thriller

Read and E-book Week

Read an Ebook Week

You’ve still got today and tomorrow to get 50% off TORN, THE BEAST, and AT THE CORNER OF MARS AND NEPTUNE!

Head over to Smashwords and use code REW50 at checkout: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/artistikem

Or get them from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&field-keywords=artistikem

Happy reading!

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Out now! THE BEAST (Book 3 of The Caregiver Series)

Yay! Happy dances are in order. The Beast has been released!

The Beast

The trip to Puerto Rico proves to be even worse than the nightmare Scarlett thought it would. Adrian’s assassination starts what becomes a series of revelations that will bring her face to face with demons from her past.

Stakes get higher as she learns this is more than a government conspiracy but a personal vendetta led by a man scarred by the same two people who made Scarlett’s early years a living hell.

Everyone she loves is in danger and she’s vowed to protect them no matter what. And they’ve vowed to fight by her side in return. What she isn’t counting on is that in love and war, sacrifices must be made.

Get your copy now!

 

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/395358

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The Beast – Chapter 2 (Book 3 of The Caregiver Series) Teaser!

A/N: Due to the hard times my family’s been going through (I lost my sister on the 14th, later hubby and I lost a coworker, and yesterday we lost a dear and close friend) I’ve decided to postpone the launch of The Beast to mid-January. In return for your patience I’m posting teaser chapters for your enjoyment!

The Beast

Chapter 2

There was no chair that could contain me inside that hospital, nor a corridor long enough to stop my pacing. Millions of things were bubbling inside me.

We had all been questioned about the incident but Police Superintendent Rivero dismissed us. He was a good friend of Adrian’s and obviously affected by what had happened.

There was a Christmas tree next to the nurses’ station with colored lights flashing to high-pitched electronic carols. I was making my way towards it to rip it apart when Armand intercepted me.

Scarlett, you should eat something.” His hand landed on the crook of my elbow, dragging me to a corner with him.

You shouldn’t be here. I need to get you out of here; take you somewhere safe.”

Scarlett, calm down.” He held on to my upper arms, leaning over to level our gazes. “There’s nothing else you can do.”

He saved you.” I still couldn’t grasp what had happened.

Sit down with me. Let me get you something.”

He wasn’t the target after all. It was you. It was always you.”

They’d be very stupid if they tried to get me here with so many cops around.”

There was so much frustration inside me. I knew I had to calm down before continuing the conversation so I shrugged out of his grip and started walking away when Bobby came into sight.

He stretched out a hand to my shoulder but didn’t touch me, only caressed the air around it. I knew that gesture. He used to do that whenever he knew I was in distress.

This particular kind of distress.

The rifle was remotecontrolled. There was no one inside the apartment.”

Then we must get to that second hotel.”

No one there either. No documents, nothing. Superintendent Rivero will get us the CCTV videos.”

He glanced at Armand behind me but I pulled him back. “How’s Raakin?”

Devastated. Mahmoud isn’t exactly cooperating. How are you feeling?”

I’m not sick, just pregnant.”

You know what I mean.”

It was starting to dawn on me that I had been exposed to all of them beyond belief. I was feeling naked all of a sudden and there was no amount of clothes that could cover me up.

Like shooting myself.” I pushed him aside and stormed out of the corridor.

I heard Armand’s footsteps begin to follow me, then stop. Bobby must have been the one to bring him to a halt.

Maybe a walk would help me clear my mind. A walk that, if I let myself go with how I felt, would never end.

I didn’t get far though; Kathy had arrived with Eliza and Oksana and her arms went around me the moment I was within her reach.

I can’t, Scarlett…” She cried as she buried her fingers into my aching back. “I can’t lose him.”

I wrapped my arms around her and filed my thoughts for later. “It’s all right.”

He’s going to die, isn’t he?”

I shut my eyes for a second. “I think yes.” I was good at omitting information but never at lying, not in situations like this one.

She trembled and sobbed against me and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for making her go through this.

