Where Fools Rush In
Written by: Madame Destine
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters belong to their various creators: Buena Vista Television / The Walt Disney Company and The Gargoyles Saga, and they are used without their express knowledge or consent.
Warning: This is a work of adult fan fiction. It contains explicit depictions of sex, adult language, and is intended for mature readers only. If you are under the age of consent, please stop reading now.
* * * * *
By the dark of a new moon an equally dark and powerful figure glided over the Hudson River. His travel was leisurely, as if he had not a care in the world and in fact, he had few worries, only plans and the ambition to see them through.
The meeting, from which he was only now returning, had been successful. The twin sacks tied at his waist carried the fruits of his labors. In one, there was a sheaf of photographs and the digital camera that had taken them. The other contained the severed hand of the photographer. This the winged figure removed from its bag and tossed into the depths of the river, where the fish would take care of its final disposal.
As the wind sang in his ears and ruffled his long, white hair, he reviewed the events of the evening. The meeting with the nervous little photographer had gone as expected and he'd enjoyed the fear the man had exhibited as he'd stepped into the dirty yellow lamplight of the deserted pier.
Not even the peaked cap that obscured the photographer's face could hide the rat-like human's surprise as he had revealed himself. The cowering man had craned his neck upward and stared openly as he'd flared his dark gray wings to make his already imposing stature even more intimidating. Not even that fool Goliath could match him in physical prowess now that he was restored.
Of course the sniveling little wretch had tried to hold back on him. He'd expected it and so it did not irritate him… much. Wringing the information that there was a copy of the photos on his home computer and that the computer was protected with a palm print encryption device had been laughably simple.
The gargoyle flexed his massive hands. He could still feel the scrawny neck snapping beneath his talons as he twisted just so. He'd searched the body and removed keys and wallet before breaking its elbow over his knee and severing the necessary limb with his foretalon.
He'd used the identification in the wallet to verify its former owner's address. He'd used the hand to break the encryption on the computer so that he could purge all the necessary files.
Perhaps the police would match the corpse they'd find floating in the river tomorrow with the hand he'd discarded. Perhaps they wouldn't.
It was no concern to Thailog. He had more important considerations to occupy his attention.
* * * * *
The studio of Andrea Calhoun, two weeks later…
The telephone rang and Andrea Calhoun looked up startled from the painting she was carefully packaging. She pulled a piece of tape from the heavy black desk dispenser and sealed the bubble wrap envelope that cushioned canvas before attempting to locate the phone.
"Stupid cordless phone," the artist muttered as she scanned the disheveled studio. The phone was no where to be seen but the ringing continued from the direction of the small work table that held her microwave and coffee mug. "There it is!" Andrea cried in triumph as she spied the small white handset sitting underneath her mug.
A wooden frame leaned against her worktable waiting for the bubble-wrapped canvas. She scooted around it, only to knock her shin on an already crated and labeled painting. "Ouch!" she cried, rubbing her leg as she scooped up the phone. "Andrea Calhoun."
"Andrea, it's Sondra, Julie's assistant at the Waverly Gallery."
"Sondra, hi," Andrea replied. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Andrea. I was just calling to verify that your paintings have shipped. The opening of the show is just a few nights away, you know, and people are already anxious to see your work."
Andrea smiled at the compliment but her brow furrowed at the worrisome news that her paintings had gone missing. "I sent most of them out Monday, Sondra. Today's Thursday. You haven't received them yet?" The artist scrambled for the shipping paperwork she kept in a slim purple notebook. "I can give you tracking numbers." She flipped pages until she found the shipping receipts to the San Francisco gallery. "I do have the three paintings you asked about yesterday," she added, "the Moonlight Fantasy series, with me here. The courier is due to pick them up within the hour. They're shipping overnight. It was that or bring them with me when I fly out tomorrow."
There was a flurry of noise on the other end of the line and Sondra said," Hold the line a minute, Andrea. One of the other girls is trying to get my attention."
The noise died down to a mumble and the artist glanced first at the clock and then at the not quite wrapped painting. She headed back to the worktable and picked up where she'd left off, the phone cradled in the crook of her neck.
It was awkward work slipping the wooden frame around the bubble-wrapped painting. Andrea hadn't gotten one of the corners quite right and it resisted the restraint. Finally, she popped a few of the plastic cells and the frame snapped into place just as Sondra came back onto the line.
"Sorry about that," she sounded chagrinned. "I guess I won't need those tracking numbers after all. You sent ten boxes and all of them showed up none the worse for wear. The delivery guy just brought the last of them in. That's a relief, huh?"
Andrea let the phone slip from the crook of her neck back into her now free hand. She smiled into the telephone, partially in relief and partially to make herself sound more relaxed than she felt. "Sure is. I guess they must have caught the slow boat across the Mississippi."
"Funny," Sondra said, missing the joke, "this packing label says they were shipped Air."
"Never mind," Andrea muttered, her nerves getting the better of her. "At least they got there." She shifted the phone, picked up a pen and addressed the mailing labels for the three boxes still in her possession. "You'll call me if there's any damage? I'll probably pack my paints anyway-"
"I don't anticipate any problems," the gallery assistant replied. "But better safe than sorry!" Another burst of conversation just out of pickup range of the phone diverted the woman's attention. She came back on the line and Andrea had the impression she was rolling her eyes. "If it's not one thing, it's another. I've got to run, Andrea. See you tomorrow!"
Andrea punched the "disconnect" button and returned the phone to its proper place on her desk. She surveyed the disorganized room and sighed. Twenty minutes until the shipping service was due to arrive and she had one more painting to pack in addition to the one she was in still in the process of completing. Plus, she had to clean the studio, pick up her dry cleaning and get her clothes together for the trip. And, to top it all off, she had a birthday lunch for her friend, Marilyn, plus a dinner date with Dominique.
She sighed again as she thought of her lover. Dominique knew how important this show was to her and yet she resisted the idea of accompanying Andrea to the coast. "It could have been such a wonderful weekend, too," she said wistfully. Maybe not a repeat of their tryst in the mountains, for Andrea did have to spend most of the weekend at the Waverly talking up her work, but the mornings and part of the afternoons would have been free for late breakfasts in bed and long walks by the ocean.
Andrea wondered if Dominique would ever stand at her side while the artist accepted the accolades of her peers. Or whether Dominique would ever allow Andrea to stand proudly at her side, while the busy executive was accepting one of the numerous awards her recent charity work had garnered her.
"If my name were Andrew instead of Andrea would you keep me a secret, Dominique? Would it really be such a big deal if the world knew you were in love with me?"
Knowing it was useless to continue the depressing line of questioning, Andrea hurriedly finished her packing. The delivery driver carried away the last of the San Francisco bound paintings while she hastily tidied the sun-drenched studio. When she was finished, the artist picked up her purse, ran a comb through her hair and went to Eve's Kitchen to meet her friends.
* * * * *
Thailog emerged from the tank of revivifying gel and blotted himself with a large bath towel before stepping into a custom tailored red silk robe. The gel made his skin itch and he was grateful that the restorative treatments were finally at an end.
His resurrection had been a slow and painful process. In fact, there had been a brief time when his resolve had failed and he had doubted that his body could ever been restored. After the fire at the fair grounds he'd shut down for a time, his stone sleep taking the form of a coma. Some months later when he'd awakened, his wings crippled and useless, his nerves screaming in constant pain, he had roared in mindless despair until his overwhelming need to survive and to dominate his environment had reasserted itself.
He had investigated every option, hacking into the computers of research centers and medical facilities that did burn research. The gargoyle had made huge anonymous donations to the most promising laboratories, hoping to speed their efforts.
When that had failed, he'd gotten creative, combining the best of the burn science with a twist of his own. He'd cloned vast tanks of undifferentiated cells, engineering the DNA to attack and replace those that were defective.
His painstaking research had paid off and though it had cost him a huge portion of the funds he'd embezzled from Nightstone, the treatment had been a success. Over six long months he'd cloned himself a new body a layer of cells at a time.
Now that he was healed he was ready to move on. He seated himself at his desk and took up the envelope containing the camera and photos. With a talon he slit the envelope, dumping the contents out onto the broad expanse of oak.
His eyes widened in interest and his lip curled in bemused shock as he studied the stills. "Well this is a surprise!" Thailog chuckled throatily as he thumbed through the stack of increasingly candid photos.
The first were innocent enough. Demona in her human guise as Dominique Destine, all dressed up as if she were attending some kind of fancy dress party. A look of nervous anticipation animated her features as she stepped into a limousine. The next photo was of a small human female with honey blonde hair dressed in an equally frilly style.
Establishing shots. A mountain location and the front, side, and back views of a rustic looking cabin. "Very pastoral," Thailog commented as he flipped to the next still.
This was of greater interest. Demona, still human, and the woman, standing just inside the door of the cabin, kissing. The human had one hand on the back of Demona's flaming red hair.
The next photo showed the elaborate upswept twist tumbling down as the hairpin, now clearly visible in the blonde's hand, was plucked free.
The hairpin was only the first article to be discarded. Shoes and clothing soon followed in a heap as the pair gave vent to their passions.
Thailog smirked as the sequence continued. "Now what is this? Oh, Demona, you let this little human know your secret?" He shook his head in mock sadness. "Very unwise, my pet. You should know what kind of trouble sharing gets you into."
The gargoyle studied each photograph minutely before setting them aside and taking up the digital camera. As he suspected, the photographer had used the movie setting.
Thailog triggered the replay button and watched with growing fascination as Demona, in her true form, and her human companion made love.
"How can I not take advantage of this?" he asked himself rhetorically. "How best to exploit this bonanza? I need money," he reasoned. "I'd be willing to wager that these lovely ladies could be made to pay."
He picked up the brief dossier that accompanied the pictures. "An artist? How bohemian, Angel. No money there. But I'm sure you'd be willing to pay to keep your little secret."
Thailog sat in quiet contemplation as he turned the problem around, studying it from all angles. "There's so little sport in blackmail. I could, I suppose, kidnap the Twinkie, but little sister has managed to get her mommy in so tight with the clan that she'd probably go straight to them for help."
He shook his head. "I don't have time for a battle. This must be neat… surgical."
He fumed in silence for another several minutes and then a malevolent grin spread slowly over his face. "Oh, this is wonderful," A mirthful chuckle escaped his lips as he leaned back in his chair. "Money is a given. After all, can one ever have enough? But what if the ransom contains a little extra twist? One that would sully Demona's good name with the clan."
Thailog's chiseled features softened as he picked up a still of Andrea Calhoun standing in front of her apartment building. On the back in precise black letters the address was noted along with the artist's apartment number and telephone listing. "I look forward to making your acquaintance, Ms. Calhoun. Very, very soon."
Thailog booted a small, but powerful laptop computer and began to arrange his rendezvous with Demona's artist love.
* * * * *
The Labyrinth, the same night
Delilah watched wistfully as Talon's parents cooed over little Pjay, the newest member of the Labyrinth Clan. He had been, like the rest of them, unwanted by his own family and left to fend for himself. Delilah's delicate features contorted in anger as she remembered the night three weeks prior when Hollywood, having heard a strange cat-like sound from beyond the boundary of his normal patrol circuit, persuaded Brentwood and Malibu into helping him find the source of the noise.
They had walked through the darkness, nearly to the sharply slanting tunnel that led to one of the surface accesses and found the tiny mocha-colored baby wrapped in a tattered yellow blanket. He had been left in a cardboard box printed with gaily dancing bananas. Innocent that he was, when they came upon him, the child was reaching curiously for a sewer rat that had paused, whiskers twitching, to investigate the good smelling box.
Even three gargoyle clones had realized what they were witnessing was wrong. They sent the rat scurrying into the blackness and gently carried the baby and his makeshift cradle back to the safety of their home and into the care of Dr. Goldblum, who had pronounced the child very, very, lucky to have been found before dire harm could befall him.
There had been no discussion, at least publicly, about returning the baby to the surface and into the hands of human authorities. Maggie had taken one look at the squalling infant on Dr. Goldblum's examination table, picked him up, and cradled him to her chest. He had quieted almost immediately and Talon, who was watching from the corner of the infirmary had commented, "I guess I better tell Mom and Dad that they're grandparents", before enlisting Claw in helping him set up a makeshift nursery.
The next night the Maza's had arrived laden with gifts for the new baby. Peter's distinguished features lit up with pride when Talon announced before the clan, "We're naming him after you, Dad."
Diane had cried tears of joy as she held the baby for the first time. "He's a miracle," she pronounced, as she gently kissed the sparse black hair that crowned the child's skull.
Even Elisa, once she had gotten past her policeman's reservations, had realized that Talon and Maggie would provide a far better home to a mixed-race baby than Social Services could ever hope to provide. She had made a quiet comment to Talon that she would check through channels to make sure that the child had indeed been abandoned, but then congratulated her brother on his new parenthood.
