The phone buzzing on the table beside Sarah, made her tear her eyes away from the screen of her laptop. She reached for it, seeing Lexi’s name displayed on the screen and swiped to answer.
“Hey, you. Are you ready? We should be at yours in about half an hour.”
Sarah frowned, “At mine? For what?”
A heavy sigh came from Lexi. “It’s Friday, Sarah. You better not bail on me tonight!”
“No! I don’t want to hear it. We had this planned for weeks, and I don’t care if I have to drag you out of that apartment kicking and screaming, you are coming with us tonight. Now, get off your ass, and put on something pretty. Jake and I will be there in thirty minutes.”
Sarah sighed, admitting defeat. “Okay. See you in thirty.”
She hung up the phone and sagged into the backrest of the sofa. Despite not feeling in the mood to go out, she could use a drink after everything that happened in the last few days. To be around normal people, and have normal conversations that didn’t include monsters and purgatory and shadows.
With a nod to herself, Sarah got up and made her way to her bedroom. She found a pretty black dress, low cut, and rather tight for her liking, and donned it on.
She pulled out the matching shoes, four-inch stilettos, and put them on, taking a moment to find her balance.
Checking herself in the mirror, she decided that the make-up she had on from that morning would do, and ran a brush through her long blonde hair. It hung down her back in wavy curls, almost reaching her waist. She applied a fresh coat of lipstick and grabbed a small purse from her wardrobe.
Going back to her laptop, Sarah sat down and clicked on the next web page. It showed the same painting that Mr. Takamori had in his home. A very expensive, seventeenth-century work of art by a farmer in a small village in the north of Japan. The story behind it was exactly what Mr. Takamori said it was.
Guardians who lived in a Shadow world that existed behind a thin veil. Protectors of life, and wardens of Purgatory. There wasn’t a great deal of information on the internet about it though. Most of the references took her to links about songs, or movies, and to the art piece in Mr. Takamori’s house.
She sighed, realizing that there was only one way she was going to get the answers she wanted.
A buzz on her phone broke her attention and she grabbed it. Lexi and Jake were on their way. She closed her laptop and stood, straightening the uncomfortable dress.
Doing her usual rounds through the house to check the windows, Sarah wondered when she would see Axin again. Her curiosity as to what answers he had, and to learn more about this unbelievable world he lived in, gnawed at her brain. How is that possible. Shit like that doesn’t exist, does it?
The buzzer rang by the front door, and Sarah went to open it. Jake stood at the door, a half-grin on his face and those piercing blue eyes looking right through her.
“Hi, Jake,” Sarah said, already feeling her skin crawl at being so close to him.
“Hello, Sarah. You look very pretty tonight. Lexi is waiting in the cab downstairs. Are you ready?”
She nodded, grabbing her keys off the hook by the door. They made their way to the lift, and as much as Sarah hated being in a small space with him like this, she had no choice.
Once the doors closed, Jake pressed the button to take them to the ground and turned to stare at her.
She met his eyes, giving him a half-smile, then turned to face the door.
“Congratulations on the contract. Lexi told me you nailed it with that Japanese man in the Hamptons.”
“Yip. He signed it this afternoon.”
“That’s quite an achievement. You should be very proud. Drinks are on me tonight, to celebrate.”
She met his eyes, swallowing back the uneasy feeling in her gut. “That’s okay. If anything, I can finally afford my own drinks now.”
The elevator pinged open before he could respond, and Sarah all but ran for the cab standing outside her building. She climbed in and smiled at Lexi.
Jake went to the other side of the car, leaving Lexi sitting in the middle, putting much-welcomed distance between her and Jake.
“So,” Lexi asked, turning to look at her. “Did he sign it?”
Sarah nodded. “He did. He said he will do the transfer of funds today, and move out over the weekend. The real work begins on Monday.”
“That is so awesome,” Lexi said, taking her hand. “That means we are going to party tonight to celebrate.”
