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Tori Carrington's SKIN DEEP is the dream relationship of most women, falling in love with your est friend! "eah, an age old plot line, ut it wor#s very well on$e again! Kyra gets dumped and de$ides she needs a $hange, so she turns herself into a se%ier version of herself! &er est friend, 'i$hael, $an't stand other men seeing the new fleshier and se%ier version! &e reali(es he wants that sassy woman )ust for his pleasure* +ut dare they ris# their freindship to e$ome intimate, Spar#s fly off the pages when these two get together! -ery steamy and very entertaining*


123456789101112131415 Epi og!e C"apter 1 #$

Se%tion I: C"ange is goo&' (ea goo&

)*+ "e + *"at *as it a,o!t "er.i%"ae (o/ero a,sent 0 r!,,e& t"e ,a%1 o2 "is ne%1 *it" "is pa / an& e0e& *"ere K0ra 3"ite sat t*o ta, es a*a0 at t"e Ta/pa+ 4 ori&a ,ar an& gri 2re5!ente& ,0 e/p o0ees o2 neig",or"oo& ,!sinesses+ in% !&ing t"e ar%"ite%t!ra 2ir/ *"ere "e an& K0ra ,ot" *or1e&6 )si&e 2ro/ ,eing %o7*or1ers8"e *as one o2 2o!r partners *"i e s"e &i& t"e ,oo11eeping8t"e0 *ere ,est 2rien&s6 ) re ations"ip t"at "a& ,een %e/ente& *"en s"e9& 2irst "ire& on at 4is"er+Pa /ieri + (o/ero an& Tanner 2o!r 0ears ago6 T"e 2irst *ee1 on t"e :o,+ s"e9& /a&e a n!/,er o2 ner;o!s /ista1es an& "is partners "a& *ante& to et "er go6 Instea&+ .i%"ae "a& rea i<e& *"ere t"e pro, e/ a08"er 2ear t"at s"e *o! &n9t i;e !p to t"e :o,8an& "a& ,e2rien&e& "er6 No ,ig sa%ri2i%e6 S"e9& t!rne& o!t to ,e one "e o2 a ,oo11eeper6 )n& t"e stat!s o2 t"eir re ations"ip 5!i%1 0 es%a ate& to t"e/ ,e%o/ing ,est 2rien&s an& e& "i/ to *"ere "e *as rig"t no*6 Essentia 0 !sting a2ter a *o/an *"o *as o227 i/its to "i/6 3e + /a0,e = !sting= *asn9t t"e *or&6 >!t t"ere *as so/et"ing a,o!t K0ra t"at :!/pe& !p an& nippe& "i/ on t"e ,!tt *"ene;er "e *asn9t oo1ing6 S%rat%" t"at6 3"ene;er "e *as oo1ing at "er+ *"i e s"e &i&n9t "a;e a % !e a,o!t t"e &ire%tion o2 "is t"o!g"ts6 ) strange 1in& o2 gra;itationa p! t"at /a&e it ;irt!a 0 i/possi, e to t"in1 a,o!t an0t"ing or an0one e se6 ?2 %o!rse it &i&n9t "e p t"at K0ra *as sitting *it" t"e atest in a ong ine o2 s"ort7ter/ ,o02rien&s+ g!0s *"o *o! & rate "ig" on an0one9s /oron s%a e6 @is ga<e s1i//e& o;er K0ra9s ong+ s"in0 %"estn!t7,ro*n "air+ "er o;a green e0es+ "er % ean+ gir 7neAt7store 2eat!res+ an& "er s en&er 2or/ ,eneat" a ong+ oose72itting 1"a1i s1irt an& ,oA0 *"ite , o!se6 4!nn0+ "e ne;er /!%" t"o!g"t a,o!t "er in seA!a ter/s *"ene;er t"e0 *ere 2a%e7to72a%e+ tr0ing o!t a ne* resta!rant+ p a0ing on t"e 2ir/9s so2t,a tea/+ or *at%"ing t"e atest ;i&eo6 T"en s"e *as "is ,est 2rien&+ 2! o2 ent"!sias/ an& %"a enging i&eas+ rea&0 to a!g" at "is a/est :o1es+ %onstant 0 %arping a,o!t "is poor &iet an& "is nee& 2or a *o/an &eser;ing o2 "i/6 )t ti/es s!%" as t"ese+ "o*e;er+ .i%"ae *on&ere& i2 t"e g!0 s"e *as *it" 1ne* "o* !%10 "e *as t"at "e %o! & press "is /o!t" against "er so2t pin1 one6 4an open "er , o!se to eApose "er e egant t"roat6 )n& t"en+ .i%"ae pon&ere& *"et"er an0 o2 K0ra9s ,o02rien&s "a& a % !e "o* to "an& e a *o/an i1e "er6 To!%" "er in :!st t"e rig"t *a06 Stro1e "er s i%1 "eat !nti "er ,reat" %a/e in 5!i%1 gasps an& "er ,o&0 tense& in % i/aA6 )*+ "e 6

