“I dunno, I need to check with the boss lady first…I…”
“Oh go on, where’s your sense of adventure?” Nikolai’s bright blue eyes fixed on the petite blonde on his lap, his head tilting as he offered her a playful smirk, “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her…much…and besides, you’re not beholden to her when you’re not working…are you? Does she own your soul now, because that would be…”
His words trailed off and he made a face, blinking back fleeting images of Gods and monsters and men who thought they owned souls. It was getting harder to keep his head clear, without Baelian at the forefront to sift through the unnecessary shit that his psyche continually threw at him.
Harder…and more annoying…
“Are you okay sugar?” the blonde asked, genuine concern flitting across her pale features. She was chewing on her lip, a hand coming up to brush back his hair as he stared at her, his head instinctually flinching away from her touch. She looked surprised, then apologetic, and Niki scowled.
“Don’t touch the hair,” he said to her in a low voice and she nodded, suddenly uncomfortable. “Where is your Mistress of the Manor anyway?” he went on, his tone and mood shifting in an instant…the smile plastered back on his face as he looked about, “She said she was gonna meet me here and it’s been like ten minutes already…” his hand slipped up under the blonde’s skirt casually, fingers pinching her thigh and making her squeal. It made him laugh. “You,” he said to her, kissing her cheek, “Are like a fucking chew toy…” he bit her shoulder suddenly and she squeaked again, making them both laugh.
As far as houses of ‘ill repute’ went, the Siren’s Den was one of the classier establishments…it’s ostentatious glamour just that tiny bit on the right side of gaudy to make the customer feel that their illusion of class was still intact. He wondered how much of that was the Barbuto family influence and how much was Devota herself.
-Where are you, little bird? The cat is trying very hard not to eat all your little canaries…but time is a-ticking…-
Niki frowned, glancing at the handful of women strewn around the room, watching him…some with amusement, some with envy and one or two wiser souls with just the right hint of wary mistrust that they all should have had.
They knew who he was…he’d been around enough since the rebuild…but…
He shook his head again at the strange pang that accompanied the memory of those who had come and gone before.
Sometimes, Baelian’s moods were tiresome.
“For fuck’s sake Codsy, I’ll be fine. It’s just a meeting, on my turf no less…”
Codsworth narrowed his eyes at her as he opened the car door, watching Devota Barbuto step out and swan through the entryway of her establishment. She was putting on false bravado for both him and the women within, waving him away and giving them a fake smile as they greeted her.
-It’s not the same. You’re not mine. I miss my girls.-
These women, they belonged to Leon as far as she was concerned – there were far too many blondes and brunettes for her liking.
-I guess while he’s over in Italy, they’re my responsibility again…-
She pushed her way through the throng of females gently, pretending to listen to what some of them were saying as she reached the bar, her loyal ‘footman’ in tow. Leon seemed to have a particular taste in women, preferring either wannabe femme fatales or bubbly social butterflies.
-And some of those brunettes look far too much like me…-
Devota took up the drink that the barboy offered with a ghost of a smile, her mind flickering briefly to Dmitri and the way that he would tease her as he fixed her poison of choice.
Then it all changed…
-Everything always changes.-
The Siren’s Den, beautiful as Devota found it, held far too many phantoms now for her to ever really feel comfortable there. Too many of her loved ones had died within its walls, while she’d flounced about blind and power hungry, and as much as she loved the club, she knew that her time there was limited.
-Sooner or later, you’re gonna have to cut loose-
“Speaking of…” she murmured to herself, her eyes falling on the corner across the way where the girls were congregating around the dark-haired and well-dressed man, all of them joking and laughing. She sighed heavily, instructing Codsworth to remain at the bar as she dealt with business. “Hopefully I’ll be back shortly,” she told him, ignoring the man’s disapproving glower as she crossed the floor and slid into the armchair opposite Nikolai, throwing the squeaky blonde on his lap and the other girls a tight smile.
“Peaches, be a sweet thing and give us some privacy…ladies?” she crooned and the women dispersed, the giggling blonde sliding away from Niki and over to Devota, leaning to press a kiss to her Mistress’ cheek. The woman smiled at the moment of affection, and she gave Peaches a gentle pat on the behind as the girl bounced away.
“I trust that my girls have been hospitable, Nikolai?”
