Dark Knight in Disguise 1
, Jackson...! You can't just throw me out on the street. I'll have the money for you by Friday. Surely you can wait three more days?” The petite young woman spoke in a plaintive voice with an undercurrent of panic at the tall, elderly man that hovered over her small frame. She needed for him to see that it was only reasonable to give her those three extra days. It was obvious that he really didn’t need the money that badly, so it wasn’t taking anything away from him to grant her those short days. She was terrified of being homeless, yet it seemed that homeless was exactly what she was about to be.
“Hollianne, I've given you two months. The last thing I want is to throw you out on the street, and I feel bad that your life has turned to shit. I honestly hope you turn it around.” He was attempting to sound reasonable, sympathetic even, to show that he wasn’t the bad guy. Surely, she could see that he was a businessman and not the manager of a homeless shelter. “But you need to understand my position. I'm not in the business of providing charity. So, you either pay me the rent that you owe me or you find another place to live. I'll give you twenty-four hours and that's it.”
“Yeah, that's real generous of you, Jackson,” Hollianne replied, realizing even while she spoke that the sarcasm was dripping from her words. “Where am I supposed to get two months' rent together by tomorrow? I don't even get paid until Friday.”
“I'm sorry, Hollianne. It's the best I can do. Twenty four hours or you're out.”
The man called Jackson turned his back on her and walked away.
Hollianne Talbot stood and watched her landlord stalk off. Clenched fists at her side, she glared at his retreating back.
Suddenly, it was as if all the oxygen had been sucked right out of her. She sighed and let the feelings of loss and defeat wash over her. This was exactly what she had been fighting for so long and now she simply couldn’t do it anymore. It was inevitable that she had to deal with everything that had befallen her in the past few months.
She realized Jackson was right; she had no reason to be angry with him because he had been more than patient with her. It was just that she had never planned to be alone. The love of her life had been ripped from her in the cruelest of ways imaginable, and now she had no idea what to do with herself; or what to do with her life.
Sitting down heavily on the bottom steps of her rented townhouse, she hung her head, staring at the pavement, feeling the tears start to build.
What the hell am I going to do now?
She had seen this coming.
She had just been rendered so immobile with grief that she couldn’t bring herself even to think about doing anything.
When she eventually recovered enough to understand the reality of her position, she had fallen too far behind in her rent payments to catch up. Losing Adam had nearly killed her too, and she simply didn't care what happened now. She didn’t even know why she had put up such a combative front with the landlord. In a way, she welcomed the next inevitable stage in the downward spiral, as it confirmed that all positive energy had been drained from her world.
, she thought as she stood and trudged up the steps to the front door,
I better start packing.
There was absolutely no way of getting her hands on that much money by tomorrow.
At least she wouldn't lose everything in the townhouse. She had enough money for a week in a cheap motel. Her stuff would just have to go with her. Taking a deep breath, she blinked back the threatening tears and walked into the house.
Erick watched this scenario unfold from a coffee shop across the street from the block of townhouses. Apparently, the woman was having a harsh disagreement with the tall man out there on the sidewalk, people warily sidestepping around them. Whatever had transpired, the woman was now very upset and, sitting there dejectedly, looked as if she was about to cry.
This was the woman that he had caught sight of a week or so ago when he happened to stop in this place for a cup of coffee. While he was sitting at a table window, he had seen her coming and going from the building. Her attractiveness had, of course, been very apparent, but there was something else about her that drew him. She seemed to have an inner strength that glowed about her, almost as if she wore an aura that everyone could see. Of course, not everyone was capable of seeing this glow and he knew it. However, he had special abilities that others did not have and he did not feel selfish when he used them so effortlessly. There was something special about this woman.
The more he had observed her, the more he grew to feel a certain admiration for that glowing aura of strength that shone around her. When he thought about it, he couldn’t remember ever seeing someone with this bright of an aura. Did he need more proof of just how special she was?
Erick could suddenly feel his heart pounding. There was a constriction in his chest that he could not explain as he watched her face, as closely as if the future course of his life depended on what he saw there.
She wasn't that beautiful.
Okay, she was, actually. But just not the kind he was used to. He had his fair share of easy conquests in his circles, women with ready smiles and blasé chatter who, behind their carefully maintained uprightness and grace, were as fulfilling to be with as mechanical dolls. Maybe that was the reason he had never taken any of them seriously or felt anything special for them. They were almost like walking plastic dolls.
Her beauty had character and grace, the kind that could only come from within. While it was clear that she was very upset about something, possibly even depressed over it, that glowing aura still surrounded her. It did seem to be edged with a bit of gray but, overall, her inner self was shining through. Obviously, something dark was going on with her. That confrontation had seemed rather serious from where he sat. The woman had certainly looked more than simply forlorn as she sat upon the steps. Pain was etched in her arresting features and evident in the way she simply sat and stared at the pavement.
As Erick continued to observe her, he watched that unique aura move as it swirled around her, changing directions as well as various shades of gold. Yes, it had dimmed somewhat, but that was only because of the inner turmoil that was struggling so hard to come out. There was something that made him feel sad for this woman. That realization brought him up short.
And why do you care?
He asked himself.
Why do you care about a woman you don’t even know?
Ok, so she’s got this insane aura around her like none he had ever seen on another human being. That shouldn’t have any effect on how he viewed her.
No, it is not that I care. I am just curious
, he corrected himself. She had caught his eye and he simply knew that she was someone special. This woman was a queen among crows.
Who wouldn’t be curious to know more about a woman like this?
It was true he didn't see something like this in humans every day.
