Lauren Westlake had not been this nervous about a date since she had been a teenager. To be completely fair, it had been some time since a man took interest in her, especially a man who had not been recently serving time or one who liked the idea of a forthcoming, commandeering woman. She felt a twist in her stomach that was akin to those first few moments right as intoxication took over.
It was a pleasant, but unsettled feeling.
The case file for Evelyn Marshall was spread out over the bed. There was a page here, a photograph there. She reached up with one hand to readjust the towel turban she had created to dry her hair. The small shirt she wore revealed her lithe body, though the muted print on the front was long since faded. Her slender fingers picked up a glossy picture of what Evelyn Marshall had looked like only days before.
Tall and statuesque, she had a sense of sadness behind the heavy strokes of mascara around her eyes. The shimmering dress she wore was a kind of mauve. Clearly the picture had been taken in late spring or even summer, for the sun was shining, casting glimmering rings across distant windows.
A man helped her from a long black car.
She pushed through the papers, idly rearranging them as if they possessed no clear order. With a slick sound, she pulled free another glossy picture, this one smaller than the rest. “Evan Marshall,” she mused, touching one of her unpainted fingers to her thin, pale lips.
The picture was not flattering.
There was a quality of irritation that oozed from his grim line of a smile. Dark circles enshrouded cold brown eyes that looked at the camera with indifference. A wide black coat hid his features, but the heaviness of his face was enough of an indicator for Lauren. There was something Orwellian about him, massive and powerful, but somber.
With a sigh, she pushed away the photograph and picked up the typewritten file once more. Clicking her fingers against another picture just below her hand, her eyes drifted to the bedside clock. The red lines of the digital clock revealed her procrastination: 7:30.
A half of an hour more and Dominic would be knocking on the door. Her chest was suddenly tight. With an uneven, spastic movement, she was off the bed and the file in her hand cast onto the ruffled blankets and comforter of the hotel bed set.
Lipstick was smeared with broad strokes of a red hue. Eyeliner skillfully applied while dressing. It was a tornado of movement and application. Getting ready for a date required a strange kind of theater act.
The knock at the door, though expected, was sooner than she had anticipated. Pulling a warm, yet tasteful sweater jacket around her shoulders, she grasped the door handle.
The outside air was chilly.
Winter’s bite was a piercing one.
Her body warmed as she saw Dominic. His hair was wild, blown from the frigid gales. Yet the haphazard manner in which it was situated was perfect. His blue eyes were intense. The darkness of the cold night made them appear more vibrant than when they had first met. As he opened his mouth to speak, the perfect line of his white teeth made her smile.
“You look wonderful, Lauren.”
His voice was smooth and confident.
She fidgeted with the door key in her hand. “Ah, thanks. Do I need to bring a warmer jacket? Do you think I might need it?”
He smiled again.
“It is quite cold, Agent Westlake. I imagine an additional coat would not be a bad idea, though we will not be gallivanting through the woods tonight.” He paused, his self-reflection making his eyes glow. “At least I hope not.”
For a moment, she considered bringing her weapon. It passed as she grabbed a heavy coat, imitation fur lining along the inside and around the neck. She pulled the door closed and locked it with a resounding click. Dominic held the coat for her, allowing her lithe figure to move inside it, seeking the warmth and protection.
He held out an arm, gesturing toward a dark sedan.
The room was quite dark and were there a casual observer it would have seemed quite odd. The computer screen provided the only light in the room. Drawn shades hid the partial moon that slid through lidless clouds in the night. Large headphones that enveloped his obscenely large head thumped rhythmically.
His eyes watched the screen with a strange intensity.
The door to his room was closed, the rust-colored handle locked as he reached his hands down into his pants. There was something perversely fascinating about the way he listened to Vivaldi and pornography of the most graphic nature as one intermingled symphony of sound and myriad imagery.
His placid face was accented by wide, cow eyes with near transparent irises. Bushy blonde hair, a testament to his Nordic heritage, violently expelled from around the firm grasp of the headphones.
His face twisted as he watched the perverse play of coordinated sexual movements and glistening bodies, artificially created and produced to enhance the experience. The chair rocked slightly as he shifted position, a strained looking coming to his face as he felt the clear rush of climax.
He raised an eyebrow as he removed his hand and then the obligatory moment of uncertainty that followed the self-flagellation to elation. The room was silent except the strange cacophony that erupted in his mind. As he unplugged the headphones, the sounds from his computer filled the room.