She steeled herself slightly before turning her gaze to the man before her, mentally chiding herself for her involuntary reaction to him. While Baelian brought out the emotional and almost childish side of her nature, she couldn’t help but let his other drag out her worst; the part she tried to keep shoved deep down in her subconscious. She could already feel it, bubbling just beneath the surface.
“I imagine your girls are hospitable to anyone with a lot of money and pretty eyes…” came the reply, and Niki grinned at her, slumping lower in his chair and throwing his leg over the arm casually, as if in his own lounge-room and not at a business meeting, “your chairs are always so comfy…” he added randomly, tilting his head at her as his gaze moved over her form.
-Checking for weapons or checking me out? Either is likely with you.-
“But really, I have a few suggestions that I could make…” Niki went on, his brows lofting as he glanced at the gaggle of females across the way, “Adjustments as it were…why the fuck do you have so many blondes?” Something dark washed through his eyes and he scowled for a brief moment before that too was gone and he turned a pleasant smile on his host. “Did you bring me my book? Tell me you’ve brought it for me and this isn’t going to become a thing with us.”
Devota raised an eyebrow.
“The club has been my boy’s responsibility. The blondes were his idea – he has a thing for them,” she leaned forward slightly, one hand nursing her drink while the other combed through her hair absently, “He was told to dig up the best deals – can’t blame him for doing his job….” she added with a shrug, taking a sip of her drink, the smooth liquid relaxing her slightly. Her gaze danced over him, checking for weapons just as he had with her. “And no. I did not bring the book. It’s still in a safe place, as I told you last time.”
Niki held out his hands as she looked him over, perking a brow and smirking.
“Am I to your satisfaction, Ms Barbuto?” he asked coyly, winking, though his smile faded as she mentioned the journal, his expression all at once becoming serious. “Have you read it?” he asked, blinking. It was a genuine question. “I told you what it was…doesn’t it make you curious too?”
She sniggered at his egotistic display, nodding slightly and rolling her eyes. There was something almost childlike in his gaze now, his eyes widening as he studied her face, his mind no doubt working a mile a minute while he appraised her every micro-expression – presumably for some hint of what to exploit.
“That’s a loaded question and you know it,” she laughed wearily, pausing for a moment to consider his words, tapping against her lips with a finger. “I haven’t read it,” she said finally, “Baelian told me to keep it safe, and away from you and, while I’m curious, I’m nothing if not an honest woman.”
Niki smiled at her again and she suppressed a small shiver, determined not to let him get to her the way that he had before all this trouble began.
‘Come on…come to my side. It’s fun on my side.’
Whatever he saw in her eyes, he was on it like a cat on a bird in an instant. His smile widened and he sat up, leaning his elbows on his knees and gazing at her.
“Sue me, I have an ego…a bottomless well of need to be adored by everyone…courtesy of one father or another, I’m sure you can identify…” he blinked at her, chewing absently on his lip when she spoke of being honest. “If it’s the truth you want, I have nothing to hide. You have the book, I want it, I’m willing to do just about anything to get it…part of me is hoping that your terms will be deliciously degrading…the other part wants you to say no so I can paint the walls red…” his lashes fluttered and he licked his lips, “It’s an exhausting conflict of motivation, let me tell you…” he laughed, though the mirth did not reach his eyes, and a hand rose to rake back his dark hair. “Why do you think that he told you not to give it to me?” he asked casually.
Devota leaned back, biting her own lip and looking away. She slung one leg over the other, the sparkles in her dress catching the light.
“Yes, I know the feeling. It’s nice to be adored isn’t it…” she trailed off slightly, the hairs rising on the back of her neck at the talk of bloodshed. “You’re willing to do quite a lot for the sake of simple curiosity…” she kept her eyes averted as she glanced at the girls, and at Codsworth watching them with a blatant disregard for subtlety, “As for painting the walls…” Devota’s gaze flicked back to Nikolai, anger filling her features, “So long as you aren’t painting my walls red, I really don’t give a fuck what you do. I’m not going to be threatened into giving you what you want – and as delightful as it would be to have you on your knees in front of me for the sake of a damn book, I’m not going to be roped into being what I used to be back then just so you can get off on it. I’ve grown up…” she paused, collecting herself before going on, “Honestly I have no clue why he told me not to show you – he’s a part of you, shouldn’t you know? I’m pretty pissed that I wasn’t given the full details…but I owe him big time.”
