Sins of My Father
After an evening of bankrupting his fellow club members, Richmond Black straightened his cravat and bid his victims goodnight from the comfort of his hansom cab as he and his valet George left the opulence of Almack’s for some less salubrious entertainment at Covent Garden, the nocturnal playground of London’s most fashionable gentlemen. Richmond Black most definitely fit that definition, for from his impeccable pedigree to his rook feather-colored hair, he was the epitome of a refined gentlemen.
Richmond retrieved his pocket watch from his waistcoat and gazed at the hour hand, nearing the two o’clock mark. He inhaled deeply and peered out the window, but the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves against the cobblestone was the only thing penetrating the dense fog.
“Shall I wait up for you, sir?” George asked, his weathered voice briefly jerking Richmond’s attention back inside the carriage.
“No,” Richmond answered briskly before returning to his thoughts.
George dusted a speck of ash from his livery sleeve and settled into the comfortable silence, something that had become commonplace between them. He was fifty-two, only eleven years older than his master, though his dark peppered hair and creaking joints were telltale signs of neglect; Richmond, on the other hand, was dashingly tall with flawless pale skin and defined features that seemed to be immune to the touch of passing time. George was a beefy representative of those prelapsarian times; Richmond was debonair and high-bred, and everything about the man oozed a capacity for danger, for dislocation.
At Evan’s Supper Club, Richmond sent George and the carriage on their way. Inside the noisy public rooms, a cloud of smoke loomed over the playing tables that were lined with inebriated men who were destined to lose their fortunes by either the dice or the ruby-lipped appendage dangling from his arm.
A woman with the physique of a swan and hair as red as the velvet dress she wore rushed toward Richmond with her finger to her lips as the attendant took his coat and hat. “Don’t say a word,” she whispered as she swung around and retraced her steps. “Come with me.” Once she had Richmond in tow, she escorted him through the maze of patrons, upstairs through darkened narrow corridors, then to a finely appointed room where a bashfully young woman, her warm brown skin bathed in candlelight, sat at the foot of bed with her thin white gown tucked beneath her. “She arrived earlier today and specifically asked to meet you.”
The red-haired woman whispered, “She is paying customer—not one of the girls. She is untouched…and all yours, sir, if you fancy her.”
Richmond gave the young woman a cursory inspection, then shot a sidelong glance at the woman standing at the door. His old friend knew him well, including his predilection for dark-skinned women. “She will do, Eda…and that will be all for now.”
With that rather firm dismissal, Eda smiled coyly and left the two alone.
Richmond closed the distance between him and his guest, who was making a study of the emerald carpeting, peeking at it with her lovely dark eyes, peering through her wavy locks. He lifted her chin. Though gentle in speech and manner, a lecherous edge penetrated deeper than his dark sapphire eyes. “What is your name, little lamb?”
“Cheri,” she answered quietly. She met his gaze and felt her body shiver and her soul drain at his touch.
He raised a curious brow. “And how old are you, Cheri?”
“Don’t be afraid, love. I’m not going to hurt you.” He cupped her cheek whilst thumbing her lips. “You sent for me, remember?”
His words coiled in her belly and severed her threads of inhibition and resistance one by one. “I’m…I’m not afraid,” she replied truthfully, meeting his eyes. She moistened as he ran his hands over her shoulders and down her arms. Her nipples stiffened beneath the sheerness of her gown. Panting, she willed him to them.
Richmond Black felt it, heard it, and sensed her trembling need. “I love the smell, the taste, the touch of a woman.” He thumbed the fabric over her right nipple. “...getting inside her head, taking her to the very edge of sanity, then deciding her fate.” He stepped back and undressed under Cheri’s gaze. “Remove your gown and lie with your bottom on the edge of the bed.”
Cheri swallowed hard but then did his bidding.
Looming over her, both of them now nude, he calmly asked her to relax, kissing her until she gave him complete dominion. She panted and stared blindly up at the ceiling as Richard’s eyes and hands, then lips and tongue traveled the contours of her body. He knelt on the floor, then pulled her to the end of the bed until her buttocks rest suspended in his hands, and then he buried his face in her cleft.
