walked up.  Scarlett panicked for a moment, sure that he was going to come inside.  She pulled the covers over her head and peered out from under them.  If she pretended to be asleep, he wouldn’t stop.  The footsteps stopped outside her door and Scarlett’s body tensed.  Slowly, the door opened, a blade of light slicing the room in half.  Raze peered inside, but he said nothing.  Then, just as quickly, he was gone.

In the Shadow of Death: Chapter Five

WARNING: This part contains drug use and explicit sexual content.

In The Shadow

<<<< Chapter Four

You can tell a lot about a man by the way he drives a car.  That was one of the only bits of accurate wisdom Scarlett’s mother had ever given her.  Men that drove sloppily were doomed to be sloppy in life, bumbling in and out of jobs, relationships and problems.  Raze Constantine drove smooth and fast like the burning undulations of a tattoo machine, weaving in and out of traffic.  Never once in their ten mile journey across town in his sleek black Mercedes did he have to slam on brakes.  He even managed to point out landmarks along the way.  Strangely though, Scarlett never feared for a moment that they wouldn’t make it to their destination.

Pulling over abruptly, they stopped in front of a large, silvery high-rise.  The architecture was ultra-modern with sleek points and curves.  A stately gentleman in a suit opened her door and held it as she got out.  Scarlett blushed in spite of herself, being unaccustomed to having people wait on her and slightly embarrassed at her one little suitcase that the doorman retrieved out of the trunk.  “I’ll take that, Andrew,” he said, taking the suitcase.  Scarlett waited for him obediently on the sidewalk, waves of uncertainty rolling around in her belly.  She leaned back, looking up at the building that loomed before her and realizing that she could not see the top.  The spires disappeared into the clouds like Jack’s beanstalk.  “Welcome to RazCon,” he said in her ear, startling her with his sudden closeness.

“I guess I didn’t know what you meant about towers,” Scarlett sighed.

He chuckled and took her hand.  She stared down at it, shocked at the intimacy of this small gesture.  “You’ll get used to it.  Which reminds me…” He dropped her hand a moment and went into the breast pocket on his shirt.  “You’ll need this.” He handed her a small card with her picture and a magnetic strip.  “It’s a keycard.  It will open almost any door in the building.  Of course most of them you’ll have no need to open, but I wanted you to have full access.  It should also get you past the concierge after hours, should you be coming in alone.  Just don’t lose it.  I’d have to change all the locks.”  He grinned and winked playfully as she took it.

“I’ll keep it safe,” she promised.

“Good,” he replied, taking her arm and weaving it through his.  “Come on, I’ll show you the penthouse and then you can come down and see the studio.”

Scarlett was all eyes as they entered through the enormous revolving doors and into the vast lobby of RazCon Towers.  Men and women dressed in smart suits and shiny shoes rushed this way and that, swinging their briefcases.  A row of glass elevators framed the reception desk seeming to run up and down in an endless stream carrying people from one floor to the next.  The floors beneath their feet were polished gray marble that sparkled in the sun streaming through the windows surrounding the lobby.   She felt so… shabby, walking through this place and she instinctively curled into Raze’s side.  “It’s beautiful,” she said, allowing him to lead her past the reception desk and the bank of elevators.  For a moment she was afraid that he would take them up the stairs and she just didn’t think she could climb to the top floor of this place, but he stopped at a smaller elevator on the far end of the hall and swiped his keycard.  The doors opened and he motioned her inside.

Their long journey on the elevator ended on the 60th floor and the doors opened into the foyer of what could only be the penthouse Raze had spoken of.  To say that it was the picture of opulence would be an understatement, but it was in no way sterile.  The dark wood floors were covered with lush rugs in deep colors of rust and wine.  One entire wall was glass, looking out over London, and it curved with the dome at the top of the building.  In one corner, an enormous dark- finish grand piano stood proudly over the miraculous view.  “Do you play?” she asked, pointing at the instrument.

“A little from time to time.  I’m afraid I don’t have as much free time these days as I’d like,” he replied.  Deep leather couches and chaises were strewn about the room in a couple of casual seating areas.  Some arranged by the fireplace, others pointed toward the flat screen television that hung like a painting over a barrister styled bookcase.  A tray had been left on the ottoman in front of the large couch and, upon inspection, Scarlett could see that it held the remains of Raze’s coffee and a half-eaten omelet.  On one end of the apartment, a half-wall separated the kitchen from what served as the dining room.  She could see that beyond the kitchen was a door leading onto a balcony that she imagined would extend around the entire place.  “This is breathtaking,” she commented.  “I never thought that an apartment could be so… large.”

“It’s comfortable.  I figured that if I had to live where I work, then the living space could be as luxurious as I wanted.”  She wandered into the living room, trying to keep from gawking at this place she would be calling home for the foreseeable future.  The room was warm and a fresh fire had been started in the fireplace, giving off a scent that conjured images of autumn and home.  “Through the doorway there is the kitchen.  I have a housekeeper that comes in each day and cooks, but you’re welcome to anything that’s there.  And of course if there’s anything you’d like in the way of groceries, she goes to the market every couple of days.  Just write it down on the list by the fridge.”  The kitchen looked like something out of House Beautiful or Epicurious.  Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances gave the appearance of a restaurant quality kitchen.  “Would you like some coffee?  I made a fresh pot earlier that should still be hot.”

