Alpha, p.4
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       Alpha, p.4

         Part #1 of Alpha series by Jasinda Wilder
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“I’d make it work. ”

  “Yes, Kyrie. I do believe you’d kill yourself trying. ” He paused to sip his drink again, and I took another drink as well. “You could take that route. And you might be able to make it work. But…your choices are limited. Very limited. How long do you think it’d be before you’d end up in a strip club? Before you’d sell your body? Before you’d start doing what that vile pig Edwards asked of you, simply to keep a job you so desperately need?”

  I couldn’t answer. He was all too right. I hung my head in defeat, held out the glass, unable to grip it any longer. He took it from me.

  “Exactly. ” His voice moved away, and I heard glass on wood as he set my tumbler down. “Or you can stay here with me. Play along with my little game, and have all your bills paid. ”

  “How is this different from prostitution?” I demanded, my voice shaking. “I’m selling my life, my body, my f**king soul to you, to pay the bills. ”

  “If you wish to consider it prostitution, then I suppose that case could be made. But it isn’t. Consider it instead to be…commerce. ”

  “Commerce? A deal?”

  “Exactly. A deal. But this is not a sexual deal, Kyrie. I might endeavor to stimulate your senses, to turn you on. I do not deny that I’m attracted to you, and that I have been for a long time. But I am not attempting to coerce you into having sex with me. I will persuade you, one step at a time. And that, Kyrie, is no different from what goes on in bars and clubs every night. No different from what you yourself have engaged in. ”

  He was near me again, circling me, sipping and speaking. “You go to a bar, you spot a likely young gentleman, attractive, well-dressed, a certain gleam in his eye, a swagger to his gait. You let him strike up a conversation. He buys you a drink or two or three. Maybe you give him your cell phone number, or maybe you simply return with him to his place that very night.

  “Or maybe you go on a few dates with him first. You’d flirt, ask a few questions, determine whether or not his personality jives with your own in a satisfactory way—whether the initial attraction remains. Eventually, if all the conditions are met, you’d end up in bed with him. And, perhaps, this would last for a few weeks, or even a few months. ”

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  He paused, and here his voice seemed almost bitter, sounding ever more like a derogatory lecture. “All this is predicated upon a set of societally agreed-upon unspoken agreements. You are engaging in social commerce. He buys you drinks, buys you dinner. Flowers, perhaps. If he’s particularly well mannered, he’ll open doors and pull out your chair. But you are acting out a game. If he were to step beyond the parameters of this prearranged code, you would reject him outright, most likely. If he simply walked up to you and said he wanted to take you home and f**k you, how would you respond?”

  I swallowed, hard. “I’d—I’d probably be pissed,” I admitted. “That’s…crass. ”

  “Precisely. ” His voice softened, his breath once more in my ear. “It’s not that you would be opposed to him taking you home and f**king you. Oh, no. That, after all, is precisely the goal of the game our fair society has set up: to f**k. But the manner of one’s approach makes all the difference, no?”

  “Yeah,” I said. “Pretty much. ”

  “Tell me, Kyrie. What’s the difference between sex, making love, and f**king?”

  “It’s…subjective, I think. The difference in definition varies from person to person. ”

  “Yes, I know. That’s why I’m asking you what you think. ”

  I blinked behind the blindfold, an instinctive reaction to thinking. “Could I…sit down? Please?”

  “Of course. How rude of me to leave us standing here in the foyer. ” He took my hand. “Come. ”

  “Wait…the blindfold…aren’t you going to take it off?” I pulled back against his hand, reached for the fabric covering my eyes.

  Strong fingers imprisoned my wrist, stopping me gently but firmly. “No. Not yet. Not for a while, I think. ”

  “What? What do you mean, not for a while?” I jerked my hand free, turned to where I thought he was standing.

  “I mean that I’ll remove the blindfold when I’m ready to do so. I am not yet ready for you to see me. You have four other senses, Kyrie. Focus on those. ”

  “Are you, like, ugly or disfigured or something?”

  He laughed, and the sound was loud with raw amusement. “How very blunt of you, Kyrie!” He took my hand once more, and I couldn’t help a shiver running through me. His hand was huge, swallowing mine completely. Rough with calluses, yet gentle. “No, I do not believe I am thought ugly by those who have seen me. And I am not in any way disfigured. I am not particularly old, or young. ”

  “Then why can’t I see you?”

