Fiction Friday Week 23

TGIF, right?  

Writing has been going swimmingly this week and I have to tell you that, at the start of Chapter 23, I’m very excited with where we are right now.  My characters are showing growth – well, except Dennis, the antagonist.  He’s backsliding into degenerate filth.  The climax is approaching.

And because I’ve words on the brain, I’ll be leaving you now but I’m giving you FIVE chapters today.  It’s just so lovely to have my readers loathe my bad guy.  They don’t like Tom much either, you’ll see why.  

I need to get this story out to you this week so you’ll be getting more chapters right quick.  

Enjoy this next installment and have a great day!

Muah!

Chapter Seven

 

2101 Delilah, 31 years old, 1 year, 20 months, 16 days left on timer

“Where are we going, Alice?” Delilah asks her very devoted and dedicated office manager.  She knows there’s a trip in three days but for the life of her she can’t quite remember which one it is.

“You’re going to Guith.  It’s a town in the Orkneys of Scotland, specifically, Eday Island.  You’re taking pictures of the birds and the weather for Scotland Tourism.”   Alice looks over the rim of her glasses at Delilah.  “You made the deal yourself on this one.”

“Oh, right!  I love Scotland.”  Delilah smiles then turns to head into her office.

“Oh, Lily.”  Alice clears her throat, the subject is delicate.

Delilah turns back.  “Yes?”

“Will John be travelling with you?”  John is the latest boyfriend in what seems to be a flurry recently.  Delilah hasn’t slept with anyone since Sam; Alice would have noticed the signs – when Delilah is having sex, good sex, she always has this sleepy quality about her, something more relaxed, more prone to humour.  Now… not so much.

“No.” The answer is short and abrupt as Delilah turns back to her office, steps through the door and starts to close it. 

Alice sighs softly then, once more, “Oh, Lily.”

“What!”  The word is a snarl.  Immediately, Delilah feels bad, rubs her face.  “I’m sorry, Alice. It’s just… it’s been so hard lately.  The less time there is on my timer, the more hollow and anxious I feel.  It’s like I’m waiting to be filled up by something I don’t even want!”  She leans her head against the door frame.  “There’s still almost two years to go.  How can I feel this itchy already?”

“Oh, honey.”  Alice gets up and hugs the younger woman.  “I remember the feeling but I wasn’t like you.  I couldn’t wait, I wanted it so bad I could taste it.  So I didn’t feel hollow.  I felt like I was being cleansed, scrubbed clean of the past and prepared for the future.  The love of my life was only a short time away and it energized me, helped me be the best person I could be.”

Forehead still pressed against the painted frame, Delilah turns her head to peer at Alice as she considers her words.  “Scrubbed clean, huh?  Interesting.”  There’s a long pause as Delilah stares at the floor again.  Then she whispers, “It’s inevitable, isn’t it?  I’m going to love him.  But… what if I don’t like him?”

Alice dismisses this with a wave of her hand.  “Poor girl.  Your parents actively hated each other and they screwed you up because of it.  I’ve looked into them and–” she breaks off as Delilah gasps.

“You what?”

“You don’t think I’d take this job and be so good at it without knowing exactly what I was getting into, do you?”  Alice gives Delilah a chastising look.  “You were a young, very gifted artist with a chip on your shoulder the size of Old France.  That’s a lot of baggage to take on.  I wanted to know exactly what I was getting into.  I am pleased to say that you’ve grown into a wonderful woman anyone would be pleased to love.  You have your fears but I think you can get past them.” 

Delilah wraps her arms around the older woman and rests her cheek on the side of her head.  “Thank you, Alice.  I couldn’t have done it without you, wouldn’t be who I am without your help and guidance.”

Alice blushes and wriggles out of the hug with a pat on Delilah’s back then her arm.  “Now, as I was saying before you tripped over your bags,” she grins when Delilah giggles, “the representative from Athena Security Solutions will be here in an hour.”

“The who from where?”  Delilah frowns, trying to remember what Alice is talking about.

Alice puts her hands on her hips and frowns.  “You forgot already?”

“I’m sorry.  I’ve been editing for the last twelve hours and my mind is still on the California excavation.  It was quite thrilling to do all that diving and the equipment Dr. Hoffsteader has is amazing!”

“Okay.  Well, I hired a security firm to watch over you.  That last assault was too much.”

“Pfft.  It wasn’t an assault.  The guy knocked into me.”

“And knocked you down.  Later you found your favourite lens in pieces in your purse.  The lens that had been here in the office only a few hours before.”

“Okay, okay.  What does this guy want?”

She wants to go over your itinerary and what you’ll be doing.  Who you’ll have with you.  Etc., etc.” Alice consults her notes, though she rarely forgets any detail.  “Savannah Lopez.  Sam recommended the firm several months ago.”

Delilah nods, her mind already going back to her work.  “Alright.  Let me know when she gets here.”

“Will do.”  Alice goes back to her desk as Delilah enters her office.

With a frown, Delilah approaches the desk.  There’s a wide, flat box on it.  It’s white with her name and the office address in bright red.  The lettering looks vaguely familiar.  Since she ordered a proof of the new coffee table ebook – sold as a 25×33 centimeter tablet that comes with an option to  cycle through the pages – she assumes it must be from the publisher.  She cuts the tape carefully and pulls the lid off.  Inside is a tablet that’s scratched on the edges.  There appears to be a very fine crack in one corner of the screen.