It was too bad that everything was not so serene. Delilah shuddered as she remembered the gang of teenagers who had surrounded her. She'd encountered the youths two nights prior, after escorting some women to the surface entrance. They had waited until she was alone before striking, cornering her as they had others until she was forced into the grasp of the leader.
She had frozen as old emotions had overtaken her and the fragile self-confidence, so carefully cultivated by Talon and the others, evaporated. The leader had been a tall and cruel eyed young male of no more than twenty. His smile was a sardonic sneer that had paralyzed Delilah with fear. So like the Master, she had thought, though Thailog was, if not dead, than horribly maimed and no danger to her. His hands, the way they had tenderly stroked her cheek before striking her sharply, had been her defeat. She had stood cowed as those hands roamed her body, waiting expectantly for the orders that would follow, which she would obey or face the consequences.
Claw had saved her. She had not noticed the angry flare of his eyes in the shadows. The others, so intent on their game, had missed it as well. He had leapt into their midst, pulling her out of the circle of grasping hands and into the safety of the darkness.
Moments and several soul-shriveling screams later, it was over. Claw, normally the gentlest of souls, had exacted bloody retribution on her attackers.
He'd shaken for hours afterwards, shocked at his display of animalistic justice. Too distraught even to sign his feelings, Sharon had taken him away to one of their private places, holding his great paw gently in hers, ignoring the blood that still stained his fur.
Delilah had retreated as well. Her body, to the safety of the little reading room. The rest of her, far away into the depths of her mind, into the quiet place where no one, not even Thailog, could hurt her.
The minor injuries inflicted by the attack had faded after a day of stone sleep. Her hard won feelings of self-worth had plummeted. Hadn't Thailog told her she was only good for one thing? Isn't that what those males had wanted? Certainly she could never find anyone who would look upon her as Talon looked on Maggie, with pride and love. Nor as tenderly as Sharon regarded Claw, and he, her.
Delilah sighed as a sudden burst of activity signaled the arrival of new visitors. Goliath and Elisa and all of their clanmates entered, bearing their contributions for the evening's potluck supper.
Elisa waved in her direction before handing off a brown paper grocery bag to Burbank and crossing to greet her parents and brother.
Maggie reentered from the direction of her sleeping quarters, Peter Jr., now dressed for bed, cradled in her arms. Delilah roused herself with a shake, realizing she had been so far immersed in her own thoughts that more than a few minutes must have escaped her.
She rose from her chair and hurried to the kitchen attempting to lose herself in the last minute dinner preparations. Broadway and Angela were already at work unpacking the various creations the burly gargoyle had conceived.
Angela set down the basket of rolls she'd been arranging and greeted Delilah warmly. "Hi," She gathered the hybrid gargoyle into a hug. "I'm so sorry I couldn't be with you the other night. How are you feeling?"
Delilah looked away, unable to meet her friend's eyes. "I don't really want to talk about it. It happened, but now it's over." She attempted to smile and started to fuss with a basket of silverware Maggie had wrapped earlier in napkins. "Can I help with dinner?"
Angela's brow ridges came together in a frown, but she forestalled any further comment. "Of course you can." She picked up the basket of rolls. "These are ready to go out and so is this salad. Why don't you put them on the table?"
"Tell everyone it won't be long," Broadway added as Delilah gathered up the various items and turned to leave.
She nodded and, juggling silver and side dishes, hurried out of the kitchen.
Angela turned to her mate. "I don't think she's okay at all, Broadway. There's something about her voice. It's been a long time since she was so hesitant."
Broadway looked up from the cheeses and meats he'd been arranging on precooked pizza crusts. "She was attacked, Angela, and Claw-" he lowered his voice so that it would not carry out into the main room, "Claw shredded the creeps in front of her. It's gonna take a while to shake that off. Just like it took you a while to get over the fact you'd been put under a spell and made to do things. She'll talk about it if she needs to when she's ready. Just like I'd hoped that you would."
Angela dropped her gaze. She'd never fully revealed what had happened during the time she'd been ensorcelled. "You're right." She busied herself, removing the lasagna casserole Diane and Peter had contributed from the oven and replacing it with one of Broadway's pizzas. "Be careful," she warned her mate, as the big gargoyle leaned forward to sniff appreciatively, "that's hot."
Tension hung in the air, intermingling with the scent of oregano and sausage. Broadway doubted Angela would ever tell him what had really happened over the course of that strange week. He let it drop and concentrated on his dinner preparations, scattering mushrooms and peppers on another pizza. "It smells good though. Why don't you carry it out while I finish up in here?"
"Sure," Angela replied leaving Broadway temporarily alone. A moment later, Hollywood entered. Broadway's doppelganger grinned at the array of goodies strewn over the counter and went to the sink to wash his hands. "I can help Broadway?"
The genial gargoyle nodded. Though he would always be angry at the events that had brought the clone into existence, he no longer felt squeamish around his twin. "Why don't you top these last two pies, okay?"
Hollywood nodded eagerly as he set to work carefully covering a pizza crust with sauce and scattering cheese over the surface. He eyed the bowls of meats and vegetables thoughtfully before selecting some sliced onions and arranging them carefully on top of the first layer of cheese. "Pepperoni now," the clone said as he arranged the slices in series of rings.
"Looking good," Broadway encouraged. "But do sausage on that last one, okay?"
"Okay." Hollywood grinned back and returned to his culinary efforts while the big turquoise gargoyle looked on.
* * *
"He's a cutie," Diane said as she smiled at the baby. "Isn't he a cutie?" she reiterated to Elisa who sat on the couch next to her, curled comfortably next to Goliath. The Italian potluck had been a success and after the diners finished Elisa's contribution of deli-bought chocolate gelato and anise cookies they adjourned to a round of after dinner entertainment organized by Ariana and Graeme.
"He sure is, Mom," Elisa replied good-naturedly, even as she rolled her eyes. "He's the cutest baby in this room."
"Of course it's too bad he's the only baby," Diane prodded. "No child should grow up by himself."
"Mother!" Talon and Elisa cried in unison.
"Don't get greedy," the panther-like Talon continued as Elisa looked away. Goliath placed his hand protectively on her shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. "We've only had the little guy a couple of weeks. Let us get used to having one kid around before we start adding on to the nursery. Besides," he added looking up at his mother. "Peter already has a cousin." He shrugged. "Sort of anyway. Angela is Goliath's daughter. Elisa is his mate. That makes Angela Elisa's step-daughter and Peter's step-cousin." He smiled in triumph. "See?"
"Thanks, Derek," Elisa mouthed as Maggie reclaimed the sleepy child and carried him off to bed.
"Charades everybody!" Graeme cried as he pointed at Peter. "You start, Mr. Maza."
The group broke into teams and Ariana produced a bowl stuffed with slips of paper. No one but Elisa noticed as Lexington leapt lightly from his spot behind the couch and retreated from the noisy room even as Peter drew the first answer, studied it momentarily, then began to mime.
"Washington crossing the Delaware!" Hudson cried in triumph as Peter, a newspaper folded into a tri-corner hat perched on his head, tossed a quarter across the room.
"He didn't look anything like that at all," Sata said stiffly to Brooklyn as she frowned in remembrance of the bitterly cold river water from which they'd rescued the general and his party.
"I know," he whispered back. "But there's this famous painting and that is how he was portrayed."
Sata nodded. Historical events were often remembered very differently from their more mundane reality. She shrugged, realized there was little to be gained by continuing the discussion, and watched Sharon reached over and pluck a piece of paper out of the bowl. She studied it a moment thoughtfully and bared her teeth in a felinoid smile before taking her place before the other players and pantomiming her first clue.
Elisa studied her mother and wondered what it was about babies that made older women get so irrational. She glanced at Goliath, who was doing his best to participate in the silly game the twins had organized, and realized they'd never had a serious discussion about children. It had always seemed kind of pointless to her and she'd always assumed that her mate had felt the same. After all, together they were infertile and somehow she couldn't see standing in line at Social Services hand in hand with her gargoyle lover.
Diane had seated herself next to Delilah and Elisa noticed that the clone, her daughter of sorts, she thought ironically, was looking especially subdued and had all evening long. She watched as the girl's eyes, dark as her own and just as observant, traveled from couple to couple, taking in every nuance: Peter and Diane sat apart but found reasons to touch occasionally, reconnecting their bond. Sata watched her children with maternal affection smiling up at Brooklyn as he wrapped his hand around her slender waist. Sharon, half of the newest couple, finished her turn at the charade and returned to hovering protectively near Claw. Her brother had said there'd been trouble, but refused to elaborate. Elisa realized he didn't want to place her in a position that would conflict with her responsibility to her badge and dropped it without pushing. She's lonely, the detective in her realized. And there's no one here for her to love. No one to share with.
"Wait a minute," Elisa said.
Goliath looked at her, puzzled. "Did you say something, my love?"
Elisa raised his talons to her lips and kissed the back of his hand. She released him and rose to her feet. "No, but I have an idea."
Still uncertain of his mate's thoughts, Goliath watched as Elisa singled out Delilah and spoke briefly to her. The white-haired female rose gracefully to her feet and followed obediently as Elisa led her from the room.
* * *
"Delilah," Elisa said as the pair left the bustle of Family Night behind them. "I've been thinking."
"About what, Elisa?" her companion replied in an eerie echo of her own voice.
Elisa let the question hang for a moment as they neared the small chamber that served as a reading room and library. She paused a few feet from the doorway and spoke in a soft voice. "How you can always find a lonely person even in the middle of a crowded room."
Delilah dropped her eyes. "Is it so obvious?"
Elisa shook her head. "Only to a trained observer." She reached out and took Delilah's hand. "I think that together we can help him, though."
"Him?" Delilah repeated, perplexed. "I thought-"
Delilah didn't get a chance to tell Elisa what she thought as the police detective nudged her toward the partially opened doorway. Inside, Lexington was idly perusing the collection of books, looking for something to read.
Two pairs of dark eyes met and Delilah nodded in understanding. "I see. But do you think?"
Elisa smiled. "You'll never know until you try." She gave the clone a gentle shove. "So go try!"
Delilah smiled uncertainly. "I guess it couldn't hurt." She ran a hand over her stark white tresses and over the curve of a pointed ear. With hesitant steps, she crossed the room and joined the olive green gargoyle who was stretching for a book just out of his grasp. "Here," she said as she reached up and plucked the tome from the shelf then brought it to eye level to examine the cover. "The Complete Isaac Asimov Volume I." Delilah cocked her head curiously. "But how can it be a complete collection if this is only the first volume?"
Lexington accepted the book without looking over then noticed the slimly taloned hand that grazed his own. "Delilah! Uh, hi. I thought it was Elisa at first," he stammered as the fingers withdrew. She didn't seem to be going away and the gargoyle realized that he had yet to answer her question. "I guess if they bound all of his stories up into one book it would be too heavy to read comfortably. So they broke them up into volumes that were easier to handle."
Delilah nodded and through veiled lashes studied the gargoyle who stood next to her. His eyes seemed to be intently examining the worn dust jacket of the book looking for some additional information. They seemed to be gentle eyes, and though the rest of his features looked as though they'd often felt anger or disappointment, there was a kindness to them that refused to be permanently subdued.
"I guess that makes sense. Big books can be kind of intim… intim…"
"Intimidating?" Lexington supplied.
"That's the word: intimidating." She repeated the word carefully as though storing the pronunciation away. "Lots of things are. Like the noisy party."
"That was getting to you too?" Lexington said, surprised by her admission. "I thought everyone was having fun but me." He indicated the chairs surrounding the center round table and Delilah nodded her thanks as he pulled one out for her. "Sometimes it's hard to be around people when they're having a good time. I mean, I like fun, don't get me wrong. It's just that-"
"Sometimes it seems like you'll never have the kind of fun that other people are having?" Delilah commiserated.
"Yeah," Lexington nodded. "Like take the fuss that's was going on in there when I ducked out. I mean Pjay is a great baby and I know that Talon and Maggie are going to be great parents. Just like Broadway and Angela will be someday and Brooklyn and Sata already are. But kids of my own? I just don't see it happening."
"You'd have to have a mate," Delilah pointed out.
"Exactly," the olive-green gargoyle replied. "I had a girlfriend once. I mean a human friend who was a girl," he clarified. "But that's all we were was friends. When we kissed-" His eyes seemed to cloud a little at the memory and he shook his head. "We both knew it wouldn't work between us."
Delilah cocked her head curiously as he talked and Lexington noticed the attractive curve of her cheekbone.
"I mean," he hastened to add, "It was nice, but it just didn't have that, I don't know, spark, that everyone talks about. You know, when you kiss the person you're destined to be with."
"And 'spark' is a good thing?" the clone asked skeptically. When Thailog had kissed her, all she'd felt was dread.
"I hear it's the best. I mean, just look at Goliath and Elisa. When you catch them kissing it's like watching them meld into one person." Delilah gave him a doubtful look and Lexington gulped, suddenly embarrassed. "But enough about fantasy. I was going to read some science fiction."
