Sneaking Around - 8

Sneaking Around

Maureen

It wasn’t until she’d dove in and found herself whipped about at the whim of the tide that Moe realized just how still the waters of home were. Only the ripples and currents of Brendan’s undrownable loathing seemed to move anything there — and even then, all it did was stir the silt that had settled to the bottom, staining the serene beauty with murk. Once, she’d craved this kind of stillness, the gentle suspension that would nurse her, allow her to learn how to spread and sing again.

But this place was rife with life: writhing, wriggling, sinuous, jerking life that met and flowed and parted to meet again elsewhere. At first she flowed with it, shifting from school to school of dancers. The origins of tide and current became clearer and clearer to her, the push and pull of music to dancers to music again.

And then she began, with large, sweeping motions like wingbeats, to move the tide around her, guide the current to her whim. It was easy. The schools collected around her. Even the music felt the draw of her motions. And then, when the momentum had built up, putting her at the center of it all, she let go and gave herself completely to what she’d shaped, flowing and twisting and swaying and spinning.

It was that awe, written on faces and in stillness, that hit the spot, like no food or drink could.

And then the tide washed over her and spread to new places, allowing her to settle into more modest movements, into anonymous satiety.

Suddenly, focused heat was cast over her like the dark shadow of some creature of the deep.

Moe turned slowly, smoothly, to seek the heat’s source. A man was there, firelight flickering over his smooth skin, contouring the slopes of his chest underneath his yellow-and-gray shirt, the veins his arms, the curve of his lips, the planes of his face, the sauntering trails of sweat. He was very close, purposefully, intimately so. Even through the smoke, Moe could smell him, his thick fog of heady musk. A spark jumped up along Moe’s spine, spreading blooming heat from the center of her outward. Her throat dried almost instantly and the firelight brightened. Yes, this was the welcome heat of a fire that promised to burn high and hot, to immolate every last bit of fuel that had piled within Moe, making her full to bursting these past few weeks, and leave behind naught but clean, pure ash that could be washed away.

But then he grinned, like a fenris wolf who caught the scent of fear from his prey. What waited for Moe there was a sharp, repeated pull or pluck, but no push (or perhaps too much clumsy pushing with no punctuated pull); a harsh, lone howl that fancied itself the melody and the harmony all at once; feathers artlessly strewn and sticking out of teeth, obscenely paraded about like some kind of trophy.

She turned pointedly, pulling away, but in her wake he drew closer.

“Hey babe.” His breath burned on her neck, just below her ear. “We should get outta here.”

A real fucking charmer, that one.

“Nope,” she retorted, firmly, pushing through the crowd, sending it rippling and closing behind her. “We really shouldn’t.”

He continued to pursue her. “C’mon, don’t be that way.”

Oh, was she not clear? “Sorry, my answer’s still no.”

“Look, you’re being kind of a bitch. Loosen up a little, and we can —”

Suddenly, with a quick, startled jerk, the heat dissipated, the shadow passing from her. She turned to find him gone.

That was almost too bad. She had been very prepared to make him beg for her forgiveness.

But the fire remained. Moe’s pulse beat heavy, out of time with the music. It was as if the sea around her was boiling. She turned back and continued to push through the crowd.

It wasn’t long before she surfaced, the clear air filling her lungs. Her thoughts clung to her immediately like wet clothing. She needed to chase away this dry throat. And perhaps a drink would help dampen the fire. The bar.

Then again, maybe not the best idea. She glanced around, looking for that fenris grin.

Gods, what an asshole. She didn’t have to let him ruin her night. She was Brigid’s daughter, after all — she’d stared frightening, savage monsters right in the face and soothed them with mere words. Pointedly she turned her back to the dance floor and took a seat at the bar.

“May I sit here?” asked a smooth voice.

Moe snapped a look at the person addressing her. He was tall and narrow, with sinuous limbs accented by sharp, clean angles. His face was boyishly masculine somehow—soft, not round but not angular either; smooth and clean, but with thin lips and cheeks that were just short of hollow; a pair of light, earnest-looking brows drawn over narrow, keen eyes. Brushed-back, fair hair caught the colors and light of the fires. His clothing was crisp, professional-looking (at least as professional-looking as clothing could get nowadays), but for the rolled-up sleeves.

So much for dampening the fire.

Immediately Moe was on her guard.

“Depends,” she said.

“On what?” he asked, tilting his head slightly.

“On which answer you’re expecting.”

A smile flickered across the fellow’s lips. “One that reflects whether or not you want to entertain my company.”

Slippery, and articulate. Moe had to be alert around him. But that was refreshing, in a way—she needn’t fear be lulled into a false sense of security.

“And if I don’t?” she asked.