White-knuckled, the young one grasped the bed sheets and willed herself still. She expected her only function for the evening would be that of a receptacle, a vessel for his uses. He was, after all, the notorious Richmond Black, a man of notorious ruthlessness, and there he was, on his knees, pleasuring her with his tongue. She’d never have guessed he would be such a passionate, attentive lover.
“Mmm, you’re delicious.” Richmond lapped her juices, then moved up, teasing her clit from its hiding place. Once he had it free, he suckled that tender part of her.
Cheri lay perfectly still, with her fingers wound in his thick hair, her hips swaying against his mouth.
Richmond gently kneaded her smooth thighs as he continued to feast. It had been years since he’d been compelled to please a woman with such skill, and Cheri, vibrating with need, was a most worthy recipient.
Unblinking, her gaze fixed on his, she bit her bottom lip. Her bones hadn’t quite congealed when he rolled her over onto all fours, giving him an excellent view of her tight little brown bottom and lips. Behind her, he kissed and caressed every nook and cranny stretched before him, worshipping her as no man had before. Cheri moaned loudly, then clutched Richmond’s thigh as he abruptly filled her. She held him still long enough to catch her breath.
“Are you all right?” he kissed her shoulder.
“Wait…” she stammered, dizzy from already having cum twice. His hand found her clit, and against her better judgment, she began rocking back and forth.
“Don’t move—right there—just keep rubbing, there.” Moments later, shaking with yet another orgasm, she fell forward, releasing Richmond with an auditable pop.
Undeterred, Richmond aligned himself between her legs. Before long, the room filled with the universal sounds of steamy passion: skin on skin, the cries of the bed punctuated by a chorus of “Ohhhs.” The next three hours were a blur, ending only when the two collapsed, exhausted but thoroughly satisfied.
“Good morning,” Cheri heard Richmond say as she opened her eyes against the light peeking through the thick drapes. He had been watching her for nearly an hour.
“Good morning to you, sir.” Cheri’s smile widened as the details of the previous night crept back into her memory in vivid detail. “You’re awake early.”
“I think more clearly in the morning.” He adjusted himself as Cheri buried her face in his chest and quietly began drawing patterns on his skin with her delicate fingers.
“You were…my first,” she finally admitted sheepishly.
“I know.” The ticking of the clock on the side table grew as loud as gunfire during a silence. “Why did you ask to meet me? You are not a fallen woman. You are obviously a…a woman of means,” he said, eyeing her fine wares, hung with care. He brought her fingers to his lips. “Also, judging by your unsullied hands, you have not done a hard day’s work in all your life. You have the fingers of a goddess.”
“I have a small fortune, and I do live within my means, sir, but London is vast. I know I am a young lady with no connections, and that makes me easy prey.” Cheri kissed his chest. “Over tea, I saw your perfumery in the paper, so I inquired of your character. Everyone spoke highly of your eminence—no known fondness for drink, gross sexual proclivities, and no indulgences or vices except the occasional card game. As I find myself without a traveling companion, and fearing my reputation would have been in peril, Ms. Eda graciously sent for you on my behalf.”
Your eminence? Richmond scoffed to himself. This Cheri is most certainly a charm…and a charmer. “Are you are seeking a job or my protection? Not that you have to choose, for I can offer you both.”
Cheri tilted Richmond’s chin down until their eyes met. “What I want from you, Mr. Black, is your guidance.”
“Well,” Richmond sighed, and, to Cheri’s disappointment, dismissed the thought, “what shall we do today, little lamb?”
“Why do you call me that? Little lamb?”
“Because you must have lost your way, little lamb.” Richmond gently tapped her eyelids closed.
“I’m not lost. I’m searching. There is a distinct difference.”
“Hmm. Well, perhaps you have been searching too hard.”
At that, Cheri’s eye fluttered open and read his sincerity.
“Aren’t you tired of searching, little lamb?”