Absurd moaning and telegraphed dialogue were combined with precise symphonic rhythm, creating an aural nightmare. The windows were lined with frost. Cold seemed to crawl along the walls, dampening the world. He stood, wiping his hand against his leg. And then again for good measure, he made sure to blend the color of his pajamas, dark black with white writing.
His feet were bare: hobbit feet.
Moving across the wooden floor without a sprite’s dexterity, he opened and unlocked his bedroom door with one quick movement. He lowered his head as he darted into the hall. Had he been looking up, he would have seen the slinking, crawling shadow with death on its breath at the end of the hall leading to the back porch.
As it was, he did not.
Closing the door behind him, he flicked on the light.
The partial shadow of something grotesque moved silently across the wooden floors without sound, watching him. And again, had he been more observant, he would have seen the cold eyes and strange, uneven mane of something awkward watching through the sliver of the door to the bathroom: something wicked.
A torn towel hung off the back of the door.
He turned on the faucet, hot water erupting in spurts and fits from the aged pipes of the cold apartment complex. He wrung his hands, washing them beneath the scalding water. Steam rose in little curls, fogging up the oval-shaped antiquity that served as a mirror in this closet masquerading as a bathroom.
The city of Locke did not have much in the way of community housing. Small, squat buildings weathered and frigid like human freezers lined a narrow street just north of the railroad tracks. The small apartment occupied by the lonely young man was one such sparse residential arrangement.
He splashed his face, reaching for the beaten towel. Rubbing his face hard, he let it fall to the sink. Looking around his miniscule accommodations, he sighed. There was something defeatist about living so far north.
You had to be content with the minor victories: working plumbing, a warm room with four walls. Necessity was paramount, want often falling to the wayside. Opening the door to the bathroom, the artificial light spilled into the narrow hallway.
He looked to his bedroom, the door half-open.
Feeling thirsty, he turned down the hallway toward the diminutive living room that was inhabited by a small couch with an orange comforter. There was an ancient television set, yellow blinking lights of the satellite receiver hidden beneath it in an avalanche of video games, movies, and various clothing.
The kitchen floor was cold linoleum. His bare feet bristled with gooseflesh and he made a face that indicated so. The dull light of the refrigerator cast shadows across the vacant cupboards and overflowing trash can.
He did not see the shadow approach.
The breathing caught his attention. He paused, his body partially illuminated by the refrigerator light. Licking his lips, he turned slowly. His breath caught in his throat.
“What the fuck,” he whispered.
The creature moved toward him slowly, chest heaving. The slash dislodged his intestines. He tried to catch them as they fell. There was blood, so much blood. His hands fell aside as the shadow climbed atop him, ravenous claws tearing flesh.
She was more prone to smirking than the wide-mouthed laugh she was utilizing currently. Had it not been, of course, for a rather potent bottle of Pinot Noir that so succinctly ravished her palate. Jabbing her fork into an ample portion of fish in a manner that would not be considered womanly in any society, she attempted to engage in her wittiest of banter.
“So a federal agent? A fearsome title for such a beautiful woman.”
Lauren paused, glancing over her food with wide eyes. Beautiful: the compliment often elicited butterflies in women of all ages. She cleared her throat, brushing back her hair. “That is quite the sentiment. Being a federal agent keeps me from being harassed by the less than reputable.”
Dominic shifted, touching the glass of water. He did not drink the wine. She would surely not begrudge someone for having discipline. “So what does Agent Lauren Westlake like? What does she enjoy?”
She smiled coyly.
“I like this. I like being here.”
It was in such a way that he knew, but did not judge.
“I am pleased that you are enjoying yourself. Do you enjoy dancing?” The approach of the house band was subtle; violins humming softly. He stood and crossed to her side of the table, extending his hand. “Would you care to dance?”
She blushed, accepting his hand and standing with him. The restaurant was mostly empty. There were other patrons, older couples who smiled in reflection of their lives, of moments very similar to this one.
They danced slowly, his hand on her lower back.
She hugged against his strong back, feeling the powerful muscles and crevices where his muscles gave way to bone. After a time, she laid her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes. She thought of something she had not for some time: happiness.
Too long had her life been the job; in mere moments, he had broken down that defense. She felt safe and cared for in his arms. They moved across the floor. The veneer wood beneath their feet clicked and creaked with their every movement. Some people had gathered, cooks from the kitchen, wait staff in the back.
