Duplicity Ch. 04bypartial2passion©
The thick smoke swallowed any possibility of a clear view.
The persistent beep was an alert that something had gone terribly wrong.
The events unfolded at lighting fast speed and at the same time; moved at a snail's pace. A split second was sliced into a million sections.
An unidentified bloodcurdling scream echoed throughout but soon he realized it was him. He was trapped... He couldn't breathe. The toxic black smoke invaded his lungs.
There was the most exquisite reddish orange light barreling toward him. It was so beautiful he wanted to touch it.
If he could only touch it, everything would be alright.
There were shards of metal flying in every direction.
He was being sucked in and pulled apart at the same time.
There was a little girl off in the distance, in the middle of the white flame. She was wearing a pink lace summer dress. Her brown braided pigtails swayed unaffected by the heat.
She was talking to him, laughing at him.
He couldn't understand what she was saying but he wanted to call out to her; and tell her to take cover.
The perpetual beep continued resounding in his mind.
He reached out and touched the small picture stuck next to his controls. It was of a beautiful woman and a little girl. It was the girl in the flames smiling at him through the photo. He opened his eyes wide as he caught his reflection in the small mirror next to the picture.
Suddenly his reflection transformed into a young woman. Her features were familiar but he didn't know her.
The persistent beep resounded throughout the cock pit again.
The last images were vivid and familiar... and terrifying.
Through the windshield there was a flying metal bomb hurled directly at them both.
And then there was blackness... followed by a beep.
"Aaaahh!!!" Layla woke up gasping and panting. The beeping sound was her alarm making her aware it was time to wake up. She cursed under her breath since she forgot to turn off her alarm the night before.
She hadn't had a nightmare like that in a long time. She was disturbed and disorientated. Her sheets were soaked from sweat. She huffed until her breathing regulated.
After a long cold shower she was able to get back to normal. She felt so drained and tired as if she didn't sleep at all.
It was Sunday and two weeks until the wedding. Sienna and Jason told her that today she was explicatively prohibited from doing anything related to the wedding. Apparently, she had been working so hard, she earned a mandatory day off.
Layla didn't believe in days off when there was a deadline but she had to admit she was grateful for it. She thought she might sleep in and read all day. But apparently the sleeping part wasn't working out for her.
She decided to go downstairs, make a light breakfast and maybe go back to bed. There was a cool breeze so she wore her new purple velour hoodie pants set. She bought it when they were in town one day. It just looked so comfortable; she thought she might wear it in her room.
Today she was tired and it was technically her day off. Despite her better judgment, she wore it downstairs. She grabbed some bread for toast and poured herself some coffee.
There was no one there which she was grateful for. It was still early in the morning and she figured Jason and Sienna were still asleep. That only left Merle.
Ever since that kiss she had been avoiding him like the plague. Merle would go one way and Layla made sure to go the other way. But it seemed like he was avoiding her as well... which was fine by her.
She didn't know what had gotten into her that day. Not only could she not understand why it happened, she couldn't understand why she couldn't stop thinking about it. That kiss... She shuddered from the memory. She hadn't been kissed like that in... well never. If he could make her feel that with one kiss; imagine what his talented mouth was capable of. What was she thinking? No, she would continue to avoid him at all costs.
It was just a little odd that Merle would avoid her. Wasn't she the one that supposed to play hard to get? What is she talking about?! Playing hard to get? She didn't mean that. Did she?
Layla sipped her coffee while her thoughts ran wild. She didn't even hear the shuffling as it entered the kitchen.
Layla snapped out of her daze. She looked towards the greeting; even though she already knew who the deep voice belonged to.
"Good morning." She replied quietly. She continued to sip her coffee as she tried to adjust her thoughts. She was surprised how quickly she was affected by just his voice and presence. She felt the moist heat between her legs begin to form.
Merle poured himself a cup of black coffee and sat down across from her. He'd slept horribly and was in a sour mood... even more so now that Layla was there.
He tried to avoid her ever since the kiss but it was damn near impossible.
It was as if her presence haunted him wherever he went. And even now before coming into the room, for a couple of minutes he observed her from the shadows... entranced by her.