“No thanks.  Maybe in a little while,” she replied, peeking out the glass door and onto the balcony.  “Does the balcony go all the way around?”

“Not all the way.  Come, I’ll show you.”  He led her out of the glass door and onto a patio that looked like a secret garden, suspended a thousand feet in the air.  There was a small swimming pool there with a couple of comfy-looking chaises and umbrellas beside it.  “This place is wonderful for night swimming.  You don’t need a suit.  No one can see you at this height.”  Scarlett’s stomach flipped over again, imagining Raze swimming naked in this pool.  Though his face had gentle lines of age creasing his brow and around his eyes, he wore it well.  For a moment she wondered what his body looked like underneath those clothes.  She could tell that there were sharp angles there and elongated lines, but she wanted to feel the musculature underneath.  She could feel his strength in the hand that held hers.  Surely he was no less than an Adonis.

“I wouldn’t think it would ever be warm enough to swim on the roof in London,” she joked nervously.  The gray sky overhead certainly seemed to suggest her accuracy.

“The pool is heated, you silly girl,” he teased.  “And if you still need warmth there are propane torches.” He laughed.  “You Americans and your delicate constitution.”  He tugged her arm gently and led her back inside.  Through the kitchen and living room, Scarlett noticed that there were vaulted ceilings and a gallery overhead that must lead to the sleeping areas.  A polished oak staircase led upstairs.  Raze paused at the door and grabbed her suitcase, so she assumed that she would at least have a room of her own.  “Up here there are two suites, each with a private bath.  Yours is to the right.”  He pointed the way with his arm, gesturing for her to go first.

From the moment she stepped through, she felt at home.  Perhaps more than she ever had before.  Scarlett’s life had always been turbulent and she never felt that she had a place of refuge, but everything about the guest suite in this decadent palace invited her in.  The bed was an expanse of fluffy pillows in shades of champagne and pewter. A large window to one side looked out onto the patio she’d seen earlier.  In fact, she could see the swimming pool and she blushed at the possibility of late-night spying.  There was a small glass fireplace built into the wall that separated the bedroom from the bath.  A ceiling fan turned slowly overhead with a soft light emanating from its center.  “Is this alright?  I mean, I hadn’t had this room furnished until now.  Last week it was a storage room with an exercise machine and lots of my old clothes strewn about.  If it’s not to your liking, we can always call the decorator back.”  His voice was so eager, as if he were truly anxious that she would not feel contented here.  But how could she not.  Though the room was a bit more masculine than she would have designed for herself, it was beautiful and near-perfect.

“No.  I can’t imagine a more wonderful place.  Thank you for going to so much trouble for me.”  She tried to look up into his eyes, but found that she could not do it.  In fact, her heart pounded in her chest at the prospect.

“As you mentioned last night, you’re going to be here for quite some time.  I want you to be comfortable.  Please feel free to help yourself to anything here.  Food, appliances, books… whatever you need.  I’m afraid I’m not here very much.  There may be days when you don’t see me at all and I frequently have to travel on business.  But the housekeeper, Mrs. Krauss and of course Geoffrey, will be here to keep you company.”

“Do they both live here?”

“Geoffrey does.  His room is downstairs past the dining room.  Mrs. Krauss lives here in London with her husband.  She arrives at 6 in the morning and is usually gone by afternoon, though she will stay and prepare a special meal if I ask.”

“I don’t mind cooking,” she murmured.  “Though I wouldn’t presume to know what you’d like.”  A smile played on the corners of her mouth.

“I’m not that hard to please,” he replied with a chuckle that let her know that he’d caught her little joke.  “As long as you don’t burn the place down.”  Then there was an awkward silence.  He stood there, shifting from one foot to the other with his hands shoved down into his pockets, looking almost boyish.  “Well, I suppose I’ll leave you to get settled,” he said.  “I’ll just go do some work.  In my office.  Here in the house.  We can go down to see the studio later if you like.”

“Thank you,” she said, offering a smile.  “I’d like to see it.”  He nodded and went back downstairs, leaving her alone.  She closed the door behind him and collapsed against it.  Soon she was giggling like a schoolgirl.  It was a nervous laughter, but also one of complete exhilaration.  What on Earth had she done to deserve this?  She couldn’t help but think that the other shoe was about to drop any second.  She was so used to seemingly good things in her life suddenly blowing up in her face. Why should this be any different?  Would Raze turn out to be some kind of pervert billionaire?  Or worse, some psycho who would hold her hostage here in his tower like a Rapunzel for the 21st Century?  Although, even Rapunzel couldn’t complain about such a tower.  It was like she had fallen into a fairy tale, even if the prince was somewhat mysterious.

