Black Of Mood
Quentin Black Mystery #6
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I thought I’d known what angry looked like on Black before all this. I hadn’t.
Black takes Miri with him to New York, where he thrusts her into a world of Wall Street, talk shows, fancy dinner parties and being hounded by paparazzi. Although he’s playing the part of smirking Wall Street pirate, all of this is part of his new business venture, which, as far as Miri can tell, consists of hunting down and killing every single vampire in existence on Earth.
Mostly, however, Black wants Brick. He flat-out won’t stop until he’s cut the head or heart from the vampire king who put him in that federal prison in Louisiana.
Alarmed at the changes she sees in Black, Miri grows increasingly worried at the lengths he seems willing to go to bring the vampire kingdom down. Between his nightmares, mood swings, late-night disappearances, a new infatuation with swordplay, and outright lies, she can’t help worrying about his mind, too, and if trauma is fueling this obsession even more than anger.
When a series of terrorist attacks take place in the southern United States and Black appears to be involved, Miri’s fears worsen. More and more, she starts to wonder who is hunting whom, whether Black is baiting the vampires into a confrontation or Brick is just manipulating him once again for his own purposes.
Chapter 1: CELEBRITY
I ADMIT, I wasn’t remotely prepared for what greeted us when the car door opened.
I think I’d more than halfway convinced myself that all the people waiting outside the studio’s glass doors, milling there on that curb and staring at the blacked-out windows of our SUV, couldn’t really be there for us.
Black clearly didn’t harbor those delusions.
He slipped on a pair of mirrored sunglasses as the car rolled to a stop, his whole expression changing to that of smiling-shark rich guy in a blink. Even his light felt different, that psychic energy that surrounded the mind and body of every seer, including me.
Staring at his face, I struggled to adjust to the difference.
The door opened in front of us before I was all the way there.
He got out first, shielding me from the worst of it.
Even so, I felt like a deer in headlights as cameras flashed all around us. Hand-held phones and microphones got shoved in both of our faces as questions were shouted, mostly at him, but also at me. I barely knew what was happening before we were outside the car.
Then Black’s people appeared, surrounding us out of nowhere.
Cowboy and Devin materialized on one side of me. Ace, Dex and Melissa appeared on the other side of Black. All of them except Cowboy wore mirrored sunglasses identical to Black’s, and I knew from the bulges in their jackets they were all carrying like Black, too.
In that, Cowboy also remained the sole exception.
He wore his gun on his hip in an outside holster, a massive Colt Python with a carved ivory grip he’d told me he’d gotten from his grandfather.
I couldn’t help wondering if him wearing it like that was even legal.
His fingers never left the gun’s handle as he scanned the crowd with his light gray eyes, shoulders hunched in a beat up jean jacket and faded T-shirt.
As for Black himself, he moved so gracefully, I barely made sense of what he was doing. Before I could attempt to field a single question shouted in my direction, he’d inserted the bulk of his body between me and the crush of reporters. I followed the direction of his hands numbly, stepping behind him at the prompting of his fingers and the angling of his long body.
What the hell were all of them doing here?
Get used to it, doc, Black answered grimly in my mind, although I hadn’t aimed my stray thought at him. You knew what going this route would mean. I warned you.
Swallowing, I didn’t answer.
I had known. Like many things in life, however, the reality was different.
I stared up at the skyscraper we were about to enter, feeling my nerves worsen. I hadn’t been thrilled with a lot of aspects of Black’s new “strategy” to be honest. I knew after today, after what Black was about to do inside that building, there would be no turning back.
“No questions right now, please...” Black held up a hand, flashing that killer grin of his. Mirrored sunglasses hid his eyes from the video screens recording us from all sides. “Folks, please. We’re running late. I’m sorry, we don’t have time to chat right now.”
Even as he said it, motion caught my eye and I turned.
Black’s lawyer, Lawrence Farraday––“Larry” as he insisted I call him––hurried up to us through the crowd, managing to squeeze his way through the crush of bodies and cameras despite his relatively small form. He had two bulky security guards in tow, presumably hired by the studio, but they appeared to be following Larry, rather than the reverse.
