Velvet Roses Ch. 05byvirgofemme©
*This chapter is going to be short, but I will be submitting the next installment very soon, so you can expect for Chapter 6 to be posted by the end of the week.
Thank you all for hanging in there with me, and I hope you guys enjoy this update.*
The next morning, Jeneda awoke early, and as she heard light snores coming from the space on the bed beside her, she rolled over onto her side and gazed at Dane's sleeping form. From the way he was breathing, it seemed that he was snoozing pretty deeply, and after placing a feather light kiss on his lips, she carefully slipped out of bed.
Having spent hours lying next to Dane's warm body beneath a nice, thick blanket, she'd forgotten just how chilly the apartment was. Clad in only a pair of panties, she hurriedly retrieved her clothes from the ground, then put them on.
She then headed for the kitchen to see if he had any coffee, and after discovering a can of instant, she filled a tea kettle with water and put it on to boil. While waiting for the water to get hot, she emptied her bladder, then washed her face with some cold water.
The pot had just begun to whistle when she got back to the stove, and after retrieving two mugs from the cabinet, she scooped some coffee into them and then filled them with hot water. With both cups in hand, she took them over to the area where the bed was located, then sat them down on the trunk.
"Why are you up so early? Come back to bed."
The sound of Dane's drowsy voice caused her to shift her attention toward him, and she saw that he was burrowed beneath the covers, looking at her with half mast eyes.
"No time to sleep in. I've got things to take care of."
"At six a.m?"
"Yep." She took a seat on the edge of the bed.
"I've got a client coming by my studio later this afternoon to check out some of my sculptures, and I need to finish preparing before they arrive."
She held out his cup of coffee, and after positioning himself so that his back was against the headboard, he grabbed the mug from her.
"You always wake up this early?" He asked.
"Yeah, I'm a morning person."
"I never understood morning people. They're always so bouncy and chirpy."
"Bouncy?" She raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. Chipper, bubbly..." He paused to take a long, leisurely sip of his coffee before continuing. "I've met a lot of morning people, and they've all been incredibly smug."
"Oh, thanks," she sarcastically said.
"I didn't say you were. Just most of the ones I've come across."
"How were they smug?"
"They just acted like they were superior, as if getting up a few hours earlier really makes that much of a difference."
"Well, actually it does. You waste half the day in bed, and you'll be a lot less productive."
"I disagree. A person can wake up late in the morning, and still get everything done that they need to."
"Yeah, but it takes them longer to do it. Not to mention, why would you want to waste your time sleeping when you could be out getting things done?"
"Because next to sex, sleep is the best thing there is."
"Sleep is a luxury. Not everyone has the option of lazing around in bed all day."
This brought a faint smile to his lips, and with a light shake of his head, he said, "See? That's exactly what I'm talking about. Morning people are so self-righteous."
"I am not."
"Yes, you are."
"Well at least I'm not pretentious."
"There you go, using that word to describe me again."
"I call them as I see them."
A chuckle escaped his lips, and after leaning over to set his coffee mug on the trunk, he sat behind Jeneda, then wrapped his arms around her waist and spoke against her neck. "So if I'm pretentious, then why do you hang out with me?"
"Because you're cute, that's why."
"Surely I must have more to offer besides my looks."
Purposely remaining quiet, she languidly sipped her coffee, allowing silence to grow between them.
"Oh, I see. So that's how it is, huh?" He asked with a smile evident in his voice.
She lightly laughed, then said, "I'm only joking. You've got a lot to offer."
"You're creative, intelligent, have a good sense of humor..." Not wanting to pump his ego too much, she allowed her voice to drift off.
"What about good in bed?"
He slid his hand beneath her shirt, then sensually traced a finger along her belly button. This caused her stomach to flex in response, and she tilted her head back so that she could look into his eyes.
"Mmm, you do have a gifted tongue."
"I'm talented at using another appendage, as well."
"Is that right?"
"Yes, it is. Come back to bed, and I'll be more than happy to prove it."
A wanton murmur passed her lips as he brushed his mouth against her neck, then peppered a few soft, tender kisses along the length of it.
"I really would love to..." Her voice had become breathy, barely more than a whisper.
