A/N: So we're absolutely thrilled and blown away that Within Temptation was nominated for an Indie Twific Award. You guys are the absolute best.
We're also very sorry for the hideously delayed update. Other projects and attacks of random real life have prevented us from working on it. Can't promise it won't happen again. You know how it is.
Chapter 7: Deep Within
Is there a place deep within?
A place where you hide your darkest sins
There's a strange kind of ambiance,
it's surrounding you
as a songstress you lure me,
towards the truth
It was the dream that spurred me to go looking for him. A dream full of smug smiles and innuendo, hunting and running. I woke up just as his hands were wrapping around my throat.
I lay in the grey light of dawn, blankets pulled up to my chin, and wondered why that dream in particular bothered me. I never had nightmares anymore, not after all I'd seen. When you knew the monsters were real, dreams failed to hold any power.
So was Whitlock now my boogeyman? The thought almost made me laugh. There was nothing threatening about that man, unless you counted that he was dangerously attractive.
"And irritating," I reminded myself out loud. "Don't forget irritating."
I sighed and stretched, then a flash of movement at the window caught my eye.
I turned my head quickly, and for a second, I could have sworn I saw Whitlock perched on my window sill like a damn cat. I blinked, and felt a quick breath of frigid winter air, and the image was gone.
I stared at the closed window, and mentally pictured him there. It was impossible, I was on the second floor, and the window was safely locked. But I could still see him in my mind's eye, crouched on the sill, not like a fat contented house-cat, but more like a lean alley cat, battle-scarred and gun-shy.
This time I did laugh at myself. The fanciful nature of my thoughts was so out of character for me.
What the hell would that man be doing in my window, if he'd somehow managed to climb up there?
He'd never really denied being a psycho stalker, but I really had doubts that he was. From my instincts, he seemed like an attractive, slightly odd man.
Well, really odd.
I had seen many peculiar things in my life. So, the idea of someone looking in on me wouldn't be that odd to me now that I really thought about it.
Even if it just had been a hallucination, I was still beginning to get a bit irritated. No, you know what, if Whitlock was really on my window sill, I was going to be pissed. I didn't care that it was really strange. No, I was more concerned with the fact that there was something about me that he found so damn fascinating and he didn't even have the guts to come knock on my front door and ask me in person.
I dressed quickly; jeans, thermal shirt, sweater, boots and a warm coat, then I headed out my back door and started across the field to his decrepit old farmhouse. As I walked, I worked myself up to a nice level of mad.
After all, he had won the last round. I had to be on top of things if I even had a chance of getting answers from him. Maybe, if he hadn't really been in my bedroom, I could at least wake his ass up and disturb him a bit.
Because he had woken me up (literally or just a figment in my imagination wasn't really important now) so I was going to give him a taste of his own medicine. Show him what it's like to wake someone up in the middle of the night.
After that, well, we'd just see.
I wasn't going to let him get the upper hand this time.
The cold was barely noticeable as I lifted my hand and pounded on the door with as much force as possible and took a step back. If he was a deep sleeper, it'd probably take him awhile to show up and open the door. So, imagine my utter shock when lo and behold five seconds later, the door swung open with a loud creak.
"Well, well, lambchop. What do we have here? Come to go at it again?"
Infuriating. Absolutely infuriating. I gave him a quick once over. He wasn't dressed as if he'd been outside. Once again, his clothes looked like they'd been slept in, his black t-shirt was wrinkled, and the dark pants he was wearing had smudges of dust on them.
His feet were bare. In winter.
I found that one thing jarringly intriguing.
And it made me begin to question his sanity. Because who in their right mind walked around in freezing weather dressed like it was summer outside? I felt the tiniest twinge of concern for him. Oh, great. No, I couldn't let him see it. So, I shook it off, squared my shoulders and looked him in the eye. "We need to talk, Whitlock."
He leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms over his chest. "Talk about what?"
"Were you in my bedroom this morning?" I demanded, not even bothering to ease into it.
His lips twitched into that damn smug smile of his that both irritated and my heart beat faster. "Ah darlin' you were dreaming about me? I'm flattered...really, I am," he smirked.
"You wish." Deciding he really wasn't going to invite me in out of the cold, I shouldered my way past him into the house.
I looked around the room I'd entered. A kitchen, but it appeared to be virtually untouched. Either he was insanely tidy; which I discounted from the state of his clothing; or he never cooked.
But, he had to eat at some point. Right? I looked over at him and saw that he was watching me with curious eyes. "Why is your kitchen...well, why is it so clean?"
He idly glanced around. "I don't know what you mean."
"You're kidding me right? There isn't a dirty dish in sight and there's probably nothing remotely rotten in your fridge..." I took two steps towards it so I could see for myself but he was suddenly standing in front of it, arms crossed against his chest.