  “Because this is part of my game. It pleases me. I like the way the blindfold looks on you. I like the control it gives me, how dependent on me it makes you. You could, at any time, remove it. You are not shackled, after all. But you have not taken it off, have you? Nor will you. You’ll leave it. You want to give control over to me, Kyrie. You’re afraid to do so, but you want to. ”

  “I am afraid. ” Admitting it out loud, to him, made my fear more real yet, strangely, less panicked.

  “I know. And that’s okay. Fear makes us cautious. I don’t expect immediate total compliance. I don’t expect you to trust me quite yet. I have to earn that. And I will. You’ll learn to trust me. And when I feel you have learned to trust me, and when I feel that I in turn can trust you, that’s when the blindfold will come off. ”

  I felt his hands lightly grip my shoulders from behind, and I let him guide me into a walk. He directed me for what felt like a hundred steps, and then he turned me to the left, and we walked another hundred steps. He turned me around and nudged me backward until I felt a couch or a chair touch the backs of my knees. I sat down into a deep leather chair, and sighed in relief as my fear and nerve-weakened legs relaxed. His fingers lifted one of my ankles, and I felt an ottoman slide underneath my feet. I sank deeper into the chair, finding it to be immensely comfortable.

  “A moment, if you will,” he said, and I heard his footsteps recede, back in the direction from which we’d come. He returned in a few moments, “Here, Kyrie. Your Scotch. ”

  I held out my hand, and he pressed the cold glass tumbler into my palm. I lifted the rim to my lips, sipped the thick burning heat, and this time I relished the taste.

  “Now, where were we?” I heard his voice coming from off to my left.

  I turned in the chair slightly so I was facing him. I realized even as I did so, how arbitrary that convention was. Facing a person when you spoke was a habit borne of eye contact. I was blindfolded, and thus facing him was pointless. I stayed as I was, though.

  “You were asking me to define the difference between sex, making love, and f**king. ”

  “Yes, precisely. ”

  I thought for several moments, composing my response. My “host” was an intelligent, articulate man, speaking as if he’d been very well educated. He had a hint of an accent, from somewhere in the United Kingdom, I thought, although it was faint enough that I couldn’t place it any more precisely. I had a feeling he would appreciate a considered response to his question. Why I cared whether he appreciated my response was, again, something I didn’t care to examine. I did, though, and I couldn’t deny it.

  “It’s about emotion, I think,” I said. “Sex is the clinical term, the context-less word for the act. It means nothing else, holds no meaning or importance beyond the mere physical act of engaging in sexual intercourse. Making love is…well, obviously it’s about love. It’s about the expression of the way you feel about someone. Fucking is…I guess I think about it as something crude. Rough and empty of emotion. Hard and fast. Although I guess it doesn’t have to be rough or hard, just…devoid of emotional exchange. You’d f**k someone you just met at the bar. You wouldn’t, and I think couldn’t, make love w
ith someone you just met. You have to know them, understand them, care about them, actually love them to make love, whereas you can f**k anyone, anytime, no emotions or connections required. ”

  “And have you personally experienced both?”

  I hesitated to answer. “I…I don’t know. I think so? I thought I was in love once. I thought what we had meant something. I’ve had sex, obviously. I’ve hooked up with guys I didn’t know super well, but I’ve never slept with any of them right away. It would have to be after a few dates. I guess I’ve got a three-date minimum, you could say. It’s not something I’ve ever laid out in so many words, but, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s true. I’ve never had sex with anyone I hadn’t been on at least three dates with—at a minimum. And I don’t always sleep with guys I’m dating. ”

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  “You didn’t answer my question, Kyrie. ”

  I sighed. “I don’t know, okay? I guess, yes, I have experienced both. With Matt it was sweet and meaningful, although we never said ‘I love you. ’ But the other guys I’ve slept with, it’s only been about the act, really, so according to my own definition, that would have been f**king. ” I was shocked to hear myself answering, so openly, such deeply personal questions. I wasn’t usually so forthcoming. “What about you? Have you experienced both?”