"Then let's get you out of these clothes and back under the covers."
"...but I can't."
"Sure you can."
The hand beneath her shirt was slowly moving upward, fingers skimming against bare flesh until they met with the softness of her breasts.
The surprise in his voice caused her lips to curl into a small smile, and as he rolled one of her nipples between his thumb and index finger, she emitted a soft moan, then arched her back against him.
"No need for one," she huskily said. "I'm just gonna go home and take a shower."
"Why not take a bath with me, instead?"
"Because then I'll never get anything done." Mustering all of her willpower, she pulled away from him and rose to her feet. Then she slipped into her waistcoat and made a beeline for the door. "I gotta go. Call you later, okay?"
"Wait, I'll walk you to the elevator."
He followed behind her, and as they reached the lift, she pulled back the gate, then stepped onto it.
"Don't I even get a goodbye kiss?" He asked.
She affectionately ran a finger along his chin, then leaned in to press her lips against his. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and as he pulled her flush against his body, she deepened the oral embrace. By the time they pulled apart for air, they were both breathing quicker, and each had a look of lust in their eyes.
"Just stay with me for a bit longer," he said. "Please?"
The puppy dog look he gave her almost made her cave in, but knowing that it would throw off her schedule for the day, she reluctantly stepped back from him.
"Sorry, but I can't."
"Okay. No worries."
His eyes penetrated hers with such deep intensity that she couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy, and she briefly averted her gaze before allowing herself to look back at him.
"I really should go," she said.
He nodded, then cupped her cheeks in his hands and gave her a soft, brief kiss. Then he pulled away and said, "See you later."
"Yep, take care."
She closed the accordion gate, and as she pressed the button on the control panel, the birdcage elevator began to descend. Dane watched her and she watched him, keeping her eyes plastered on his nude, sinewy frame. Even once he was completely out of sight, the image of him remained in her mind.
Jeneda still didn't know a whole lot about who Dane was, but that was part of what kept her so intrigued. There was something undeniably enigmatic about him, and although she was eager to learn more, she also felt hesitant to ask too many questions, out of fear of ruining his mystique.
The elevator gave a slight jerk as it reached the ground floor, and after pulling back the gate, she stepped off, her body thrumming in delicious anticipation for the moment when she would once again see him.
* * * *
Seeing, yet not believing the anonymous text message he'd received, Dane stared dazedly at the screen of his cell phone. Shock had rendered him motionless, and a heavy feeling settled into his chest as he reread the dreadful words.
Although he still had yet to discover the details regarding her death, he knew without a doubt that she had been murdered. Surely this had to be about retribution, because it was too much of a coincidence for her to turn up dead only seven months after that horrible night.
Somebody out there knew what had happened, and taking Marla's life had been their way of sending the message that they knew about the incident on the pier. Had there been a witness, or had Marla or Cassie revealed the details of that evening to someone else?
And why would this person wait seven months to kill Marla? That was the question that was truly stumping him. Dane exhaled deeply through his nostrils, and as he recalled the events of that night, an image of the man he'd killed came into his mind.
He didn't know the dead guy's name, but he remembered very well what he'd looked like. He'd seemed to be in his fifties, had been slightly heavyset with brown eyes, and had a salt and pepper beard.
Dane even recalled the hat the guy had been wearing. It'd been a baseball cap, and had the words, 'Proud Italian American,' emblazoned across the front of it.
Thinking back to that night, Dane found himself deeply regretting having ever gotten involved in the criminal life, and realized that becoming a professional thief had undoubtedly been the most brilliantly stupid decision he'd ever made.
Of course he was on a different career path now, but that still didn't erase his shameful past, nor did it change the fact that he'd disposed of a man's body.
Only seven months ago, Dane had been part of a cargo theft ring, and along with Marla, had robbed a truck carrying high-priced electronics. While Dane quickly unloaded the back of the semi, Marla held the driver at gunpoint, making sure that he didn't try to drive away or escape while Dane was unloading the goods.
Dane still didn't understand how It'd happened, but somehow Marla had gotten into an argument with the driver. Yelling ensued, and a few moments later, a gunshot went off.
