Monday, October 24, 2011
Several hours of determined decorating had transformed Dante’s Pleasure Club from a gloomy den of iniquity that reeked of spilled booze to a Halloween-themed den of iniquity that reeked of spilled booze. Fake cobwebs and rubber bats and spiders dangled from the ceiling, authentic corn shocks stood in the corners, and each table sported a leering jack-o-lantern. These last were plastic; word of the late-night pumpkin free-for-all had reached Dante’s ears just in time for him to make a hasty substitution. Spilled liquor came with the territory, but pumpkin mash ground into his dance floor? Not in Dante’s club.
“Place is looking downright scary,” Lamar observed with a satisfied nod. “Perfecto.”
Jamie snorted. “It always looks scary, you ask me.”
“Yeah, but now it’s got flair. Speaking of which, looking good, rojo. We’re gonna knock ’em dead.”
“If we don’t get smote,” Jamie grumbled, tugging at his priest’s collar. Lamar had done himself up as a pregnant nun. “Is that the right word, smote? You’re the writer. Smited? Smitten?”
“You’re asking me? I write soft-core porn for housewives. I only know the dirty words. Now that is how you do it right.” He waved his arm in a grandiose gesture to indicate the approaching Gypsy. The dancer wore a scarlet hooded cloak over a shiny black minidress and thigh-high boots that could double as a bondage outfit. Sergei loomed behind her in his usual black hat and voluminous coat. “Let me guess,” Lamar said. “Red Wolfie Hood and the Big Bad Tiger."
Gypsy chuckled. “That’s not what I was aiming for, but I like it. You two are … ” She looked them up and down.
“Blasphemous?” Jamie said. “First word came to my mind.”
“I was going to say ‘cute,’ but I suppose yours works. I love what you’ve done here. It’s perfect.”
“We aim to scare.” Lamar leaned in, but not too closely, to scrutinize Sergei’s outfit. “I don’t get your costume. What are you, the village undertaker? Or the Old World Terminator?”
“Costume?” Sergei rumbled.
“It’s Halloween, dude. People dress to frighten.”
“Sometimes it goes past frighten, right to disturbing,” Jamie said, with a nod at Lamar’s nun getup.
“Ah. The children’s holiday.” Sergei’s mouth did something that might have been a smile. “You hope to scare cubs with this?”
“I hope to scare self-righteous tightasses. Not that we get many of those in here.” He brushed a bit of lint off his habit. “It all depends on what prods your fear gland. Me, I’m terrified of not looking fabulous. How about it, rojo? What’s the scariest thing you can think of?”
“Ho-kay, let’s just suck all the fun out of the room right now. Gypsy, I know you’re not afraid of anything. After all, you’re dating Godzilla.”
“Quite a few things scare me.” Gypsy’s eyes twinkled. “Don’t expect me to tell you what they are. I know all about you and your practical jokes.”
“I’d never joke with you, querida. You get even. Bet I know what scares you,” he added, looking up at Sergei's imposing height. “Ceiling fans.”
Sergei looked puzzled, then his face cleared. “Ah. Is joke.”
“Yeahhhh. C’mon, rojo, let’s get that mannequin out of the closet. We’ve got plans for the men’s room,” he confided to Gypsy.
“Don’t tell me. What I don’t know, I can’t warn Dante about.” She shook her head, watching the two trot off. “He’s wrong. They scare me. A lot.”
“No, snake is correct. Nothing frightens you.” When she didn’t respond, he encircled her slender waist with his treetrunk arm. “Worry is different story. Something worries you.”
“It’s nothing.” Gypsy leaned back and let herself melt against the strength of his powerful body. How was she supposed to tell him about the darkness she sensed in his near future? Sergei approached a turning point, a fork in the deadly path he walked. If he chose wrong it would destroy him, possibly both of them. Not the sort of things a woman murmurs while in the arms of her lover.
“You worry me,” she admitted. “What you do and who you do it for.” She turned in his arms to gaze up into his frank blue eyes. “There are shadows in your path. They swirl around you. They threaten to engulf you. That’s what frightens me.”
Any other alpha male would have crushed a punishing kiss to her mouth. Sergei merely brushed his lips across her forehead in a feather’s caress. “I have lived a long time. I intend to go on living. I have you to live for now.”
“Others may not let you.”
He didn’t reply. Though they never spoke of it, he knew his sensitive she-wolf knew all about his past and his current profession, if not the precise details. He had been careful to keep these details from her up till now. Recently circumstances had changed. When word got out, he would not be able to keep his life from her any more.
There was no circumventing the order. The word had come from Shere Khan himself.
“It must be brutal, and public,” his crime lord employer said. “Damien Hancock is still of value to us. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the favor.”
“She is only a girl. With cub.”
“She’s mate to an alpha wolf and carries a new heir to the Hancock pack. I don’t think Damien would care to be deposed this late in the game. He, and Talbot’s Peak, need to be sent a message. Be sure to add those little touches you’re so good at. Make it memorable.” Shere Khan smiled at Sergei. “After all, I’ll be watching.”
Sergei tightened his arms around Gypsy until she whimpered for breath. He eased up at once. What frightens me? he thought. I will tell you what frightens me, my firewolf. If I follow my heart, I will die. If I follow my orders, you will despise me. It’s the loathing in those glorious golden eyes that I fear to see. More than your death, and far more than my own.
“I don’t want to think sad thoughts,” she said. “It’s Halloween. In this town that’s as big a deal as the summer solstice. We can be happy at least until then, I believe.” She nuzzled against his neck. “It’s a little short notice, but do you want me to find you a costume?”
The disguise he wore had already brought terror and despair to far too many. “I will be what I am,” he told her. “That will have to be enough.”