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Toil & Trouble

CL Foster ©2013


     "No, not like that. You're doing it wrong! Look, now it's all wet again." Alana huffed, flipping her mountain of red hair over her right shoulder with more attitude than necessary.

     "I'm sorry, I am trying but it seems to be stuck," he mumbled, sounding more frustrated with each syllable but keeping as firm a grip on his temper as humanly possible.

     "Seriously? Can you do anything right? Move, I’ll just do it myself," she barked. She turned the wrench and water instantly spurted from the pipe into her face and everywhere else.

     He calmly reached over her, and turned the main shut off valve for the water and glared at her. "See? You don’t know how to fix it either, temptress," he attempted to tease her to lighten the ever-tense mood. "This house is so old and needs more than I can fix alone. Can't we hire someone to come in and get the place up and running like your mom had it before? And, I don't recall any time you have had to 'do it yourself' before, so don't get so huffy, geez. Take a breath."

     "Are you insinuating that I'm not taking care of the house, Darien? What is this 'we' crap? There is no 'we'. It costs money to fix things, genius! I'm doing the best I can. You annoy me, go away," she spat.

     "My pleasure, Alana. I must have reached my time limit, huh? See ya," he said as he quickly gathered his shoes and made his escape through the kitchen door before she changed her mind. It was fun taking her for the occasional roll in the sack, but spending time with Alana was nearly the same as trying to snuggle with a cactus and much more deadly.

     "Whatever," she muttered as she walked to the door behind him and locked it. She turned and leaned against the door, dropped her face into her hands, and took the breath Darien suggested she take and immediately felt a bit better. Of course, she mused angrily. He would love to know that he was right about something. Jerk.

     She stood up straight and stalked out of the kitchen toward her bedroom. She gingerly stepped over the various tools in front of the sink, leaving the brightness of the quaint kitchen for the moody interior of the tiny cottage.


     "Cripes Al! You nearly knocked me down!" Selene protested as she rubbed her elbow where Alana had bashed into her moments ago.

     "Oh goodness, sis! I'm sorry, I have a lot on my mind and I'm just not paying attention," she said to the near mirror reflection of herself, her twin sister, Selene. "Darien left here being a jackass, and the sink in the kitchen is busted again, and I'm just annoyed."

     "You should let me help you with things around here. Mom wouldn't be happy to know that you are being such a stubborn ass about keeping the house in order. She left it to both of us, you know?"

     "Yes, I know, but I was the one living here while you were off traipsing through Europe for years, and I'm the one that let it go downhill by being too wrapped up in other things. I can get it where it needs to be, it will just take time. I... I need to make some calls, and see if I can get some work for this week. Talk to you in a bit?" she asked as she began to shuffle down the hall toward her bedroom.

     "Wait a sec, do I smell muffins?" Selene asked hopefully.

     "Ha! Yes, you do! I made blueberry almond muffins this morning. I was feeling domestic! Had to feed my boy toy," Alana joked as she scurried further away from her sister.

     "You should stop being so stubborn! I love you, and this place, and just want to help, dammit! Oh, and while I'm grousing, you should be nicer to Darien. He's a good guy and you're too prickly and hateful to him!" Selene called as her sister vanished at the end of the hallway. She let out a frustrated breath, checked her elbow for damage, and then headed toward the kitchen to taste-test Alana's morning creation.




She closed the door behind her with a thud and leaned against it. Two closed doors, two door leans. You're really on a roll today. Buck up, cupcake. Put on your big girl panties and get things done!

     She opened her eyes and took in a breath, slowly letting the sights and scents of the room fill her lungs and soul with peace. Her room was her favorite place in the house. It had always been her personal slice of heaven. Her "cozy little nook," as she liked to think of it, was full of mood lighting from various oil lamps and candles sprinkled around the room. Her queen-sized bed was in the center of the room and surrounded by a halo of sheer curtains that billowed with the slightest breeze. Dozens of various shaped and sized shelves and bookcases with books, trinkets, and other things scattered on and around them covered each wall, leaving no empty spaces. On a table next to her bed, a collection of incense and spices awaited her to give the room even more of a mood; sandalwood now could easily be exchanged for patchouli, sage, or jasmine. Everything was in a warm tone, earthy, comfy, familiar, safe to her; home.

     On the right, far side of the room, she had a small office-type area where she did research, studied, and came up with business ventures and ideas. She went to her desk and opened her laptop to do a search for local handymen. She wasn't sure how she was going to pay one when she did find one, but we are going to take this one step at a time!