Sit down. We’re waiting for the doctors to come out and tell us how he’s doing.”

I gestured Eliza to get her into a nearby waiting room. However, when I pushed Kathy off me, she clasped my hand.

Don’t leave me.”

Kathy, I…”

Please?”

Dammit. I obliged. It was the least I could do. Armand was relieved to see me walk into that waiting room and sit next to Kathy, our hands entwined. Eliza sat on the opposite side and took her other hand. Bobby, Armand, Rhys, and Rooney each took a seat at the other end of the room.

I encountered Armand’s gaze the moment Kathy put her head on my shoulder. The amount of love in his eyes made me shiver. How could he look at me after all the shit that had been stirred?

George walked into the room, followed by Larry and, you guessed it, a doctor wearing scrubs and a face of pure defeat.

Everyone stood to hear the detailed explanation of the fatality of Adrian’s wound. I couldn’t listen; as much as I strained my ears no sound made it in. All I felt was Kathy’s hand squeezing mine before going limp and sliding down. I pulled her up with the help of Eliza and George and we set her back in her seat.

Adrian Lang was brain-dead. Breathing with the aid of machines.

A surge of anger ran through me and I tensed under Kathy’s half-dizzy wailing. She was pressing herself further against my chest, her face hidden under my chin and her hands making fists on the collar of my jacket.

I gathered her in my arms. For a moment I wished I could join her, that actual tears were forming in my eyes, but all I could conceive was an immeasurable anger. I couldn’t comfort her. I couldn’t comfort myself. I should’ve felt happy or, if not happy, at least okay with it. But death and murder have one unwavering characteristic: they never feel as you imagine.

The doctor asked if we wanted to see him and, of course, Kathy jumped to say yes.

I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to see anyone. Dead or alive.

Armand put a reassuring arm around my shoulders and I had to suppress the sudden need to duck away from it.

We were led into a room smelling of disinfectant. The constant beeping of monitors and the rhythm of the ventilator served as background music. Kathy kept an arm around my waist as we entered together, leaving the rest to watch through a glass window.

Her breathing hitched as we inched towards the man who lay on that bed. His blanched, lifeless face struck me. He looked so peaceful. Not even his signature frown was left.

The crying subsided when Kathy was able to touch him. I studied her profile and she bore no resemblance to the young woman who had sashayed her way around the party the first night after our arrival. No, this was someone else altogether. It was a woman who was slowly landing on the realization that there was an invisible knife stuck in her chest.

Adrian,” she whispered, her hand sliding away from me to caress his face.

There was movement outside and I saw Jin-Jing pushing through to peek into the room. I shot her a warning look, shaking my head, and she understood that it wasn’t the right moment.

He loved you.” I rubbed Kathy’s arm.

I know.” Then she turned to me. “He loved you, too. Even though he wronged you, believe me, he loved you. There were too many conflicted feelings inside him about you.”

I wasn’t catching her drift and, sincerely, I didn’t know if I wanted to.

We’d have a conversation about this later. It’d be more prudent to let the body get cold before we started hashing out truths about him.

I glanced at the window and there was only Jin-Jing now. Kathy saw her and beckoned her to come in.

The small dark eyes framed by the cascading black hair were filled with tears. She took a couple of shy steps then halted, obviously taken aback by the sight of the man lying on that bed. She exchanged a glance with me and I pressed my lips together into a thin line.

Kathy took Jin-Jing’s hand and gently tugged her forward. To this, I stepped back. Not that the latter complained. We were both trying to drop the snideness but failing miserably.

We were sharing a moment of silence when the door opened and a black woman in her late twenties sporting a beautiful mane of curly brown hair peeked in. The moment her eyes fell on Adrian she brought one hand to her mouth, the other to her chest.

Kathy smiled at the weeping woman. “Daniela. So glad you came.”

Reluctant, calculated steps took the woman from the door to the bedside, from where she stroke Adrian’s cheek with trembling fingers.

Bloody hell, you’ve got to be kidding me!

