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Other Colors -- Ch. 8

A D/s romance set in Montreal
Part 1 – Red (continued)

Chapter 8

This was a mistake… Ice crunched beneath the tires as we came to a halt before the wrought iron gates guarding the little lane up to Mr. Caine’s house. Why are you here, Penny? You don’t know a goddamn thing about this man. My breath was shallow. Peter does… I stared at my knees, but could still feel his eyes on me; icy and unrelenting. And he told you flat out to stay the hell away. I listened as he lowered his window, pressed half a dozen numbers on the keypad, and the gates began to grind open.

Lasciate ogne speranza… Dante’s forbidding words turned rapid, dizzying circles in my brain. Voi qu’intrate…  It was almost apropos—with my limping gait, my hair still wild from the snowstorm, paint splatters on my clothes and skin, and dark circles of exhaustion surely blossoming below my eyes, I probably looked a bit like I belonged among those swarms of lost souls; nameless, naked, and shambling their way into the abyss.

My teeth chattered in a cold gust of air. Silently, he closed his window and raised the heating dial on the dashboard. He’d barely spoken a word since I surrendered, and asked him to take me home with him. His silence put me even more on edge; and in spite of the aching in my ankle, my feet wouldn’t stop fidgeting.

Still, I was a little curious to see the place Dmitri Caine called home. Forced to guess, I probably would’ve picked one of the flashy new penthouses along René Lévesque—the kind with floating staircases, standard issue furnishings from Le Corbusier and Castiglioni, and a history the length of a haiku. But we’d passed downtown already. He’d taken me deeper, into older neighborhoods nearby.

We lurched forward. The yellow glow of the streetlamps fell away behind a stand of elm trees. And as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, reflexively, I cupped my hands over my mouth. Oh, for fuck’s sake…really? This? This is where he lives? I leaned forward in my seat for a better look, and caught a sinister smirk of amusement flickering across his face.

It was not the stark, brutally contemporary domicile in which I’d imagined he must dwell, nor even a chicly renovated industrial loft. Rather, perched imperiously at the crest of a hill overlooking the Old City was the stately, stone façade of an honest-to-God château—deftly and romantically styled in homage to the Loire Valley Renaissance.

I could see the steep bronze tiles of its Mansard roof, and long, naked tendrils of ivy enmeshing the stonework. Un-fucking-believable… It was one of those unreal, dreamlike Montreal manors; the relic of some strange era when the all the city’s captains of industry were competing to erect castles commemorative of nothing but their own audacious wealth—some so opulent as to drop the jaws of even the most blasé Old World aristocrats. I realized my own mouth was hanging open slightly, and closed it up before Mr. Caine could notice.

“God,” I breathed, just half-conscious I was speaking aloud.

He glanced wryly in my direction, “Blasphème, Penny.”

I squinted as his headlights flashed back at us, reflected from the frosted panes of some dozen and half French windows. In my compulsory architecture course at McGill, I’d learned over the years the vast majority of these estates were destroyed, reduced, or disfigured beyond redemption; and without exception they’d all long since given up their grounds and orchards beneath the shadows of Montreal’s modern skyline. The renowned Ravenscrag villa of Sir Hugh Allan became the psych ward for the Royal Vic, and McGill itself tore down several acres worth of chateaux to make way for more clumsy, artless dormitories. And yet here stood one—surviving fire and demolition and development—apparently impervious to the degrading cortege of time.

Lacoste, MDCCXCIX. We passed illuminated cornerstone on our way into what must’ve once been a carriage house. 17...1799, right? I’d always been pretty awful with roman numerals. Christ, that’s old…

Why the hell would he live here all alone? I wondered—it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But then again, in the few days since I’d met him, most every assumption I’d thought to make about Mr. Caine turned out to be completely misled. It was frustrating. I wanted to understand him, but so many pieces of the riddle kept on eluding me.

“Lacoste?” I murmured.

“Long story,” he spoke flatly, brushing off the inquiry. “Let’s get you inside.” He cut the ignition, and turned to face me, “Did they feed you back at the station?”

I nodded, but my stomach betrayed me; emitting a loud, humiliating grumble of recrimination. His eyes met mine pointedly, and I blushed.

“You’ll eat.”

I didn’t argue. Dismounting, he strode around the monstrous vehicle to offer his hand, and helped me down from the seat. I winced when my foot reached the ground—my ankle was still pretty swollen, and though the pain wasn’t quite as sharp as earlier, it now seemed to radiate into my heel and toes. Fortunately, there was plenty to distract me from my more corporeal discomforts.

You did not think this through, Penny Foster. I chewed my lip in terminally mounting anxiety as he led us through a dead, snowy garden toward entrance; his palm pressed firmly in the small of my back. You don’t have a toothbrush, or a change of clothes. And oh, by the way, what if he murders you? If you disappear, no one will even know where to start looking. You’ll be in a shallow grave under an elm tree, with day-old panties and unbrushed teeth…

The nearer we came, the more ominously our shadows seemed to play across its grand exterior; and with every step I still half-expected to snap awake and find myself back on the sofa in Marie’s living room. Or worse…still locked in that cell. I shuddered a little as he took my hand again, helping me climb a cascade of icy steps up to the portico.

“Stay off your toes, Penny,” he scolded. “Its charming—but you’re not doing that ankle any favors.”

Charming? I flushed, and sank onto my heels. His eye for spotting my quirks and checking them was uncanny. It made me wonder just how closely he must be watching me, to notice all the things my body did unconsciously. I wondered if I breathed strangely; if I blinked too often, or not enough… Would he notice? Would he point it out? Every hair on my body stood at strict attention, painfully aware of his scrutiny. I can’t do this. I can’t be alone with him...

Standing there at his iron-strapped front door, I was weighing whether it would be better to politely let him know I’d changed my mind, or just turn tail and run. But before I could muster the spirit for either, the door swung open, startling me half to death. I squinted. Holding the door ajar stood a stout, white-whiskered man in a black suit, and a pair of opaque silver-rimmed glasses.

“Bonsoir, Monsieur Caine. You are home early,” he bowed his head deferentially, though not quite directly, at Dmitri.

“Change of plans, Jules,” Mr. Caine pressed on my back, beginning to usher me inside. “Show Miss Foster to the kitchen. And make sure the guestroom is in order.”

“The guest room…” the man nodded—he appeared to be disregarding me. “Of course, Monsieur.”