It took only a few minutes to unpack her suitcase and put it into the back of her closet.  Looking at the few things hanging there, she suddenly realized that she had packed for a couple of days in London, not a couple of months.  Perhaps later she could walk down to some of the surrounding shops and at least buy some underwear.  The lack of underwear made her think of David.  “Shit, he’s probably worried sick that he hasn’t heard from me.”  She fished her cellphone out of her jacket pocket and switched it on, expecting to find several missed calls.  There was nothing.  “Hmm… that’s odd,” she murmured.  David usually behaved like her nursemaid.  Constantly keeping tabs on her behavior and telling her what to do.  Sometimes she felt more like his naughty child than his client.  It could be annoying at times, but sadly, she felt that he was the only person on Earth that truly cared for her and that made him worthy of her consideration.  She scrolled through her contacts until she found his name.  She pressed the ‘send’ button, but nothing happened.  Putting the phone up to her ear, there was nothing but silence.  She tried it again, but with the same result.  “Damnit,” she sighed, punching the number on the touchscreen manually.  This time all she got was a message telling her that she would need an international calling code.  She let out a growl of frustration and tossed the phone aside.  “Put a cellphone on the shopping list as well,” she grumbled, falling backward onto the bed and letting the jetlag get a hold of her once more.

****

His cool hand slid along her thigh, the most delicate of touches.  She trembled beneath him, but she was not afraid and the cool of his skin was comforting.  Her chest heaved and she felt for a moment that she would cease to breathe, but she did not.  The air was so thick.  Sliding higher, carefully avoiding her sex, his fingertips traced the inside of her thigh and up to the crease where her leg met the torso.  “I’ve waited so long for you.”  His voice was so far away, yet it echoed around her, so smooth but with a hardened edge that could turn from sensual to frightening in the space of a word.  The nuances went straight to her sex and for a moment there was an intense heat.  A burning that was almost painful and she opened her thighs slightly to cool it.  “Alone and melancholy.”  He breathed over her sex and she could see it plume from between his lips like the smoke of a fiery dragon.  Again she tried to move, but a firm hand placed on her hip prevented it. She was welded to the spot and she whimpered at being bound so.  She strained her neck to see him, but only caught the top of his head as it dipped between her thighs once more.  This time he stayed and the moist heat of his mouth closed over her opening.  She cried out into the viscous darkness and heard the muffled sound.  The ends of his hair tickled her thighs as he nuzzled his nose against the soft curls that covered the swollen lips of her sex.  Then there was another sensation as his fingertips moved over the labia, rubbing in gentle circles that made her throb deep within.  Without the slightest touch, she could feel herself open up as if her body was reaching out to him.  She felt so empty inside and the warmth he offered would fill her up.  She’d never be sad or wanting again.  She tried to speak to him, but that oily, thick darkness swallowed up her words.

He parted the tiny nether lips, covered with slick dew, with the tips of his fingers and then kissed her sex fully as if it were a ravenous little mouth.  Pushing his tongue inside, her inner muscles pulled and squeezed, as if they wanted to pull the rest of him into her.  However, he was strong and teased her well, letting just the tip of the tiny muscular organ slide into her depths.  A gentle largo rhythm that mimicked his cock, pressing in a little deeper each time until she was reaching down to grab at the golden strands of his hair.  To pull him away or push him inside further, she wasn’t quite sure.  The pleasure he inflicted was sharp and almost painful but she craved it.  The gentle suction of his mouth with every breath he took drove her further and further toward the edge.  She tried to call out his name, but the words died once more and she whimpered with frustration, closing her eyes against the tears.

All too soon, he pulled back and began weaving a trail of kisses over her thighs and belly, then tracing around each nipple before arriving at her neck.  His breath hovered against her throat and he kissed gently.  She wanted to open her eyes to see him, but she couldn’t.  It was as if something held them closed.  Working his way higher, he kissed her mouth.  She could taste her essence on his lips and the bitter taste made her hungry for him.  Opening her mouth to him, they kissed deeply.  Every breath she took was one he had given with his own lungs.  It was both suffocating and sensual.  The thought that he was all that kept her alive.

“You’re mine, Scarlett.  Body and soul.”  The words were familiar and she opened her eyes.

Azrael raised up over her, his skeletal wings sprouting from between his shoulder blades with a grotesque ripping sound. She stared into his face as it changed from Raze to a death’s head.  She screamed as he smiled to reveal glistening fangs, dripping with blood.  “Body and soul,” he growled, tearing at her throat.

****

Scarlett sat straight up, a scream ripping from her chest so pugnaciously that she could feel it burning in the back of her throat.  When she opened her eyes, the room was near dark in the fading twilight.  For a moment she didn’t remember where she was, but the clean scent of the room seemed to orient her.  She rubbed her head, still aching from the violence of her dream.  How long had she slept?  And what had brought on such a nightmare?  Putting a hand to her throat, she rubbed it absently.  Some part of her almost believed that she would find a gaping wound there where the angel had torn at her neck.  Her angel… or was it Raze?  Like dreams sometimes do, it had already begun to fade.  Had it been Raze in her dream?  Everything had been so blurry.  The sensual way in which he’d touched her and then the savage brutality…She’d been dreaming of her angel since the night she’d almost died, but he’d never sprouted fangs and tried to kill her.  She rolled over and pulled herself to her feet, trying to get her bearings.  She could feel the dull ache deep in her belly that heralded a crash from the pills she’d had that morning.  Hopefully she could find her purse and stop the ache before it moved into her head, making her feel sick and feverish.  She was unsteady as she groped around the room, looking for the light switch.

