Saturday, July 9, 2011

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 22

March 2

(from a newspaper clipping)

Only a day late, March 1st marked the premiere of Don Juan Triumphant the latest masterpiece from Erik Devereaux, owner and composer for the Metropolitan Opera and Ballet. If I had known of the spectacle of pure genius that awaited the audience, this reviewer would have been content to wait months if necessary. To say Mr. Devereaux has surpassed his own excellent compositions would be an immense understatement. The atmosphere of the piece is at once dark and seductive as well as cold with despair sprinkled with a bit of sunshine and joy. Your emotions will take a whirlwind rollercoaster ride as you watch the seduction of the fair Aminta, sung by the fabulous Katherine Davis former understudy of the late Carlotta Giudicelli née Carla Goldman, by the dastardly Don Juan. Davis, only 23, has proven to be quite a surprise with her pure soprano and effortless grace. Her youth served her well in portraying the innocent serving girl who catches the eye of the most notorious womanizer in all of Europe. Her initial resistance and then surrender to his practiced seduction was a masterful piece of acting. Franklin Delozier, the established leading tenor of the Metropolitan, had to have feared for his very life by the time he realized his love for the fair Aminta. By intermission, I truly hoped the actor was being protected by armed guards so great was the animosity towards the character. The declaration of his love for the young girl, and his sacrifice of his soul to save her from Death’s clutches, redeemed Don Juan in the eyes of more than just the audience. As the curtain fell, there were few who exited the theater with a dry eye; I can confess without shame that it was true for even this jaded reviewer.

The gala afterwards was a spectacle unto itself. The acclaimed composer attended with his lovely fiancée, Alexandra Roberts, upon his arm. When asked if he was working on a new composition, Mr. Devereaux stated that he would be taking a much needed sabbatical with his lady for a world tour. Neither would confirm or deny the rumors that a wedding date had been set for late autumn.



A/N: This ends the tale of Erik and Alexandra. As one of my first stories in many years, it was the first to demand to be written. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 21

February 5

Blankenship had been transferred to a federal prison awaiting his indictment. Ironically, it was the same prison from which Zakharov had only recently escaped. Every day his lawyers would arrive to look for something, anything, which could get the case kicked out of court but their client refused to cooperate. He felt safer from Chaney/Zakharov within the walls of the prison than he would without. Frustrated, the case was repeatedly handed off to other lawyers within the firm Omni had on retainer. This visit was no different. When Blankenship was brought into the consultation room, there was yet another new face behind the briefcase.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Blankenship. I’m Matt Findley, your new lawyer. Mr. Whitman was called away with a family emergency and…”

“Cut the bullshit, Findley.” Blankenship interrupted with a bored wave of his hand. “I know and you know why Whitman pawned the case off on you. My question is what did you do to piss him off so badly that he made you take it?”

“I assure you, Mr. Blankenship, that is not what happened. As a matter of fact, I requested this case.”

“Stupid son of a bitch,” the prisoner chuckled dryly, “what do you hope to prove, hmm? I’m guilty. The evidence is irrefutable even if Chaney got to Carla already. Yes, I’ve heard that she’s gone missing, suspected of flying to a non-extradition country, but we both know that’s not what happened. Chaney or one of his associates has her and I’m sure she wishes she was in this prison right now rather than wherever she is. The prosecution won’t offer a deal since they have too much evidence for a full conviction so I’m not really sure why you’re here.”

“Well, Mr. Blankenship, it is my solemn duty as a member of the judicial system to ensure that you get a fair trial.” The rotund lawyer paced around the room as he spoke. Blankenship simply looked bored. “Because you know as well as I that my associates want to ensure you get the very best representation so that you get nothing more than what you deserve.” A pudgy hand landed on the prisoner’s shoulder and he jumped at a sharp pain. Turning to gaze at the lawyer, Blankenship’s eyes were caught by the needle that protruded from the signet ring.

“You’re…You work for him!” The fat man waddled back to his briefcase and picked it up before rapping on the door for a guard.

“You knew it was coming, Blankenship. We could have never let this case go to trial. Be glad that you’re not in your compatriot’s predicament; she is quickly learning her new role in life, or so I’m told.”

The guard escorted the lawyer from the secured cells before returning for the prisoner. Blankenship accompanied him without protest. What would be the use? He knew he’d be dead by morning. Entering his cell, he immediately lay on his cot and began trying to make his peace with God.


The sound of the whip snapping behind her was still terrifying, even after nearly a week of similar torture. Carla trembled in the manacles of the cold, metal fetish contraption that held her naked body spread-eagled and on view for all in the room. She wore six inch heels and fishnet hose with garters. Large metal clamps had been attached to her abused nipples which were nearly numb from the intense pain and pressure. During the course of the night, she’d been pinched, fondled, and fucked by nearly everyone at Vlascenko’s party. As it descended even further into drugged hedonistic decadence, the whips and plugs and clamps had been introduced to her already sore, used body. She could feel blood, and other fluids, running down her thighs and couldn’t stop the tears that streaked her makeup.

“My dear,” a large, hairy man clad in nothing but a bow tie and slippers noticed her crying and approached, “have we been neglecting you? We’d not want our favorite entertainment to be sad and lonely.” He laughed and flipped a switch, sending short bursts of electric volts through the metal clamps that so painfully pinched Carla’s nipples. Her body stiffened against the pain and two more fat tears rolled down her cheeks. A few more jolts and she was openly sobbing, hanging limply in the restraints. Even in her misery, she could see the man stroking his hardening manhood as her pain stoked his pleasure. “You are a lovely creature, did you know that? Yes, so very lovely.” Throwing a separate switch, the frame pivoted and lowered so that she was facing the floor, the rush of blood causing her swollen nipples to throb painfully. She barely managed to hold back a cry when she felt him plunge harshly into her sore, raw body. She knew that, should she make a sound, they would assume she was enjoying their torment and fall on her like a pack of rabid wolves. Unfortunately, the man’s grunts of pleasure still drew an audience and soon she was the center of the entertainment once more. For the millionth time since she’d entered that taxi Carla prayed for death to take her and soon.

Long hours later and her limp, aching body was tossed carelessly onto the bed into her cell-like room. The click of the lock barely penetrated her tormented mind; neither did the sound that could only be a zipper. She didn’t have to perform for the guard so she simply lay there and let him have his way with her. When he was finished, which was rather quickly, he slapped her ass and told her to clean up because Vlascenko would call for her in an hour. She would be needed at dinner. The door closed and locked behind him and she was left alone at last. Carla thought of the shower. Clean up? All the water in the oceans couldn’t clean the dirt and filth that had become her life.

As she struggled to sit up, she realized one important thing: she still wore her stockings. Usually the guard removed those before he left but had forgotten them while slaking his lust with her body. Carefully and with shaking hands, Carla unclasped the garters and slid the stockings down her legs. They were caked with blood and semen and Lord knows what else, but they were sturdy and strong and perfect for her use. She pulled over a footstool which was just tall enough for her to reach the ceiling. Standing on her toes, she pushed the ceiling tile aside to reveal the thick wooden joist. Tying the stockings securely to the joist, she looped the rest around her neck several times to shorten it before tying it off. For a moment, Carla hesitated. She was still fairly young and had lived a decent life. Was she ready to die? Then, the clock struck the half hour and she knew that it was the only way to escape another meal spent at the mercy of the sick, perverted bastard who kept her captive. Without a second thought, she kicked the footstool away. For once, fate was kind to Carla Goldman and the fall snapped her neck before she could suffer a lengthy death by strangulation.


The trip from Kirov to the northern coast was uneventful after the neutralization of Zakharov which pleased both Erik and Alex quite well. The ship took them into Sweden where they disembarked with only the normal hassle of clearing customs from an Eastern Bloc country. They made contact with an Agent in Stockholm who secured their passage back to the United States without further incident. Their plane was to leave at 6:00pm and would fly straight into JFK Airport. With several hours to kill, they took advantage of Agency funds to replace their clothing and go to a restaurant for a relaxed lunch.

“Erik, will your opera be delayed because of all this?” Alex was genuinely worried for she felt responsible for his not being there to oversee rehearsal. His smile as he took her hand had her heart turning over in her chest; he was incredibly, achingly beautiful.

“No, petite. I haven’t been gone that long and the managers are actually a bit more competent than I make them out to be. When we return, I’ll have them run through the performance so I can make any changes that I feel are needed. We have nearly three weeks until opening night; they will be ready.” He raised her hand to his lips to brush a light kiss across her knuckles. “How are you holding up, Alexandra? You look tired, my love.”

“I’m…okay, I guess,” her smile tumbled from lips that trembled. “I’m still having nightmares, as you know, but having you by my side helps immensely. It’s hard to be afraid when you’re holding me.”

“When we get back, would you do me a favor, petite? Talk to someone. The Agency has people trained to help this exact situation…” Erik’s voice trailed into nothing as tears welled up in her pale green eyes.

“They haunt me, Erik,” Alex whispered brokenly. “Every time I close my eyes I can see them lying there in the snow as it’s stained red with their blood. It steamed. Did you know that? In the snow, their blood was so warm it caused the snow to steam…” Erik quickly moved from his chair to pull her up into his arms.