“Maybe,” she replied with more truth than she intended. “But I suppose I haven’t found what I’m looking for.” She melted under Richmond’s kiss and reached for his member through the tangle of sheets between them.
He stopped her and rolled on his back, pulling her on top of him. “What do you want?” His tone begged for honesty. “Fortune and influence aside, what do you really want?”
A knot tightened in her belly. Why are my needs so important to him? Did I misread him? Of course, it would have been difficult to misread a man who had touched her more intimately, more deeply than she’d ever been touched before.
When her hesitation didn’t put him off the topic, she took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I want my old life back. Back before…” Her voice trailed off, and she took a deep breath before she continued, “I miss my mother and sister, Kendall. They were all I had after my father threw me out for insolence. Periodically, I’d receive coded messages, but then they stopped.” Cheri swallowed past the lump in her throat. “My mother’s iron constitution was no match for my father’s iron fists. I hate to imagine what he did to her when he discovered…” She exhaled. “Now…well, now she and Kendall are gone, or so it’s rumored. I was barred from their funerals, and I never had a chance to say goodbye. So, I’ve been alone for six years.” She nuzzled her cheek into the palm Richmond had placed there. “I want a second chance, Mr. Black—just to go back to the way things were.”
“Have you ever asked yourself why your father really sent you away?” he asked. “Decent men do not turn their defenseless daughters away.”
“No one said my father is a decent man by any standard.”
“Exactly! So why would you ever want to go back to that life?”
“Because it’s who I am.” Cheri laughed humorously. “It’s in my blood.”
Richmond examined her closely, patiently. “You are young and have so much to learn, little lamb.”
“Funny you didn’t mention that last night, sir.” She raised a cynical brow.
“True, but the carnage of familial fidelity is bullshit, Cheri, an accident of birth.” His barring became serious, hardened. “What’s important is what comes thereafter. Make the people in your life earn the right to be there.” He rose abruptly, tossing Cheri aside. “Everything you have been taught is a lie, Cheri.” He threw his shirt on and strode to the door, then bade her to sit when she offered to join him, telling her that he didn’t desire her company. He also reminded her that since she lacked a companion, she was to remain indoors. He wasn’t done with her.
“Shit!” Cheri fell back on her pillow, rubbing the center of her forehead, grappling with how she would salvage the situation. For all of his amiable qualities and tempered manners, Richmond Black was not one to trifle with.
Sins of My Father
Everything you have been taught is a lie. Richmond Black’s words rang in Cheri’s head as she whiled away the hours downstairs in the parlor amongst the punters and peddlers under the vigilant eye of her procuress, Ms. Eda, to those unfamiliar with her past. Cheri knew exactly who and what she was, and she would have preferred to cut her own throat rather than greet her with anything more than cold civility. She laughed to herself; their pasts were intertwined, and it was no wonder she had gone undetected. The sooner the little charade came to its end, the sooner Cheri could ensure that Ms. Eda would meet the fate of her family.
For now, she was a conduit, a means to an end. And Richmond Black? He was simply liberty from her circumstances, her way home. The two women cordially smiled at one another before Cheri excused herself from the conversation and stale cigar smoke and stood at the window overlooking the street, her hand pressed against the ribbing of her corset, paying the price for outshining the other girls in her green brocade dress.
She nodded to the night porter as he passed in the street. Carriages came and went, and Richmond was not in any of them.
This is not going according to plan! she seethed, scratching her arm and looking down the darkened street. Where is he? Maybe he sensed something untoward and decided to give me the slip. No. Richmond is a shrewd one, yes, but not without reason. Each of his carefully chosen words is steeped in meaning. But what did he mean? Cheri scratched at the embers beneath her skin, kicking herself for letting him slip through her fingers—the fingers of a goddess, as he’d put it.
“Lavender oil will stop that itching.”
Cheri spun around and gagged.
The punter’s breath smelled as though he’d been licking waste bins in the alley. “Excuse me. I have to change,” he grumbled.
Cheri, unaccustomed to the stench of human poverty, covered her nose and raced upstairs.
