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Thanks to TarnishedPenny for her beta reading and helpful comments on the draft of this story. All defects in the story are entirely of my own making.
I was looking for a place to live - a place with style, at a convenient location, with amenities that suited my work and recreational needs. The Darkling Tower, standing a dozen stories over the streets north of downtown San Francisco, looked like the ideal place for me. I needed an apartment, and it had one for rent.
I crossed the street and walked to the entrance of the building on a balmy mid-October day. In the rest of the country, summer warmth already had surrendered to the chill of fall. But in San Francisco, the normal weather pattern was reversed. The gray, foggy gloom that hung over the city for most of the summer had given way to a gloriously sunny autumn.
The afternoon sunlight struck the Darkling Tower at a slant that highlighted its distinctive shape. It was an odd building, different from any other in the city. It had been constructed only ten years earlier, but it looked older. The exterior was clad in various shades and sizes of beige and brown stone panels, and if you stood close to them you could see that many of them were etched with intricate carvings that looked like the lettering of a long-lost language. Each floor stepped back, a couple of feet, from the one below it, so from a distance the tower resembled a ziggurat, pulled and stretched thin from above by an unseen hand to blend in with the tall buildings around it.
When I walked through the front doors of the tower, I saw that its builders had given equal if not greater attention to its interior. It was a vast space, with a high ceiling. The lines were modern, but the decoration was not: the walls were covered in elaborate, painted images, lines, and swirls in many colors, and what looked like writing in an ancient language. I was no scholar of ancient history or culture, but the idea popped into my head that if the Babylonians were still around, they would build a space that looked like this one. It was dazzling.
I crossed the polished stone floor to a desk with an attendant, and I gave her my name. I had an appointment. I could not help but notice that she was young and gorgeous, with lustrous, chocolate skin, perfectly coiffed jet-black hair cut at shoulder length, and a tight-fitting uniform that included a skirt stopping several inches above her knee. She told me to wait for a minute.
Not more than a minute passed when I heard a high-pitched, feminine voice at my shoulder.
"Mr. Pierce?" the voice asked me.
I turned to see a woman just as beautiful as the attendant. She was tall, almost as tall as I was, with long, straight blond hair, perfectly smooth, unblemished skin, and a skirt every bit as short as the attendant's.
"That's me," I said, and I held out my hand.
"I'm Penelope," she said, taking my hand. "Welcome to the Darkling Tower. I am going to take you to the room and then show you the building and its amenities. If you are still interested, we can go over the details in the office afterward."
I followed her to the elevator, and then to the eighth floor, the location of the apartment I had called them to look at. Everything about the Tower exuded wealth and taste - the flooring, the wall paneling, the light fixtures. I was awed by it, and my attention to the building's decorative detail was interrupted only by fleeting but frequent glimpses at my guide's amazing, pert ass. I had been in the building for only five minutes and both the women I had met were perfect 10s. Penelope's ass swayed in front of me, mesmerizingly.
I would give a year of my life for an ass like that, I thought, on impulse.
The apartment, when I reached it and stepped inside its door, equaled everything else in the building in its splendor, its proportions, and its view. It already was furnished, which I liked, and the furnishings and décor were subdued and tasteful, attractive but masculine. The apartment suite consisted of an entry, a main room, a small dining room, a kitchen with top-notch appliances, and two spacious bedrooms, one of which I would use as my office.
But the best feature was the view. After surveying the layout of the rooms, I walked to the living room window. The building stood not too far from the peak of Nob Hill, and the view from my window looked to the north, encompassing Fisherman's Wharf and part of the Embarcadero. The Golden Gate Bridge framed the far left of the vista, and stretching from one side to the other flowed the waters of San Francisco Bay, with the rocky prominence of Alcatraz Island in the middle distance. The sun-bleached, tan hills of Marin County lay farther in the background. It was breathtaking.
"That's an extraordinary view," I said to Penelope. "I'm not sure if it would let me get any work done, though."
"If that's a problem, Mr. Pierce," she replied, "You can use the Tower's office facilities on the fifth floor. They are free to all residents, and they have everything you could possibly want to do your work. But they don't have such distracting views." She flashed a smile with perfectly white teeth as she said it.
