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Friday, October 18, 2013

ALLEGRO - by Deanne Wilsted

By: Deanne Wilsted

Sandra took a final swipe at the make-up on her face and then let her hand fall to the faux granite vanity where she sat. She stared at herself in the mirror, a wall of glass which spread the length of the room. Her image taunted her; shoulder length curly auburn hair pulled back with a glimmer headband, skin, pale from her many hours spent indoors practicing piano or composing, short nails, like stubby exclamation points at the end of a ten run-on sentences.

After years of being known as a child prodigy, it was so much a part of her identity that she barely recognized herself as the twenty-six year old woman she had become. An image of her younger sister, Marie, skimmed through her thoughts. Marie had played the dark angel to Sandra’s light one. Sexy as soon as she had grown breasts, her appeal had only become more sophisticated and classy, leading men to trail her like notes lingering on the piano.

It had been weeks since she’d seen Marie. Weeks, in fact, since she’d seen any of her family. She picked up the phone which she had tossed onto the vanity before heading onstage. The text from Marie was still there- the words still as nonsensical as when she had first read them.
Sandy… Dump the gig and come meet me in Barcelona. You need a break and I need an excuse to escape Antonio.

             As if she could just back-out of a concert, thought Sandra. Marie’s way of looking at the world was so different as to be incomprehensible to Sandra. And yet, there was something about the text which nagged at her. She’d been studying it for days now. And as the weekend closed in on her the niggling idea that she could, indeed, sneak away if she really wanted to floated its way into her consciousness. It was preposterous. But aside from the girlish hair, pale skin, and filed nails, the dark circles under her eyes made a compelling case.
             She pulled up the calendar on her phone and studied her schedule. She’d need travel time, she calculated. And time to practice when she returned. It didn’t leave much of a break. Maybe two days, max- assuming she could reschedule the recital for the local school. Still, two days was better than nothing. Her fingers played unconsciously with her phone, like keys on the piano, until the decision was made.

           Okay. She typed; then pressed reply.

Sandra made it to the airport with minutes to spare. Her plan to meet her sister in updated clothes had been discarded alongside the plan to reschedule the recital. The school’s disappointment had simply been too severe to ignore. Instead she had re-jiggered her flights and run, literally, to make it.

“Excuse me.” The tall man in front of her didn’t seem to hear her plea to pass. “Excuse me,” she said, more loudly this time.

The stranger continued to face forward, holding up one finger at his shoulder to let her know he’d heard but chosen to ignore. Sandra tapped her toe, peeking around him at the ticket desk where she had hoped to upgrade at the last minute. She had a finger she’d like to show him, she thought. Sighing in frustration she accepted that she would have to stick with the cramped middle seat- the only assignment available on such short notice.