Together, they were a portrait of bliss.
A slight rumble became an intrusion; her phone vibrated inside her coat. She did not hear it at first, her thoughts lost in the powerful arms of Dominic. As they turned, he led her up the open area that was serving so well as a dance floor, twirling her and bringing her close once more. Her eyes looked out into the clear night, the moon hanging ominously in the distance.
The rumble came again, moving her coat. Her eyes caught the movement and she stared as Dominic moved her around the floor, finding great peace and rhythm. Her intense look grew, her mind retreating from the joy she had felt so briefly.
And then she saw the movement clearly, unmistakably. With a sad smile, she looked up at Dominic. “I think my phone is vibrating,” she spoke.
He looked deeper into her eyes.
His blue eyes were oceans of depth and consideration. Something quite old deep dwelled within those eyes, a history much older than the stunning man who stood before her. “I understand,” he replied and then stepped away, holding onto her hand.
He raised it slowly, holding her eyes and kissed the top of her hand lightly. She smiled, her shoulders lifting. He turned over her hand and kissed her palm, this time lowering his head and closing his eyes. Gooseflesh traced her body, the entire right side of her body experiencing a chill. Her smile had shrunk, though not from lack of joy. It took everything she had to not giggle goofily, to not blush and fawn as a teenager in love. It took a great deal of control to move away from him then.
But, she did so.
Lifting up her coat, she pulled free her phone and frowned. There were several calls from the sheriff’s department. Scrolling down, she saw another from the sheriff’s cell number. With a sigh, she put the phone to her ear and rung her voicemail.
The news did not improve.
The sheriff was speaking in hurried tones and despite Dominic’s electric smile, her brow furrowed. By the time she had replaced her phone back into the pocket of her coat, she was positively fearsome.
“There has been another murder.”
Dominic’s face mirrored her seriousness.
“I am sorry, Lauren. Where shall I take you?”
Time felt as if it ebbed with his words. She had forgotten her weapon, leaving it because she felt it would not be a necessary evil on this night. That had proven incorrect. “We will have to cut the evening short. I fear that I will be held up for a while at the scene.”
Dominic paused, a pregnant one in which he seemed to evaluate her claim carefully. “Would it be inappropriate if I accompanied you to the scene?”
She looked at him with wide brown eyes.
Again, he surprised her.
There was something powerful about the manner with which he conducted himself. The restaurant chattered on. Other patrons ignored their exchange, the elegance of their movements having faded back into the white noise of the world.
She grabbed her coat and put it on.
“I am not sure that it would be the best idea.”
He moved in closer, taking advantage of the height difference to surround her. “I will not be in your way, Lauren. I would simply be a glorified chauffeur. It would not be an inconvenience for me.”
She considered his words.
The night had only begun and her plans far exceeded where they had found themselves. The restaurant, though inhabited with souls, felt empty except for Dominic and her. His cerulean eyes watched her with an old look, a wisdom that wandered far beyond his near perfect body. A body she wished to explore more of. She blushed at the thought and his perfect smile returned.
“I do not imagine that Sheriff Montgomery will be too encumbered by my presence. It might amuse him somewhat. He seems intrigued by you, as I imagine a great many men are.”
Lauren had never felt so giggly and light as she did in his presence. For her life, she had always avoided those flowery feelings of placing men’s needs and wants ahead of hers. Dominic erased that, but she knew that he would never allow her to believe such a thing. She cursed herself for finding such a man during dark times.
He stepped closer, taking her hands in his.
“I am intrigued by you. You enchant me.”
Her legs felt weak, a feeling that made her resolve steel. Walking that tightrope of maintaining her reason and allowing her feelings to run away with her, she smiled. “You don’t strike me as the squeamish type, though I should warn you that these crime scenes can be quite gruesome.”
His smile faded to a tight smirk. “I will take that as your acquiescence. And if it alleviates your concerns, I am not in the slightest squeamish, as you say.”
She allowed him to put her coat over her shoulders. Looking at him, she spoke in a low tone. “I should at least stop by and get my gun.”
There were others things she would have liked to say. But it would have to wait. She had a feeling in her stomach that whatever she believed was haunting Locke had reared its tumultuous head again. She took his arm as they exited the restaurant out into the cold night.
Visit http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/ and follow the blog for a chance to win a Kindle Fire!