The heavyset woman in the crisp white linens jerked her head towards the corridor, a disapproving look stamping itself on her pudgy face like a fist slammed into dough. A sheen of perspiration basted her forehead, her large nostrils flaring as she expelled an annoyed breath and waited for him to move.
Baelian’s brow rose, his head tilting slightly as he regarded the behemoth of baked goods before him for a moment, cobalt eyes shifting to one of the very much smaller nurses across the way. The young lass was doing her best to pretend she wasn’t interested in anything but the aging socialite in the wheelchair before her, the latter’s croaking voice outlining in grotesque detail the wonderful success of her most recent colonic irrigation as she was driven skilfully through the foyer.
The pretty nurse wrinkled her nose, nodding absently before she caught his gaze, blinking in surprise to find him staring intently at her, then blushing and looking away. She stopped not five feet from where he stood, making a grand show of leaning over the prune in the chair to adjust its blanket, offering a fleeting but very deliberate view of the fancy lace camisole beneath her linens.
Hm. Bellamantis red.
Her eyes lifted to meet his again and he offered her a slow blink, one corner of his mouth quirking just enough to incite a shy smile on her lips. His fingertips started to tingle.
Back to the Bakery. Her rolling pin arms had crossed before the heaving Quasimodo growths on her chest that he assumed were breasts…that or she was trying to smuggle two toddlers into the Retreat under her shirt. Brows furrowed for the briefest moment before her offered her a charming smile, a smile that froze on his lips when all she gave in return was a rather judgemental stare.
Baelian wanted to punch her.
Are you kidding? You’ll either bounce off her or your hand will be swallowed in the dough vortex.
Drawing in a deep and even breath, he nodded at the woman, waving for her to lead the way as he threw a sly wink at the young nurse in red lace, who tittered softly when his back was turned.
“Visiting times are severely restricted, Mr Black,” the loaf huffed at him as she waddled along the soft carpet of the hall, dragging her feet, “You have until the hour agreed upon, regardless of what time you arrive…”
“I understand,” Baelian obliged, “I apologise for being so late…”
“It makes no difference to me what you do,” the pork bun interrupted as she rounded a corner, throwing him a look that clearly told him he shouldn’t have come at all, a pudgy hand coming up to rub the sheen of sweat from her upper lip.
Ugh. I’ll never eat pastries again.
"You're out when I say you're out."
His smile tightened and he nodded at the woman, forcing himself to drink in the finer details of her face, to memorise the lines and colours for later reference.
I will fuck you up, bitch.
A quick phone call here, a harsh word there – the pastry would be out of a job by the end of the week. And why not? She did nothing to enhance the aesthetic of the Oakleaf Retreat which, for all intents and purposes, was supposed to be an escape of relaxation and rehabilitation for the upper crust. Pudgy buns here did not make the grade. There was nothing even remotely relaxing about her. Plus, she was rude.
…the only way to find your cunt is to slap your thigh and ride the wave in…
Baelian almost choked on the snigger he tried to suppress as the fleeting thought danced through his mind. The behemoth breadbox turned to glare at him, as if she knew exactly what he was thinking.
You’d have to roll you in flour and look for the wet spot…
Trying to bite back the laughter that suddenly threatened, the young man turned his glimmering blue eyes away from the disapproving stare of his guide, letting them wander the hallway as they walked.
Insofar as rehabilitation facilities went, Oakleaf had always been one of the fancier establishments, its beige and blue tones and pewter fixtures lending an element of subtlety that spoke more of a country hideaway than a medical institution. If one were so inclined, one could almost convince themselves that they were on a grand holiday instead of under forced incarceration.
Except for the brocade carpet. That drives you crazy if you stare at it for too long…
The sharp rap of knuckles on hardwood snapped his attention back to his companion, who’d come to a rolling halt before an oaken door. The ornate pewter plaque declared it as Room 237.
Fuck my life. Redrum.
Dough-lady waited a moment or so longer before throwing him a nod.
“You can go in now. You have twenty minutes left. I’ll be watching.”
All work and no play makes Bae a fucking psychopath.
Dropping all pretence, Baelian merely stared at her, his eyes growing cold as he and the bakery had their little stand-off in the hallway. A few moments more and she was rolling her eyes and looking at him expectantly, tapping two sausage roll fingers to a bunt sized wrist to indicate that time was a-wasting.