“I don’t blame you for being so guarded after what happened back there,” the fellow flicked a look over his shoulder at the dance floor, “but if I hadn’t planned on respecting your wishes, I wouldn’t have bothered asking in the first place. Besides, conversation is awfully lonely if the other party doesn’t want to participate.”

Despite herself, this drew a small smile from Moe.

“Well, it’s comforting to know that you’re much much more intelligent than that guy,” she said, turning to face him a little more directly.

“I’m afraid that’s not much of a compliment,” he replied. “In the future, by the way, if anyone like him bothers you again…” He turned slightly, briefly to indicate a bulky-looking woman in a black sleeveless shirt and black pants, standing at the corner of the bar with her arms crossed. “… just inform one of the bouncers.” The man’s smile broadened, amused. “I’ve seen them at work. They are neither delicate nor gentle.”

Moe smirked.

“Okay. I’ll bite.” She motioned to the empty seat beside her. “Who are you, and why do you want to talk to me?”

He seated himself. “I’m Damien, Damien O’Bannon.” He spoke his name with the slightest of gravity, just barely implying the weight that it carried. “And it occurred to me that I should at least know the name of my…” He smiled wryly. “Girlfriend.”

Shit shit shit! No, play it cool, Moe.

She laughed, stalling to gather some words.

“Oooh,” she said, drawing out the sound to gain control over her tone. “That’s got to be the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.” Damn, she was so clever sometimes! Okay, she totally had this in the bag.“But, since you’re so handsome, I’ll let you try again.” Wait, what? Bad Moe! No, no, wait—that could work. Smokescreen, get him thinking about something else.

His eyes flicked over her in assessment. Then a smile stretched across his mouth and he leaned back in his chair, lifting his chin. “You’re as generous as you are beautiful.” Before she could respond, he straightened suddenly and lifted up a finger to forestall her. “No, wait. ‘Beautiful’ is too banal a word to capture the shine of the fire in your hair, the graceful curl of your smile, the knowing twinkle of your eye.” He paused. “Yes, any other word I could come up with—elegant, radiant, alluring, intoxicating—falls short somehow. The only thing I can think of that could possibly have any hope of coming close to being synonymous with you is your name. Would you extend your generosity further, then, and grant it to me?”

Yes. Oh gods yes.

“Mau—” Her throat was dry again. She cleared it. “Maureen.”

“A true pleasure, Maureen,” he said, offering his hand, palm-up.

Moe put her fingers on his. They were pleasantly cool, snatching a lick or two of flame from her. As his head dipped, she drew her fingers back suddenly. Couldn’t let him think he won.

“Hold on now,” she said, lifting her brows in warning. “O’Bannon? You’re an Irishman. I know better than to let that silver tongue fool me into thinking that you’re made of gold.”

He looked up at her, stifling his smile. “No. Impossible. If I were made of gold, what would that make you?” He’d lapsed smoothly into a mild, natural-sounding Irish accent. Danu help her. “I can think of fewer things rarer and more precious.” He nudged his hand forward again, raising an eyebrow in invitation.

Moe covered her hand with the other, hiding her smirk behind them both. “Well then, good thing I’ve already appraised my own worth.” Shit, that was a good one! Someone ought to have been writing these down.

His smile broadened. He tilted his head in concession and withdrew his hand and his accent. “Can I at least offer you a drink?”

“I imagine you can, Damien O’Bannon,” she retorted. Wait, did he know that she knew that he was the owner of the club? Shit, was she tipping her hand too early? But his tone when he introduced himself implied that his reputation preceded him.

Didn’t matter, she’d been vague enough. It worked. Moving on.

“What would you like?” he asked.

Not vodka! Although she had no idea what she had to choose from. Quick, think of something.

“Whatever you’re having.” Ooh. Smooth.

Damien offered her a polite smile tinged with an insincere apology. “I’m afraid it’s a rare occasion that I drink.”

What the hell kind of Irishman was he, then?

“You said yourself that I was rarer than gold,” Moe retorted.

“Actually, I believe what I said is that, if we were to liken me to gold, I wouldn’t know what to compare you to, for it would have to be worth much more,” he pointed out.

Hah, she got him now!

“How highly is it you place the worth of a drink, then? Is it so rare and so precious?” Moe lifted her chin and crossed her arms. “And are you implying that meeting me is not a rare enough occasion to warrant one?”

Damien was silent a moment, pushing his tongue into his cheek. He looked her over again and then smiled. “If I were, I don’t think I could possibly be more wrong.”

By Ogma’s honeyed voice, this guy was good.

He turned and made eye contact with the bartender, following it with a small, sharp beckoning motion, exaggerated just enough to ensure Moe saw. Immediately the bartender came over, set down two glasses, pulled out a bottle of light gold-colored liquid simply labeled “Scotch”, and poured two fingers’ worth in each of them. Damien then pushed a glass towards Moe.