As she sat down to begin her search, she adjusted her antique, winged back chair for the most comfort. She loved all types of old things, especially furniture and clothing; her soul firmly planted in the past as she trudged through a modern existence. Sophie, her onyx cat, was lounging lazily under the antique secretary desk and glared up at Alana as she settled in.
     "Wipe that hateful look off of your face, miss. I have work to do and you are in my room, if you recall," Alana spoke sweetly to her pet. Many people in her small town called her various things and "crazy cat lady" was one of them. So she talked to her cat as if she were a part of the family, because, to Alana, she was. Nothing strange there.

Sophie let out a part meow, part purr and snuggled back into her spot under the desk. Alana smiled, that’s my girl.

She eased forward to adjust the screen on her laptop for a better view of her search and absent-mindedly knocked something off the desk, sending it thudding to the carpeted floor.

      "Shit. What was that?" She leaned over to search floor for the rouge item. Just as she got up from her chair to search further, a frantic knock and the hysterical voice of her twin were on the other side of the door.

     "Alana! Alana!! Open up!"

     "It's open, Selene! Come in. Geez, you spaz."

     The door flew open and Selene stepped in with Darien closely at her heels. His presence filled her room more than normal. His shoulder-length dirty blonde hair breezed behind him in his haste and his chestnut eyes zeroed in on her immediately. His usual t-shirt and jeans ensemble usually made him look ordinary but with the fierce look that overtook his face and way he was standing, Alana knew he meant business. His bronzed skin seems to shimmer in the golden hued room. She had seen him in her room a dozen times but this was the first time he looked almost vicious, but she could be just as vicious.

     Through narrowed eyes and annoyance, Alana asked, "What is it that you need? I thought you reached your 'time limit'. What are you doing back here?"

     Before he could answer, Selene interrupted, "When I got into the kitchen, he was at the door and asked me to let him back in. He said he forgot something, nearly kissed me, and then demanded to see you when I let him know that I was not, you."

     "WHAT? You tried to kiss my sister? What the hell?"

     "Alana, I didn't know she was Selene. I can't tell you guys apart, I swear. I came back to apologize. I was being an ass when I should have been helping you. I'm sorry. Please just let me help you. You know you need me."
     "I need nothing except for you to get out of here."

     Holding his hands up in defeat and apology, he said, "I know you don't need me, but my cousin can fix the things wrong with your plumbing in the house, and I'm sure we can find someone to do the other repairs. I know you aren't making any money right now, and I just want to help you. You know, I care about you. Please, let me help you, temptress." The playful smile that crossed his lips, softened her resolve slightly.

     "Don't call me pet names when you are being condescending to me! Just because I am a woman doesn't mean I can’t take care of things in my own home." Stubborn as ever, she was not going to give in simply because he had some change of heart. She didn't need anything, or anyone, which included him.

     "I never treat you as a lesser being and always call you that `one’ thing because you do tempt me. I don’t think you can’t handle things here, because you are a woman. You are one of the strongest women I know. I also know, though, that since your mom's passing you have had money problems, and that is one of the things I don’t have problems with. You help me emotionally and I think the least I can do is help you financially, if you will allow that."

     "Thank you, that is very kind, but I can’t accept help from you. I promised my mother that I would not accept kindness, or offers from others to do what needs to be done here. I will either earn the money myself, or work out a trade or something."

     "So, let's trade!" Darien agreed excitedly.

     "Sex is not on the table as a trade, Darien. Don't get all excited," she chided.

     "Sis, that’s a really nice offer. He obviously cares for you. Why are you so stubborn?" Selene interrupted again.

     "Sorry Selene, but while you were off saving the world or whatever it was you were doing, I was here taking care of mom every day until she died. I know her wishes and why she wished them the way she did, and I will not go against my promises to her. Please, leave us," she asked with finality to her question and a stark look in her eyes.

     Selene stood in silence for a moment. The pain from the words her sister spewed at her sunk in, and her shoulders sagged, "I'm sorry. Okay, I will go."

     "I'm sorry, too," Alana said simply matching the pained expression of her sister as her bedroom  door was closed behind Selene's exit.

     "Why are you not willing to work some sort of trade with me?" Darien pushed. His dark eyes and rough exterior suddenly seeming softer and sweeter than Alana had ever seen.

     "If I had something to trade with you for work, I would. I have no money, and I have nothing of value to anyone but me."

     "Yes, but before you were willing to let me help you fix it, remember?"