"Do you do this a lot?" He quirked an eyebrow. "Just going through the things of strangers? It isn't very ladylike."
"I never claimed to be a lady," I shot back.
"You sure look like one to me," he teased. "Now, why exactly are you here again? Other than to try and get the details of my eating habits?"
"I want answers, Whitlock," I replied. "Starting with- were you in my bedroom this morning?"
"You're getting snow all over my floor." He deflected.
"Neat freak," I mumbled under my breath. In a moment of immaturity I took my jacket off, letting even more snow fall to his spotless floor.
He started laughing. "Lovely. May I take your coat?"
God, this guy and his mood swings. "Okay." I smiled sweetly, shoving my jacket against his chest, undoubtedly getting snow all over his shirt.
"The boots too, lambchop."
I stared at him. "Are you serious?"
"Yes, very much so. You're in my house remember? House rules apply to everyone."
Grumbling, I tugged off my boots and kicked them at him, sending more snow skidding across the floor. I bared my teeth. "Happy now?"
"I don't know why you're getting so upset," he said. "You showed up at my front door, not the other way around. If you don't like the way things are around here, you're very welcome to leave." There was a hint of irritation in his voice. It only lasted for a split second but I heard it. And it gave me a slight feeling of satisfaction. I was getting on his nerves. Perfect. And I wasn't about to let up.
"Oh, I'm not going anywhere, Whitlock. You have yet to answer my original question..." I sauntered off, exploring more of his place.
It was surprising to note the inside of the house was in far better condition than it appeared to be on the outside. I went through a dining room that had no furniture at all, into the front of the house, which was the living room.
When I walked inside the living room, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a huge, plush couch in the middle of the room. Along with a mound of books scattered all over the place. And, in front of the couch, there was a fireplace. Though it was almost completely bare, I felt oddly comfortable in this room.
I crossed to the couch and threw myself down on it, making myself at home.
"Have a seat," he said dryly.
"Not much on company, are you, Whitlock?"
"Not to say that a change in scenery isn't nice," he glared down at me. "But yes, I prefer to stay alone...most of the time."
"Too bad," I informed him. "I'm not leaving 'til you give me answers."
"Confident much?" he came and sat on the floor across from me. I didn't answer him at first, I just glared down at him. Like if I kept staring at him, he would give him.
"Oh, fine!" he snapped quickly. "Let's hear these questions." Even though I didn't appreciate him snapping at me, I couldn't help but smile. I was getting to him. And he was right where I wanted him.
I relaxed into the couch. "Yes or no, were you in my bedroom?"
"No." He answered promptly.
"Are you lying to me?" I frowned.
He shook his head and laughed coldly. "Oh lambchop, why would I lie to you? Besides, don't you think if I was in your room, I'd be in there to do more than just watch you sleep?"
He was lying. I was positive he was lying. But I had no proof that he was there, except what I thought I saw.
"Maybe you just got caught." I shrugged.
"The only way you'd catch me, is if I let you." He replied.
"Why would you want to be caught?"
"Exactly. I'm glad you see things my way. So, as you can see, there is no possible way that I was in your room..."
"Are you stalking me?" I asked quickly.
He narrowed his eyes and smiled, sly and sensual. "Do you want me to be?"
I berated him. "That isn't an answer, Whitlock. Besides, who would actually want you to stalk them?"
"You said you wanted answers, Serena. Don't get pissy because I don't give the right ones."
I hated that superior tone he used. There had to be something I could do to throw him off.
I thought for a moment and then sat up. Gripping the bottom edge of my sweater, I tugged it up slowly, shimmying a little as it came off.
His eyes were glued to me.
I tossed the sweater toward him and lay back on the couch, arching my back.
That little girl was playing with fire. it was obvious to me what she was up to, even before she peeled off her sweater and posed on my couch. I was vaguely surprised by the way she had simply barged in like she owned the place. And oddly enough, I found it slightly attractive. Once in awhile, I liked it when a woman took charge.
I wasn't about to let her know that, though. I had to keep her guessing. Especially if I had to convince her I wasn't in her room this morning. I was still shocked that she'd seen me.
I had underestimated her. I thought that she, like most humans, was a deep sleeper, completely oblivious to her surroundings in the early hours.
But she had woken in an instant, and had been far too alert. There was definitely something different about her. I'd yet put my finger on what exactly it was, but it wasn't from lack of trying.
When she'd shown up at my door, that idiotic voice in my head, the one I'd dubbed Hale for its soft gentlemanly reminders, pointed out that it was nice to have company.
The thermal shirt she and on under her sweater left little to the imagination. And I had an excellent imagination.
She was more intuitive than most humans. Are you stalking me? She had no idea.