Delilah scowls, unable to believe the shoddiness of the work, but turns it on.  It takes a long minute, longer than she thinks it should, but then the screen lights up.  She sucks in a breath, chokes on a wash of fear.

I know who you are D.D.

I will get to you.

I will end you.

The words seem to drip then dissolve down the screen to end in a puddle.  She stands there, staring and frozen with fear, as the puddle disappears and a slideshow begins.  All the pictures are of her – at work, heading home from the office, in the office, in her home, sitting on her large balcony, kissing John.  There are pictures of her in the bath and ones of her getting dressed, obviously taken through a window. 

Fear spikes more than she thought possible when pictures of Alice and Tom, on their individual commutes and in their homes, pop up.  Tears roll down her face.

Suddenly, the tablet is torn from her white knuckled grip and she screams.  Dots swim in her vision and she begins to hyperventilate.  She’s never been so afraid.  Someone is holding her, leading her to the couch in her office, sitting her down and talking to her in soothing tones.  She doesn’t know who it is but she feels safe and starts to relax a little.  Her breathing slows and she begins to think clearly again.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

2101 Savannah, 36 years old, 1 year, 20 months, 16 days left on timer

When Savannah entered the office and saw Delilah, helpless with fear and with that grip on the tablet, everything in her screamed to protect this woman.  She had torn the tablet from her, inadvertently scaring her more, and handed it to Reaper before wrapping her arms around her and leading her to the sofa.

Now, she strokes Delilah’s hair.  “It’s okay, you’re safe.  We’re here now.  No one is going to hurt you.  Reaper has the tablet.  It won’t hurt you.  No one has been hurt.  It’s okay.”  She keeps up the patter, and the petting, until the woman calms down and takes a deep breath.  Even then, Savannah can’t help but stroke Delilah’s back and her arm once more before giving her a little space.

Delilah looks up and Savannah gets a little jolt in her lower belly as those clear green eyes, still sparkly with the remnants of tears, meet her gaze.  “I’m sorry,” Delilah says.  “I’m not usually so… girlie.”

“It’s alright.”  Savannah smiles to show that it is.  “You’ve had a stressful few months.  I asked your assistant Alice several questions when she called us.  I understand that you’re being stalked.”

“It’s more than that.  There have been notes, I’ve been assaulted,” pushed and shoved around by unseen people, “had equipment broken and other pieces stolen.” Delilah shoves her hands through hair that Savannah finds oddly fascinating.  It’s a rich brown with blonde highlights glinting here and there, wavy and thick.  She wants to touch it again.  Savannah gives her head a shake and tunes back into what the other woman is saying.

“I had no idea Alice called you until this morning.”  Delilah frowns.  “No, wait, I suppose I did but I’d forgotten.” She sticks her hand out.  “I’m Delilah DuMarchand.  My closest friends call me Lily.”

Savannah takes the proffered hand and shakes it, tries to ignore the contrast of soft skin and fine callouses on the hand.  “Savannah Lopez, otherwise known as Loup.  That there,” she points, “is George LePriex, aka Reaper.  He’s my right hand man.  Out there talking to Alice is my left hand man, Sydney Walsh, aka Ghost.”  She lets go of Delilah’s hand somewhat reluctantly.

“Nice to meet you, Reaper.” Delilah’s smile is a little shaky.

“It is nice to meet you too, pretty lady.”  Reaper gives her a sweeping bow and rewards her with a wide, rather engaging grin when she giggles a litte.

“Where are we headed?  I’d like to know so I can send a couple men ahead of time to set up security.  Do you know what sites you’ll be shooting at?”  Savannah asks.

“Alice can give you the lodging information. It’s a self-catering cottage.  There are a few around it but we’ve got privacy.  As for where I’ll be shooting…  No, I don’t know for sure.  I need to get a feel for the land.  I love the Orkneys but I haven’t been to this particular spot before.”

Savannah nods as she makes notes on her small electronic notebook.  “Do you have a soulmate yet?  Is there any chance you could run into them on this trip?”  She deliberately avoids a gender; when Ghost ran into his soulmate it turned out to be a South African man named Wilheim.  They’re a wonderful couple, completely devoted to one another. 

Delilah turns over her wrist and pulls off the cuff bracelet she wears to hide the timer from view.  “One year, twenty months and sixteen days left.  No chance.  I don’t really want to –” she snaps her mouth shut, clears her throat and tries again.  “No, I won’t meet whoever that is while in Scotland.” 

“Alright.”  It occurs to Savannah that it’s interesting that their timers are exactly the same then she figures that there must be lots of people who have the same time left.  Three billion people in the world, some have to have the same times. 

She studies Delilah, looking her up and down.  And realizes there’s a frission of attraction there.  She likes women more than men so she’s not surprised she’s attracted to the brunette with streaks the colour of honey, striking emerald eyes and cute, lush mouth.  She sighs.  “Well, I thought maybe we should change your appearance some, give you a break while your stalker tries to figure it out but I think we’ll scope out your apartment, increase your security there and get you to Scotland early.  We’ll stay at our safe house in Edinburgh until it’s time to head to Eday Island.”

“Um… okay.” Delilah stands as Savannah rises.  “What about Alice and Tom?”

“Does Alice usually travel with you?”  Savannah nods when Delilah shakes her head.  “Then perhaps it’s time for Alice to take a vacation.  She and her husband have any favourite places?”

“I think they like the Bahamas, what’s left of them.” 

“Alright.  I think your stalker will be more interested in following you than her but we’ll get her set up at a resort and I’ll keep a man close to her.”  Savannah sends an email to a Janice, a member of her team, to set up the vacation and gives her instructions about the protection of Alice and her husband David.  “Done.  Now let’s go to your house and get you moved.”

