Oct. 15 –1:00pm
The ride into town was mostly silent other than the soft music from the radio. At first, Alex attempted conversation by pointing out and asking questions about landmarks and other interesting bits of the passing scenery but was met with clipped responses at best or unintelligible grunts at worst. Though the side of his face that she could see showed no hint, she could tell he was annoyed. Was it the conversation in the Library this morning, the questions and small talk now, or was he simply annoyed in general? After nearly thirty minutes and being met with resistance at every turn, she gave in to his desire for silence and turned slightly to study her host once more.
In the sunlight his features were more defined than she’d been able to make out earlier. Alex was surprised to note that his eyes were, indeed, a golden amber of a shade she’d never seen on a human. Fascinated, she watched as the light brought out dark auburn highlights in his black hair that was slicked back in his normal style. Briefly she wondered what it’d look like all mussed and falling over his eyes. Perhaps then he wouldn’t seem quite so intimidating? Her eyes wandered along his smooth cheek and down to his strong jaw. Once more something struck her as being slightly…off and again she couldn’t identify why. It wasn’t until she noticed the faint stubble on his chin…but just on the left side. The right was perfectly smooth. Strange. Where the stubble ended, she finally noticed the slight ridge that bisected his chin. Hardly noticeable until it was known to be there, Alex could now follow it as it traveled along his jaw line, up the side of his face near his ear, to his hairline, then down the bridge of his nose to skirt his mouth. She noticed the slight shadowing of his right eye and was confused. It was almost like he was wearing…
“A mask.” Alex was unaware she’d whispered the words aloud until Erik shot her a look full of malice.
“Ah yes, the mask.” Erik’s quiet voice dripped with cold fury making her almost wish he’d yell instead. “I’d been wondering when you’d broach that particular subject.”
He pulled the car onto the shoulder, placed it in park, and let it idle; Alex sat frozen in her seat as he turned to pin her into place with his gaze. Startled, she was reminded of the predatory eyes of a large cat while stalking its prey. A light shudder passed over her at the thought.
“Mr. Devereaux. I…I’m sorry…” her voice shook as she stammered an apology. “I didn’t mean…I didn’t even know I’d said anything.”
“Oh but you did mean to, my dear,” his anger rolled off him in waves and threatened to suffocate Alex where she cringed against the door. “You’ve been studying me like a bug under a microscope, first last night and just now. Are you happy now that you’ve satisfied your…curiosity?” Erik sneered on the last word and Alex shook her head violently in denial. “No, you say? So now you want to see beneath the mask, to find the monster who hides. Would that make you happy, Miss Roberts?”
“No, please, Mr. Devereaux,” she whimpered, finally breaking away from that intense glare to stare down at her hands. She noticed how they shook and clasped them together tightly. “I’m sorry, please. I didn’t mean…I was only….” She shook her head and fell silent; afraid she could say nothing that wouldn’t make him angrier than he was already.
“Know this, Miss Roberts. If you ever again mention or, God help you, touch the mask, those who killed your brother will be the very least of your worries.” Venom dripped from every word, his angel’s voice now echoing the cries of demons from the blackest depths of hell. At her terrified nod, Erik savagely threw the car back into gear and reentered the highway with a shower of dust and squealing tires.
Trembling, Alex stared out the window no longer seeing the scenery as it flew past. This was the man who was supposed to keep her safe? This was the man who would help her find the ones responsible for Sammy’s death? When he’d threatened her, she’d heard the awful sincerity in his voice. He’d kill her without any regrets and the detective would probably cover for him. Her hands tightened until her nails cut into her skin. She’d probably be safer with her brother’s killers; Good God, they couldn’t be any worse than Erik Devereaux! Stealing a surreptitious glance at his stony countenance, Alex began to plan how to get away from him and take her chances on her own. She had several acquaintances at the post office; perhaps they’d let her out the back? She could return to her apartment, pack, get her car, and drive to the lake house. Once she was gone, she was certain neither the detective nor Devereaux would come looking for her. What would they have to gain by it?
Erik silently fumed as he drove. He could tell he’d scared the girl, but dammit, why did she have to mention the mask? He’d thought he’d disguised it well, but obviously not well enough for such a slip of a girl to see it. Why did women always have to pry? From Eve to Pandora to the trembling child in his car, women constantly wanted to see, to know, to have those things that are forbidden. Hell, protecting the chit wasn’t even something he wanted to do. He was only doing it as a favor for Da’ud and due to the possible involvement of Christine. Christine. God, he loved her still but hated her at the same time. Her betrayal had cut him soul deep; moreso because she’d lied about her feelings for him and had another lover than even for trying to kill him. He wasn’t even sure what he’d do if he saw her again. If she tried to kill him a second time would he be able to stop her? Would he even want to? He hoped it wouldn’t come to that; any hesitation on his part might have disastrous results.
Pulling his thoughts from Christine, Erik glanced over at Alex and saw that she was deep in thought. Considering what had just occurred, she was no doubt planning something extremely foolish and he contemplated letting her succeed. At least then he could wash his hands of the whole affair and return to his music; favor be damned. And yet…the image of the crime scene photographs crept into his mind. Samuel Roberts lay in a pool of his own blood – beaten, tortured, then shot like an animal – and Erik could easily imagine Alexandra lying there instead. Dammit, why should he care anyway? She was just like all the others who see the mask and forget there’s a human being behind it. Erik glanced over at Alex once more, surprised to see the glittering trails on her cheeks left by silent tears. Perhaps he’d overreacted just a little. A very little.
“We should arrive in about twenty minutes,” His voice was quiet and calm as he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief. Laying it on the seat beside her, he returned his attention to the road.
“Thank you.” Alex’s whisper was barely audible and her hand shook as she wiped away her tears. She wondered if she should apologize again, she sincerely wanted to, but felt it might be best to simply let the subject drop entirely. In an effort to ease the tense silence, she asked him to explain the plan again. Erik nodded and walked her through the plan once more. This time, Alex had some questions and they spent the remainder of the trip discussing all the possibilities and potential problems. As they pulled into the lot and walked towards the front door, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves. It was time to find out what this was all about as well as escape her masked protector.