I stared blankly at the two of them, rooted in place.

“Penny, this is Monsieur Partout. My assistant,” he explained coolly. “I need to make a call, but I’ll be with you shortly. He’ll take care of you in the meantime.”

I nodded skeptically, eyeing our doorman. Assistant? Ha. I’d read enough Agatha Christie to know a butler when I saw one. Or is he technically a valet? Or a majordome? Or whatever… Mostly, I was just glad to find another person in the house.  It meant I wouldn’t be all alone with Mr. Caine after all. But why the hell does he have a butler? I smirked. Maybe he came free with the castle…

“Bonsoir, Madame,” Monsieur Partout bowed again, “Bienvenue au Château Lacoste.”

For a split second, I considered attempting a satirical curtsy, but thankfully thought better of it. As he straightened up, I caught a quick glimpse of his eyes behind the oddly tinted spectacles. Oh… he’s blind. I felt my cheeks redden. Shame on you, Penny.

“Merci, Monsieur…” I answered penitently.

Mr. Caine pressed me past him and into the house, and after a cursory glance around the room, I just about succumbed to a spell of vertigo. I don’t think I had quite the mot juste to describe it—grand, but not grandiose, overwhelming but not overwrought; stately, but somehow, understated. A split staircase dominated the far end of the foyer, and the concentric patterns of a crystal gasolier were repeated on the floor in alternating inlays of rosewood and bird’s eye maple. A fire crackled in a large, stone hearth nearby.

Mr. Caine stepped in close behind me—for a moment I felt his breath, warm and slow, whispering across my ear. I closed my eyes. It felt as though I’d fallen into the pages of a Tolstoy novel—I kept waiting for Mary Bolkonskaya and Anna Karenina to emerge in their glittering ball gowns atop of either stairhead, and argue the genius of their sufferings.

“Try to make yourself at home, Penny,” he touched my arm, and I shivered, “and let Jules know if you need anything. I won’t be long.”

“Thank you…” I opened my eyes, and turned to face him, “Mr. Ca-”

But he was already gone. I shivered again. Only the blind butler remained in the doorway, gazing patiently in my general direction.

“Madame,” he gestured past the fire toward a darkened parlor, “suivez-moi, s’il vous plait.”

He started walking, and I had little choice but to follow. He led us silently through several large, unlit and slightly spooky rooms; zigging and zagging until I was absolutely certain I’d have no hope of finding my way back alone. The whole while I kept bumping into furniture and doorframes, but couldn’t figure out a tactful way to ask him to turn on a light. Banging my shin once more on what appeared to be an antique strongbox, I opened with some small talk.

“This is… some place,” I breathed, narrowly avoiding knocking over a lamp—I caught it eagerly, and flipped it on. “Have um, have you worked for Mr. Caine long?”

“The Partouts,” he paused in front of me, “have been at Lacoste for three generations, Madame—and weathered thrice as many owners.”

“Oh, come on…” I should have censored myself, but couldn’t—it was just too strange. “You’re joking, right?”

“I am not, Madame,” he turned more or less to face me. “My grand-père was hired on as majordome for the 1910 restoration, and my grand-mère as the cuisinier. I have been responsible for this household nearly thirty years.” He folded his hands in front of him, “I know every corner of Lacoste—the threads of its tapestries to the rust in its pipes. The staff, of course, has dwindled—and Monsieur Caine’s habits are such that he has little need of my services… I suspect,” he paused, “it is little more than his kindness that keeps me in his employ. And I am grateful, Madame…” he ran his hand tenderly along some moulding, “C’est ma maison.”

“…His kindness,” I repeated doubtfully.

It was not a word I’d thought to associate with Mr. Caine. But my curiosity piqued by Monsieur Partout, I paused to snoop around a bit in the newly illumined room. It housed, as it turned out, an impressive series of seminude oil portraits—women mostly, in various states of bathing and undress.

I studied the largest piece. It portrayed a sedate, almost somber girl with an elaborate black coiffure, and one white breast exposed demurely from her loosened gown. I stepped closer. Lacoste. The house’s name was repeated in engraved gold letters near the bottom of the frame.

“Why…why is it called ‘Lacoste’?” I turned to my guide.

He grinned, about-facing in the doorway.

“Do you like ghost stories, Madame?”

“…Um,” in fact, I did not—ever since seeing a little too much of The Poltergeist on television when I was about six years old, I’d had an irrationally paralyzing fear of all things-that-go-bump-in-the-night—“Pardon, Monsieur?”

“This house,” he stepped nearer, his voice low, “was a wedding present. A wealthy English merchant had it built for his bride, one Anaïs-Angélique de la Coste, Duchess of Gascony, and…” he paused, smiling slyly, “last known maîtresse-en-titre to King Louis XV.”

“What? No,” I spun my head from the painting, “Did Mr. Caine put you up to this? I’m—not that gullible…”

“Mais non, Madame,” he came to stand beside me, “smuggled her out of France just after the first heads rolled in the Place de la Révolution. Or so the story goes… You are admiring her portrait, Madame.”

My lips parted, “This—this is her?”

“Oui. Très jolie, so I am told.”

Yes… She was very pretty—even buried beneath all that fin de siècle powder and rouge.

“I had to all but beg Monsieur Caine not to remove it when he first arrived—Anaïs would not have suffered such impertinence,” his voice dropped to little more than a whisper, “She haunts the third floor corridor, you see…”

My eyebrows arched, “Haunts it?”

He nodded, “An unhappy marriage. With an unhappy ending, I’m afraid. The Englishman philandered—he wanted her only as his femme-trophée; last mistress to the last true King of France. Très romantique, no? But Anaïs—” his blind eyes gazed up toward her painted, pale face, “hot-blooded, enfant terrible, pathologically jealous… She caught him in the bath with two of his coquettes, and stabbed his throat through with her hair pin.”

Holy shit! A chill shook through my entire spine at the thought of it.

“She killed him?”

“Maimed him,” Monsieur Partout drew his finger diagonally across his throat, “rather badly—nerves were severed. He could never walk again without braces.”

“How awful…” I breathed, cocking my head at the impassive face in the portrait. Probably deserved it. But you’d never guess…

“Ah, but I have not said all, Madame,” his whiskers curled into a macabre grin. “He sent her off to New York for his convalescence, claiming an absence may make her heart fond of him again, or some such absurdité. And while she was away, the scoundrel had several hidden chambers added to Lacoste—that when she returned, he might resume his infidelities under this roof sub rosa. Eccentrique, no?”