“Are you alright?”  Raze burst into the room looking as if he’d been asleep himself.  “I heard you screaming!”

She jumped, hearing his voice so suddenly.  She turned, his body closer than she had thought.  Their eyes met momentarily and she felt the flush glowing in her cheeks.  Seeing him so close, there was no doubt that he had been her demon lover.  “Yes, I’m fine.”  She smiled sheepishly and squinted as he flipped the light on.  “I must have been dreaming.”

“Evidently,” he panted.  “You scared me half to death.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No… no need.  I was just worried for a moment.”  He pushed his hands through his hair, making it stand out in messy spikes.  “I see you’ve gotten settled.”

“Pretty much,” Scarlett replied.  “Though I was reminded of the fact that I only packed for a few days.  I don’t suppose there’s someplace around here where I might pick up a few things.  I’m afraid David packed my suitcase with every impractical thing in my closet.”

Raze chuckled.  “Of course.”  He looked down at his watch and shook his head.  “It seems your jetlag caught up to you.”

“Yeah, I didn’t intend to stay asleep so long,” she said, looking around for her purse.  “I hope you weren’t waiting for me.”

He smiled.  “Not at all.  I actually went down for a meeting and did some work in my office.  Tried to look important.”

Scarlett giggled and spied her purse strap sticking out from under the bed. “Looking important is a good thing.”  She reached down, taking hold of the strap and tugging the bag out and clutching it to her chest.  “Whew… I thought I had left this back at the hotel,” she lied.  The contract had specifically stated that she wasn’t to have any sort of drugs on her.  Somehow she’d have to get rid of him before she could quell the junkie beast within.  “I’d be lost without it.  No cell phone, you know.”

He smirked and nodded toward the nightstand.  “Your cell phone is there.  Not that it will work here anyway.  Unless it’s an international, of course.”

“I was wondering why it wouldn’t work.  I needed to call David.”

“You can use the phone downstairs, for now.  The calling code is written on the pad beside it.”

Scarlett nodded.  “Thanks.”  She nibbled on her lower lip, a nervous habit she had when she was lying.

“Look, since it’s so late, why don’t we save the studio tour ‘til the morning and we can go and have dinner together.  I’ll be glad to take you someplace to find something more casual to wear.”

“Thank you,” she said again, her heart pounding.  “Just give me a second.  You know, to freshen up.”

“Of course.  I’ll just go down and wait for you.”

As soon as he was gone, Scarlett upended her purse and poured the contents onto the bed.  Several prescription bottles fell out and she gathered them up, examining the labels.  Her hands still shook from the fear she’d felt just after the nightmare, making it difficult to focus on the tiny print.  Not to mention that her body was crying out for a fix.  She struggled to open one of the bottles, and when she finally did the pills sprayed over the comforter.  Grabbing a couple, she swallowed them dry, exhaling with slow relief.  In just a moment she’d be fine.  No avenging angel wearing the guise of Raze Constantine.  No more doubt and fear.  She would drown them all in a swirling mist of intoxication.  Slowly she sank to the bed, feeling her heartbeat slow down and her muscles quiet.  A blessed tranquility wrapped itself around her, driving her fears and imagined inadequacies away.  Just a few more moments and she could fly.

In the Shadow of Death: Chapter Four

Hey kids! Sorry this has taken so long to get up here. It’s been a crazy busy summer. I hope you enjoy… 

In The Shadow

Sleep had been an elusive friend and so finally around six, Scarlett had given up.  Watching the sun come up, she had thought about all of the things Constantine had said over their ill-fated dinner.  And though she’d tried to deny it, she knew that every word he’d spoken was right.  She wasn’t sure how he’d known, but evidently he was very perceptive.  Her life had been one disaster after another.  The bad relationships, the drugs, the drinking—all of it had conspired to make her a shell of a person.  This empty gash lay open in her chest and it seemed that everyone she knew, with the possible exception of David, had come by only to unload more poison into the wound.

Then there was Raze Constantine.  She wasn’t sure what to make of him.  He was absolutely, stunningly beautiful. His intelligence was internationally known and he was one of those guys that was so wealthy that no one was really sure how much he was worth.  Obviously he had some kind of supernatural perception that made him able to pinpoint every little glitch in her psyche.  But even knowing all that he did about her, he’d made no attempt to manipulate.  He’d been honest and forthright… perhaps a little too honest and forthright.  Raze had said all of those things that Scarlett needed to hear, no matter how much she didn’t want to.  She sighed.  It was probably for the best that she go back to Charlotte and let sleeping dogs lie.  Sticking around and agreeing to his little arrangement would only prove disastrous.  He would either tire of her instability and moodiness or turn angry and cold toward her.  No, it was better this way.