When a gentleman clasped her forearm, she offered him a prompt, “Piss off!” and shook herself free of his grasp. He took her arm again, as if she was simply playing cat and mouse; this time, in a sudden burst of fury, she slammed his head through the adjacent wall. “Don’t put your hands on me!” she shouted at his unconscious body before storming out of the room, leaving many horrified patrons in her wake.
Back inside the solace of her room, she filled her basin and scrubbed her arms. Things were going awry, and she was none too happy about it. “What am I doing?” she demanded of herself just as a familiar arm encircled her waist from behind.
“Exactly. What are you doing?” Richmond brought her left wrist, then her right to his lips. His lazy kisses dulled the pain.
Distracted, she hadn’t heard him enter but something inside of her clicked at the sound of his voice.
“Evening,” He whispered in her ear as his fingers crept up the back of her dress.
Cheri’s eyes fluttered closed and a soft sigh escaped her lips when her garments fell around her feet one after another.
He caressed her breasts with the same temperance as his voice. “I kept you waiting,” he acknowledged rather than repented.
Naked, the anticipation of sensation sent shockwaves below, but before she drew her next breath, he was inside of her. His hands gripped her tan cheeks, and he thrust into her so hard she had to hold on to the basin to keep from going headlong into the wall.
Sandwiched between conflicting emotions—one of pressure, the other pleasure—Cheri urged him to fill her. Richmond grabbed a handful of her hair, pulled her head back, and kissed her neck. She whimpered; he bucked; she came; he spread her cheeks and watched his cum-covered cock fill her beautiful brown hole. Cheri reached over her shoulder and held him close, neither able to move. He waited until the aftershocks subsided before extricating himself.
“Miss me?” He fell backward on the bed, gloating.
Without a word or breaking eye contact, Cheri crossed the room, crawled up Richmond’s length, straddled him, pinned his wrists down, and lowered herself on his aching cock with a gasp. Richmond raised an eyebrow, as if to say “Touché.”
Touché indeed. Richmond was on the ropes. He pulled her flush against him. She let out a purr when his lips trailed down her throat, and he smiled to himself when she came as his tongue applied just the right amount of pressure to her spot. He felt her heartbeat quicken, her breathing ragged, and he realized that beneath her physical desire, she was still her father’s daughter.
Sins of My Father
“Long night.” Richmond swung his feet to the floor, grabbed his clothing from the chair, and began dressing.
“Very long.” Cheri stretched. As Richmond spelled out his agenda for the day, she rose stealthily behind him with a stake aimed for his heart. A cold chill crawled down her spine. Richmond wasn’t the garden variety vampire; he was the scion of the Arqael, the highest order of vampires and the centuries-old nemesis of her kind, the Ceridwen, ancient shapeshifters. Only her father, Belial, leader of the Ceridwen, possessed powers equal to Richmond’s. Both were mercurial, ruthless figures whose wisdom balanced by their vengeance bloodlust; both often imposed impossibly high standards on their followers—or in Cheri’s case, his children. By comparison, Cheri was less pliable as her siblings. She kicked against her father’s Machiavellian restrictions, and that rebellion had subsequently landed her on the business end of her father’s wrath when she challenged his authority one too many times. He had promptly cast her out, and now she was determined to prove her worth and reclaim her position amongst her people. After all, she was her father’s daughter.
“Working up the nerve, I suppose. Took you long enough.” His words anchored her still. He felt the quick beating of her heart, the adrenaline coursing through her veins. “Drop the stake before you hurt yourself. You know the rules don’t apply to us.”
Cheri threw the stake to the floor and went for the bagger concealed beneath her pillow, but before her next breath, Richmond’s silver eyes sent the blade flying across the room, embedding it in the wall.
Cheri came to her feet defensively, as did Richmond, separated by the bed. “Silly girl.”
Cheri summoned every ounce of strength, anger, bitterness, and hatred in her reserve. But struggle as she might, his eyes threw her against the wall beside the dagger and pinned her in place. “Fuck!” she shouted as bolts of telepathic lightning pierced her temples as Richmond bore into her head—a trick her father readily employed to bring his children to heel. In this weakened, mortal form, she was at his mercy. “Do you even know who I am?!”
