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Stratus Fear

By Marva Dale All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Thriller

Blurb

In the 22nd Century, LA Detective Cadye Parrish has been called in to help in the murder case of Gavin McAllister who lived on Terre Celeste, the wealthy second tier, and who worked for the Senesco Institute. Digging deeper, she finds a terrible plot involving an age-inducing drug produced by the institute and the unwitting victims of the conspiracy who all danced at the Midnight Lace Club. During her investigation, she meets Dane Merrick, the public relations man for the foundation. And now as she becomes intimate with Dane, Cadye finds she just might be falling for a mass murderer.

Chapter 1

Arianna put the last touches on the food she would serve for lunch, and then placed the dishes back in their thermoforms to keep warm. The wines had already been chilled to their desired temperature, and everything so far seemed to be in order, even perfect.

Gavin would be home shortly, but she still had time to walk out on the terrace and drink in the beautiful day. The air seemed so clean and fresh, thanks to the massive filters, and now it came scented with the foliage spaced along the deck, honeysuckle and hibiscus, roses and wisteria. A sweet, warm breeze caressed her arms and shoulders, teased the ends of her long hair. She never let a day go by without feeling thankful for the opportunity to live here, a place and time akin to nirvana, so quiet and peaceful, a harmony of bliss. She hated to go back inside but Gavin would be home soon and he expected her to serve him.

Once in the apartment, she shut the large windows and converted them to the holo-screen. It seemed the perfect time for a clean, fresh southwest mountain motif, and so she voiced the scenario she wanted to play across the width of the room. Soon the trees that had since become extinct—the leafy golden Aspens and the sturdy cottonwoods—flourished beneath the panorama of blue sky, while a few wisps of clouds breezed over the peaks of the sienna mountain range. A waterfall splashed in the distance. Occasionally a hawk screamed, followed by the warbles of other forest birds, all in all a perfect setting to harmonize with the cool, relaxed atmosphere of the apartment.

Returning to the living room, Arianna took a seat on the comfortable sofa in slate blue, and assumed a welcoming and provocative pose. She wore only the long, bronze dress he liked on her, the fabric clinging to every curve and contour, the color a good match to her hair and a compliment to her vivid hazel eyes.

As soon as front door panel whooshed open Gavin walked into the apartment, the circlets of iridescent glass that made an esthetic curtain tinkling as he passed. He looked more tired than usual, his face tight with the concerns of the job, and yet he still made it a point to return home for his midday meal. When he spotted her he worked up to a lighter, congenial smile.

“Hello darling,” he greeted and set down his brief case.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Arianna uncurled her slim form and rose, ready to give him whatever he wanted. “Now relax and I’ll fix you a drink.”

“I really shouldn’t, but I will.” As Gavin sat on the sofa and stretched, she went over to the programmer and selected his favorite, a Gin Rickey. No matter how much he drank Gavin never appeared or acted drunk, and by the time he returned to the office any effects of the alcohol would have vanished. His drink appeared moments later in a cocktail glass, garnished with a sprig of mint and a slice of lime. If Arianna drank, this would be her preferred beverage, too.

When she brought over his drink, he patted the cushion next to him. “Have a seat, darling, and tell me how your day went so far.”

Gavin never talked about his work, and she never asked or pried, even as her curiosity peaked when she regarded the news stories concerning the company he worked for as a senior vice president.

“I had the usual morning,” Arianna said as she slipped her arm along the sofa’s back rest and curled her long, shapely legs beneath her. “Nothing to brag about.”

“As long as you’re not bored.”

“Never, darling, not when I know you’ll return to me.”

While he sipped his drink she studied him. Gavin McAllister had a beautiful face with classic lines, proud discerning blue eyes, and thick and neatly trimmed hair. The change in his hair color from brunet to white had occurred in his mid-thirties, and Gavin told her once that it had to do with genetics, that most males in his family simply grayed early. A daily regimen of exercise at his home gym kept him lean and toned while his skin remained supple and tanned from the supplements he used.