     "That is different. As my lover, if you offer to help me with something because it benefits you, then that is a loophole of sorts. Keeping the kitchen in good, running order means you get to enjoy muffins and whatever else I cook in there, after a nice little evening romp. See the difference?"

     "I think you are being too stubborn about all of this. I am offering to get someone here that knows how to properly do the work, so that I can still benefit. Is that not trade enough?"

     "No. It’s not," she chuckled. "Your logic is sweet though. Thank you."

     "See, temptress?" he said as he drew closer to her and pulled her to him. "I am useful for things other than sex."

     "Yes, but sex is truly the only purpose I have for you," she reminded him flatly.

     "Well, I am here now, what is stopping you for having your way with me?" he asked seemingly innocent but the most devilish look danced across his brow.

     "I am busy, and I need to handle these things. Time is slipping by so quickly and I made promises that I intend to keep," she said as she pushed him away. "I really do appreciate you coming back to apologize, even though you tried to tongue-wrestle my sister. And thanks for trying to help. You can leave the name and number of your cousin and anyone else that you know of that can help, and I will contact them to work out payment if possible. That will be a huge help to me."

     "You want me to remember numbers and write them down for you? That is so much work, I might need you to work out a trade with me for that, temptress," he goaded with an exaggerated sigh as he again pulled her to him and lightly kissed her cheek. "Maybe you can come back to bed with me, and remind me what my name is?" The way he smiled at her made her heart melt.

     "You know your name very well, Darien. You don't need me to remind you," she giggled, feeling a little less annoyed. Ever reminded of why she liked him in the first place, as she snuggled into his embrace. Smooth, sexy, and always very passionate. When he was in the room, she usually didn't see or feel anything else; his presence was always very much encompassing to her mind and body. If nothing else, he was the best lover she ever had, and since he had come into her life, she hadn't wanted another.

     Her mother had always pushed her to not get attached to people and things. Her favorite rant was, "In only one moment, your entire being can be stolen, Alana. Don't put too much effort into people that can walk away from you. Don't love things that others can steal, or destroy for you. Stay true to yourself and those that mean something. They will be the ones that guide you through the struggles, and help you enjoy your successes". Her mother made sure she was well-trained to love herself and her family to a fault, and her relationships had suffered for it. Waiting for the other person to hurt her in any way possible, she was always the one to be distant, and unattached in relationships. As soon as she felt herself having feelings for someone, she tended to create a reason for them to leave.

     "I know I don't need a reminder, but I would love to hear my name roll off of that sweet tongue of yours, temptress," he hummed directly into her ear. His breath tickled her ear as a shiver quaked down her spine, bringing her body instantly to life.

     "I have things to do, Darien," she stated matter-of-factly as she half-attempted to push him away.

     "Yes, you do. Your job could be, to do me first. Play first, then work. We will do both together. If you allow me to help you, you will like it. It can be payment for what I'm about to do to you. No complaining, just accept that your man is here for you."

     She opened her mouth to slap back the "your man" comment he just made, but he cut her off before she could. Instantly his mouth covered hers and he swallowed her complaint. Her body instinctively melted into his, and nearly every curve contoured to fit perfectly with his. Feeling her compliance, he turned her with him, and ambled toward her bed. Pushing aside the sheers that surrounded her bed like a cocoon, he softly laid her down as he continued to feast upon her mouth for another moment. He rose and looked down at Alana laid out on her bed waiting for him. The way Darien had laid her on the bed it threw off the balance of her clothing, giving him an even better view of her. Her lithe, curvy body barely hidden by the tiny tank top and gauze skirt ensemble she had on. She was very natural and hated to wear a bra, which helped him out immensely in moments like this. Her pert nipples were barely covered by the scrap of material that clung to the lower curve of her breasts, effectively inviting him to touch her.

     Her glorious hair was fanned out around her in a sea of red beauty highlighting her pale skin, perfect baby pink lips, and honey colored eyes that were burrowing into his skull. She was a pure autumn toned woman in every sense. He loved to watch her walk, move, or do anything. Her clothes always swayed with her, always flowing, and natural, in muted deep shades of blues, greens, browns, and reds. It was as if she wore nature on her body as a second skin; her clothes the leaves and wind of the Earth. Each piece always only accentuated the beauty that was hidden beneath it.

He knew from their many conversations over the last four months that she was an Aries, on the cusp of Taurus. She was a fiery spirit that was driven to be the very best at anything she did. She was stubborn, an art-lover, and fought for what she wanted no matter how long it took to reach her goals. She lived her life with very close ties to the Earth, and would often be found out in the yard planting things, hiking through the woods, and any other activity that had her out in nature.

