Kieran watched as Lorde undulated in front of him. He’d been coming here for three months now, four or five nights a week. Being an art thief wasn’t very demanding and he didn’t have much in the way of hobbies to keep him busy, so he’d made watching her one. She was fully clothed today – well, all her pertinent parts were covered; he wouldn’t call her clothed though. Her shirt was see-through!
He looked up to see her standing there, one eyebrow raised.
“I asked where’d you go. You got that far away look in your eyes again.” She walked over and sat on his lap and he instinctively wrapped his arms around her, caging her in.
“Just thinking about you and how much I love to watch you dance.”
She smirked. “Is that so?”
Kieran wondered, not for the first time, what it was about her that made him say things like that. He’d never felt so open before, not with someone he wasn’t related to anyway.
“Will you come back tomorrow?”
She asked him that every Monday. “Not tomorrow. I’ll be back on Thursday, though.”
She nodded and waited for him to elaborate but they both knew he wouldn’t. Wednesdays were Gracie days and she was currently in Roaring Heights so he’d have to travel there. It was their standing date day and he never missed one if he could help it.
“You’re never here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”
“Yeah, I have a thing I need to do.” He looked up at her. “Sorry about that.”
She searched his eyes and seemed about to say something before shrugging and hoping off his lap. “No need to apologize. I’m always here when you come back, aren’t I?”
She turned away, walking over to the stereo to turn it off. He’d screwed up, he knew it but Gracie was not a subject he was comfortable talking about – his family in general was off-limits. He thought she felt the same way.
Kieran stood up and looked around the room; they were in a strip club for Christ’s sake! This was not an appropriate place to have a deep conversation about loved ones.
He opened his mouth to – what, he didn’t know but she turned to him and smiled. “Okay, well time’s up. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
Before she could turn away, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her back. “Don’t be like that; don’t turn away from me like that. I’m sorry.”
She looked up at him, studying him intently before she shook her hand loose from his grip. “It’s okay, honestly.”
He curled his hand into a fist to prevent himself from reaching out again. She had a strict no touch rule.
It was around eleven o’clock on Thursday when he pulled up to the front of the club. He’d been able to see his cousin and was looking forward to seeing Lorde. The atmosphere in Roaring Heights was a bit bleak these days and he wondered if his uncle was the best person to have looking after the girls right now. Kieran had always felt that the girls took care of his uncle more than he did them.
Walking towards the door to the club, he heard something crash to the ground and a muffled yell. Turning around, he tried to pinpoint the sound and heard the banging again. It was coming from the small alleyway between the club and the building next door.
Kieran knew that the girls took their cigarette breaks there and rushed over with a sense of dread. The clientele for the strip club left much to be desired and some of them thought the girls were their own personal whores. Vincent, the bouncer, wasn’t just for show. He could only imagine what he’d walk in on around the corner.
What he did find stopped him cold for a second. Lorde was on the ground, naked from the waist down except for her stockings and shoes. Some guy was on top of her, holding her hands pinned while he choked her. Her body jerked as she tried to pull away.
Everything seemed to slow down and crystallize in Kieran’s mind before rage grew in the pit of his stomach and he found himself suddenly within arm’s reach. He grabbed Lorde’s attacker and dragged him off of her. He was punching the asshole in the face, repeatedly and so it took a minute for his name to register in his brain. Someone was calling him.
Kieran stopped hitting the still body beneath him long enough to look over and see Lorde curled up in a ball by the far wall, trying to cover up the naked bottom half of her body. He got off the guy he’d been pummeling and stumbled towards her.
“Are you okay?” He asked, his voice hoarse, like he’d been yelling. She stared at him and he couldn’t decide whether it was from fear or relief. “Are you okay?” He repeated. “Did he – did he hurt you?”
She shook her head but said nothing.
Slowly, so he wouldn’t scare her, he lifted her up in his arms. When she snuggled into his chest, he let go of the breath he’d been holding. He didn’t know what he would have done if she’d shied away from him.
“I’m going to get you inside where it’s safe, okay love?” She didn’t respond but didn’t protest when he headed for the door.
Once inside, he walked to the changing rooms and placed her down on a couch, grabbing a bathrobe and covering up her nakedness. He barked at one of the girls to get Jimmy.