They called the flight for boarding and Sandra moved away from the crowd at the ticketing desk and into the crowd at the gate. Behind her she heard a man’s baritone talking on his cell phone. One glance over her shoulder told her it was the same man who had blocked her way to the agents. The annoyed words running through her brain dyed on her lips. He was- beautiful. Like when she heard a piece of music played flawlessly, her heart beat was a recognition of his perfection.
Bright blue eyes stared out unseeingly from a face darkened by a 5:00 o’clock shadow. The V opening of his dark shirt highlighted his strong jaw; a jaw which formed the foundation for his rugged check bones. But more than anything it was his mouth which had Sandra staring. The flat, clearly annoyed lips, hinted at straight white teeth underneath, and quirked up to one side as if perpetually mocking life.
Sandra would have dropped her eyes, if she could have. So it was with a horrifying blush that he caught her unintentionally listening in on the last of his conversation.
“It’s not enough to put them on the cover. You need to give them credit. ”… “Of course they said they can’t fit it. What else would they say?”… “Right. Well, I don’t care if they threaten to cancel your contract; we’re talking about a hospital of kids here. Get their name and information on the cover or find a new agent.”
“Idiots,” he mumbled, hitting the end call button with his finger and finally noticing Sandra.
The red crept up her chest, climbed her neck and felt like a glowing spotlight on her cheeks. Sandra prepared herself to apologize. But before she could get a single word out, his glance skimmed right over her and landed on the open doorway to the gangway.
Sandra spun on her flat, ballet style shoes and shuffled toward the door, even more embarrassed to have been so completely discounted by him. She fumbled with her luggage, checking her ticket and comparing the seat numbers with her assignment. At least she wouldn’t be at the back of the plane, she consoled herself. She threw her purse onto the seat and got ready to heave the suitcase up to the overhead. Before she could raise a finger, though, strong arms lifted it into the small space.
“There you go, miss.”
Sandra scooched into her seat and turned to say thank you, but was again tongue tied when she realized he was lowering himself into the seat next to hers. Was this a good thing, or a bad thing? Two hours would surely be enough time to find her voice, wouldn’t it? She watched the way the man tapped his cell phone on his flat palm and thought, perhaps not.
So, what do you do? Sandra was trying out opening questions when the flight attendant began her emergency spiel.
“So,” she began; then noticed the rapt attention with which the man listened to the flight attendant. In front of them the woman, clicked an unclicked a fake seatbelt, and Sandra wondered what could be so engaging about that. Until she noted the way the woman’s breasts squeezed together every time she fit the two pieces together. Sandra had been on her fair share of flights, but this was the first one where the emergency directions felt ‘R’ rated.
Sandra stared down at the pearls which lay against her own, black silk blouse. It was certainly feminine. But sexy? The buttons which hit above her collarbone hid any sign of cleavage. She tried scrunching her elbows into her side like the flight attendant had done, and proceeded in bulging the blouse, but not much else. She looked up and caught the passenger on the window side of her watching her with a bemused expression. The older woman smiled briefly, and then returned to the book which lay open on her lap.
“I’m Sandra, what’s your name?” Even the voice in her head sounded like a little girl now. She had yet to come up with a conversation starter- let alone the courage to ask it. You can do it, Sandra. You perform in front of thousands of people all the time. Just do it. The Nike quote was a favorite of Marie’s and finally motivated Sandra to go for it.
“Do you have cranberry juice?” Directed at the flight attendant who was waiting for her order, the question also finally got the man’s attention. His curious eyes were more like, does she need it in a sippy-cup, than, how about a shot of vodka for to go with it.
His own, low voice rumbled out an order of diet coke- with a side of rumpled sheets and a steamy shower. The flight attendant was back before Sandra had a chance to regain his attention. And, although Sandra had her hand out, ready to take the pink cup of juice, the flight attendant leaned across the man. She placed it on Sandra’s tray table, never taking her eyes from the man’s.
He, on the other hand, was busily drinking in the mounds of skin which threatened to topple out of what should have been the very conservative blue dress shirt on the flight attendant. She stood back and raised her arms over her head in a stretch, as if her job serving beverages was that strenuous.
A jolt of turbulence sent her swaying toward the man, who reached out to stop her from falling.
“Oh, thank you,” she said, apparently surprised that at 5,000 feet, with her hands over her head, she might lose her balance.
“Happy to help.” His smile was warm. And the little quirk at the corner now appeared ironic and knowing. It didn’t seem to bother him that the woman was obviously working him. His amusement created the intimacy of a shared joke.
While he was otherwise engaged, Sandra decided to take a cue from the very obvious flight attendant. She reached up and casually flipped open the top two buttons of her silk blouse. Waiting until the two of them were alone again, Sandra shifted her body toward him and with fingers graceful from playing piano, lifted her glass of cranberry juice to her lips. Perhaps the red color would dye her lips a luscious red like the flight attendant’s.
With her free hand she pulled the hair band from her head and shook out her curls. The movement reverberated down her neck, across her shoulder and through her arm, sloshing the cranberry juice out of the cup and into her lap.
“Damn.” She leaned forward to set her glass on the tray table, but when she leaned back to dab at her skirt her pearls got caught and she found herself jerked forward again. She bumped the tray table, and more of the pink juice spilled from the plastic cup.
“Perhaps a juice box next time,” the man suggested with a chuckle. He laid his spare napkins on her tray table and Sandra watched the drips from the juice circumvent it and continue to drip into her lap. Marie would have had a snappy reply, Sandra was sure. But Sandra was at a loss. Playing a man was nothing like playing a piano. She threw in the towel, metaphorically, and called for the flight attendant to return. As she had guessed, the woman was at their seat before Sandra’s fingers had left the call button. Sandra consoled herself with the thought that at least she would get good service on the flight.
Sandra woke up to heavy breathing in her hotel room. Near her on the floor, her sister, Marie was doing some sort of Pilates pose which must have required some intense effort to hold. She dropped down to her side, and hugged her knees to her chest, before rolling up to a sitting position.