     She often cultivated her own herbs for cooking, and Darien had seen her many times look in her huge cookbook in the kitchen to make sure she used the proper ingredients. Although he'd never tasted anything she made in her huge pot over the fire place she and her sister used to cook their bigger meals,  he was always fascinated to watch her work. She loved what she was doing, and it was visible by her facial expressions as she was peacefully concentrating, and proud of each move she made. It always inspired Darien to want and be more to her. Any woman with that much passion, would be perfect to spend his time with.

     She squirmed, knocking him out of his brief daydream. "Stop looking at me like I'm a snack and take a bite already, or get off me so I can work," she complained with a chuckle.

     "As you wish it, temptress," he cooed as he leaned over her and lightly bit her on her exposed stomach.

     "You weren't supposed to actually bite me, you ass! I was joking!"

     "Well, that will teach you to only say things you mean. Words are powerful things. Be careful how you use them," he added with a wink.

     He leaned forward again, and lightly kissed the spot where he had just playfully bitten her. Then placed tiny kisses all over her stomach and hummed, "Mmm better?"

     He looked up to see her eyes closed, and a look of utter pleasure across her face. "Yes, much!"

     He teased her with light kisses to the part of her breast peeking beneath her shirt making her giggle, and try to wiggle away from him.

     "Darien, stop that! I'm ticklish and you know it," she chastised.

     "Yes, temptress, but I so love to hear you say my name and giggle at the same time. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And really, now my mission is accomplished, I aimed to get you in bed saying my name, so my work here is complete!" he teased.

     In a huff, she sat up in an attempt to escape. "You are just like everyone else, always playing games and messing with people…"

     His next kiss shut her up once again. He gently tugged on her chin, and tilted her head up to look into his eyes. "I do not play games with you. If you can’t see at this point that I am here because I want to be with you, and willing to tolerate you pushing me away all the time. Always using attitude and nastiness to do that, then you are blind as well as bitchy. But, I will take what comes with you, because I want you in my life. I want you, Alana. Try to enjoy being with me half as much as I enjoy being with you, and you might find that I'm a pretty decent guy that adores you." He released her chin but she kept her eyes on him.

     Squinting as if to examine something, she leaned her face closer to his and said, "I know your feelings, and try to save you from yourself all the time. If being with me is what you most want, who am I to deny that. Now, come handle the needs of your woman, we have work to do." She laid back on the bed with a slightly devilish smile on her face awaiting his next move.

     Without word, he flipped her over onto her stomach, gave her ass a hard smack, and said, "Now behave or there will be more of that, temptress. Don't push me."

     She purred and eased toward his hand, "What if I want you to do it again? Just how could I push you?"

     "Oh you like that, do you? Naughty little girl. How did I not know this before?"

     "You were too scared to hurt me? I don’t know, but do it again!"

     "Tsk, you rush me. I'm in charge right now," he hummed as he drew closer to her, trailing kisses up her exposed back while reaching around her to the front of her body. His hands brushed the underside of her breasts, across her taut nipples, and then pulled the tank top over her head in one graceful movement. His kisses continued up her now-bare back as he moved her fall of hair to one side and planted one solid kiss to the side of her neck. She panted and pressed her ass toward him, rubbing up against him in an open invitation to take her then and there.

     "Mmm temptress, I rather like you like this. All panting and ready for me. I should spank you more often."

     "Yes, you should. I'm waiting…"

     A soft chuckle escaped his throat, "My goodness, I'm not even ready for that part yet," as he kissed her neck once again, this time headed back down her back with kisses, licks, bites, and more. His hands trailed up the front of her body as his kisses covered the back. When he reached the waist of her skirt, he simply hooked his fingers in the fabric and lowered it slowly as he continued with his stream of kisses. Each kiss to her ass made her suck in a breath, and he smiled knowing he was driving her crazy.

     He tugged the skirt a bit further exposing her moist heat to him. Another lazy kiss to her ass, one lower to her thigh, then one torturously slow lick to her sex, made her legs quiver as she sucked in an excited breath. She moved away from him slightly, and he hooked his hands around her hips and pulled her back to feast on her some more. The more she squirmed the more he tortured her, easily finding her sweet spot and diving in for more. She rose slightly from the bed with a mewl and backed toward him again.

     "So eager, temptress? You make my resistance weak, by being so damned sexy. I'm trying to please you, stay still!"