Her expression showed her to be deep in thought. He was surprised to see her in casual clothes; he didn't think she owned anything remotely comfortable. Her curvy body was even more pronounced through the soft fabric.
She wore no makeup and looked much younger... and so beautiful. Her plump lips gently touched the mug as she sipped her coffee. He felt his anger rise as he had this unreasonable pang of jealousy with the mug. He could still remember every detail of those sweet lips; he could easily feast on them all day long.
But that wasn't possible. And he was not happy about it.
If only their circumstances were different. It was extremely dangerous to play with this kind of fire. But he was drawn to her like a moth to a flame.
He could not get involved with her, especially since he was undercover. Everything was already complicated and he didn't need any more complications. He needed to stay focused. So the only thing that was left was his frustration.
"Did you sleep well?" Merle grumbled.
Layla looked at him and shrugged her shoulders. "Not really. You?"
Merle shook his head.
Merle waited until she finished eating her toast to pour them both another cup of coffee. He got up and said, "Come with me."
Layla looked at him in confusion. It wasn't a question or a request. It was a statement, an order. It annoyed her but she was so tired; she didn't have it in her to make a snarky reply. But above all she was extremely curious. She got up without a fuss and followed him out.
On the way up, he stopped by his room and grabbed a large blanket. He led her all the way up the stairs until they reached the rooftop.
It was still very early in the morning and it looked like the whole island was still sleeping. The soft fog glazed over the spectacular view. The sparkling ocean and mighty cliffs fused together. The whitewashed clustered buildings were huddled together as if keeping each other's company. And it made the bright colors of the sky even more clear.
They were so high up, they could only look down. The height made you feel so powerful but completely peaceful at the same time. Suddenly, a brisk wind traveled through her. Layla didn't mind since this was the most beautiful view she had ever seen... and now she was a little more awake to appreciate it.
She looked around and there were a couple of pool lounge chairs set off to the side.
Merle walked ahead and motioned for her to lie down. She looked curiously at him but did just that. Merle then moved his chair close to hers and laid down as well. He then covered them both with the warm fleece blanket. That simple gesture felt so intimate.
They continued laying side by side in comfortable silence.
"So why aren't you sleeping?"
The question caught her off-guard. Not because it was a strange question but because she felt like she could tell him the truth... the unfiltered truth.
"I don't usually sleep well. I haven't slept ever since-" She stopped herself; it was an automatic halt to her emotional release.
"Ever since what?"
Layla looked into Merle's eyes and felt this quiet unspoken trust. She felt safe with him.
"When I was 7 years old my father was killed..."
Merle kept quiet and let her continue at her own pace.
"He was a Navy pilot, Lieutenant commander Nathan Coldwell. He was a volunteer as a Blue Angel. He was so proud of it... we all were.
In an air show his jet collided with another one mid-air. The other Lieutenant survived because he ejected in time but my dad didn't make it. I always loved going to the show. That day I convinced some of my friends to go see him. I remember every detail, how the air smelled, what I was wearing, the horrified expression on my mother's face... So ever since then, I have the same nightmare, hence the lack of sleep."
There it was. The whole truth.
She was surprised she didn't hold back, there were very few people who knew that about her. Layla looked at Merle and was relieved when she didn't see pity in his eyes.
He reached for her hand under the covers and instinctively kissed the back of it; he rested it on his burly chest.
"What was he like?"
Layla smiled at the memory. "He was funny and sweet. He always had these great adventures to take me on. Whether we were pirates, cops and robbers or astronauts; we always had fun. We didn't need much but always had the best time."
"And your mother, how did she handle it?"
Layla's expression turned solemn. "Dad was the center of our universe. When he passed, my mom just gave up. She didn't know how to cope on her own... She took to drinking and that quickly moved to drugs. She's been sober for 6 years now... which is great. But as a kid I had to grow up really fast. I had to be my father, my mother and take care of her all before I hit puberty."
Merle still hadn't said anything in response but he pulled her by the hand until she was lying in the same lounge chair as he was. She was partly lying directly on top of him. She snuggled and laid her head on his strong chest. He had a fresh masculine scent that calmed her. Her heartbeat synched in harmony with his.