“Shhh, forgive me for bringing it up, petite. It’s over now. Completely over.” Keeping her cradled in the shelter of his arm, Erik handed the waitress far more krona than were needed for their meal and escorted Alexandra back to their hotel. Once there, he pampered her like a princess. He drew a warm bubble bath for her and joined her there to rub the tension from her shoulders and neck. Afterwards, he gently toweled her dry and combed her hair delighting in how long it had gotten. Lying with her on the bed, he told her of his plans for their wedding and honeymoon, all the places he wished to take her, and all the things he wished her to see. As Erik wove his spell around her, he eased in a few suggestions to help her move beyond the trauma she’d gone through.

They left for the airport at 3:00pm, checked in, and waited for the calls to board. They shopped and laughed like tourists; even going so far as to pick up a few souvenirs for the Girys and Da’ud at the airport souvenir shop. As their packages were being wrapped, Alexandra began to suspect her lover of using his persuasive powers to ease her inner turmoil. Even if that were so, she had no reprimand for him. She knew he’d only do so if he felt it was absolutely necessary and beneficial and she appreciated his concern. Once boarding was announced for their flight, they gathered their items and took their seats. When drinks were offered, Alex got some water to wash down a sleeping pill, leaned against Erik’s shoulder, and fell into her first untroubled sleep since she’d been kidnapped.

Their arrival at the Metropolitan was filled with hugs and tears and laughter as the Girys and Da’ud welcomed them home safe and sound. Erik asked Angelique about the progress on his opera while Meg told Alex the silly sort of gossip that always runs rampant throughout a performing troupe. Pleading exhaustion, which wasn’t a lie by any stretch, the couple headed for their apartment trailed by Da’ud. Upon entering the front room and being assaulted by so many happy memories of times that had very nearly ended forever, Alex promptly burst into tears. Erik guided her to the sofa while the former detective hovered uncertainly in the doorway and wondered if perhaps there was a better time for what he had to say. Holding her gently on his lap, he kissed the top of her head lightly before motioning for Da’ud to enter and close the door.

“I knew you would have information for me that you didn’t want to reveal in front of the others; I have some for you as well.”

“Should I return?” The Persian motioned to the still weeping woman curled up on Erik’s lap. “I wouldn’t want to further upset her, my friend.” At this, Alex raised her head and sent him a watery smile.

“I’ll be alright, Da’ud. Please, go ahead. I’d like to get all of this over quickly so it can be put behind us.”

“Very well. As you know, Erik, Carla wore a wire to Blankenship’s office and persuaded him to reveal his involvement in Alex’s kidnapping. It was his footage and employee who spliced the tape. He rewarded the man with a pair of cement shoes.” Da’ud glanced at Alex before continuing. “We also found out he had recorded more than just Alex. There were over a hundred tapes of himself and a variety of women. That, while despicable, wouldn’t have been illegal except not all the women consented to the taping or the sex nor were they all of legal age.”

“So, he’s in jail now?” She couldn’t help the note of hope in her voice. She’d be happy never to see him again.

“Well, not at this exact time, no. At 4:45 yesterday, Michael Blankenship was found in his cell dead from an apparent heart attack. A toxicology report showed no poisons in his system and so his death was declared accidental.” The detective stared at the floor, less enthusiastic about revealing the rest. “Carla Goldman, who was released as a result of an agreement made with the District Attorney’s office, was last seen entering a cab outside the station on January 29. Her body was found this morning at an abandoned factory, an apparent suicide by hanging. She had lacerations and contusions that show she’d been whipped and beaten before her death. There is also evidence of electrical burns in places that suggest she’d been in the company of a fetishist. Test results also confirmed that she’d been raped, multiple times and by multiple people; none of the DNA we found was on file.”

“European Electronics cleaning up after the Zakharov fiasco?” His eyes remained unchanged but Erik felt a twinge of remorse for what had happened to Carla; but only a twinge. She chose to associate with animals and so was at the mercy of those of higher status in the pack.

“That’s my guess.” Da’ud ran a hand over his face and through his hair. “Blankenship knew what would happen but I think Carla was simply in over her head.”

The spoke for another hour or so before the former detective took his leave. Erik told him that Zakharov had been neutralized and asked him to arrange for a debriefing with the Agency. He also gave him the information concerning Agent Wallace and asked him to pass it along to the CIA which, he knew, would deny any presence in Kirov. Alone at last, he carried his Alexandra to bed and made sweet, gentle love to her before falling asleep with her wrapped securely in his embrace.

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 20

January 30

Nighttime shadows closed in on her from every angle and mysterious sounds urged her down a dark path that contrasted sharply with the fresh snow. There was something about that path that caught Alex’s eye and she strained to see it more clearly but the shadows were too thick and the noises were growing closer. A brief flare of light lit up the outline of a man leaning against the building. When he dropped the match, she watched it as it fell; its unnaturally slow descent illuminating the path she’d followed. It was red. The deep maroon, almost black, shade of coagulated blood.

“Why did you kill me?” The smoking man turned to face her and she could see the blood seeping from a jagged wound in his chest. “I just wanted a kiss…give me a kiss…you owe me a kiss!”

Alex tried to scramble backwards but was caught by a second person. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Agent Wallace whose skin was the same grey pallor of death as the guard’s. His head hung limply to the side now that his broken neck could no longer support it properly while blood oozed from the wound in his knee. In vain, Alex struggled to escape his cold grip. The guard continued to advance and she watched in horror as his deathly pale face came closer and closer…

Erik sat on her legs and held her wrists while trying to wake her. She’d started whimpering in her sleep ten minutes ago, rousing him from a most pleasant and erotic dream of the woman at his side. At first he thought she might be experiencing a similar fantasy; that was before the first bloodcurdling scream. When he’d attempted to wake her, Alex began fighting against his hold and so he’d had to fully restrain her. Even now she threatened to throw him to the floor as she bucked beneath him and struggled to free her hands. Transferring both wrists to one hand, he gently tapped her cheek while calling her name. When that didn’t work, he spied the pitcher of water by the bed.

Spluttering, Alex’s eyes shot open to see her beloved masked phantom above her, worry etched deeply on his maskless features. Looking around her frantically, she realized she was safe and out of the snow; away from the men whose deaths she’d caused. Catching Erik’s concerned gaze, she promptly burst into tears. He quickly rolled to her side and gathered her close, murmuring soothing words in her ear as he stroked her hair and back. He’d seen the dead man shoved under the shed and had wondered when it would hit. The first person you kill always haunts you the worst. He’d hoped she’d never have to learn that particular fact.

“You’re safe now, ma petite chère, I have you. You’re safe.” He whispered softly as he planted kisses in her hair. It broke his heart to feel her body shuddering from her sobs as she attempted to purge the terror of the nightmare from her mind. Her words were broken and disjointed as she told him about the guard she’d been forced to kill or risk recapture. “I know, petite, but you did what you had to in order to survive. There was no other option. Had you simply rendered him unconscious, he might have awakened too soon for either of us to escape.” He leaned back slightly to gently brush the tears from her cheeks and place a tender kiss to her brow before gathering her close to him once more. “It is alright to cry, mon amour. Know this; however, bringing death in order to survive doesn’t make you evil or a monster. That only occurs when death no longer bothers you as it should.”

Erik continued to hold her long after her tears dried and her sobs faded into irregular shudders of indrawn breath. He had thought to see her to safety before pursuing Zakharov but, after her nightmare, he knew he could delay it no longer. Easing gently from her arms, he covered her with the blankets and brushed his lips across her cheek. Turning, he dressed quickly, wrote a brief note of explanation, and left the room silently. As he entered the living room, Erik was unsurprised to find Vasili, his contact, waiting for him. Alex’s screams had wakened him abruptly as well. Once told of the nature of the nightmare, the Russian understood perfectly. No one ever forgets their first kill. Vasili prepared Erik a cup of the strong Russian tea and they sat by the fireplace to plan his attack on one of the most powerful crime bosses in Eastern Europe.

Sources had revealed that European Electronics had not authorized an additional attack on either Alexandra or Erik which meant that Zakharov had gone rogue. The organization generally didn’t allow that to happen and were certain to retaliate soon. Depending on who and how many supported the slave trafficker’s involvement, his actions could have had at least one positive effect: a shake up in the upper echelons of the company. Rumor had it that he was going into seclusion due to several attempts on his life in the past few days. Of his associates, most had already distanced themselves from the slaver not wanting to get caught on the wrong side of the inevitable battle. The only one who had vocally remained loyal was Nikolai Vlascenko and he was in the U.S. on business. When Erik mentioned that Zakharov hadn’t been at his compound in Kirov, Vasili searched the files and pulled out a folder containing the name of a bookshop/coffee shop just a few blocks from the CIA safehouse. Inside the folder were blueprints, employee names with pictures, and known agents on both sides who frequented the store. Though it was owned by Zakharov, it was considered neutral territory for all sides which made it the perfect hiding place. Glancing at the clock, Erik knew he still had at least three hours before the sun rose to do reconnaissance on the building.

Avoiding the roads, and their subsequent road blocks, the masked man instead rode cross-country on a beautiful snow-white colt. Spirited and feisty, César reminded him of Alexandra in many ways. Outside of Kirov, Erik skirted the town to a small farm owned by Vasili’s brother where he’d stable the horse out of the elements. Leonid met him at the stables and gave him updated information on Zakharov’s movements while they secured the horse.