He reached over to touch her bruised cheek but she flinched and the anger simmered back to life in his gut. What if he hadn’t been there? What if he’d kept walking instead of going to check? She could be – she would’ve been – Where the hell had Vince been?
“What the hell is going on in here?” Jimmy Marino bellowed as he walked in the room, banging the door. Behind him was Vincent. Jimmy took one look at Lorde and ordered the rest of the girls out. “What the fuck did you do?”
Yeah because he was just sitting around waiting to confess. “Seriously? I just saved her from some guy who was trying – trying to…” He couldn’t finish his sentence without wanting to throw up. It was his biggest fear, being unable to help the women in his life if something like this happened to them. He had a sister; he had Gracie and Emma. Jesus bloody Christ! “He’s still out there. Someone should call the cops or an ambulance or something.”
Vincent looked him over and said, “I’ll take care of it,” before walking out the door.
“Is she okay?” Jimmy asked him.
“I’m fine, Jimmy. Stop talking like I’m not in the room.” Lorde sat up, making sure to keep the bathrobe closed around her body. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready to go on.”
“Like hell you will!”
“Are you sure?”
Both men glared at each other.
Lorde looked over at Kieran. “Thank you for helping me back there but I’m fine now. Promise.”
She was lying; he could still see her shaking. Walking over to her, he took a deep breath and sat down. “Lorde, you were attacked. That is not okay. You have to talk to the police, you have to file charges.”
She placed a hand on his cheek and said, “I’m fine. This kind of thing happens every now and then. He’s not coming back here, not tonight anyway.”
Kieran wanted to shake her and hold her at the same time. He did neither, just nodded and stood back up. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t pressure her into going to the police. He had absolutely no claim on her.
“Will you – will you stay tonight?” She asked softly, unable to meet his eyes.
“Of course I will.” He shot Jimmy a dirty look. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He didn’t get home until five in the morning. He’d stayed until closing and then had driven Lorde home. Standing in front of her door, he’d wanted to kiss her but making moves on a woman who’d just been assaulted was not cool.
He heard movement and tensed, ready to defend himself but relaxed when he saw Eden. “Jesus, you scared me!”
“Sorry man. Took you long enough to get home though.”
“Yeah, Lorde had some trouble tonight.” He opened his door and walked in, Eden right behind him.
“Who?” Eden walked into the kitchen and took out some bread.
Sitting on a stool, Kieran watched his friend make a sandwich. “The girl from the club.”
Stopping to stare, Eden said, “You can’t be serious. I thought we talked about this. She using you, man.”
“Uh huh. Sure.” Shaking his head, he continued to make his sandwich. Suddenly looking up, he asked, “Want one?”
“No, I’m good.” Kieran couldn’t eat even if he had been hungry. The image of Lorde, crumpled on the ground half-naked made him want to retch. Food would not be his friend right now.
“So, I have another job for us lined up.”
“What? You didn’t even let me finish!” Eden finished his sandwich and placed it on a plate. “It’s good money too.”
“It’s too soon.”
Moving to the couch, Kieran considered the conversation over. Eden knew that they had to wait at least three months before hitting another location. Do too many jobs and the police would start to get antsy.
“Kieran, I already told them we’d do it.” Eden followed him to the living room, placing the plate on the coffee table.
“Well, tell them it was a mistake. It’s too soon.”
“It’s been six weeks! Come on, I need the money,” Eden pleaded.
“No.” Kieran knew that if he caved on this, he’d never be able to say no again. That’s how their relationship worked. For as long as they’d known each other, Eden would do something stupid and Kieran would be dragged along. It became old, quick.
Eden fairly bristled with anger but didn’t say anything. He reached for his sandwich, eating in quick, jerky bites. Kieran ignored him for the most part, turning the television on and watching the news.
With a loud expletive, Eden stood up and walked to the kitchen. “I’m leaving. If you change your mind, call me.”
“Not going to happen but sure.” Kieran called after his friend. He heard the door slam a few seconds later.
Later that morning, he woke up to the sound of his phone buzzing. Groaning, he got up and reached for his jeans, pulling out his cell. “Yeah?”
“Kieran?” A female voice said.
Checking the caller ID, he asked, “Who is this?”