As per usual, he had an expensive-looking briefcase clutched in front of him like a shield.
He looked harried, though. His bad toupee was even more ruffled on his head than usual, looking more like dried grass that needed mowing than real hair. His gray suit looked like it might have been period-wear from the 1960s, and his shoes were cheap tennis shoes you might find in a bargain bin at a department store. The latter were so big they bunched up the pleats of his dress pants, making them even more noticeable.
Despite his appearance, he was one of the best lawyers in the business.
I’d known his name even on the West Coast, from some of the high profile cases he’d won in New York.
Like Black, he seemed determined to make people underestimate him.
“Thank God you’re here,” he huffed, his face redder than usual in the fall air. “Come inside, come inside...” he said, waving us forward. “No questions!” he snapped, glaring around at the reporters. “No questions right now! Leave Mr. Black alone!”
“Larry, Larry.” Black smiled his widest. “Don’t harass the fine people of the press! They are one of the foundational pillars of our very society!”
A few reporters laughed, shaking their heads at Black’s remark.
Unfazed, Farraday tapped the face of his watch with a crooked finger. “You’re late,” he told Black. “Security needs to clear your team before I can let them backstage.” He looked at me, smiling for the first time. “Except Miri, of course. You and she are both on the list already.”
“Is he here?” Black said.
“Inside. I have a new list of questions. He made a few changes.”
He turned, guiding me in front of him towards the path Farraday just cleared. I took my first step towards him when a leggy blond reporter stepped in front of me, blocking my way and shoving a microphone in Black’s face.
“How did you do it, Mr. Black?” she said coyly. I glanced up and back, saw her smiling at him with full, pink lips, her eyes conspiratorial. “Do you have a system you work with? Some kind of model? Are you going to share your secret with the rest of us?”
I heard the subtext of her question and tensed.
When I glanced at Black however, he only gave her a brief look, smirked.
“No,” he said.
“Aww, come on,” she cajoled. “They say you just broke the record for single-day trading for the last seven years. Now this thing with oil prices? You can’t pretend that’s just dumb luck––”
“We all have good days.”
I winced. Black, I warned softly. A terrorism attack is not to be referred to as a “good day,” no matter how much you profit from it...
He changed course smoothly.
“...Of course, what happened in Texas is horrible,” he added. “It’s a terrible, unspeakable tragedy, so you can’t exactly put that in the same camp as a few other good guesses on the market I might have had. No one ever wants to profit off something like that.”
That better? he asked me softly.
I fought not to roll my eyes. And you wonder why Nick thought you were a sociopath when he first met you.
The reporter snorted. “Good guesses? Good days? Please. Four hundred million on dumb luck? You know they’re calling you the Rock Star of Wall Street now? That there are websites devoted to figuring out what system you’re using to beat the futures markets?”
He grinned. “Of course I know that. I’m here, aren’t I?”
Again, I fought not to roll my eyes.
The reporter let out a snort, half humor and half disbelief.
I might have done the same if I were her.
Black was already moving away from her, gripping my arm tightly in his hand as he kept me in front of him, wedged between his body and Cowboy’s.
He gave her a dismissive wave as he turned.
“We really don’t have time, Miss. I’m sorry.”
“Who’s the friend you’re hiding there, Mr. Black?” she shouted after him, as we moved away. “Is she your girlfriend?”
Black stopped at that, turning his head.
Looking down at me, his face grew serious briefly, his lips pursing in a faint frown. Then he looked back at the reporter, a faint smile visible on the corner of his lips.
“No,” he said.
Without another word, he turned his back on her, leading me with him through the crowd. Once Cowboy and Dex moved in front of us, clearing a wider path, Black pulled me against him, both hands on my shoulders as he slid closer to me, so that we walked almost like one person. Something about his energy grew denser once he’d done that, and whatever it was, it seemed to keep reporters from getting close to either of us, but especially me.