* “I haven’t been to Kirov since last night but he was still there. A friend who works in the market across the alley says she saw him in an upstairs window. Very animated he was while talking on the telephone, very angry. Be careful, Фантом, for even the meekest creature will strike when cornered and he is most definitely not meek.”

Спасибо, Leonid. I will return for the horse before noon at the latest.”

Shaking his hand, Erik then turned and walked the last few kilometers to the small town of Kirov. He kept to the trees as long as possible, thankful there were still clouds left to obscure the harsh light of the moon from revealing his position. The closer he came to the book shop, the thinner the cover of the trees and he darted into the shadows of the alley behind it. The building looked like all others in the area, built of sturdy brick to withstand the fierce winters; and like the others, it had seen its share of damage from the fighting that had torn the former USSR into pieces. The rubble strewn along the alley was mostly dislodged bricks from surrounding buildings, sheets of tin roofing that were no longer salvageable as a building material, and twisted metal beams of various sizes.

Stepping carefully around the rubble, Erik located the market Leonid spoke of and, turning, found the window. It was dark indicating either absence of its occupant or sleep; the masked man hoped for the latter. He removed his bulky winter parka and hid it beneath a twisted sheet of metal. Shivering slightly from the cold, he spun the thin rope weighted by a rubber-tipped grappling hook before flinging it onto the roof where it wrapped around an iron bar with the barest of sounds. Quietly, he began his ascent up the side of the building. As rough as the brick wall was, gaining traction with his feet proved easier than he’d thought it’d be and he was perched on the window sill within minutes. He pushed gently but the window was locked which was expected. Wrapping the rope around his arm to ensure a firm hold, Erik pulled a small tool with a suction cup on one end and a small wheel on the other. Pressing the cup to the center of the pane of glass, he took a small bottle of oil and lubricated the wheel completely before rotating the arm around suction cup in a circle. A sharp push while holding the bar between the cup and the wheel and the circle of glass broke free of the pane with only the faintest of pops. Erik laid the glass on a nearby shelf inside the room, unlocked the window, and raised the sash to allow him entry.

Outside the door, he could hear the muttering of guards who were watching the wrong entry point and smile evilly. If all went as planned, they’d never know what happened to their employer when the body was found. Silently padding over to the bed, Erik stared down at the man who’d caused so much trouble to those he loved. Quickly gagging him before he could alert the guards by the door, Erik reached into a thin, narrow pocket on his sleeve and removed a hypodermic. Not caring if his bedside manner was less than gentle, he plunged the needle into Zakharov’s upper arm and emptied the small chamber. The sharp pain woke the slave trader whose eyes widened at the sight of the masked man hovering over his bed. Kneeling, Erik leaned over to whisper softly in his ear.

“Do you feel it, Zakharov? Do you feel the serum slowly working through your system, robbing you of movement, of speech? I couldn’t have you calling in your watchdogs and spoiling our fun; and it will be fun, comrade. At least for me.” Erik’s smile was a terrible thing to behold and, along with his muscle control, Zakharov’s control of his bladder had also been affected. Humiliation only fueled the hatred in his eyes as he tried to fight against the drug that had immobilized him. A razor sharp pair of scissors divested the prone man of his night shirt which Erik used to strap his hands to the bed frame. No use taking any chances.

“You have caused me and mine a considerable amount of trouble, old friend.” He pulled a thin, sharp knife from his boot and pressed it slowly into the blond man’s shoulder; the pain reflected only in his eyes. Once it had pierced the mattress beneath, Erik withdrew it to contemplate a small glass bottle. “I would have allowed the Agency to handle things had you not come for us again but you wouldn’t leave us alone. It was bad enough that you placed even more scars upon my hideous self but you dared to hurt my Alexandra and that I will not tolerate.” Uncapping it, he let several small drops fall into the bloody wound and watched as the acid began eating its way through the already damaged flesh.

“You once called me a monster because of my face, monsieur, but you were more accurate than you knew. I will show you what truly makes me a monster but, in order to do so, you have to become one as well.” The widening of Zakharov’s eyes as the bottle moved over his face was the only way the fear and pain could be expressed. As the acid fell in hot, sizzling drops across his cheeks, his body twitched as it fought the drug that had rendered him helpless. Erik chuckled soundlessly and held a mirror in front of his captive so he could see exactly what was happening to him.

The acid had already burned away much of the flesh of his cheeks, leaving bloody bones and teeth exposed to the air. And still it voraciously ate through the man’s face. Erik folded the pillow and placed it beneath his head to elevate it somewhat. No sense in halting the fun prematurely just because the acid had reached Zakharov’s brain. Leaning close so that he was looking into the pain filled eyes in the mirror, Erik whispered softly in his ear.

“You see monsieur? Even the most handsome of men have a monster buried inside and yours wasn’t even hidden away all that deep. I heard of your plans for my fiancée, by the way. Really, Stanislav… Vlascenko? I thought you’d gotten rid of that disgustingly perverse creature ages ago.” Shaking the bottle, both men could hear the faint splash of liquid inside. There was a small amount left and, in lieu of his recent statements and Erik’s malicious smile, Zakharov knew where it would be used and braced himself for the pain. Jerking the blankets onto the floor, the sharp scissors made swift work of the gaudy boxer shorts the man wore. The masked man smirked when he saw that his victim was definitely not at his best in the frigid air. Slowly, knowing the anticipation was very nearly as bad as the pain itself, Erik allowed a single drop to fall onto the head of Zakharov’s shriveled manhood. The pain was excruciating and Erik had to hold him to the bed as his body thrashed. He didn’t have much longer before the pain and adrenaline shook off the effects of the drug. Damn, he’d have to hurry.

The thin blade sank into the meaty flesh of his thigh where Erik turned it before removing it to watch the blood bubble up from the wound. Several more times the blade descended into the body of his victim; every place painful but not fatal. When harsh grunts were coming from Zakharov’s throat and he’d gained enough control of his arms to tug at his bonds, Erik knew his time was up. With a final swipe of the blade across his victim’s throat, he watched the life fade from the man who’d tried to take what was his. Cleaning the blade with the bed sheet, he slipped it back into its sheath and exited through the window. Gripping the rope, he slid silently to the ground, retrieved his parka, and slipped from the alley into the welcoming shadows of the trees. Erik retrieved César without incident and rode quickly back to Vasili’s house and his beloved Alexandra.

Friday, July 8, 2011

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 19

January 29

“Good afternoon, Ms. Goldman.”

An unknown man stood in the doorway dressed in an impeccably hand-tailored Armani suit with Gucci wing-tip shoes. Of average height, his broad sturdy build and ruggedly handsome features seemed at odds with his designer clothing, like he belonged on the cover of calendar of sexy fire fighters instead of standing in a damp, cold cellar. His light brown hair was tinted with a hint of red, just enough that the light picked up the fiery accents and made them glow. As if he was made to be a study in contrasts, the blue eyes beneath the warm auburn mane were as cold and pale blue as an iceberg; Carla shivered beneath their frigid, calculating gaze. Even his voice fit: slightly accented, it was deep and sensual but devoid of any emotion. A dead man, had he been able, would have spoken more warmly than this stranger. Pulling herself together, she stood to face him with her own unconcerned expression. Sometimes it was beneficial to be an actress.

“Is it? I’m not too thrilled with my afternoon thus far.”

He said nothing; instead choosing to close the distance between them. Taking one of her hands and then the other, he turned her arms to inspect them from every angle. She wondered if he was checking for needle tracks and if she should be elated or disappointed that she’d kicked that habit years ago. He let them drop to tilt her face towards the light; when she attempted to step away from him, his fingers tightened painfully and that cold glare fastened on her with a brow arched in warning. Trembling faintly, Carla ceased her struggles. Dropping his hands to her shoulders, he grabbed the collar of her minidress and abruptly ripped it open to her navel, eliciting a frightened shriek from the singer. When she tried to cover herself with her hands, he knocked them away harshly.

“None of that, Ms. Goldman. I’ve paid a very good price for you and I always personally inspect the goods I purchase. This will go much easier on you if you do not attempt to disturb or delay me.”

A shudder ran down her spine at his cold, remote words. He could have been talking about taking a car for a test drive or sampling a dessert before ordering. A glint of reflected light on metal was her only warning before he sliced through the center of her bra and then hooking it into the ragged tear to finish removing her dress. She could feel her cheeks flame with embarrassment as she stood before this cold, cruel stranger in nothing but her thong panties and heels. Carla fisted her hands at her sides to keep from covering her breasts from his appraising stare. He walked around her slowly, moving her hair from her neck so nothing was hidden from his view. She whimpered and jumped when he neatly cut the sides of her underwear and pulled them off her body. Never before, even when she’d been making adult films, had she ever felt so totally naked, scared, cold, and degraded as she did during this horrible man’s ‘inspection’. He moved back to face her and gave a small, cold smile which had her shaking even more than his silence.