“Of course I do, you pathetic little shit.” His voice took a razor’s edge tone as he approached her. “Do you know who I am?! How dare you nurse ideas of killing me! See, little helpless lamb, I’ve been inside your head since your father banished you. Your thoughts are my thoughts because I put them there! I have been inside of you for much longer than you know. I was your first indeed—breaking into you long before I ever touched you!” Quietly composing himself, he then traced her jaw line and let his hand move to the back of her neck.
Cheri’s head flew back, and she gasped for air.
He leaned to whisper in her ear, “Cheri, I own the very air you breathe.”
“I’m going to kill you.” She laughed.
“No you’re not.” Richmond sighed. “Do you really think your father will welcome you back, that all will be forgiven if you bring him my head?” He shook his head, answering his own question. “You’re out of your league, little lamb. As I told you, everything you have been taught is a lie.” He released his hold and walked across the room.
Cheri doubled over, coughing.
He laughed at her pathetic attempt. “Don’t bother trying to shift. You have been neutralized.”
Cheri pulled the bagger from the wall and flung it into Richmond’s back.
He turned and gave her a rather bored look, as if attacked by nothing more serious than a mosquito, as if to taunt, “Really? Are we really going to do this?”
“Fight fair, you coward! Let me shift!” Cheri spat.
“Fair!? You were about to kebab me in the back! Your definition of fair is a bit muddy, I’m afraid.” He retrieved a serine from his coat pocket. “Hold still, I must put you down for your own protection.”
As Richmond turned to Cheri, who’d reclaimed a small measure of her ability, she lodged the bagger in the side of his throat.
Irritated by their tango of wills and certain of his own restraint, he dropped the serine, removed the dagger, and ordered Cheri to shift.
Free from his grip, Cheri’s once rich brown skin took the appearance of mercury. Her hair flowed white, and her eyes resembled polished onyx.
To the awestruck patrons downstairs, what followed sounded as if the gates of hell had been flung open, unleashing all the mayhem of Hades. The entire building was on the verge of collapse. Squealing women struggled to steady themselves as the timber floors shook and buckled. The windows rattled in their frames.
Ms. Eda calmly ushered everyone out of the establishment, erased their memories, and sent them on their way before returning to settle the trivial disagreement brewing inside.
Meanwhile upstairs, Richmond and Cheri physically used one another to destroy everything in their path.
Richmond threw Cheri through a set of walls. “Your father sacrificed your sister when he realized she was a liability. Unlike Kendall, your weakness isn’t an incessant need for power. Your problem, Cheri, is your pathetic delusions of adequacy.” He straddled her limp body and choked her. “You must to listen to me, little lamb. You are lost, searching, and you do need my help, whether you’ll admit it with that stubborn mouth of yours or not!”
“Fuck you!” Cheri threw him across the room into a pile of splintered beams. He came to his feet before she completed a word. “My father wouldn’t do that.” She sent a bolt of energy for his head, which he caught and hurdled back at her chest. She dodged to the right; the bolt shattered a window.
“Listen to me!” Briefly distracted, Richmond took Cheri bodily, and the two stumbled to the hall and over the banister, landing on a gaming table below with a great crash.
Just as Cheri recovered her footing and stood over Richmond, attempting to digest his power, Eda delivered a psionic blast to her back. As Cheri faced Eda, a dark shadow eclipsed them, and mayhem ensued.
“Eda! Don’t!” Richmond wedged himself between the warring women. His body jarred as he absorbed their exchange of death blows. Concussion beams from his outstretched arms suspended the women against opposing walls.
“I’m going to rip your head off!” Cheri wailed, squirming in vain.
“Try me, bitch!” Eda shouted back.
“Ladies, please,” Richmond panted. “Some decorum would be nice.” His words were ignored, and the women continued to berate each other. “Jesus,” he muttered and left them hovering in place while he sauntered to what remained of the bar.
