A Cloak of Lies Ch. 01bySweetWitch©
This story was previously posted and now back by popular demand. Or demand, anyway. Please be sure to let me know what you think.
A Cloak of Lies
His fingers began to cramp. He forced himself to loosen his grip on the steering wheel, to ease his foot back on the accelerator. Too dangerous to call the attention of the police, he told himself.
It would be daylight soon; he'd need a place to pull over, someplace to lay low during the sunny hours ahead. If only he could've taken a flight, it would've been so much faster, but that was too dangerous, as well. Better to travel by car under the cover of night, and hide in the day.
Gregorios Nikodemos Pavli wondered once again how she'd react to seeing his face after all these years of thinking him dead. Did she still wonder what had happened to him? Did she care anymore? He tried to remember how his wife looked the last time he saw her. She'd waved to him as he left that day, a smile on her succulent lips. She'd tied her blond hair back from her lovely, oval face and her blue eyes had sparkled in the morning sun.
He remembered thinking he was a lucky man, he'd had it all -- a tall, reedy wife who loved him, their future shining in her eyes, a home to be proud of. He'd had it all and lost it in the blink of an eye, on the whim of fate.
Digging his thumb and forefinger momentarily into his tired eyes, he tried to clear his mind and focus on the road ahead. Only one more night after this and he would be home, at long last.
Home, he thought. It wasn't really his home anymore, though, The Fates had seen to that. In all the years he'd been gone, he thought only of returning, of wrapping his arms around his wife and picking up the pieces of his life. Even as he envisioned his sweet Camille, he knew that it would not be that easy. If he were lucky, he would be able to get her safely away in time. She had a mind of her own and had, undoubtedly, gone on with her life.
There would be a fight, if he knew his Camille, a fight that would make all their past disagreements look like minor tiffs in comparison. Since the day they'd met, their relationship had been stormy, each fight ending in the passionate forgiveness of the marriage bed. Will she forgive me this time?
The horizon showed a faint glow, signaling the approach of day. He pulled out the map that nestled folded between the seat and the console, switching on the small lamp to read by. The exit's next, then left, he thought. He'd find a camp ground soon, lay his tired head down and dream of her.
He wondered if she would still be attracted to him. They'd both been young when they'd married; he had been twenty-one and she nineteen. They couldn't wait to start a family, as so many young couples do. In her, he had found the joy that he had lost only four years before when his parents had been killed in an accident. They'd been gloriously happy, but then things had gone wrong, tearing him from his world, and thrusting him into one not of his own making.
Camille had been so beautiful, and he had little doubt that she still was. Her hair had been the color of sun-dried wheat and her eyes as blue as the sky on a warm, spring day. Her skin was golden and supple, like dewy silk to the touch. Her body had been one that could give a dead man a hard-on, with full breasts and a small waist that led to the soft curve of her hips. Were her lips still as red? Were her eyes still as bright?
Yes, he thought, she's still beautiful. As for himself, he hadn't changed much in the ensuing years since his "death". His hair was still the color of darkest night -- untouched by gray after all he'd been through. His eyes were still as black as ever, and he used them to intimidate his enemies when necessary. He still had hard, athletic muscles that covered his six-foot, three-inch frame, and he was blessed with the physical strength that had carried him through life. Looking in the car mirror, however, he could see that his face had hardened, had lost its easy friendliness. Perhaps he had changed more than he realized.
Niko waited at the door of the campground administration office for thirty minutes before someone finally drove up to open the grounds for the day. He checked his disguise before the person could approach, making sure that his beat-up fishing hat was in place, and that he looked sufficiently enthusiastic about making the big catch from the various lake species available at these particular sporting grounds. For all intents and purposes, he was just another urban professional out for a long weekend of solitude and sport.
He watched as a young woman got out of the red sedan that had just pulled in, a set of keys in her hand. She slowed as she approached the door, eyeing him from under batting lashes. From the expression on her face, he could tell she liked what she saw, as most women often did. Over the past eight years he had gotten to the point of ignoring such lustful glances because, as so many of them were, this woman was beautiful, but she was no Camille.