Delilah looks a little dizzy again so Savannah lays a hand on her shoulder.  “Are you alright, Ms. DuMarchand?”

“Please, call me Delilah.” She straightens and the light of battle enters her eyes.  “Let’s do this.  I adore Edinburgh, it will be lovely to be there.”

It takes almost eighteen hours until Delilah and Savannah are standing on the small balcony of a flat on St. Gile’s Street, just off the Royal Mile. 

“This is a stunning place, Savannah.”  Delilah cannot bring herself to call Savannah Loup.  She waves a hand at what she can see of the mile and then in the other direction, towards the museum on Market Street.  “The flat is amazing but the location… The location is shocking.  This is a safe house?”

“It is, all that.  Most people wouldn’t think that anyone staying here is hiding out.  All you have to do is look like you belong.  People will ignore you inasmuch as the Scots ignore anyone.”  She leads Delilah back inside, her touch lingers on the smaller woman’s lower back.

Delilah notices the touch and slants a look at Savannah.  A blonde with a sensible haircut, cornflower blue eyes and a killer body; even Delilah finds her attractive.  She tears her gaze from Savannah and looks around, noting the leather couch and chaise and the heavy glass-and-stone coffee table.  There’s even a small fireplace in the corner and a library set up in the next room. 

There are also three bedrooms.  Savannah installs Delilah in one and Tom in the second.  She doesn’t quite trust Tom so she tells Delilah she’ll be in the third bedroom.

“Don’t you have other clients you have to look after?”  Delilah looks at Savannah curiously, though she is quite relieved to find out Savannah is staying on the case. 

“I do but I have teams for that and communication is easy.  I’m a big fan of your work so I’m taking a personal interest.”  Savannah smiles.  It’s true, she is a fan of Delilah’s work but there’s something about her that she likes.  And Sam, Delilah’s ex, has personally asked her to look after the woman he still has a great affection for.  “Reaper and Ghost, along with Taco and Peanut are on the case.”

Delilah’s brows swing up towards her hairline.  “Taco and Peanut?”

Savannah grins.  “Taco eats that particular food like it will never be made again anywhere in the world.  And he eats them a dozen at a time.  Peanut… well, you’ll see.  Peanut is cute as a button.”

“I see.”  Delilah chuckles.  She stiffens as Tom comes up behind her and touches her shoulder.  It isn’t a big difference in her posture but Savannah notices.  Her easy smile stays in place but she watches closely.

“What’s so funny?” Tom asks as he comes to a standstill close to Delilah.

Delilah shifts, moving her body away from his under the guise of picking her water up off the coffee table.  “Savannah was telling me stories about the people she works with.”

Savannah nods, even as she notes the flare of Tom’s nostrils.  “It’s true.  They’re a good crew.”   There’s a knock at the door and Delilah automatically heads toward it.  Savannah blocks her.  “You will allow me, or whomever is on duty, to answer the door, Delilah.”

With a sigh, Delilah stops and nods.  “Right, yes, you’re right.”  She turns away and sits on the couch, out of sight of the door.  “I’ll be glad when this nightmare is over.”

Savannah smiles sympathetically and watches as Tom sits beside Delilah and takes her hand in his, patting it.  She watches as Delilah tries to lean away and pulls her hand out of his.  She turns to the door and checks the monitor beside it.  The monitor is connected to a discrete camera built into the ornate woodwork of the Victorian door.  The iron-and-glass window that would be traditionally set into the door had long been replaced with wood carved and built up with the same sumptuous design.  Janus owned the building and had done the same with every door, though only a few apartments were safe houses. 

“I will be right back, stay away from the windows.”  Savannah slips through the door.  “Ghost.”  She smiles up at her friend briefly then speaks softly, quickly.  “Tom seems to be a problem.  Delilah is loyal to him, we have already had talks about her staff, but she doesn’t like him in her personal space.  It is possible that he’s her stalker.”

Ghost shakes his head.  “No way.  We’d have seen him pull that last stunt.”

Savannah shoves her fingers through her hair, sending the fine blonde strands flying everywhere.  It’s a look Ghost thinks is cute; being gay doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the fine points of a female.  “Something is up.  Do you think you can watch him?”

Ghost grins and poses prettily.  “Oh honey, I’ll be on him like white on rice.  He’s a prick but he’s also kee-yout.”  All this was said in a feminine whisper. 

“Just see that you stick to him.”  Savannah grins, though her voice is firm.

“Aye aye, Cap’n.” 

They enter the room to find that Tom has his hand on Delilah’s knee and is speaking avidly while Delilah looks uncomfortable and frustrated.  Ghost immediately drops the bags in his hand in a nearby chair and speaks, “Sugar, why don’t you come with me?  Tell me about your work.”

Delilah starts to rise and Ghost shakes his head.  “Not you, Cutie pie, him.”  As Tom walks away, ears red with embarrassment or anger, she wasn’t sure which, Delilah cannot hide the relief on her face.

 

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

2100, Delilah, 31 years old, 1 year, 20 months, 15 days left on timer

Tom sits on the couch, right next to Delilah as Savannah goes out the door.  He takes her hand in his and pats.  “It’ll be alright. These people are the best of the best.”

“I know, Tom.”  She slips her hand from his then inwardly curses it for a mistake as he puts his hand on her thigh.

“Don’t you worry, we’ll get through this, as we have everything else.”