“You are in fine shape considering your age and former occupation, Ms. Goldman. I already have an interested buyer and believe you will do quite nicely.” Carla refused to acknowledge his words and stared straight ahead and slightly over his shoulder. When she heard the slide of a zipper, she shifted her focus to his face and saw that his cruel smile had grown and there was a glint of malice in his eyes. “I did say I personally inspected the goods, didn’t I? Kneel!” His harsh command brooked no disobedience and she sank to the cold stone floor. When his hands painly tangled in her hair to bring her face closer to his groin, she knew what was expected of her and that he’d tolerate no opposition to his will. As she took his hardening member in her hands, tears of self-loathing and humiliation slid down her face. For the first time since she ran away from home all those years ago, she wished she’d never left New Jersey.


Though it seemed like days, it was only a couple of hours later when the stranger finally allowed Carla a small moment to rest. There were ugly bruises and red marks marring the pale skin of her breasts, thighs, and buttocks where he had gripped, slapped, pinched, or bitten her as he used her body in every way he could. She prayed he’d leave her to curl up and sob herself to sleep now that he was finished using her but her luck seemed to have run out lately. He dressed leisurely, never glancing her way even once, and pulled a briefcase to the bed. After working the combination, a cold metal band was pulled from its depths and wrapped around her neck. Carla had to fight the instinct to flinch away when she heard it click as it locked into place. A standard steel chain leash was attached to the collar. Closing the briefcase, he stood and smirked at her naked, abused body. Tugging none too gently on the leash, he led her out the door.

The trip out of her cell seemed much longer than the initial trip into it. Carla kept her eyes focused on an unseen point in space in front of her as her captor paraded her through the halls. She’d tried to focus on the floor so as not to see the men ogling her but that had earned her a sharp tug on the leash and a murmured word of warning. He wanted her to see every lurid, lustful gaze in order to break her down even further. When they’d pass a guard or other male worker, the man holding the leash would stop and encourage them to sample his latest acquisition. Some ventured only a harsh squeeze of a breast or her rear, while others demanded she prove her expertise while kneeling on the hard stone floor. The first time she cringed away from a touch and refused to perform on command, she was reminded that she was in no position to refuse anything. She had been held by the guard while her captor laid several sharp, stinging blows across her back and rear with his wide leather belt. Even before the pain had subsided, she was then forced to service them both as punishment and a reminder. Carla didn’t refuse a second time.

Her humiliation didn’t end once they were in the open bay of the warehouse. A limousine had replaced the modest vehicle in which she’d been brought and she was led towards a short, piggish looking man with greasy slicked back hair. After a brief conversation in that strange language she didn’t understand, the short man lumbered over to her to poke and pinch and taste her. Nodding enthusiastically, he spoke with her captor once more. A deal must have been struck as they both smiled and shook hands. One of the piggish man’s bodyguards set a briefcase on the floor near her captor and a guard instantly advanced to check for explosives or electronics devices before giving it the all clear. At a nod, the guard opened the briefcase to reveal cash in dollars and Euros, small gold ingots, and a variety of bank papers. Satisfied, Carla’s leash was handed to the piggish man and her captor turned to leave the warehouse.

“Wait! You can’t just sell me like a piece of meat! I’m a person, an American. I have rights, you know!” She completely loathed the man but… Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't.

“Ms. Goldman, the moment you decided to deal with my associate you gave up many of your so-called rights. Do not make me regret letting you live. Your American arrogance and sense of entitlement will only bring you more pain and suffering than I think you want to endure. Now, I’ll give you a bit of advice since you’ve proved to be quite…satisfactory.” His hungry, feral smile made her shiver and want to crawl under the car and hide. “Do not try to fight your new master, pet. He may not look like much but I’m told he makes me look like a fairy godmother in comparison when angered.” Carla paled so quickly she swayed on her feet in a near faint. How could anyone be more cruel than this hateful, disgusting man?

A tug on her chain brought her attention back to her new ‘master’ who had crawled into the back of the limo and was pulling on her to join him. Once inside, Carla was surprised to notice there was a second man there who looked, oddly enough, like an accountant of some sort. Before she could take a seat, the piggish man barked something at her in that strange language of his and tugged hard on her chain to bring her to her knees on the floor. When she failed to comprehend his orders, he yanked her forward pulling her face into his lap and then pointed at his belt. With trembling fingers, the former opera diva unhooked the belt and began working on the buttons of his trousers. As she performed her new duties, the accountant brought out several documents and they began discussing what she could only imagine was business.


In Kirov, Erik and Alexandra were curled up by a warm fire in matching bathrobes while their thick winter gear dried. His friend had somehow managed to secure transportation to the coast and, from there, onto a ship heading for Sweden. The only delay to leaving immediately was having to wait for new passports to be made. Since rushing meant a faulty end product, they would remain at his place for the next twenty-four hours which was perfectly fine with Alex. After a cup of coffee so strong it nearly poured itself, she caught Erik’s attention and eased the hem of her robe to her knee.

“I think I’ve learned my lesson on things of this nature, love, so would you see just how badly I’ve cut my ankle?”

“Of course, petite, we can’t have you falling ill so close to freedom.” Even a quick glance told him that the wound was already showing signs of infection and he rose to gather the supplies he’d need to treat it. Soaking a gauze bandage in betadine, Erik repeatedly rubbed over the scab; soaking it so that it would open naturally and with less pain than simply pulling it off or slicing into it. He could tell that even the gentle pressure he was using was painful but Alex barely flinched. It hurt him to his very soul to think that she was getting used to being injured and he swore this was it. If he had to lock her away in a castle to keep her safe from harm he would do so.

“How did you do this, Alexandra?” He really didn’t need to know but she needed something to focus on when he started flushing the wound with saline. Erik knew from experience that it tended to sting quite sharply. As she talked, he cleaned the cut, covered it with a light film of topical anesthesia, and stitched up the rather jagged wound. Though he would have preferred none of this to happen at all, he was proud of her strength and courage and amazed that this lovely creature wanted to be with him forever. By the time she was finished, he’d wrapped her ankle in fresh gauze and put the supplies away. He came back to see her starting to doze from the warmth of the fire, safety, and a bit of medicine he’d placed in her coffee to help her sleep. Picking her up in his arms, Erik carried her to the guest bedroom they’d been given, helped her out of her robe and into bed. He quickly followed and, pulling her back against his chest, turned off the light and held her close as she slept.

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 18

January 29

The slamming of a heavy metal door jerked Carla Goldman away from her troubled thoughts and back to awareness. She could hear the jingling of keys and stood just as the guard reached the door to her cell. He was a large man, more beer gut than muscle, and he smelled of stale tobacco and coffee. Opening the door, he stood to the side but his protruding stomach took up enough room that she was forced to brush up against him as she walked through the doorway. He chuckled at her glare, closed and locked the cell door, and led her back to freedom.

“You’re not done with this, bitch.” Blankenship’s hand darted through the bars to grab her arm painfully. “I hope you enjoy looking over your shoulder because they’ll be coming for you.” Wrenching her arm from his tight grasp, Carla hurried to catch up. His laughter echoed in her head long after the metal door closed to block out the sound.

There were several forms to fill out and she had to sign for her belongings which seemed to take forever but wasn’t nearly long enough. Once everything was finished, checked, signed, and her personal effects returned, the clerk informed her that she was free to go. Carla slowly walked out of the station and tried to think of where to go. She couldn’t go to her apartment; if Chaney did come after her, that’d be the first place he’d look. There was always the opera house…they told her that she’d quit but surely they were mistaken? She was their star, their prima donna! Even if she had resigned her position, she was certain the managers would allow her to return with no ramifications. Convinced all was as it should be, Carla flagged a taxi and directed him to the Metropolitan Opera and Ballet.

As the cab driver weaved his way through the dense traffic, his passenger was busy cleaning her face with a disposable wipe before reapplying her makeup. There wasn’t enough time to worry about her nails, so she simply removed the polish and hoped the false tips held until she’d reestablished herself at the opera house. Carla never had cause to look up from her primping so she didn’t notice the driver turning off the light and shutting down the meter. It wasn’t until the car was suddenly plunged into the darkness of a tunnel that she realized something was wrong.

“Hey! This ain’t the way to the opera house. I’m not paying you to go the scenic route, you know!” The driver never even glanced at her in the rear view mirror; he simply turned his radio up a bit louder and drove a bit faster. Blankenship’s words teased at her ears and she felt her body grow cold with her fear.

“Hey, you! Driver! I’m not kidding, man, I need to go to the opera house. Hell, just let me out here and I’ll get another cab. No need to do something you’ll only regret later, right?” Carla was putting on the best performance of her career as not once did her voice shake with the terror that was rising in her. When the cabbie continued to ignore her, she shook the back of his seat to get his attention.

Things being what they are, she learned quickly that not all attention is good. The car swerved sharply onto the shoulder and parked. The driver turned to glare at her but her eyes were glued on the large handgun that was pointed at her head. Like a mouse hypnotized by a cobra, Carla never looked away from single, menacing black eye. She desperately tried the door handle only to find it locked.

“The doors are locked ‘til I say otherwise so quit trying to break the handle. Now, little canary, let me lay down a few ground rules. I will drive until we get to our destination. You, however, have a choice to either ride in the backseat or in the trunk. It makes no difference to me, understand?” At her frightened nod, he let the pistol drop out of her sight with a grunt of satisfaction. “The boss don’t want you hurt but I’ll be damned if you’re going to bust out my eardrums with your squawking or rattle my teeth from my head. Now sit back, shut up, and be thankful you ain’t already dead.” With that, the man turned to face the front once more, put the cab in gear, and merged into the busy traffic.