With an easy smile on his face, Niko tipped his hat to the woman, waiting for her to unlock the building that housed the office. He hated the light banter he had to make as he registered, but it was all part of the game. Keep people relaxed, keep them off their guard and they'd not be suspicious of him. He had to be part of the landscape, just another friendly face in the crowd, blending with all the other tourists.
He'd chosen a campsite far away from everyone else, telling the receptionist that he wanted a quieter spot to fish. She wished him luck as she handed him his ticket, letting her fingers linger over the palm of his hand. As he had done so many times in the past, he merely smiled and let her see the gold band that encircled the third finger of his left hand. To him, that ring was a bond, one that should not be broken.
It did not take him long to set up his small tent, fix himself a sandwich and crawl in to sleep. He was bone-weary, too tired to focus anymore. His eyes felt like they were embedded with sand, his head leaden on his shoulders. He'd been traveling for three nights, too many nights of sleeping on the hard ground. Soon, he told himself, as he pulled the shining Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum from its holster and tucked it under the edge of his sleeping bag, soon he would be seeing his Camille.
Niko Pavli pulled his nondescript Chevy Impala to a stop, a safe distance down the street from what used to be his home. His first inclination was to pull into the drive, tear open the front door and announce that he was home. That was a foolhardy notion, at best, and suicide at worst.
He had managed to keep tabs on her, to a certain extent, through his contacts in the Company, and other sources, but all he really knew was that Camille had refused to accept the police report presuming her husband to be dead, still bore his name. He also knew that she still lived at 2344 Briar Road, even after all these years. Beyond that, he had no way of knowing what was going on in her life or in her mind.
He looked through the lens of the little monocular that he'd brought with him, searching the windows of the small house. It was late, nearly 11:30, but he could detect movement silhouetted through the sheers that covered the glass. His pulse began to race when he realized that she was in there, still awake -- if only he could see her clearly.
Niko was just about to open the car, go to the house and announce his presence when the door opened. Camille looked golden and beautiful as she stepped into the light that flooded over the floor of the front porch from the open doorway. The expression on her face was wistful, soft, with a slight smile that curved her strawberry-colored lips. She hadn't changed a bit, still beautiful, still supremely bewitching. Her hair was shorter, reaching just past her shoulders, but she was still the same woman he had last seen standing on that very spot.
He opened his car door, stepping out onto the street. There was a tightening in his chest -- and his groin -- as he contemplated how best to approach. He'd tried to remain true to his marriage vows while he was away, only sampling precious few of the offers he had been given by the women he'd met along the way -- and only when the need was more than he could bear. None of them had compared to his Camille and had left him feeling empty, fulfilling only the most base of physical needs.
This woman, who stood so gracefully in the lamplight -- only she could fulfill the need that stirred in him. He took his first step, freezing in his tracks when he saw her turn to face the door again. The curve of her face, angling upward as if to greet someone, lifted in a deepening smile. Even from this distance, he could see the glow in her eyes as a man walked outside to stand just inches in front of her. Niko saw his wife lift her arms, wrapping them around the man's neck, as she stood on her toes to receive his kiss.
White-hot pain, like that of a glistening knife blade slicing through his flesh, hit him in the chest, nearly knocking the wind out of him. He felt the rage building, his fists clenching at his sides. Never had he wanted to kill anyone the way he wanted to kill someone at this moment. Blood rushed through his veins, roaring in his ears, as he fought against the fury that threatened to consume him.
"Let it go, buddy."
So caught up was he in the madness that consumed his mind, he'd not heard the voice that spoke so low. When a hand clutched his shoulder from behind, he whirled around, ready to butcher whomever it belonged to.
The man's hands went straight up, palms out in front of him. "Easy, Niko. It's me. Just relax."
Niko's jaw was clenched, it's muscles protruding outward under the strain as he glared at his friend and partner. "How'd you find me?" he ground out.
"Easy. You have a one-track mind. When you disappeared it was just a matter of putting two and two together. I've been here waiting for you."