“I know, Tom.”  Delilah lets a little exasperation leak into her voice.

He pats her leg.  “That’s right, I can imagine how frustrated you are.  And scared too. That delivery yesterday was something else, wasn’t it?”

Delilah takes his hand and moves it from her leg.  “Yes it was.  I don’t want to think about it.”

Tom puts his hand back and grips firmly.  “You need to think about it.  Think about the security.  You need to be careful with your life, here are too many people who care about you.  Me included.”

“Tom…”

“No really.  I know we’re colleagues but –”

She cuts him off.  “Yes, we are colleagues and I made it clear that was all that would ever be.  I have no interest in becoming involved with the people I work with, whether they are clients or assistants.”

Tom’s cheeks turn red.  “We have a special relationship, Lily.  We spend a lot of time together, you can’t say that you don’t care about me.  I care about you a great deal.  I want to deepen our relationship. I think we could be good together, better than you and John were, certainly.  He didn’t make you happy at all.  We could ignore the soul timer and keep working together, being together.”

Savannah comes back in with Ghost as Delilah wraps her hand around Tom’s wrist, intent on moving his hand again.  To her enormous relief, Ghost speaks, “Sugar, why don’t you come with me?  Tell me about your work.”

Delilah starts to rise then sits back down as Ghost smiles at her. “Not you, Cutie pie, him.”  She struggles hard to squash the nearly hysterical giggle she can feel in her chest as Tom turns red from the neck up, including the tips of his ears.  She can’t, however, squash the look of relief on her face as he moves away from her.  She watches as Ghost slings an arm around Tom’s shoulder and flirts shamelessly with him as he moves the smaller man into another room.

Savannah sits down on the other end of the couch, a move Delilah appreciates; she could really use some personal space right now.  “I’m sorry about that,” Delilah begins.

“About what?” Savannah asks quietly.  “Tom invading your personal space and touching when you’ve asked him not to?”

Delilah sighs and stares at the bowl of flowers on the coffee table.  They’re pretty, all reds, oranges and yellows.  She knows the names of almost all of them.  “Yeah, that,” she agrees, equally quiet.

“Is he a problem?  Is he the problem?”

“No, I don’t think so.”  Delilah thinks for a moment.  “No.  He can’t be.  Some of the things that have been done he doesn’t even know how to do.  He’s never been good with software, better with hardware.  He knows my equipment inside and out.  He knows how I like it set up.  How to set the timers.  How to clean it and pack it away.”  Delilah frowns.  “He knows it better than I do at this point.”

“And when did he develop the obsession with you?”

“Oh he’s not…”  Delilah catches Savannah’s look.  “Yeah, okay, he has feelings for me.  They started a year ago or so, I think.”  She frowns again, thinking.  “I’m not really sure.  He’s always been attentive, it’s part of the job description.  I tend to get absorbed in the images, in the potential images.”

Savannah tilts her head curiously.  “You see potential images?”

Delilah smiles.  “Absolutely! They come to me like framed snapshots my mind.  Like you, right now.”  She picks up her phone and thumbs open the camera.  “I’ll show you.  No, no, don’t move, stay just like that, with your head tilted and the curious expression.  With the evening light behind you through the window, just… there…”  She captures the image then moves closer to Savannah to show it to her.

“See, with the sun lighting your hair and changing the colours like that, the half shadows on your face, you look younger, more carefree, less like your career has made you a soldier.  You look…softer.” Delilah nods to herself and opens an editing software in her phone, adjusts the contrast and colour just a little.  “Perfect.”

Savannah’s jaw drops.  She’s never seen herself that way.  Truly, she’s never bothered to look at herself that way. She reaches to take the phone, hesitates then smiles as Delilah presses it into her hand.  The screen is only a few inches across, diagonally, but she can see herself clearly.  She studies it as Delilah watches her.

Delilah gets up and grabs her laptop.  Her phone and computer are synced so anything she takes on her phone ends up in a folder on her laptop.  She opens it and skims through files until she finds Savannah’s photo.  She makes it full size then swivels the machine towards Savannah.  “Here.”

Savannah looks up and makes a strangled sound of shock.  “I look like that?  I look… beautiful.”

“That’s because you are.  That’s what people see when they look at you.”

“But you fiddled with the image.”

“I only made it more of what it was.  There’s no point in changing something so spectacular.”  Delilah isn’t trying to be flattering, she’s talking about the image as if she would a sunset, a flower, a deer caught with her fawn.  Nevertheless, Savannah can’t help but be warmed by the praise.  

Reaper comes in and sees the two of them together.  He think they make a good looking pair and pastes a raucous grin on his face.  “Well, now, how are the two most gorgeous ladies in my life?  Any chance of me finding my way between the two of you?”  He wriggles his brows, making his meaning clear.

Delilah giggles.  “Not a chance but would you mind telling your boss she’s beautiful?  She doesn’t believe me, even with the evidence in her face.”  She turns the laptop around and shows him the picture.

“Mon Dieu!”  He looks from the picture to Savannah and back again. “She captured your beauty well, Loup.  She is correct, you are every bit as beautiful as she says.  It is a pity you are gay and devoted to your timer.”

Savannah blushes as Delilah looks at her curiously.  “You are?”

“Gay or devoted to my timer?”

“Both.”  Delilah smiles.

“I am.  I have had relationships but they’ve always been easy, knowing that there’s an end to them.  They’ve been matters of convenience or displays of affection for women I’ve truly cared about.  But nothing that would be considered serious.  I am waiting for my soulmate for that commitment.  And I am praying it’s a woman.  I don’t see how the Gods would do otherwise for making me appreciate women as I do and then giving me a male soulmate would be a cruel joke.” 