Sneering at her, Baelian nodded, moving to open the door and slip gingerly inside, pushing the oak barrier closed between them with a resounding click. He stared at the pewter handle from within, at his white knuckles wrapped around the metal, gripping it as if it were a lifeline. The tingling in his fingers had spread to most of his hand.
And then came her voice, cutting through the silence in a fine mixture of annoyance and weariness.
“Took you long enough.”
Closing his eyes, Baelian forced himself to release the door, fighting the insane urge to panic and flee from the room. His jaw tightened as he turned to face her, his shoulders squaring as if in preparation for some kind of attack.
“Don’t show fear. It can smell it. It knows when you’re afraid.”
Betty’s voice flittered through his mind, advice he’d never heeded echoing in his subconscious as he looked at her, his daughter. Blue eyes widened as they drank in the sight of the pale and waiflike creature perched on the bed across the way, her rosebud lips twisted into a scowl, liquid brown eyes wide.
“The fuck…” he began after a moment, “Was that thing, Bethany?”
Bethany Black’s nose wrinkled and she shrugged, dark lashes veiling her gaze as it lowered to that damned brocade floor, her eyes tracing the pattern absently.
“That’s Janet. She’s one of the nurses. She’s a cunt.”
“No kidding…” Baelian scoffed, shaking his head and leaning back against the door, arms coming up to cross over his chest as he studied his daughter, “How are you, kid?”
Those dark pools snapped upwards, a flare of anger lighting their depths for the tiniest of seconds before it was gone and only weariness remained.
“Do you care?”
He didn’t answer, just stared at her intently. To her credit, she stared straight back, unflinchingly, until finally he conceded.
“Yes, I care,” he murmured, looking away.
“Well that’s a first,” Bethany sounded genuinely surprised, her tone sending a stab of pain through his chest, “I’ve been in here for months…”
“The doctors thought it best that I stayed away. They didn’t think it was healthy for you to see me.”
“Then why are you here?”
Blinking, Baelian considered his response, his head tilting as he regarded the unyielding little demigod across the way.
“I missed you,” he said finally, flatly.
That gave her pause, her tiny mouth pursing into a pout, those molasses eyes widening like a child’s as she weighed up his words. And then she was blinking away whatever thought or feeling she’d momentarily succumbed to, dark eyes becoming decidedly cold as she stared at him.
“I thought you’d have replaced me with Luna by now…”
Pushing away from the door, Baelian rolled his eyes, a hand rising to rake through his dark hair.
“Have you fucked her yet?” Bethany’s tone was icy cold.
“Jesus Christ, Bethany…”
She stared at him evenly, shaking her head as he glared at her.
“It’s a fair question,” she replied flatly. Swallowing hard, Baelian flexed his fingers, the numbness in them beginning to burn.
“No,” he said finally, stalking to the French windows across the room, ignoring the way his daughter unconsciously flinched as he went by, “No I have not, and I will not.”
Her laughter was genuine.
“She hasn’t tried to drug me yet, if that’s what you’re implying…” he shot back, throwing an accusatory look Bethany's way.
“Ah…” Bethany nodded, more to herself than her father, her eyes lowering as the ghost of a smile danced over her lips, “That old song…”
Silence followed, both of them retreating onto their respective high horses, glaring at each other across the way. It was Baelian who folded first, a heavy sigh falling from his lips as he bowed his head.
“I didn’t come here to fight with you Bethy,” he said slowly, “I just wanted to be sure you were all right…”
Bethany stared at Baelian, something akin to pity shifting behind her eyes for a brief few seconds before it was swallowed up in the mire.
“My doctor says I’m doing much better…I’ll be able to go home soon…” she paused, gauging his reaction as she articulated the next words slowly, “…to my husband.”
They hit their mark. Baelian flinched, a shadow falling over his face, his jaw tightening as he blinked, saying nothing.
“Aren’t you going to congratulate me…on my wedding?” Bethany pressed, leaning forward slightly from her vantage point on the bed.
Those bottomless blue eyes rose, deep-seated anger and resentment burning in their depths. For what seemed an eternity Baelian stared at Bethany, his chest rising and falling with forced even breaths, his fingers flexing and curling. Bethany blinked and straightened, suddenly wary.
Yeah, you be afraid little girl, you have no idea what I could do to you. Oh wait…you do…
“Were you married? I must’ve missed the memo…” came the deadpan reply, a tight smile gracing pale lips as the brooding billionaire turned away from his daughter to stare out the window into the late afternoon, “I hope it was to some nice fellow who is worthy of you.”