     Her frustrated groan, made him smile even more. He was driving her crazy as much as she was him. What a new experience for them. Usually she was making him all but beg, and nearly die, before letting him dive into her to ease their stress and need. Today was going to be his turn to make her insane, and he was going to enjoy every second of it.

     Another long lick to her heat sent her into a shiver. He found his rhythm, and within minutes had her screaming his name. He loved it when a plan came to fruition!

     She rolled over with her skirt still wrapped around her knees. She reached to take it off, but he stopped her hand. "Here, let me help you with that," he said as he guided her skirt back up to where it belonged; effectively redressing her.

     The confused look on her face made him chuckle, which then made her look angry, within a split second.

     "Don't get all grouchy. I took care of your needs, and now you owe me a favor. Isn't that how it works? I choose however not to ask for a sexual favor at this time. I would much rather you agree to letting me help you with whatever it is that you need here. I've earned a favor, have I not, temptress?" he queried with a smug grin plastered across his beautiful face.

     She pulled her tank top back over her head and wrestled her hair from its grasp. "You are lucky that I'm feeling charitable today."

     "Eternally grateful!" he snorted as he grabbed her hand and helped her rise from the bed and through the sheers as they headed to the center of her room.

     The flush of her cheeks was sexier than he remembered, and he immediately wanted to pull her to him and devour her again. She sensed his musings and took a step back, "Stay on your own side! We have work to do, remember?"

     "Whatever you say. So, what's the first step?"

     "First step is, I get coffee and sustenance, as I feel week in the knees for some reason. Second step, we find a plumber to come fix the piping in the kitchen. I want to be able to wash dishes without having a shower at the same time!"

     "Lead the way!" he said with a half-bow as she led them out of the room toward the mock-safety of the kitchen.




Less than an hour later, a knock at the kitchen door alerted them that help had arrived. Kade, Darien's cousin, was a handyman of sorts and capable of most odd jobs. Darien had called and asked him to come and check on the status of the sink, and he had quickly accepted.

     Alana glided to the door to allow him to enter. The doorway was immediately filled with Kade's tall, athletic frame. His short black curls, and green eyes gave him a look of sweet innocence, but something about him looked and felt dark, and dangerous. When he stalked into the room, Alana stepped back and gasped. Feeling suddenly winded, she grabbed her chest and coughed.

     Darien was immediately at her side, "Are you ok?"

     She nodded as she locked eyes with Kade. He glared back at her for a few heartbeats, then also coughed, cleared his throat, and shook his head. He looked down at the hardwood floor and raised his head to meet with Darien's eyes.

     "So what is the problem here, cuz? Sink issues, you said?"

     After a pregnant pause, Darien looked between them, Alana gave a slight nod of approval and he began describing the problem with the plumbing, and showing Kade what he was talking about. Kade got to work immediately, not making eye contact with Alana again. The feeling in the kitchen was tense and something was definitely "off" to Alana.

     "I'm going to step out for a few minutes, I’ll be back," she said to Darien. Kade raised his head slightly, and then immediately went back down to tend to his work.

     "Is everything okay? Do you need me to go with you?" Darien asked in a low, concern-filled tone as he leaned against the door she had just passed through, walking away.

     She turned and took a step toward him and grabbed the hem of his shirt, cuddling into him. Matching his hushed tone, "Everything is fine babe. You stay here and tend to the repairs? I just need to sneak into town, and grab a few things."

     "Ooh, going to cook up something delicious tonight?"

     "Something, yes. I cannot guarantee it will be delicious," she chuckled. "So you think you’ll still be here for dinner then?"

     "Is that an official invitation? Before you change your mind, yes. I am looking forward to having dinner with you tonight." He reached out and dragged her to his chest and kissed her softly. "I can see something is off with you, temptress. I won’t push you, but I meant what I said earlier. I am here for, and with you. If you need something, say the word and I'm all yours."

     A slight blush rose to her cheeks. "I heard you, and believe you. This is just something I need to handle and you are doing me a favor by staying here. What exactly would you like for dinner? I will grab whatever we need while I’m out."
     "Surprise me! You've never disappointed me yet, I trust you."

     An almost imperceptible smile flitted across her lips. She nodded and turned quickly to leave. She headed through the woods toward the back of the yard, up through the passage that was her favorite short cut to the closest store. She felt like she needed to walk so she could get some fresh air, to think and shake this feeling she was having. Something was definitely off, in her home. She wasn't sure if it was Kade, or her mother's predictions coming true, that was making her so uneasy. She most assuredly needed some peace, and being outside always helped her.