Scarlett crossed to the bed where she’d laid open her suitcase.  She began rambling through it trying to find something comfortable to wear on the plane home.  She laughed to herself.  It was so obvious that David had done most of her packing.  All of the clothes he’d chosen were bright and dressy.  Of course, he’d neglected to throw any underwear into the mess of garments.  Yet another sign that she was making the right decision by going home.  “I must remember to fire him when I get back,” she said to the empty room, tossing the clothes this way and that.  A knock at the door stopped her frenzied search.  “Who is it?” she called.

“Scarlett.  It’s Raze Constantine.  Would you open the door, please?”

She shivered and pulled her robe tighter around herself.  What on Earth could he possibly want at 7 in the morning?  “Give me a second!” she answered, looking around the room nervously.  She caught sight of herself in the mirror and cringed.  She’d just emerged from the shower and her black hair stuck to the sides of her face.  Grabbing a towel from the rack by the sink, she quickly wrapped her hair up in it, turban style.  Another check of the sash around her waist and she was on her way to the door.  She wasn’t sure why she should care so much what she looked like, but for some reason she wanted to look presentable.  She took a deep breath and then opened the door.

Raze stood there, looking at her miserably through hooded eyes.  It was obvious that he hadn’t slept the night before either and she found herself stifling a smile that she had caused him to be so flustered.  Raze Constantine was not a man to be flustered.  “Hello, Scarlett.  May I come in for a moment?” said he asked.  His hair was tousled, nearly obscuring his right eye with fallen locks. There was no expensive suit this morning, but ratted blue jeans and a crisp white dress shirt, open at the neck.  He looked almost human, save for those metallic eyes and pristine bone structure.  Scarlett said nothing, but stepped aside so that he could enter the hotel room.  He followed her to the small seating area and she gestured for him to sit down.  “I think we got off on the wrong foot last night, Scarlett.”

“Indeed,” she said, picking up the television remote and switching it off.

There was an awkward silence between them that was almost solid as he stared around the room, observing everything.  “I see you have your suitcase out.  Are you planning to leave?”

“Yes.  I called the airline this morning and had my ticket changed to the next flight.  I’ll be out of your hair by the afternoon.”

“You needn’t leave so soon,” Raze said.

“Why not?” she asked, re-folding her clothes to put back into the suitcase.  “Neither of us seems willing to compromise on your contract.  There’s no reason for me to stay.  I wouldn’t dream of imposing on your kindness.”

“You couldn’t be an imposition to me, Scarlett.”  He took a step toward her and she shied away before he could take hold of her elbow.  Instead she turned around sharply, her face looking glum.

“Why are you here this morning?” she snapped.  “You made it pretty clear last night that your contract was a one-time offer.  I didn’t accept.  So I really don’t see the point…”

“You’re right.  I don’t usually make repeat offers.  But I couldn’t let you leave London without asking why you’re so afraid.”  Reaching out, he took up the blouse she was still clutching in her shaking hands.  “I think the cost of the plane ticket and these accommodations alone should afford me some sort of explanation.”

Scarlett shoved past him, dropping the suitcase and putting as much space as possible between them.  She wanted to answer his question because he was right.  He had gone to a lot of expense to bring her here, but there was no rational explanation.  Nothing that she could say that wouldn’t sound absolutely insane.  The truth was, if she were being honest with herself, that she knew him.  He was like a voice from a dream she couldn’t place, but one thing was for certain: she knew him and he knew her.  Very well.  Too well for her comfort.  In his eyes she could see that he knew every little dark secret.  “I just can’t put my life on hold for an indeterminable amount of time, and honestly, I don’t think it’s very fair of you to ask.”

Raze nodded and began to pace, his fingertips poised beneath his lower lip.  “You’re absolutely right,” he replied after several minutes of silence.  “You have no reason to accept.  No reason to trust me at all.  Nor do I have any reason to trust you either.  Perhaps you hadn’t thought of this before, but this endeavor is a leap of faith for me too.  You see, these pieces aren’t just paintings for my collection.  The way I see it, Scarlett… I’m asking you to put my soul on the canvas.  I feel very strongly about this and if you won’t do it…”  He stopped, heaving a sigh.  “It sounds crazy, I know.  But I promise that all of your questions will be answered in time.  If you’ll just… give me a chance.”

Scarlett gave a heavy sigh and sank to the corner of the bed.  She rubbed her forehead as if she could massage away the stabbing pain behind her left eye.  She knew she was defeated.  After all, it wasn’t as if she had much of a life to go back to.  A shabby apartment, hallucinations of an angel that would swoop down and carry her away to all her wildest dreams?  What Constantine was really offering was an escape route that she feared had come too late.

His voice was quiet when he spoke again.  “What does one have to lose when she’s already thrown away everything?”

“Give me the contract before I change my mind.”  Her hand was trembling as she gripped his expensive silver pen between her fingertips.  With slow deliberation she signed her name above his in her scrawling script, feeling that she was signing her life away.