“Do you just?” tilting his head, Niki regarded her in interest. Her threats and anger seemed only to amuse him – or delight, if he was entirely honest – his cobalt hues sparkling at her ire, pupils dilating in instant arousal as he shifted in his seat. “And what, pray tell, do you think you owe him for? Because from where my memories are sitting…you already gave him plenty…” Resting his chin on one hand, he eyed her. “And just so you know, no one ever really ‘grows up.’ We all just pretend that we have so people are less likely to question our actions and motives. Given the right encouragement…you’d be surprised how quickly most return to those ‘fun times.’ I call bullshit, Devota.”
She exhaled, the breath hissing out from between her teeth.
“Then what the fuck do you want me to tell you, Niki?” she threw back the rest of her drink irritably, eyebrows furrowed as she discarded the empty glass on the table beside her, “I do understand. You and I both know I do, so don’t play with me…” she growled, “Considering that Baelian was the one who was there for me when this place became a massacre site, and when Corval abducted me…I do owe him,” she stared at him, “What have I done for him that could possibly compare, really?”
Devota was quickly losing the battle to reign in her temper – she was almost snarling now. She could see Codsworth out of the corner of her eye stepping away from the bar and closer towards them.
“I have grown up. I take no joy in making people bleed unless they ask very nicely, or really deserve it…”
Niki couldn’t hide his smile, and he didn’t even try, her response making his lashes flutter, as if he were feeding off her rage. It killed her to admit that he was getting to her, and she grit her teeth, glancing at Codsworth and giving a slight shake of her head to stay his approach. The man rolled his eyes and turned back to the bar. Devota could swear she heard him muttering to himself.
“And what about me?” Niki asked in a low voice, perking a brow as she let her gaze shift back to him. He slid off the armchair and onto his knees, crawling like a panther to close the distance between them, his arms moving to rest on her lap, those blue eyes gazing up at her as he put his chin on his hands. “I sent you that motherfucker’s head. In a box. With a bow…” he blinked, his lips quirking at some memory or another, “Does that make me bad? Am I the enemy now that I killed your puppet-master? Do you hate me for cutting those strings, and doing what Baelian couldn’t…or will you concede that you fucking well owe me too?” His tone was even, the fingers of one hand curling and uncurling against her thigh as he stared at her, his dark hair hanging in his eyes.
Devota jumped at the initial contact, letting out a hesitant sigh as her fingers twitched and her cheeks flushed. Internally she blamed the drink she had thrown down for the tremor that reverberated through her, and she looked down at him angrily.
“I wanted to kill that bastard,” she said through gritted teeth, “I wanted to torture him for at least a week before he died…but no, someone had to decapitate the fucker before I could…” Her heartbeat was racing as she eyed him, “You’re not the enemy, Niki, you’re just a fucking pain in my ass…” she huffed, venom lacing her words, “I know Baelian didn’t have the balls to kill Corval…I was counting on that…” she bit her lip. Her leg twitched beneath his touch and she mentally chided herself.
-You are better than this. Don’t let him bait you…-
Niki blinked, a myriad of emotion dancing behind his gaze as he let one hand drop to her ankle, pale digits curling around it as he slowly drew his fingernails lightly up her calf.
“Mmmhmm, I’m sorry…I was bad…” he pressed his cheek against Devota’s knee, his lashes fluttering, “You can torture me if it makes you feel better…” he added, his lips quirking, “Or…” his grip tightened on her leg, his fingers digging into her soft flesh, “I can torture you…you’re a sub like me, right? All bravado and balls and no one to make us behave…” he smiled almost shyly, turning his face into her lap, teeth nipping at her knee through the fabric of her dress.
Devota hissed, her eyes fluttering slightly as her fingers moved to his shoulders, her lips turning upwards into a smirk.
“Both. Both would be nice….” she said softly, her tone sharpening as she squeezed his shoulders, “I would take such pleasure in fucking you up Niki…” she shivered and twitched at his advancing hands, both trying to get away from and leaning into the touch all at once. “Maybe you’re right…maybe I do owe you. But not that book…”
He pulled away suddenly, moving to sit at her feet with his back against the arms of the chair, his head tilted against her thigh.