Richmond was on his second glass of scotch when Cheri detailed how she’d killed Eda’s siblings. By the fourth glass, George arrived, and they shared a drink while Eda recounted how she’d disemboweled scores of Cheri’s kinsmen. One such as Richmond Black, astute in the mechanics of the fairer sex, knew that, without exception, reasoning with angry women was futile. He also knew that they’d eventually exhaust themselves. Until then, the two men sat, sipped, and watched.
Richmond interrupted Eda with an icy stare just before she disclosed the vile manner of Kendall’s death. “Enough!” he shouted when she pressed on. Standing between them and realizing they’d reached an honorable truce—or at least a tolerable one—he lowered them to their feet.
“She’s putting all of us at risk.” Eda flipped her hair into place. “Let’s go!”
“No,” Richmond demanded. “I promised Miria.”
“Well, just tell her the truth and let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Fine,” Richmond said, turning to Cheri. “Years before you were born, the Oracle told your father he would be unseated by his daughter. He never disclosed this prophecy to anyone, not even your mother. Growing increasingly more desperate as time passed, he repeatedly returned to the Oracle for help. After three daughters died mysteriously in infancy, the Oracles warned him against breaking the code, attempting to alter the hand of fate. With two daughters living, you and Kendall, the Oracles revealed the prophecy to your mother. Miria tried to protect you, though ultimately she and Kendall paid the price for their interference.”
“But…but Kendall worshipped him, our father. How could he…?” Cheri closed her eyes at the mention of her mother and sister; she clearly hadn’t come to grips with their loss. “That heartless bastard repaid her loyalty by killing her because he thought she’d be his undoing.”
Richmond nodded. “There was a 50/50 chance he would kill the right daughter, and he was blind with rage when the Oracle revealed he had chosen wrongly. By then, your mother knew it was only a matter of time before he would kill her, so she came to me.” He continued cautiously, respectfully; after all, he, too, had lost someone he’d admired. “You are all that is left of Miria…and there is a price on your head.” He approached Cheri; she withdrew. “Your father has broken the sacred code and stolen your birthright. He cannot afford to stop until you are dead.”
“What?” Cheri’s brow wrinkled. None of this makes sense…and who am I supposed to trust?
"You can trust Richmond." Eda said.
"Bitch!" Cheri pointed angrily. "Keep out of my head! Richmond, do something with her! She's reading my thoughts!"
"Ladies! Stop it! Eda, behave!" He warned. Eda folded her arms.
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?" Cheri nearly plead to Richmond. "How do I know you’re not just using me?”
“How dare you question him!” Eda blurted out. “He would never betray your mother’s memory. She was brave! She came to us when she didn’t have anyone else to turn to, and she valiantly and selflessly gave her life to protect you! We’ve all made sacrifices—all for you, you thankless little bitch!” she lunged for Cheri, but George held her tightly. “Tell her, Richmond! Tell her how her scoundrel of a father murdered Miria!” Eda blurted out. “He set her up, stupid! He made me kill my friend!”
“Quiet!” Richmond demanded before he turned his attention back to Cheri. “She is telling the truth, Cheri. It was a setup. Your father lied to Eda and used her to end your mother’s life.”
“Finally. Are you satisfied now, Richmond? You’ve kept your promise to tell her the truth. Now let’s go…and leave her here. We owe her nothing further.” Eda pushed past George and tiptoed through the rubble. “Oh, and someone had better clean up this mess.”
“She’s volatile, sir,” said George, close on Eda’s heels. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Now alone, neither of them knew where to begin. Richmond had done all he could for Miria, and her death, though imminent, cut him to the quick when it came. Supernaturals were bound by a strict code of honor and discipline, prophecies handed down through time via the Oracles. As two of the Four Scions answerable only to one another, Richmond and Belial were guardians of purity. Their authority was unquestioned, their wisdom unmatched. By following orders, they maintained order, even where chaos would otherwise take seed. Belial had broken the code, and now Cheri faced the unenviable task of realizing her destiny—a fate for which she and Richmond knew she was woefully ill-equipped. His hands were bound by law: In questions of entitlement, the heir must act of their own accord with the subsequent Scions sage knowledge and protection, in rare instances, only if petitioned. Because her father had stolen what fate had freely given, Cheri had to prove her worth. Richmond had performed his duty.