     She had changed before Kade arrived and was wearing shorts and a tank top now. On her way out the door, she had snagged a pair of running shoes to make the trek easier and a canvas bag to carry back the things she would purchase while she was out. As she approached the edge of the woods, her pace slowed a bit.  She stole a peek over her shoulder and saw that Darien was still standing close to the door with his eyes on her; no doubt worrying over her unnecessarily.

     She smiled at him as she started her way up the small hill leading through the woods. The hill was covered in intertwining roots that resembled steps. Her own little root staircase. Still watching carefully where she walked, she easily traversed the space she had climbed so many times over the years while growing up in this amazing home her mother had left them. She loved nature and being outside immediately eased some of her tension, and helped her see things clearer. Still, she felt something was just not right, and it had to do with Kade. She wasn’t about to let something bad happen in her home. She swore to her mom that she would protect them at all costs, and she never broke a promise. The trick, was finding out what the problem was, and then fixing it quickly, so she could get back to work on her promises to her mother.




Darien turned back to speak to Kade when he saw Alana had finally make her way up the hill, and out of sight. Something had spooked her and, if he was honest, he had a weird feeling also. He tried to physically shake the feeling off, but it didn't help. Stepping over to the sink where Kade was hard at work, Darien peeked over to supervise.

     "How's it going down there?"

     "Almost done," Kade grunted from under the sink.

     "Wow, really? We wrestled with that thing for an hour this morning."

     "What can I say? It helps if you know how to use your tools." Kade grimaced right after he made the joke realizing it was wasted on the present company, and then chuckled as he stood and wiped his hands on his jeans to dry them. "For real though, there was nothing wrong with the pipe itself, it just needed a new washer, and I had one with me. No big deal. You want to show me what else is wrong in here?"

     The joke with his cousin would have usually made him laugh, but the shiver that tickled at Darien's hairline made his eyes snap to Kade's face, and make a quick decision.

     "Actually, I'm not even sure what else she wants, or needs done here. The place needs some random work here and there, but she didn't leave a list. Maybe I can get her to show me what she is wanting done when she comes back, and then call you to set something up for later in the week? Then you can charge two service calls. More money for you!" His attempt to lure his thoughts from the house and Alana, to money seemed to grab Kade's attention, though he wasn't sure why.

     "Great! I'm not going to charge her for this visit though since it just took me a few minutes to fix that, and I had the piece that probably cost me a few cents. Plus, you're family, so it's all good and besides it helps your woman out."

     "She's not my woman, she's just a friend," Darien pointed out.

     "Friends don't kiss each other goodbye before they leave, and plan what’s for dinner, dude," Kade pointed out. "You watched her walk away for, like, five minutes."

     "So we’re friends with benefits. I’m not lucky enough for her to be my woman just yet," Darien found himself smiling just thinking of the day that would be possible. "It was just that she left in such a hurry, I just wanted to make sure she was okay. No big deal."

     "Last time I saw her, she was a lot different, and could definitely hold her own. I don't think you need to worry about if she's okay. Though, I'm glad she isn't as crazy as she seemed before," Kade said sounding genuinely relieved.

     "When did you see her before?" Darien's eyes narrowed and suspicion clouded his face.

     "It was Just a few weeks ago. She was on the East end of town. She was arguing with some guy, he asked her a question and pushed her. She replied by punching him in the face, and stealing his book. She actually stepped on him as she walked by. I will never forget those shoes she had on. Sexy black stiletto’s, with silver crosses as the heels. It was like she was a devil and angel wrapped into one. I probably wouldn't have seen them if she didn't step on the guy, but I couldn’t mistake them now for anything. Your girl is hot! Hello? Darien? You okay, dude?"

     Lost in thought, Darien didn't even realize Kade was finished with his story. He shook his head, "That doesn't sound like Alana at all. Are you sure it was her?"

     "Dude, how could anyone have missed that hair? It's like a silky red cloud that follows her around, all natural and beautiful. She has a great body, too. She probably shouldn't be out at night wearing a tiny black dress with her tits all out, but it’s not like I was complaining. I’m sure everyone around her appreciated the sexy look she had going on. I promise man, I didn't know she was your girl. I've tried to talk to her a few times in the bookstore and other places, but she usually doesn't have much to say to me. That's why I was all shy, head down, when I saw her. I’ve already been dissed man, I didn't want to be embarrassed more if she mentioned it in front of you. I'm sorry about that."

