“You’re looking stressed out,” a teasing voice suddenly filled his office.
Jason Sealtiel looked of from his computer and saw his girlfriend, Skye Barcelona, standing at the doorway. He grinned. “And here I thought I don’t look as awful as I feel.”
Skye grinned back and then walked toward his table. “You don’t look so bad, hon. But I’m here to rescue you for a quick lunch at Aubusson’s.”
“That sounds perfect but I can’t,” Jason said, looking at her with dark, apologetic eyes. “I have tons of work to wrap up before I head off to Brown Salts for the next two days.”
Skye quirked a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “An hour off your work and you can’t allow that?” She sat on the cushioned chair across him, her lips pursed in a tight line.
Jason sighed. “Work piled up. Honest to God.”
Skye studied his face and noticed his eyes shadowed with gray circles underneath. He did look pretty bad. “You haven’t been getting much sleep, have you?”
“No,” He shook his head. How to tell her about all those nights he had awakened from nightmares?
“Oh, hon,” Skye stretched out her arm and placed her hand on top of his. He suddenly noticed her manicured fingernails — bright red and long. He knew red was supposed to be a sexy color but given his recent nightmares, seeing it on Skye’s fingers made him reel back without even thinking.
“I’m sorry,” Jason said, immediately holding her hand. It was the same hand he had held the past seven months (and counting), no matter what his dreams told him. “With my uncle’s death and this sudden turnover of work… It’s just exhausting,” He gave her his most reassuring smile. “I’ll try harder next time. I promise.”
“You better,” Skye said with a smile. She stood up. “Since I can’t very well kidnap you and force you to dine with me, I’ll just send you a delivery from Aubusson’s.” She stood up, leaned and gave him a quick kiss. “I’ll see you tonight at your house and help you pack for your trip. Eight p.m. okay?”
Jason nodded. “Sounds like a perfect plan,” He grinned at her. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me just yet,” Skye laughed as she headed for the door. “With my packing skills, you’ll end up with half of what’s in your closet.” She blew him a kiss. “Bye, hon. See you!”
A couple of minutes after Skye’s exit, he was greeted by yet another surprise entrance from one petite girl whose long raven hair seemed to stick out in all directions. This girl was the exact opposite of Skye, in every possible way.
Alex stood by his doorway, one hand clutching a paperbag and the other clutching the front of her shirt. “I damn near ran a marathon to get it in time,” She wheezed. “I emailed you the soft copy of your travel stuff. Did you get it?”
Jason did his best not to roll his eyes. For the life of him, he couldn’t figure out what possessed his deceased uncle to specifically appoint this girl to be his personal assistant. While she was mostly efficient and effective, Alex was like a grenade thrown at his front porch. And like that weapon, she was best left alone. Otherwise, you pay with a chunk of your sanity.
“Yes, I did,” He said. “Sit down. You look like you’re about to drop dead.”
Alex crossed the room and plopped down on the chair Skye occupied a few minutes ago. “Thank you!” She handed him the paperbag and then proceeded to extract a manila envelope from her messenger bag. “Okay. Here’s the hard copy of your itinerary. Your meeting doesn’t start until three p.m. so you can still relax and all that once you check in at two p.m. The hotel — your hotel, that is — is supposed to be hosting an international meeting of some organization,” She flipped through her papers and absently handed him some of it. “Day one is all about meetings. You requested for that. Day two is for –” She glanced up at him. “Oh, you can eat that.” She pointed at the paperbag she’d given him. “It’s croissant, buttered and plain. And I bet you thought I forgot that you request breakfast everyday. Ha!” She said triumphantly.
Jason couldn’t keep back his grin. Alex, with all her faults and quirks, was anything but dull. “Thanks,” He reached for his breakfast.
“Day two is for inspection and meeting the hotel staff,” Alex said. “It starts at seven in the morning, in the kitchen.” She gave him a dubious look. “Seven? Really, Sealtiel? That’s an ungodly hour! Boy, am I glad I’m not coming with you.” She shook her head.
“See, this is the part where you don’t make comments like that,” Jason said. “If anyone heard you, they’d raise their eyebrows. Do you want to stir up gossip?”
Alex looked at him in disbelief. “What, your personal assistant is not allowed to be familiar with you?”
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Jason said. Why was it that they end up arguing over the stupidest thing? “All I’m saying is that we try to act like –”
“Like we don’t live in the same house?” Alex said sweetly. With a smirk on her pale face.
Jason rolled his eyes this time. “Okay. Continue with day two.”
Alex chuckled. “Seven to ten a.m. is inspection time of the different departments.” She continued to rattle off his schedule until she was done. “And that is all there is.”
Jason nodded. “Okay, thanks.” He finished what was left of his croissant and then said in a serious tone, “What was it you saw earlier today?”
“What do you mean?” Alex looked confused.
“When I called you up. You said you saw it or him,” Jason said. “What was it?”
“Oh, that it,” Alex said. She fidgeted on her seat. “I think my eyes were playing tricks on me. It’s nothing.”
Jason felt as if someone shook a bottle of cola and then poured it in place of his blood. He could feel the fizzing and the hissing. “Out with it, Alex. I know when you’re telling the truth and when you’re not,” He gave her a grin. “You are me; I am you. Isn’t that what They say?”
Alex made a face. “That only works when we’re around each other.” Thank God for that, She added silently. It was weird enough to be seemingly intertwined by an invisible chord to some stranger (technically, Jason was still a stranger). At least their being one entity had its limits.
“What did you see, Alex?” Jason said pointedly.
Alex blew out a deep breath. “Fine. I thought I saw Malachi.”
Jason felt a tug inside him upon hearing that name. He stared at Alex, trying to search his memory. He came up with none but alarm bells were whistling inside his head. This Malachi was bad news.
“I re-read ‘The Core of Blood & Bones’ just to refresh what I already know but I haven’t come up with a pattern just yet,” Alex frowned. “I already talked to Lorcan about this and he’s researching, as we speak. He’ll contact me as soon as he has something.”
“Are you telling me the Malachi you just saw is the same Malachi from that best-selling book about a mass murderer who was thought innocent but crazy and then was sent to an asylum?” Jason asked, not quite believing what he just said out loud. This was just too ridiculous for words.
“The same one,” Alex said gravely.
“But that book is fiction!” Jason exclaimed.
“Welcome to our world, Sealtiel. Reality is not what it seems. Sometimes, fiction is built to cover up what we’re not ready to face yet,” Alex said.
“And you’re absolutely sure this Malachi is the one from the book?”
“Hundred percent sure. I’m willing to be my head on it,”
“It’s him. I’m sure of it,” Alex stood up, stuffing her things back into her bag. “Well, it’s been such a joy chatting with you but I have to go.”
“Go where?” Jason asked.
Alex gave him a plucky smile and a salute. “I have demons to hunt, supernatural creatures to interrogate and one sinister fictional character to figure out. Be wise and keep glancing over your shoulder, Sealtiel.” And with that, she was gone.
Read previous parts of this ongoing series: