When the phone rang her first thought was that Quinn had called to cancel their date. She wasn’t sure if she thought it because it was the worst thing she could think of at that moment, or because she was so nervous she was hoping for it. When she picked up the phone prepared to hear Quinn’s voice on the other end she hesitated, realizing when the man on the other end began to speak that it was not Quinn, it was Seth.
“I thought I would call at a decent hour and see if you be more willing to come to the club,” he said.
Her mind was processing the fact that it was not Quinn and recalling that Carol and Seth had wanted her to come to the club at midnight the last time they spoke. It was something she would have preferred to forget since it had irritated her.
“I really don’t have time,” she said trying not to sound exasperated and failing miserably. It wasn’t like her to be impolite, but she really did not have the time to discuss it, she wasn’t interested in going to the club, she had other plans, and most importantly she was not too impressed with Seth.
“I apologize if I have offended you in some way.” He sounded very sincere then and Bronte immediately felt like a heel. This was her friend’s boyfriend and she needed to try and not let her person feelings toward him make her rude. That thought caused her to think of Carol.
“I’m sorry Seth,” she said honestly. “I’m just in a rush. I already have plans tonight. Thank you for asking though.” Then she added, “How is Carol?”
There was silence on the other end of the line and Bronte wondered what was wrong. Seth wasn’t at the club or she would be able to hear it in the background. Where ever he was it was quiet and she thought that perhaps he was with Carol taking care of her.
“She is doing better,” he offered finally. “She was hoping to see you tonight.”
“Tell her I’ll see her tomorrow at work,” Bronte said as though she were ready to end the call. “Maybe we can do something some other time.”
Bronte thought the conversation would be over, but Seth wasn’t ready to relent.
“Who is the lucky man?” He asked unexpectedly. Something in his tone made her bristle. It was as though he thought she owed him an explanation. It wasn’t just a passing question. She thought that perhaps he thought she was lying. It wouldn’t matter if she was, she owed him nothing. Still, she wanted the conversation over and she was going to end it.
“His name is Quinn and he is a police officer,” she said. “I met him outside that club you took us to. You remember that night? I was attacked right outside and Quinn came and saved me from God only knows what.” She had wanted to comment on her thoughts about that club and now she was glad she got the opportunity. “I really have to go now Seth, Quinn should be here any minute.”
“I am so sorry anything untoward occurred.” Again he seemed very sincere and she realized that she just couldn’t figure this guy out. “You say that this officer was able to deter the fiends that tried to attack you?” He was very interested in what Quinn had done to rid her of her attackers.
“I think they knew he was a cop,” she answered blandly. This was enough. She was beginning to regret brining it up since it seemed to only lead to more conversation. “I’m going now Seth.”
She felt sure that he would know the conversation was over then and was relieved when he said his farewell.
“I wish you a lovely evening, Bronte,” he said with a softer tone. The demand in his voice was gone and replaced with that melodious voice that was his only charm.
“Goodnight Seth.” She hung up the phone so there would be no question as to the conversation being over.
As she sat the phone back in its cradle there was a knock at the door. She rotated her shoulders around to release some tension as though she were getting ready for fight instead of a date. She breathed in a heavy sigh and walked slowly to the door although inside she wanted to fly to it. When she opened the door her vision was filled with over a dozen long stemmed red roses. The scent was beautiful and the color was a deep, shocking blood red.
“Oh!” she managed to say finally and then the flowers moved to the side and she could see Quinn with a satisfied smile on his face. She smiled at him and felt the blush rise up in her cheeks.
“You can come in,” she offered as she stepped aside to allow him entrance.
“Yes,” he said as he stepped in, “I know.” He handed the flowers to her and she had to lie them across her arm like she was holding a baby.
“Let me find a vase,” she told him and he nodded at her.