BACK to Chapter Three

In the Shadow of Death: Chapter One

<<<<<< GO BACK to Prologue

In The Shadow

TRIGGER WARNING:  Drug abuse and mentions of sexual assault.

ICYMI:  In the Shadow of Death: Prologue

Chapter One

“Scarlett!  Open the door!”   David Bradford shouted through the door, this time loud enough to attract attention from the old lady waiting for the elevator.  This was not how he had planned to spend this morning, but he’d been trying to reach Scarlett for several days and nothing.  Not that it was unusual.  Like most of his clients, Scarlett was a free spirit and would often just go off the grid for days or weeks at a time.  Of course, unlike most of his clients, Scarlett was a loose cannon.  Behind the door, it was just as likely that she would be lying in a pool of her own vomit having overdosed on pills as it was that she was standing in front of a canvas with her iPod blasting in her ears.

“She keeps a key under the mat, son,” the old lady finally said, the annoyance clear in her jagged voice.  “Why don’t you use it instead of disturbing the whole building?”

David smirked, bending down and retrieving the key.  When he pushed it into the doorknob and opened the door, there was a discouraging silence.  He peered inside a little, but the chain was still latched.  He had to push his shoulder against it a few times to break the chain lock and heave it open. “Goddamnit, Scarlett.  Gay boys shouldn’t have to break into women’s apartments,” he called into the room.  No response.

He could smell the scent of alcohol all over the ruined apartment.  Empty wine bottles, newspapers, books and food dishes were strewn everywhere and the air was thick.  David shook his head, stepping carefully around the debris as he made his way into the living area.  Stacks of canvases, some painted, some still white, blocked the windows making it dark in the room despite the early morning sun.  Her obsession was evident everywhere.  She was surrendering to her own madness, it seemed.  The dark angel, staring down at the world below.  Even if he wasn’t the subject, he was always there.  The paintings had grown in scale and twisted beauty in the last couple of months.  And though they were like nothing he’d ever seen, David began to fear that the art world would be disturbed by them.  And that meant that she would be written off as a kook and never sell another piece. Not while she was alive, at least. He walked around the couch and saw Scarlett lying on the floor at the foot of an unfinished canvas.  “Scarlett!” he exclaimed, rushing around the clutter to kneel beside her.  He touched her face, feeling that it was still warm and seeing the gentle rise and fall of her chest calmed him somewhat.  “Scarlett, honey, wake up,” he sighed, hooking his arms under hers and trying to pull her to a sitting position.

“Leave me…” she slurred, her head lolling to one side as David propped her against the front of the couch.  Her eyes opened and focused on him briefly and he could see that her pupils were shrunken and unresponsive.  “David…” she said before closing her eyes again.  He slapped her lightly on each cheek, trying to get her awake enough to stand on her own, but she only groaned.  He sighed again, pulling her into his arms and lifting her body.  “Bitch, if you puke on this suit…” he murmured.  Sadly, this was not uncommon in his dealings with Scarlett.

Carrying her through a maze of wine bottles, he finally made it to the bathroom.  Setting her down in the large porcelain tub, he turned the shower on, letting the cool water rain down on her, uncaring that she was still fully clothed.  When she got like this it was the only thing that would work.  With a heavy sigh he sat down beside the tub.  He could only hope that the cold water from the shower would bring her around and he wouldn’t have to resort to the emergency room.  Scarlett Munro was an up and coming artist—the last thing he needed right now was her unconscious face slapped on newsprint.

A cough and sputter broke David’s reverie and he sat up to see Scarlett shaking the water droplets from her hair and face.  “What the fuck, David?” she growled.

“Well look who’s awake?” he replied, pulling a towel from the rack behind his head.  “I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance this time.”

“You should have just let me be,” she replied, wiping the rough terrycloth across her face.  “I’d have woken up eventually.”

“Jimi Hendrix said that too, I think,” David mused, putting a hand on her arm to pull her forward a bit.  “Come on.  Let’s get you out of these clothes and wash you off a little bit.  You look like hell.”  Scarlett stared at him, her eyes still bleary with the after-effects of her latest bender.  He pulled his suit jacket from around his shoulders and threw it over the toilet.  “Don’t look at me like that.  It’s ok.  I’m gay,” he said as he rolled up his sleeves.  After a few moments, she allowed him to help her out of the soaked tee-shirt and jeans.

David knelt by the tub, using a washcloth to rinse warm water over her body, washing it clean of what was at least a few days’ worth of stink.  Scarlett was silent, letting her friend cleanse her as the effects of the alcohol and pills slipped from her brain, leaving only a dull ache behind.  “How long was I out?”

“No idea, darling.  But I’ve been trying to reach you for three days.”  Leaning over her, he pulled the shower nozzle down and began running warm water over her hair.  “When your voicemail box was full, I decided I’d better come check on you.”  He nudged her shoulder, pushing her forward and scrubbing her shoulders and neck with the loofah.  “So when were you planning on stopping this?”

“Stopping what?” Scarlett asked.  Her voice sounded tired and disinterested.