Choosing the wiser path, Carla clamped her lips closed and stared at the buildings as they flew by. She tried to remember store fronts, street names, anything that might alert her as to where they were going but knew better than to ask. She didn’t want to risk being stuffed in the trunk. The buildings they passed began to look seedier and more run down; wherever they were, it wasn’t in the best part of the city. The cab drove through the open bay doors of an unmarked, nondescript warehouse and the driver cut the ignition. She jumped as the large metal doors slammed closed, echoing throughout the building. Two men, one slim and dressed in an expensive tailored suit and the other burly yet also impeccably dressed, joined the driver as he left the cab. They spoke for a while too low for her to hear and, what she did manage to catch, was in a language the singer couldn’t understand. What she did understand, however, was the exchange of a wad of cash for the keys to the cab. Were they merely paying the driver for his services or had she just been sold like a piece of beef? The smile the driver gave her as he walked away from the car was cruel and she was more than afraid she knew the answer to her question.

At a nod from his companion, the burly man unlocked the door and pulled her from the cab with a firm grip on her wrist. Tugging her along behind him, he followed the slimmer one into a small office attached to the warehouse, down some stairs, and into a dark, damp basement. Several times, Carla attempted to discover what they wanted with her, offering them money, sex, whatever she could think of if only they’d let her go. Neither man spoke to her but she could tell they understood by the smirks on their faces. The man holding her wrist waited for the other to unlock a metal door before tossing her carelessly inside. Her sharp cry of pain and surprise was drowned by the loud clang as the door was slammed shut behind her. The turning of a key in the lock was the most terrible sound she’d ever heard. Crawling towards a corner far from the door, Carla sat with her knees to her chest and hugged them with her arms. In the silence, she wondered if she’d ever leave the room alive.

Time had little meaning in the dark basement cell and it could have been minutes or hours since she’d been locked in when she heard the click of the key once more. A Styrofoam bowl filled with some sort of soup was placed on the floor right inside the door before it was locked securely once more. A plastic spoon, a stale dinner roll, and a bottle of what she hoped was water filled out her dinner. Carla didn’t fully trust them not to put something in the food but it had been too long since she’d eaten to leave it untouched. It was decent enough and she had soon emptied the bowl. She was still drinking the water when the door opened once more.

“Good afternoon, Ms. Goldman.”


Cringing from the intense heat, Erik searched for Alexandra through the burning wreckage of the barn. He heard a faint cough and was about to wade into the flames to retrieve his love when a bullet zipped past his head to lodge into the fiery wall. Crouching and pulling his weapon, he scanned the perimeter for the gunman. He glanced at where the bullet had struck the wood and followed its general trajectory to snowdrift about 50 feet away. With the fire behind him, Erik knew he might as well paint a glowing bull’s eye on his chest but he refused to leave until he’d pulled Alex to safety. All senses on alert, he fired the moment he saw movement from behind the snowdrift. A strangled cry and thud of a body rewarded his vigilance. Searching for other threats and finding none, he returned his attention to the burning barn.

“Alexandra!” He kept his voice as low as he could and hoped she could hear it over the roar of the flames. “Where are you, petite?”

An old board served as a makeshift shovel as he scooped up piles of snow and dumped it on the fire. So intent was he on clearing a path that he didn’t notice the stirring of the gunman behind the snowdrift. The man struggled to his knees, blood running down his face where the bullet had torn a deep furrow, and steadied his arm on the stained snow. Behind him, the sound of a bullet being chambered was Erik’s first indication that the gunman had survived. Cursing himself for not ensuring the man was dead, he knew he’d never get to his weapon in time. Taking a deep breath, he dove to the side just as he heard the soft pop of a silenced weapon. He crouched in place for a moment more in confusion; he was neither injured nor had he heard a bullet hit the wall.

“Erik,” a faint voice called his name, followed by coughing. “Get me out of here and I promise I’ll jump next time.”

Looking through the fire, he saw Alexandra shoving her pistol back into her jacket pocket as she crouched beneath a tent-like structure made of burning boards. The long central beam, still connected at the back of the barn, had fallen to the ground at the front and was now protecting her from the caved in roof. As she burrowed her way through the snow, Erik furiously dug towards her. When the path was clear, he grabbed her wrists and pulled her from the building. Scooping her into his arms, he darted for the protection of the trees. He bid her remain where she was and skirted along the trees to remove the other threats. The guards at the front of the barn were about as professional as the ones inside the compound. It was like shooting fish in a barrel to pick off each guard as he stomped his feet in the snow to maintain circulation or warmed his hands with the fire of the burning building. Satisfied that all had been eliminated, Erik returned to where he’d left Alexandra.

She was leaning against a tree trunk when he reached her side. Her parka was singed along her left side and she had buried her left hand in the snow. Kneeling, he inspected her hand and was happy to see that the burn wasn’t too bad. Erik helped her to her feet and guided her towards the front of the barn, remaining just inside the tree line. Leaving her briefly, he ensured the area was still clear. Alexandra joined him as they quickly made their way towards the truck Zakharov’s men had arrived in. Though she was keeping up, Erik noticed she was favoring one leg. He hoped it wasn’t broken from her fall. They both scrambled into the truck and within moments were roaring down the snow-covered road.

“Where does your leg hurt, ma petite? I noticed you were limping.”

“Oh…near my ankle. I cut it on the way out of the villa. It just needs some antibiotic and a bandage.” Alexandra smiled and shrugged off his concern though the throbbing around the wound made her worry it had gotten infected. The look Erik gave her before returning his attention to the road let her know he didn’t believe it was as minor as she implied. Settling into the seat, she was about to drift off to sleep when he spoke again.

“By the way…what did you tell Wallace to make him give up Zakharov’s position?”

“Well, when he was stubborn even after being shot in the knee, I told him the next shot would make him a tenor for life.” She shrugged and chuckled tiredly. “I don’t think he believed me until I lowered the barrel. Something in my face must have made him a believer.” Erik’s answering chuckle was music to her soul and she took advantage of his good humor. “Erik…I wanted to apologize for…”

“Shush, ma petite.” He smoothly interrupted and gave her a smile. “We were neither of us at our best that night. I let my jealousy cloud my better judgment even though I knew you weren’t capable of making such filth.” Erik reached over to clasp her hand and give it a gentle squeeze. “I regretted my outburst the moment the door closed behind you, mon amour.”

Alexandra’s smile and softly murmured words of love and gratitude eased the last of the pain from his heart. Returning her smile, Erik then focused on the snow covered road before them while the warmth from the heater lulled his fiancée to sleep. He kept a vigilant watch on the road before and behind him knowing the guards and the truck would soon be reported as missing. If they could reach the village before the APB was placed, they stood a better chance of resting safely before he went after Zakharov.

It took less than thirty minutes to reach the village, all of which passed uneventfully. As he pulled into the dead-end alley behind his contact’s home, Erik hoped his friend hadn’t moved or been compromised. If that was the case, things were going to get very difficult very quickly. Gently waking Alex, he told her to wait in the truck but keep watch on the entrance to the alleyway. As he approached the door, it suddenly swung open and a rifle was pointed steadily at his face. After a quick exchange in Russian, Erik motioned for Alex to join him. They’d finally reached a measure of safety.

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 17

January 29

As the fog of a drug induced slumber cleared from her brain, Carla Goldman opened her eyes with a groan. Upon seeing her surroundings, she sat up abruptly in shock and instantly regretted it. She cradled her pounding head in her hands and tried to remember just how she’d managed to wake up in jail yet again. This hadn’t been such a rare occurrence when she was younger but she thought those days were over the moment she joined the opera. The intriguing and somewhat frightening owner and composer had informed her that he wouldn’t tolerate such from his actors and especially not from his principals. Carla had learned early in her contract to either avoid the police or know which ones could be persuaded to see that there were no records of her arrest. She hoped this unfortunate slip would prove no different.

A groan, followed by a muffled curse, pulled her attention from her own problems towards the cell across from hers. Shocked, Carla realized its occupant was none other than Omni CEO, Michael Blankenship. Had she been with him when they were arrested? It frustrated her that she could remember the last few days only in the vaguest of ways; she felt she was missing something important. Her introspection was interrupted by the slamming of a large, metal door which caused her head to throb painfully in response.

“Ah, Ms. Goldman, you’re awake.” The coffee-skinned man seemed familiar to her in some way but she couldn’t immediately place him. “I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that you’ve fulfilled your side of the deal admirably. The ADA is quite impressed. We have plenty of evidence to indict Blankenship on possession of an illegal substance, child pornography, and sexual misconduct with a minor as well as helping us to obtain the necessary search warrants to pursue conspiracy to kidnapping and murder. Quite an accomplishment, I should say.”

“What? What deal? What are you talking about?” Though her head throbbed with each word, Carla couldn’t prevent her voice from rising with each word. She had the feeling that something, somewhere, had gone terribly wrong.

“Why, the deal you made to gather evidence on Blankenship and Stanislav Zakharov, whom you know as Robert Chaney, for the murder of Blankenship’s father and the kidnapping of Alexandra Roberts in exchange for immunity. I don’t know how you got him to spill it all but we are…”

“You stupid bitch!” Blankenship had finally shaken off enough of the drugs in his system to understand what was going on. “You’re going to get us both killed! Chaney isn’t anyone to cross. Do you think these fools can protect you? Once he knows you made a deal with the cops, he’ll be after you to teach you not to fuck with him or those he works with.”