She went into the kitchen more nervous than she was before. She wondered if she was underdressed, she wondered if her hair was still in place. She put the flowers in a vase and marveled at their beauty. She looked to the window in the kitchen and ran to it to pull up the blinds. She checked her reflection in the window and wrinkled her nose as she tried to push a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“Your entire home smells of vanilla and roses now.” Quinn was standing behind her and the velvet tone of his voice caressed her as much as it shocked her. She hadn’t heard him come in and she didn’t see his reflection in the window. She had turned around to look at him standing there, but then turned again to the window to ensure that he did indeed have a reflection. It was there, she had just been so busy checking on her appearance she didn’t notice him. He had been so quiet coming in.
“Aren’t you stealth-like?,” she teased and some of the nervousness came out in a slight tremor in her voice with a pitch that was a little too high. She was looking at him again and it wasn’t helping her control her nervousness.
“Stealth-like,” he repeated and she wasn’t sure if he was amused by her comment or reflecting on it.
She moved away from the window and walked to the kitchen table to pick up the flowers. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye to make sure he was following, which he was. She walked with as much grace as could be afforded someone so nervous and set the vase of roses in the center of the table in front of the couch.
She had bent over to arrange a few of the flowers and when she stood up he was directly behind her. She could feel the heat coming off of his body. She stood perfectly still, unsure of what to do. She heard him taking in the scent of her hair.
“The vanilla is in my shampoo,” she said for lack of any other topic of conversation. “I have vanilla sachets in my dresser drawers , so it’s on my clothes too.” She was rambling. She knew she was rambling. “Let me fix my hair and we can go,” she told him and moved away to walk into her bedroom and use the mirror there.
“He’s just a man,” she said to her reflection as she tried to calm her jitters. She stood there willing her hair to behave and losing the battle. She finally picked up a hair clip and clipped the unruly piece back. It would have to do.
This time she heard him come in. She looked up at him in the reflection of the mirror and watched him walk over to her. He stopped directly behind her and wrapped his arms about her waist to pull her closer. He leaned down and she thought he would whisper something in her ear, but he only breathed upon her skin and it caused a million chills to dance across her skin. Her body responded by leaning back into his as though it could melt into him. She looked again to the mirror and saw him staring at her as his lips swept a caress across the column of her neck. His eyes held hers captive and she found it difficult to breathe. She had never known anyone like him. He held a masculine beauty in a regal air about him. She had always thought cops were tough guys, but this man was not that. He was gentle and passionate and everything she had dreamed of.
“Would you prefer to stay home?” he whispered to her.
The fact that she considered it surprised her. She knew she was being seduced. She knew what he wanted. And she knew that if she gave it to him the game would be over. For her it was just starting, she wanted more; she was not going to give in so easily.
“I would prefer that you stop trying to seduce me,” she said as she continued to look into his eyes through the reflection of the mirror.
“Is that really what you want?” he asked. His voice was still velvet soft and his breath warm on her skin. She wondered how many women had seen that look, or heard that voice. She wondered how many had succumbed to him easily and without delay. She felt torn between wanting to give in while he still wanted her and wanting to hold out so that she would not be like the rest.
“No,” she said and his eyes seemed to grow darker with the promise of passion, “I don’t want you to stop. But, if you don’t we will miss the play, and I have my heart set on seeing it.” She offered him a look of innocence in the pout she gave. “Would you begin to deny me so soon?”
She watched his smile grow slowly across his face as he realized he had just lost to her. He didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he looked pleased. He let her go and she turned to leave.
“Then, I can seduce you when the play is over?” he asked before she could leave the confines of the bedroom.
“You can try Quinn,” she threw back at him, smiling to herself when he could not see it.
* * *
Bronte was amazed to see the long black limousine waiting for them. She wondered how he could afford such a luxury on a cop’s salary. He had gone all out tonight and she thought he either really liked her, or was trying to use money to seduce her. One she would be very happy about, the other would disappoint her.
The driver got out and opened the door for them. She found out that his name was Felix and he seemed very cordial and professional. It was unsettling, but still charming.
She got in and Quinn followed. He sat across from her and there was no question that he was brushing up against her. He wasn’t trying to hide it. He seemed to constantly be touching her somehow and she liked it.
She wasn’t sure where the playhouse was or how long it would take to get there. She wasn’t even sure if it was in Minneapolis or St. Paul. She looked out at the dark sky and noticed there were no stars. It wasn’t as cold tonight as it had been last night and she knew it would rain soon.