“He loves me,” Bethany retorted, “And I love him.”
“Amazing what money and blackmail can buy, isn’t it..?”
“We’re going to have babies,” Bethany went on, ignoring him, “I think I’m already pregnant…”
Something changed in Baelian’s demeanour when he looked at her again, his lips curving into an almost sinister smile that didn’t even come close to reaching his eyes.
“Oh I’m willing to bet my fortune that you’re not, baby doll…”
Blinking, Bethany stared at him, his expression making her look away suddenly, as if he’d just confirmed some deeply rooted suspicion. Swallowing, her eyes glazed over with unexpected tears, which she blinked back almost angrily as she drew in a shaking breath.
“I think you should…”
“Don’t worry, I’m leaving,” he interjected, “It was a mistake to come here...”
Turning on his heel, Baelian stalked towards the door, almost flinching himself as he passed her again, his body reacting to her proximity despite itself. He thought he heard her call to him, that soft and breathy whisper from so many times before.
It was enough to give him slight pause, though he was quite sure that it had been his imagination.
Or wishful thinking, perhaps?
He stopped and looked back at her, his most precious little doll, perched on the bed and watching him with an expression that was completely unreadable. It was his fault she was here, he knew that…mostly everything about the way she was and the things she’d become were because of him.
Small wonder she despised him.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he offered, one hand on the door handle as he nodded at her, “I’m sorry that I didn't come sooner…I never wanted this for you.”
“Mm…I’m sure you’ve always wanted nothing but my happiness…”
“Bethany, don’t do this…”
“No?” his daughter smirked at him, “What shall we do then? Did you come to see if we could try for baby number three? Third time’s a charm, right Daddy?”
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Baelian was aware that he’d whirled from the door and stormed to the bedside, though he didn’t remember making the decision to move at all. Bethany’s nails were digging into his hand, which had clamped itself firmly about her throat, his entire body weight pinning her back against the mattress between flailing legs.
He was shouting something at her, but for the life of him he had no idea what it was. She was shrieking, panicked, her free hand rising to slap him. At least that’s what she’d tried to do before he’d taken hold of her wrist and pinned it above her head, twisting it sharply. Her pixie-like face contorted in pain, wide brown eyes staring up at him with an expression that stopped his heart.
He was already releasing her and pulling away when the voice came from behind him, cobalt hues wide as he stared at the prone figure on the bed. Baelian blinked, confused, staggering back a step or two before his arms were seized by another, who turned him away from Bethany, cool hands coming up to cup his face, delicate fingers smoothing back his hair.
“Let it be mon coeur,” Lyra crooned at him, one arm moving to curl about his neck, drawing him closer. Her warm body pressed against him and she pulled him into an embrace, holding him tightly.
Too tightly. And pointedly.
“Lyra..?” he tried to pull away, but she strengthened her grip, clearly not about to let go. Behind them, Bethany was gasping as she tried to slow her breathing. Baelian couldn’t see it, but he had no doubt Lyra was mouthing something to her over his shoulder.
“It was too soon,” Lyra murmured to him…or to Bethany, “Too soon for both of you. I should never have allowed it…”
Lyra kissed his earlobe, then his neck, drawing his focus and his ire into her net in that ingenious way she had of centring his attention. His body responded as it always did, melding to hers for the briefest moment as his arousal engulfed him and his fingers burned.
But then came the questions, the doubt…and the sudden and sickening knowledge that the arousal he was feeling had nothing to do with Lyra at all. It had come the moment he'd touched her.
You can't be here. Get the fuck out.
“Lyra,” he murmured again, frowning as he managed to take hold of her shoulders and draw her back a step. Brows lofted as he studied the lab coat that she wore over her green silk dress, and the formal way her hair was drawn back from her face.
The pieces in his subconscious began to click into place long before his intellect caught up.
“Why…what are you doing here?” Baelian asked, his desire giving way to suspicion. Blue eyes narrowed, meeting her cool green gaze. He knew, even before Bethany’s voice chimed in from behind him, he knew what she would say. It was written all over Lyra’s face.
“Doctor Lyra has been treating me…” Bethany whispered hoarsely, her words trailing off as a faint frown graced Monére’s lips. Those green eyes flickered to Bethany, then moved back to her brother, filled with an emotion he couldn’t even begin to decipher.