"It took me a year to let my ex, Pierre, know about my past..." Layla whispered. "And how is it that I just told you my deepest darkest secrets and I don't know anything about you?"
"Add good listener to my growing number of irresistible qualities."
Layla smiled. She muffled a chuckle into his shirt. She slowly moved her head and propped her chin up. There was a chill in the air but his chest was warm and comforting.
Merle lightly traced a finger down her nose as he observed her.
"So all these years you've had to be so strong... all by yourself?"
Layla shrugged. "I just did what I had to do."
Merle sighed. "Do you forgive her?"
Layla cleared her throat and let out an uncomfortable laugh. "You get right to the point don't you?"
"I try to."
Layla sighed. "I do forgive her," she said pensively. "My mother is all I have left so I should forgive her... but it's easier said than done."
"It'll happen when it supposed to happen."
"You seem to know what you're talking about."
"Something like that," Merle whispered.
"Tell me about you... anything."
"What do you want to know?" Merle asked already formulating his back-story.
"Well... How old are you?"
"35," he said without missing a beat.
"Really? I thought you might be a little older."
"Are you calling me old, little girl?"
She shook her head and chuckled; although somehow she found herself aroused by his words.
"Anything else?" Merle asked patiently.
Layla sensed hesitancy as he spoke but continued. "Ever been married?"
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a retired marine." Not exactly but close enough, he thought.
"A marine... really? I wouldn't have pegged you for a marine."
"Well I wouldn't have pegged you for a navy brat either."
"Hey!" Layla playfully smacked his shoulder.
"Ok, so you're not a brat?"
Layla rolled her eyes and pursed her lips. "No, I am not a brat." She smiled and continued, "Ok so what else? You were a marine, and?" It was beginning to feel like pulling teeth to get him to talk.
"Like I said, I served my country. But like many soldiers, you leave pieces of yourself there. When I came home, it wasn't the same. My family kept trying to make me open up. But that will never happen because if they knew, even a little, of what I went through they... they-"
"Wouldn't be able to sleep either." Layla finished his thought.
Merle cleared his throat. "Right. And I find myself having to pretend I'm something I'm not for their sake," he admitted. He was surprised how true that statement was.
Layla rubbed his chest lightly.
"I don't know why I feel so drawn to you," she confessed.
"My charming personality and good looks of course." Merle chuckled and Layla followed along. There was an innocent tinkle in her laughter that held his interest.
"You have a nice laugh..." He gazed into her eyes to capture her response.
"You're beautiful, you know that?"
Layla smiled shyly but slightly shook her head. "Ah, you're just saying that."
"No I'm not." He whispered. His rough thumb traveled under her cheek bone while his four fingers rested at the nape of her neck.
Two solitary tears fell one after the other from her eyes. They collided with his large thumb still stroking her cheek. She gave him a sad smile. He pulled her hoodie over her head as if shielding her vulnerability from the world... he would be the only one who could see her.
"And so brave... you're so beautiful and so brave." He said as he continued caressing her cheek.
Layla sighed, "You make me believe you."
Merle brought her face towards him while he possessively held on to her. Her face met his willing... yearning to taste him again.
Their lips met in greeting as if they were meant to fit perfectly, melded into each other. His hands settled on her neck and her waist, completely overpowering her. Layla's tongue caressed his, while he expertly delved deeper into her mouth. His lips were soft yet firm. She let out a surprised moan.
There was a spark that ignited her very soul... and dragged hope right out of her. Hope for joy, hope for love, and hope for inner peace.
When their lips parted, they were out of breath. Their hearts beat erratically.
Merle felt himself harden painfully under his thick layers. He had to change the mood quickly before his dick exploded.
"So what plans do you have for the rest of your day off?"
Layla was in a daze from his kiss. "Huh? Oh, nothing really. I was just going to spend the day reading and relaxing."
"Have dinner with me."
Layla was surprised how easy it was to accept. She had come to the realization that she felt something inexplicable toward Merle. And whatever it was, she wanted to explore it. She didn't want to be afraid because he was different; she just wanted to be happy. She had dated gorgeous men before and they all left her hurt and empty inside so maybe Merle was exactly what she needed.