“Oh, sure…” I scoffed, “just slightly,” I imagined spinning bookcases, trapdoors, and paintings with eyes that moved. “It—didn’t work, did it?”

“Too well, Madame,” again, he gestured for me to follow, and we resumed our circuitous procession toward the kitchen. “Anaïs woke many nights to those deadened sounds—the grunts and girlish moans; the incessant ratcheting of her husband’s braces. She wandered these halls by candlelight, never quite able to discover the trick. And by and by, it drove her mad—day and night she heard the noises; distant at first, then deafening.”

Christ. All this ambling around in a dark, strange house, listening to Monsieur Partout’s little Histoire de fantômes was giving me a malignant case of the heebie-jeebies. And where the hell is Mr. Caine? Though frankly, I rather doubted his reappearance would help to put me more at ease.

“Even on her deathbed,” he stopped us beside a wall of high, diamond beveled windows, “he would not reveal his secret to her. And so she wanders these halls still, searching out her husband’s long-dead lovers… Nous sommes arrivés, Madame.”

He drew open the door and flipped a switch. At last we emerged out of the darkness and into the white brick archways and flashing copperware of the kitchen.

“That is…” I breathed a long, quiet sigh of relief, “quite a story, Monsieur.”

His whiskery grin drooped in a mild-mannered disappointment.

“Ah…you do not believe.”

I didn’t deny it.

“Neither does Monsieur Caine,” he sighed, “Though I have assured him, Madame—I have heard her many times; moving about the corridor when all else is still.”

“Well, either way…” I felt sort of bad—he looked so crestfallen at having not won me over, “Vous êtes vraiment un grand raconteur, Monsieur.” I went ahead and tried my curtsy, though I knew he couldn’t see it, “merci de me montrer le chemin.”

“Tout le plaisir est pour moi, Madame,” his grin resurfaced meekly. “You will excuse me as I must prepare your chambers. Bonne nuit, Madame.”

And with that, he bowed at the waist and left me. Alone. What the hell was that? I sank onto a stool beside a large butcher block counter in the center of the room, my head still spinning from the bizarre tale I’d heard. Hidden chambers? Really? I shivered, praying that Mr. Caine would not emerge without warning out of a wall, or perhaps from within the fireplace. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.

I surveyed my surroundings; as much to get my bearings as to ensure he did not, indeed, get the drop on me. The room was vast, but also low, and rustic—it was a servant’s kitchen. Back in its heyday, I imagined it could’ve housed a full brigade de cuisine; pâtissier to plongeur, and probably everything in between. An ornamental bowl of roughhewn rocks sat on the counter in front of me. I took one, and fiddled with it anxiously.

“Were you waiting long, Penny?”

His voice came from behind me—I nearly leapt off my stool at the sound of it.

“Um, n-no,” I tried to recover myself, turning to face him. “Not really…”

His tie hung unknotted at the collar, and he’d unfastened the top few buttons of his formal shirt. His tux jacket was missing too, so the straps of his suspenders drew a broad, black cross over his shoulders. I tried hard not to stare. Mon Kriss, he’s sexy… It was almost annoying, how naturally it came to him.

“Good,” he dropped to one knee in front of me, and I stifled a little gasp as he grasped hold of my leg. “Now… let’s take a look at that ankle.”

I was blushing violently as he unlaced my sneaker and removed it. In my head, I whispered a little prayer of intercession to Veronica—patron saint of laundresses—that my sock would not smell as peeled it away from my foot. I giggled involuntarily—his touch was warm and firm, but my feet had always been unspeakably ticklish.

“Relax, Penny,” he ordered gently, manipulating my ankle this way and that.

His eyes locked mine with a vexing intensity, as he read intuitively my slightest winces and whimpers. He didn’t ask me what hurt. He didn’t need to. He checked my pulses, and softly massaged the sole of my foot. I did my very best to keep myself from squirming. His touch was torture.

“Its not broken,” he announced, releasing me. “You have an eversion sprain. Try to keep your weight off it for a few days—elevation, pressure,” he stood and opened the freezer, “…and ice.”

Please God, not again… My mind flashed back to the night we met, when he’d numbed my punctured finger with the ice from his cocktail, and I cringed pitifully as he took a handful of ice and some plastic wrap, and proceeded to mummify my ankle in a cold, translucent cast.

“Now,” he finished up, and propped my leg on the stool adjacent, “let’s get you fed.”

I bit my lip, “Thank you, Mr. Caine… but,” again, I picked up my rock from the bowl again, and fumbled with it, “I’m not hungry. Really,” I lied plaintively. “Would it be alright if I just went to bed?”

His blue eyes narrowed, scrutinizing me, sans pretext, head-to-toe. My cheeks reddened, even as my ankle blanched.

“Shivering,” he strode past me to the other side of the counter, and lit a burner beneath a cast iron kettle, “burns up about four hundred calories an hour, Penny. And I imagine you’ve done a lot of it tonight,” from the garde manger, he laid some fruit, a half loaf of rosemary bread, and a small jar of comb honey between us. “…You’ll eat.”

Alright. Who the hell is he? I squinted at him as he began meticulously sawing off a slice of bread. Seriously… I recalled his cryptic, black business card. Estoty ResourcesWhat does that even mean?

He had some very unusual numbers on hand, and between my ankle and the scar on my shoulder and my battle with the blizzard, he seemed awfully over-invested in my bodily well-being. But having grown up in Doctor Foster’s house, I was pretty sure he couldn’t be a physician. Certainly he took physical liberties, spoke, sometimes, with clinical coolness, and strutted around in a diffuse fog of insufferable hauteur—all of which, I knew, were hallmarks of a distinguished doctor. Especially surgeons… But his manners; the way treated me—it was parallel, but distinct. I didn’t know why he seemed so focused on taking care of me, but I had the unmistakable and inexplicable feeling that it wasn’t exactly for my own sake. It was like…a means to an end, I suppose.

He passed me the bread, along with a handful of fresh grapes, and some honey.

“For your sweet tooth, Miss Foster.”

He stared, waiting, and my stomach moaned shamelessly. But I really couldn’t bear the thought of him standing there, watching me eat in utter silence. I needed a diversion—preferably one that might elucidate what I was really doing here, and why he’d taken such an interest in my painting.