Delilah nods as she considers.  “I am not so devoted to my timer.”  She twists the cuff on her wrist, hammered copper and ancient this time. 

“Why not? If I may ask.”  Reaper is the curious one.  His timer is only a few days off.  He can feel it strongly and so assumes he’s in the right place or close to it at least. 

“My parents were soulmates,” both are dead now, murder-suicide, “and they loathed each other.  They fought constantly.  But they couldn’t help touching each other, they couldn’t bear to leave one another.  It was such a dichotomy and it left me in the dust.  I couldn’t do that.  I couldn’t have children in a relationship that wasn’t loving and peaceful.”

Savannah frowns.  “You’re asking your soulmate to wither away because you’re not willing to take the chance.”  Savannah begins to revise her opinion of the woman.

“I know that.” Delilah sighs softly.  “Lately though, I’ve been feeling hollow in my chest.  An itching.”  Both the others nod, they’ve had it too.  “And I’ve been dreaming.  I’ve photographed so many happy people, so many mated couples that it’s left a mark on me. And I’ve had a couple of good relationships. I am willing to give it a chance but I’m…” her voice drifts off and she stares at the timer.

Savannah lays her hand over the timer.  “You’re what?”

“Terribly afraid,” Delilah whispers.

“I can imagine,” Savannah says softly.  “But you’re a good person, you’ll make it work.”

Delilah smiles.  “Thanks.”

“Now, Boss, the plane leaves in eight hours.”  Reaper taps his watch.

“Right.”  Savannah rises.  “It’s time for bed.  Reaper, you’re out here on the sofa.  Ghost is taking the floor in Delilah’s room. Taco and Peanut are downstairs in the other apartment, they’ve got first watch.” 

Ghost, whose hearing is phenomenal, leaves Tom in his room and firmly closes the door with a “Good night, Sugar.”   He comes into the living room and nods at Savannah before grabbing one of the bags he dropped earlier and holding his hand out to Delilah. “Now you, you gorgeous thing, let me see what you’ve done to our crazy one.”  He picks the laptop up with one massive hand and whistles in appreciation.  “You’ve got some talent there, lady.  And a beautiful subject to work with.  Come on now,” he says as he hands the machine back, “let’s go have us a sleepover.”

Delilah checks her watch, finds that it’s eight.  “Oh my goodness, I didn’t realize it was so late!”

“We plan to arrive in Guith at seven in the morning so we can scope the place out and make sure it’s safe.  I already have people there but I want their reports in person.  Have a good night, Delilah.  Try not to worry about tomorrow.”  Savannah smiles.

Delilah allows Ghost to lead her into her room.  There’s already a sleeping bag on the floor by the door.  She frowns.  “Are you going to be comfortable?”

“Honey,” Ghost smiles, “I’ve slept in better places, it’s true, but I’ve also slept in worse. We need to do your hair first.”  He picks up a bag and gestures her into the bathroom.

A couple of hours later, Delilah stares at her reflection in shock.  Ghost has given her coppery locks with subtle gold highlights.  He’s trimmed her hair so that it falls in layers to her shoulders and swings nicely when she shakes her head.  “How?  Wow!  Oh my Gods!  This is…” she can’t get over it, runs her fingers through it again and tugs on the spiky bangs that fall just short of being in her eyes.  She turns to look at him, her green eyes wide.  “How did you know how to do this?  It’s wonderful!”

 Ghost beams as he repacks his bag.  “I blame Wilheim.  It’s what he does.  I have spent many a day with him at his shop.”

“Must be hard being away from him so much.”  She rises and hugs him.  “Thank you.”

Ghost’s eyes darken with a spurt of affection.  “It can be but technology is wonderful.”  He pats her back then heads out the door.  “Go on, get ready for bed.”

 

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

2100, Dennis, 33 years old, timer stopped

Dennis is dressed as airport security at the Edinburgh Airport.  He knows Delilah is flying out of this airport.  With the security badge he stole, and the use of the unconscious man’s fingerprints, he has managed to find out that she chartered a private plane and will be travelling with six other people.  He also knows which plane and where it is. 

Which is why, now, he is skulking around the terminal for the private charters.  It’s much smaller than the main terminal and he’s trying not to get caught as an imposter as he looks for the way to the tarmac.

He finally finds the door that will lead him to the planes without having to go through waiting passengers.  “Finally!  Took you long enough, dummy,” he mutters to himself.   He slips through and pats his coat.  He has, of all things, a bird’s nest, tucked into his coat.  It’s a fake, he can’t conceive of touching the real thing.  “Nasty and dirty, diseased things, birds are.” 

It takes him a little bit of wandering and some darting around to find the plane.  He tries to look casual, like he belongs there, but his eyes are darting everywhere, making his manner kind of furtive.  Still, he gets to the plane, no one is there yet.  He consults a piece of paper in his pocket.  It has a drawing of the plane and marks exactly what he needs to do. 

Dennis looks around one last time then stuffs the bird nest inside the cowling of the plane.  He shoves it in deep and takes a look.  Satisfied that it won’t be seen on the pre-flight check, he saunters back towards the terminal.  He uses the badge to get back into the building then ditches it and the jacket behind a food dispensing machine and pulls a cap onto his head, pulling it down so it shades his eyes.