.i%"ae stare& at :er1 n!/,er8 @e + "e9& ost %o!nt o;er t"e past 2o!r 0ears+ stopping at so/e*"ere aro!n& n!/,er ten+ t"o!g" "e s!spe%te& t"ere "a& ,een a 2e* /ore sin%e t"en6 T"irteen6 @e9& a,e t"isone T"irteen:!st ,e%a!se it 2e t rig"t6 )si&e 2ro/ ,eing a ;er0 s/!g+ !p7an&7%o/ing attorne0+ Craig @o so/ *as attra%ti;e an& "e 1ne* it K0ra "a& ,een &ating "i/ 2or t"ree *ee1s6 ) re%or& e;en ,0 "er stan&ar&s6 @o so/9s ga<e *an&ere& to a passing *aitress+ /a1ing no se%ret o2 "is interest in t"e gir 9s genero!s p"0si%a assets6 .i%"ae stare& &o*n to "is ap+ *"ere "e *as s%rat%"ing "is pa /+ an& rea i<e& "e *as 2i e& *it" t"e s!&&en !rge to 1no%1 t"e grin straig"t 2ro/ @o so/9s 2a%e6 @e gri/a%e&+ t"en too1 a ong %"!g o2 "is ,eer6 @e s"o! & "a;e gone "o/e instea& o2 &ropping ,0 Bo ita9s 2or a ,re* *it" K0ra6 Espe%ia 0 sin%e "e 1ne* K0ra *as /eeting Craig6 @e *as in%apa, e o2 sa0ing /ore t"an ase/i%or&ia "e o to an0 o2 "er &ates ,e2ore ,egging o22 *it" one eA%!se or anot"er to sett e at anot"er ta, e6 Tonig"t9s eA%!se "a& ,een a noneAistent &ate t"at *as s!ppose& to /eet "i/ t"ere6 It "a& ,e%o/e noneAistent as o2 t*o "o!rs ago+ *"en Cenni2erPo as10 "a& %a e& "i/ at *or1 an& to & "i/ s"e "a& to *or1 ate an& *as t!rning &o*n "is &inner in;itation6 S"e9& *ante& a rain %"e%1+ ,!t .i%"ae *asn9t t"at intereste& an& to & "er "e9& %a to res%"e&! e so/eti/e neAt *ee16 @e &i&n9t ,ot"er to *rite a note to "i/se 2 ,e%a!se "e 1ne* "e *o! &n9t ,e %onta%ting "er6 .i%"ae 9s /in& ;ent!re& ,a%1 to t"e o,:e%t o2 "is ga<e6 @e9& a rea&0 2ig!re& o!t t"at so/e o2 *"at "e 2e t 2or K0ra ste//e& 2ro/ "is nee& to prote%t "er6 @e too1 great satis2a%tion in 1no*ing t"at "e 1ne* "er ,etter t"an an0 ot"er person a i;e8"er sister ) anna" asi&e8in% !&ing a o2 t"e /en s"e &ate& p!t toget"er6 @e a&/ire& "er strengt" *"en s"e9& to & "i/ s"e9& gro*n !p in a t*o7roo/ s"a%1 in a s/a to*n o!tsi&e.e/p"is+Tennessee6 @e *as e5!a 0 as appa e& *"en "e9& earne& s"e9& ,een *or1ing sin%e s"e *as ten+ ,a,07sitting+ pet *a 1ing+ ne*spaper &e i;ering+ t"en gra&!ating to 2ast72oo& :oints so t"at s"e an& "er o &er sister ) anna" %o! & e1e o!t a i;ing a2ter t"eir parents "a& &ie&6 )n& "e *as e;en strange 0 pro!& t"at "e9& ,een a, e to "e p "er "e p "erse 2 *"en s"e9& 2 !,,e& !p a re%ei;a, es report an& *as a /ost &is/isse& 2ro/ "er :o, at t"e 2ir/6 No* s"e pra%ti%a 0 ran t"e p a%e+ 1eeping e;er0t"ing an& e;er0one in ine+ pro;ing to ,e t"e g !e t"at "e & t"e/ a toget"er *"en t"ings got ro!g"6 S"e *as a ,reat" o2 2res" air to a /an *"o "a& gro*n !p in a %on2!se& 2a/i 0 en;iron/ent6 )n& s"e *as a "ars" tas1/aster *"o re2!se& to et "i/ 2ee sorr0 2or "i/se 26 =(e/e/,er ' t"ings %o! & a *a0s ,e *orse+= *as one o2 "er tra&e/ar1 sa0ings6 )n& s"e *as i;ing proo2 t"at t"e0+ in&ee&+ %o! & ,e6 >!t *"0 s"e %ontin!e& to pro;e t"e point ,0 &ating /en *"o &i&n9t "a;e a % !e a,o!t "er tr!e *ort" %ease ess 0 /0sti2ie& "i/6 3"ene;er "e ,ro!g"t it !p+ s"e a!g"e&+ *a;e& "er s en&er "an&+ an& to & "i/ t"at s"e *as attra%te& to *"i%"e;er g!0 s"e *as attra%te& to+ si/p e as t"at6 )n& .i%"ae "a& ,een t"ere to "e p pi%1 "er !p *"ene;er one o2 t"e :er1s &!/pe& "er+