“How long have you been awake?” Marie asked.
Sandra yawned and lay back against her pillow. “I just woke up,” she admitted.
“Good. I was trying hard to stay quiet.” Marie’s stretch was far more demanding and less calculated than the flight attendant’s had been the day before. “But, now that you’re awake, what should we do today?”
Although Marie had been at the hotel waiting for Sandra when she arrived from the airport, she had promptly gone out when it became clear that Sandra’s objective was room service and an early bedtime. “Kinda seems like it misses the point of a weekend away,” Marie had huffed, before spritzing herself with a musky scent and shimmying out the door.
Her late night had clearly done her no harm. Marie was as perky as ever, even without cosmetic surgery.
Sandra played with the edge of the sheets and considered how to answer her sister’s innocent question. She’d reached an uncomfortable conclusion while sitting silently on the airplane. A twenty-six year old woman should know how to talk to a man. Should know, in fact, how to entice him to bed. But not only was Sandra clueless, she also lacked confidence that the word entice could be used around her with anything but humor.
“So, I was thinking,” she began hesitantly. Marie was known for extremes, and Sandra was looking for a subtle change, not a train wreck. “Maybe we could go out shopping.”
Marie clapped her hands and spun in a circle. “Fantastic. A sexy dress for me and…” she stared at Sandra for a moment and then huffed. “Forget it. It’s too depressing to go shopping with you.”
Sandra put her hands on her hips. “That’s not nice,” she said. “And anyway, I was thinking you could help me pick out some new, more, uh, mature clothes.”
Marie snorted. “Mature? God, please don’t tell me you want to replace the headband with a red hat.”
“I’m serious.” Sandra jumped out of bed, filled with purpose. “Tease me all you want, but with or without you I’m going out to find something fun and sexy to wear tonight.”
Marie slowed her with a hand on her arm. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” She sounded amazed and a bit alarmed. “Sandy, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, pulling out of her sister’s hold. “I just, I’m tired of being overlooked. I’ve handled the pressure, the expectations, the image for 20 years now. Did you realize that?” she demanded. “I counted it up. For twenty years I’ve been known as the child prodigy. Well, guess what? I’m not a child anymore.”
Marie stood right in front of her and placed both hands on her shoulders. “Sandra, you haven’t been a child in your whole life. Since you were six you’ve never had a tantrum, broken a rule, done anything crazy, other than writing that really weird piece you called Taco.”
“I didn’t know the other meaning of the word, I swear.” Out of steam, Sandra lowered herself onto the bed.
Marie laughed and sat down next to her. “I’m just saying, if changing your clothes makes you act more care-free, then I’m with you a 100%.”
Sandra bit her lip and considered what Marie had said. She was ready for new clothes, maybe even a new hair style. But a new outlook seemed like a bit much.
“How about we keep it at 80%,” Sandra said. The last time her sister had given a 100% to anything she’d disappeared for two months. She still wouldn’t talk about that period of her life, though she’d once mentioned it had something to do with Richard Branson.
“Deal. Go shower and I’ll make some calls.”
Sandra didn’t even want to think about what sort of shopping would require phone calls.
Four hours later, head covered in foil, Sandra wished she’d asked a few more questions and limited Marie’s involvement to 30%.
“If my hair is purple, I swear…”
“I told you, nothing too crazy. You have to trust me.”
Sandra raised her eyebrows skeptically but kept quiet. The hair person had already done something with her hair that required a sharp looking razor and a heated stone. Okay, that last part had been sort of nice. Still, she wondered how much money, and time, it was going to take to revert back to her original hair style.
Marie leaned against the counter, flipping through a fashion magazine. Every now and then she’d hold a picture up for Sandra to judge. So far the pictures had received four head shakes, two emphatic “no’s”, and a laugh so loud the other customers had shot them curious stares.
Confronted by a pair of suspenders made out of fur, Sandra got ready to ask what on earth she was thinking.
“Not that page, dimwit,” Marie said. “This one.”
Sandra stared at the photo of the woman, head down, hair covering the top of the cocktail dress. It was obvious why she’d overlooked it. The photo was meant to be about the large gold watch on the skinny wrist. But taking in the dress Sandra understood what her sister was getting at. The short dress was a bright emerald green and landed in graceful folds above the model’s knees. Peeking from the very bottom edge was a line of light purple lace which hinted at something sexy and forbidden underneath. One purple silk ribbon at the ankle managed to somehow suggest bondage, even in its fragility.
“Yep,” Sandra said. “That would work.”
Marie got a Cheshire cat grin on her face and began to dial again.