Niko wheeled back around, watching the scene in front of the house. His sweet wife was waving to the man as he walked toward the car in the drive. She was blowing him kisses and calling out that she loved him.
"I know what's going through that head of yours, old pal. Just let it go. She has a new life now. What did you expect after eight years? You need to cool that hot Greek blood of yours before you do something stupid."
"Fuck you, Olan. Fuck you all to hell," Niko hissed. Knowing that what Olan Jeffreys told him was true didn't help much.
"Let's get out of here before someone sees you, pal," Olan urged. "You know this is madness."
Niko turned on his friend again, facing him with a defensive posture, daring him to interfere. "Eight years, you son of a bitch. Eight years gone. You all fucking lied to me," he growled.
"Niko, nothing I say will change a goddamn thing, but, for what it's worth, I never lied. I believed them, too. Now, come on," Olan returned, his arm stretching out to Niko. "Let's get out of here before it's too late."
Niko spun around, his long, powerful legs eating up the ground before him in ever-quickening strides. Within moments he was stepping onto the floorboards of the front porch where Camille had been standing mere minutes before. He heard Olan's running footsteps coming up behind him, knew the man would try again to stop him. As Niko raised his clenched fist to knock on the door, his friend grabbed his arm and pulled him around.
With little effort, Niko shook off the smaller man, facing him again, with all the wrath he felt burning in his eyes. "Get back, goddamn it. I don't want to hurt you, Olan, but, by God, I'll pound the living shit out of you if you don't stay back."
"Yeah, you could do that," Olan said slowly. "You could beat me to a pulp and leave me bleeding in the dirt, but think, man. How's she gonna feel seeing you after all this time?"
"I don't care. She's my wife," Niko retorted, turning and raising his fist again.
"No, she's not," Olan declared softly.
Niko's arm froze in mid-air, before his hand came in contact with the door. "What's that supposed to mean?" he growled as he spun around again.
Olan ran a hand through his dark red hair, grimacing painfully at the duty that lay before him. "I'm sorry, Niko, but you know the drill. Dammit, life just sucks sometimes," he faltered. "You're dead, remember? Camille is your widow, not your wife. She's planning on getting married again. I know I should've told you, but... How do you think she'll handle it when she sees her dead husband standing at her door? You've got to get a grip, bro. Let's get out of here."
"This is your fault, the whole damned agency's fault," he ground out. "You took everything... everything. Tonight I'm getting it back."
Glaring at Olan, Niko wrestled with his need for retribution, his need to hurt someone and salve the pain that rooted itself deeply in his soul.
"You can't, Niko," Olan said, resignation heavy in his voice. "I have orders to shoot you if you try anything. They want you back alive, if I can do it, but dead works for them too. I don't want to kill you. We been friends a long time."
"You better pull your gun then because I'm going in," Niko hurled back. "I have to get my wife out. If the bastards get their hands on her, they'll end up killing her and you know it. I won't take that chance."
Olan snapped his mouth shut before making a response, glancing around Niko as light once again flooded onto the porch when the door opened. The smaller man shut his eyes, cursing softly under his breath at what he saw.
The head of the larger man shot upright as his back stiffened -- an instinctual response to what was inevitable. A soft, lilting voice spoke from behind, sending a chill down his spine. A sudden flutter in his gut was followed by a nervous fear that was uncharacteristic of him, leaving him frozen with his back to the door.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" the voice asked.
Olan let his hands fall to his sides as he turned his back on the scene, leaning against the post of the front porch before folding his arms across his chest and staring into the dark. Niko watched him warily, unsure of whether to trust this man who had been his friend. Finally he turned to face the woman, to look upon her graceful beauty for the first time in nearly a decade. He steeled himself for the reaction that he knew would be inescapable: the shock and horror at seeing him alive.
"Sir?" she asked timidly. "What do you want?"
Niko stepped out of the shadows, allowing the light to flow over his long frame, and eventually, his face as he took a step closer. He watched her eyes, saw the concern at the intrusion, watched her expression change to confusion, finally becoming astonishment and horror. She was stepping backward, her fingers wrapping around her throat as the color drained from her face.