I thought about that. I worked on my own as a financial and business consultant after having worked for a large firm for 14 years. I had turned 38 recently, and with a large stable of profitable clients and a healthy nest egg that I had earned as one of the firm's hardest-working and most aggressively networking members, I had decided to strike out on my own. I liked doing things my own way, and I had wanted to be my own boss for years. I was looking for a place that would make it easier for me to do so by combining a place to live and a place to work.
The Darkling Tower looked perfect for my needs. That view. I could never tire of it. But I wanted to see the rest.
"This looks good to me," I told Penelope. "How about if you show me the rest of the building?"
"Right away," she said, white teeth sparkling again.
We toured the rest of the building. She showed me the office facilities, which were immaculate and completely up to date, and the two restaurants. As I walked along the building hallways, I couldn't help but notice the proliferation of mirrors everywhere. I saw my reflection, over and over. And, I must admit, I looked at myself in the mirrors often. I was a narcissist, I had to admit. I worked out all the time and kept my body fit and lean and muscular. I wore a dark blue sports coat, and in the mirror, I could see it looked good against my skin, which I kept moderately tan by getting outside whenever I could.
I wondered if Penelope, who looked no more than 25, thought I looked good.
We arrived at the gym. Already, I was ready to sign the lease, but the gym sealed the deal. It was enormous, with every imaginable strength and cardio machine and an entire wall lined with dumbbells and barbells. But the thing I noticed most was who was lifting weights. Two women, who I guessed were somewhat younger than me, but not too much younger, were helping each other at the bench press. One spotted while the other lifted. Both were dressed in form-fitting shorts and tight tank tops. Both were unusually beautiful, like Penelope, my guide.
I did not say so to myself consciously, but in that moment, I decided to move into the Darkling Tower.
A few minutes later I sat in a chair in the building's management office. Penelope sat across from me at a dark, polished wood desk, with a digital notepad in front of her. I looked around the office. It was far more carefully and richly furnished than one would expect of a rental office in an apartment building. And there were more mirrors - one to my right, and one behind Penelope. It was disquieting; I could not help but see my reflection during our interview.
"Would you like some coffee, Mr. Pierce?" she asked. There was something about the way she emphasized my last name that was very appealing. She drew it out just a shade longer than she needed to, and though there was nothing unprofessional in her voice I felt a faint hint of seduction.
I would not mind being seduced by you, I thought.
"Sure, I'll have some coffee," I said.
I admired her firm, round ass molded by the tight skirt as she walked to the coffee maker. The coffee was delicious, but with an unusual flavor I could not identify.
"Mr. Pierce," she said. "I have a few questions to ask you before I review the lease documents with you.
"First, do you have any pets?"
"No, no pets," I said.
"That's good," she said. "We don't allow them." That struck me as odd but not objectionable. I had no intention of living with a dog or cat, but I had known many people in apartment complexes to do so.
"Are you single?" she asked. I almost balked at answering, but I had already made up my mind that I wanted to live there, so I answered.
"Yes, I am," I said. "Not married. No girlfriend, currently. No ex."
She asked more questions in a similar vein, very pointed and personal questions. I wondered if asking them was legal. She asked me about hobbies, and habits, and how many friends and acquaintances I had in the area. She held up several photographs and images and asked me to give my impression of them. It felt like I was being subjected to a full-on psychological profile. I thought it was very odd that a potential landlord would ask such questions, but for a reason I could not quite identify I didn't say anything. I just answered her questions. Penelope recorded every one of my answers on the notepad. I noticed that after a few of my answers she looked up and to her left into the mirror. After fifteen minutes she was done.
"I apologize if these questions seem intrusive," she said, giving me an apologetic but brilliant smile. "At the Darkling Tower we strive for a harmonious environment. We want residents who will fit in here." She paused and looked at her notepad. I could not see its surface. She appeared to be reading something on it. Then she nodded.
"I think you will fit in well here, Mr. Pierce," she said.
