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Curve snorted a thick line of grainy black heroin, his eyes rolling back in his head in pleasure as the potent drug surged through his nasal passages and then directly into his brain. He was fairly certain that his addiction would kill him eventually, but he didn't care.
Nothing really mattered when he was high.
Plus it was so much easier to carry out Judah's increasingly violent orders in the blissful fog of the drug.
Thinking of Judah made Curve curse. He knew that the drug lord was waiting for him in the offices above the fetish club in which Curve was presently hanging out, but instead of rushing to Judah's side as Curve had done when he was just a young kid dealing drugs, he ordered another shot of Jack, delaying the meeting for as long as he could get away with.
Another hour passed, maybe two before Curve pushed away from the marble bar and stumbled through the throngs of freaky club-goers in the general direction of the dimly lit back stairwell that led to Judah's offices. Curve snorted to himself as he thought of the word "office;" Judah's private rooms above the club were more like torture chambers than places of business.
Of course, Judah's business did often revolve around torture.
Curve fumbled with the sleek golden key that opened up the main chamber and practically fell inside. Judah sat behind a long, black desk, his dark skin cast in shadows from a low-burning fire in an impressive fireplace.
"You were supposed to be here three hours ago," Judah said, his lips the only part of his body that moved.
Curve fought a chill. Three hours? He hadn't realized he was that late.
"Sorry," he muttered, thankful that the heroin was still pumping furiously through his veins.
Judah remained silent, but then rose in one graceful movement. He padded silently over to Curve and studied the man's face.
"Just how much of my product goes up your nose in a given week, Curve?" Judah asked, his voice deceptively calm.
"Only what's rightfully mine," Curve replied, the hostility in his voice unmistakable.
Judah's face twisted into a sardonic smile. "Who is to say what is rightfully anyone's, Curve?"
Curve pressed his lips together. Judah so often spoke in cryptic riddles that it was impossible to reply coherently. So Curve didn't.
Judah nodded once, taking Curve's silence for submission. "There is something I need you to do for me," he said quietly.
"I have it on good authority that trouble may be on the horizon for us," Judah replied, his voice still calm. Curve's eyes instinctively went to a hooded figure in the shadows, namely a woman named Sybil, who Judah was convinced could see the future.
"What kind of trouble?" Curve asked, his eyes still locked on Sybil.
"It is unclear," Sybil said, her voice soft and lyrical from the corner of the room.
"Sybil, stay silent," Judah barked, his voice rising to a frightening threat. Sybil immediately shrunk back into the shadows. "I am not certain of the exact trouble, but I believe it has something to do with one of our recent victims," he continued, his voice calm again. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a picture. He flashed it in front of Curve's eyes.
"Do you know this woman?" Judah asked.
Curve studied the picture. A young woman with ringlet curls, ice-blue eyes and the saddest expression Curve had ever seen stared out at him. All at once, he recognized the girl.
"Yeah…she works at that Tattoo parlor on Deacon Street," he said. "They call her the mistress of pain."
Judah pulled the photo from Curve's line of vision. "She knows what happened to that man and his boy," he said harshly. "I want you to find out how much of a threat she is to us."
Curve nodded. "Fine," he said.
Judah suddenly raised a hand and touched Curve's cheek. His fingertips were colder than ice.
"Go," Judah said.
Curve turned abruptly, happy to be out of the room for the time being.
The dripping of water into strategically placed pots and pans and the occasional mew from Gabriel were the only noises coming from Sarah's loft for the past few hours. Her body was screaming for sleep, but she simply couldn't, her eyes insistent on remaining wide open.
Instead, she was painting. The large canvas that lay out on her bed was beginning to take shape. As with most of her artistic endeavors, Sarah never knew if what she was creating would be something beautiful or horrible. From the looks of the dark colors that were splayed across the once snow white canvas, she could guess what this one would be.
It was nearly midnight. Sarah had called in sick to work. Noah had been audibly concerned; Sarah never missed work. Even when she had strep throat a few months back, she was there, tattooing in between doses of antibiotics and steaming cups of tea. After assuring him several times that she was simply tired, he had let her off the phone insisting she call if she needed him.
As she dragged her paint-stained hands across her tired face, she knew exactly what she needed.
It was strange to feel such a connection to this man…who wasn't really a man…more like a ghost…after having only brief contact with him. Each time she blinked, she saw his face behind her eyelids, twisted in anguish, weeping over the loss of his son. Every fiber of her being screamed out to her to find him….to run the streets of LA and demand he return to her loft.
She was about to do just that when he came back on his own.
It was a fluttering of wings that drew Sarah's attention from the canvas to the far corner of her loft where a large bay window gave way to a fire escape. On the windowsill sat the crow, and on the escape balcony sat Ashe.
He looked a bit different than he had earlier that morning. The torn clothing he had emerged from the water wearing had been replaced with black leathers. Leather pants hugged his legs. A leather vest was peeking out under a long black leather trench coat. Heavy black boots covered his feet.
He was sitting sort of hunched over, staring at his hands. His chin length hair acted as a veil hiding his facial expression from Sarah, yet she could clearly see his lush lips pressed into a thin line.
"You came back," she said softly.
Ashe jerked his head to look at her. She gasped inwardly, his beauty catching her off guard.
He stood in quick motion, causing Sarah to jump. When he noticed he had frightened her, he slowed down his movements. He approached her bed like a cat, his fingertips reaching out to unconsciously touch the gauze like material that hung from the iron bedposts, forming something of a netting around the large bed.
He regarded her for a few minutes, his head tilted curiously to one side. When he spoke, his voice was deeper and stronger than it had been earlier.
"Danny was never afraid of death," he said abstractly. Sarah held her breath as he spoke. "He once told me that when you die, you go to a better place. That he was certain of it."
Sarah peeled her tongue from the roof of her mouth. "Maybe he's right," she offered.
Ashe lifted his arms to gesture around the room. "Is this a better place? After all, I am dead, aren't I?"
Sarah nodded numbly.
Ashe changed topics. "Have you ever lost someone to a better place?" He whispered.
Sarah nodded again. "Yes," she said softly.
"And do you believe they are happy?"
She hesitated. "I don't know," she said honestly.
Ashe moved closer to her and sat on the edge of the bed. He reached out his hand to where hers was, his cold fingertips brushing her warm skin.
She allowed him to touch her, unable to ignore the sparks of electricity between them. It was crazy…strange…not of this world…to be having such feelings for this…man.
He looked up at her, holding her unblinking gaze with his own. "What happens to me, once I finish what I have to do here?" He whispered.
Sarah blinked back unexpected tears. "You go back," she replied.
Ashe grasped her hand. "And what if I don't want to go back?"