Delilah rose and tried not to let the disappointment she felt seep into her voice. "I guess I'll leave you to your book then." Abruptly, the slender female rose from her chair and hurried from the room, leaving Lexington alone.
He looked up, startled and confused, then replayed the last several seconds of conversation. He groaned and slapped his forehead. "Smooth move, Lex. She was actually checking you out and you blew her off!"
Dropping the book on the table, Lexington abandoned the reading room and went in pursuit of the upset female. He looked up the corridor and down, but she was nowhere to be seen. Still mentally kicking himself, the surprised gargoyle wandered out into the darkness of the tunnels to think.
* * * * *
At Destine Manor…
Andrea twirled her brandy snifter and inhaled deeply of the potent fumes. She surveyed her mental checklist of things to do. The paintings were shipped and already waiting for her in San Francisco. Her bag was packed and her plane ticket with its confirmed seat was tucked in her travel bag. Still, anxiety pricked at her and she realized with a start that Dominique, curled next to her on the sofa, had stopped speaking and was awaiting her response. "I'm sorry, Domi, I was a million miles away. What did you say?"
The gargoyle used the end of her tail to swat the artist on her thigh. She gave Andrea a fanged grin and replied," I'd say more like two million miles. I asked you if you wanted cheesecake or Death by Chocolate for dessert."
"Oh," the artist responded. She thought about it for a second and realized the last thing her jittery stomach needed was a rich finale to the extravagant meal in which she and Dominique had indulged. "None for me. I couldn't eat another bite after those lobster crepes. You must complement your chef."
"And inflate his ego further?" the gargoyle replied, aghast at the notion. "I think not." She set down her own brandy snifter and snuggled closer to the petite human female who had so thoroughly complicated her life. "If not dessert, then how about a nice long soak in a tub full of bubbles. In all the time I've known you, Andrea, I've never seen you so tense. What happened to all of your calming mantras?"
Andrea smiled, chagrinned. "They seemed to have deserted me. This is such a huge opportunity, Dominique. Julie at the gallery took the 8x10's I'd sent her of the paintings I'd planned to exhibit and was using them to block the gallery." Confusion crept over the gargoyle's face and the artist elaborated. "She'd kind of pinned them on the walls and such. Two of her major clients stopped in to look at other work, saw the prints and have already committed to buying three of my Fantasies in Flight series."
"Not the ones you made me pose for," her companion replied, slightly appalled.
"The same!" Andrea reached for Dominique and took her into her arms. "I'm not the only one who thinks you're gorgeous, you know. You'll pose for me again, won't you?"
Dominique resettled her wings, deliberately rubbing herself against the thin silk of Andrea's blouse. "The things I do to keep you happy." She reached up and stroked the petite woman's jaw line, letting her fingers trail under the open collar of her tailored shirt and down to her collarbone.
Andrea leaned down captured Dominique's full red lips in a kiss. Her tongue snaked easily between sharp fangs and teased at the gargoyle's own. Slightly breathless, she broke the lip lock. "Bubble bath, mmm, and a massage. Maybe that's not such a bad idea."
Dominique rolled off the couch and pulled Andrea with her. Hand in hand, the pair ascended the long curving staircase to the master suite.
* * *
"Feeling better?" Dominique purred as she ran an ostrich feather down the length of Andrea's naked back.
The artist stretched sinuously and rolled over, shifting the pillows under her head as she did so. Sufficiently propped up by the oversized goose feather pillows, Andrea pulled the azure gargoyle into her embrace.
The pair kissed leisurely, savoring the intimate moment. Dominique's four-fingered hand slipped to Andrea's breast and the artist sighed in pleasure. "Mmmm, better all the time." She sighed again as the gargoyle shifted, coming to rest with her thigh pressed seductively between Andrea's.
The human woman obligingly spread her legs, and her pubic curls pressed against the gargoyle's bare flesh. Dominique rocked her hips and Andrea lifted upward to meet her thrust, then raised her hand to caress the gargoyle's cheek. "We can wait to do this, Domi," Andrea began. "I mean, isn't it better for you this way when you're-" she trailed off, not wanting to use the wrong words, and Dominique smiled as she thrust her hips downward again.
"Human?" she finished. "True. We can always do it again after the sun rises," she conceded. "But I like to see the look on your face when I hold you in my arms and do this." She pressed the length of her body against Andrea's and the artist's eyes fluttered closed in ecstasy. "Nothing makes me feel more complete than when I hold you like this."
"But-" Andrea whispered.
Dominique shook her fiery red tresses in bemusement. "You're still talking. I'd rather you were incoherent." She pressed her lips against the base of Andrea's ear and let her tongue trail downward, even as her hands cupped her full breasts against the blonde's. Andrea moaned and rocked against the gargoyle. "That's better," Dominique purred as Andrea's hips canted upward and ground their pelvises together. "Much, much better."
As she pleasured her partner, Dominique felt the last of the hectic day's stresses melt away. Her afternoon had been yet another exercise in crisis management as Nightstone had fought off an unforeseen hostile takeover attempt. Why was it someone was always attacking her?
Andrea's breathing changed and the gargoyle allowed her attention to shift back to the matter at hand. Though coupling in their current position did not fully stimulate her most sensitive erogenous zones, the artist had worked her hands back to the tender spot at the base of her tail and was applying a delicious degree of pressure. The blonde gave a full-throated sigh and Dominique found herself echoing it. "Yes, Andrea," she whispered as the artist bucked and rolled the gargoyle onto her side.
The delicate hands clutched at the firm round globes of Dominique's buttocks and forced their pelvises even closer together. The artist seemed to teeter for a moment, her rapid breathing filled with a frustrated note. The gargoyle considered finishing with a coup de grace of her tail, but suddenly, Andrea cried out, "Oh, Dominique! Oh yes!" before forcing the gargoyle onto her back.
Dominique growled, her own hunger unsated. Andrea shifted, pressed her lips against the inside of the gargoyle's thigh and slipped her fingers upward until they found the sensitive nerve endings. She stroked the swollen nub and Dominique moaned. Curling her fingers into a petite fist, the artist pumped, slowly at first, then more rapidly, as Dominique began to keen, her tail lashing beneath her.
Spent at last, the couple cuddled, one of Dominique's suede soft wings curled around her lover's slender body. Andrea looked up at the delicate blue features of the gargoyle beside her and asked softly, "Are you sure you won't reconsider going to San Francisco with me? It would mean so much if you were there, if not for the gallery reception than at least for the client luncheon that the gallery is hosting."
Dominique shook her head. "I can't possibly. It's not a good time. Just today someone tried to make a grab for the company and in all likelihood I'll spend the entire weekend locked up in strategy meetings."
Andrea looked unsatisfied at her lover's response. "Are you sure that's all it is, Dominique? Are you sure it's because you don't want to be seen in public with me?"
"Andrea," the gargoyle protested, "don't be silly. We've gone out in public before."
"Sure," the artist sulked. "Lunch and shopping, just as if I were one more of your business associates or maybe a friend of your daughter's. I'm talking about really being seen in public. A social function. Hideaway trysts aside, Dominique, we've never had anything like a real date."
Dominique sighed. The last thing she wanted was an argument with Andrea, but what she was requesting was out of the question. It was hard enough keeping her dual identity a secret. The last thing she needed was another excuse for the paparazzi to follow her around. "Andrea, we've talked about this before. Our relationship must remain private. It's for your own good as well as mine."
Andrea rolled out of Dominique's embrace and buried her face in the mountain of pillows. The gargoyle sighed.
"Andrea," she said as she pulled the artist back to her. "I'd be proud to be seen with you on my arm. I would. But my life is too complicated to be an open book. Surely you must realize that. I have enemies! I'm in danger constantly."
The artist snorted in disbelief. "You don't even have a bodyguard."
"Some of my staff are cross-trained," the gargoyle replied stiffly. "They serve my needs during the day. But that's really not the point. It is in your best interests, Andrea. Please just trust me, all right?"
The artist sighed. She hadn't meant to back Dominique into a corner, but that was exactly what she'd done, and now her lover was angry and defensive. "Sure, Dominique. Whatever you think is best. Forget I brought it up, okay?"
"Thank you for understanding," the gargoyle replied. She smoothed back Andrea's bangs and kissed her on the forehead. "We'll celebrate when you get back. I'll have Gregory meet you at the airport and bring you straight here. Maybe I'll even skip work and we can go to brunch Tuesday morning, does that sound good?"
"As good as it gets," Andrea murmured, exhausted by the emotional exchange and her own anxiety over the coming morning. She drifted to sleep as Dominique contemplated the ceiling.
* * * * *
Thailog punched a sequence of numbers into a secured phone line as the clock struck twelve. He waited patiently as the phone clicked and buzzed three times.
A computer-altered voice picked up on the other side. "This is Charles. Mr. Gray, I presume?"
"This is Gray," Thailog acknowledged. "Charles, I'm calling to arrange a pick up."
"Of course, sir," the voice replied smoothly. "We are always happy to be of service to you. For the usual fee."
"C.O.D., I understand," the gargoyle replied. "I need the package picked up in San Francisco. Is that a problem?"
"No sir. We can deliver in seven hours from the time of pick up. Will that be satisfactory?"
"Quite," Thailog smiled. "I'll upload the details to your secure server."
"Very good, Mr. Gray." The voice was superciliously polite despite the computer modification. "Always a pleasure doing business with you."
White noise filled the channel and Thailog hung up the phone and reactivated his computer. A portion of his reserve along with the details he'd spent the evening gleaning on Andrea Calhoun's upcoming trip to San Francisco, including her proposed itinerary, were uploaded to a secure site known to only himself and the mercenary known as 'Charles'.
His arrangements thus completed, Thailog turned his attention to other matters. He had feelers in Istanbul and others in China. There were a great many opportunities for a gargoyle with initiative, and Thailog was ready for a new challenge.
* * * * *
Destine Manor, the next morning
"Dominique," Andrea protested, "You don't have to do this. Really."
"Now, Andrea, I told you it's no bother at all. You never seem to have the accessories you need. I'm just going to pull a few things from my closet-" The changeling gargoyle broke off as she disappeared into her walk-in closet. Drawers opened and closed and a moment later she reappeared carrying several scarves, belts and a fist full of necklaces and lapel pins. "There," she said as she held up a thin gold belt and an ornate jade and gold pin. "These will go with your black dress. And these," She juggled a bit until she held up a pair of multicolored scarves, "will dress up that forest green suit and those camel pants." She dropped her additions into a small net travel bag and the bag into Andrea's suitcase.
Once the case was secured to her satisfaction she turned her attention to Andrea. The artist was standing before the mirror, eyeing herself critically. "You look wonderful," Dominique complimented as she straightened Andrea's gold and opal pendant. A frown of concern momentarily wrinkled her forehead. "You're not nervous?"
Andrea nodded and fussed with the tips of her hair. "A little. I've had mixed reviews so far, Dominique. Fantasy art isn't exactly mainstream and the critics keep hinting I would sell better if I changed my subject matter. If I do well at the Waverly it could validate me as an artist."
Dominique rolled her eyes. "Haven't you learned by now, my dear, that critics only learn to appreciate an artist after he or she has died? Look at Van Gogh."
"I know," Andrea smiled dourly. "His entire life he never made a dime. But I have rent to pay, Dominique."
"Fah," the redhead dismissed as she brushed Andrea's bangs from her eyes. "Let your patron worry about those trivialities. You concentrate on your art."
Andrea smiled at the executive's gruff tones. "I love you, you know that?" A taxicab pulled up underneath the window and honked loudly. "Are you sure you won't change your mind?"
Dominique kissed her lover softly. "Can't. But I promise we'll have a wonderful celebration when you get back. You've got all the charter arrangements I made for you?"
Andrea nodded. "You're spoiling me, Domi."
"Nonsense." She picked up Andrea's suitcase and handed the artist her purse. "I simply don't want my evening ruined because you missed your connection in Kansas City."
"Saint Louis," Andrea corrected.
"Whatever," Dominique replied as the cab driver honked again. "Now, let's go or you'll miss your flight and the entire discussion will be academic."
The women both laughed as they rushed to meet the taxicab.
* * * * *
That Night, Wyvern Castle
Lexington sat alone on the far wall of the courtyard watching the ant-sized people and cars move about their nightly business. He was feeling short-tempered and tired. Not even stone sleep had protected him from the litany of criticisms the gargoyle had leveled at himself from the moment Delilah had fled the library the previous night. A pretty and eligible female had wanted to spend time with him and he'd been so wrapped up in his conviction that he'd never find romance he drove her away. "How could I have been so stupid?!?" the gargoyle muttered morosely. "She'll never want to have anything to do with me now." His gaze shifted from the street to the stars. The sky was remarkably clear and tiny points of light twinkled in a field of velvet black. A meteorite raced past then disappeared. Somewhere out of his past, a voice echoed, the voice of the clan mother who had nurtured and encouraged him. "You'll never know unless you try, young one."