"Do you work?" She asked after laying back on the couch.
Work? "I'm... in acquisitions."
Her eyes narrowed. "Uh-huh."
I knew she wasn't buying the 'acquisitions' crap, but she let it slide. Only someone with deep secrets of their own would do that.
"And you? What do you do?" I asked, testing her emotions.
And for one fraction of a second, I felt a hint of shock and surprise coming from her. But, it didn't show in her eyes.
"I...I work with animals." she said. Oh, she was good, she didn't betray anything.
Obviously, she had to be lying. But I didn't get any of the telltale signs of an outright lie. So, she was telling half truths. I could appreciate that, even if I was not at all content with half. I wanted to know all of it. "Animals..." I filled my voice with doubt.
"Wild animals." She nodded.
"And what do you do with these... animals?"
"I study them." She said quickly. Too quickly.
"Like a catch and release type thing?" I prompted.
"Something like that."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Well Jesus, lambchop, can you be anymore...vague?"
"Says Mr. 'Acquisitions' Whitlock." She shot back. "Couldn't come up with anything more original than that? What are you, a hit man or something?"
I let a smirk form on my face before looking her dead in the eye. "Something like that."
I don't know what reaction I expected, but of course she did not provide it. Ornery female.
"Huh. Interesting." She settled deeper into the couch, giving the impression that she was staying for a while.
"You plan on stayin' a while darlin'?" I let my accent come out more than normal. Most women are extremely attracted to the southern accent but not her. No, it was like the exact opposite. It actually irritated her it seemed. Which made it even more entertaining. Personally, I hated the accent. It reminded me of the whole 'southern gentleman' thing. But, for Serena, I would endure it. Just to get under skin. To get her right where I wanted her.
She leaned a bit further against the couch. "You really think that whole Southern charm thing works on me, Whitlock? What do you take me for?"
I just quirked an eyebrow at her and shrugged. I really didn't have an answer for that. So I just played it off like nothing. But, my response wasn't necessary because a look crossed her face. A look of…realization?
"Wait!" she sat up again "You're from the South." She stated, as if she had solved the greatest mystery of all time.
I debated briefly. I could tell her she was wrong, again. Or, I could just let her win this one, allowing her to win.
But I quickly decided I didn't want to do either of those things.
"Oh Lambchop, are you truly that gullible?" I shook my head at her. "And I thought you better than some poor, little naïve lamb."
"I'm right. I know I'm right. No one can fake the drawl that well." She argued.
"I can." I replied. Because that much was true. I could fake any accent I needed to, well enough to pass for a native almost anywhere. Something about me being from the south answered one of her questions. And I wasn't going to give her answers that easily.
She shot me a baleful look.
"Don't get bent because you assume the wrong thing." I told her.
She rolled her eyes "I don't assume, I know." she replied a bit smugly. Oh, this girl was suddenly so confident. "Is that so darlin'?" I threw it out there again. "Then tell me, all knowing one, since you think you've suddenly got me all figured out..."
"Look Whitlock, I'm not a fortune teller, okay? It's not as if I can tell you anything you don't know already, so if you want to keep playing it that way, fine. But don't think I'm just going to blindly go along with it."
Fortune teller. Unbidden, Alice's image sprang into my mind. Fuck.
"Get out." I snarled.
"They're right, aren't they? It was a woman that made you come hide here."
Well, well looks like this girl can see right through all the lies. It was back, that irritating little voice in the back of my head. She's getting to you. She's getting into your head... Just. Like. Alice.
'Shut it, Hale', I told the voice. This girl, was nothing like Alice. And that's what made her so fascinating.
"I'm not hiding," I said coldly. "I like it here. Up until recently, people left me alone."
She laughed. "You started it, cowboy. You're just annoyed because I'm better than you thought."
"You think that's funny?" my voice dripped with anger but she didn't flinch.
"Nope. Sometimes the truth isn't funny. What is funny is the fact is that you're hiding. And from a woman no less. Jesus Whitlock, I would've considered you committing some awful crime before I'd even think that some woman drove you to this point....And the best part? I bet she was some tiny, sweet little thing. And she sent big bad Jasper Whitlock running off."
She was too close. How she could just guess these things... it wasn't normal. Who was this woman? And why did I have the feeling this entire game was about to change?
She abruptly stood up, putting her sweater back on. "I think my job here's done. I'll leave you to your hiding. It's been fun, cowboy."
"You can see yourself out. Since you're so at home here."
She looked around the house while grabbing the rest of her things.
"This could never be my home," she smirked. "It's too clean for me. I like things to be a little messy, a little....dirty." She slipped her jacket back on and headed towards the door, not saying another word as she exited.
Hope you guys liked this one, because we had a lot of fun writing it.
Reviews are love as usual.