If it weren’t for the loud bass in the music pumping through the clothing shop Sandra imagined the song might have been worth listening to. She shifted her weight in front of the dressing room mirror, admiring how the fabric of the newest dress she had tried on slid up slightly as she moved.
“Are you going to let me see?” Marie huffed. “We’ve been shopping for, like, two hours and I’ve seen a total of three dresses on you.”
Sandra considered making her wait for fun, but couldn’t stand the excitement of her sister seeing her in this dress. She stepped out of the dressing room, stomping to the beat of the loud music in spite of herself. At the three way mirror, she executed a perfect turn, placed a hand on her hip and shot Marie a sassy look.
Her sister’s open mouth was enough acknowledgment. This was the dress.
Sandra spun back to the mirror and Marie walked up behind her with a long necklace. She placed it around Sandra’s neck, hooked the clasp, and stepped back. Sandra’s now short, straightened black hair clung to her neck, seamlessly flowing into the metal link chain of the necklace. The look was both hard and sexy at the same time.
“Now for make-up.”
Sandra’s confidence fled and was replaced again by alarm. There was no time to argue. Marie had her paying for the dress and out the door before she could explain that the only time she wore make-up was when a professional make-up artist applied it before a big performance.

Sandra was glad the club they went to didn’t have any mirrors. Given the amount of black eye-liner Marie had applied she was sure her eyes looked like two smeared half notes. Dinner had been a rotation of tapas spots. Sandra couldn’t remember what she had eaten and had lost count early on of her normal 2 drink limit. She felt nothing like herself, disembodied from the pixie-like rock-n-roll creature that had stared back at her in the hotel room mirror.