Camille stumbled, tripping over the edge of a rug before hitting the wall behind her and sliding to the floor. Her mouth moved, forming soundless words while her head shook back and forth. She continued to stare at him through the door, her eyes wide with bewilderment.
Niko took a step over the threshold, reaching a hand to his recoiling wife. He'd worked out in his head what he'd planned to say during the long miles of the trip that brought him back to her door, but the flowery speech was lost to the reality of seeing her.
"Stay away!" the woman screamed, her hands coming up to fend off the wraith that reached for her.
Niko dropped to his knees before her, wanting to take her quaking form into his arms, crush her slender body to his. Instead he let his hands fall against his thighs, his mind searching for words that would soothe her and finding none. All he could do was watch her face and see the horror that clouded her eyes.
"You two okay?" Olan asked from the open door.
Niko growled at the intrusion, snaking his hand out to throw the solid wooden door shut, nearly hitting the man in the face. At the sudden bang of the slamming door, Camille snapped out of her stupor, skittering along the wall on her hands and knees. She was on her feet in a flash, running for the back door of the small house.
"Camille," Niko shouted, scrambling to his feet. He caught her about the waist before she could escape, pulling her back against his chest, inhaling her scent.
"Let me go," she shrieked, flailing madly with her feet, sinking her fingernails into the flesh of his arms.
"No," he said against her ear. "It's me, baby. I'm home now."
Camille ceased her struggles, her tense body trying to hold itself away from his. "Who are you?"
He could hear the panic in her voice, feel it in the quiver of her body. The terror he had seen in her eyes fed the rage that he felt at having been forced to live without her. He wanted to turn her around, take her in his arms and crush her mouth with his, make her understand he was really her Niko.
"Camille, it's me," he whispered into her ear, his lips moving against the sensitive shell. "I'm alive. I'm sorry... so sorry. Please, agapi mou... it's me."
The tension left her body with the sound of a soft whimper, a sound like that of a wounded animal. She weakened against him; her legs trembled and would have collapsed from under her had he not been supporting her slight weight. Her arms dropped limply at her sides, her head lolling forward.
"Camille, please..." Niko had one arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her head back with his other hand, cradling her cheek in his palm. Her skin was the color of virgin snow and icy to the touch, startling him to the point of near panic. He swept her into his arms and carried her to the living room where he laid her listless body on the sofa, chafing her hands and watching her glassy eyes.
Her voice, weak and soft, barely audible, said his name, "Niko... no, it can't be."
"Yes, agapi," he answered, speaking gently as he brought her hand to his lips, turning it over to place a tender kiss on her palm. "It's me, I promise you."
"But... but, you're dead," she rasped hoarsely. "They told me you're dead."
"They lied, baby."
Her brows drew together, her eyes darkening in her confusion. "How...?"
"It's a long story, love, and now's not the time. I came for you. It's not safe to stay here anymore. I have to get you out."
"I... What?" To Camille the whole world no longer made sense. This man touching her was her dead husband, but how could that be?
"I know you're confused but we have to leave. I'm sorry, love. I wish there were time to explain. You're in danger. You have to come with me now." The woman reached out a hand, touched his face gently, timidly, as if he would disappear because of her actions. He covered her hand with his, pressing it to his flesh, indulging in the petal-soft sensation of her fingers. She moaned softly before her arms flew about his neck, clasping him in a fierce hug. A savage growl exploding from his chest, Niko wrapped himself around her, crushing her against him until she pushed back, gasping for breath.
He heard the cracking sound of it before he felt the sting of the vicious slap that left a fiery imprint of her hand on his cheek. She struck him again, a sob tearing from her throat as she raised her hand once more. Niko caught the small hand, pressing the palm to his lips, tasting her skin.
"No," she screamed. "No, no, no! "
Camille fought against him in earnest, shoving him back, pushing against his chest with her bare feet. Before he could catch her she was off the sofa, on her feet and running across the room. The betrayal she felt glittered in her eyes as she whirled around, facing him with a venomous sneer.