Upon reaching the cab of the truck, Dane saw that the driver was slumped in his seat, bleeding profusely from a gaping hole in the side of his head.
In a blind panic, both he and Marla pulled the man's body out of the truck, then carried it over to their getaway car. After loading the man's corpse into the trunk of the vehicle, Dane drove to the pier, and that was where he'd disposed of the body.
Dane had tried numerous times to ease his conscience by telling himself that the situation had been no fault of his own, but deep in his heart, he knew he'd played a part in the man's demise. While he may not have pulled the trigger, he did dispose of the body, and that alone was a crime in itself.
As he read the text again, a chill ran down his spine, and he felt a hard knot form deep in his stomach. Clearly this situation went even deeper than Dane had expected, and although his intent that fateful evening had been to cover up the trucker's death, it was now clear that everything he'd done had been in vain.
Someone else out there had discovered his dark secret, and now, after seven months of mental anguish, he would be forced to confront this situation head on. He broke out in a cold sweat, and his fingers moved like lightning over the keypad as he searched through the phone's address book for Cassie's number. Upon locating it, he pushed the send button, then waited anxiously for her to pick up. She barely had time to say hello before he spoke hurriedly into the receiver.
"I need to meet up with you."
"Why? What's going on?"
"I can't go into details about it over the phone, but it involves Marla."
"Is she okay?"
His lack of words provided the answer.
Cassie gave a sharp intake of breath, then spoke in a trembling voice. "She's dead, isn't she?"
"Where can we meet? I need to see you right away."
"You still live in the same place?"
"Alright. I'm on my way right now."
"Okay. See you soon."
He hurriedly got dressed, and after grabbing his car keys, he was out the door and on his way.
* * * *
It had been quite some time since Dane had last been in Cassie's apartment, but to his surprise, he found that everything was pretty much the same as he'd remembered it. The coffee table was still cluttered with unlit candles, and the same Woodstock concert posters adorned the living room walls.
She even had the same flowering cactus sitting on a stand next to her computer desk, and as his eyes came to rest on it, he came to the realization that Cassie was a lot like the prickly plant. She was uniquely beautiful and tough, but if you tried to get too close, you'd get hurt.
The squeaky sound of the kitchen door swinging open caused Dane to look to his left, and he noticed Cassie entering with two cups in hand. With jet black hair and striking blue eyes, Cassie slightly resembled the actress Fairuza Balk, and just like the starlet, Cassie exuded a vibe that warned even the most intimidating of strangers not to mess with her. After passing a cup of coffee to Dane, she sat down on the couch beside him, then tucked one of her legs beneath her.
"Alright, so tell me again what the text message said."
"That's it, nothing else?"
"Nope." He took a small sip of his beverage, then set the mug down.
"That's definitely creepy." She glanced toward the window for a few moments before once again looking at Dane. "I say we call Marla and see if she's still alive."
"I already did call her."
"Did anyone answer?"
"Well maybe she was just busy, and couldn't answer the phone."
"She's dead, Cassie. I know she is."
She blew out a heavy breath, then said, "What are you going to do?"
He shrugged. "What can I do? I don't know who sent that message, and even if I did, It's not like I'd know where to find them." He then added, "And besides, It's not like I have reasons for revenge."
"Marla didn't deserve to die."
"No she didn't, but neither did that man she killed."
"That was a mistake, and you know it."
"Of course I do. But that doesn't change the fact that it happened."
A few moments of silence passed between them, during which faint music from the apartment next door could be heard seeping through the thin walls.
"Do you know where Marla lived?"
"No, she never told me."
"You ever tell her where you live?"
"Good." She briefly paused before saying, "Clearly this person who sent the text message knows what happened that night. But what I don't understand, is why they would wait seven months to kill Marla."
He shrugged. "That's exactly what I've been trying to figure out." Dane leaned his elbows on his knees, then rested his head in his hands. "This situation is so thoroughly fucked up."
"Yeah, I know." Perhaps seeing how distraught he was, she rubbed his shoulder sympathetically. "I'm here for you. You know that, right? You need anything at all, just let me know."