     "Black dress, heels, out at night, and she hit someone. That is not my Alana, Kade. I'm sorry, I just can't believe you."

     Kade's shocked look at Darien's words turned to confusion, as he looked past Darien and saw Selene standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

     "Your little friend here is right, all of that happened, but it was me, not Alana. Hi, I'm Selene," Alana's body-double stated with a slight grin and she stepped forward to shake Kade's hand. "It's a long story but that was necessary. That man had stolen something that was ours, and I had to get it back. I'm not known for my tact or subtleness. Sorry about that."

     "That must have been a really great book for you to go to such lengths to get it," Kade jested with a blush slowly rising to his cheeks, as he surveyed her slowly.

     "It was our mother's. I had promised to keep it safe, and we take our vows very seriously," she stated flatly. "Those shoes are my favorites. Thanks for noticing, but you can stop eyeballing me now, if you don't mind, thanks."

     Trying to save Kade from making a horrible choice in response, Darien finally spoke up, "Yeah, Alana will stop at nothing to do as your mother asked, including pushing me away and never accepting that I care for her. You two are very frustrating, but it's really great that you both loved your mother so much that you fight for your promises. That's a good characteristic."

     "You two are identical in every way, aren't you? Geez! I couldn't tell you apart at all," Kade's fascinated look made Selene chuckle.

     "Actually we have many differences that are known only to our lovers and very observant friends. Sorry, that leaves you out."

     "Oh you bruise me, beauty! Who's to say I would not make an excellent lover or friend?"

     "Your aura is all off. I wouldn't take a man like you to bed with me. I have very high standards and you don't feel trustworthy." Selene was very much not the type to mince words, and those seemed to visibly sting Kade.

     "Well, not that I don't adore your charming company, Selene? Is it? But my work here is done and I feel that I've worn out my welcome. See ya later, cuz. Just give me a call if your girl needs more help. I can always use the work," he said over his shoulder, as he made his way through the kitchen door.

     "Thanks, I will."

     Kade stuck his head back through the door before closing it completely, "I'd hate for more of your things to go missing, ma'am. Perhaps you should keep a better lid on your house. It's not like things can just walk out of here, is it? Good day."

     Darien looked over to see Selene in mid eye-roll, "What the hell was that all about? I don't even remember seeing him when I was out the other night, and I was in the worst part of town, so he wouldn’t have even seen me unless he was hanging out with some sleaze balls anyway? That dude is creepy. I can't put my finger on it, but something is all off." She ended her sentence and began walking to the entryway to the living room. "Where is Alana anyway? I need to talk to her."

     "She walked up to town to grab some things from the store, to cook dinner tonight."

     "Cook? Alana is going to cook? Did she say what?"

     "No, I asked her to surprise me."

     "Ha! This could get interesting," Selene stated with a final chuckle and walked away toward her bedroom; officially leaving Darien all alone. He decided he should head to town to see if Alana would want a ride home from the store; possibly earning himself a knight in shining armor award for the night.




Alana felt him before she saw him. The darkness preceded him so fiercely, she immediately choked and coughed; her lungs on fire, and eyes watering as if in a smoke-filled room.

     "You know, it's dangerous for little girls to wander around strange places alone, miss," he hissed.

     "I am neither little, nor is this a strange place, sir," she spat back with as much venom as she could muster. "And, truth be told, you look like a cartoon villain. Seriously, how many too-tall, waif thin, grey-skinned, homicidal maniacs can there be in the world? That's so played out."

     "You are so feisty, I love it. Your soul is going to be my favorite possession. You have only a few more days. Do you think you can truly find a way to save you, or that wretched sister of yours?"

     "I have everything I need to defeat you. You would do well to remember that I am not some random, puny human, or slave that you can boss around trying to frighten. My mother was the one that created you. Her accident, will be rectified soon. Count your days and enjoy them, they are your last." Her voice was so low and grave, that he took a step back and looked visibly shaken.

     Before she could begin to feel good about how her harsh threat was accepted, he stepped closer to her, closing the gap between them. He put his finger under her chin and slightly tilted her head upward to look into his soulless glare. She struggled to snatch her face away from his grasp, but was unable to move. His black eyes burrowed into her soul for a brief but solid moment that she could feel from within.

     "Your family owes a life-debt to me, and it will be paid. One way, or the other," he finished and then vanished into thin air.




"Alana. Hey Alana, wait up."