“Doing this to yourself.  I mean, I get the whole ‘I must suffer for my art,’ bullshit, but honey this is a bit extreme.  Even for you.  One of these days you aren’t going to wake up from this.”

“That’s the idea,” she replied, picking up the shampoo and squirting a pile into the palm of her hand.  “Maybe I’m just wanting to see how far I can go.”

“Don’t talk like that,” David said, picking up her hand and holding it in his.  He tried to smile, but he caught sight of something strange.  Thin streaks of red snaked over the top of her thigh.  Some of the scars were fresher than others and some were quite deep.  When Scarlett noticed him looking, she pulled away, trying to hide.  “What happened?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” she started, but he dropped her arm and gripped her knee, holding it in place as he examined the thin cuts.

“The hell you don’t,” he said angrily.  “You’ve been cutting yourself too, huh?  Is this something new in your repertoire of self-destruction or is this just the first time I’ve seen it?”

“Look, David… you’re my agent.  I don’t see why you even care,” she sighed, pulling away and standing up.  “It’s my body. I’ll do whatever I damn well want.”  As she stepped over the side of the tub, she stumbled, nearly falling to the tile floor before David caught her.

“I’m also your friend, Scarlett.  I hate seeing you like this.”

“I hate being like this.”  She looked up at him, her eyes glistening with tears.  “You think I like feeling this way?”  Suddenly her façade of stoic indifference melted and the tears tumbled over her cheeks.  David embraced her tightly, letting her cry against his shoulder.  She had cried many times.  It seemed to be a symptom of her addiction, but never had she felt so cold.

“Alright, sweetie,” he said, pulling a towel down off of the rack and wrapping it around her.  David walked her clumsily into the next room, sitting down beside her on the bed and holding her tightly against him as her sobs came in shaking heaves.  He rocked her back and forth, letting her tears wet the light cotton of his shirt.

“Scarlett, maybe it’s time that you go and see that doctor I found…”

“No,” she barked, sitting up quickly and backing away, wiping her tears with the back of her hand.  “They can’t help me.  Nothing will help me.”  He stared down at her silently, his heart feeling heavy and sore.  Scarlett obviously believed that she was just a damaged person and that nothing would ever make her right again.  Her art, which had always seemed to work as some kind of salve for her mind, had become dark, reflecting the storm of unstable emotions going on in her head.  He just didn’t know what to say to her anymore.

David had been Scarlett’s friend when she was still scribbling graffiti on the sides of buildings.  It was rare that she ever opened up about her childhood traumas.  A few details here and there about a drunken mother and a handsy stepfather were as far as she ever went.  He’d always been able to talk her down from the ledge but these days it was getting harder and harder.  Worse yet, lately her behavior had become erratic.  At first he’d just assumed that she was high, and being an art agent, he was used to dealing with cokeheads, meth-addicts and junkies, but this was very different.  Her actions were self-destructive and near-suicidal.  As if she were just waiting for someone to show up and save her.

After a few moments, she spoke again.  “Did I ever tell you about the angel in my paintings?”

“No.”

“I saw him when I was twenty-one.  I overdosed on morphine and heroin at a party…”

“What the hell kinds of parties did you go to?” David asked, the corner of his mouth quirking in a sarcastic grin.

Scarlett chuckled.  “The kind where twenty-one year old girls are hopped up on drugs and date raped in the corner.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway.  I guess I was looking for an escape.  Maybe I wanted to die.  Whatever it was, I had been drinking wine laced with morphine or something and then some guy gave me a syringe full of heroin.”  Scarlett pulled the towel tight around her body as she lay down across the bed.  “It was first and last time I ever shot up.  Have you ever done it, David?”

“Never.”

She smiled.  “At first it feels so good.  Like you’ll never be sad or hurt again.  God, I remember that feeling.  I was floating, a spirit looking down on my physical body.  I didn’t want to go back, I just wanted to stay there.  Floating high above and watching.  The world was just this beautiful thing, all colors and wonder and light.  And then I saw him.  This form appeared,   shadow and smoke in front of me.  At first I thought it was just a hallucination or a dream.  There was a man kind of just… floating in the air above me.  At least, I thought he was a man.  He had these wings… God I know it sounds crazy, but he had these wings that just furled out behind him, kind of ghost-like.  He was all dressed in black, even his blonde hair seemed completely devoid of color, but his eyes.  His eyes had this silvery light.  I thought he probably just knew everything about me in that split second that our eyes met.  And I felt so sad that he was seeing me this way, this broken little girl, and I wanted to cry and beg his forgiveness.  But he looked at me and sort of smiled and I knew then he was an angel.”

Her eyes looked past him, her voice trailing off, over David’s head, and away to something unseen.  “So what happened?” he asked.