He gets a drink and a chocolate bar from the machine.  Too late, he notices that it’s the cloned chocolate.  He cusses then shrugs.  “Whatever,” he mumbles as he finds a seat where he can see the plane.  He reads the news on his phone, or tries to, his eyes keep wandering.

An hour later, he watches a fuel truck load the plane and a mechanic start to go over it with the pilot and co-pilot.  The mechanic gives the pilot a slap on the back and leaves and Dennis grins to himself just before he notices that Delilah, and what appears to be an entourage, has arrived.  He watches her go through security with fury, hunger and lust in his eyes.  It’s all tangled up in a heap in his head now.  He watches Tom touch her back and starts to growl. 

He chokes on the growl, has a small coughing fit, but doesn’t miss the way the enormous black man with Delilah moves between her and Tom.  Dennis suddenly wishes he could hear what they’re saying.

He gets up to sidle closer but the smallest member of their group, a woman barely taller than a ten year old, makes eye contact with him as her gaze slides over the crowd.  He gives her a genial smile and turns to the men’s room instead.  Her gaze moves off him and he stops beside a machine that checks boarding passes and tickets.  Ducking behind it, he watches the group.  He watches as an employee calls over a porter to deal with the luggage and equipment cases they have with them. Once the cases are loaded on a flat trolley, and after Delilah fusses with them, the porter leads them out to the plane where a smiling pilot greets them.

Dennis moves to the terminal window to watch what happens.  He watches them board the plane.  Watches the pilot pull the stairs up and watches as the pilot appears in the cockpit window.  A few minutes later, the pilot looks furious and worried, and Dennis grins.   His job done, he races to catch his own flight to the Orkneys.  He must get there before Delilah. 

 

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

2100, Delilah, 31 years old, 1 year, 20 months, 14 days left on timer

 

The next morning Savannah and Reaper are impressed with Ghost’s handiwork but Tom is pissed.  “How could you do that?  What the hell were you thinking?” he all but shouts the questions at Delilah.

Savannah steps between them.  “I was thinking that we’ll have a better job protecting your employer if she’s not as recognizable as she was.”  She smiles as Tom visibly shrinks back a moment before composing himself.  “Get your bags. It’s time to go.”

An hour later, Delilah is looking around the plane, impressed.  She had hired some small prop planes before but this was the first time she had ever been inside such a luxurious private charter.  The seats line the walls, several large, leather club chairs and a long couch.  There are a few tables here and there and Delilah watches as the others drop their gear on tables and stow other things in the bins overhead.  The chairs swivel so that you can sit in a group or in pairs.  There is a single steward on board and she smiles as he comes toward her and Savannah, who is sitting beside her.  They are facing a table with Ghost across from them and Reaper in the other seat.

There’s a small swish in the steward’s gait and a faint lisp in his voice.  “Would you like anything?  There’s coffee and tea.  We have orange juice, freshly squeezed, and champagne.  Darling, I could make you a mimosa if you wish.  The flight is just long enough for you to be able to drink it without having to chug it.”  He has a little expression of distaste, like a society queen having to speak to a janitor, at the thought of chugging any drink.

Delilah’s smile changes to a grin.  “Why not?  I’m aboard this wonderful plane heading to do the job I love the most.”

Savannah declines.  “I’m working, handsome, no can do.”   She pats his cheek when his face falls.  “But I could use a latte, if it’s possible.  Maybe with some chocolate sprinkles?”

The steward grins with delight.  “Fabulous!” He turns to Tom, who is sitting across the aisle, and frowns a little.  “You, honey, I’m giving you coffee.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” Tom states, a little put out by the fact that he’s not getting the same treatment as Delilah.

“You do now.”  The steward dismisses Tom with a wave of his hand and moves on to Reaper.   “Let me guess…  Coffee with a hazelnut creamer but you don’t like anyone to know.  I have to tell you a secret, honey, they already do!  And you, my, my, my, aren’t you a big handsome mountain of a man!” He says to Ghost.

“I am indeed,” the big man rumbles.  “Want to climb me?” He winks at the other man.

There’s a shocked gasp, fake, of course, followed by a titter of pleasure.  “Oh, darling, what I wouldn’t give!  But you have the look of a taken man.  You have met your soulmate haven’t you?”

“Mmmhhmmm…” Ghost sighs happily.

“I still have four months, three weeks and three days to go!  I do hope Hera sees fit to give me a man like you.”  He winks at Ghost, gets orders from Peanut and Taco, and goes to fix their drinks.

The steward passes the Captain, who has come out to speak to Savannah.  “Can I see you for a moment?” he asks.

Savannah unbuckles and meets him by the door.  She listens as he whispers to her then scowls.  “What do you mean the plane won’t start?”  Her voice is louder than anticipated.

Delilah sighs as the Captain spreads his hands in supplication and shrugs.  There’s a moment of conversation and Savannah turns to the cabin.  Delilah catches herself admiring Savannah’s lithe form.  She’s wrapped up in jeans, a t-shirt, a heavy flannel shirt and a ball cap with her hair pulled through in the back.  The shapeless shirt somehow defines and hides Savannah’s curves at the same time.  Delilah shakes her head, wondering what she’s thinking about. 

“Alright,” Savannah says.  “There is something wrong with the plane.  Reaper and Taco, escort Delilah and Tom to the hanger behind us and sit on them.  Ghost, Peanut and I will figure out what the hell is wrong here, working with Captain Jones here.”

“The hanger?” Delilah asks as she stands.  “Why not the terminal?”