Meet the Characters: Armand Sayer

“Even the strongest and wickedest of us need to find solace.” He whispered, as if not to disrupt her peacefulness. “And I won’t let anyone destroy ours.”

Armand Sayer

Born in London, England, around late July 1948 (don’t have an exact date but he’s a Leo) which makes him 65 years old at the time of book 2. Fathered Briony with his first wife, Marie. I haven’t come up with too many details about his upbringing but it’s mentioned that he comes from an upper class family. No sad or troubled past here. Went to Oxford, where he met business partners Rhys Owen and Eamon Rooney. He got into drug dealing like anyone else enters a business and that is the reason why he conducts it as so. His two closest allies in London at the time of the series are Max MacGowan and Rafael Cisneros.

More than try and come up with details about Armand, I’d like to tell the reasons behind the character. With Armand I wanted to create the kind of bad guy every woman would fall in love with. He’s loving, caring, charming, he’d be the kind of guy you’d bring to your mother… if he wasn’t a drug lord. And that’s the thing about him that I like the most, that he deals in a world ruled by coldness and violence but hasn’t let it turn him into a cold-blooded monster. He’s nicknamed The Beast because of how ruthless he is, however, his inner circle knows how much of a softie he is on the inside. Which is exactly what Scarlett needs. A man that understands her line of work and can love her without trying to change that.

Also, it was what people like George, Ollie, Bradley, and Cat needed. Armand has been a guardian angel for them; someone that has come to their lives in order to rescue them from whatever mess they were in and give them a second chance. All of Armand’s men are loyal to him thanks to this, the fact that he’s been there for them when they needed him.

When it comes to family nobody feels as strong about it as he does. Maybe Vincenzo Pietri does, but that won’t be explained until Book 4. 😉 The biggest dilemma in Armand’s life was the fact that Marie didn’t approve of his business and that went on up until when Scarlett came in and dragged him into her own mess. And it is that same love he’s expressed towards everyone around him that makes him follow her and try and fight the fucktards wanting to hurt her.

In summary, Armand is the villain we all hate to love because he has so many redeeming qualities even I forget he’s a drug lord every now and then.

Want to know more?

You can read THE CAREGIVER (Book 1 of The Caregiver Series) for free at The Caregiver Series Blog and Wattpad, or get it from Smashwords (free), Barnes & Noble (free), Kobo (free) and Amazon (99 cents).

TORN (Book 2 of The Caregiver Series) is available through Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

THE BEAST (Book 3 of The Caregiver Series) will be available mid-January through Smashwords and Amazon (the rest of the retailers will come later).

The Beast – Chapter 1 (Book 3 of The Caregiver Series) Teaser!

A/N: Due to the hard times my family’s been going through (I lost my sister on the 14th, later hubby and I lost a coworker, and yesterday we lost a dear and close friend) I’ve decided to postpone the launch of The Beast to mid-January. In return for your patience I’m posting teaser chapters for your enjoyment!

The Beast

Chapter 1

Arms. Around me.

Hands. Reaching out to me.

George’s face inching closer. Bobby’s eyes, wide as saucers, as he runs towards me.

Someone touched my shoulder and I cringed, even though I couldn’t feel a thing.

It didn’t take long to realize I couldn’t hear either.

Hands helped me to my feet, coaxed me to follow.

At first I wasn’t sure whose hands they were; all I knew was that they were warm, that they felt safe. I focused my eyes and it was Bobby who was dragging me away, walking against the current of police and paramedics rushing to the scene.

Ollie welcomed me into the van, sat me on a seat next to his, and covered me with a blanket without uttering a word. Then Armand climbed in with Bradley and we started moving. The rattling of the wheels on the cobblestones and the swaying of the giant metal cube added to my discomfort. I wanted to puke, to run, to scream, to snap in some way, but I had no strength.

The only time I lifted my eyes was to meet Armand’s. Even when I tried, I couldn’t get the tears to flow. It felt as if they were flooding the inside of my face but encountering a dam when they reached my eyeballs. He noticed and held me in a tight embrace.