“I want it,” he said flatly, “I don’t want anything else. That journal was my mother’s and I need to know…” he paused, wrinkling his nose and trying to find the words. Failing, he shrugged.
Devota’s brow lofted and she tilted her head, mulling over this new piece of information before chuckling darkly.
“So it’s not curiosity at all that has you after it…it’s need,” she murmured, letting her hands slide from his shoulders and bringing one to his face, her fingers trailing his cheekbone lightly. His eyes closed beneath her touch, then he huffed in annoyance.
“Maybe,” he murmured, “But so what? Potato potahto, the outcome is the same…” his breath had become somewhat ragged, his right hand lifting to curl around her leg again, “If it was your father’s journal…or Corval’s, or Dmitri’s…wouldn’t you want to know?” He made some kind of sound in his throat that sounded like a purr and nuzzled into her leg, sighing.
Her eyes narrowed and she chewed on her lip, her fingers trailing up and down over his face, an annoyed chuckle escaping her and she leaned over to look him in the eyes.
“Aren’t you suddenly so cute and amenable…” she breathed, “Yes, if it were my family, I would want to know. But it’s not my family, and it’s not their diary, is it?” she swallowed, biting her lip at the sight he made, her leg twitching again when he touched it.
Niki made a face at her mocking, though the amused glimmer didn’t leave those cobalt hues.
“You could read it to me!” he exclaimed suddenly, turning over onto his knees again and taking hold of her legs, pushing them apart and wriggling his way between them. “I can come over for, like, visits, and we can have a drink and, you know, whatever…” his brow lofted and he smirked, “And then you can read the entries aloud to me. Like a bedtime story…” Absurd as it sounded, he seemed quite enamoured of the idea, like a child far too excited about an impending treat. His fingers dug into her thighs and he pulled her closer against him, drawing her lower on the armchair and prompting a surprised gasp from her as she slid into the cushions.
“I did say I wouldn’t let you read it,” she hummed in thought, briefly and honestly considering his proposal for a few moments. Her dress had bunched up slightly as he slid between her legs, and her breath hitched, her brain whirring as her hands resumed their prior place on his shoulders. Curiosity wound its way across her features as she regarded him. “Say it was a possibility…your proposal. What would I get for going along with this little ‘story time’ of yours?”
Nikolai blinked at her, his head tilted back and his hands moving to her waist. The guile was gone from his expression and tone, he looked for all the world now like a child facing off with a parent, pleading for a favour and promising to be good.
“What do you want?” he asked innocently, his pupils now fully dilated. “I mean, that you don’t already have?” his lashes fluttered and he breathed her in, his body shifting against hers in a way that made his breath catch.
Devota closed her eyes for a moment, her brain delightfully fuzzy despite that part of her that screamed to push him away and order him out of the club.
What did she want? She honestly didn’t know anymore. Leaning in slightly, her thumb and forefinger curled about his chin and she stared at him, trying to repress the jolt that shot through her body as those blue eyes met hers.
“First, I want your bloody brother to back the fuck off, before I lose my temper at him. Second…” her eyes glazed over for a moment as she let her mind dance back over the past few months, her heart thumping loudly in her chest.
-Why deny your own nature? Why repress what you were made to be? You may be lonely, tired and run down…but you’re still a fucking Barbuto.-
“Second,” she repeated, “I want respect. No more ‘Devota the whore,’ no more drinks thrown at me…no more people looking down on me. I want to be powerful. Feared. I want a position of respect, like I bloody well deserve…” she growled, her eyes flashing.
Niki didn’t move away as she touched him, allowing her to hold his face tilted upwards towards her, his long lashes growing heavy as he peered at her with hungry eyes.
“I will do my best,” he murmured, his hands clenching and unclenching around the fabric of her dress. He shifted again on his knees, arching his body up and drawing his breath in sharply at the friction between them. “You already have power, Cara…why do you think the wolves are circling? They can smell it on you…” he leaned forward, inhaling her scent…”It’s intoxicating,” he added, twisting the dress in his hands.
Her eyes narrowed slightly, her lip curling as he moved in closer. She could feel his warm breath on her face…he smelt like bourbon and cologne.