           “Over here.” Marie grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the bar, as if either of them needed more sangria. “Two Cosmopolitans,” Marie told the bartender then turned to look out at the night club, people streaming toward a cookie.
“So, who’s Antonio, anyway?” Sandra asked the question she’d wondered about for days.
“Who?” Marie’s eyebrows rose dramatically, and Sandra wondered if that was what hers looked like now that her sister had defined them? “Oh, right, Antonio.” She rolled her eyes as if it weren’t even worth talking about. “Some businessman who thinks he can buy everything.”
The pointed look Marie gave her raised Sandra’s protective hackles. Had the guy hurt her sister?
“I’m fine.” Marie waved away the worry she must have noticed on Sandra’s face. “He should be out of the apartment by the time I return.”
 Sandra made a somewhat drunken note to herself to double check that all was fine when they both went back to reality. Struck by a sudden closeness with her little sis she threw an arm around her shoulder and gave her a kiss.
“Oh yeah.” A disgusting jerk standing near them was practically slobbering on the bar counter.
Instead of getting upset, though, Marie laughed and kissed Sandra on the neck. “Come on babe… let’s find someplace more private.” She grabbed their drinks, hooked an arm through Sandra’s and pulled her away from the bar.
“Seriously, I don’t get how you do that.” Sandra shook her head, taking the drink Marie held out. “Weren’t you at all embarrassed?”
“By what that idiot thought? Right! Now if had been that gorgeous guy standing near the band I’d have been totally embarrassed- that is, embarrassed to be hanging out with my sister.”
Sandra rolled her eyes and glanced over to see what sort of mega-star Marie had set her sights on this time. She nearly dropped her drink. It was the guy from the plane. The one who’d ignored her like she was twelve but who now couldn't seem to tear his gaze from her cat eyes.
“Well, well, well… it appears it’s my big sister who’s 'gonna get lucky tonight.”
“Of course not Marie,” Sandra started. But her sister was already wandering her way back toward the bar. Sandra was happy to note that the pervert had at least left the spot he’d held. She scanned the crowd, debating whether to follow after her sister, or find a quiet spot to hide, and came face to face with the airplane guy.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Brows furrowed he seemed truly perplexed. “Do, I know you?”
She would have laughed at the overused line, if she hadn’t known that, in fact he did know her from somewhere. And it only confirmed what she’d thought… she’d been pretty well overlooked by him the first time around. She decided this time he wouldn’t get off quite so easy.
“Perhaps,” she said, scanning her excellent auditory memory for what he’d said on the phone conversation she’d overheard. “You’re an agent, right?”
Oops, that must have been the wrong direction. His body language changed from interested to closed-off in the blink of an eye.
“Ahhh. I see.”
This time she did laugh out loud. As if she needed an agent. She’d never needed to pursue anyone. Agents, artists, producers, other performers, they’d all thrown themselves at her- or more precisely her mom- since she was eight. Her laughter confused him. Once again he looked at her curiously. The quirk in his mouth gave the impression that he was calculating the odds of being wrong about her. It amazed Sandra how one little muscle could be so expressive.
“What are you drinking? Can I get you another?”
Sandra squinted at her glass, surprised it was almost empty. “It was some sort of cranberry drink,” she said, belatedly realizing the connection with the drink she’d ordered on the airplane. “But I’d rather have water, if you don’t mind. I think I’ve had enough.”
“Huh!” He rubbed his chin and studied her face intently. “Stay here. Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” He turned to walk off then spun back as if to check that she was still there. “Don’t move,” he said again.
Sandra barely took a breath before her sister popped up in front of her.
“So, it turns out I sat next to that guy on the plane here and he never even noticed me. In fact, even now he doesn’t remember who I was. I mean, it was just yesterday,” she huffed.
“Cool, so you have the advantage then.” As usual Marie’s reasoning was both smart and also a little lopsided.
“But, what do I say?”
Marie cocked her head and gave the question serious consideration. “Well, I know what I’d say.”
“Okay, what? Hurry, He’s coming back.” Panic gripped Sandra. She held Marie’s arm so she wouldn’t escape.
Marie smiled. “No… I don’t think my way would work for you. But hey, what if you treated him like a composition? What’s that first part again?”
“A prelude…”
“And you told me a prelude introduces the main movement and sets the theme. Right?”
“Okay, yes.” Sandra tried to return the guy’s smile as he wound his way toward them.
“So, this is your prelude. Your theme isn’t my theme. But if I had to take a guess, it would have something to do with a new stage in your life, something anyone could relate to. Good luck.”
She pulled from Sandra’s death grip and shot her a parting smile and a last piece of advice before gliding out to the dance floor. “Probably you should start with your name.”
Sandra set down the sweating glass and rubbed her palms down the side of her dress.
“So, I’m Sandra,” she said when he got close enough to hear her. “We met yesterday. But I’m not the girl I was then. That’s why you don’t recognize me. What’s your name?”
“I’m Sam.”
He still didn’t recognize her, but that didn’t matter. Sandra realized it gave her the freedom to be whomever she wanted. The thought was as freeing as a lively allegro. A new composition began to circle in her brain, something with sultry tones and a strong beat. Something that sounded like the woman she could be.
If you liked this story you can find more by Deanne Wilsted at:
Follow Deanne on Twitter @dwilsted