“Lex, I don’t really feel like getting too drunk tonight. I have a lot to do over the weekend.”
“Live in the moment, Sarah,” Jake said in that snake smooth voice that gave Sarah the creeps as his arm went around Lexi’s shoulders, “it’s quite an achievement, and deserves to be celebrated.”
“I’m all for that, I just don’t want to suffer from a hangover the whole weekend and end up binging on Netflix. I really do have a lot of work to do before Monday.”
Lexi laughed. “Like that time we all went camping at the lake. You kept saying you weren’t going to drink but ended up almost getting hypothermia because you decided it was a good idea to go for a swim, butt naked in the middle of the night? You were so drunk, you almost drowned.”
Sarah chuckled. “We don’t tell people that, Lex. And besides, I didn’t have to work all weekend.”
The cab stopped outside a fancy looking bistro, and Jake handed the driver a crisp hundred dollar bill.
“Keep the change,” she heard him say as she got out and rolled her eyes. Show off!
Lexi led them in, chatting quietly with the hostess, while Sarah pulled her phone out, hoping it would deter Jake from talking to her.
It worked, and Lexi called them over as they were led to a table in the back of the open space.
Jake, being the usual gentleman he always was, pulled Lexi’s chair out for her, and shrugged out of his neatly pressed suit jacket, hanging it on the back of his chair.
“I’ll bring the menu’s over in a second, but would you like a drink to start with?” the hostess asked.
“Three New York Sunrises, please,” Jake said, not taking a second to ask what the women wanted.
The hostess nodded and left. Sarah tried not to get annoyed. Lexi had been looking forward to this night for a while now, and she wouldn’t let Jake’s stuck up, male dominance get her into a bad mood.
“I need to go pee before the drinks arrive,” Lexi announced, getting up. “Sarah, will you keep Jake company?”
Inwardly, Sarah sighed but smiled at Lexi. “Sure.”
Her gaze moved to Jake, and as always, she found him looking at her.
“So, Jake,” Sarah began, deciding that if Lexi loved him the way she did, then he couldn’t be all that bad. Maybe she just needed to dig past the surface and get to know him better. To give him a chance. “How is work?”
Jake grinned. “Slow. It’s taking a lot longer to close the deal I have my sights set on.”
She frowned. “What is it you do again? Something to do with banking, isn’t it?”
“Not quite. I’m in acquisitions. I find rare and priceless items for rich people, and they pay me a lot of money for it.”
“So what are you trying to acquire now?
He hesitated for a second. “A very old book. One of a kind, only one copy. The client is willing to pay any price for it.”
“Wow, that must be kinda exciting. Like a treasure hunter in a way.”
He chuckled. “Yes, I suppose it is. Most of the things I hunt for are very rare and sometimes priceless. It’s not always easy, but I have a knack for it.”
A waiter came to the table with three tall glasses filled with a pink and blue liquid, a long twisty straw, and fresh strawberry on the rim of the glass. He set it down in front of them and placed a menu by each place setting.
“Thank you,” Jake mumbled in a dry voice, sliding it away from his plate, then wiped his fingers on the table cloth as though it were covered in filth.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “What’s this book all about, that it’s so important?”
Jake watched Lexi return to the table, and stood to help her with her chair. Sarah had to admit, he was the epitome of a gentleman when it came to things like that. He seemed to do it without thinking, without effort, and she did appreciate that about him.
He sat down, taking Lexi’s hand on the table and continued to speak without breaking his stride. “The client believes its one of the only grimoire ever written by a fifth-century witch from Eastern Europe. I doubt his facts are correct, but as I said, he is willing to pay any price for it.”
“A grimoire? Like a spellbook?” Sarah snorted, reaching for her drink.
Jake chuckled. “Yes, apparently. I don’t believe that it is as he thinks, but I cannot deny the blank check he gave me to find it.”
“So where is it?”
“In Estonia. Locked away in an old gothic church. The priest is being… stubborn. But everything has a price.”