Savannah smiles.  “Because that’s what he might want.  I refuse to give him more than I have to.”  She opens the door then blocks Delilah as she tries to exit. “Reaper first.”

“Oh yes, right.  Sorry.”  She steps back then follows Reaper out with Taco at her back and Tom behind him.  Savannah, Ghost, Peanut and the Captain follow, leaving the co-pilot and a disappointed steward on board.

Delilah follows Reaper to the terminal and drops into the chair he finds for her.   She immediately pops up and starts pacing. 

“Mon ange, I cannot protect you if you move about so much.  Please sit down.”  Reaper frowns as he keeps pace with her.

She spins, flinging her arms around.  “How much more can he ruin?  How did he get here before us?  How did he know which plane?  What else has he got planned?”

Reaper frowns then looks at Taco.  “Good question, that.  How did he know which plane?”

“On it.”  He sits down and props the small computer he hauls around with him everywhere on his knees.  As he flips it open he looks at Reaper hopefully.  “You know I work better with a taco in hand.”

Despite herself, Delilah laughs.  “I don’t think there are any around here.”

“Damn.” Taco sighs in a dramatic fashion.  “I’ll get to work without one then.”

“Do that,” Reaper says dryly.

Delilah comes to stand behind him for a moment.  She sees streams of data and code, then the airport logo flash on screen for a second, followed by more code.  She stops watching only because it’s making her dizzy.

“Aha!” Taco says a moment later.  “Reap’, c’mere.”  Reaper moves over and looks at the screen.  Taco taps it.  “Someone accessed the flight logs and dug deep to find out the passenger manifest.  You know we have to file the damn thing but we buried it.  Employee number 15919.  That’s… ah…” he makes a few keystrokes “…David Finney.”

Reaper nods and speaks into his radio to relay the information to Savannah.  What she says surprises him for a second.

“Mr. Finney was just found staggering around the terminal.  He said he was searching for ‘the fucker that conked’ him. We’ve found the problem here too and we’re ready to go.”

It doesn’t take long before they’re back on board and Delilah has that mimosa in her hand.  The engines rumble and purr as the plane taxis toward take off.  She offers a sip of the drink to Savannah.  “Come on, just one tiny taste.  It’s really good.”

Savannah chuckles and takes the glass. A mimosa, she knows, is a combination of Champagne and orange juice in equal parts.  She studies the glass and thinks that of all the things that have changed in the world in the last hundred years, it’s hardly shocking that alcohol isn’t one of them.  She takes a sip and lets the fizzy juice tickle her tongue and savours the combination of sweet juice and dry wine.  She swallows and sighs in appreciation as she hands the glass back.  “Thank you.  It’s been ages.”

Delilah smiles.  “It’s always a pleasure to bring pleasure.”

Pleasure that has nothing to do with sparkling wine trip through Savannah’s mind with Delilah in a starring role.  The thoughts surprise her and she unbuckles as the plane levels out, needing to move away from Delilah for a moment.  “I’ll be right back.  I need to talk to Reaper.”

“Of course.”  Delilah looks out the window and thinks about the look on Savannah’s face.  She enjoyed the look of pleasure; it made her think about sex.  That surprises her.  She’s never thought about a woman that way.  Then she groans to herself as Tom drops into the seat beside her.

He touches her hair, ignoring her as she moves her head back.  “I don’t like the colour.”

“You made that clear a few hours ago,” she says dryly.

“It changes your face.”  He shakes his head in disgust.

“That, I believe, is the point.”  She looks at him.  “Maybe we should change your look too.  You could use a haircut.”

Tom scowls and runs his fingers through his hair.  He’s been growing it out, hoping for a more rakish and charming look.  “I don’t need changed.”

“That’s not entirely true.  You represent me and you’re starting to look ragged around the edges.  Professionalism is one of my trademarks, Tom, something you know very well.”  She softens the reprimand with a look of concern.  “Besides, the stalker knows you and what you look like.  If he sees you, he’ll know where I am.  We don’t want him to find me, do we?  And we don’t want him hurting you either, right?  That’s why Alice got sent off on holiday.”

With a sigh, Tom nods.  “Fine, I’ll get it cut when I land.”

Ghost, who had been listening from across the table says, “Never fear, I shall do it.”

Tom glowers at the large man.  “I don’t want you touching me.”

“Why?” Delilah’s voice is silky smooth.  “Are you afraid being gay is catching?  Who knows,” she says as she grips the wrist with his timer on it, “maybe turning gay would restart your timer.”

Everyone in earshot stares at her, shocked.  Tom’s face slowly goes from shock to embarrassment to rage.  He pushes to his feet, shaking her hand off.  “Fine.  I’ll let him cut my hair.”  He sits down as far away from her as he can get.

Ghost and Reaper stare at Delilah with a newfound respect.  Ghost reaches across the table and pats her hand.  “Thank you, sugar pie.”

Delilah gives him a sunny smile.

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

2100, Savannah, 36 years old, 1 year, 20 months, 14 days left on timer

Savanah takes the seat beside Delilah, making sure that Tom doesn’t bother her again.  She sends a quick text to Taco and watches as he reads in then grins.  She smiles a bit when he salutes her with two fingers.  Then she drums her own fingers on her thigh as she thinks about the information she’s gotten about Guith.  It’ll be difficult to watch Delilah and stay subtle.  She’d talked to Delilah on the drive to the airport and found out that she would more than likely be setting up cameras for time lapse photography.  Those cameras, left in the wild, would need to be watched too. 

Delilah lays her hand on Savannah’s to stop the movement, shocking the other woman.  “What happened to the plane?”