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Timepiece Protector Installment 2

         The streets of London were just as congested as the streets of downtown New York. Sellers

hawking their wares in the streets stood shoulder to shoulder with prostitutes and children left not

other place but to beg on the streets. The noise was almost defeaning. Almost. Even after all the years

Dermot had been "civilized" the super sensitivity of the world around him was apparent.

      The clip-clop of metal shod hooves mixed with some sort of machine that spit out white smoke

and made rumbling noises as Alstronia lead him to the shopkeeper who traded her the pocket watch.

His father's pocket watch. A small grubby hand reach toward Alistronia. On instinct Dermot grabbed

the small thin wrist.

      "Didn't mean no harm, gov. 'ave a message for the lady."
      "For me?" Alstronia turned around her pale skin even paler in the weak afternoon sunlight. "From


      "Don' know, miss. 'e was hidden in shadows."
      "Oh. Ummm.... thank you."

      Alistronia reached forward to take the note with shaking fingers, but Dermot snatched it out of the

boy's grubby fingers first. He slit the black wax seal watching with narrowed eyes as the boy ran off

down an alley. Looking back down at the masculine scrawl across filthy paper, he grunted.

    "What is it?" She stepped closer to him biting her bottom lip.

     "Nothing to worry about. A fear tactic."

      Alistronia's swallow was loud in an even louder world. "What did it say?"

     "She's fine. Continue on."

      For a second she hesitated then finally nodded and turned back towards the row of brick buildings

ahead of them. Shaking his head at the stupidity of criminals he slipped the paper into the inside

pocket of his great coat. The bastard had made the biggest mistake of his life. He must be getting

desperate. Not only did he have a gender, but judging by the script and wording he was well

educated. Which took much of the work of him hunting down in the hells of London.

     "Are you sure this is place?"

      The building they stopped in front of was an everyday run of the mill brick building with a shop

front on the first floor, apartments on the second floor and more than likely storage on the third. The

shop two shop windows on each side of the door showcased ready-made clothing for the average

working man, a few toys and a very pretty party dress for a little girl. He'd seen so many similar

displays in America he was actually surprised to find it in downtown London.

     "Of course I am. I've been here several times before yesterday. Occasionally the owners received

some interesting things from the orient. Not often, hence I'm not a regular customer." She paused

trying to peer through the curtains behind the displays. From his knowledge it usually meant the

owners were not opening for the day.

     "There hasn't been any rumors that they went on holiday. How strange."

    "There would be such rumors?"

     "Of course. We shop owners are a close-knit group. We look out after each other whenever


     "Back door?" Alistronia scowled spinning around to face him. He sighed. "Is there a back door?"

     "Oh! Yes. In the alley." She pointed to the corner of the building.

     "Stay here."

     "Sorry, but until I get Bronwen back in my arms, where you go I go."

      Dermot snorted then coughed quickly hoping to cover the blunder. She wrinkled her nose at him.

swallowing the need to kiss the tip of her nose he turned towards the alley. He didn't know what it

was about her that made him feel comfortable. The rustle of her black cotton skirts filled the alley

blocking out what he knew to the scurrying of rats. She gasped a couple times telling him she'd

noticed them as well. The scent of decay poured out of the back of the building. He shook his head

but the stench was there to stay for at least the rest of the day.