“Has she just?” Baelian whispered, mistrust filling his features as he stared at ‘Doctor Lyra’s’ attire, “How very fucking helpful of her…”
He was moving before she could respond, shoving past Lyra and out of the room, his long strides taking him down the carpeted hallway swiftly. He could hear Monére calling out behind him, but he didn’t slow down.
Fuck you. If you want me you can bloody well catch me.
The moment she touched his arm he whirled on her, causing her to lose her footing ever so slightly.
“Baelian,” she began, those emerald eyes widening as he interjected.
“How long have you been treating her, Doctor Monére?” he demanded. She blinked, taking a deep and slow breath as she steeled herself for yet another confrontation with her tempestuous sibling.
“Since she was brought here,” came the response, finally, “I wanted to be sure that she was safe…”
“Safe under the Professor’s care, is that it? This is one of his buildings, isn't it?” Baelian was clearly in no mood to give any quarter. Lyra sighed heavily, shaking her head.
“Safe under MY care,” she corrected, “It was the only way I could be sure.”
“I see. And you thought that holding her in one of Kreutz’s little rat mazes was the way to keep my child safe?”
“You put her here, Baelian…” Lyra countered, “Remember? You put her in here to get her away from you.”
“And you did nothing to dissuade me did you…like, say, fucking telling me that the whole damn place was compromised!”
All those whispers of new management...the subtle hints, Lyra's secrecy...God, how could he have been so blind? So stupid?
Baelian reached into his coat pocket, deft fingers finding the small bottle of Valium he kept there. Popping the lid, he poured a pair of pills into his palm, downing them without water as he glared at his ‘sister.’
Lyra frowned as she watched him, brows knitting.
“Where did you get that?” She was staring at the bottle. Baelian blinked, his gaze lowering to the Valium, his lips forming an almost childish pout.
“I had it at home,” he replied, “Stop trying to change the…”
“Give it to me.”
Lyra held out her hand, her expression firm and serious all at once. Blinking, Baelian looked from her to the bottle and back again, then shook his head.
You don't get to tell me what to do, Monére.
“Fuck you, Claudia,” he growled at her, depositing the bottle safely back into his pocket before turning to stalk away , “You’re not MY goddamn Doctor.”
She called something after him, something about him being stubborn and not understanding, but he was already out in the foyer. The human bakery was there, behind the desk, watching him with a wholly unimpressed expression as he stormed past.
“You have to sign out, Mr Black…” she droned at him, “It’s policy and…”
With a sudden and violent sweep of his arm, Baelian knocked the sign-in folder, a bowl of candies and a vase of daisies from the desk. They fell to the floor with a crash, the glass bowl shattering and sending colored balls rolling in every direction. Someone cried out in surprise…pudgy buns shouted a protest.
Go to hell you obese cow. I hope you have a fucking heart attack or choke on that bloody candy.
He slammed out of the glass double doors and strode into the darkening lot. The sun was setting, painting the sky a dusky pink and orange. Baelian had always found this particular time of the afternoon unsettling, ever since he was a child…that last hour before darkness came.
Before they came. In droves. To party the night away…
His sleek black Jaguar was exactly where he’d left it – with a car like that he was always half surprised that someone hadn't stolen it – or flattened it with a tank.
A pang of pain in his chest again, his vision blurring slightly.
And then a voice, a soft and hesitant female voice addressing him, asking him if he was alright. Blinking, Baelian glanced to the source, his lips quirking instinctually at the pretty young nurse who had followed him out into the parking lot sporting her hidden red negligee.
Or not so hidden…he could have sworn that top button hadn’t been undone the last time he’d seen her.
“Are you…are you alright?” the would-be nymph asked him, her dark eyes wide and concerned. Her hair was drawn back from her face in a hasty chignon, escaped tendrils gold curling against her flushed cheeks.
“I’ll live,” Baelian responded, perhaps a little too sharply, for she seemed taken aback, her eyes lowering nervously as she nodded.
“Oh,” she replied, sounding almost disappointed that her attempt at chivalry had failed, “You just seemed…a little upset…”
Tilting his head, the billionaire playboy watched as she tried to explain her intrusion, becoming more and more flushed as she did so.