Thinking of the previous night reminded her of the dark figure she saw outside. She looked at Quinn and was still uncertain that it was him. She thought they would ride in silence, but when he caught her looking at him he began to speak.
“How was your first day at your new job?” he asked.
“How did you know about that?” She didn’t recall telling him she had a new job, but so much had happened that night she couldn’t be sure of much.
“You mentioned it,” he said as though he were surprised she didn’t remember. Then he added, “Of course it was a very trying evening for you.” He offered to make her feel better.
She thought about that night and how he had come to her rescue. If he hadn’t shown up when he did she had no idea what would have happened to her. The woman from the club had not been human. She hadn’t thought much more about it because she wanted to forego the nightmare of recalling it. She wondered if she should tell someone; her father perhaps. Something preternatural was out at that club causing mischief; deadly mischief.
She was considering what she should do as she stared out the darkened windows of the limousine. She was silent for some time until she felt his hand fall to her knee and it drew her attention back to him.
“Where are you?” he asked with real interest. He let his hand remain on her knee and she could feel her skin warm beneath his touch.
“I’m sorry,” she told him. “I was thinking of that night at the club. I don’t know what made me go there.” She glanced at him and offered a weak smile. “Actually, my friend Carol asked me to go and I should have known there would be trouble. The last time I went anywhere with her there was trouble.” As soon as she referred to the incident at the college party she wondered if he would say anything. He didn’t, so she didn’t push it. He was a cop. She was sure he did whatever he needed to do that night to make things right. She just thought she could sleep better at night if she didn’t know what those “right” things were. She didn’t want to talk about that night. She was afraid it would ruin the evening. She quickly went on speaking about Carol and the club. She was sure no one died that night; it would be safe to discuss it.
“Carol wanted me to meet her new boyfriend,” she went on, “I’m not sure that I care for him though. There’s something just not right about him.” She found herself thinking of Seth’s call. “He phoned me tonight and tried to get me to go back to that club.”
“Who is he?” Quinn asked. She thought perhaps Quinn could check him out. She didn’t want to ask right away, but maybe once they got to know each other better she would ask him.
“Seth,” she said and realized she did not know Seth’s last name.
Quinn’s reaction to the name told her that she didn’t need to tell him Seth’s last name. Quinn obviously knew who he was.
“Do you know him?” Bronte asked. She was worried for Carol.
“Yes, I know him,” he said and offered no more.
She needed to know if this man was a threat to her friend. She was about to ask for more information when Quinn spoke.
“He is a very dangerous man Bronte,” he told her with great seriousness. “You would be safer to stay away from him.”
She needed to tell Carol, but she wasn’t exactly sure what to tell her. She was about to press Quinn for more information when a sound from behind caught her attention. It was the divider and it was going up, sealing them away from Felix.
She felt Quinn’s hands at her waist and she turned back to look at him as he lifted her easily from her seat to straddle the outside of his thighs. She was caught off guard and didn’t think to protest until she realized her position. It was very provocative and she found her hands against the back seat on either side of Quinn’s head holding her up. She looked down at him now from her new perch and thought to look incensed.
“What are you doing?” she asked, but the look in his eyes was her answer. “My dress will tear.” She was trying to protest something she wasn’t sure she wanted to stop and her excuses were merely wasted words on deaf ears.
Quinn looked down at her dress and he lifted her with one arm as the other caught at the dress and lifted it so that it lay peacefully on top of his legs. His hands moved to her waist then and watched for her reaction as they moved slowly upward.
She couldn’t do this. She didn’t want to look naïve and inexperienced, but she didn’t want him to think she was easy. She wasn’t. She put her hands to his chest then and tried to push away. He had gone too far.
“Be still,” he commanded. She found herself putting her hands back where they had fallen from. She loved the way his hands felt on her body. He watched her as he let them slowly caress her. When they had almost reached the sides of her breasts Bronte found the will to drop her hands to his shoulders, effectively stopping his progress by moving her arms in his path.