Carla recoiled from the sheer fury, hatred, and terror in the businessman’s voice. What did the foreign man mean about murder? She didn’t know anything about a murder and she only wanted to get rid of that Roberts bitch so that she could convince Erik that…


All the blood fled her face so quickly that she felt faint. Everything was so jumbled up that she didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. Dropping her head into her hands, Carla groaned and tried to remember the last few days. She knew Alex had left the theater and that Erik had requested to see her shortly afterwards but that was when things got foggy. Did he do something to her? There were all sorts of rumors about Erik Devereaux and his unusual abilities but she’d scarcely believed them. Sure, they lent him an aura of mystery and danger that was extremely alluring but that was all. No one could really control another human being with just a voice, no matter how lovely it was. Right?

“Is everything ok, Ms. Goldman?” She finally remembered who he was; he was Erik’s pet cop. Da’ud or something like that. Damn foreigner. Though his question was solicitous of her well being, his voice betrayed his apathy. He knew what had happened; he had to!

“What did he do to me?”

“What did who do to you, Ms. Goldman?”

“You know who! Devereaux! What did he do to me, you son of a bitch?” Her panic was steadily rising and the insult ended on a note worthy of the opera stage.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ms. Goldman. You left the Metropolitan a few days ago when you discovered that the understudy had been training for the lead; which, I should point out, is part of her duties as your understudy. Erik tried to persuade you to stay but you refused to listen. You must have gone straight to the ADA’s office after that and yesterday we were finally able to arrange things sufficiently to gather the information we needed.” The former policeman spread his hands and shrugged. “If you met with Erik once you’d left the opera house, I am not aware of it.

“Someone should be down shortly, though, to release you. You will be asked to remain in the city in case testimony is needed. On behalf of the ADA, I thank you for your cooperation.” With a small bow, Da’ud left the confused woman to her cell, her thoughts, and the verbal abuse of her former lover.

“Remain in the city?” Blankenship sneered at the opera singer. “I’d advise you to leave the country but there’s no where you can go that Chaney won’t find you. Do you know what he does to traitors, Carla? Do you know how he treats fancy sluts like you who rat him out to the police? He has a friend, I’m told, who needs fresh women regularly because his clients can get a bit too…enthusiastic with the goods.”

“You mean he runs a whorehouse?”

“Oh no, nothing so pedestrian. His clients purchase the goods in full to use however they so choose. Some use the girls for sex, some want to watch her with another or many others, some like to inflict pain…I’ve even heard of a few who use them in labs for experimental purposes.” Carla’s eyes widened as Blankenship spilled the foul deeds of those who dealt with Chaney’s associate.

“You’re talking about selling people as if they’re no different from a sofa or a tv!”

“Not people, Carla. Women. You see, there is quite the difference.”

Retreating to the very furthest corner of the cell, Carla Goldman thought back to the man she’d met only recently for lunch. Handsome, smooth, extremely polite…but even then there’d been something that made her skin crawl. If only she’d listened to her instincts she might not be in this situation. Suddenly, leaving the cell wasn’t as enticing as when she’d first awakened.


The couple had trudged through the deep snow until the sun began to rise on the horizon. His black mask made it difficult to enter a tavern or Bed & Breakfast without alerting those they wished to avoid but he knew Alex couldn’t make it much longer in the bitter cold. On the outskirts of Kirov, Erik found an abandoned farm whose barn appeared sturdy enough to provide some protection from the elements and allow his companion to catch a few hours sleep. Once they were inside, he directed her in helping to create a fire ring so that they could have a bit of warmth without burning the building down around them. He kept the fire small so that the smoke wouldn’t be too obvious and watched Alexandra carefully as she warmed her frozen fingers and toes.

“You need to remove your shoes and gloves, ma petite, so they can dry or you risk frostbite. A bed of straw will prove to be quite warm.”

“I’d be warmer if you held me. There’s much to be said for body heat you know.” Peeling the wet, icy gloves from her hands, Alex winced when the heat made her numb fingers tingle painfully. Erik helped her with her boots and socks and left her by the fire to gather things they’d need for the short time they’d camp here.

“I know you would, minx, but one of us must keep watch. I won’t have you recaptured just because I couldn’t resist you.”

Her pout was playful and they bantered in a similar vein as Erik created a spit of sorts over the small fire to dry their shoes, socks, and gloves while Alex gathered straw for a makeshift bed. Nerves, exhaustion, and lack of sleep jockied for dominance as she grew warmer and her eyes drifted shut. Erik smoothed the hair from her face tenderly and hoped his contact hadn’t been compromised in the years since he’d been in the area.

An hour drifted past and the masked man checked his shoes and, satisfied they were dry enough, quickly slipped them on. Leaving the gloves for the moment, he double-checked all points of entry into the barn. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary but he’d felt it in his gut; something was amiss. The ladder to the loft was missing a few rungs but was otherwise sound. Making his way up top, Erik cautiously eased over to the window and tried to find whatever was making him anxious. He could see nothing other than a blanket of white snow and the trees they’d left an hour ago. Frustrated, he started back down the ladder when he smelled it. Smoke. And lots of it.

Waking Alex, he quietly ordered her to put her shoes on and make it quick while he tried to pinpoint the origin of the smoke that was quickly filling the barn. When flames began to flicker under and around the doors and windows, he knew they didn’t have long before the entire building was engulfed. Erik grabbed Alex’s hand and pulled her over to the loft and practically threw her up the ladder. He followed quickly as the doors succumbed to the flames and fell into the barn. Zakharov’s men were outside with firearms trained on the doorway in case they tried to escape. Rushing to the window, he was relieved they’d yet to cover the back of the barn and pulled Alex onto the roof.

“If we want to survive this, we’re going to have to jump, Alexandra.”

“Jump? Are you crazy? We’ll break a leg or be killed or…” The fear in her voice was rising along with the volume and Erik placed a hand over her mouth to keep her from giving away their position.

“Are you scared of heights, ma petite?” For some reason, after all they’d been through, the thought amused him somewhat. Shaking her head, she managed to make a weak joke of her fear.

“Oh no, it’s not the height that bothers me, it’s that sudden stop at the end when I fall from it.”

“Then we’ll jump together and I’ll help cushion you.”

“Why can’t we just take out the bad guys at the front and go out that way? We have the advantage of higher elevation, right?” Clinging to the window casing, she glanced back inside and noticed that the flames were licking merrily along the old wooden walls. The straw she’d gathered for her makeshift bed was now just a tiny pile of ash.

“Because then we’d have to also go through the fire, mon amour, and that won’t be nearly as forgiving as the soft snow below us. We must jump, it’s the only way.” Erik pried her fingers from the window and led her to the roof’s edge. With a gentle kiss to reassure her, he took her hand and indicated they’d jump on the count of three. “One…two…” Just as he said the word ‘three’, Alex’s fear overrode her common sense and she snatched her hand from his. Already in motion, Erik jumped safely to the ground alone. Again mindful of those who guarded the front, he resorted to ventriloquism to encourage her.

“I cannot leave you there, mon amour. Sit on the edge and simply slide; I will catch you, I promise. We must go soon, though, for Zakharov’s men will circle the building when we don’t emerge from the front.”

Trembling all over, Alex sat and scooted to the edge of the roof. Erik seemed so far away…there was no way he could catch her. She forced herself to keep moving forward when every instinct screamed at her to retreat. Teetering on the edge, she looked down at her fiancé and was instantly caught in his warm amber gaze. A feeling of peace settled over her and she smiled. Gripping the edge to ease over the last few inches, there was a thunderous crack and the roof buckled beneath her. Erik watched in horror as the roof, carrying his Alexandra, collapsed into the burning building.

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 16

January 28

Slipping silently through the small copse of trees on the southern edge of the compound, Erik climbed the tallest and watched as the guards drank away the cold. Though their patrols covered the entire perimeter of the villa, they’d had no opposition in so long that they were careless and complacent. Often they stopped to chat, warm their hands by fires burning in barrels, or to replenish whatever was in the hip flasks they drank from; several of them had fashioned mancala boards from egg cartons and bottle caps ignoring their duties for a game near the fire. As a result, there were many times that they left areas unattended for relatively long periods of time. It was during one of these times that Erik eased from the tree onto the perimeter wall, being very careful of the dangerous coil of the concertina wire. Pausing to ensure he hadn’t been seen, he then leapt onto the ground near the rear of the villa. The lock on the back door proved to be little challenge and he quickly entered the house and closed the door behind him. Stripping off the parka and white gloves, he placed them behind an antique secretary before blending into the shadows like a ghost.

The rooms he passed on the ground floor seemed mostly utilitarian in design. The kitchen, foyer, library, and dining room were all empty and undisturbed; the only activity being in the guard barracks towards the northern side of the villa. Erik listened at the door for confirmation of their shift schedule as well as any news that may be important. The men talked of nothing that had any bearing on his mission so he returned to the kitchen to look for the servant’s staircase to the upper floor. He was halfway up the stairs when he heard the sound of drawers being carefully opened and closed behind him. Whoever was searching through them was attempting to do so without drawing attention. Unhooking his Punjab lasso, he crept to the bottom of the stairs to look around the corner only to find the room empty. Uneasy at the thought of someone behind him, Erik gave the kitchen a quick but thorough search. He found nothing out of place nor any sign that someone had recently been in the room. He waited for several more moments, trying to see if there was anything or anyone hiding in the gloom, before resuming his ascent.