"Thanks for the offer, Cass, but I want you to stay out of this. It's my problem, and I'll handle it."
He could feel her staring at him, but not wanting to make eye contact, he kept his head buried in his hands.
"I'm gonna help you track down the person who sent that text message," she firmly said.
"Didn't I just tell you to stay out of this?"
He'd lifted his head from his hands, and was now staring her directly in the eye. The expression on his face was stern and serious, yet the look that Cassie gave him was just as fierce.
"I don't give a damn what you said, I'm still doing it."
"Alright, fine. Try all you want, but the text was sent anonymously, so you're gonna have a hell of a time figuring it out."
"Clearly you've forgotten how skilled I am at that sort of thing."
"You're right. How could I ever underestimate the hacking skills of Phreaker X?" He asked with a faint smirk on his lips.
"Tease me all you want, but you know how good I am."
"Yeah, I do."
His smirk disappeared, and as his face became creased with worry, the mood between them once again grew serious.
"If you need a place to stay, you can always crash here," Cassie said.
Dane's brow furrowed. "Why would I need a place to stay? I have an apartment, remember?"
"Whoever sent that text message has your number. Which means It's only a matter of time before he tracks you down."
"Not likely. I have a San Luis Obispo area code, remember?"
"Oh, that's right. Well at least he can't use that to find out where you live."
"Maybe he already knows."
His words hung heavy in the air, and as Cassie's eyes met his own, he could tell by the expression on her face that she was deeply disturbed by the thought.
"Even more of a reason to stay away from your apartment. Just pack some stuff and come stay here with me."
Dane shook his head, and in a firm voice he said, "Nope, I'm not running away from this."
"Just for a little while. Then once we figure out who this guy is, we'll have a better idea of how to handle this situation."
"I said no. And by the way, there is no 'we.' I don't want you getting involved, understand?"
"Then what are you gonna do? Just sit back and wait for him to hunt you down?"
He wants to come after me, let him." Dane's eyes took on a hard glint, and his jaw tensed.
Cassie placed her mug on the coffee table, then gave him a serious look. "You want this guy to find you, don't you? You think you deserve to die."
"Yeah, that's exactly it," Dane said in a voice laced with sarcasm. "I've got a death wish."
Cassie scooted closer to Dane, then gently grabbed hold of his chin and maneuvered his head so that he was looking her in the eyes. "Listen to me, Dane. You have no reason to hold yourself responsible for what happened that night. Marla was the one who killed that trucker, not you."
"But I helped her dispose of the body."
"If you hadn't, you'd probably be in prison right now."
"At least I would have a clear conscience."
"You'd also be getting raped on a daily basis. Would that have been worth it?"
He said nothing in return, only turned his head and focused his attention on the wall, staring at it with a tortured expression on his face.
"You got trapped in a bad situation, and you panicked. Most people would have probably done the same."
Directing his gaze back to her, he said, "No, I don't think they would."
"Damnit, Dane, stop torturing yourself, and get over this."
"I dumped a man's body in the pier. That isn't the kind of thing you get over. It stays with you, for life."
"You did what you had to do. If you'd left the body in the truck, both you and Marla would have been in a shitload of trouble. Not only for killing the guy, but also for robbing him."
She grabbed a pack of cigarettes off the coffee table, retrieved two, then offered him one.
"No thanks, I quit two months ago."
"You sure? You look like you could really use one."
"I said no." Dane's voice had risen a notch, and his body grew rigid with irritation as he stared her down.
"Well excuse me for asking. Just thought it might help you relax," she said.
After lighting her cigarette, she deeply inhaled, then puffed out the smoke and rested her back against the couch. The smoke curled in tendrils next to Dane's face, and as the scent entered his nostrils, he found himself desperately craving one.
Eyeing the pack of cigarettes, he tried to resist the urge to pick them up, but as curls of smoke continued to float past him, he realized he was fighting a losing battle.
"What the hell, maybe I will have one."
He slid a cigarette out of the pack, and after lighting it up, he took a deep drag. As he exhaled, he watched the smoke swirl around him in a dance, then let out a small sigh.
Turning her head to glance at Dane, Cassie asked, "Feel better?"
"No, actually I feel worse."