“Monsieur Partout…” I lifted the bread with a trembling hand, “was showing me some of your oils…”

“Ah,” he smirked, “Then I apologize—I didn’t intend to torture you tonight.” He sawed off another slice for himself, “I know Jules can be a bit of a windbag, but you won’t find a man more loyal,” he caught my eye, I think, on purpose, “…or more discreet.”

Relieved that he was eating too, I took a large, ravenous bite of the bread.

“He um, said you wanted to throw out that portrait…The one of Madame de la Coste,” I chewed. “You know—the piece I’m working on for you won’t be half as good.”

“Jules is many things,” he selected a grape from the bunch, and popped it in his mouth, “but I think you’ll understand when I say an art critic he is not. And as for what you’ll do for me, Penny,” he cocked his head slyly to one side, “that remains to be seen…”

I frowned, “Its just—its sort of her house in a way, isn’t it?”

“My. You and Jules had quite the little talk,” he rolled his eyes slightly. “Yes, in a way. Its an old house, Penny. It has a history.”

“A, um…a pretty dark one, it seems,” I swallowed.

“I don’t mind a little darkness,” his voice dropped, and he leaned closer. “It sustains me, Penny. You’re an artist. I think you know what I mean.”

I did. At least, I thought I did. But it chilled me, the way he spoke.

“…Fair enough,” I breathed, “I don’t mind a little Goya now and again. But,” for the third time, I lifted the same rock from the bowl, and rolled it nervously between my fingers, “what’s your excuse, Mr. Caine?”

His eyes turned icy. The fine hairs on my forearms prickled, warning me of impending predation.

“What precisely…” he spoke softly; through closed teeth, “are you asking me, Penny?

“Just—” I stammered, “what is it you do? For Estoty, I mean…”

Instantly, his face relaxed, and so I did too. That definitely wasn’t the question he was expecting. I narrowed my gaze at him. I wonder what he’s hiding…

“These days,” he turned to remove the kettle just as it began to squeal, “diamonds, mostly.”

For real?

“You mean—like, jewelry?”

I honestly couldn’t picture it—Dmitri Caine selling engagement rings and necklaces. He’d surprised me several times before, but this was incongruous.

“Not really,” he turned a poured to two mugs full of steaming, fragrant tea. “More like the one you’re playing with, Penny.”

He smirked. My eyes snapped down to the rock in my hand, and I dropped it to the floor, where it landed with a loud, resounding clack. I cringed as he bent down; picking it up and tossing it back into my lap.

“Crap! I’m sorry,” my eyes were wide and worried. “Did I break it?”

He chuckled, “Doubtful. It’s a diamond, Penny.”

Christ. I stared at the jagged, pale rock in my lap. Its fucking enormous…

“Where—where did you get it?” I turned it over in my palm, watching it glint and coruscate.

He pushed one of the mugs in front of me.

“I have a mine near Yellowknife—this was from the first take. I’ll be heading back there in the spring, once the road thaws.”

“You…own a diamond mine?”

I don’t think I believed him.

“Drink,” he commanded, nodding to my mug. “It’ll help your cold.”

Still suspicious, I obeyed. The tea was strong. One whiff cleared out my sinuses and sent my head spinning.

“And no—to answer your question,” he stood. “Just part of one. I found it about ten years ago, but needed investors to get things started. That’s where Estoty came in,” he took a sip, and swallowed slowly—he caught me eyeing him, dazed with disbelief. “Its really not as glamorous as it sounds, Penny. Dirty work. And only about eight percent get polished into gemstones. The rest go to industrial applications.”

“Still though…” I simpered unevenly—there were still a lot of fairly confounding mysteries enshrouding Mr. Caine, but I was smitten to have one piece of the puzzle in hand. And it made me want the others all the more… “So, how exactly does one find a diamond mine?” I put a dollop of honey in my tea, and slurped, “just…wandering around the arctic circle one day?”

He stared at me silently—his lips still curled into a grim smile poorly matched to the severity in his eyes. I took another long sip, and stared into the bottom of my mug. His look put me ill at ease.

“Did you get enough to eat, Penny?”

I nodded, and he took the empty mug from me gruffly, setting it with his in the sink.

Changing the subject again. I sighed. Guess that’s all I get for now…

“Plenty, thank you—Mr. Caine.”

“Alright,” he replaced what remained into the garde manger, and brushed away the crumbs. “I think its time you got some rest.”

Wordlessly, he removed the wrappings on my ankle, and I followed him back out to the foyer, hobbling along awkwardly. The ice had taken away most of the pain, but I could also barely feel a thing in my foot.

“Your room is on the third floor,” he nodded upward before mounting the staircase.

The third floor… I paused at the foot of the stairs, considering how best to tackle them. I took the first step without unreasonable difficulty, but stumbled almost immediately at the second.

Mr. Caine whirled around, catching me under the arm before I could fall.

“Damn it, Penny. Are you hurt?”

I shook my head, “No. Sorry. Just…” I squirmed nervously in his grasp, “a little numb, I guess.”

He narrowed his icy blue eyes on my legs, and without the slightest warning, scooped me up into his arms.

Jesus! Cradled against him, my knees bobbed helplessly over his elbows as he started climbing. Good Lord, he’s strong… I knew I wasn’t a prizefighter or a lumberjack or anything, but he didn’t seem to be straining in the least to carry me up a full three flights of stairs.

Actually, as a ‘petite’ girl with five older brothers, I was fairly accustomed to being lifted aloft against my will. And normally I despised it—I was always certain it was only a matter of time until I was dropped by mistake, and my neck snapped like a dry twig. But between Mr. Caine’s steady breathing and his enveloping embrace, somehow that fear entirely dissipated. All that remained was embarrassment. My skin, I’m sure, was flushed red as blood. And the whole while, I couldn’t stand to look at him—our faces were so close together, I could almost feel his wiry, black stubble grazing my cheek.

At last we reached the third floor, and he set me down gently on the landing. I stared down at my toes as he placed his hand, again, in the small of my back; leading me on down the corridor. We walked in silence. My chagrin at needing to be carried had rendered me speechless, and evidently he didn’t seem to believe his brazen actions warranted any explanation at all. It might have struck me as funny if it wasn’t so bizarre.

The hall was quiet, and darker near the end. Silly as it was, it crept into my mind that this was precisely the corridor Monsieur Partout believed to be haunted by the spirit of ‘one Anaïs-Angélique de la Coste, Duchess of Gascony; last known maîtresse-en-titre to Louis XV.’ I smirked, recalling his pomposity—but the chill remained. Mr. Caine halted, pulling open an iron filigree doorknob at the end of the hall.