The hall on the upper floor was dimly lit with doors lining both sides but no visible guards. He sneered at Zakharov’s confidence in his outside security; a confidence that was quite obviously misplaced. Silently, Erik began a room by room search for the Russian criminal and his Alexandra. The first two rooms yielded nothing but dust and cloth-covered furniture, sure signs that they’d not been used recently. Not leaving anything to chance, he searched the armoires and bathrooms in both but their unused states only confirmed his belief that they’d been empty for some time. The third contained a single guard who, instead of attending to his job, was ogling the centerfold of a popular adult magazine. With a smirk, Erik slipped the thin lasso around the man’s neck and neutralized the potential threat to his mission. Catching the body before it hit the floor, he returned the dead man to the chair and arranged him so that he appeared to have simply fallen asleep on the job, girlie mag opened to the man’s last sight in this lifetime.

Across the hall, Erik encountered his first locked door. He picked the lock easily only to find that the door still wouldn’t budge. Not wishing to make noise and alert any remaining guards, he abandoned the room with the intention of returning once he’d secured this floor. Of the next four rooms, only one had another guard who proved to be a bit more dedicated to his job than the first. After a moment of hesitation at the unexpected intrusion, the guard pulled a knife and advanced on the masked man. With a skillful flick of the wrist, the lasso flew across the small distance and tightened around the wrist until the knife fell from numb fingers. Using the distraction to close the distance, Erik wrapped his fingers around the man’s neck and held him steady while his blade slid easily between his opponent’s ribs to pierce his heart. The guard made a brief gurgling sound, bloody foam gathering at the corners of his mouth, before he joined his comrade in the afterlife. Erik placed him on the bed to hide the blood that was quickly soaking into his clothing and continued his search. None of the rooms housed Alexandra or Zakharov nor did they show any signs of ever having done so.

Returning to the one room he’d been unable to search, Erik pulled a Gerber multi-tool from its pouch and pried the pins from the hinges. Once that was finished and the door set aside, he discovered the resistance had been a chair wedged firmly beneath the doorknob. The rest of the room, however, was empty though it showed signs of recent occupancy. Was this Alexandra’s prison and, if so, where had she gone? A quick search of the room revealed no clues and the bathroom was just as unforthcoming. Frustrated, he was about to return to the hall when a flash of movement out the window caught his attention. Careful to avoid being seen, Erik peered into the courtyard below to see a lone figure darting from below to crouch between two vehicles. Alexandra! Racing from the room, he paused only to replace the door and then took the stairs quickly but quietly. If it wasn’t his fiancée perhaps he or she could be persuaded to tell him where she was.

With the guards moving around in preparation for the shift change, it took Erik longer to exit the villa than it had to enter it. By the time he’d stepped back into the bitter cold and snow, there was no sign of the figure he’d spotted from the window. Stifling a few choice curses in several languages, he ran to the last place he’d spotted her in hopes of discovering where she’d gone from there. The steady snowfall had mostly filled in a set of small, fresh footprints that led to a utility shed. Once he’d darted behind the small structure, Erik was greeted with the unpleasant scents of blood and bile. A quick glance took in the open door, the bin, and the gap in the concertina wire and he was up and over the wall as quietly as possible.

Fresh footprints were quickly filling with snow as they led into the trees and, eager as he was, Erik still remained cautious as he followed them. After all, there was no guarantee that the figure he’d spotted earlier or the one who’d made these prints belonged to his fiancée. Palming a knife in one hand and the lasso in his other, he slipped behind a tree and came face to face with Agent Wallace. In his grasp, with a hand over her mouth, was his Alexandra.

“Well, well, well…you were quicker than I expected. Leave it to Le Fantôme to screw up a schedule.”

“What did he offer you to betray your country, Wallace? Money, power, your choice of women?” Erik shifted the knife hidden in his hand to a more comfortable position. If the traitorous agent would keep still, he’d be able to end this quickly. Unfortunately, Wallace was quite familiar with Le Fantôme’s skills and kept shifting behind Alexandra’s body to keep from presenting a clear target.

“Can I have ‘All of the Above’ for $500?” The agent chuckled at the Jeopardy reference and caressed Alex’s cheek with his thumb, delighting in Erik’s rising fury. “You see, there has to be a buffer between Stanislav and a man of sophisticated tastes like Vlascenko. In exchange for omitting certain facts from my reports, I am that buffer. I take the girls, break them in, and train them properly for the life they will have under his tender care. I was greatly looking forward to training this one. It’s not every day I can bed the Phantom’s whore.” Wallace grinned and whispered to Alex just loud enough for Erik to hear. “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll erase those horrible memories of having to fuck the monster. You’ll see what a real man is like.”

Erik watched the fury and disgust rise in Alexandra’s pale green eyes along with something else. Her gaze darted between his hand and his face and arched a brow in inquiry. At his nearly imperceptible nod, she closed her eyes and then put all her weight, fear, anger, and training into the elbow she threw into the agent’s stomach. When he doubled slightly and loosened his hold on her, she grabbed the hand that had stifled her cries and twisted. Once behind him, with his arm angled awkwardly at his back, Alex planted a solid kick to the back of his knee. Wallace stumbled forward in an effort to regain his balance but, instead, practically fell into the waiting arms – and lasso – of a very irate Phantom. Alex quickly searched the rogue agent for weapons and removed all she found before stepping out of arms’ reach.

“Are you alright, ma petite chère?” Though his hold on the thin rope around the agent’s neck never wavered, the care and concern in his voice caressed Alex as tenderly as a lover’s touch.

“I am now, my love.” Placing the extra ammunition in her pocket, she motioned towards Wallace with the silenced Beretta she’d just confiscated from him. “Who’s this disgusting piece of filth?”

“A CIA agent who Zakharov managed to subvert; this would explain the ease of my entry and both of our escapes. We will need to be doubly careful now that I know we’ve been compromised. The rest of the agents may be clean but we can’t take that risk.”

Tugging on the lasso until Wallace tilted his head up, Erik asked for Zakharov’s location. The agent merely smiled and shrugged. Alex pulled the man’s scarf from his neck and stuffed it in his mouth. Not willing to allow the traitor to cause further delays while the guards caught up with them, she drew the silenced weapon she’d taken off him and shot him in the knee. Closing the distance, she placed the hot barrel against the side of the agent’s neck and whispered softly in his ear. Though the man blanched, he shook his head and Alex let the gun drop until it was just below waist height. A single arch of her brow along with a cruel smile teasing the corners of her lips and suddenly the acidic, ammonia-like smell of urine wafted through the frigid air. Plucking the scarf from Wallace’s mouth, Alex repeated Erik’s question. This time, the agent answered.

Having obtained the necessary information, the masked man sent Alex to the copse’s edge to ‘stand guard’ while he ensured Wallace wouldn’t follow them or alert anyone. Once the body had dropped to the snow, Erik hurried to her side and pulled her into a tight embrace. He shushed her stammered apologies with a deep yet tender kiss.

“Once more, ma petite, you are missing part of the set of jewelry I gave you on New Year’s Eve.” He slid her ring back onto her finger before brushing her tears away. There was more that needed to be said from both of them but it would have to wait. Now, survival and safety was of the utmost importance. “Come. I do not trust the vehicle Wallace and I arrived in so we’ll have to walk for a while. There should be someone who can help us in the next village but it’s about forty kilometers from here.”

Alexandra’s trusting smile tugged at his heart and he pulled her back into his arms for another quick embrace. Brushing a gentle kiss across her lips, Erik stepped back and motioned her to follow him as quietly as possible. They would take care of Zakharov later.


Carla adjusted her barely-decent minidress and knocked on the penthouse apartment’s door. The sultry smile she bestowed upon the man who answered promised a night filled with the most decadent of delights. As the door closed behind them, she left a trail of clothing – his and hers – all the way to the bedroom where she fulfilled this promise in various and sundry ways. In between their energetic and adventuresome trysts, they sank further into hedonistic debauchery with fine brandy and rows of white powder. Sipping her drink while floating along the drug-induced high, she asked about their mutual business acquaintance, Robert Chaney, and their triumph over Alexandra Roberts and the intimidating Erik Devereaux.

Blankenship finished rolling his fifty dollar bill into a tube and inhaled one row of powder before going into a long, drunken ramble about how his father never respected or was proud of him. Chaney, he said, promised a way to prove himself as not only equal to his father but better than him. Some colorless, flavorless liquid in his after-dinner cognac and suddenly he, Michael Blankenship, and not his arrogant prick of a father was head of Omni. Snorting the second row quickly and skillfully, he showed her the original video he’d made all those years ago of the young Alex and himself. As she praised his forethought, Blankenship showed her a cabinet filled with all the other films he’d made over the years of various girlfriends and partners…not all of whom were willing. Or of legal age. Wallowing in her wide-eyed approval, he told her how he’d blackmailed an employee with a gambling addiction into altering a popular porn video by replacing the actress’ face with Alex’s. He also told her he’d used the employee to bring back an old classic: cement shoes. The man was a liability after all, he reasoned. Carla nodded and attempted to reward the CEO for his resourcefulness but the alcohol and drugs in her system conspired against her and, unconscious, she slumped over his naked chest.