Adrian Lang, my grandfather, was dead. My teacher and tormentor had given his life to save the man I loved.

I, on the other hand, hadn’t saved his life in return.

On how Romulus convinced Scarlett to sign the contract

In The Caregiver Series we follow Interpol agent Scarlett Lang through what would be the most important mission in her career so far: pose as caregiver for London’s biggest drug-lord.

This vignette takes place before Book 1, after Vignette #3 & #5

Read Vignette #1 , Vignette #2 , Vignette #3, Vignette #4, Vignette #5

Book 1 is FREE today and tomorrow! (Nov 1 & 2)

Enjoy!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Detective Inspector Romulus Moretti awaited Rafael Cisneros’ and my arrival at Heathrow. Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours and even when I called him to tell him we could hail a taxi when we got there, he insisted on picking us up himself, no matter how late it got.

It had been two weeks since our meeting in Miami and we’d kept in touch both by phone and email. He was more than okay with me asking questions and wanting more information, and he answered every one of them with enough detail to make me feel better about this.

Only thing was, I preferred his written answers. Our phone calls were lengthy. Too lengthy. And strayed towards more personal subjects every now and then.

I must confess there was something about him. Something I still couldn’t pinpoint and that made me feel a little queasy.

It’s probably that he’s a cop. I kept telling myself. Even if you’ve always dreamt of becoming one you have to accept the fact that you were raised not to trust them.

Baggage claimed, Cisneros lead the way to where Romulus was waiting with his police officer stance and a smug smile on his face.

“Cisneros.” They shook hands before Romulus turned to me, his smile softening to an almost tender one. “Miss Lang. Welcome to London.”

The moment we stepped out into the cold my stomach started doing somersaults. This was it. The one opportunity I’d been waiting for my whole fucking life. The chance to put my past behind and start anew. Bonus points for it to be in a different city also.

“Are you hungry?” Romulus asked as he held the passenger door of his car for me.

I stared at him for a bit longer than normal. “A bit.”

That was, apparently, the answer he was waiting for because he grinned and said, “There’s a pub near the hotel you’ll be staying. We could go there.”

Did I fail to mention he booked a hotel room for me? I always stayed at Cisneros’ while in London, yet he wouldn’t have any of that. I wasn’t in a position to protest, nor did I want to start an argument with the one that was only a John Hancock away from becoming my boss, so I said yes to that.

And yes to leaving Cisneros at his house before heading for said hotel.

And thanks but no thanks when Cisneros reminded me he and Bobby were only a call away if I needed anything.

What could happen, really? It wasn’t as if I hadn’t killed men double Romulus’s size.

We were off and the first thing Romulus did was sigh.

“What?” I asked.

“Rafael is always so stressed. Pissing himself all the time.”

“Only when there are cops around. Ever been to one of his parties?”

“No.” He drawled. “He’s never invited me to one. Are they any good?”

“Good? They’re the best. Nothing but champagne and cigars.”

“You smoke?”

“Depends on the occasion.”

A sideglance, a cocked eyebrow. I was getting some signals from this guy I didn’t really know how to interpret.

Or was it that I didn’t want to interpret them at all?

I wasn’t a naïve little girl. I knew where this could go if I let it.

Getting a good look at his hands I noticed he didn’t have a ring, nor did his ring finger show a lack of sun exposure over the last knuckle.

“Do you have any children?”

My inquiry took him by surprise, to the point of making him scoff. “Yes. Three.” I nodded, letting him be consumed by his thoughts about why I brought that question up, when he asked back. “Do you?”

Didn’t he know everything about me already?

“No.”

Now he nodded and said nothing more.

It takes two to play this game.

“Here we are.” He announced once we arrived at the hotel.

He took my luggage, checked me in, and escorted me to my room. “Everything’s paid for and if you incur in any other charges during your stay the agency will cover it.” He stood by the closed door while I inspected my surroundings.

“I haven’t signed anything yet.”

“It’s a risk we’re willing to take.”