Five years ago he accepted Arianna as his companion when he moved into Elysian Towers, the luxury condominium complex much-coveted by many who could afford the monthly fees. Gavin had called in a few favors when this apartment became available and he went straight to the top of the list. So far their relationship proved compatible and beneficial to both. He told her that he enjoyed coming home to someone he could talk to, a real person who understand his feelings and needs. Of course, he had a drone to do the general housekeeping, but a machine—even in the guise of a human—would not and could not offer warmth and affection.

Now Arianna moved closer and worked her hand beneath his olive turtleneck. As she stroked his smooth, hard chest, Gavin leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and emitted a brief sigh of satisfaction. He could be a difficult man, operating on many levels, some more intense than others, some even mysterious. Yet less than a year into their relationship Arianna had broken through his defenses, unlocked his heart, and amazingly, gained not only his love but his trust. Thus she had learned to read him so well, those small gestures and quirks that revealed his temperament and mindset. For instance, the faint but clever smile he just donned revealed his growing passion, quick to replace exhaustion. It wouldn’t be long before he scooped her in his arms for that first, heady kiss. Anticipating his needs, Arianna had already set the mood in the bedroom.

“I have filet mignon for lunch,” she murmured, “very succulent and meaty. The man who sold it to me said this lot was his best so far.”

“Lunch sounds delicious,” Gavin announced in his smooth, alto voice, “but I’m not really hungry at the moment. I need to work up an appetite.”

He opened his eyes, set aside his drink on the nearby cube table and then pulled her against him. Arianna purred with delight while his hands smoothed along her curves and caressed her breasts beneath the satin-like fabric of her gown. When his mouth took hers she delved into their kiss with fierce desire. His lips always felt so silky smooth, his tongue and mouth resplendent of citrus and mint. Last night he tasted of the spicy and sweet chutney he had with dinner, his body still clinging to the sweat of the day before his shower. Arianna looked forward to these sensory experiences, some new, some repeated, but enjoyed just the same—even after all this time together.

Holding her hand Gavin stood and brought her to him. Then with arms around waists, they drifted to the wide master bed, the room already primed for sex, the lighting muted to a soft blue glow, the sheets crisp and fresh, the ceiling softened with a shooting star panorama, and the room itself redolent with fragrant mists of bergamot and zibet.

Arianna worked fast and skillfully to rid them of clothing, so that flesh could meet flesh. Gavin possessed a sleek and sculpted form, every muscle worked to perfection, his stomach flat and rock hard. She had come to love every inch of him, beginning at the top of his head and working down to his perfect toes. Now as she lay along the bed and held out her arms to him with her siren song he surged across her body.

Hands clasped on her shoulders he slid his mouth to her breasts, rasped her nipples with his tongue and kissed the undertow of each perfect mound. He wanted it hot and fast now, the soft and easy set aside for later when they retired for the night. She reached up, circled her arms around his neck and brought him down to her mouth with brutal need, biting, scraping and nipping. In turn his hands roamed freely over skin already warm and glossy. Then he raced down and found her ready, eager. He slid into her while she grasped his hips, the pace already hers, urgent and greedy. She rocked and clutched, tormenting him with her friction.

And all the while his fingers dug into her shoulders as she drove him hard and deep, his penis a magnificent tower, a hard, smooth, ivory column that filled her and made her swell with hot desire. Their hearts pumping wildly together, she showered his neck and throat with quick, delirious kisses. Arianna dared to look at his face, flushed and damp now, his eyes glassy and bright, like polished agates. She stiffened when ready; and when it seemed as if his blood would burst, he emptied into her at the same time she shuddered and came over him.

“You’re beautiful,” Gavin proclaimed after catching his breath. “Maybe even too gorgeous, too perfect. Sometimes I just want to eat you alive.”

“Maybe someday I’ll let you.” Laughing, she slid from beneath him so he could stretch along the bed. “Now just relax while I get dinner ready. I’ll call you when I have everything prepared.”