When she saw him, she didn't see an unattractive older white man; she just saw Merle... her Merle.
Merle told her to be ready by 6pm for dinner. They would go out on the town.
She decided to wear something flirty and sexy. She wore a white halter dress with a blue band at the waist. She didn't wear a bra because of its plunging back. She hoped he approved. Her soft makeup enhanced her alluring features. She chose to wear silver dangle earrings and an ultra-thin necklace. She gelled the ends of her short hair up to give it a slightly spiky look and it accented her graceful long neck.
They were to meet downstairs in the courtyard.
Merle threw back a couple chugs of his favorite drink. The liquid courage happily scorched his throat all the way down. What was he doing with this girl? He was supposed to be focused; she was becoming a distraction.
But he just couldn't help himself. What the hell... fuck the consequences.
Layla emerged and walked towards him. Merle blinked a couple of times and quickly became completely lucid and completely numb at the same time. Merle brazenly stared at her form; up and down he stared, as if memorizing every curve.
Layla smiled radiantly at him. He actually cleaned up pretty good. He wore black slacks and a long sleeved white button up shirt. He was sitting on a bar stool.
Silently, he called her to come with his index finger seductively.
He kept gesturing until she came to stand directly in front of his open legs. He then made a twirling motion with his finger.
She slowly turned around for his viewing pleasure. Just as he imagined, her sinful body was made just for him. Her breast were large but not overly so, they sat high up on her chest. Her back's touchable soft skin was completely exposed. There was a thin sliver necklace that dangled down her spine; it was nestled between her shoulder blades. The slope of her neck begged to be kissed. Her small waist tapered off into her womanly hips and ended up on her round plump ass.
She caught his steady gaze and felt herself get wet. She wondered what he was thinking. Her nipples became hard and swollen, pointing sharply through the fabric. She felt the heat of embarrassment flutter through her cinnamon colored skin. But she somehow wanted him to see how he affected her.
"Damn." Merle cleared his throat. He got up slightly in a trance and gave her a simple kiss on the cheek.
"You look beautiful." He offered her his arm.
Layla smiled and said, "What a gentleman."
Merle chucked. "Not even close, sweetheart."
They drove to a seaside restaurant called Dionysus. People were bustling coming and going. There was a lot of laughter and loud chatter. They were seated in a round booth towards the far end in a quiet corner.
After light conversation and a couple glasses of wine, Merle put his arm around the beauty by his side.
She fit perfectly in the crook of his arm. Layla felt flushed with heat, she didn't know if it was from the wine or from being held by him.
She was relaxed.
She wasn't thinking about the things she needed to do or tasks she needed to delegate, she was just there with Merle... her Merle. She quietly observed him. He was like a big teddy bear with a sexy predatory gaze.
"Are you having a good time?"
Layla smiled and nodded. "I am. You?"
He nodded as the waiter approached with their meal and they ate in comfortable silence. Merle looked at her from the corner of his eye. She was just so damn beautiful. And she was somehow attracted to what he looked like in this disguise. He couldn't understand it. He wondered how she would react if she saw what he really looked like.
"Sooo.... how does an ugly bastard like me, end up on a date with a gorgeous woman like you?" He asked between mouthfuls.
Layla smiled at him and shrugged. "I think you're too hard on yourself. I like the way you look."
"Right, sure you do."
"No. Really I do." She slid toward him and purred. "I find you to be so sexy." She bit her lip. "I love a little extra something to work with."
Merle looked at her expectantly. "Come again."
"I've always had this white daddy fetish... and you're just the man to help me out with that."
Merle's mouth dropped open.
Layla busted out laughing. She was laughing so hard, you could probably here her throughout the restaurant. Tears ran down her face as she continued to giggle.
Merle chuckled, "Ok, ok I see. So you're using me?"
Layla's laughter subsided but she still had the biggest smile on her face. "No... not yet."
Merle narrowed his eyes and his gaze turned predatory. Suddenly he kissed her. He muffled a groan and continued to feast on her lips. His hands traveled everywhere throughout her body. She was on fire... and she wanted more of his flame. Her small hands moved toward his pants.