“You should find everything you need in there,” he nodded. “If not, there’s a phone with a direct line to Jules beside the bed—he lives for that sort of thing.” He took a half step closer, “And stay warm—it can get very drafty around here… ”

I nodded, blushing. It seemed he’d thought of everything.

“…Mr. Caine, I—” I started, unsure of where my words were taking me; for all his oddity and peremptoriness, in the end he’d been so kind, and so attentive. “…thank you,” I breathed. “If you hadn’t come tonight—”

He raised his hand to silence me, “We can talk about that in the morning. Go to bed, Penny,” he pointed into the room, “and stay warm.”

I smirked, “you just said that, Mr. Caine.”

“I meant it. Go to bed.”

There was an unmistakable air of finality in his voice. So, dropping my eyes, I obeyed; listening as he drew the door closed behind me. I sank against it, my exhaustion breaking over me like an ocean wave. I could hear his muffled footsteps through the door, receding back down the corridor toward the stairs. Then silence. I was alone, and, I think, already half-asleep, and dreaming.

I didn’t even fumble for a lamp or a light switch. The moment my palm found the silky surface of the duvet in the darkness, I peeled off my clothes and sank onto the bed; eyes closed before my cheek ever met the pillow.

I’m not sure how long I slept at first—an hour, maybe two. But when I woke up, it was still dark. Completely dark. And there was a low, rough scratching noise coming from the direction of the door.

I shot bolt upright in the bed, a cold sweat beading on my chest and temples. I waited.

Nothing.

 I sighed, and started lie back down, slowly convincing myself I’d imagined it. And there it was again.

S-s-s-shit…

My mind flashed through the usual spectrum of boogeymen before settling dreadfully of Monsieur Partout’s pet phantom. No. No, no, no—you’re being an idiot, Penny. I forced myself, shaking a little, up out of bed and over toward the door; wrapping myself in the bed sheet for protection as I crept. My heart was beating out of my chest as turned the handle, and cracked open the door.

Again, nothing.

That… I poked my head out a little further… is fucking creepy. I threw it open in full. The moonlight reflecting off the snow outside lit the hallway just enough for me to see that it was empty.

I groaned, and slammed the door shut; fumbling with the handle for a lock. There was none. Of course. I think I would’ve preferred to open up the door and I find the ghost of Madame de la Coste staring right back at me. At least then the suspense would be over. I dragged a chair in front of the door before returning to bed. And it wasn’t terribly long before I fell asleep again, but my sleep this time around was anything but restful.

I dreamt of monsters—The Nightmare of Fuseli, and the Saturn of Goya. I saw old whores in hidden catacombs; corsets loose and crinoline around their ankles, their powdered faces—faces of those I’d shared my cell with that very night—tinted orange by torchlight. And I dreamt I was hunted. I dreamt of a wolf, synecdochic and the size of a man, with wiry black fur and alarming blue eyes; chasing me down in a forest of elm trees until I collapsed, winded and surrendered, face down in a bed of frozen violets.

It is for that reason, more or less, that I believe when I next awoke with a wet face, staring into the jaws of a huge, black-haired creature, the short, soft shriek I emitted was not altogether unjustified.

The sun was up this time, and my antemeridian incubus, as it turned out, was a massive Newfoundland with a flashing collar. He stood at my bedside, licking my face.

“Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it!” I laughed, hiding my head under the blanket—his nose sought me out nonetheless.

“Alright—alright, fine,” I groaned, sliding my feet off the bed. “I’m up. Happy?”

With my head upright, the whole madness of the previous evening came storming back into my brain at once. I got arrested. I think I almost died… Peter kissed me. And Mr. Caine—I gazed around the room; outfitted, apparently, with a hypnotically elegant collection of art nouveau. Christ…I’m in his house. The dog attacked my toes with his tremendous, pink tongue.

“Oh, come on,” I giggled, and grabbed his collar, leading him toward the door.

It seemed he’d knocked away my paltry barricade in the night without my noticing. I righted the chair, and gave him a firm scooch out of the bedroom with the flat of my palms.

“Now stay,” I whispered, shutting the door.

I took two steps away before I heard him scratching; the same as when I’d awoken earlier. Well there’s one mystery solved, I smiled.

Across the room, my reflection in the floor-length mirror was an abominable mess. I opened one door and found an empty closet the size of Marie’s bedroom. I closed it up. Behind the second, I found a bathroom—a glorious bathroom, decadently bedecked with a glassed-in shower and seductive clawfoot tub; and tiled floor-to-ceiling in white marble.

Oh yes… I slipped out of my plaid shirt and panties, and reached for the door’s latch. I could live in here. I turned. Same as the bedroom, the door’s lock had been removed. On a bathroom? Seriously? My eyebrows arched. So weird…

I didn’t have long to mull it over however, as I was distracted by a warm tingling in my toes. Oh my God… I marched in place, lifting first my injured foot and then, unsteadily, the other. Are the floors heated? I began wondering if I could bring myself to ever leave that little washroom. I wanted to just live in there forever, surviving ascetically on luxury soaps and bathwater.

But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the bathroom—and easily the strangest—was its provisioning. Neatly arranged in the cabinets, I discovered every manner of toiletry known to man. Or rather to woman, I suppose—for they were, without exception, women’s products; all of them artisanal, imported, and intoxicatingly redolent.

The hell does he need with all of this? I selected the humblest-looking shampoo, a bar of provençal rosemary soap, and started running the water. A warm, spectral steam began to fill the stall, and I stared at my pale reflection, ghostlike, in the glass. Is it…is it her?

A flush of something disturbingly like jealousy passed through me like a venom. Does his ex-wife stay in this room? Stepping into the stream, I thought of Brontë—Emily Brennan, Emily Caine…Catherine Linton, Catherine Heathcliff…What was her third name? I shut my eyes, and let the water pour over me. Or is it something else entirely?

I wondered—as those heavenly, floral suds ran down over my shoulders and chest, and pooled in the little alcove of my navel—was it possible that Mr. Caine had so very many girls coming and going from Lacoste, that he found it expedient to have Jules keep this room stocked like a five star hotel?