Two floors down from the penthouse suite, Da’ud al-Zahir and three agents listened to and recorded the information that was being transmitted from above. Once they were satisfied they had enough for a conviction, the agents left the former policeman with the tapes to issue an arrest warrant for the two lovers. Alone, Da’ud shook his head over Erik’s nontraditional methods and hoped they wouldn’t get the case thrown out of court.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

One Love, One Lifetime - Ch 15

January 28

Somewhere in the house a clock struck midnight and announced the time to all who’d listen. Alex, layered as much as possible in the clothing left for her, wedged a chair under the doorknob to postpone discovery before entering the bathroom to trigger the hidden door. On the inside, an unused chemical glow stick hung from a nail and Alex snapped and shook it before closing the door behind her. Using the faint glow, she examined the secret passage with curiosity. Since she’d spent most of her life in apartments, she had little experience with single family dwellings but she still felt that hidden passageways were outside the norm. The walls, floor, and ceiling were fairly rough, like they’d used the lumber they’d discarded and deemed unfit for the public rooms of the house. Alex wondered if the intense cold was the reason there were no spider webs or other signs of dust as she couldn’t envision it being used too terribly often. Using the dim light from the glow stick, she carefully walked along the dark passageway until it branched off in two opposite directions. Uncertain of which direction to take, she chose the path that branched to the right and hoped for the best.

This passage actually contained a web or two as well as a light coating of dust. Faint light trickled through knotholes in the wood and she could use them to peek into the rooms as she passed. Most were filled with standard furniture such as a living room suite or a small dinner table and chairs, but one caught her eye and gave her pause: the kitchen. A kitchen meant knives and she would feel a lot better with some kind of weapon. The room was lit only by a couple of security lights and unoccupied so Alex searched for a way into it from the passage. Finding a small groove, she removed the clippers from their hiding place and, using the file, pressed along the groove until she heard a click. Careful not to bump into anything, she quietly searched through the drawers until she located the knives. She knew she’d not be able to use or conceal a large one effectively so she settled for a basic serrated steak knife and hoped it would do. Returning to the passage, Alex eased the door closed and resumed her trek only to come to a dead end. Cursing silently, she turned and made her way back to the passage that led to her room and this time took the left-hand branch.

About ten feet from the intersection, she encountered a set of metal stairs. Old and rusty, they spiraled to the floor below; Alex prayed they would support her weight. As she inched down them, she did her best to avoid the most rusted places. Each creak and groan of the ancient metal caused her heart to leap into her throat where it felt like it was clawing its way free. Her palms were sweaty on the railings which did nothing for her nerves as they often slid on the metal bars. Halfway down, her foot stepped onto, and then through, a rusty stair causing her to lose her balance as well as the glow stick. The ringing sounds as it bounced down the stair case echoed unnaturally loud in the small chamber. Barely catching herself before she followed her glow stick and tumbled the rest of the way to the bottom, Alex felt the bite of the jagged, broken stair on her ankle and knew she was bleeding. Without the light, she had no way to see how badly she’d been cut but the throbbing that had set in let her know it’d also twisted when she stumbled. Cursing her bad luck, she gingerly continued down the stairs by touch, taking far longer than she would have liked.

Reaching the base of the stair case, Alex grabbed the glow stick and used it to assess the damage to her ankle. The cut was fairly deep but not bleeding too badly. If she made it out alive, it’d need stitches so it could heal properly. Using the kitchen knife, she cut the hem off one of the shirts she was wearing and used it to bind the wound as well as provide a small amount of stability to the sprain. Pushing herself up from the floor, she braced against the walls to use them as a crutch of sorts and limped down the passage.

Sounds of people moving around and talking drifted up the passageway and alerted her that she was no longer the only one awake. Slipping the glow stick in her jeans pocket, Alex quietly hobbled forward to look for a way to see inside the rooms. She peered through one that was low enough to allow her to sit and rest her ankle and was instantly on full alert. Before her was a guard room and many of the men were moving around and getting dressed. If this was time for the shifts to change, Alex knew she had a small window of escape that she had to be prepared to use and it was closing rapidly. Rising, she moved down the passage with renewed determination.

The further she went, the colder the air got until she was certain she was away from the main house and close to the outside. When the passage came to a dead end, a white winter parka lay on the floor along with a pair of snow boots. Changing her shoes quickly, Alex winced as she tightened the boots around her injured ankle; perhaps they would provide some additional support. Zipping the white parka and pulling the hood over her head, she found a pair of thick gloves in one of the pockets. Triggering the latch, she whispered a prayer of gratitude to Katya, pulled on the gloves, and eased out into the bitter cold.

The lights surrounding the perimeter of the compound momentarily blinded her as she left the dark passageway and made her more aware of how dangerous her escape could prove to be. Shaking from both the cold and nerves, Alex hugged the wall of the building she’d just exited while looking for any kind of gap along the outer wall. Through the heavily falling snow, the wall, crafted from metal and concrete, appeared to encircle the entire villa except for the front gate. With a guard house on either side, Alex ruled it out fairly quickly. There was no way she could manage to get out without being seen and caught. She could hear the guards chatting as they went about their patrols and plastered herself against the building once more, her heart pounding in her chest. Months of inactivity had made them careless, however, and they never saw the figure huddled against the side of the building. Waiting until the patrol had passed, Alex darted across the open yard to hide between a pair of vehicles. Her breath was coming in rapid pants and she feared it’d give away her position but, after several minutes with no alarms, she risked moving towards the back of the cars to assess her next target. Again, the perimeter wall had no obvious gaps or breaks and Alex despaired of ever leaving the compound. Then, she saw something that gave her a bit of hope. A utility shed stood close enough to the wall that, if she could get to the top of it unseen, she should be able to make it over the wall.

Watching the patrols, she noticed they spent more time chatting on either end of their route than walking the perimeter. Alex waited for them to pass until they both had their backs to her, prayed her ankle would continue to support her, and quickly ran for the shed and crawled beneath it. For once she was thankful the snow was falling so quickly as it covered her tracks almost entirely before the guards reversed their patrols to make their way back. When they met once more, they chatted for a brief period and then continued on their way. Alex slowly eased towards the wall from under the shed and backed straight into an armed guard catching a smoke out of sight of his superiors.

Кто вы? Что вы здесь делаете?” Alex shook her head in confusion at the guard’s questions, having no way to understand what he said. When he unclipped the radio from his belt, she knew she had to act quickly or be captured once more.

Stepping forward, she grabbed the back of his neck in one gloved hand and pulled him down for a deep, hard kiss. The guard resisted only slightly before turning to press her back to the shed and pushing his tongue into her mouth. Stifling her disgust at the taste of tobacco and alcohol, she freed the knife from her pocket and plunged it deeply into his sternum. He fought against the pain but the serrated blade caught on a rib and refused to pull free. After several terrible moments, the guard dropped to the ground, his eyes as cold and lifeless as the snow he now rested upon. She knew she’d see his face in her nightmares; his dead eyes staring into nothing, unseeing and unblinking. Alex could feel the bile rising as she stripped the guard of his radio, side arm, and the extra magazine he had in his pocket. Shoving him under the shed, she pushed the bloody snow on top of him. Unable to fight the turmoil in her stomach as the acrid stench of blood wafted up from the snow, she vomited until there was nothing left in her stomach. Using a handful of clean snow to wash the taste from her mouth somewhat, Alex covered the evidence of her weak stomach before assessing the wall and how she’d make her escape.

The concertina wire that coiled along the top edge would be intensely problematic; Alex had no desire to cut herself to ribbons during her escape. The door to the shed was locked and she eyed the man she’d stuffed under it, feeling a bit nauseous at what she knew she’d have to do. Waiting for the patrols to pass the shed once more, Alex steeled herself to search the dead guard for a set of keys. Unhooking the key ring, she cycled through them until one finally unlocked the door. Alex crawled into the building, staying low in case there were windows that would give away her position. Inside, she found exactly what she needed: a large plastic bin and some bolt cutters. The step ladder was tempting but the bin might not look as suspicious on first glance. Running a shaking hand over her face and into her hair, Alex prayed this would work and she would find someplace safe to hide until she could reach a US embassy that could get her home.

The guards hadn’t returned from their last patrol and Alex knew her window of escape had just shrunk to miniscule proportions. A fresh set of guards were about to come on duty and they’d not be as careless as the ones who were tired and ready to go sleep. Quickly pulling the bin close to the wall, she climbed on top of it and snipped the concertina wire. Alex cringed at the loud metallic ping as the two ends coiled tightly away from the break point and, choosing speed over grace, she scrambled over the wall to drop to the snow on the other side. She spotted a copse of trees about twenty feet away and sprinted for them, never seeing the shadow that watched her flight and shifted position towards her. Quickly, she darted around the trunk of one of the largest trees and then peered back towards the compound to see if anyone had noticed her and called the alarm. Relaxing slightly when there wasn’t an immediate outcry, she backed further into the woods and right into a firm, male chest. Just as she was about to scream, a leather glove pressed tightly over her mouth and she was dragged further into the sheltering tree line.