“And I wanted to be sure that you weren’t…that is I’d hate to see someone like you…”
His gaze dropped as she bumbled, taking in her shapely legs, the slightly too short hem of her white linen uniform, the tiny hint of red lace that peeked out from beneath. She was fidgeting now, the wringing of her hands making her seem quite childlike as she attempted to rescue what was left of her dignity.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Baelian interrupted suddenly, cutting her off completely. The young woman stopped and stared at him, bewildered.
“That is,” he went on, slinking closer to her with a single stride, “You’re awfully kind to be concerned about me…and the truth is I’m concerned about myself. I took a little too much Valium, you see…” a hand went into his pocket and pulled out the small bottle that had caused Lyra such concern, “And I’m not sure I should be driving…”
The pretty nurse eyed the bottle, then him, with trepidation. Baelian watched every warning her mother, grandmother, sisters and the internet had ever given her about stranger danger dance behind her eyes as she weighed up the price of being out there alone with him.
Well and good – he could have been an insane serial killer for all she knew. It was wise to be wary.
“Well…you could come inside and…”
“That doesn’t work for me,” he interrupted again, shaking his head, “I would very much like to be far away from here. And I would like you to drive me.”
The woman blinked, more than a little awed at his boldness.
“I’m working…” she murmured. Baelian perked a brow.
“Then why did you follow me?”
“Concerned, yes…and rightfully so, but as far as I see it you now have three choices…” he fixed his cobalt hues on her, lips quirking in a half smile, “You can go back inside, satisfied that you’ve done all you can without compromising your safety…you can get the hell out of here with me and drive my car, which, by the way, I don’t let just anyone do…or…” Baelian let his gaze drift over the dimly illuminated building, his eyes falling upon a dark pixie-like shape at one of the suite windows that was staring out at him with her hands pressed against the glass.
“Or...?” the pretty nurse asked, drawing his gaze back to her.
“Or you can just let me fuck you right here,” he finished, leaning nonchalantly against the Jag at an angle that would ensure his little audience had full view of him. The young woman’s lips parted, a shocked giggle escaping her as she turned almost the same shade of red as her daring little negligee. Neither Baelian nor the sprite at the window moved.
“Well...that’s some proposal there,” the nurse finally said, stalling despite the fact that her eyes already clearly told him yes. Shrugging again, Baelian drew out his car keys, offering them to her with a wink.
“You strike me more as a backseat than a bushes kind of girl,” he declared, adding as she glanced almost forlornly back at the glass doors of Oakleaf, “But don’t worry. I promise to get you back to wherever it is you prefer when you get sick of my company…”
She laughed nervously and took the keys, turning them over in her hand and frowning slightly.
“And Nurse Breadbox back there has my name, number and the details of my next of kin…” he added coyly, stepping aside and opening the driver’s side door for her, “So, you know, if you try to murder me they’ll know it was you…”
Blinking, the young woman stared at him, her enchantment eradicating the last of her misgivings as she moved to slide into the leather front seat of the Jag. Closing the door behind her, Baelian paused and flexed his hands…his fingers were still numb.
He glanced across the gardens to the pixie’s window, but she was gone and the sheer curtains were drawn. Inside, he could just make out Lyra’s form pacing back and forth. His mind wandered briefly to the small bottle of Valium in his pocket, a sickening churning beginning in his stomach as he recalled his sister’s reaction to it.
Don’t think about that now.
There was time enough for conspiracy theories later. For now, he had more immediate business to attend to.
“What do I call you?” the pretty nurse asked him as he slid into the passenger side of his car. She’d undone another one of her buttons, the Bellamantis red lace beckoning him against her slightly tanned décolletage.
“Jasper,” he responded, slumping into the seat, watching her with calculating eyes as she smiled and nodded as if she'd expected as much.
“I’m Simone,” she offered, though he didn’t ask or care.
Baelian smiled and told her that Simone was a very classy name, which seemed to please her. His eyes trailed her shapely form as she kicked the car into gear, his hands clenching and unclenching as the pins and needles spread through them again.
His gaze moved one final time to his daughter’s bedroom window as they drove away. Bethany was back again, staring out into the twilight through the curtains as they tore up the driveway. It took everything in his soul not to take hold of the wheel and force Simone to turn back.
He watched her silhouette become smaller and smaller as they departed, the churning in his stomach heightening, the stabbing pain in his chest joined by a pounding in his head.
Moving to slip a hand up Simone's skirt, Baelian slumped further down in his seat, closing his eyes and trying to forget as a single word echoed over and over in his mind.
Written by Natalie Ristovski.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.