She thought he might be mad because she had stopped him, but as she watched one side of his mouth lift and then the other she realized it had only been a game. She wasn’t sure she had played well, but he was not angry with her. She wondered if she should be angry with him, but she had played earlier at the apartment. She had not asked him to stop trying to seduce her, and had in fact encouraged him. She couldn’t do that and then be angry when he continued.
She pushed again at his chest and he did not try to stop her from dislodging herself from him. She thought she had moved relatively gracefully as she situated herself back in place. The car was slowing down and she looked out the window to see a crowd in front of a large playhouse. They had arrived.
* * *
Bronte wondered how Quinn had gotten such wonderful seats as they were escorted to a box. There was no one there but the two of them and as the play began Quinn sought her hand and laced his fingers through hers.
It was a love story. Bronte wondered if Quinn had chosen it because of the story or because of the timing. It was very romantic and she did not protest when Quinn removed his hand from hers and wrapped his arm about her shoulders.
He had not watched much of the play. His eyes were transfixed on the woman beside him. She was a contradiction; innocence and sexuality. He wondered if she even realized what she was doing to him when she told him he could try to seduce her. Was she taunting him or challenging him? He thought that perhaps it was both.
He loved her scent. He loved the softness of her skin. He found it difficult to be near her and not touch her. Even as the thought crossed his mind he realized that his thumb had begun to caress her neck in slow rhythmic circles without conscious effort on his part.
He had been looking at this encounter as a duty, a necessity really. He had had his fill of virgins. There was just so much to consider when bedding a virgin he had hoped she would have had lovers by now. The thought of another man touching her skin, tasting her, loving her made his heart pound in his chest. He thought now that everything had turned out for the best. He would have found it difficult to refrain from killing any man that had touched her now that he knew her. Bedding her would most certainly not be a chore.
He glanced at the play as he watched her reaction to it. She had a tender heart full of romance and sentiment. It had been a long time since he knew someone so honest with their emotions, their needs, their desires. It was easy to see what she wanted. If he were to seduce her with only sex she might not give in. He would bide his time and bring her flowers and trinkets. He had enjoyed buying the roses. He had anticipated her reaction to them and had not been disappointed.
As the curtain went down Bronte looked to Quinn. He was staring at her and she wondered what he was thinking. It was intermission and the lights came up slowly so people could make their way to the refreshments.
“Would you care for something?” he asked and the question elicited more answers than she would ever say aloud.
“I’m thirsty,” she told him.
He nodded and stood taking her hand. He escorted her from the box and down the stairs to the lobby. It was opening night and the place was full. There were people packed into the lobby and the murmurs of the crowd began to sound like a choir devoid of music. Bronte was immediately uncomfortable with being among the throng.
Quinn felt her tense and squeezed her hand in his.
“I will be with you,” he promised and watched her fearful expression look out across the crowd before coming back to him. She nodded and they continued their decent.
They stopped at the bottom of the stairs while Quinn looked for where the punch was. He could smell the sweet brew and began to pull her toward the table in which the punchbowl sat. She took hold of his arm with her free hand as though she needed an additional anchor to him. He looked back at her and she looked up at him apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” she offered, “I’m not good in crowds. I like to watch people, just not this close up. Am I ridiculous?” she asked.
He smiled down at her and for a moment there was no one in the room but the two of them. It was like the night they had met. The whole world bustled about them, but they were in their own private world, seeing only each other.
“If you are being ridiculous I would hope that I am to blame,” he smiled at her and then the smile gave way to a light hearted laugh. It was a beautiful sound and she wished she knew how to make it happen again
“Don’t worry,” she assured him, “I blame you for it entirely.” He laughed again and his remarkable eyes seemed to shine upon her.
“I blame you for much myself.” The voice was masculine and although it made an attempt at humor it was obviously masking something more hateful.
Bronte and Quinn both turned to see Seth standing there with Carol on his arm. Quinn wondered how Seth had been able to mask himself so that he was not aware of him. Had Seth followed them? Quinn did not doubt it. Bronte said she had spoke with Seth tonight. Quinn knew it would only be a matter of time before Seth found out about the girl. Quinn’s thoughts of a slow building romance with Bronte shattered as he looked into the handsome face of his greatest enemy.