"Ah, that was okay when I was twelve and was curious about whether I could swim in the surf," he protested to the memory voice. "But this…" he trailed off as the analogy hit him. He thought back to those hatchling days when they'd visited the beach below Castle Wyvern. He and his rookery mates had stood on the shores watching the waves crest and crash. A few of the braver ones had ventured closer letting the cold salt water play about their feet. Lexington had hung back, curious, but uncertain if he could swim. He took a few hesitant steps forward as his rookery siblings called to him, then paused as his courage deserted him. The tall, kindly female who had taken them on the outing had knelt at his side and whispered words of encouragement.
Bolstered by her confidence in him, Lexington stepped into the water crouching to let his fingers play over the sand and turn the bits of rock and shell that littered the beach. A crab had scuttled by and, fascinated, the young gargoyle had followed the creature into deeper water. He'd lost his fear of the waves because he'd ceased to pay attention to them. It had been his undoing. He wandered into the breakers and a wave crashed over his head, submerging him.
Shocked and frightened, he'd fought his way back to the surface and onto the beach. He'd coughed and spit salt water out of his mouth and blinked the stinging spray out of his eyes. His rookery mother went to his side but did not speak. She waited to see what he would do next. Lexington looked up at her. He knew she would not condemn him if he sat out the rest of the night on the safety of the shelf of rocks that nestled in the base of the cliff. But he also knew that if he retreated, his rookery mates who frolicked in the water beyond would haze him unmercifully. He smiled up at the female and said with false confidence, "That wasn't so bad. Kind of fun, actually. I think I'll try it again."
And he had and, to his surprise, it wasn't so bad. He spent an hour paddling in the water and he even figured out he could use his kite-like wings to glide on the top of the waves, much to the dismay of some of his more athletic rookery sibs.
"I guess this isn't so different," he realized as he took to his feet. Drawing a deep breath, he extended his wings and glided off toward the Labyrinth.
* * * * *
Delilah finished her patrol sweep and walked slowly towards the main enclave of the underground community. Unlike her brother clones who preferred the darkness of the tunnels, Delilah felt more useful when she was working at other tasks: running errands for Dr. Goldblum or helping Maggie with the women and children under her care.
She reached the main living quarters and glanced around the common room. Claw and Sharon were sitting on the couch. There was a thick genetics textbook sitting on the coffee table and the plates and cups next to it seemed to indicate they'd been at their studies for quite some time. Now they were talking quietly to someone else, Claw signing and Sharon interpreting for him. Delilah stepped closer and found to her surprise that their companion was Lexington.
The trio looked up at her as she approached. Sharon and Claw greeted her warmly. Lexington's voice seemed to hold a note of tension. She eyed him warily.
"Delilah. Hi," he said as he rose to his feet. "I hope you don't mind, but you left in such a hurry last night I didn't really feel like we'd finished our conversation." He lowered his voice as he drew closer and his eyes dropped as if he were ashamed. "That was my fault. I was hoping I could make it up to you."
Delilah regarded him curiously. Last night she'd made a fool of herself by trying to strike up a conversation. Now Lexington was trying to do the same with her. He was looking at her with an earnest hopefulness. She nodded her head, still uncertain of what was transpiring.
"I thought maybe we could take a walk?" the gargoyle suggested.
"All right," Delilah replied. There could be little harm in that, she supposed. He probably wanted to explain that he wasn't interested in her. That he felt none of that mysterious 'spark' that seemed so important to him.
Lexington smiled, relief evident on his round face. He indicated one of the tunnels that led to a surface access and together they exited as Claw and Sharon returned to their studies.
* * *
"Nice night," Delilah observed as they breached the surface and clambered into a deserted alleyway between two tall buildings.
Lexington looked upward. The skyscrapers that surrounded them obscured the stars, but the air was warm and pleasant. "It's nicer from the air." He pointed towards a fire escape and leapt upward, catching the iron railing in his talons. He began to climb. "Come on, what are you waiting for?"
Delilah hesitated a moment and realized it was unsafe to tarry so near the entrance to one of their tunnels. She crouched and jumped, grabbing the rungs beneath Lexington's feet. A moment later the pair had found the safety of the roof.
The kite-winged gargoyle looked downward. They were still only four stories above the street. He shook his head with disapproval. "Nope, still not high enough." He extended his wings and leapt off the roof.
Delilah stared as Lexington climbed up and away from her. She walked to the edge of the building where her companion had stood only a moment prior and unfurled her own wings.
Lexington swooped close to the building. "Come on," he encouraged. "It's great out here!"
The hybrid gargoyle gulped as fear clenched her stomach. She did not often glide in the confines of her underground home and she doubted her abilities. "All right." She unfurled her wings and launched into space. There was a momentary lull in the prevailing breeze and she dropped, flapping her wings madly until she caught the current and lifted upward on the warm breeze.
"Whoa," Lexington exclaimed as she gained altitude and joined him in formation. "You had me nervous for a second. You want to head to the park? It's kind of quiet there and we could talk."
Delilah nodded absently as she concentrated on maintaining her altitude. It wasn't too difficult, she realized, and she began to relax as she watched the landscape change beneath her. The cement and bustle gave way as they crossed over into Central Park. Now underneath them the city seemed softer as grass and trees replaced the pavement.
"I like this," the hybrid admitted to her companion as they glided across the deserted greenbelt. "It's kind of fun."
Lexington looked at her, surprised, as he watched Delilah's slightly fearful expression give way to one of exhilaration. It had been a long time since he'd found any joy in gliding, especially since Madoc had given him his implants. But then, it had been a long time since he'd felt much joy in anything. He contracted his wings and dove, cavorting like a hatchling released from drills.
As he skylarked over the trees, Delilah gained confidence and began to imitate him. She caught an updraft, swooped and gained altitude before drawing her wings in sharply and descending swiftly. The winds changed and the clone found herself in a free fall. She panicked and fell. Lexington, in the middle of compensating his own maneuver, didn't see her as she tumbled into him.
"Lexington, help!" she cried as the ground loomed closer.
The kite-winged gargoyle somersaulted in midair, catching his companion's hands. "Unfurl your wings!" he yelled as he grabbed her hand.
The winds took mercy on the couple and a friendly updraft slowed their fall. They stalled a half a dozen yards from the top of a grove of chestnut trees. Chest heaving, Delilah clutched at his shoulders and Lexington realized that his hands had come to rest around the female's slender waist. Despite the panic that had temporarily gripped him, the gargoyle realized he felt exhilarated. And the girl-flesh underneath his palms felt … nice.
Reluctantly he shifted his grip as the wind changed again. He pointed to the trees beneath them. "Maybe we should take a breather."
Delilah nodded and followed him as he settled onto a thick lateral branch. "You saved me," she said softly. "I got all tangled in the wind."
Lexington took Delilah's hand. He meant to reassure her, like he might have if it had been one of the twins, but a thrill ran through him as he touched her. "I couldn't let you fall," he managed to reply. He reached up and with his free hand stroked Delilah's cheek. It was soft under his fingers, soft and warm. He knew that he should break the contact and move away, but he couldn't find the strength. Instead, he leaned forward and placed his mouth on hers.
It was better than anything he'd ever dreamed. Her lips were honey sweet and willing and they pressed against his hungrily. Gaining confidence, Lexington pulled Delilah into his embrace and let his hands wander from the crest of her ear to the slender "v" of her waist.
She froze in his arms and, confused, Lexington broke off the kiss. "What's wrong?"
Delilah wouldn't meet his gaze though her eyes were wide and uncertain. Her free hand went to the zipper of her jacket and she pulled it open, revealing a tightly laced halter. With a sigh, she yanked the laces and the garment fell open, revealing her breasts.
Lexington released her hand and drew backwards towards the tree trunk. "Hey! Wait a minute," he said. The gargoyle strangled on the words as his confused emotions galloped over one another. "Delilah, what are you doing?"
"Isn't this what you want from me?" she asked dully, peeling the tight leather halter back further. Freed from the confines of the restricting garment, the restrained orbs of flesh sprung forth, revealing darkly tipped nipples. "Isn't this really why you came to the Labyrinth tonight?"
"No!" he protested. He forced himself to look away from the luscious swell of Delilah's breasts, but his body betrayed his denial. The gargoyle was forced to shift his posture as his loincloth grew taut. "I came to see you tonight because I realized I was rude to you and I wanted to make it up. You're nice, Delilah. I like you."
"But you don't want me?" The hurt in her voice was palpable.
Lexington's confusion escalated. She's offering herself to me, he realized, not because that's what she wanted, but because that was what she thought he expected of her. And refusing her had only made things worse, because now she felt he had rejected her again.
The gargoyle drew a deep breath before reaching out and tipping his companion's face upward to meet his gaze. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want you, Delilah. I think you are the most beautiful creature I've ever seen. And it blows me away that it took me this long to realize it. But we're just getting to know each other and I don't want to rush things." He cracked a lopsided smile. "After all, you might decide you don't want to hang out with a computer geek like me, and then where would I be?"
Though his tone was joking, Delilah recognized an echoing need for acceptance in Lexington's words and she nodded slowly.
The pair sat in silence as Delilah straightened her clothing. Gathering his courage, Lexington reached out and offered his hand. Delilah's crept into his and her fingers returned the gentle squeeze of support he offered. They sat like that for a time before Lexington's curiosity over came him. "Delilah," he asked quietly. "When you were with Thailog… did he… you know, make you?"
She nodded and her eyes tightened as she recalled those dark times. "He hurt me. I think that's when he liked it best. He told me that pain heightens pleasure. But it never seemed that way to me."
Lexington's eyes glowed an angry white. "Animal!" He wrapped his arm around Delilah's slender form, cradling her with the cape of his wing. "I'll never let anyone hurt you again," he vowed as Delilah's head came to rest on his shoulder. "Never!"
* * * * *
San Francisco, two days later
A waiter stopped before her and Andrea gratefully accepted a glass of champagne. She watched in surprise and disbelief as the gallery manager, Julie, placed a discreet white card embossed with the word "sold" on yet another one of her paintings and led the buyer, a middle thirty's looking man with a handle bar mustache, over to her desk to complete the paperwork.
"I think it's going to be a sellout, Andrea," a pert voice commented from behind her. The artist turned, startled to find Sondra, the gallery's lead assistant, at her shoulder. The leggy brunette lifted her glass of sparkling water to Andrea's and smiled as they clinked together. "Congratulations!"
"Thanks!" Andrea replied sincerely. "But I can't take all the credit. You guys have done a terrific job promoting my work. I wish the galleries in New York were this assertive. You and Julie could give them some pointers."
The gallery assistant pushed her long straight bangs out of her eyes and resettled the frames of her glasses. "We take the time to get to know out clients and try and provide them with what they want. For instance," she said pointing to a couple who were staring in rapture at a portrait of a blue-green gargoyle in repose, "those two would take that canvas home in a minute except for one tiny thing: they live in the tiniest shoebox apartment overlooking the bay. It's a great apartment, if you don't mind cozy, but they don't have the wall space for something quite that big. But watch this. Remember Julie asked you for some smaller pieces? The studies or sketches that you did to prepare for the Fantasies in Flight?" Andrea nodded. "Good," Sondra replied. "Now watch and get ready to be amazed."
Sondra handed her glass to a passing waiter and disappeared momentarily into the back room. When she reappeared she had an assistant in tow and each held a pair of Andrea's preliminary works handsomely framed. The junior assistant placed her pieces gently down against a fabric covered wall and retreated, reappearing a moment later with a pair of collapsible easels which she used to arrange the artwork. While she was busy, Sondra engaged the couple in conversation and Andrea watched as the pair's expressions changed from crestfallen to intrigued as they approached the mini display.
Andrea drifted closer as did several of the other guests. Her eyes widened in surprise as she viewed the sketches, both pencil and oil, matted and framed for display. She had to admit, they looked pretty good and apparently others agreed as more "sold" tags quickly found their way to her artwork.
"How did you know that would happen?" the artist was able to ask as the last of the patrons drifted out of the gallery and Julie locked the door behind them. "How did you know that couple would want my preliminary studies?"
The trim, ebony skinned woman smiled at the artist's amazement and bowed to her assistant. "It was Sondra who figured that one out, so maybe she should tell you."
The taller woman shrugged and gave a half smile as she dusted her long manicured nails on the lapel of her midnight blue suit. "It was nothing really. Paul collects animation art, too. He got started in college and couldn't afford cels so he concentrated on pencil sketches and the clean up drawings. He developed a real interest in the art behind the art, so to speak, and now that's his weak spot. His wife, Rachel, loved your paintings. She was one of the first people to RSVP to the show, but I knew they'd never be able to fit one of your canvasses in their flat. So, I put two and two together and asked Julie if it'd be okay to request some of your rough work. A little framing magic and -" She snapped her fingers. "Viola! A sale."
"Amazing!" Andrea enthused.