He admitted that he was interested.
So what was that all about? What happened to her? How has her life been turned upside down?
Making a sudden decision, Erick set money on the table and rushed out of the coffee shop. He hurried down the sidewalk trying to locate the man who had left so angrily. Spying the top of the man's head, he started running to catch up with him. Ducking down an alleyway, he emerged a half-block ahead so that he could cut ahead of the man and speak to him where he was now standing.
Jackson approached Erick as the latter stood casually on the sidewalk, as calm and unruffled as if he had not just sprinted there, indeed as if he had always been there, waiting for this moment to happen. As Jackson slowed and moved to one side past Erick, he felt a hand reach out to stop him.Chapter Two
“Hello, sir, and excuse me for interrupting your thoughts,” said Erick, as smoothly as if accosting someone in an alleyway were as natural to him as breathing. “Are you the owner of the townhouses a couple of blocks back?”
The man looked at him, startled and a little suspicious. “Yes, I am. How did you know that?”
“Oh, I was looking at them and asked someone who owned them,” he replied offhandedly. “They pointed you out. I didn't want to disturb you at the time since you were having some sort of confrontation with a young woman.”
“Yeah.” Jackson suddenly seemed sad. “That lady has had it rough lately. She's a freelance writer, pretty damn good if I say so myself, but she hasn't been working since that tragedy happened to her. Believe me, I feel bad, but I have to make a living, too. I can't let her live there for free.”
“Of course not. Property rental is a business after all.”
Erick hoped the man didn't detect the undertone of sarcasm in his voice, but it was not likely – he was adept at concealing his true feelings when needed. And it was important that his true feelings were not evident to this man. He needed something from Jackson Dean and he wanted to acquire it smoothly.
“I can see that you must be a businessman, too,” the man said, now obviously interested by this elegant, well-spoken stranger.
“In a manner of speaking, yes, I am.”
“I'm Jackson Dean” the man said.
The two men shook hands and then proceeded to chat further while obviously sizing each other up as they talked. “Mr. Dean, I initially wanted to talk to you about your townhouses, but now I think I can help you in this dilemma you have with your tenant.”
“I'm not sure what you mean, Mr. Angell,” Jackson replied.
“It's quite simple actually. Here's my proposition...”
Twenty minutes later, Jackson Dean walked away a very happy man and Erick Angell a very perplexed one. He lit one of the slim, expensive cigars he always carried with him in a silver case; he rarely smoked, but now he felt his nerves needed the nicotine’s calming effect.
Now, why did I just do that?
That's so unlike me.
I don't care what these little human ants do!
Yet I've just helped someone out of a huge mess.
He knew that he would have to ponder that question carefully. Things like that certainly did not need to become a habit with him. Going through his evaluation process was one thing; voluntarily stepping in to help a human in need was quite different.
This must be what temptation felt like.
But was it a good thing, or was it a dangerous illusion?
Erick sighed. He certainly could not decide that right now. There were some questions that did not readily have an answer.
I should know,
he thought sarcastically as he threw a look at the skies.
That’s the problem. I always know how to answer it, but suddenly there’s nothing to guide me.
The skies looked back undeterred. But he felt a tremor, as if some powerful being were laughing at him.
Shaking his head at himself, he knew he had already gone too far, and it was too late to think about turning back now.
If he wanted answers, he had to see it through.Chapter Three
Approximately one hour later, Erick sat in his penthouse suite at The Moon Bay Hotel. He kept this one on retainer in case he needed to stay in the city at a moment's notice. He occasionally used it as a refuge on those occasions when he needed a night or two in which to relax and clear his mind. It was rather convenient to always have this one on hand when he needed it. Money may be disgusting to some people, but he had always found it to be quite helpful in most situations.
Settling back on the sofa, he picked up his cell phone and typed in Hollianne Talbot's name. Then listened to the ringing on the other end. “Hello,” A sultry-sounding voice answered. It was not the kind of voice he would have expected her to have; contrary to the picture of dejection she had presented, it held a sense of possibility held in check, of unconscious but undeniable sensuality.
He felt his heart thumping in that strange way again; he could not decide whether it was painful or pleasurable.
He closed his eyes.
The better to savor the voice
, he thought, but opened his eyes again at the absurdity of that idea.
He was an angel, not a wolf in a stupid fairy tale, regardless of how he was unable to quite shake off the image of a predator stalking prey. No, he thought. I refuse to think of myself in those terms, even if I’m being metaphorical.
“Yes, hello. May I speak with Hollianne Talbot, please?” he said rather gruffly.
Her voice was enough to send a human male's thoughts into completely inappropriate areas.
I'm already there,
he reminded himself, feeling utterly human at the moment.
“You are,” Hollianne replied. “How may I help you?”
Oh, if you only knew,
He held down the mute key for an instant as he cleared his throat and prepared his professional voice. “Hello, Ms. Talbot. My name is Erick Angell, and I've just come across your website regarding your freelance writing. I'm actually in need of such services. Let me ask you; have you ever done any biographical writing?”
There was a pause, as if Ms. Talbot was gathering herself together. His call was obviously unexpected. When she spoke again, her voice has become professional and polite.
“Well, it sounds interesting, Mr. Angell. Would this biography be yours or someone else's?”
“Oh, it would be mine,” Erick replied with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I fancy myself somewhat interesting and, whether it turns out to be a best seller or not, I like the idea of sharing my unusual life with the world.”
“I see,” Hollianne replied. “Well, as I said, it definitely sounds interesting. I would love to know more.”
“Excellent! Are you, perhaps, free this evening for dinner?” he asked.