She pushed the pad to the side and pulled a sheaf of documents from a drawer, and she set them in front of me.
"These are the lease documents, Mr. Pierce," she said. "Please take as much time as you need to read them, and sign and date where the post-its are attached."
I took them and started reviewing them, slowly at first. But when I looked up from the documents, Penelope was staring at me, and her stare unnerved me. I sped up, until I got to the end and hastily wrote my name on the final line: Darren Pierce. Finished, I lifted the pen off the paper, but something sharp on it bit my thumb. I pulled it away with a low cry of surprise, but not before a drop of blood fell from my thumb onto the contract, next to my signature.
I dropped the pen on the table and sucked on my pricked thumb. Penelope was watching me, but I could not tell with what expression. She looked serious, but not at all alarmed that the pen had just drawn blood from my thumb.
"Sorry," I said. "I can do it over."
"No need, Mr. Pierce," she said, pulling the contract away from me to her side of the table. "It's fine. I hope you're not hurt."
"No, I guess not," I said. The cut on my thumb unnerved me, but I did not want to show any loss of composure to Penelope.
She stood up from the desk. Her skirt bunched high on her lissome thighs. I couldn't help but stare, but if she noticed my ogling, she did a good job pretending she did not. She pulled a drawer open and handed me a bandage. I thought it was odd that she happened to have bandages on hand in the office, but I said nothing and took it and put it on.
"Mr. Pierce, if you'll follow me," she said.
I was only too happy to follow her, although I did not know where she was taking me. We walked down a hallway with a high ceiling above, and dark, plank wood floor below. The hallway ended at a high and imposing door of dark wood.
"This is Ms. Darkling's office," Penelope said. "She insists upon meeting all new tenants when they join us."
Penelope rapped her knuckles on the door and then opened it and held it open for me. I entered.
It was impossible to avoid a double take at the sight of Charlotte Darkling's office. It was enormous, and richly furnished in a style I could not identify. The word "Byzantine" came to mind. All the furniture - desks, shelves, chairs, side tables - was made of a dark-stained, fine-grained wood. The decoration was ornate, exquisitely detailed, and very colorful, giving the same impression as the entrance to the building. In the middle of the room sat an enormous desk. It must weigh a ton, literally, I thought. In front of the desk stood one of the most striking women I had ever seen.
She was tall, nearly as tall as I was, and she stood perfectly straight in a tight-fitting black skirt and crimson blouse. Her skin was very pale, but her hair and eyes were dark as midnight. She was beautiful, but severe and cold, too, unlike Penelope, her assistant. And it was impossible to tell how old she was. Her skin was perfectly smooth and unblemished, and she had no gray hair, but there was something in her manner that did not suggest youthfulness.
She strode forward with uncommon grace to greet me.
"Mr. Pierce," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Charlotte Darkling."
"I'm pleased to meet, you" I said, noting that she had a firm handshake. "But please call me Darren. You have a lovely office." I looked around at it, and for the first time noticed something odd.
"You don't have any windows," I said. "I would have thought the owner of the building would have a corner office with great views."
She laughed. "Practicality, Darren," she said. "This way we have more window offices to rent. Besides, I have all the windows I need in the suite where I live."
"Oh, where's that?" I asked.
"It's the 13th floor," she said, her dark eyes fixed intently on mine. I noticed she did not say "on" the 13th floor.
"Your suite is the entire 13th floor?"
"It is," she said. "The penthouse, and I have views aplenty there. So, I feel no loss at giving them up here. Then, too, I work here, and views would be a distraction."
The intercom on her desk buzzed.
"Ms. Darkling, Mr. Skilling is here for his appointment," a feminine voice said.
"I'm afraid I have to cut short our meeting, Darren," Charlotte said. "I hope you enjoy living here as much as I do. I think you will find that everything is first-rate. We cut no corners. I hope to see you again soon. Penelope will show you out."
With that, she turned and walked back to her desk. I noticed that she wore five-inch glossy black heels, and that she seemed to glide across the floor in them. I followed Penelope out the door. I left the office wondering what Charlotte Darkling's penthouse looked like.