“He kissed me.  And then he was gone.  Next thing I remember I was waking up in a hospital bed.  My mom was standing over me crying.  I didn’t even care, I just kept looking for the angel.  Praying he hadn’t been a dream.  Of course, he wasn’t, but I kept waiting.  Peeking around corners, staring at the ceiling at night.  I thought that maybe after seeing what I’d done, he’d just decided not to bother.  So I tried to make up for it.  I thought that maybe if I was a better person that the angel would come back.  He’d save me this time.  I quit using, I actually went to school, I tried to play the part of the perfect daughter.  Hell, my pervert of a stepdad even left us.  And for a while everything was better and I just knew my prayers had been answered.  But my mother went back to the bottle.  My stepfather came back and was the worst he’d ever been.  So then I thought, maybe if I was bad, really bad and put myself in situations like before, that he’d come back.  I mean, that’s how he came before, right?”  She paused and pulled the blanket over her shoulder, snuggling against the pillow sleepily.  “But he never did.”

“Scarlett… I think you need some help.”

“No doctors, David.  Please…”

“We’ll find somebody that can help you, I promise.  You can’t just keep this up…”

“A doctor will just give me pills.  Make me numb.  Maybe I’d lose him.”

“Maybe you need to,” David sighed, standing up with an exasperated sigh.  “If you’ve got a guardian angel that’s standing by and watching you kill yourself with drugs, booze and cutting, then he’s not a very good one.”  Scarlett rolled over, turning her back on David and the conversation.

Spying her cell phone sitting on the nightstand, he grabbed it and programmed an alarm. “Look, I’m setting your alarm to wake you up in a few hours.  I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for the last three days to tell you that I’ve found a rather unusual patron.  Assuming my continued procrastination at setting up a meeting hasn’t scared him away.”

Scarlett sat up and stared at David, her stringy wet hair going in all directions.  “A patron?”

“Yes.  You remember what that is.  Someone who pays you to create a specific work of art.”

“I know what it is, dumbass.  Who is it?”

“Raze Constantine.”  He raised his eyebrow, waiting for her reaction.

“You’re kidding,” she said, her mouth hanging agape.  “The billionaire, Raze Constantine?”

“Well I haven’t seen his bank statement, but I’m going to assume yes.  No one else would have a name like that…”

Scarlett leaped out of bed, nearly losing her towel in a comic fashion.  “Raze Constantine is probably the richest guy in Europe, nay the entire world!  What in hell does he want with me?”

“I would think he wants you to do some kind of painting for him.  All I know is that he tracked me down and called me personally to find you.  His exact words were, ‘Miss Munro or no one’.”  David went into his breast pocket and pulled out a plane ticket.  “He also sent this for you.” Scarlett jerked it out of his hand and examined it carefully.  David braced himself for the exclamation that was surely coming.

“David!  This ticket is for this afternoon!”

“I said I’d been trying to reach you for days…”

“I can’t possibly go to…”  She paused, looking for the destination on the ticket.  “Does this say London?  As in London, England?  Like… in Europe?”

“That’s the one.”  David wandered over to the closet and began pulling things out.  He pulled out a dark sweater and threw it aside, wrinkling his nose.  “Everything in your closet is so dark.  You need some color.”

“Thanks, Mom,” she replied with just enough sarcasm to elicit an exaggerated sigh.  “I can’t go to Europe this afternoon.”

“Why not?  It’s not as if you have some pressing engagement.  You’re an artist for God’s sake.”  He pulled a suitcase out of her closet and began tossing things into it carelessly.

“Well… I’m…” She stammered.  “I just don’t think I’m up for this, David.”  He turned to see her reach for a small pill bottle on her nightstand. “And I’m in the middle of a project right now.  You know I don’t like to stop in the middle of a painting.”

With a lunge, he knocked the bottle from her hand, scattering tiny white pills over the hardwood floor beneath her bed.  “You don’t like to stop when you’re in the middle of a bender,” David snapped.  “I’m your friend, Scarlett, but I’m also your agent.  And if you keep going on like this you won’t sell anymore paintings…”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if you don’t get your ass on that plane this afternoon and leave all this…”  He indicated the mess in which they currently stood. “I just can’t represent you anymore, Scarlett.  It’s too much of a risk.”

Scarlett sighed.  “Look, David… if this is some kind of tough love thing…”

“I can assure you that I’m quite serious, love.”  He picked up the wastebasket in the corner of the room and swept the amateur pharmacy off of her nightstand into it.  She followed him around the apartment, watching him pitch pill boxes, wine and liquor bottles into the trash.

“You win, David. You always win.”  Scarlett sighed, leaning heavily against the wall.

“I know.  By my watch you have about four hours to get packed and to the airport.  Do something with your hair.  You look like hell. Oh…” He reached into his pocket again and found a slip of paper with the address of a hotel in London. “I’ve already made your reservation and paid in advance.  Just go in and tell them your name.”

“You aren’t going with me?”  Her eyes widened and for a moment Scarlett looked utterly terrified.

“I’m afraid I can’t go on such short notice. I do have other clients.”  He bent down and continued picking up trash, holding it carefully between two fingertips as if it were a disgusting bug.  “I don’t have time to go running off to London playing nursemaid to you.”

“You’re such a pain in my ass.”

David looked at her with a comic twist of his lip.  “It’s my lot in life.  I’ll be back in a few hours to take you to the airport,” he said, making his way to the door with his load of garbage.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> GO TO Chapter Two