"Not at all," Julie disagreed. "Simply part of our service. Just like providing more of what our clients want, and right now, baby, they want you!" She turned to Sondra and smiled at her assistant. "Can you wrap things up here? I want to take our star artist out for supper and talk over a few details before I run her to the airport."
The assistant nodded. She had already kicked off her shoes and was in the process of tying her hair up with a stray rubber band. "I'm all ready on it. You and Andrea run along and I'll see you in the morning."
"It's too bad you have to get back to New York so quickly, Andrea," the gallery manager said as she handed the artist her purse and overcoat. "Tomorrow is supposed to be the first really sunny day we've had in a month."
"From what I've seen of it, San Francisco is gorgeous no matter what the weather. But I do need to get back, there's a painting calling my name even as we speak."
Julie allowed a mock stern look to creep over her finely hewn features. "Then we'd better get you fed and on your way. I will not have an artist ignore her muse!"
The pair were laughing as they climbed into Julie's Mercedes and didn't notice the small gray car that followed them to the swank Italian restaurant across town from the gallery.
* * * * *
Demona yawned and stretched, unfurling her wings so that she could ease the kinks in her back. She looked up at the clock. "Nearly midnight," the azure gargoyle commented. "That would put Andrea an hour into her flight."
Demona looked down at the financial reports she'd been reviewing and decided enough was enough. She set the documents aside and rose from her workroom desk, absently shutting down the computer as she refilled a wineglass from the half-full bottle of burgundy.
The telephone rang and the gargoyle listened as the answering machine picked up on the third ring.
"You've reached Dominique Destine. Leave a message after the tone," her business-like recording instructed.
"Ms. Destine," the caller replied, "this is Katie from Johannsen Air Charter. I'm calling to let you know that we waited the required hour past flight time, Andrea Calhoun didn't meet the plane. If you'd like to re-"
Demona scooped the phone up from its cradle. "Hello? Say that again," the gargoyle demanded. "What do you mean that Ms. Calhoun didn't meet the plane?"
"Yes, yes, it's me," Demona snapped. "What about Andrea?"
"Well, as I started to explain. The charter was scheduled to leave San Francisco at 8:00 p.m. The pilot was fueled and ready but your passenger didn't show up. We waited one hour past the flight time before calling you for further instructions. Would you like us to reschedule for another time?"
"Yes. I mean, no," Demona replied indecisively. "I mean, I don't know where Ms. Calhoun is either. I had no indication that she was going to change her plans. I'll have to try and contact her before making other arrangements."
"Of course," the charter secretary said politely. "We'll look forward to assisting you as soon as you've re-solidified Ms. Calhoun's itinerary."
The charter agent hung up and not wasting a second, Demona racked the phone and went searching for her purse and her P.D.A. She scrolled through her lists of notes and contacts until she found the phone numbers for Andrea's hotel and the art gallery that had hosted her exhibit.
With trembling fingers, Demona dialed the hotel and confirmed that Andrea had checked out earlier in the day.
No one but an answering machine responded to her second call and it was all the gargoyle could do to keep from tossing the handset against the wall in frustration. She left a terse message to have the manager call her at once and hung up.
It was twelve fifteen and Demona, from her millennia of experiences, knew that something was terribly wrong.
* * * * *
That Evening, Same Time, Central Park
"Bet you can't catch me!" Delilah giggled as she sailed high on an updraft and away from Lexington.
Her companion grinned and his shoulder muscles bunched under his olive colored skin as he rapidly changed course. "Watch me!" he yelled back even as the wide lead Delilah had gained began to diminish.
The pair soared higher over the wide expanse of green grass and trees, deeper into the wilds of Central Park. Delilah ducked and swooped, riding the air currents as if she'd been born to them. Her eyes narrowed in concentration as she dipped into a tricky evasive roll, narrowly avoiding Lexington's grip on her slender ankle.
"Nice move!" the bat-winged gargoyle cried in admiration as he righted himself from a tumbling barrel roll.
Delilah grinned back at him and darted away towards a thick copse of trees.
Lexington broke his direct pursuit and began to climb, beating his wings madly to gain altitude. He calculated his position carefully, noting his companion's speed in relation to his own, and then collapsed his wings.
The gargoyle dove. The wind sang in his ears as he descended. Delilah, intent on her escape, didn't see him as he dropped in front of her and backpedaled madly to compensate for her momentum. "Got ya!" he cried triumphantly as he tagged her on the shoulder.
Delilah gave a shriek of surprise. "How did you do that?" she demanded.
Lexington grinned smugly. "Pure skill," he replied modestly as he moved to glide serenely at the female's wing tip.
Delilah rolled her eyes as she banked slowly towards the dense trees below them. They came to rest near a thick trunked old oak and Lexington leaned against the rough gray bark watching as Delilah rolled her arms and shoulders, stretching them after the intensive aerial work out. "That was fun," she said as she caped her wings neatly.
"Yeah," Lexington agreed. "It has been. I'm glad you decided to go out with me again, Delilah."
Impulsively the female crossed the few feet that separated them and kissed her companion on the cheek. "Thank you," she said softly.
"For what?" Lexington replied, slightly confused, though pleased by the kiss.
"For being you. I like being with you. You make me feel-" she hesitated and put a slender hand to her chest. "You make me feel warm inside and happy." She looked at him with troubled eyes. "Is that wrong?"
Lexington smiled back at her and it seemed to him that something in his own chest loosened. The sadness that seemed to haunt him melted away in the glow of the realization that she cared for him. "No Delilah, that's not wrong." He took her hand in his and pressed it gently. "I feel exactly the same way."
* * * * *
"Mr. Gray, this is Charles," the synthesized voice hissed as Thailog punched the 'speaker' button in response to the telephone's ring. "My couriers are in transit to your location."
"Excellent," Thailog replied. "And my package. Was there any difficulty retrieving it?"
Charles tutted at the question. "None whatsoever, sir. We shall deliver to your location promptly at 7 a.m. as you instructed."
"See that you do," the gargoyle replied as the connection severed. He leaned back in his chair and smiled. "It's a pity I won't be able to greet you personally on your arrival, my dear Ms. Calhoun, but perhaps the anticipation will make our acquaintance even sweeter." He chuckled. "At least for me."
* * * * *
Andrea drifted slowly toward consciousness and when she emerged she found she was in a dark and noisy place. Her head ached with a dull pounding behind her eyes and her mouth tasted as if she'd been asleep for a month.
The air was cold and there was a droning noise that took her several moments to identify. "An airplane engine," she tried to say, but could not because a piece of packing tape covered her lips.
Cautiously Andrea tried to sit up. It wasn't easy; her back was incredibly stiff from lying on the cold metal floor and her hands had been bound behind her. She tried to flex her legs and stand, but found her ankles were hobbled. Dejected, the artist slumped back against the bulkhead and tried to reconstruct her last coherent memories.
Dinner with Julie had turned into a dessert-fest when the pair had spied the ornate tray of goodies presented to an adjacent table. Champagne and Bananas Foster followed by a main course of Chocolate soufflé with a coulis of mango and thick espresso had capped the celebratory business meeting, and she and Julie had been running late to meet Andrea's charter flight back to New York.
Julie's Mercedes pulling into the small plane section of the airport. The gallery manager waving and promising to call her the following week. Then what?
A man. A man in neat gray coveralls hurrying towards her. He held a clipboard and had said something about a manifest. Andrea hadn't understood what he meant. She had only her suitcase to fly back to New York. The man had looked puzzled and suggested she accompany him to the office to have the manager explain.
And that was all, except the sick headache that suggested she'd been drugged and the sound of an engine's drone, which meant that somebody other than Dominique wanted her.
Andrea's ears began to roar as panic swam over her. She fought it down, and cast desperately in her mind for the calm places. Raggedly, she found her center and drew a shaky breath. Keep your head, Andrea! You've got to keep your head!
The panic ebbed only to be replaced with fear as unbidden, every memory of a kidnapping gone wrong she'd ever read about or seen on the news danced before her blindfolded eyes. The artist took another deep breath and imagined the news accounts as a stack of papers, unopened, that she would get to later. The effort left her feeling unreal and slightly detached from herself. A noise drew her attention outward.
A door opened. There was no voice to identify her kidnapper, but a light step and the scent of an herbal shampoo. Though Andrea was blind, she felt the person, Woman? she hazarded to herself, step close enough to make sure that the heavy tape bonds had not loosened.
More quick, quiet steps and Andrea found herself alone once more.
* * * * *
"You're sure?" Dominique demanded as she glanced at her wristwatch. "No one by that name or description was brought in last night?" Demona, now in her human guise, scowled angrily as the emergency ward nurse assured her that they'd had no new admissions that matched Andrea's description. "Very well," the executive replied, struggling to control her temper. "If such a woman is admitted, please notify me at once."
Dominique hung up the phone. There were no more police departments, hospitals, ticket counters, or gallery managers to call. She'd spent hours on the telephone. Hours on hold while check-in clerks and reservation agents had checked their lists. Her stomach had clenched anxiously while desk sergeants and nurses had done the same. And each negative answer had brought equal measures of relief and fear.
Now there was no one left to call. Her throat was sore and voice hoarse from exertion. Feeling useless and worried, Dominique wandered into the kitchen to make tea.
"She just got distracted," Dominique said as the flame jumped to life underneath the kettle. "She saw something she wanted to paint and lost herself in the moment."
The argument sounded lame even to her ears.
Andrea had been too excited when they'd spoken on the phone. She'd been impatient to come home and celebrate. No, there had to be another explanation for her absence.
"Foul play," the executive muttered flatly. "Someone has taken Andrea. But why?"
The why was obvious. Someone had figured out that Andrea was important to Dominique Destine. They'd gotten careless. Too many lunches in expensive restaurants. Too many shopping sprees. Too many intimate weekends away. Someone had guessed their secret. "But who?"
The kettle whistled shrilly, breaking her reverie. Automatically, she glanced at the kitchen clock. "Damn meetings," the gargoyle turned human muttered. In between phone calls to California, Lydia had called with several frantic messages from her department heads. They needed reassurances and advice. Dominique the C.E.O. had responded briskly. Schedule Gregory to chauffeur her at her usual time. Set up a meeting with the Mergers and Acquisitions department. Despite her private concerns, the business world ground on. "Blast!" Dominique cried as she hastily splashed water into her mug. It sprayed the counter and the drops recoiled, catching the back of her hand. The pain was sharp, but it helped to focus her scattered thoughts.
She swallowed near boiling tap water. In her hurry, Dominique had forgotten to add the tea. With a grimace, she slammed the mug against the counter top and it cracked in two. Turning on her heel, the worried executive tossed a dishtowel over the spilled water and shards of ceramic and went upstairs to dress for the day.
* * * * *
Two people, one definitely masculine and the other possibly feminine, hauled Andrea to her feet moments after the cargo plane touched ground. They hustled her down a long flight of steps and into a car.
Andrea stumbled as they attempted to load her, falling against the long rear fender. It was some kind of sedan, she guessed but there were no distinguishing marks or raised logos as her hands grazed the cool metal.
The pair pulled her into the back seat and one of her captors slid in beside her. The other slammed the car door shut and soon the engine purred to life.
Andrea pretended to sag in a faint against her companion. The shoulder that grazed her cheek was broad and masculine. His hand shoved her away against the glass of the window and fear bloomed anew just before the kidnapper stabbed her with a sharp needle through the thin fabric of her blouse and the world went black again.
* * *
When Andrea woke again the tape was gone from her mouth and eyes. It had been replaced, she realized, by a long black hood that obscured her vision and tickled her nose. Still, anything was better than the claustrophobic terror invoked by the sensation of having her mouth sealed closed.
Her feet were free as well, but her hands were still bound tightly in front of her and she could see them through the gap in the hood, even as she felt the cord that cut into her wrists.
The room felt closed and cramped and smelled vaguely of gasoline and other chemicals. Where ever it was her kidnappers were taking her she had evidently arrived. It was, the artist realized, something of a relief. An irrational desire to laugh overcame her and she thought of Dominique and the conversation they'd had before Andrea had left for San Francisco. It seemed an eternity ago that she'd laughed at her lover's paranoid fears. The joke didn't seem as funny anymore.
Andrea peered down through the gap in the hood and realized that the room was dark gray rather than pitch black. That meant that somewhere a light burned and someone was waiting. Waiting for her to stir? Or for demands to be met? It was without irony that Andrea realized the suspense was killing her.
* * * * *
"Buy all of our remaining outstanding stock," Dominique demanded after listening to her various officers and advisors argue and opinionate. "I don't want a single share left floating by the end of the business day. Use whatever means necessary. Liquidate whatever funds you need. Just keep whoever is targeting us out of the market. Are we clear about this?"
A half a dozen dubious glances met her own and Dominique Destine stared them all down. The group began to rise, scraping their chairs against the polished wooden floor, some talking on cell phones to their assistants or dictating memos into their palm-sized computers.
Dominique fled to the comparative safety of her own office. She was greeted silently by Lydia, who held forth a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and the day's mail in the other.