A week later, I sat at a small table in the kitchen in my new apartment, enjoying the stunning view out of my eighth-floor window while munching a piece of toast for breakfast. I had only been there a few days, and already I felt at home.
My phone rang.
"Hello, Darren speaking," I answered.
"Darren, it's Raul, how are you?" the voice asked. Raul was a client, as well as a friend. I consulted with him on his business, and occasionally we played squash together at the club.
"I'm fine, Raul," I replied. "What's up?"
"I missed you yesterday," he said. "We were supposed to get a game in at the club at lunch. You didn't show."
"Shit, Raul, you're right," I said. I had completely forgotten. That was unlike me. I was careful about appointments, but somehow this one had escaped me. "I'm really sorry, buddy. I will make it up to you. We'll reschedule and lunch will be on me. How about Thursday?"
"That sounds good, Darren. Hey, how's the new place?"
"It's fantastic. The apartment is perfect for my needs and this building is amazing. It's got everything. And the women - my god, Raul, the women who live here are beautiful. It's heaven."
"Sounds awesome," he said. "You'll have to let me see it soon."
"I'll do it. We'll set it up when we get together on Thursday."
"All right, sounds good, my friend," he said. "I was a little worried about you when you didn't show, but I'm glad it's all working out. Got to run. The wife is calling. Talk to you later."
"Later, Raul," I said and hung up. I still couldn't believe I'd missed the appointment. I'd been so busy settling in and getting to know my new home I'd forgotten about squash completely.
I thought about it and realized I had only been outside the building three times since I'd moved in five days before. Some days there was no reason to leave. The building had everything: the most complete gym I'd ever used, a spacious convenience store, and several restaurants. To order food or office supplies I had only to pick up a phone and call room service, and everything would be at my door within the hour, always delivered by a beautiful woman.
It was heaven, or something like it.
My office already was set up and ready to go for the day, but I wanted to do a workout at the gym before calling my clients. I pulled on black gym shorts. Before pulling on a blue t-shirt, I looked in the mirror. My abs looked good, but I thought I could use some more bulk in my pecs. It was time to do some presses.
In the elevator, I punched the button for the fourth floor, location of the gym. I noticed there was no button for the 13th floor. Charlotte must have her own elevator, I thought. Impressive.
When I arrived, only two other people were working out at the gym. One was a young, lithe brunette pacing herself furiously on a stair climber. The other was a guy, probably around my age, looking lean and fit, curling dumbbells in front a mirror. I walked over to the dumbbells to get started.
The guy saw me in the mirror and turned my way.
"I'm a regular and I don't think I've seen you before," he said. "Are you a new resident?"
"I am," I said. "Darren. Just moved into apartment 808."
A funny look passed over his face before he replied.
"Dale," he said, putting the weight down and shaking my hand. "Welcome to the Darkling Tower. You like it so far?"
"I love it," I said, enthused. "I can't believe this place. It's got everything."
"True that," he said. "I've been here for three months, and I still can't believe it. And I'm sure you've noticed the best part." He smirked.
"What's that?" I asked.
"The women," he said. "The women. You must have noticed how many beautiful women live here. I mean, there are a lot of good-looking women in this city, but it seems like a lot of the most beautiful ones live right here. And another thing, I don't know if you've noticed this: they outnumber us. There are a lot more women in this building than men. A lot more. How does that happen?"
I had not thought about it before, but he was right. In the last five days I had seen a lot more women than men living in the building, and it was true that almost all of them were reasonably young and attractive.
"And another thing, my friend," he said, leaning toward me. "They're horny. I've never had trouble, always done well for myself with the ladies. But this place is crazy. I'm getting more action than I ever have in my life. Even more than in my frat days. You get any yet?"
"No, not yet," I replied, surprised. I'd been too busy with my move and work to pay too much attention to the women who lived near me. But I supposed I had received a lot of smiles and turned heads since my arrival.
"Well," he said. "If you're straight, you will. You might even get some if you're gay. I'm serious."
He nodded his chin at the opposite side of the room, where the cute brunette's legs still pumped away at the stair climber.