  My question was met with a long moment of silence. I wasn’t sure he’d answer. But then he did. His voice was slow, as if he was thinking about his words as he spoke them. “No, I must confess I have not. I have never made love before. I have only f**ked, if we’re using your definitions. ”

  “What is your definition, then?”

  Another long silence, and the slowly spoken response. “There has only ever been the act, for me. It has always been devoid of meaning, devoid of emotion. That is by design, however. No one has ever meant anything to me. I have never let them, or wanted them to. My sexual partners have always been very carefully chosen for their willingness to engage in sex with me upon my terms. By contract, actually. Not a financial contract, as I have never paid for sex, but a contract of silence. Meaning, they can never speak of their time with me. ”

  “You’re very private, then. ”

  He actually laughed. “Oh, Kyrie. You have no idea how private I am. ”

  “Why?” The question came out of my mouth before I could stop it.

  Again the long, thoughtful silence. “The only reason I’m answering your questions is to put you at ease. Normally, I wouldn’t respond to such interrogatory conversational gambits. ” He sighed. “I do not trust, Kyrie. Not anyone. Not ever. I do not rely on anyone. I do not allow anyone past my walls. And by walls, I mean the literal walls of my home, and the metaphorical walls around my heart and my life. ”

  “You’ve been hurt. ” Again the words fell from my lips before I could stop them.

  “Haven’t we all?”

  “Yeah, I guess so. ” I took a long sip of my drink. “I still don’t understand what you want from me. Why we’re playing this game. ”

  “All I want from you, Kyrie, is you. ”

  “Then why…like this?” I gestured to the blindfold, and then away, meaning the way I was picked up. “Why the checks? Why the hired goon saying he was ‘collecting’ me? Why the blindfold and the…the mysteriousness? Why? If you wanted me, why not simply arrange to meet me?”

  “Would you have come?” I heard leather creak, and his voice sounded nominally closer, as if he’d leaned forward. “If I’d arranged so that we ‘accidentally’” —I heard the quotes around the word— “met, would you have believed me? What would I have said? ‘Oh, hello, Kyrie, I’m the guy who’s been sending you the checks. ’ I think not. And if I’d arranged a meeting and gotten to know you under what would be considered normal circumstances, and then eventually revealed that I was the one who’d sent the checks, would you not have been upset that I’d kept the truth from you? That knowledge would’ve tainted whatever relationship we’d established up to that point. Am I wrong?”

  I sighed. “I guess you’re right. I hadn’t thought about it that way. ”

  “I am a very honest man, Kyrie. Perhaps you’ve noticed that. I will say the exact truth. I wish all my interactions to be truthful. This way, the truth has been established from the outset. ”

  “Okay, I get that. But why the secrecy, then?”

  “As I said, I am a private man, Kyrie. Few people meet me in person. You are, as a matter of fact, one of only four people who have ever been past those doors. Harris, whom you met; my housekeeper, Eliza; and Robert, the second-in-command of my business affairs. And now you. I am not ready to reveal myself to you, for my own privacy and sense of security. And also…” He trailed off, as if considering carefully his next words. “Also…I am keeping a secret from you, Kyrie. A very deep, very dark secret. One that affects us both, and one that will change the very fabric of our relationship. And I am not ready to reveal that to you, either. When I tell you this secret of mine, you will very likely walk away, and I will have to let you. Seeing as I’ve just gotten you here, I’m not ready for that to happen. I’m telling you this much now so you’re aware that I’m keeping something from you. ”

  “But you won’t tell me what it is?”

  “No. ”

  “Why?”

  “Because I’m afraid to, Kyrie. Because I’ve been waiting a very long time to bring you into my life, and now that I have you, I’m jealous of the time I get to spend with you. ”

  Something in that statement unnerved me. But what, though? Oh, yeah. “Clearly I’ve never met you. But yet you say you’ve been planning for this for a long time. Which means you’ve been stalking me?”

  He sighed. “Essentially, yes. Watching. Waiting. Protecting. ”

  “Protecting?”

  “Yes, Kyrie. Protecting. I’ve kept an eye on you. How do you think I knew to send the check when I did?” I heard him shift, a pause, and then the sound of an object being set upon a table. A few moments later, a door opened somewhere, and footsteps approached us. “Harris. ”

  “Hello, Harris,” I said.