“You both seem surprised to see us,” Seth said, but he was looking at Quinn and the taunt was clear. He knew he had cloaked himself from Quinn’s detection and he wanted Quinn to know it had been intentional. Seth wasn’t trying to mask himself from all who would sense what he was; he was specifically trying to send a message to Quinn. Quinn understood fully the meaning of the taunt.
“You didn’t mention that you would be going to a play,” Bronte said to Carol and then to Seth who she had spoke to on the phone. She felt Quinn’s tenseness and it fed her own. She looked to Carol who appeared to be fine physically, but her eyes looked empty to Bronte. It was as though she were waiting to be told what she should say or do. Bronte didn’t like it. She didn’t like it all.
“Are you feeling better?” Bronte asked Carol. Carol looked at her, but did not answer. She looked then to Seth, who didn’t seem to be paying attention to her, and then back to Bronte.
“I’m feeling much better, thank you,” she said and that was it. Carol, who always had lots to say at any given moment, went silent.
Bronte was afraid for her. She had to be on some kind of drug. Quinn said Seth was dangerous and Bronte meant to find out exactly what it was Seth was doing. She wanted Carol away from the man.
“Hello Seth,” Quinn said in even tones. There was a warning there and it was not lost on Seth, it was blatantly disregarded.
“And how is his majesty today?” Seth said sarcastically.
Bronte looked from one man to the other. She knew Seth was taunting Quinn, but she didn’t know exactly what was going on.
“I think perhaps the less said the better,” was Quinn’s final warning. The two began to draw looks from the crowd. It wasn’t their tone or the volume of their words; it was something more than that. There was an angry energy emitting from them both and it was so thick it became heat around them.
Lights flashed on and off indicating that the play would be starting and that everyone should take their seats. Bronte was still looking at both men when Seth finally backed down.
“Showtime,” Seth said to Quinn and although Bronte was sure there was more meaning than what she could gather, she was just grateful that Seth was leaving.
Bronte watched her friend leave without another word being spoken between them. She couldn’t wait to see Carol at work tomorrow. She wanted to let her know that Seth was a dangerous man and that she needed to get away from him. For tonight though, nothing was said. Bronte would have to wait for Seth to be away from Carol. It was obvious that the man had some kind of control over her.
It was difficult for Bronte to concentrate on the play now. She felt Quinn’s tension and saw him searching for the room for Seth and Carol just as she had. They were seated across the playhouse and down below them. She saw Seth look up at Quinn and then glance away.
He was after the girl. Quinn seethed as he realized that his plans for a slow seduction were going to be thwarted by Seth’s interest in Bronte. Few knew of her importance and power. Even she did not know. Seth knew. Quinn had no question that Seth knew, and that Seth had designs on taking her for himself.
The play was near its end when Bronte noticed Seth and Carol get up and leave. She watched as Carol walked in front of Seth and she wondered if Carol would be alright. Her eyes glanced at the man she was learning to fear and loathe and she caught his stare. She had no idea what he could be thinking, looking at her the way he was, but she felt nothing but animosity toward him now. She had considered trying to be his friend for Carol’s sake, but now she felt only anger towards him. Her view was obstructed when Quinn leaned forward to claim her attention.
She looked at him, but she wasn’t sure if he wanted anything from her. He said nothing; he only blocked her view of Seth. She watched him glance back at Seth as that man was exiting the room and she realized that her feelings toward Seth were reflected in Quinn’s eyes.
She looked back toward the play, but she never saw the ending. Her eyes turned inward as she reflected on the evening and wondered about Carol’s safety.
The lights came up and the audience roared their approval. Bronte was disappointed that she had missed the end of the play.
“Let’s go before the crowd begins to leave in mass,” Quinn said. They got up and Quinn escorted her down the stairs and out of the playhouse. They stood for only a moment before the limousine pulled up. Bronte thought that Felix must have been looking for them to have come for them so quickly.