“No, Nikolai, you won’t try, you’ll make it happen or you won’t hear a word from that bloody book. What if I want more? More respect? More power? If you can’t offer me that, then what can you offer?” she replied, her eyes boring into his. Her own breath hitched slightly at the shift of his body against hers, and she laughed suddenly, letting out a resigned gasp. “You’re going to press wrinkles into my designer dress, Bello…” she cooed. He perked a brow, tilting his head in her grasp and peering at her with an even stare, his lips quirking slightly and his fingers relaxing on her clothing.
“Respect has to be earned, or it isn’t real, Devota Barbuto…” Niki said evenly, his tongue caressing each syllable of her name as if he were tasting her, “I can help you make a name for yourself here, I can put you in a position that will demand they see you at the very least as something of an equal…but the rest is up to you…” his hands slid to her hips again and he let his eyes close, sighing softly as he shifted against her, “Flapping about demanding respect doesn’t get it for you…you’ve gotta take what you want…” he murmured.
“Well then what do you suggest?” she asked, eyebrow quirking as she let the hand holding his chin drop to curl about his lapel, “I’m more than willing to carve my own way, to take what I want and enjoy every minute of it…problem is, half the time I don’t know what I want…” she grumbled, suddenly feeling very distrustful, her eyes narrowing at him, “You’d better not be playing me, Katorga.”
“Oh cry me a river,” Nikolai released her and sat back on the floor at her feet, crossing his legs like a child at school, “Baby, I’m the most honest guy you’ll ever meet…” he rested his hands on his knees, his fingers twitching as if he wanted to touch her again. “What I’m saying is that I can tell my crew to respect you, but it will be fake until you earn it or demand it for yourself. As for the rest of the world, it’s easy enough to make you notorious, sweets, but to survive in this game you gotta be subtle and clever too. And think long-term…” Licking his lower lip, he reached up to flick back his unruly hair. “Step one – you put yourself in a position of mutual benefit that pits Grigori’s interests against mine. If his fucking with you affects MY fun…we have a legitimate cause for complaint…”
Devota opened her eyes, letting out a small laugh at his mocking.
-Trustworthy my ass-
“Believe me when I say that I’m looking at playing ‘the long game,’” she assured him, “I’ve been around long enough and played my cards to an acceptable degree thus far…” she pushed the images of Dmitri and Corval from her mind in annoyance, before Niki could see the sliver of doubt creeping in, “I wouldn’t have been able to do half of what I have done, or achieved any of this, if I weren’t at least somewhat subtle or clever…thank you very much.” She watched as he flicked his hair back again, reaching forward to move an errant strand into place herself. His hand snapped up, clamping about her wrist tightly and keeping her there…his face turning into her palm and nuzzling against her skin. His lips brushed her slender digits for a moment before he was releasing her and folding his hands back into his lap. Devota’s eyebrows shot up. “Apologies. You had a hair out of place, I was trying to fix it…” she explained almost sheepishly, feeling a little silly, “As for your brother…well…I’d say it’s less that he’s fucking with me and more like he wants my help but can’t just be a big boy and ask for it. Seems all your Katorga’s like to threaten my livelihood when it suits you…” she paused, curiosity washing over her momentarily, “You are aware of Grigori’s overreaching ambitions yes, Bello? He spewed a lot of nonsense the last time we spoke, but there was merit to a good amount of what he said too.”
Nikolai seemed to consider her words for a long moment before replying.
“Grigori is a sociopath. He never needs help, he just likes to make people dance…he’s a Bellamantis…” he leaned on his elbows, watching her from the floor. “And according to my father, his days are numbered…I imagine he plans to live it up until then…”
Devota nodded, placing one hand up and signalling to the barboy to send two more drinks over. She ran a fingertip along the edge of the glass beside her, thinking deeply.
“Mmm, I find that ironic…considering what your brother plans on doing. He tried to use Joshua, then my own men, in a bid to gain my support for his little endeavour,” she licked her lips, “I understand now. He wants to prolong his life. A lot of what he said makes a bit more sense…no wonder he was so cutthroat about it…” she smirked, “Grigori’s a sociopath, yes, but he’s also very ambitious and doesn’t want to die, it would seem.” She pondered for a moment longer before looking at Niki. “Tell me, in your opinion…who would win in a war between your father and brother?”
Niki looked at her as if her question was ridiculous, his lips curving into a smile as a short laugh escaped him and he shook his head.