The harried executive took them both, nodding her thanks as she sipped the strong black and sugared coffee. Only after she had drained the cup did she turn to the stack of mail.
Among the missives a padded yellow envelope rested. In red it was stamped "For your eyes only." Lydia had left the seal unbroken.
Something beneath the padding ruined the smooth surface of the envelope and Dominique felt her breath catch as she ran a manicured nail beneath the sealed edge. She opened the packet and a note card on heavy stock fell out, accompanied by a fine gold chain with a mounted opal dangle.
She knew that necklace! She had bought it for Andrea as a whim one day while window-shopping. Andrea had worn it often. She had been wearing it the morning they'd kissed and said goodbye.
"Lydia!" Dominique demanded. "Who delivered this? Where did it come from?"
The secretary looked up absently from the stack of discarded correspondence her boss had dropped on her desk. "I don't know Ms. Destine. The courier brought it with the rest of the locally delivered mail. Nothing special about it."
Dominique set the envelope down on the desk and examined the heavy stock card contained with the necklace. "If you value Ms. Calhoun's life go home," it said. "Wait for instructions."
Lydia was still speaking. Something about the long list of instructions generated by the recently completed meeting. Dominique wrenched her attention back to her assistant.
"Lydia, I don't have time for all of that now. Have the Department heads follow up as required. You sign for me whatever needs signing. If you're not sure, then consult with Hoskins in Legal. I trust you both."
"Ms. Destine!" Lydia rose from her desk and followed Dominique into her private office.
"Just do it, Lydia," Dominique replied as she paged her chauffeur. "I've had a family emergency and I must leave at once. Nightstone is going to have to manage without me for a day or so."
* * * * *
"Hi Elisa! Bye Elisa!" Lexington raced passed the police detective as she crossed the courtyard to greet Goliath.
"Lex! Hey what's the rush?" He was already gone. Elisa grinned good-naturedly and was still smiling when she reached her mate's side. "Lexington sure was in a hurry tonight," she commented as she stretched up on her toes to kiss the gargoyle leader.
"He is indeed," Goliath replied, bemused, as he returned the kiss. The pair broke the embrace, but linked hands as they went to more private corner of the castle garden. "He has been spending a great deal of time down in the Labyrinth over the past several days. I suspect his haste has to do with his desire to complete his assigned tasks and return there."
"Really," Elisa said thoughtfully. "Any particular reason? I'm a little out of the loop after spending all week on the Treble Aces stakeout."
"You have concluded that assignment?" Goliath inquired.
Elisa nodded. She knew how much he hated it when the captain assigned her to long term undercover jobs. "We busted the entire gang and now I'm free as a bird for the next four days." The detective returned her mate's pleased smile but then nudged him in the ribs. "So what's going on with Lex?"
"Talon informs me that he has been spending a great deal of time with Delilah. It seems that in a very short time the pair have grown quite close. I am pleased," Goliath admitted. "I would prefer Lexington have the privilege of choosing his own mate."
"You mean the Gargoyle Council's breeding pool idea." Elisa's brow wrinkled thoughtfully. "You know, I can see the merit of it in a theoretical sense, pairing up the unattached to increase the number of breeding couples and eventually the population. But it seems so clinical. To have your life's mate assigned." She shivered. "I don't like it."
Goliath nodded in agreement. "Nor do I. I had hopes that he might find a suitable mate from among the Caledonian Clan. It is somewhat sentimental, I realize, but for Lexington to find a mate of Scottish stock after all this time..."
"It's too bad they're such technophobes," Elisa agreed. "I know Lexington was disappointed at their lack of interest when he went to install the new computer system. He wouldn't be happy among them."
"Perhaps it is just as well," Goliath rumbled. "Matings are tricky enough things even without complicating them with new clan alliances. Another tie with your brother's clan could do no harm and I believe much good."
Elisa nodded. She was grateful that Goliath and Talon had mended their fences. The time they had spent at odds had been a painful one for all concerned. "I believe you're right," she said quietly. "Now speaking of the hazards of mating," the raven-tressed woman said as she snuggled closer to the gargoyle, "How should we spend my next few nights off?"
* * * * *
Thailog woke from his stone sleep feeling more refreshed than he had since the first time he'd stepped from the restoration tank. He stretched languidly, feeling the power within him, and smiled as the secret panel that led from his office to his concealed roosting space opened at a touch of his talon.
"So much to do and so little time to do it in," the gargoyle drawled as he seated himself at his desk and began his evening's work. "First, let's see how Nightstone made out. Computer: Display stock portfolio."
At his voice command, an LCD display unfolded from the desk and began to fill with numbers. Thailog bared his teeth in a feral grin as he reviewed the daily transactions. "Brilliant," he said softly.
It had been a calculated risk buying Nightstone stock on margin and then using the short-term profits to buy even more. The computer had, of course, done it all, monitoring every change in the market, reacting instantaneously to each rise and fall.
Then the fun had begun. He'd deliberately made the Nightstone board nervous, funneling more and more of their stock into shell corporations. They began to sense a buyout, a hostile takeover. They'd driven the price of their own stock up by falling into a bidding war over outstanding shares.
Abruptly, Thailog had changed tactics, selling blocks of stock back to Nightstone over the course of the last business day. He'd made a tidy profit and caused ripples all over Wall Street. "I hope your day wasn't too stressful, Demona, my pet," Thailog purred as he closed the stock program and switched to video feed in another part of the building. "It's always such a hassle when both your business and your personal life go to hell in the same hand basket."
The gargoyle studied his prisoner with the same attention he'd devoted to the Nightstone transactions. She had worked her way to her feet. Though having them under her did her little good. She made her way to the front of the cell and called repeatedly for help. It was a pointless waste of breath, because no one except Thailog was in the building. The human had evidently come to the same conclusion. She slowly made her way to the furthest corner of the cell and used the wall to help her slide to the floor. Her head bent and her shoulders shook. "How terribly sad," Thailog said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. "The little artist is crying. Perhaps I shall visit her and cheer her up…after I make a few arrangements of course."
Thailog dialed a number from memory and frowned when a busy signal buzzed back at him. Suddenly piqued, he rose from his chair and set out to inspect Andrea in person.
* * * * *
Demona paced anxiously. It was a waste of energy, she knew, but there was nothing left to be done. The surveillance system had been set to "High Alert" mode. Not so much as a sparrow had crossed her perimeter without being noted and classified. Her private lines had long ago been upgraded to trace any incoming call as soon as she picked up. She'd selected the smallest and most lethal weapons from her armory in hopes that she would be able to seek personal retribution from the kidnappers. The note had said to wait for a call. And so for hours she had done exactly that, the tedium only broken by her transformation at dusk. Demona had waited and prayed that the call would come quickly.
The telephone rang and the worried gargoyle scooped the antique French style handset into her talons before the first tone had died away. "Yes? Who is it?" she demanded.
"Mother?" the sweet voice on the other end sounded, confused by Demona's harsh demand.
"Angela?" Demona replied in something closer to her normal controlled tone. "Is everything all right?"
"I should ask you that, mother. You sound kind of stressed."
"I? Of course not. What is it, child?" she replied, attempting to modulate her voice further.
"I was hoping…" Angela hesitated. "It's been awhile since I've seen you, mother. I was kind of thinking. Broadway's going to be spending the evening with Brooklyn and Hudson watching the hockey game. I thought maybe we could get together…"
"Impossible!" Demona replied abruptly before Angela could continue with her proposal. Realizing how curt she sounded, the older gargoyle quickly added. "I mean, I'd love to, my dear, but I've been utterly swamped with work and I have a meeting to prepare for. In fact, I have a conference call that's supposed to start in five minutes. I really need to clear the line."
"Oh," Angela said softly. "I see. Well, another time. When you're not so busy."
"Absolutely," Demona replied sincerely as she glanced anxiously at the clock. "Next week, I promise. Now I really must run along."
"Good bye, mo-" Demona severed the connection before Angela finished and hung up the receiver. A moment later she'd returned to pacing, following the well-worn path already dug into the living room carpet.
* * * * *
Andrea's eyes went wide as her hood was ripped away and her captor revealed himself at last. "A gargoyle!" she whispered in surprise as she studied her kidnapper. He was, to her artist's eye, beautiful in hard, cruel way. His massive, muscled frame was well proportioned and graceful. He moved with an easy fluidity. But the perpetual sneer that turned his lip and the eyes that betrayed no warmth sent icy fingers of fear down her spine as she met his gaze. "Why?" the artist asked, confused. "I've done so much to help your people!"
Thailog looked bemused. He removed an 8x10 photograph from an envelope, studied it from several angles, and then turned the picture so that Andrea could see. It was a candid shot of Dominique in gargoyle form, nude and in the throes of passion as Andrea writhed under her. The artist blushed hotly. From the tiny bit of the surrounding room she was certain the photo had been taken during their impromptu mountain getaway.
"Yes, I can see you give your all for the cause," he responded dryly. He removed another picture and raised an eye ridge curiously before handing the photo to Andrea. In it, Dominique was lying on her back, her legs spread wide as Andrea was poised to bury a vibrator deep into the gaping mouth of the gargoyle's sex. Despite her fear, a jolt of longing coursed through her, and Thailog shook his head in mock consternation. "I can understand that perhaps no other male gargoyle would be good enough for my Night Angel after she'd felt this between her legs-"
Andrea stared in blatant revulsion as the brawny gargoyle ran a hand over his own body allowing to drift languidly until it stroked the length of his well defined groin. "But I can't understand why she'd fall so low as to sully herself by consorting with a human, and a female at that. You must have some hold over her. Tell me, my pet-" Andrea recoiled as the smoky-gray gargoyle touched the tip of her cheek bone. "What is it you have that keeps Demona coming back for more?"
In her mind, Andrea screamed as Thailog immobilized her by wrapping a massive hand around the back of her neck. The other moved as easily as it had before over her body. His touch was dispassionate as he caressed her through her clothing. Seemingly unsatisfied with he found, he yanked her head up to meet his and kissed Andrea on the mouth, forcing her lips open and his tongue inward.
His violation woke the stunned artist from her malaise and she bit down hard, tasting blood as she forced her teeth together.
"Bitch!" Thailog growled as he released Andrea. She fell the short distance to the ground and landed hard on her left ankle. "You have spirit." He slapped her hard and the blood sang in her ears. Thailog reached for her again. Buttons popped as he tore the silk of her blouse and the satin of her bra.
Andrea had no time to mourn her ruined clothing as Thailog advanced again. "I believe I can remedy that unfortunate personality defect." Talons closed around her right breast and squeezed hard.
The artist gasped in pain. Think, Andrea! "We haven't even been introduced," Andrea retorted through gritted teeth. "But you seem familiar to me."
Thailog gave her a pitying look. "You'll know me intimately by the time I'm finished with you, my dear." He studied her critically as his hands continued to rend the clothing from her body.
He pinned her against the wall, her arms well above her head so that she could only struggle impotently. Realizing her only hope was to minimize the inevitable damage, Andrea closed her eyes as his touch became gentle. He had studied those photos well, she thought as his caress became a parody of Dominique's. Where her lover's touch was feather-light and exquisite, his fingers pinched and tormented her tender flesh as they ruthlessly explored the curves and valleys of her body.
She thought about sunsets and rainbows as Thailog cupped the fullness of her breasts and stroked the darker flesh of her nipples between his talons.
When his mouth came down hard on the sensitive skin of her collarbone, the artist remembered a long ago trip to Hawaii and the dolphins that played in the surf. She clung to the memory of the curious creatures swimming along side her as Thailog's teeth bit into the flesh and licked delicately at the welling blood.
She fought the urge to scream and drew on every reserve of calm she could muster, withdrawing further into her mind as Thailog's tail wrapped sensuously around her bare ankle and began to creep upward. "Come, come, my pet." Disappointment weighed heavily in the gargoyle's baritone sneer as the tip of his tail played with her pubic curls. "Don't tell me I've broken you already." He forced Andrea's head downward to watch as the tail forced its way between her clenched thighs. His free hand slapped her breasts and she gasped in pain from both the slap and the sudden violation.
The tail withdrew as abruptly as it had entered and despite her intention not to participate in the gargoyle's entertainment, she met his eyes, confused.
"So far this has been something of a one sided encounter, my dear," Thailog said smoothly as he grabbed a handful of her honey blonde hair and pushed her downward. "I've been more than generous in my attentions to you, but you have yet to reciprocate."
Andrea gasped. At some point, while she'd retreated into her mind, her captor had removed the heavy silver belt and ornate red loincloth that had girdled his hips. From the waist down he was naked. He forced her mouth downward to the head of his erect shaft. It was huge, bigger than the biggest vibrator or dildo she'd ever seen, and dark charcoal gray. The tip was thick and mushroom-shaped and she gagged involuntarily at the thought of trying to service him. "I can't!" she choked as the hand on the back of her head forced her to open her lips further.