“Why didn’t my father just kill me?” asked Cheri, crestfallen. “Why banishment?”
“With your death, he would have rewritten history – everyone would assume Kendall was his successor.” Richmond explained. “But fate sheds light on treason and ensures a strong council. As time passed, your father’s powers would diminish, and he would age rapidly while his natural successor did the exact opposite. Kendall would not mature, and the council shackled with a weak, aging Scion. Order, our way of life, would plunge into chaos.” He spoke quietly, the gravity of his words weighed on Cheri. “Knowing the truth, your mother sought to correct his wrongs which deemed her expendable. But killing you was a step too far even for Belial. Don’t mistake his kindness for weakness. He is coming and you must face him.”
“You were inside my head all along.” Cheri sucked her teeth, damning herself for being taken with him.
“So why didn’t you just tell me? Why all the secrecy? Why all the sneaking about? This boils down to your promise to my mother, correct? Wait!” She gasped. Her gaze met his, betraying more than she wished. “You…you just wanted to sleep with me!”
“No, Cheri! No!”
“Admit it! It was part of your plan all along. My head is not the only part of me that you wanted to be inside, you fiend!”
“No, that was not it at all, but now that it has happened, I can’t say as though I regret it.” Richmond exhaled. “Listen, little lamb, there is so much you do not understand.” Richmond held out his empty palms to Cheri, who surprisingly allowed him to approach. “If you want to go home and take your rightful place, you will need my help. I can’t—”
A dense silence fell between them as Cheri lifted her hands to either side of Richmond’s head, cutting off his words. “No. Don’t say it. Let me read your mind. I want to see what you’ve seen.”
“You are not prepared to see what I have seen.” Richmond clasped her wrists and kissed her palms. “You will just have to trust me.” He remembered himself and stepped away. “As I told you, everything you have been taught is a lie. Your mother came to me, and my door is open to you as well.” He ran his hands over his suit, instantly repairing the damage of their brawl. He was once again a dapper gent. “I will take my leave now. Rest assured, Cheri, that I will not longer disturb your thoughts or observe your whereabouts. You are free to do as you will, my dear. I will no longer linger in your head.”
The corner of Cheri’s mouth turned up. “Am I no longer a little lamb?”
“We are beyond that now.”
His amenable nature and immense personal sacrifice shone and left Cheri angst-ridden. He’d kept his word, but instead of abandoning her to her father’s wrath, he’d offered her safe harbor at great risk to himself and the Arqael. Suddenly she felt quite alone. “Is that it then?” The words forced themselves from her lips. “You…you tell me all of…and then you leave, as if—”
“You know how this works, Cheri. Should you require assistance, you know where to find me. Until then, I can do no more.” Seeing Cheri dispossessed before him, Richmond wanted to kill Belial with his bare hands. But what could he do? He was bound by code. And unlike her devious father, Richmond wouldn’t compromise his principles—not even for Cheri.
“I’m to stand on my own then?”
“Yes. I have faith in you.”
Before Cheri could reply, calls of “Hello?” and the sound of crumbling debris came from the next room. A portly, rather confused older gentleman appeared in entryway seconds after Cheri transformed to her mortal form. “What on Earth happened here?” the old man asked.
“Sir, we’re closed.” Richmond walked over, took the old man by the shoulders, and, in a small voice, as if he were explaining to a child where babies came from, added, “We’re…uh, renovating.” Lightning fast, he tore into the man’s neck, sucked him dry, and tossed his lifeless body among the rubbish. He looked back at Cheri, still standing where he had left her, her mouth agape, and shrugged. “Collateral damage.”
Abandoned, Cheri watched as Richmond stepped into his carriage and slipped into the dense, low-lying fog, as dark and mysterious and intriguing as the man himself.