     "What is that smell?" she coughed.

     "Something decayed."

     "In a matter of one night and morning? What could do that so fast?"

      He glanced at her over his shoulder reaching to grasp the knob. "You're certain the woman who

traded with was the woman who worked this shop regularly?"

       "Of course. You can ask anyone in this neighborhood. She never goes anywhere. I think she's

afraid of her husband. He can be a real mean person." She pulled out a handkerchief from her reticule

and pushed it against her nose. He could tell by the wrinkling of her nose it didn't do anything to keep

the smell from her.

      "Has he ever raised a hand-"

      "If he has he's never marked anywhere uncovered. Do you think someone died and that's why it

smells so bad?"

       Dermot shook his head. Even on the battlefield he hadn't smelled anything so foul.

      "This isn't a dead body. At least nothing I've ever encountered. I've never smelled anything so

bad. You should probably stay here. There's no telling what I'll find inside."

       "I told you. Where you go, I go."

      "Are you always so stubborn?"

      Alistronia shrugged. Grumbling under his breath he swung back to the shop door. She slipped up

behind him practically pressing her front to his back. His fingers itched for the pistol he'd forgotten

back at Tremayne's place. Thrusting one hand back Dermot grabbed a fist full of her skirt just to be

sure of where she was standing at any given point. Her small gasp went straight to his groin. Damn!

     "Stay right behind me and be quiet."

     "I'm not going anywhere else."

      Dermot wasn't sure this was a good idea, but getting a law enforcement agent would take too

long. The last thing he needed at the moment was to loose the lead on what happened to his father all

those years ago, and on the whereabouts of Alistronia's God-daughter. The swung open the door

choking on the bile that threatened to come up at the overwhelming smell. After a few seconds to

gain his composure, he stepped over the threshold very aware of ever step she made behind him.


     Dermot's hand gave off the only heat in the darkened smelly building. He said it wasn't the smell

of death and it certainly wasn't food rotting. She didn't know of anything that could decay that fast.

The acrid scent burned her nose and threatened to cause her stomach to revolt.

      "Can you see anything?"

     "Didn't I tell you to be quiet?"

     "I can't see anything."

      Dermot sighed. "Stay."

      He released her skirt. His footsteps thudded softly on carpet away from her. A match struck and a

flare of light illuminated the small back room. Her breath caught in her chest and it had nothing to do

with the smell.

      "Happy now?"

     "Not really." she croaked closing her eyes through unable to scrub the image burned into her lids.

      "Aw fuck."

      Bubbles tickled her nose as she tried to keep from crying.

      "Don't move Miss Parker."

      "Ali. Call me Ali." she whispered. She wasn't a hundred percent certain they should be on first

name basis, but at this point hearing such an intimate thing was welcomed. She jumped when

Dermot's warm hand wrapped around her trembling shoulders. She dared not open her eyes for fear

she'd see even more horrendous images.

      "I'm going to walk you back outside along the same path we took coming in. Only more when I

nudge you."

     "Do I have to look?"

     "It'd be best if you kept your eyes closed. You already say more than you should have."

      She let her breath out. She should have agree with him and waited outside. His front pressed

against hers. Every definition of muscle rubbed against her soft feminine parts. Her heart pounded

while her breath sawed in and out of her corseted torso. If she hadn't been in such a predicament she'd

swear the reaction was from his closeness. Shaking her head just a little she pushed the thought from

her mind. His arms wrapped around her waist his fingers spreading across her lower back.

      "Right foot straight back." His heated moist breath whispered in her ear while slightly

pushing with his body. Slowly he guided her back to the threshold and out into the alley.

     Timidly she cracked her eyes open. The door was mostly  closed hiding the carnage. She sighed.