"Oh, but you can," the gargoyle replied smoothly as he stroked her head. "And you will. Or I'll find some other orifice of yours to pleasure myself with." His tail snaked upwards and caressed between her legs. "I've never had a human female," he said conversationally as his tail crept from the cleft of Andrea's buttocks to the tender flesh of her sex. "So you'll forgive me if I'm a bit rough." He jabbed upward, into the valley between Andrea's legs, and the artist gasped. Thailog used the opportunity to force her mouth over the head of his penis and he sighed as Andrea's tongue settled against the satin smoothness of his head. "Very nice," he managed as he began to move his hips forcing more of himself into the female's mouth. "Very nice indeed."
* * * * *
"This is futile!" Demona growled, her tail lashing with anxiety. "Why won't they call?"
In answer to her question the telephone bell jangled.
The distraught gargoyle stared at the instrument in disbelief, hesitating as the phone rang a second time. The moment of shock passed and Demona reached for the receiver.
"Hello," she said, her voice much more calm then she felt.
"Hello, my dear," a rich baritone voice replied. "Having a pleasant evening at home?"
"You!" Demona hissed. Shock betrayed her illusion of calm and Thailog chuckled.
"I knew you were going to say that," he teased good-naturedly. "Sometimes, Demona, you are so predictable."
Demona's tail began to lash anew, and her hand tightened on the receiver. The Bakelite threatened to crumble under her grip as she took a deep breath and tried to steady her nerves. "Why are you calling, Thailog?" she replied, ignoring the insult with studied indifference.
"Straight to business, my dear? No curiosity about what I've been up to? Or if I've any hot stock tips? I hear there's a technology company who's had something of a rough ride lately. Someone's been churning their stock. You could make a bundle if you caught the gyrations just right."
The taunt hit a mark and a growl rose from Demona's throat. Braggart! He'd been responsible for her recent corporate woes. Again. "Very clever, I'm sure," Demona replied with the same casual indifference. "But that isn't why you called, Thailog. So why not get to the point?"
"As you wish," he replied. "I have something of yours. A particularly sweet little bit of fluff." Thailog's voice dropped into a lascivious leer. "Very tasty, in its way, but I suspect, not very durable."
Numbness began to creep over Demona. Thailog had been a particularly skilled, yet aggressive lover. She'd been grateful on more than one occasion during their brief liaison for the rapid healing power of her human transformation. "You wouldn't…" She couldn't complete the thought, not without revealing her fears or giving Thailog any ideas.
Thailog chuckled. "I did indulged my curiosity. After all, this attachment to a human, pet, is so unlike you." He chuckled again as in fond remembrance and a fist seemed to squeeze Demona's heart. "I will admit, Ms. Calhoun does have her charms. But judging from those pictures my operative took, you are fully aware of them."
Pictures? Her privacy violated? The sudden stab of anger momentarily beat back the fear.
His tone turned abruptly business-like. "But enough of these pleasantries. There is something I want and you are going to get it for me. In exchange, you may have your artist. Is that agreeable?"
"I'm listening," Demona replied flatly. She tried to ignore the vision of Andrea screaming in fear and pain as Thailog listed his demands. The list, to her surprise, was remarkable short.
"I want what is mine. Bring Delilah to the New Town Oil Refinery at midnight." Thailog paused to make sure that Demona was still listening and then added, "I want what is yours. Ten million dollars wired to an account number I'll give you later. The stock market has been good to me, but you can never have enough cash. Oh and," he added pleasantly, "come alone. Or I guarantee that you won't want what's left of your playmate."
The line went dead. Impotent fury boiled within Demona's breast. She screamed and grabbed a heavy vase that stood next to the telephone. Without thinking she hurled the crystal missile across the living room and it shattered into a thousand shards as it struck the wall. Thailog had Andrea. Thailog had used Andrea. She was a petite human woman who had no powers of regeneration to sustain her against Thailog's idea of lovemaking. He would kill Andrea if she didn't comply, and the death would not be an easy one.
Delilah on the other hand… Thailog's choice. Thailog's betrayal. But how? It was impossible, wasn't it? Delilah would never come with her voluntarily. And if she took her and was caught then the clan that had so recently grudgingly accepted her back into their fold would cast her out again. Not even Angela could forgive her for such a transgression.
Demona sank to the floor and leaned against the wall before burying her head in her hands. She couldn't think. Pain rolled over her in black waves. Andrea or Delilah? Her personal happiness or her place in the clan? It was too much to deal with and for a little while the azure gargoyle withdrew into a quiet place in her mind where there were no life and death decisions.
* * * * *
The outskirts of the Labyrinth
"I promise," Delilah said to Malibu as she gave him a gentle push toward their home tunnels, "I'll be home long before the sun rises. I appreciate you walking with me through the tunnels, but you need to return to your post now."
"Lexington will be here soon?" the long-beaked clone inquired.
"Very soon," Delilah reassured. "Now go on. You need to relieve Brentwood so that he can help Claw with the repair work in the lower gallery."
"All right." Malibu retreated into the depths of the elaborate system of tunnels. Delilah watched until the darkness swallowed him and then ascended the short distance up the iron ladder that led to the street. There, in a shallow alcove that had once been the doorway to an apartment building, she waited.
A few minutes later, the heavy flutter of a gargoyle's wings sounded in the mouth of the alleyway. Delilah smiled and then frowned as the new arrival proved not to be Lexington, but Demona. The older gargoyle looked upset, her face drawn and worried. Hesitantly, Delilah revealed herself.
"Demona? Are you all right?"
"Delilah!" The azure gargoyle's eyes flared in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
The clone lowered her eyes shyly. "Waiting… for Lexington. He's going to meet me here any minute."
"I wish we could wait for him," Demona said. "But I need you to come with me. Right now! There's no time to waste!"
"Why?" Delilah asked. "What's the matter?"
Demona studied the clone. She'd changed in the months since the last time Angela had forced them together at one of those precious Family Night's. She seemed much more confident and capable. The gargoyle fingered the pouch at her waist that contained the syringe of potent sedative that she'd meant to use to subdue the clone with. Demona began to ease the bag open as she replied, "There's been an emergency, a kidnapping! I'll tell you the details while we're underway. But we must act now! Come with me, Delilah, I need your help!"
Delilah's eyes glowed ruby. "Of course. Show me the way!"
Demona dropped the bag and the pouch tightened shut. Part one of her plan had been easily accomplished. The pessimist in her warned that the worst was yet to come. Ignoring the negative internal voice, Demona gestured toward the rooftop. A moment later they had cleared the slated surface and were aloft, heads close together as they hurried toward the New Town Refinery.
* * *
"Right on time," Lexington said with satisfaction. He began to descend toward the alleyway that had become his rendezvous point with Delilah when he pulled up short in surprise. Delilah was already on the roof, and with her was Demona. A moment later the pair were airborne, gliding rapidly away in the opposite direction.
The kite-winged gargoyle stared in confusion. "This is odd." Demona was a sore subject with Delilah. After Broadway and Angela's mating ceremony, he'd witnessed a couple of awkward exchanges between the pair that inevitably had left the younger female hurt and confused. Lexington had felt for her, as had they all, but he hadn't been surprised. Demona might have been readmitted to the clan, but she had yet to take her place among them.
"So why would Delilah go with her now? Especially since we had a date?" Lexington's smile of satisfaction dissolved into a suspicious frown. "Truce or no truce, I don't like it." Maintaining a discreet distance, he vectored into a surveillance pursuit.
* * * * *
Andrea lay curled on her side, tears streaming silently down her cheeks. She had not moved since her abductor had taken his pleasure filling the abandoned building with his hoarse moans and lustful bellows.
When he had finished, the giant gray gargoyle had roughly pushed her away from his still hardened member and Andrea had waited, her ears ringing from his orgasmic cries, terrified of what he might do next. He'd looked down upon her, regarded her almost fondly, then shook his head. "I'm sorry, my dear, but I've no more time now. Perhaps later we can see what you're really capable of."
Then he was gone and she was alone. With a corner of her torn silk blouse she wiped at her face until the last vestiges of his spending were obliterated. The scent remained, musk-like, and her stomach roiled in protest. She dry-gagged until her sides ached and then collapsed back against the cold cement floor. Everything started to go black. This time it was a comfort. Andrea welcomed the darkness, she embraced it to her like a favorite blanket and it in turn covered her gently.
When she awoke again, some hours later, and realized that the experience hadn't been a particularly obscene nightmare, her eyes had welled with tears and she sobbed. Her ribs ached anew and her jaw felt puffy and swollen. The artist, for the sake of her injuries, had forced herself to calm, but the tears refused to abate. She cried silently and prayed for deliverance.
A door opened. Andrea cowered against the wall of her cell. Voices. Female voices. Dominique?
"Demona, look!" an unfamiliar voice cried in shock as light suddenly flooded the chamber.
"Andrea! By the dragon, what has he done to you?"
And then the voice, smooth, deep and malevolent. "Not much yet, my dear. I told you I couldn't resist indulging my curiosity just a little."
"You beast!" Demona spat.
"Thailog!" Delilah added in chorus. Her voice was tight with surprise and shock.
Andrea watched the tableau unfold. Thailog was studying the new gargoyle, a pretty caramel colored female with a strangely familiar voice. He seemed to be assessing her as if she were prime merchandise. The female returned his gaze with abject loathing. She shot an unreadable glance toward her companion and then returned her attention to Thailog as if he were a particularly venomous creature who mustn't be trusted.
"Delilah," the gray gargoyle chided, "I'll forgive you this once, your natural surprise at seeing me back in perfect form was, of course, a shock. But I expect better manners. How am I always to be addressed?"
The gargoyle dropped her eyes. "Master," she said quietly, "how may I serve you?"
"That's better." He turned his attention to Demona. "You see, my dear? All I want from those around me is a little cooperation."
Demona pulled the palm-sized computer from her belt pouch. "I've brought you what you requested." She held the unit up in front of her. "All you have to do is enter your bank codes and the money will be transferred. Now give me what is mine. Unlock the cell and free Andrea." Before Delilah could react, Demona closed the short gap between them and shoved the clone within a step of Thailog's grasp.
"She must mean a great deal to you, Demona," Thailog drawled as he held out his hand for the small computer. "But then you always were a sentimental fool, lucky for me."
Demona's eyes glowed red, but she held her tongue as she flung the computer toward her adversary. He caught it one handed and began to tap in a series of codes and passwords. A moment later he smiled, content in the warm glow of avarice. "You may leave now," Thailog said as he thumbed a controller that hung from his belt. The door to Andrea's cell slid open and Demona hurried to the fallen woman's side. "Delilah and I have so much catching up to do."
Demona helped Andrea to her feet and then wrapped her in the protective cloak of her wing. Without a backward glance at Delilah, the azure gargoyle left the clone to her fate.
As the echo of a metal door slammed in the outer chamber, Thailog advanced on Delilah. He stroked her long white hair fondly and then pulled the female to him by the collar of her jacket. "I've been waiting a very long time for this, my dear."
Delilah was no longer complacent. She ducked out of Thailog's embrace and with a spin kick lashed at her former master with her tail. "You can keep on waiting, master!" She spat the last word, allowing her rage to show at last.
Thailog was unprepared for Delilah's sudden display of courage. Though her tail struck him only a glancing blow it was enough to rock him backwards on his feet and he hesitated before reaching again for her mane of long white hair. This time there was no fondness about it. "I see I'm going to have to re-teach you a few lessons." He yanked hard and Delilah lost her footing. She relaxed suddenly as if the fight had gone out of her as quickly as it had come on. "I'm sorry!" she whimpered.
"Of course you are," Thailog agreed. "But not half as sorry as you're going to be by the time I've finished with you." Delilah allowed him to pull her close. Thailog bent slightly to whisper in her ear. "You see, my dear-"
Before he could continue she struck again. Heels to the larger clone's instep, elbow spurs against the solar plexus. Finally she struck with her coup de grace. The syringe of potent tranquilizer she'd kept carefully palmed rammed hard into Thailog's shoulder. He bellowed and released his grip. "We are finished!" Delilah cried. "And you will never, ever be my master!"
Delilah wasted no time. Dropping to all fours, she ran as the room behind her disintegrated under the force of the explosive charge hidden in the palm-top computer.
The old refinery building rocked as shock waves set off secondary explosions. Power lines torn from their terminals sparked and set off the contents of improperly drained gasoline tanks. Delilah raced through the chaos, her eyes streaming tears as the superheated air burned her skin.
"Only a little further," she gasped as she rounded a corner and the exit beckoned. Delilah ran for the doorway. She cleared the threshold, only to be lifted off her feet as the fuel tanks behind her exploded.
The gargoyle was thrown clear of the building and she unfurled her wings.