“It’s me, Lorde.” A small, slightly hysterical laugh came through the phone.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” He was suddenly wide awake.
“No, I’m fine. I just – I couldn’t sleep…did I wake you up? I didn’t even think…”
Taking a deep breath, Kieran paced his bedroom floor. “It’s okay, I’m just glad you called. You sure you’re alright?”
“Yeah. Sorry for calling. I know this is super inappropriate.”
“I gave you my number and told you to call me. And you did. Nothing inappropriate about that.” He waited for her to say something but she was silent. “Hey, you still there?”
“Yes. I’m here. I just – I didn’t really plan out what I’d say if you picked up.”
Kieran smiled. “Did you get any sleep at all?”
Making a quick decision, he asked, “Do you have any plans for today?”
“No, not really.”
“Would you like to grab something to eat? Keeping busy will help.” As he waited for her response, he admitted to himself that her answer was important to him. He liked her, a lot.
“Okay,” she said softly.
Grinning, he said, “Great. I’ll be by in an hour or so. Any particular place you want to go to?”
“No. Wherever you pick will be fine.”
They hung up after say goodbye and Kieran went to take a shower.
“So then he says, ‘We’ll just put you in the back or something.’ Riley had to drag Uncle Tony away.” Kieran smiled as Lorde laughed.
They were at a small café near her apartment building, enjoying the beautiful summer weather and talking about his family. She’d been very quiet but after what happened to her the night before, he couldn’t blame her.
“What about you? Any aunts or uncles?”
The waiter came by then to place their food on the table and they took a moment to enjoy their meal.
“What do you do for a living, Kieran?” Lorde looked up from her plate.
“Currently? I do some appraisal work, paintings mostly.”
Lorde sat back and studied him. “Does that pay well?”
He shrugged and sat back too. “Enough to pay the bills.”
“Sorry for asking, I’ve just wondered how you can afford to come to the club so often. You can’t be much older than me.”
“How old are you?”
She gave him a look. “Didn’t your mother teach you never to ask a lady that?”
“Nope.” He grinned at her. “I’m twenty-one. Don’t have much in the way of bills, so I do okay.”
“And you? Does working at the club pay well?”
She quirked an eyebrow. “Why else would a person work there? It isn’t for intellectual stimulation.”
“Sorry, I didn’t think…” he began.
“No, it’s my fault. I can get a bit sensitive about it,” she interrupted him.
“So we both make good money and we frequent the same places. That’s a good start.”
“For what, Kieran?” Lorde glanced at him then quickly looked away.
Suddenly nervous, he said, “For a friendship, maybe?”
She glanced at him again, her gaze studying him, judging his worth. “It’d be nice to have a friend.”
“That’s settled then.” A part of him was happy that she considered him a friend but he knew that what he wanted from her went way beyond that. He liked her, more than he should probably and she…needed a friend. Well, he could do that – be that – for her.
They finished their meal in silence.
“Thank you for brunch.” Lorde twisted the end of her ponytail and he watched in fascination. Wasn’t that the universal sign for, “I’m into you?”
“Any time.” When she smiled, he took a step closer. “Seriously, any time you want to talk or eat or just hang out, call me. Okay?”
“Okay.” She leaned up and gave him a kiss on the cheek before turning to open her door. She glanced back at him once, smiled again as she stepped inside and then closed the door.
Three weeks and two dates later, he found himself back at her door.
“Thanks for taking me to the movies. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been,” Lorde said, smiling as she searched for her keys.
“Well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see ‘The Mold the Moved.’ The reviews said it was sure to be a favorite.” He’d asked her out to the movies the night before, the first time they’d done something in the evening.
Laughing, she winked up at him and said, “If it doesn’t win an Oscar for Best Film I’ll be devastated.”
He laughed along with her. It was a campy B-rated horror movie but it had been the only thing that hadn’t already started when they’d arrived at the theater. She’d been a good sport and agreed to watching it.
“Do you want to come in?”
Kieran stopped laughing but kept the smile in place. “It’s getting a little late.”
“I know but I don’t have to work tonight, so I thought…” She didn’t finish her sentence and he could see a blush start to creep into her cheeks. She fiddled with her hair.
“As long as you don’t mind,” he said.