“Oh it was an easy fix.  The asshole put a bird’s nest inside the cowling and it prevented the engine from turning over.  Equally easily overlooked on a pre-flight check. It couldn’t be seen from the outside and, really, military types are the only ones who ever think to look under there.”

At Delilah’s blank look, Savannah chuckles.  “It’s the part of the plane that covers the engine, like a hood of an antique car.”

“Oh! Okay.  He should have known that you would find the problem easily.”

Savannah stares at her for a minute then twists in her seat.  “Ghost!  Are there any other flights into the Orkneys today?”

The steward raises his hand.  “Oh, I can answer that one Ma’am, Sir, Ma’am.”

“You can?”   Savannah looks at him.  “What’s your name?”

“Angel,” he says pertly, half offended she hadn’t read his name tag.  “What’s yours?”

“Savannah,” she grins at him. “Are there any other flights?”

“There are four flights in and out of the Orkneys every week day. One would have left about ninety minutes ago.” 

Savannah uses a really choice cuss word that makes Angel gasp and gives Delilah a new perspective on the woman.  “Godsdammit!” she swears again.  “Ghost, find out who is on that plane.  Photo IDs, get them.”

Ghost whips out his own computer and, together with Taco, has the ID of everyone aboard listed from the cockpit to the tail and on a small tablet he hands his boss within three minutes.  “Here, that’s all of them.”

Savannah dismisses the staff, the few children on board, the elderly woman and then, after a brief argument with herself, dismisses most of the women. 

Delilah, who had been watching Savannah’s fingers with fascination, asks, “Why did you dismiss the women?”

“Based on your description, only this one here,” she points to a Swedish woman who is close to six feet tall, “is capable of the assaults you’ve endured.”

Delilah holds her hand out for the tablet and Savanah hands it over.  She studies the woman.  Then she grits her teeth and remembers the last time she was attacked. 

She’s running from the office to the cab when she drops her keys.  She pauses to pick them up and as she rises someone slams into her shoulder.  It’s like being hit by a brick wall, all hard muscle and…

She breaks off the memory and shakes her head.  “No, she didn’t do it.  It was like being hit by a wall.  Like if Reaper took a run at me.”

“Cherié, I wouldn’t have to take a run at you, although I’d like to, you’d come to me.”  He leers then winks as she grins.

Delilah looks through the rest of them, looking at their statistics, the shape of their bodies.  The ID photo is a head shot and then zooms out to give a 3D image of body type.  She shakes her head, dismissing one after another until only two men are left.  “Those are the closest.  None of the others look like they could do the things that were done.”  Her voice is tight, movements tightly controlled.

Savannah takes the tablet back and gives Delilah’s hands a squeeze.  “Reaper, call Angel and Devil–” she breaks off at the steward’s delighted gasp, and chuckles.  “We have our own Angel, and a Devil too.  Matched set.”

“I want me a little devil,” Angels says with a wistful sigh.

Everyone laughs then Reaper asks, “What do you want me to tell them?”

“Send them the IDs and tell them to set up a customer survey station or something.  Get those two men into rooms, no matter what it takes.  Try not to make a scene. And get a car to meet the plane.  Josh can drive that one.  We’ll drive instead of flying the last leg.”

“Aye aye, Cap.”  Reaper makes the call and the rest of the flight is about strategy. 

Once they’ve landed and the pilot has given the all clear to de-plane, Savannah hustles everyone onto the tarmac.  There’s a luxury car waiting with a man in a suit waiting by the door, looking like a chauffeur.

“There’s Josh.”  Savannah chuckles at Angel’s pleased grin and lets the steward slip past her so he can go flirt with Josh.  “He will drive Delilah and Tom to the cottage.  Reaper, you and Peanut go with them.  Ghost, Taco and I will stay behind to question the two men.  Hopefully, this will all be over by the time you get there.”

Josh is loading baggage into the trunk while Tom crossly informs him that he’s dealing with some expensive equipment and to be careful and Angel talks in the poor man’s other ear.  Josh gives Savannah a long suffering look that Delilah intercepts. 

“I’ll deal with it.”  Delilah smiles and pats Savannah’s arm.

“Thanks.”  Savannah watches Delilah’s backside as she heads over and diverts Tom from his rant.

“So, you like her, huh,” Ghost says.

Savannah sighs and puts her attraction to Delilah in a box.  “Yeah.  There’s something in me that wants to protect her.”

“That’s your job.”

“No, it’s more than that.  I want to wrap one arm around her waist and be her shield between her and the rest of the world. I want… more than I should with only a year or so left on my timer.”  Savannah dismisses the line of conversation.  “One of us will keep you unformed, Ghost.”

She marches over to where Tom is hissing his dissatisfaction and Delilah and gets in between them, angled slightly towards Delilah.  Tom’s mouth shuts with an audible click and his face turns red.  Savannah wonders just what and who he thinks he is but ignores his reaction.  She does, however, put him on the list of people to watch.  “You’ll be going with Josh, Ghost and Peanut.  They’re going to drive you to Guith.  It’s about two and a half hours.” She gives Delilah’s hand a sympathy squeeze when she sees the dismay flare in the other woman’s eyes before it’s covered with cool indifference.  “We will either meet you there or be there soon after.”

Delilah nods.  “I hope it’s done today.  I’m tired of living in fear.”

“I completely understand.  I will do my best.”

“I know.”

Savannah watches as Josh bundles everyone into the car, basking in the look of absolute faith Delilah had given her.

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