I swung my bag over the bed to cover what my eyes were doing, which was studying him. He looked more relaxed than at the airport, although his arms were crossed over his chest.

His looks were more than agreeable, I must confess. A strong build, sweet dark eyes, and the grays in his hair really suited him.

“Do you need anything? Should I come by later?”

“Nah, it’s okay.” I glanced at my watch and it was late, but not too much. “Is that invitation to the pub still on?”

“I can give you some time to deal with the jet lag.”

“Nothing a couple of pints can’t take care of.”

He sent me a half-grin, uncrossing his arms and turning for the door. “I’ll wait in the lobby.”

I stared at the door as it shut behind him and didn’t notice I hadn’t moved until my mobile vibrated inside my jacket’s pocket. Bobby. I wasn’t picking that call up so I texted him I was okay before checking my makeup and heading down to where Romulus was waiting for me.

We walked over to the pub, sat at a table away from the windows and were quick to start on our beers, and plates of chips.

“Tomorrow we’ll visit Spring Gardens so you can meet your coworkers, get acquainted, see the premises.”

“And what is this about? Getting acquainted with the boss?”

He leaned back in his seat, giving a look around before staring straight into my eyes. “I know you’re not used to having someone supervise your work. I promise not to be the obtrusive kind.”

“What do you know about my work anyway?”

He pushed himself forward, elbows on the table, and drew his face as close to my side as he could. “I know all I need to know: that you’re the best. And, between you and me, I believe that, very soon, you’ll be surpassing your grandfather. A great feat for a 24-year-old.”

“You said my contract would start and end with you.”

“It will. You’ll work under me since the moment you sign to the moment you call it quits. In the rare case that I may have to be the one who ceases to work with the project, you’ll be free to decide if you want to stay working with us or not.”

“Us. That’s something you still haven’t explained.”

“You sure ask a lot of questions.” He was resting on his arms over the table now. “I wonder if you’d be so eager if it were you on the other side.”

Some guttural cat-like sound threatened to come out of my lips.

“Try me.”

He ordered another round and waited until we were served.

Ready. Steady. Go.

“Last job.”

“Two weeks ago.”

“For whom?”

Raised eyebrow. “A friend.”

“Where?”

“Monterrey, México.”

“Any other jobs in your agenda?”

“Not yet.”

“Do you have a concealed weapon with you right now?”

“Yes.”

“Is it the one you used for that job?”

“I use rifles for my jobs.”

“Who was the unlucky bastard?”

Pause. “A shop owner.”

“Shop? What kind?”

“Pawn shop. Arms trafficker.”

“How did you kill him?”

“Waited until he got into his car and shot him in the head from a building across the street.”

“Witnesses?”

“Nope.”

“How did it feel to pull that trigger?”

“Like always.”

“And how is that?”

I leaned over the table to join him midway. “Better than sex.”

“Is it?”

“Very.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Then you’ve never had a rifle in your hands and a target in sight.”

“I have.”

“Then you know it is.”

“I find many differences between both acts.”

“Like what?”

“I’m the one asking the questions.”

I sat back, my eyes not leaving his, and raised my hands to my sides.

“Shoot me then.”

“No.”

“Oh. Forgot you London police can’t walk around with guns.”

He pushed back the side of his jacket, reaching for something in one of his trouser’s pockets.

A pair of handcuffs.

And set them on the table between us.

“I don’t think I’ll need a gun when it comes to you.”

I sipped from my beer.

He tapped a finger on the metal contraptions, a half-grin etched on his face.

“I don’t think so either.”

When I went for the handcuffs he snatched them. “Not so fast. You sign the contract first.”

“So they sent you to dine me and wine me while sweet talking me into signing?”

“None of that. I’m just trying to make the process smoother. Everybody’s scared you’ll refuse our offer.”

“I should. Not only am I not used to being supervised, I’m not used to people denying me of what I want.”

He pushed the handcuffs to me as he gulped the last of his beer. I hastened to do the same, taking the cuffs in my fist and following him out of the pub and back to the hotel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liked this vignette? Then you’ll love the books!