Going over to the wardrobe tube, Arianna slide open the door, took out and then donned her robe, a present from Gavin and made of real Chinese silk. Next she padded back to the kitchen while he rested, limp and sated. With a press of the buttons, she opened the thermo savers, her filets hot and steamy. She had never tasted real food until she came here, and her first time had almost ended in disaster, the food so wonderful and filling that it upset her system so much so that she thought she would die—even though she would do so in ecstasy. Now she knew how to manage and balance her choices so she gained nutrition and not fat.

Besides the bacon-wrapped pineapple spears for garnishment, she had prepared baby new potatoes with herbs and steamed asparagus tips. To compliment the meal Arianna chose a Pinot Passions wine, followed by a lighter Moscato to go with their strawberry parfait desserts. Even at this time of day Gavin enjoyed a good glass of wine. He also maintained a well-stocked wine vault, his great passion to purchase and collect fine vintages. Of course, he could afford to do so, and he always had ready cash to buy what he wanted. He knew a vendor who gladly catered to his needs without asking outrageous black market prices. Thus every Tuesday afternoon, Arianna would meet the gentleman and purchase what she thought looked and tasted the best, buying for a week’s worth of meals. Although she hated to go “under ground” to procure certain food items like real meat, she made it her duty to please her employer with gourmet food whenever possible. The black market offered many selections of choice items no longer available to the general public. Only a year ago, Arianna hadn’t heard of many of these culinary delights like strawberries and cream and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce. This job gave her the opportunity to taste such luxuries, even make them herself.

For today, she decided that should have a cozy, intimate dinner in the kitchen rather than the more formal dining room. She recited her musical choices to little blue audio cube. Gavin enjoyed the classics, from the traditional to the jazz-inspired, from Mozart to Miles Davis. The lyrical flow of symphonic music helped to stimulate his appetite as well as the rest of his senses. Now as she set the table with the everyday but still lovely glass plates with their Japanese artwork, she listened to Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin in B Flat, donning a contented little smile as she allowed the music to indulge and inspire her.

But a few moments later Arianna thought she heard noises coming from the bedroom, a thump and perhaps a muffled moan. The sounds cut into her serenity and momentarily replaced the music. She assumed Gavin had risen and gone to take a shower, perhaps dropping something in the process. But suddenly, Arianna felt a cold chill run down her back. The silver reed centerpiece rustled in response, although the air remained still in here. Nonsense! Nothing could happen to spoil this beautiful setting, this lovely day. Shaking her head to dispel some silly, imaginary dread, Arianna went back to work.

Five minutes later, when Gavin failed to appear, she went back to fetch him for lunch. Surely he would be done with his shower by now. The bedroom seemed unusually dark, more so than she had programmed the graduated timer to dim. Reaching for the wall switch now, she turned it on and flooded the room with bright halogen light.

Arianna gasped and stumbled back when she spied Gavin lying across the bed. Blood oozed from the gash on top of head and stained the white shag rug beneath. The sight of so much red against white made her reel, dizzy and sick. But she knew she had to do something, and do it fast. Steadying herself along the dresser, she inched over to the telecam and held her hand to the screen to turn on the set. A slight breeze blew in from the open balcony doors, ruffling the full-length curtains of soft gauze. And yet Arianna noticed nothing more as she hit the emergency display. Within seconds a full screen image of a uniformed police officer appeared.

“How can I help you?” he asked in an officious but courteous tone, his gaze flicking up and down, registering his caller.

“I…I…there’s been a murder,” Arianna managed to get out.

“A murder? Do you know the victim?”

“Yes, my employer, Mr. Gavin McAllister. He’s…been murdered.”

The officer glanced down for a moment to look at his secondary component. “I register your address as Elysian Towers, Unit B624. Is this correct?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And what is your full name and ID?”

“It’s…Arianna Ravel, 462987355.

“A squad will be right over.”

“Thank you.”

“In the meantime take a seat in the main living area and remain there. Don’t touch anything.”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Good. Now do you need someone to stay on the prompter with you until officers arrive?”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary.”

“Okay, we should be there in a few minutes. Hang tight.”

“Thank you.”

The officer tuned out, leaving Arianna with a blank blue screen

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