“Grigori thought he’d killed my father, years ago…Alexei had my mother fake her death, orchestrated the end of Fundays and managed to turn everyone into the lying fucking narcissists he knew they were…” he sounded almost in awe of the man, “He’s been alive all this time and pulling the strings, and he’s not done by half…Grigori doesn’t have a hope in hell…” his smile faded and he frowned, perplexion washing through his features as he shrugged, “Whatever, that’s their issue to deal with…wanna open a brothel with me? I want one and it’s bad business for us to be rivals…” Niki’s blue eyes glimmered with mirth as the conversation turned on a dime, his grin returning as he reached out a hand to toy with her foot.
“Well, that answers which side I should be on, then,” she chuckled, both at the sudden change of topic and his answer to her earlier questions, “What now? A brothel? You’re joking right?”
One look at his face told her that he was not. She bit her lip, glancing at the young man that brought her a fresh drink and waiting until he had placed the bourbon beside Nikolai’s chair and removed himself with the empty glasses before speaking again.
“I guess it could be fun…did you have anything particular in mind?”
Her father had taught her never to discount any deal before exploring all the angles, and in spite of herself she was strangely and suddenly interested in this idea…despite Niki’s not too long ago threats about painting the walls with blood.
-Alliances are better than enemies…especially ruthless ones-
Nikolai shrugged and reached out a hand to grab hold of Devota’s armchair, rising to his feet. It seemed strange, towering over her all of a sudden, those luminous eyes studying her from his new vantage point.
“Fun eh? Like your last one has been fun?” he smirked, glancing across the way at Codsworth – who was leaning on the bar and pretending not to watch them – before turning back to his own chair, sliding onto it unceremoniously and taking up his drink. Devota’s eyes followed him, offering a smirk that hid the twang of guilt at his reference to the massacre.
“Yes, well, we can blame Dmitri for that,” she chimed, her jaw tightening as he waved her response away as if he was already bored with the conversation.
“Sure,” he said dismissively, “I want something classy, but not too stuffy…bohemian…you know, kind of like where the artists all hang out…something a little bit different,” he pondered and his eyes grew distant, “Fundays were always so…surreal…like you were fucking dreaming…” he paused, his eyes suddenly growing sharp as he looked at her over his glass of bourbon, “Do you remember?”
Her smile dropped and she grew pensive.
“I’m not sure. I remember it being like a haze – in hindsight it always reminded me of one of those high-class opium dens that you read about in books. Lavish but…not…at the same time. Papa stressed beauty above all things, to me his parties were always like stepping into Wonderland when I was little…” she laughed slightly, eyes dark, “Everyone was so tall and everything seemed so wonderful and whimsical to me…at first…” Devota broke out of the memory and waved a hand nonchalantly, “But that’s just what I remember, after all – and unless our parents met and I don’t know about it, that’s all I can offer. I know that my father had heard about Jerald’s parties, I heard him talk about one once, when I was older…and no doubt he emulated what he imagined they were from the reports of others…but I really have no idea about your Fundays.”
Niki was watching her, those intense eyes drinking her in, his expression completely devoid of emotion for a good few moments before he shook his head.
“He didn’t tell you, did he?” that smirk returned and he rolled his eyes, shrugging at her as if to say ‘that’s ok, I’m sure it’s fine.’ Swirling the clinking ice around in his glass, he gazed at the bourbon thoughtfully, pondering for a moment, as if he were trying to choose his words carefully. “I met your father, once. Or Baelian did. Whatever. He stopped by one night during a party…he had business with Jerald. Something to do with Marcus and an old debt – I don’t know, who the fuck cares…” Niki tilted his head, gazing at her fixedly. “He brought a little girl with him…blindfolded with gauze or lace of some sort at Jerald’s insistence…they gave her ambrosia, then let her loose in the room…her father wanted to see what she’d do…”
Devota’s eyes grew wide as he spoke, her hand grasping her glass tighter as she listened intently to the drawling words. Her mind was a blank, and suddenly her throat was very dry. For a good few moments after he finished she was speechless, then her eyes flashed and she shook her head.
“…And what did that little girl do?” she asked slowly.
Niki’s eyes slid closed as he sipped his drink, savouring the taste and letting it burn down his throat and overcome his senses as he swallowed.