Book 1 is FREE today and tomorrow!

Check out Book 1’s Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

The Caregiver

Available here: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

The Last Superhero – Chapter 3

This is a WIP. Unedited, unbetaed, raw stuff. I’m also posting it on Wattpad.

Read Chapter 1, Read Chapter 2

Chapter 3

It’s one of those days when you don’t want to see anyone but you have to, because you have to go to work and run errands and talk to people.

Top it off with the fact that I was running late and you can see the picture.

Daphne had opened the shop.

That bookstore.

The only constant in my life, having been established by my mother before I was born, and the one thing that I was now carrying like deadweight wherever I’d go.

Landlord’s being an asshole again.” I say once I walk in, my eyes on the two coffees I’m carrying, my mind replaying that scene between Mr. Brownstone and me when he knocked on my door to remind me my rent was late, yet again. “He won’t leave me alone.”

Giana?”

I got you coffee.”

There’s someone here to see you.”

I look up and see him. Steven.

I don’t need this. I really don’t need this.

Hi.” He says all shy and charming and innocent like.

I can swear he even looks younger than before.

I give Daphne her coffee and offer Steven mine. “I can get another one.”

No, thank you. I already had my dose.” A smile.

Daphne scurries away and I’m left with Mr. Stalker.

Whatever. “Join me in my office?”

He steps aside for me to cross the store and into the back room we call the office. It’s more of a closet or a cupboard than an office but it works.

He sits on the red armchair facing the gray desk inside the green walls. My mother has something for colors.

What brings you here today, Mr. Wal- Dennis?” I stutter, my hands busy unwrapping my scarf.

Are you okay?”

Don’t answer my question with another question, that’s rude.

Yes.” No. I’m not. Nobody cares. London bridge falls every fucking day.

Problems with the landlord?”

I scowl. “He’s a moody old perv.”

What?!” He’s outraged.

Oh no, no, don’t go thinking… It’s just that he’s… He’s always wearing these old, stained clothes, and he sputters when he talks, mostly when he’s angry. The spit sometimes pools in the edge of his lips…” I almost dry heave to that.

And I’m behind on my rent and he’s kicking me out but I’m not saying that to his face.

He cocks his head to one side. “Would you like to take a stroll with me? Take your mind off it a bit?”

I sip from my coffee. I just got here and shouldn’t leave. At least not with him.

Then he’s looking at me, pleading. This isn’t so much for me as it is for him and I’ll be damned if I ain’t got a thing for pleading souls.

I wrap the scarf around my neck again and this time he leads the way out of the store.

Daphne sends me a questioning look that I respond with a mouthed ‘I’ll be back’.

There’s a moment of hesitation when Steven hits the sidewalk. He’s unsure, thinking it twice.

Would the park be okay?” He asks.

The park would be fine.” I say.

And we’re off.

He walks with purpose, as if not to be distracted. I fight to keep up with him.

Where is he taking me?

Has he changed his mind and is going to murder me?

There’s a lake in the park and heaven knows I never learned how to swim.

I’m not going to hurt you.” He says once we reach the entrance.

I open my mouth to protest. I know he’s not a bad person.

I know you’re not a bad person.”

His eyes change and I see him bite the inside of his cheek as we walk into the park, every step taking us farther into that area where the trees grow thicker and the crowd thinner.

Less witnesses.

Dear Mom, I’m only acting on what you told me so many years ago. Don’t take it on me if this fails.

What are you thinking that is making you frown so hard?”

You wouldn’t believe it.”

Try me.”

We reach the lake inside and I’m glad to see there are people on the other side. It’s a large lake, but a scream would make it to them. I think.

My coffee secured in my hand, tell him something I’d never told anyone.

My mother, she told me about you.”

Did she?”

Yeah. She used to talk to me about you when I was little.” Sip from the coffee and yuck, it’s cold already. Wipe my mouth with the sleeve of my coat. “You saved her once from falling off a cliff.”