* * *
Lexington had watched with growing curiosity as Delilah and Demona had glided toward the industrial section of the city. At first, Delilah had flown at Demona's wing, listening while Demona talked. The elder gargoyle's face had been strained, as if she was in great distress and at first Lexington had thought that somehow Angela must have been involved though he knew her to be home safely at the castle. Then suddenly, Delilah had recoiled away from Demona, her wings beating against the air currents as she stared in disbelief. The shock had passed rapidly. Delilah's normally sweet features hardened in anger and she had nodded in agreement.
Still unsure, but having no reason to intrude, Lexington shadowed the two females all the way to the refinery. The pair descended, paused a moment for one more intense conversation, then entered the building. Feeling somewhat guilty, he had hidden on the roof of a building opposite, secure that from his vantage point he could continue to watch unobserved.
Now Lexington watched in amazement as Demona, a battered human woman tucked under her wing, ran away from the building. The pair disappeared out of his line of sight and he grew increasingly nervous as several minutes ticked by and Delilah failed to follow.
A muted explosion. Then the roof at the center of the warehouse collapsed. Transfixed, Lexington ran to the edge of the roof, unmindful now of being observed. Delilah crossed the exterior threshold and he grinned in relief only to watch his love lifted into the sky on a wave of fire. "Delilah! No!" He was off the roof, matching her course as she tumbled out of control. His face a mask of grim determination, he expertly maneuvered around chunks of concrete and other debris as he grabbed Delilah around the waist and tried to guide her to safety. The sudden change in air temperature nearly undid them both as Lexington struggled to compensate for the clone's dead weight. The pair dropped and the ground rose rapidly to meet them.
A solid hit behind his bat-like ear by a foot long piece of gas pipe blurred the determined gargoyle's vision. The world canted crazily and he began to tumble. Desperate, he spun Delilah so that he was beneath her. "At least I can cushion your fall," he muttered with resignation.
"Hold on, Lexington!" A female voice yelled. He looked upward and to his surprise, Demona had wrenched Delilah from his grasp. "I've got her! Save yourself!"
Relieved of his burden, Lexington made the best of a bad landing and tumbled the short distance to the ground.
Demona hauled him unceremoniously to his feet. "Are you all right?"
He nodded, though the world still spun. "I think so."
"Then come on," Demona urged. "We have to get out of here!"
A car skidded to rest next to them and the driver's door opened. The battered human female nearly tumbled out as she gestured to the trio of gargoyles. Demona pushed Delilah into Lexington's grasp then slid into the driver's seat, forcing the human woman across the bench.
Cradling Delilah gently against his side, Lexington opened the back passenger door and climbed in. Demona had accelerated and they were roaring out of the parking lot before the door slammed shut.
Delilah stirred, still unconscious, and Lexington smoothed the singed hair out of her eyes.
"Dominique," the human said in a surprised voice, "I didn't know you knew how to drive."
"I don't," she replied dryly. "That's why I use a chauffeur. But there's no time like the present to learn."
Lexington couldn't believe his ears. How could Demona be cracking jokes at a time like this when Delilah was hurt and in pain. And why was that human woman speaking to her so familiarly and calling her 'Dominique'? "What is going on here?" he sputtered as Demona revved the car onto the expressway. "You almost got Delilah killed! How could you be so irresponsible?"
The azure gargoyle barely spared him a glance in the rearview mirror, saving her concern for her other companions. "A rescue, Lexington," she replied as she cut around a truck and then settled down to a slightly more sedate pace. "Delilah was assisting me. Now if you don't mind?" The car lurched as to make the point that it was her priority at the current moment and the female gargoyle lapsed into silence.
Delilah stirred in his arms. Lexington's anger faded as her dark eyes met his. "Hey," he asked gently. "How are you feeling?"
"Been better," she admitted. "Hurts a lot." Delilah shifted slightly, taking the burden off of a singed wing and tugged at Lexington's arm. "It's okay though. Did what I had to do." She lapsed back into unconsciousness and Lexington was forced to fume in silence until they pulled through the gates of Destine Manor.
* * * * *
"Bring her up here," Demona instructed as she helped her passenger from the car and with an easy flex of the knees swept her up into gentle arms. Lexington followed suite, carrying Delilah up the sweeping staircase that led to Demona's main living quarters.
Once or twice as Demona fussed over the two victims, Lexington attempted to renew his barrage of questions, only to be ignored or instructed to run here or there for first aid supplies, warm towels or hot tea in which to dissolve the pain medications from Demona's small reserve of pharmaceuticals.
Only when Delilah's burns were tended and the slight, blonde woman's cuts and bruises treated and both of them tucked under Demona's heavy satin bedclothes did the azure gargoyle pause her fussing. "Very well, your unexpected help was welcome, and I suppose you are owed an explanation."
Lexington looked up in surprise. He had borrowed a chair and was sitting at the edge of the bed, Delilah's hand cradled, as it had been for most of the last hour, in his own. He opened his mouth to reply acerbically but was stopped by Delilah.
"We did good work, Demona." She looked up, her glance passing from the elder gargoyle to Lexington, seeking confirmation of her statement. The pair nodded, and she continued. "I wish there would have been time to tell you, Lex, what we were doing. But there wasn't time. And," she added in a slightly lowered voice," I don't know if I'd waited if I would have had the nerve to go through with it."
"Go through with what?" Lexington prompted.
"Thailog. Thailog took your artist friend. Demona explained it to me. He wanted Demona to take me to him in exchange for her," Delilah looked up at Lexington her dark eyes luminous with emotion. "Thailog was always going to be in the shadows waiting for his chance. Demona gave me a chance to go after him first. I took it. I did it for me and… for us." Delilah sank back against the pillows exhausted and fell immediately to sleep under the effect of Demona's sedative.
Lexington leaned down and kissed her, proud of her bravery though confused by Delilah's explanation. "Who is that?" he asked as he looked closer at Andrea's bruised and battered face.
Demona looked up, wrung out the compress she'd been using, and set it in a bowl on the bedside table. She tucked the blankets carefully around the woman in an oddly tender gesture. "It's hard to tell, isn't it? He beat her. He hurt her. But under those bruises is the woman who painted Angela's wedding portrait."
"Her name is Andrea, isn't it?" Lexington remembered. "Andrea Calhoun from P.I.T."
"That's right," Demona replied.
"But I still don't understand," Lexington said perplexed. "Why did Thailog think he'd get what he wanted from you? Why didn't he just go after Delilah himself?"
Demona gave him a tired look. "It was a game for him, Lexington, and I had the most to lose. Now if you don't mind, there's only an hour or so until dawn and I've got a few things to take care of."
* * * * *
The sun was pinking the pre-dawn sky as Demona led Lexington and Delilah from the master suite and out through the balcony doors. "You can stay the day here," she said as the trio crossed the threshold onto the patio flagstones. "I've already contacted both Goliath and Talon so you needn't worry about them."
"Thanks, Demona," Lexington replied as he bent into a wing-flared crouch. Delilah took her place beside him, caping her wings regally as she tipped her face to meet the coming day.
"I'll leave you, then," she said quietly. "I prefer to make my own transformation in private."
A moment later the two gargoyles were alone and Lexington hesitantly cleared his throat. "Um, Delilah. What you said about going with Demona to make things safe for us… It takes a lot of courage to face your worse nightmare, and I know that Thailog was yours. I'm proud of you."
Delilah turned to face her companion. "It wasn't easy," she admitted. "Part of me will always want to bow to Thailog. But Demona believed in me and that made it easier to believe in myself."
"I still don't understand why she went after Andrea. It's not like Demona to go out on a limb for a human," Lexington mused.
The sun began to rise in earnest and Delilah interlaced the talons of her right hand through Lexington's. She smiled at him, bemused. "Because she cares. Because she-" The rising sun prevented the hybrid from saying more.
* * *
"Alone at last," Demona sighed as a brilliant new dawn flooded the bedroom with sunlight. She bathed in it, flexing her diminishing wings high over her head, enjoying her daily transformation instead of cursing it. When her metamorphosis was complete, she gave a final stretch and turned to find Andrea examining her.
"You saved me," she said quietly as Demona, now Dominique slid into bed next to her.
"Of course I did," the changeling gargoyle replied matter-of-factly. "Do you think I'd let anybody keep you from me once I knew who they were and where they were hiding you?" She gently took Andrea's face between long fingers. "The healing spell I used on you is doing its work. Your face looks much better."
"Don't, Domi," Andrea said sharply. "Don't run inside yourself."
"I wasn't!" Dominique protested. She pulled Andrea into her embrace, cradling the injured woman against the rough fabric of her halter-top. "I've got you back and you're safe. I made Thailog pay for hurting you. But I'm angry that he had the chance at all."
"Remind me never to get on your bad side," Andrea quipped back weakly at her lover's venomous tone. "He used me. And he scared me half to death. I always thought of all gargoyles as a noble people. Naïve, I guess. And a little stupid. It never occurred to me that your race could have its bad apples."
Demona, scourge of humankind for a thousand years, stared for a moment at her companion before replying dryly, "Oh, we have our share."
"Who was this Thailog?" Andrea asked as she shifted slightly against Dominique. "You meant something to him once, didn't you. He was jealous of me, of us. When he showed me those pictures, there was something in his eyes even as he leered and taunted me. He really wanted to hurt you. Why?"
Dominique closed her eyes, recalling her time with Thailog. How could she explain to her precious Andrea that Thailog had been both her lover and her partner in crime? "For a short time we were… close. But it didn't work out." She closed her eyes again, putting that portion of her past firmly behind her. "I guess I never quite met his expectations," she sighed. "I know he never really met mine."
There was more to the story, but something about Dominique's flat recitation warned Andrea from prying further. She altered her line of thought slightly. "When you told me that you had enemies, I never realized that you meant the violent type." She looked up at her lover, her brown eyes troubled. "This guy wasn't an exception was he?" There are others like him. Is this what you were afraid of? Someone from your past using me to get to you?"
Dominique nodded. She drew a deep breath and studied the woman who now shared her bed and had become such a focal point in her life. "To an extent, Thailog was right. When it comes to certain individuals, I am a sentimental fool." The admission was not an easy one. She had often unbraided others for their sentimentality. It was a killing weakness that she loathed to admit she harbored herself. "The rest of the world can burn to the ground, but no one will ever hurt my daughter, or … you." Her voice dropped and the conflict that raged within was evident. "I should send you away. It would be the best way to protect you."
"Dominique! No!" Andrea pushed her way out of the pillows, ignoring the myriad of pains that still stabbed her. "I won't leave you."
Her bedmate shook her head, cursing herself a fool even as she stilled her lover's protests. "Despite my better judgement, I'm not going to. I am a sentimental fool," Dominique repeated. "It seems hard to believe, but after a thousand years, true love has found me. Once in a lifetime is all most can hope for, and too many squander their opportunity. I did once. I loved, but not wisely or well, despite having a mate who loved me. I hope that this time I can rectify my error." She slid from the bed and went to her ornate vanity table. From a small drawer she removed a carved wooden box. She returned to the bed and handed the box to Andrea. "Like humans, gargoyles have adopted the custom of sharing tokens to declare their love for their mates. I want you to have this."
Andrea contemplated the small and intricately carved box. As she did so, the exhaustion and fear that she had endured over the long night seemed to evaporate. "Dominique…what are you saying to me?" With shaking hands she removed the box's lid, revealing a ring of carved gold centered with a band of jade.
Dominique lifted the ring from its cradle of velvet and slipped it on her companion's right hand, hesitated, then removed it to the left. "In this country, I suppose it should go here instead," she said with a rueful smile. "Andrea, you've become my lifeline to the human world. Before I only endured. With you at my side, I've learned to enjoy it. Nearly losing you to Thailog reinforced that our time together is a precious thing and I would be a fool to squander it. Make this your home. Make this our home. Will you?"
Tears began to stream down Andrea's cheeks as she studied their entwined hands, the ring at their center. "I have no gift for you," she protested.
Dominique kissed the crown of her head. "You are my gift. Say yes!"
"No reservations? No more hiding?"
"Never again," Dominique swore.
"Then, yes," Andrea murmured. "I promise you, Dominique, you'll never regret this."
Dominique slid in beside Andrea and spooned her close, inhaling the perfume of her hair. Despite the rigors of the night, despite the terror she had endured, everything was right in the world. She'd kept her place in the clan. Thailog was gone forever, and Andrea had become her own. It was with a contented sigh that Dominique Destine finally drifted to sleep.
* * * * *
The New Town Oil refinery smoked and sputtered still as the sun set the night after the mysterious explosion and fire. Fire officials had come and gone. Arson investigators were attempting to track down the owners of record, though it seemed that the actual principals had been swallowed under an elaborate nest of shell corporations.
The police had strewn the main gate with crime scene tape and sealed the area, then gone away as well, though a helicopter occasionally bathed the crime scene in a harsh yellow spot light to check for hot spots that might re-ignite.
There was no one around to see the smoking rubble shift and creak.
There was no one around to hear the angry bellow that erupted from its depths.
And there was no one present to witness as a taloned hand shot free to the surface and clenched in an angry fist, nor hear Thailog's vow of revenge.