I bit my lip. It certainly wouldn’t be all that surprising—with the hair, the voice, the eyes. The… confiance en soi, I guess? Against dashing Monsieur Diamond Mine, the girls of Montreal didn’t seem to stand much of a chance. I recalled the way our willowy waitress, Françoise, behaved around him at the café. I recalled the way I behaved around him just last night. Surprised he hasn’t had Jules put in a revolving door… I smirked uncomfortably.

Rinsing off, I wrapped a towel around me and left the beguiling bathroom, to seat myself in front of an asymmetric vanity with my purse. I knew I had some mascara, a little eye shadow, and blush, but I paused. What the hell—let’s just see...

I slid open the upper drawer. I was only half-surprised. It was filled tidily with untouched designer cosmetics, and eau de parfum—lip stains, and nail polishes, and all manner of eye shadows and sable-hair brushes. Weird, weird, weird…

I thought of The Waste Land, wondering what Cleopatras all these ‘vials of ivory and colored glass’ were meant for. Certainly not me. Though admittedly, it was tempting. It had been so long since I could afford good cosmetics—and, just like good paints, it seemed you could always tell in the finished product. I closed the drawer up, and put on my drugstore makeup.

There was a knock at my door, and I leapt from the stool; swiftly ensuring my towel still concealed all that it was meant to. No one entered. I tiptoed, in spite of my ankle, over to the door, and cracked it. A brown package bound up with twine sat just outside in the hall. There was a note, scribbled majestically in red ink.

‘Une gracieuseté de M. Caine, Madame. – J.P. III’

Courtesy of Mr. Caine..? I bit my lip nervously, stepping back into the room. In spite of fussing with it for several minutes, I couldn’t seem to untie the twine. I tore open the paper in defeat, and inside found an entire, fresh outfit; complete with pantyhose in a black, diagonal plaid, and a pair of leather ankle-strap ballet flats.

There were no tags, but by the fabrics alone I could tell the clothes were more costly than my entire wardrobe put together. Carefully unfolding the skirt and blouse on the bed, I blushed. The center concealed a brassiere and panties; equally lovely and luxurious and, much to my embarrassment, precisely the right size.

This was overkill. He’d done plenty for me already—more than he ever should have. Would it be rude if I just wore my clothes from yesterday? I stared at them, crumpled and paint-spattered on the floor. Yes. Yes, it would, Penny. But I can’t believe he gave me underwear…

Slipping reluctantly into the clothing, I reexamined myself in the mirror. The outfit was chic, classic, and borderline sexy. But I felt very self-conscious in my Mr. Caine-prescribed attire. He’s going to know… my brow furrowed. I have to talk to him—for God knows how long this morning—and he’s going to know exactly what color panties I’m wearing. He picked them out for me…

 I don’t know quite why, but somehow the prospect of not even being allowed to wear my own clothes around him made me feel more vulnerable than ever. Not even my fucking clothes. I frowned, trembling. They’re his clothes. And I’ve got nothing. I might just as well walk down there naked. I wondered whether putting on my panties from yesterday would make me feel just a tad more confident—but picking them up, wrinkled and still warm with sweat from my nightmares, I was fairly certain it have quite the opposite effect.

I groaned, and gazed, one last time, into the mirror. The skirt was short—it stopped just shy of my more critical latitudes as I bent over, buckling the straps around my ankles. I had to leave an extra notch in one to accommodate the swelling.

I wondered how many times he’d pulled this little stunt with his lady-friends. Many, probably…He and Monsieur Partout seemed to have the system down pat. I wondered how many girls had stood there—hair dripping dry as mine was now, inspecting themselves and assessing their inadequacies; dressed, perhaps, in an outfit quite similar to mine. And, I wondered how many would come after me. Many, many probably…

Behind me in the mirror, I watched the door begin to swing open. Oh for fuck’s sake, I spun. What now? What more could there possibly be? It was the dog again. He sat defiantly in the doorway, and barked. I rolled my eyes, cramming my paint clothes into my purse, and removing the phone. Still no word from Peter… I slipped it into the little wool pocket of my skirt. The dog barked again

“Alright,” I answered him, smoothing out a fold in the blouse, “Fine…I’m ready.”

I followed him back down the corridor, and had almost reached the stairhead when I stopped, arrested by the sight of an ornate, ironwork gate.

Hold the damn phone. Is that? I stepped closer—and it was indeed—an elevator… I flushed crimson, recalling Mr. Caine’s gallant and humiliating antic the night before. He didn’t need to put me through that, I frowned. Why the hell would he do that to me? I cocked my head. Well…maybe it doesn’t work.

I threw the lever—gears groaned somewhere down below, and the gate rattled open. I had my reservations stepping aboard, but moments later I was on the ground floor; safe, not dead, and just a little pissed off. I’ll get him back for that one. Though in truth, I had no idea what I could do, nor how I’d go about it.

The dog met me again in the foyer. The house was still, but a fire was smoldering again in the large, stone hearth nearby. I stepped beside it, warming my toes and hands. Where is he? I glanced around a bit, and flushed—my infamous fire iron was propped next to the logs; fresh ash anointing its barb. Well, he’s definitely been in here this morning… I turned to heat my calves and rear.

Lacoste, it turned out, was a lot less eerie in the daylight. Across the parlor, sunlight split prismatically through a magnificent cathedral window of diamond-paned glass. The view was indescribable—from the crest of its hill, Lacoste presided over the entirety of Old Montreal, with its patinaed steeples, cobbled lanes, and angular, snow-covered rooftops; stretching all the way out to the icy banks of the St. Lawrence River.

The dog whined at my heel. Wonder if he’s hungry. After about a half dozen wrong turns that led me, chronologically, into a dining hall, an empty ballroom, a billiard room, and a balmy solarium, I at last found my way back to the kitchen, feeling very much as though I’d just played the world’s most bizarre game of life-size Clue. And not one door I came across was locked.

I dug around in the cabinets and pantries until uncovering a literal wooden barrel of dog food. I scattered a little across the floor, and my canine companion merrily sniffed out each morsel. A half pot of coffee waited on the counter, already brewed. Pouring myself a cup, I opened the refrigerator in search of cream. I found an opened carton—though the label was printed in Cyrillic. Shrugging sleepily, I dumped a splash into my mug, took a sip.

It was a miracle that I made it the sink, rather than spitting it all back out across the counter. Ugh… The cream, it seemed, had curdled. I dumped out the rest, and stuck my tongue under the faucet; hoping against hope Mr. Caine would not choose this moment to appear behind me. He had a habit of catching me at my lowest.