He raises his eyebrows and it’s clear he can’t remember. It must be awfully hard to remember so many people, so many faces.

She told me you were a good man. Misunderstood, but a good man nonetheless.”

His eyes are on his shoes, his hands buried in his pockets.

Misunderstood.” He whispers. “Maybe. But I’m not a good man, I’m not a good person.”

You saved me from getting mugged, that gives you some good-guy points in my book.”

For the first time I hear him scoff. “Good-guy points. That’s new. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened to you were I not there. It’s not easy to talk your way out of a robbery, much less when it’s a junkie.”

I’ve been there before and managed to convince a couple of them to desist.” I turn my sight to him and, oh, he’s amused. “I wanted to be a psychologist.”

Wanted?”

Yes. Wanted. Couldn’t afford it.”

Blergh. I feel like shit every time this subject comes up.

He doesn’t say anything.

Anyway. Thank you for being there that night.”

I start back for the trees when he touches my shoulder and I’m compelled to turn around and face him again.

His hand travels upwards, to the side of my face.

I see him so clear all of a sudden. He’s smiling and says, “Don’t go.”

How can I not stay if he’s looking at me that way? Fuck. Can’t deny the fact that his features are more than agreeable, I’d even say he’s quite handsome.

Or is it the light? It’s such a beautiful day.

I like to come here.” He’s contemplating the lake, some deep, sad longing in his eyes. “It’s one of those places that makes me feel better, lighter, as if the world were still a nice place to live in.”

I stand beside him and, dammit, it feels so nice.

How long have you been hiding?”

Twenty-eight years.”

That’s a long time.”

It is.”

Ever feel lonely?”

All the time.”

I bet.”

I bet you don’t know about that.”

Now it’s my turn to scoff. “Watch out, mister. There are many of us lone wolves roaming around.”

How come?”

How come what?”

You’re… young.”

Is that a compliment?” He cocks an eyebrow at me. “I like to think I still haven’t hit my prime.”

Hmm.”

What’s made you come out of the cave after so long?”

He ponders, brushes the grass with the sole of his shoe. So pretty, so green. “It was time I did.”

Good enough.

And when was that?”

A month and a half ago. Still trying to get used to it.”

Do you still use your powers? Apart from saving damsels from getting mugged?”

That was the first time I used them in a long time, hence the huffing and puffing afterwards. It takes a lot of strength to do what I do.”

I thought it was an asthma attack. My mother gets them every now and then.”

Where is she? Your mother?”

In Spain visiting my father and, in the meantime, the Madrid Book Fair.”

I sip from the coffee and, as I swallow it, I let its warmth envelope my insides.

Oh.” He says.

You know, about that night with the thief, I’m of the thought that people meet for a reason, that nothing’s random.”

You believe us two meeting wasn’t a random thing?”

No. I don’t.”

Good.” He’s facing me now, a smile on his face, a sparkle in his eyes. “I’d like to think that too.”

Why are you being so charming all of a sudden?”

Because you need a friend.” He takes a breath, filling his lungs with the oh so pure air around us. “Maybe we can have that coffee tomorrow?”

Sure. I always get mine from that coffee shop on the corner from the bookshop.”

Perfect. I’ll see you there tomorrow. Around eight?”

Yeah.”

Another smile and, is that my heart fluttering?

What I do feel all of a sudden is my feet hit the ground and I have to step back to keep my balance.

Steven’s hand is retrieving in front of my eyes, curling his fingers away from my forehead.

What the fuck?!”

He’s walking away.

Hey!” I feel the coffee in my hand and it’s cold as cold can be and the air doesn’t smell as pure as it used to.

I search for him, but he’s disappeared into the trees.

Goddammit!” I cry, frustrated.

Stupid me forgot his most controversial superpower: the ability to project fantasies into people’s mind.

Bastard!”

Hurling my already stale coffee only contributes to my anger as I encounter a Do Not Litter sign that makes me squat to pick it up and throw it in the trash before exiting the park swearing there’s smoke coming out of my ears as I go.