On the ride home Quinn was quiet. She wondered if he was thinking of his work and if his work included watching Seth.
“I need to tell Carol to stay away from Seth,” she said to break the silence and to see if Quinn would be willing to share more information about Carol’s new boyfriend.
“The best thing to do is to stay away from Seth,” he said and looked away from the window toward her. “There is nothing you can do for Carol.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked feeling even more worried now.
“He has her and she will not leave him,” he responded.
Bronte thought it a strange statement. Was he saying Carol couldn’t get away from Seth? Bronte thought for a moment and could concede that if Carol was on drugs and Seth was supplying them then it might very well be impossible to get her away from him. That did not mean she wouldn’t try.
“I have to talk to her. She’s my friend,” Bronte said.
“It is dangerous and it will be futile,” he told her. He sounded so sure of it that she became angry at him. How could he say that? Had his line of work made him so insensitive? Did he think that all people with drug problems were automatically bad? Carol was a victim. Someone had to help her.
“I can’t believe you would say that,” she told him. “You’re supposed to protect people, not leave them to men like Seth.”
Quinn moved and she thought that her statement had an effect on him. Then he grew quiet and she spoke again.
“If you can’t help then I have no choice. I will see Carol tomorrow,” she said finally and with conviction.
“Some things cannot be undone Bronte,” he said cryptically, “Carol will not listen to you and being around her will put you in danger. I cannot have that.”
She sat back and looked at him. They had arrived in a residential area and there were more street lights. She could see his face and thought he looked somber. His tone had changed somehow and she felt that he was holding something back. Perhaps it wasn’t his tone, but it was something there in the way he carried himself that told her he would not allow her to defy him. Even more than finding it surprising, it pissed her off. They hadn’t known each other long enough to make demands, and even if she knew him a very long time she would not allow someone to dictate her life to her.
The car was pulling alongside the curb and Bronte could see that she had arrived home. What she had hoped would end in a beautiful moment was ending badly. She was disappointed and she was angry.
“You have a very bad attitude Mr. Quinn,” she said as she opened the door before the car had come to a full stop. “I don’t think I appreciate it. Good night.”
The door was open and she moved to exit it when Quinn placed his hand on her shoulder. She looked back at him and he looked unhappy with her. She wondered where he thought he had the right to be unhappy with her. He had told her to stay away from her friend and that her friend was beyond help. He had even made it appear as though he were telling her she could not do as she wished. He had overstepped his bounds and nothing, not even his charm and good looks, would let her forgive him for it tonight.
“What I say is for your own good,” he said as though she should be more reasonable.
Bronte felt herself swaying. She grabbed onto the sides of the door for support. Her mind was telling her that he was probably right, but she fought that thought. He couldn’t be right. Carol still had a chance of getting out of this. The more she continued to fight her own thoughts the worse she felt. She pulled hard away from his hand and stepped out of the car and into the cool night air. She immediately turned and looked at him through the open door. She felt a little better now. She decided that his nearness affected her far too much. She needed to go home and rest, and think. He did not seem to agree.
“I should come up and see you safely to your apartment,” he said and began to move across the seat toward the open door.
“Not tonight,” she told him and then shut the door before he could reach out to stop her.
She looked up as she saw Felix step out of the car. He looked at her quizzically and she only shook her head as she turned and ran into the apartment building.
She stood there in the lobby thinking for a moment. Was she overacting? Did Quinn know more about what was going on, but couldn’t discuss it with her because it was a case he was working on? She wasn’t sure of what to do and she turned to see the car was still parked in front of the building. She wondered if he thought she would come back. She wanted to go and talk to him, but thought better of it. She did not want to appear weak to him. He had an aggressive personality and she did not want him to think he could boss her around, because he couldn’t. She would never allow such a thing.
She walked to the elevators and went up to her apartment. She was still thinking about what to do to help Carol as she fished in her purse for her key. When she unlocked the door and stepped in she felt a draft and looked toward the window. She let out a short cry of alarm as she realized she was not alone in the apartment. Standing there next to the open window was a dark figure in the shadows.