     Her eyes narrowed to slits in the blink of an eye, and she stepped closer to him. "You know his name and his nature. How do you know that? How? Tell me!"

     "Okay, okay. Relax," he quickly took a step back so he could be out of strike-range. "You just needed to ask once, geez." He lowered his head down to the ground looking embarrassed as he spoke, "I was born with an illness that no one can understand. I work for Drake doing odd jobs, and he in turn keeps me healthy. I don't usually feel that it's a proper trade as I don't work as hard as his other employees, but he seems to take pride in helping me. I just can sense his nature, and don't think he's a good person. I have no choice but to be bound to him, my family chose to seek his aid with my health. I've known him since I was a little kid. He's like an uncle to me, really."

     Watching Kade's face, Alana's shoulders sagged under his confession. She looked at his face closer, and saw the fatigue and sickness that plagued him. She could see the strain of the world written across his attractive features, and then she realized why she had taken so oddly to him when he first entered her home.

     "You take medicine from Drake?"

     "Yes, just an elixir that he makes for me twice a month to keep me healthy. Tastes like dirt with live specimens of creepy crawlies in it, but it keeps me alive, so I choke it down and smile. Why do you ask?" He seemed to chuckle internally at his own joke. Alana cringed, knowing he was probably closer to the truth than he even knew.

     "Do you know the ingredients he uses for this elixir?" Alana asked hopefully.

     "Sorry, no. I don't understand herbology, and all of that mojo medicine man, hocus pocus he deals with. I just know that I feel like crap, like I do right now, until I take the elixir, and then I suddenly feel better. It’s like magic! He's amazing, but dark inside. I'm just trying to protect you. You’re important to my cousin, which makes you important to me. I just want you to be safe and careful."

     "What’s the name of this illness that you have, Kade? If you don't mind me asking, of course. Oh, and thank you for your unexpected protection. That is very sweet of you."

     "Honestly, no one knows. I was born just like I was supposed to be to a healthy mother and grew up fairly normal. When I was about six, I started to deteriorate quickly. I was sick all the time and weak. My parents tried everything to make me better. One day, Drake just showed up at our house with a bottle of his elixir. They gave it to me and within an hour, I was able to function properly again. I’m not as healthy as I would have been without the illness, but his elixir keeps me alive and well, for the most part."

     "Do you have any of this elixir with you? What sort of symptoms do you have? Does Drake live close?" Alana's rapid-fire questions made Kade take an additional step back.

     "He brings the elixir to me when I become weak. My house, there," he pointed again, "is on the back part of his property. When my parents passed away, he invited me to stay close to him. Why are you so interested anyway?" The skeptical look on his face made her realize she was not being very subtle, at all.

     "Oh, it’s just that you’re Darien's cousin. So, if you’re ill, and I can help, I would love to, that's all. You know, the whole being important to each other thing." It was obvious she was reaching for a good reason to be so curious.

     "That's nice of you, but Drake seems to have things under control." The skepticism didn't leave his face, but he seemed to relax a bit. "Well, be safe. I finished up at your house already, and Darien said we would talk again soon, so I could work on the rest of the things going on there. He wasn't sure what all you wanted done."

     "Hey, you two! What's going on up here? Should I be concerned? You trying to run off with my lady, cuz?" Darien's amused voice carried across the space easily as he approached.

     "Well, imagine that! We were just talking about you!" Alana said playfully.

     "Well, I'm here now. What's going on?" Concern seemed to be etched across his brow, and he stepped close to Alana pulling her flush against his side, and draping a protective arm around her waist.

     "Kade was just leaving, and I was just leaving, on my way to finish my errands," Alana answered before Kade could have a chance to speak.

     "Yes, precisely. You two have a nice evening," Kade said with a slight head nod, as he turned and headed toward the tiny cottage behind them.

     When he was out of earshot, Darien looked down at Alana, "Are you sure everything is okay? You look upset or something, I can’t seem to place it."

     "I’m great, thank you. I Just need to get these things finished so we can have dinner. I'm famished!" she said, losing the excitement that should have backed her words.

     "Well, since Kade is gone, and I have nothing else to do until you return, how about I join you, if you don't mind."

     "Thanks but that won't be necessary. I'm a big girl, I can handle myself."

     "Yes, but you see, if I go with you now, we can choose what we will cook for later, and I get to see your beautiful face for a bit longer today. I won't take no for an answer so you might as well stop arguing with me and lead the way, temptress."

     Letting out a defeated huff, Alana turned and headed toward town with Darien by her side.



(continue here...)



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