Lorde opened the door and walked in. Stepping in behind her, he got his first glimpse of her apartment. It was very – modern, and that wasn’t the vibe she gave off to him. Sophisticated yes but not so terribly cold.
“Make yourself comfortable, I’m just going to get some wine. Unless you want something stronger?” She glanced back at him waiting for his answer.
“Wine is fine, thank you.” When she nodded and headed to what he assumed was the kitchen, Kieran sat down on the sofa and looked around. It was very clean, with a black and white theme for the furniture. It would have seemed too modern but she tempered it with a sandstone coffee table and Egyptian urns as décor. She also had a huge Asian statue. He liked the vibe of her apartment but it could use some color.
She walked in then and handed him a glass. “I hope white is okay.”
“White is fine, thank you.”
“Would you mind if I ran upstairs and changed?” She smiled at him and he shook his head. As she headed up the stairs, he envisioned her undressing – not hard to do when he’d practically seen all there was to see.
An image of her bared breasts popped into his head and he shifted in his seat. Perhaps coming inside was a bad idea.
He sat sipping his wine and thinking of the many different shades of blue in a pastel color palette. Anything to stop him from thinking of a naked Lorde.
“Hey, sorry that took so long.”
Kieran stood up and cleared his throat. “I need to get going. Uh, thank you for the wine, it was…delicious.” He made his way to the front door.
“Kieran, wait!” A hand on his arm as he reached for the door handle stopped him and he turned around. “I know this is asking a lot but could you stay? Just for a little while?”
Her hand was warm and soft and he stared down at it, trying to formulate a good reason why he couldn’t. He knew why he shouldn’t but he wasn’t going to tell her those – no need to scare her.
She pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry; you must think I’m so silly. You probably have better things to do than spend the night catering to my silly fears.” She turned away, heading back to the living room.
“No. I mean, okay.” He followed her back into the living room. “I mean, I can stay for a bit and your fears are not silly.”
She smiled wide. “Thank you Kieran.” She slid over on the couch and he sat down next to her. When she grabbed on to his hand, he stiffened, expecting to be hit with a wave of emotion that he was not ready for.
But nothing happened.
“Are you alright?”
He opened his eyes to look at her. “Yes,” he said slowly. What the hell?
He looked down at their clasped hands and frowned. He was getting nothing from her.
She pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry; I keep forgetting how we met. I’ve never done this before.”
“Done what?” He looked back up at her and noticed the hurt look on her face. “What’s wrong?”
Shrugging, she said, “I know you must think the worst of me and asking you to come in probably didn’t help but I just want you to know I’m not like that. I’ve never dated any of my clients before. I’m not a…”
Tears appeared in her eyes and Kieran had a moment of panic. He did not do well with tears. “Hey, don’t cry. That never even crossed my mind.” He pulled her in for a hug, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “Can I ask you a question?”
Sniffling, Lorde nodded. “Of course.”
“Are we dating?”
She pulled away. “What?”
“You said you’ve never dated any of your clients before. Does that mean we’re dating?” He smiled at the look of panic on her face.
“I didn’t mean – I would never assume…” She got up from the couch and paced away from him, effectively putting distance between them. “I hope you don’t think that I think this is more than what it is. I know you’re just being kind to me because of what happened behind the club and I appreciate that. I don’t want to lose your friendship, Kieran.”
He stood up and walked over to her, framing her face with his hand. “I would imagine that some people who date each other are friends.”
She searched his eyes for a moment, her hand reaching up to gently play with the ends of his hair. She was always doing that, watching – studying him. Like she really saw him. Not the money or family but him, Alistair King.
Before he could respond, his phone rang. Thinking it might be Gracie calling to confirm their plans for the following day, he smiled at Lorde before answering. “Hello?”
“Al, they’re dead. And Belle, she’s been – oh God, oh God…”
“Eden? What’s going on, who’s dead? Where are you?” Kieran turned around, at a loss for words. His friend sounded…gutted. He looked up to find Lorde watching him curiously. Shaking his head, he mouthed I’m sorry and was out the door and heading down to the parking lot. “Eden, where are you? I’m coming to you right now.”
“I’m in Beach City at Medical. Al…hurry, please.” The phone went dead and Kieran ran the rest of the way to his car. He was on his way out of town before he thought to let go of the phone.