      Dermot cleared his throat sliding his hands from around her waist. She shivered.


      She nodded trying to look everywhere else except his brown gaze and husky voice. "Yes. Thank


     "Seeing as what we had tripping into I think it would be best to round up a constable and report


      "Oh...ah...yes. Yes, your right." she shifted looking back down the alley.

      "Why don't you go summon one while I make sure the scene stays undisturbed."

       "It might be a few minutes. I don't usually see one around this time of the afternoon."

      "I'll be here."

      Ali nodded. Grabbing up her skirts she fled down the alley praying there would be a constable not

too far away. Of course luck wasn't with her. She had to go down five blocks and took close to half

an hour before she found someone. He debated her story at first but once she threatened to go to the

papers with their incompetence he quickly followed her back.

      Dermot leaned against the wall next to the back door riffling through a stack of papers. He

nodded to the constable but didn't bother coming to attention. The constable took one step inside

before turning around and vomiting. Ali jumped back thankful for her quick thinking for the vomit

had just barely missed her new boots.


      Ali wanted to smack the smirk off Dermot's face. The poor constable hadn't been prepared.

      "Stay here. The Captain will want your statements." The constable stumbled down the alley

wiping his mouth.

      Ali turned watching him completely stunned. She had expected him to go inside and look for

survivors. At the very least.

      "No one has been inside there for several days."

      Ali spun back around. Dermot held a piece of paper up to the light as he spoke.

      "I told you the shop owner's wife traded me the watch for one of my summer hats specially

designed for her."

      "And once again. Are you one hundred percent sure it was the shop owner's wife?"

      "Why would you ask that?"

      "Just answer the question."

      "As sure as I can be. It wasn't like I came in here every single day, or even every week. She

looked and sounded the same."

       "And yet that..." he waved tot he door, "is not from one night and one morning. That is weeks if

not months worth of time from several people."

      "I...I'm going to wait on the corner. I need some fresh air." Ali stomped off.

      "Wait! Ali, please stop."

      "I don't want to hear it Mr. Harken. I am not a feathery minded woman who can't remember

someone she's worked with before."

      "Dermot grabbed her arm and swung her around. She landed against his chest her own heaving at

the hurt. Hurt? Yes. Hurt. It hurt that he thought so low of me Why? It never bothered me before

when men thought of me. The only man's opinions that had ever mattered had been Lord Gray,

Bronwen's father. Ali notched her chin up determined to push the wayward emotion away. His eyes

caressed her face and when he spoke his voice was softer. Gentler.

      "I didn't intend to imply any such thing." he pulled back handing her a single sheet or parchment

paper. "Read this and tell me what you think."

       Ali frowned. The paper trembled as her fingers locked around the greasy item. Dread filled her 

chest. whatever was on this paper wasn't going to be good news. Pulling her gaze from his concerned

one she saw the paper was a piece of a ledger. Inventory in, inventory out with the amount it sold for.

Nothing unusual in a shop, except for the names of the items.

      "These are female names. Why?" She glanced up at him the feeling getting worse.

      "My guess... this shop was used as a purchasing point for the white slave trade."

      Ali frowned. She understood the concept behind slavery. She read the newspaper. It was the

very important in the American South, but here in England it wasn't important. She'd never given any

thought to owning another person. But weren't slaves usually of African descent?

     "What is a white slave?"

      Dermot scowled. "How sheltered are the women in London? Surely you've at least heard the


Ali shook her head. "White slavery is...they take women, preferably young, and sell them to anyone

willing to pay their price."

      "What do they do with them?"

      "Slavery. What does that imply? Anything their masters' decide. Usually it's sex, procreation..."

Her face went hot than all the blood drained. As she scanned the ledge her gaze stopped on the very

last name on the list. Bronwen. The world tilted. Her legs went weak. The last thing she remembered

seeing was the same masculine scrawl of Bronwen's name waiting to be sold.

Copyright Mae Pen 2013