Well, that was a show of dominance if she ever saw one. She couldn’t just let that one go.

Moe reached across, taking Damien’s glass before his hand left hers. He snapped a look to her. The way his brow flattened over his eyes gave his gaze an intensity that spit through Moe like lighter fluid. But, as quickly as it flashed, it disappeared into a broad, amused smile. Damien reached for the drink in front of Moe and lifted it, motioning slightly towards her in a brief, wordless toast, and then brought it to himself. She did the same, watching him carefully.

Apparently she wasn’t the only one. Their eyes locked for a brief moment as he nosed the glass. Then Damien shifted it to his lips and tilted his head back slightly, draining only a little bit of the liquid.

Ah, so it was meant to be sipped, then. This must be fancy stuff. Moe followed suit, then set her glass down. It was strong, but there was a mix of smoky and earthy flavors to it. Tasty.

“So, Maureen,” Damien began, “enjoying your first time here with your sister?”

Shit! How’d he know all that? Did he talk to Sofia while she’d been dancing? That could be the only explanation. Sofia was smart, but she was too earnest—she wouldn’t have stood a chance against this guy. Moe shouldn’t have left her alone.

Okay, it was time to stop playing games.

She drew herself up, sending the fire within swirling, fueling the steady beat of her pulse, heating the blood of Danu coursing in her veins. “What exactly do you want from me and Sofia, Damien O’Bannon?” Moe asked directly, her tone flat and grave.

Damien replied in one great spill. “Above all, I want to know exactly who you two are, who you’re connected to, how much influence you have, why you’re here, how it is you were able to escape my notice until now, and, having watched you dance, I want to fuck you.”

Moe had expected this bluntness after she’d stoked her divine blood, but she hadn’t expected that its impact would leave her reaching through the flames for a response.

Damien paused, his eyes widening, the muscles in his jaw shifting, and the gears ticking away. He drew back, his whole body tense, alert. “If you’d mentioned you were a Disciple sooner, I would’ve dropped the pretense.” His tone was tight, his voice low. He glanced around the surroundings warily, then looked back to Moe, his expression strung with reluctance and… was that self-disgust? “I take it you want to know everything about the Templars here, then?” He swallowed, sneered a little, then took hold of his glass, knocking back the rest of his drink.

Oh fuck. She just got in way over her head. This had to be stopped before she got any deeper. She threw up her hands, laying down all her cards on the table.

“I’m—I’m not a Disciple,” she said. “I’m… I guess you could say independently affiliated. I had no idea…” She paused. “Look, I don’t want to hear a damned word about the Templars. I just came here with my sister to have some fun and blow off some steam. I promise.”

Damien searched her up and down, warily. Then he sighed, his shoulders unwinding, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the edge of his hand. He smiled a tight, mirthless, pained smile. “Well.” He rose and turned towards her. “Allow me, then, to welcome you to Dis.” His tone was professional, formal, his motions still constrained. “I hope you two have a good time.”

Moe winced. “Wait.” He did, but she was unable to look at him. Instead, she regarded her drink. “I’m sorry. That was… what I did…” How the hell was she supposed to save this one? She tossed the alcohol back, letting its sharp burn clear her head. “I’m really sorry. I was enjoying your company up to that point.” She looked straight at him to drive her sincerity home. “Would you mind allowing me to enjoy it some more?”

He examined her for a long moment, his expression hard. “Depends. What answer are you expecting?” Despite the callback hiding in his question, his tone was sharp.

“I’m hoping for a yes,” Moe said frankly. “But I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t planning on respecting your wishes.” A callback for a callback. Hopefully her intention would be clear.

For another long moment Damien stood, caught between staying and leaving. Then—Moe got the feeling it was despite himself—he relented, turning to face her directly.

“What exactly do you want from me, Maureen?” he asked, finally, his tone more resigned than commanding. His expression told Moe that he felt he had no hope of any kind of truthful response.

Moe hesitated. He was placing himself completely at her mercy, and doing so with as much dignity as he could muster. Brave man. To be anything other than utterly honest would be… well, just as brutish as that asshole on the dance floor. “A conversation, another drink…” Gods, here went nothing. She swallowed her pounding heart. “… and I’m open to the whole… fucking idea.”

After a slow half-blink, he looked her over in slightly puzzled, slightly wary re-assessment. Finally, his features smoothed. “I’d be a poor host if I couldn’t provide for my guests.” He held his hand out to her. “Care to join me in my office?”

She took it, and let him kiss her knuckles.

Sneaking Around - 8

God-Touched Nut_Meg