Thanks for that, doc, he sent to me softly. I guess I need to step up those “Acting Human 101” courses of yours... apparently it’s not rubbing off in osmosis as much as I’d hoped.
Grunting, I didn’t answer.
He added, The problem is, I tend to react to what people are actually thinking, not what they say. A lot of them don’t give a shit regardless of what they say, doc.
It’s not always about caring in the moment, Black––
I know, social fabric. Feigned empathy. Blah, blah, blah.
It’s not all feigned, I sent back, warning.
I know. He squeezed my hand, sending me a pulse of heat laced with a softer apology. I know you care, doc. And you’re right, other people do, too. I just don’t run into a lot of the caring types in my “rich douchebag” circles, as Cowboy calls them.
Glancing up at him, I didn’t answer.
Feeling him there briefly, meaning the real Black, under the celebrity mask, I found myself focusing on that, instead. Turning over what he’d said, along with the look I’d seen on his face before he answered the woman’s last question, I tried to decide how he was doing.
He was certainly acting like everything was okay. He acted like that more all the time, but weirdly, the lighter his outside demeanor, the more I doubted whether that facade was real.
I couldn’t help but be conscious of the protectiveness emanating off him even here, as he ushered me those last few steps from the curb to the studio’s glass doors. That intensity might have been smothering, even unnerving, coming from anyone else.
Coming from him though, I have to say, I liked it. I liked it a lot.
More than liked it. Truthfully, I was starved for it.
When it came to our physical relationship––as well as the part of our relationship where we shared “light,” what he called the psychic energy that tended to feature prominently in our sex life––he’d been keeping me at arm’s length for weeks.
I understood, I really did. The logical part of my mind understood it, at least.
He’d been through hell. He had a right to physical autonomy right now, even more so than usual. He’d had it taken from him forcibly in that prison for weeks.
But the less-rational part of my mind was a lot less... well, rational about it. Even now, in front of all these people, I had to fight not to push him for more. That part of me was aggressive, demanding, wanting to merge with him in a way that didn’t wholly make sense to my analytical mind. It also wanted him open, authentically himself. It wanted him with me––and outside of the increasingly dense wall he wore around his person like a living shield.
Whatever part of me screamed for that, it didn’t strike me as particularly understanding about Black’s need for personal space.
Even being cocooned in his light for just those few precious seconds managed to relax something in me so intensely it might have embarrassed me if I could bring myself to care. I could feel the parts of me that wanted that from him, that demanded it now that he was letting me feel him, even as other parts of my more logical mind continued to struggle with the sheer aggression behind that drive.
Relax, doc. He sent warmth over me. Relax... we’re good. Everything’s good.
Even so, I felt him withdraw slightly again.
Once he had, I had to bite my lip to keep from snapping at him.
I was still fighting those competing pulls as we entered the glass revolving door, which spit us out into a carpeted lobby with a two-story ceiling. A massive chandelier hung from the middle of a round mosaic in the ceiling’s center. To our left stood the reception desk and the ticket counter, along with a coat check and security.
I knew in two hours or so, this same lobby would be teeming with people. We’d driven past the queue on the way in, so I knew it would be a packed house. Black told me some of them had been queued up since midday. Apparently corporate tickets started going for three times the listed price after Black was announced as the featured guest.
Thinking about that brought another stab of panic.
Forcing my mind still, I followed the staircases with my eyes, noting those that led to the dark red double doors that fed into the auditorium. I was still gazing around when more shouts came from the door, as a few of the reporters tried to get into the lobby past security.
Farraday caught hold of my arm.
I thought he was pulling me away from the tumult outside, but he surprised me, bringing me into his arms for a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“It’s so good to see you, Miriam,” he beamed, holding my arms. “I’ve missed you terribly in San Francisco. You look beautiful, as usual! Positively glowing, my dear! And that’s a lovely outfit to wear here.”
I glanced down at the long skirt I wore and scoop-necked blouse. Truthfully, given all the fanfare outside, I felt completely under-dressed. I should have listened to Black’s fashion consultant, Jonas, who wanted me to wear a gold mini-dress, probably in part to match Black’s eyes. The damned thing made me look half-naked, though, especially when the light shone on it from behind.