The way he said that made the grin fade from Sarah’s lips. If she didn’t know any better, she would think it sounded like a threat.
Lexi reached for her drink. “No shop talk tonight.” She raised her glass, waiting to knock it with the others.
Sarah picked hers up, and they all clinked them together.
As the hours passed, the cocktails flowed with worrying ease. Jake had no problem ordering every drink on the menu, and Sarah and Lexi gladly drank them.
A pleasant buzz was beginning in her head, and despite the happy feeling in her, she knew she would regret it in the morning. But at that moment, she didn’t care.
They finally left the restaurant and made their way up to the rooftop club. It gave them an impressive view of New York, and despite the crowd of people, Jake never failed to hand them a full drink as soon as their glasses ran dry.
While dancing with Lexi in the middle of the dance floor, Sarah’s head began to spin, and she felt like she wanted to throw up. It’s time to go home, She thought, knowing her body well enough to recognize the signals. If she drank any more, she would either pass out or make a fool of herself. It was time to leave.
She grabbed Lexi and dragged her off the dancefloor.
“I’m going home,” Sarah shouted to her friend over the music.
“I need to, Lex. I’m drunk, and I feel sick. It’s best I go.”
Lexi nodded. “Let me walk you out!”
“No! I’ll be okay. You have fun with Jake. I’ll get a cab and call you tomorrow.”
Lexi nodded, giving her a kiss on the cheek, and Sarah made her way back down to the restaurant.
As soon as she walked out onto the street, the elevator ride came back to haunt her, and she felt the bile pushing up her throat.
She slapped a hand over her mouth, scanning her surroundings for where she could throw up and spotted the entrance to an ally not too far away. She kicked off her shoes, and ran for it, leaving her stilettos outside the front door to the Bistro.
She turned the corner, almost tripping over a wooden crate lying on the ground, and let the countless cocktails come flowing back out the way they went in.
She heaved, trying to think past the burn in her nose as the alcohol made its way out through that avenue as well.
Once she was sure she was done, with nothing left in her stomach to come out, she straightened, one hand on the wall to hold her up, and cringed at the sight of her filthy feet. Despite trying as hard as she could not to throw-up all over herself, her feet didn’t avoid the disgusting onslaught.
“Gross,” she mumbled, swaying a little as she straightened.
Voices carried from the bar, and Sarah moved deeper into the alley, needing a few more minutes to make sure she wouldn’t be sick again. Once the light of the street was gone, she found a large green bin and moved to stand behind it. Her stomach still felt uneasy, and she tried to keep whatever was pushing up in its place.
A sound from the entrance to the alley startled her, and she peered out to see a group of people heading her way. Without another thought, she leaned against the bin, making a mental note that the first thing she would do when she gets home is a shower, and closed her eyes.
“Hey, sexy,” a guy said, and she opened her eyes to see three men standing in front of her in the alley. They all looked well dressed, and she figured they came from the club.
“I need to go,” Sarah said, pushing off the bin, and heading towards the alley. One of the men stepped into her path, making her stumble to stop before she bumped into him.
“Don’t run off so fast, baby. Let’s talk.”
“I need to get back to my friends,” she said, trying to push her way past the man that stood in front of her. He grabbed her by the waist, pulling her into his body.
“Let me go!” Sarah yelled, trying to get out of his grip. His fingers dug into her sides with bruising force and she cried out, her mind sobering in an instant.
“Easy, baby. We just want to have a bit of fun. It’ll be good for you too, I promise.”
“Get off me! Let me go, you creep!” she shouted, but the other two men moved closer, not worried about her words.
One of the other men came to stand behind her, pressing himself against her, and ran his hands up her thighs.
Sarah began to fight, hitting and screaming as hard as she could, but it was no use. The pounding music from the club drowned out any hope of someone at the bar hearing her, and she was too small and too weak to face three men much bigger and taller than her.
As they started to get more handsy with her, one name popped into her mind, and even though she doubted that he would be able to help her, she still called out to him.