My little episode excited the dog—he was prancing in thunderous circles at my feet, chasing his giant, black tail.

“Why didn’t you tell me the cream was bad, huh?” I knelt down and scratched his ears. “Bet you could smell it, couldn’t you?”

He barked, and leapt forward against my shoulders.

“Jesus!”

The weight of him knocked me clear onto my back, and he pinned me there on the floor, licking my face and neck.

“Stop, stop, stop, stop!” I laughed.

His tongue was tickling me. And I was genuinely stuck.

“Help!” I half-giggled, half-cried.

“Rupestrian. Pas touche!” Mr. Caine’s imperious voice rang out, and the dog shrank away immediately, lying himself on the ground beside me.

Bet he licked all my makeup off… I wiped my face on my sleeve, gasping and blushing until Mr. Caine helped me up. His hand was much chillier than usual. Discreetly as I could, I gave him a quick once-over. He wore a pair of long, black, close-fitting athletic shorts, and a matching Lycra mock-turtleneck with long sleeves. Dear God—did he go running this morning? In this weather? It was a new look for him. And it was a good look. Beneath the slick, skin-tight material, I could see the toned contours of his arms and shoulders; the ripple of his muscular chest.

“I trust you stayed warm enough last night, Penny,” he released me, and his eyes flashed to the sink—he didn’t say a word about my clothing. “I see you found the coffee.”

I nodded, still blushing; though the silliness with the dog had put me in an uncommonly giddy mood.

“Yes. But your cream is spoiled, Mr. Caine,” I glanced to the floor, “and your dog’s not very well behaved.”

“That’s not cream—its kefir. And its meant to be sour,” he caught my eye. “Its an acquired taste, Penny.” He poured a little more into my emptied mug, “Uncanny, how something so unsavory to us at first…” he tossed it back, and swallowed, “…can become such a craving of ours later on.”

I grimaced. I didn’t think I would ever much care for kefir.

“And as for Rupestrian,” he leaned down touch the dog’s head, “he’s actually quite well behaved. Better than most people, really.” He stood, “Rupestrian. Mange.”

I watched in quiet amaze as the dog stood, lumbered into the pantry, and returned carrying his dish. He set it down gently at Mr. Caine’s feet, and waited.

“Bon garcon,” he scratched his ears, and filled the bowl. “Rupestrian is an animal,” he straightened up to face me, “and he responds to animal behaviors. Dominance. Submission—its something primal in his DNA.” He cocked his head, “The discipline can take a while to get accustomed to…” he laid his cool, blue eyes on me heavily, “staying strict and severe with a creature so—innocent. But really, in the end,” the dog nuzzled his leg tenderly, “…nothing is more natural.”

I nodded blankly. I wasn’t accustomed to him waxing philosophical, nor was I sure what it was he meant to imply. But about one thing, I could see he was right—he had his dog very well-trained.

“Are you away a lot with work?” I tiptoed to the coffee pot, and poured myself a fresh cup. “It must get lonely for him…”

“Stay off your toes, Penny,” he warned. “And its not so bad. I take him with me to the Territories. And Jules is around the rest of the year.”

“Do…” I sipped, “do you ever get lonely here?”

“What are you asking?” he stepped closer, and I shrank beneath his shadow.

“Just—all alone in this huge house,” I breathed, “…its seems so empty.”

“Well when I bought the place, Penny,” he emptied the pot into his mug, “I wasn’t alone. And I had every intention of filling it.”

I dropped my eyes, “you mean—you and Emily…”

He sipped his coffee, eyeing me doggedly. It was an agonizingly uncomfortable moment, and I could have suffered through it silently, letting the matter pass on unfathomed. But I knew if I was ever going to have half a moment’s ease around him, I needed more. I wasn’t just being nosy, really—it was a matter of self-preservation. He’d cultivated such an unsettling power over me; I needed reasons. Especially after the washroom that morning—and the clothes, and the panties, and that monkey business with the elevator—I wanted to know what his involvement was with her; what his interest was in me.

“She…must have loved this place,” I bit my lip. “Its kind of incredible.”

He smirked, “Hated it, actually. Too dusty and vieux jeu.” He squinted at me, setting his mug down. “You…really don’t know her very well, do you, Penny?”

“N-no,” I stammered, raising myself nervously onto my toes. “Why would I?”

“Because it was Emily,” his words were fraught with gravity, “who pointed out your paintings to me at the gallery. I…assumed you two had met.”

I shook my head in disbelief. It was—it was her all along? She’s the reason for all this?

“No,” I answered, a little hotly, “afraid I haven’t had the pleasure.”

“Fascinating…” He stared at me, his eyes busied by fresh and silent calculations; it was as though he was looking at me for the first time. “You know, you never fail to surprise me, Penny Foster—I cherish it, honestly. But…” his words blew cool across my face, “if you never spoke with her about me, then why in the world did you call me last night?”

I had no clue how to answer. I was still reeling from the revelation that it was his ex-wife, inexplicably, who was all but responsible for our arrangement. I felt like someone’s marionette; my wrists and ankles and throat all tethered and tangled together.

“I mean, I was a stranger to you—I might have been a murderer,” he cocked his head. “Or worse…”

“Well,” I admitted, “the thought did cross my mind.”

Especially after finding out you live in a goddamn haunted house.

“Then why?” his eyes narrowed.

I couldn’t believe he was going to make me say it. I felt flames licking my cheeks.

“Because,” I breathed, “I—didn’t have anyone else… No one answered.”

He nodded darkly, his eyes still locked on me.

“You know, when we spoke at the café,” he frowned, “you told me you didn’t need anyone to look after you.”

“Well, I didn’t plan on locking myself out,” I interrupted.

“No,” he shrugged, “but it happened. And then you called me­—a man you’ve barely met—to come pick you up. And you came home with me.” He paused, drumming his fingers on the counter. “When I met you, you were on your knees, bleeding… You told me yourself you left school without the shadow of a plan. You have no home; no one reliable in your life. And Christ, Penny—you’re wandering around in the middle of a damn snowstorm with a twisted ankle and a torn coat.”

This, I thought acidly, is none of his fucking business…

“…Your point,” I hissed, “Mr. Caine?”

“You know the problem with playing the damsel in distress, Penny?” he growled softly. “Its not always the knight who comes to save you.”

Oh my God. Could he be more arrogant?

“Oh,” I laughed coldly, stepping away from him, “so you’re my fucking knight-in-shining-armor, are you?”