This is better, Black joked softly. I saw the other one when he had it on the rack, and I’m pretty sure I’d spend the whole interview with a hard-on if you wore that.
When I started, glancing up, Black scowled, his expression losing its humor.
Guy’s a fucking pervert... his mind muttered.
Black continued to hover over me, but Farraday barely seemed to notice. His eyes remained on mine when I turned back to face the shorter man, and it touched me to see that they were almost bright.
It hit me suddenly, that I hadn’t seen him in the flesh since the airport in Bangkok.
Once the thought sank in, I hugged him too. Maybe harder than I should have.
Farraday grinned wider when I released his back.
Then he turned, sliding to my right and hooking my arm in his.
“They have trays of desserts in the back,” he confided in my ear, as he led me across the red patterned carpet. “Some of them are surprisingly decent.”
Remembering our shared breakfast in Bangkok, I laughed.
“I see you’ve had little success in reigning in this one’s excesses?” he said next, rolling his eyes furtively towards Black and smiling as he brought us toward a side door that led under the staircases. “I tell him to keep a low profile, and this is how he repays me? Two weeks here and he’s booking his own press gigs and has the damned paparazzi following him everywhere? I thought you were going to teach him how to act normal?”
I laughed. “Seriously? You’re going to pin this on me?”
“No.” Farraday sighed. “Sadly, I suspect ‘normal’ will never be in Quentin’s repertoire.”
I laughed again and Farraday smiled at me.
Squeezing my arm, he leaned closer so Black wouldn’t hear him.
“I see he’s still pretending you’re not his girlfriend, too,” he murmured. “I wouldn’t pay it any mind, Miriam. I really wouldn’t. He dotes on you, you know. Honestly, if I didn’t know you, and I didn’t know you could handle him, I’d be worried about just how much he dotes on you. It’s a bit terrifying at times. The way he talks about you, you’re practically his wife, like he skipped the ‘girlfriend’ stage altogether. Knowing him, he’s probably in denial... or hoping you won’t notice as he slowly takes over your life.”
I smiled, fighting to keep my real reaction off my face.
How could Farraday not know?
Black’s whole team knew, I thought, especially after Louisiana.
Did Black order them not to say anything to Farraday for some reason? Did he use a different lawyer for that end of things? I knew Farraday handled criminal issues, as well as some of Black’s business dealings. Did Black have a whole other set of people who worked on the personal finance side of things?
Farraday grunted, apparently not noticing anything strange in my reaction.
“Consider yourself lucky, my dear.” Smiling, he led me through another door as the security guard opened it for us. “God help the poor woman he does claim publicly,” he added, winking. “Can you imagine? Especially now that he’s decided to subject the rest of the world to his insanity.”
Chuckling a little when I managed a smile, he gave me a more serious look.
“Truthfully, the rest of us are a lot more worried he might scare you away. You may not realize this, but he’s a different person since you came into his life, Miriam. A much better one on balance, if you don’t mind my saying.”
Ruefully, I glanced over my shoulder, watching Black as he walked a few paces back with Cowboy, the two of them muttering back and forth as Black gestured smoothly with one hand.
I wondered what that was about.
I wondered if Black would tell me the truth if I asked.
From his face and the more guarded feel of his light, it was something serious.
Even as I thought it, he was grinning at one of the studio executives, clasping his hand warmly and leaning closer to say something in his ear. The man laughed, his expression briefly surprised before he broke out in a broader grin, pumping Black’s hand in return.
My husband, the celebrity.
“Indeed,” I murmured belated to Farraday. “God help us all.”
I hadn’t really meant to say it aloud.
Farraday burst out in a laugh, throwing his head back and squeezing my arm against the side of his body. Still grinning, he patted me on the hand.
“Indeed, my dear. Indeed,” he said, chuckling.
Shoving thoughts of Black from my mind, at least as best as I could, I clasped Farraday’s hand in return, smiling back as we entered the studio’s backstage.
(End sample pages)
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