  “Good evening, Miss St. Claire. ”

  “Harris here has been the eye I’ve kept on you. His primary instruction was to watch, unobserved, and never, ever make any contact, or allow you to ever feel watched. Did he succeed in that?”

  I thought long and hard. “Yes, I suppose so. There have been a few times where I had a vague sense of being watched, but mostly, no. ”

  “I have a file on you, several flash drives full of photographs. And let me reassure you that you’ve never been photographed in any way that would violate your privacy. There are no nude or revealing photographs, no shots of you in private with any of your boyfriends or…liaisons…over the years. Just enough to inform, to know. ”

  “To know what? And why?”

  “To know you. To be sure that you’re okay, safe, provided for. ”

  “But I wasn’t provided for. I wasn’t safe. ”

  “Yes, you were. You never starved. You were never in any direct danger. I only interfered when I felt there were no options left. And there were a couple of times Harris acted to keep you safe, although you may not be aware that anything even happened. He is, after all, very good at his job. ” He paused, and then continued. “Harris?”

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  Harris spoke. “Miss St. Claire. Do you remember St. Patrick’s Day two years ago? You and your friend Layla went out drinking. You two drank from noon to well past two in the morning. You were both extremely intoxicated. ”

  I blink behind the blindfold, thinking back. “Yes. I remember. ”

  “You were wearing a lime-green T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Layla was wearing a…well, I suppose one could call it a dress. It was…rather short. ”

  I couldn’t help but laugh at his description. Layla’s dress had barely covered her ass, and if she moved wrong, the bott
om of her ass did actually show beneath the hemline. Then the fact that he knew exactly what we were wearing that night sank in, and I started shaking. “You were…there?”

  “I was always there, Miss St. Claire. Out of sight, but there. You and Layla were too drunk to even walk straight that night, but there were no cabs, and the bus didn’t go where you needed to go. So you ended up walking—and I use the term ‘walking’ very loosely—all the way home. Seventeen blocks. At two in the morning, in downtown Detroit. ”

  I shuddered as I remembered that night. We had been living together then, in a shitty-ass apartment downtown. We rarely ventured outside past dark and never, ever, alone. That night, though, we did. And we’d thought, the next day, that it was a miracle we’d made it home alive. Now I was starting to think it was less a miracle than Harris’s unseen protection.

  “That was an insanely bad decision on our part,” I said. “We woke up the next day amazed that we’d made it home intact. ”

  “You shouldn’t have,” he said. “You almost didn’t. ”

  “What?” I took a sip of Scotch, for courage. “What do you mean?”

  Harris answered. “Layla was so drunk you basically carried her the whole way. She couldn’t stand up, couldn’t walk, couldn’t even speak. You weren’t much better off, but you managed somehow. I’ll never know how you did it. You actually puked a few times, while you were dragging your blacked-out friend. ” Harris’s voice was bemused. “You remember anything from that walk home? Any sense of danger? Anyone who might have proved to be a threat?”

  I thought hard. That walk home was a blur in my mind. I remembered very little, just a few random thoughts: how heavy Layla had been, how tired I was, how drunk, how badly I wanted to be home. I remembered trying not to think how much farther we had to go, focusing on one sidewalk square at a time, ignoring the ache in my legs and in my back. It was as Harris had said; I had essentially carried Layla home. “I have a vague recollection of…three men. At a street corner. They were shouting at us, I think. In some other language. Spanish, maybe? I think…I think they followed us for a while. I remember…I remember trying to walk faster, but Layla was so heavy, all but unconscious. ”

  “Yes. Those three. They did follow you, in fact. For three blocks. And they were indeed shouting at you in Spanish. The things they said…it’s good you don’t speak Spanish. They were saying vile things to you. I won’t repeat them, but it was disgusting. ”

  “Would they have hurt us?” I had to ask.

  “Oh, yes. They fully intended to rape and kill you both. ” Harris’s voice went cold, hard. “That’s what they were saying. Telling you exactly what they intended to do. Their plan was to follow you home, wait till you got your front door open, and then push you both in. Rape you, kill you, and leave you in your own apartment. No one would have ever known what happened, and they would never have been caught. There were no cameras in your building. No one knew you’d left the bar — no one was expecting you. It would have been days before anyone found your bodies. ”

 
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