“No, Penny,” his eyes frosted over. “That, I am not.”

“Damn right you’re not,” his words had chilled me, but I brushed them off. “Just who the hell are you anyways. And what the hell is it you want from me?” I glared, all my frustrations and anxieties were boiling up to the surface—and like a threatened cat arching its back, I raised myself onto my toes, minutely increasing in my physical menace. “You say I shouldn’t have called you? Then maybe you should’ve just left me in that fucking cell, Mr. Caine. And what the fuck is the deal with these clothes?” I yanked the collar of the blouse, accidently opening a few buttons—I ignored them. “And the elevator. And what in God’s name is going on in that bedroom?”

“Stay off your toes, Penny,” he snarled.

I’d startled myself with the outburst, but I wasn’t backing down. I matched his stare as best I could.

“What do you want from me, Mr. Caine?” I breathed.

“Stay off your toes, Penny,” he stepped closer, his jaw locked and hovering near my forehead.

Silently, impetuously, I raised my eyes to his, and lifted my uninjured foot from the ground. He said nothing, but his breath, like the air before a thunderstorm, was heavy with ire. I could smell him—the dark musk still fresh from his run—it made me dizzy, and I nearly fell.

“I won’t say it again…” his breath could have left frost on my eyelashes.

But I wasn’t quite finished. Summoning up what few years of ballet I’d had when I was young, in one, jagged motion, I forced myself, wincing, into a perilous and painful en pointe. For just a moment, I met his eyes, obscured a little by the warm tears beading in my own; and what I saw in them was more than enough convince me I’d made a mistake.

I’m still not completely clear on what came next—he moved so fast—but I knew his hands were on me, I knew my legs had left the ground, I knew he’d pinned me, dangling, against the stone wall at my back. And I knew my two, trembling lips, which together had conspired to let loose a scream, were thwarted—for before any sound could escape, they were enclosed by those of Dmitri Caine.

His kiss was ferocious; almost violent. Out of sheer shock, I tried to pull away, but he held me fast; my legs and lips parted, arms pinioned on the wall. God. The taste of him. The smell of him. I couldn’t get enough of it. My nerves unwound, my muscles slackened, and I surrendered—letting him take his fill of me—and I kissed him back.

“I think you know, Miss Foster,” he broke away, his breath hot on my face, “how I feel about repeating myself…”

More. I couldn’t answer. More. I could feel him hardening against me, uncoiling like an asp. And slowly, steadily, and against my will, my hips—still raised in his arms against the wall—began to grind against him. My mind blurred, reduced to the immediacy of my five senses. I was aware of two thoughts only: that Dmitri Caine was kissing me, and that for the first time in an extraordinarily long while, I was hopelessly and ecstatically turned on.

I quivered in his arms. It was like my hips were vibrating. My hips were vibrating. Why is my hip vibrating? Prying one arm loose, I touched the small pocket of my skirt, and removed the phone. Peter. I glanced at Mr. Caine, agonized. He frowned dangerously, and released me.

“I—I have to answer,” I stammered, breathless.

He made no answer, standing still as a marble statue. But his eyes could have frosted hell. Still trembling, I flipped open the phone.

“Penny?!”

“I’m here Peter.”

I turned my back on Mr. Caine. I couldn’t stand to look at him. My skin was on fire.

“Oh my God, Penny. I am so so fucking sorry. I mean Jesus, what the hell happened? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Peter,” I breathed.

“Holy shit, I was flipping out. I left my phone in my jeans last night, and when I woke up I had like fifty messages from you. And you were in jail? Jesus-fucking-Christ. Are you alright now? Where are you?

“Really, I’m fine.”

I peeked over my shoulder. Dmitri was rubbing his jaw—hard enough to leave the skin red and raw beneath his stubble.

“Mr. Caine came for me.”

“Oh Christ,” Peter sounded annoyed—and maybe a little frightened. “Didn’t I warn you about him, Penny?”

“Well,” I frowned, “I didn’t really have another option.”

There was a pause.

He sighed, “Look, lemme make it up to you.”

“It’s fine, Peter. Really.”

“No, you have to let me make it up. You’re coming by today, right? For your keys at least? Drinks. On me. You just got sprung from the cooler, right? We should do shots or something.”

I sighed. Dmitri was at the sink, rinsing out our coffee mugs.

“C’mon, Foster. Pretty please?”

I rolled my eyes.

“Alright, I whispered. “Maybe. I’ll come by later. For my keys.”

“Good. Great. I’m really, really sorry, Pens.”

“Ok, I have to go. Bye Peter.”

I hung up. The room was silent.

“The sculptor,” he spoke rigidly, “finally checking in?”

“Yeah,” I breathed, “He’s…pretty upset.”

“That so?”

We stood facing each other silently; three, maybe four paces apart. There was a weird imbalance in the air between us—like waiting all day for a rain that never falls. His face was impassive; unreadable. And when he finally spoke, his words cut through me like a razor.

“I think its best, Miss Foster, that we not see each other again after this,” his jaw was set. “I’d try to explain, but it wouldn’t change anything. This…whole ordeal—it was a great misunderstanding.”

Ummm, what? It took a moment to sink in; but when it did, I was surprised to feel real tears simmering at the corners of my eyes. I fought them back savagely. I wanted to mirror his coldness; his lack of quarter. Why is he doing this to me? First he kisses me, now he never wants to see me again?

“The deal stands, of course,” his tone lightened slightly. “I’ll send a crew on Saturday to pick up the painting, and remit your payment,” his eyes darkened, and he stepped toward the door. “But…after that, I think its best you try and forget about me. I promise to do you the same courtesy.”

I felt a single, narrow teardrop escape across my eye, and roll down my cheek. I could have kicked myself for cracking.

“Mr. Caine—” I rasped.

“Dmitri,” he interrupted, one foot already in the doorway. “Jules has a car waiting for you. It will take you wherever you need to go.” And for one, penetrating moment, his icy veneer faltered, “Its not…I mean, it was—a real pleasure meeting you, Penny.” He recovered swiftly, “And, for the ankle—pressure, elevation, ice…”

“…S-stay off the toes, Dmitri?” I finished, my voice weak and dry.

He nodded coolly, hesitated, and was gone. Once again I was alone. I touched my lips, still wet with the taste of him.

What the f—?

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than Lushstories.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © © M. Thomas Ashe, 2015. All rights reserved.



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