“Mmm,” he murmured, “What indeed…” Cobalt hues moved to meet her gaze and he put the glass on the small side table beside his chair. Then he was rising to his feet again, clasping his hands behind his back and offering her a short and cordial bow. “I’ve taken up too much of your time, Ms Barbuto…I do apologise,” he gave her a charming grin, his eyes lowering almost demurely, “Perhaps we can continue this conversation when you come and see me for our first book club date…my place, we’ll stay in…dinner on me….” he let his glimmering gaze meet hers, smiling prettily, “We can share stories of little girls at parties…” he murmured.
Devota knew this game, and all at once she felt sick, her stomach churning.
‘…they gave her ambrosia, then let her loose in the room…her father wanted to see what she’d do…’
Reigning herself in, she too stood, offering her hand cordially.
“Yes, of course. It looks like we’ll both be telling each other stories,” she smiled, bowing her head in respect, “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Nikolai Katorga.”
Part of her wanted to tell him that she thought he was a blatant liar, a big part of her wanted to slap that smug grin off his face.
-Why would he lie? Aside from to get what he wants…like Baelian warned you he would…-
Her head swam with this new information, shock gnawing at the edges of her consciousness as he moved over to squeeze her hand. She wondered if he could feel the way it trembled slightly in his grasp, or was that tremor coming from him? His lashes fluttered oh so briefly as he held her there, his smile widening.
“Oh, it was my pleasure honeycakes, believe me…” Niki replied, “But seriously, don’t thank me too much…you’re not going to appreciate what I tell you from now on…at all…” he let her go, giving her a wink, “I’ll have some potential site plans sent over, and a few of my favourite building options so far…” he added with a nod, “So you can make up your mind properly.”
-Unless it was Baelian that was lying this whole time…you always wondered why he bothered with you when he had that whole harem. Maybe it was guilt? Fuck knows what could have happened if you were actually there….with them…fuck knows what they did to you…what he did to you…what you saw…-
“I don’t care how bad the memories are, so long as I have them,” Devota forced a chuckle, her head still swimming as Niki released her, his smile almost amused as she steeled herself. “I’ll have one of my interior decorators draft some potential options so you can get a feel for the place…” she said with a nod.
-The place? Like the place that you don’t remember? Made up your mind already have you?-
It had felt strange to shake hands. She’d always been taught to kiss cheeks, as was tradition, but somehow it hadn’t seemed fitting for someone like Nikolai.
-At least not yet.-
“Ciao Bello,” she said to him with another nod, swallowing and turning to look for Codsworth, who was standing (and brooding) faithfully by the bar with her coat. She took the first couple of steps towards him, a small and delicate gasp escaping her as she felt Niki’s arms slipping about her waist, his breath on her ear as he slunk in behind her with the speed and grace of a cat.
“Next time,” he purred at her in a low voice, “wear something less likely to crease…or that you don’t mind having destroyed…” his tongue snaked out to lick her cheek, his teeth grazing her earlobe, “Till then, sweetcheeks…” Pulling away, he threw Codsworth a nod. “Later old man,” he called, then turned to Peaches, who was still hovering nearby, and blew her a kiss. The woman giggled and blushed, which made Niki laugh as he headed out the front door, letting it slam behind him.
“Well, he certainly knows how to make an exit…” Devota forced a laugh and bit her lip as Codsworth scowled, holding her jacket open for her.
“I don’t like him, Madame,” came the gruff reply. He could see that something was wrong, it was written on his face as he waited for her to put her arms through the holes.
“Jealous, Amore?” Devota teased, poking her tongue out at his scrutiny and slipping into the offered garment. Codsworth frowned, then chuckled slightly, shaking his head.
“Perhaps,” he muttered non-committally. “Or I don’t like the look he’s left on your face…”
Devota’s smiled faded briefly and she closed her eyes, before once again gathering herself and giving Codsworth an almost coy smile.
“Well then, we can discuss this in the limo,” she replied, winking at him and calling a farewell to the girls, ignoring the way that her stomach twisted as she looked at them.
‘Fun like your last one was fun..?’
Chewing on her lip, she waited for Codsworth to open the front door, sashaying through it and towards the car outside with her faithful shadow in tow.
The Siren’s Den door closed behind them with a thud, and to Devota, it sounded oddly final.
Written by R. Lioncourt and N. Ristovski.
All characters and storylines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017. Natalie Ristovski.