as t"e0 a e;ent!a 0 &i&6 K0ra9s 2a%e t!rne& s!&&en 0 as"en6 It *as on 0 t"en t"at .i%"ae rea i<e& "e9& ,een staring at "er nonstop6 @e oo1e& at @o so/+ t"e *a0 "e "e & "is "an&s+ pa /s !p+ t"e e e;ate& state o2 "is ,ro*s as i2 eAp aining so/et"ing K0ra *asn9t e5!ippe& to "an& e6 D"7o"6 .i%"ae 9s 2ingers tig"tene& on "is ,eer ,ott e as K0ra rea%"e& o!t an& reste& a "an& on @o so/9s s ee;e6 .i%"ae *is"e& "e "a&n9t sat so 2ar a*a06 I2 "e *ere % oser+ "e9& ,e a, e to isten in on *"at t"e0 *ere sa0ing6 T"en again+ "e &i&n9t "a;e to "ear t"e *or&s to trans ate t"eir /eaning6 =I ' &on9t !n&erstan&+= *as *ritten a o;er K0ra9s prett0 2a%e6 @o so/ p !%1e& "er "an& 2ro/ "is 2orear/ an& p!t it &o*n in 2ront o2 "er+ t"en patte& it patroni<ing 06 T"e ,ott e in .i%"ae 9s "an& near 0 s"attere&6 =It9s o;er+= Cer1 N!/,er T"irteen /o!t"e&6 @ere *e go again6 .i%"ae starte& to get !p 2ro/ t"e ta, e6 It *as getting a itt e o &+ t"is p a0ing t"e 1nig"t7in7s"ining7ar/or ,it6 Espe%ia 0 sin%e "e ne;er earne& t"e prin%ess9s tra&itiona gratit!&e6 K0ra !rgent 0 sai& so/et"ing to @o so/ an& "e %oi e& ,a%1+ staggering to "is o*n 2eet6 Do!, e !"7o"6 .i%"ae 2or%e& "i/se 2 to ea;e "is ,eer *"ere it sat on t"e ta, e an& ,egan to /a1e "is *a0 to*ar& "is ,est 2rien&6 >!t "e *as a2rai& "e *as too ate6 =?"+ 0ea"-= @o so/ sai&+ "is 2a%e t!rning an !nappea ing s"a&e o2 p!rp e6 =3e 0o!9re a,o!t as i;e 0 in ,e& as a &ea& 2is"6= ?"+ ,o06 EEE K0ra *as %ertain "er :a* *as st!%1 in t"e open position6 S"e gape& at Craig @o so/ as i2 "e "a& t*o "ea&s6 3"i%"+ at t"e /o/ent+ "e &i&+ ,e%a!se t"e roo/ s!&&en 0 s*a/ in 2ront o2 "er+ not so /!%" a 2an%0 roo/ in a tren&0 % !,+ ,!t t"e 2is" tan1 Craig "a& :!st p !nge& "er into t"e /i&& e o26

@e *as &!/ping "er6 )n& "e "a& :!st ins! te& "er a,i ities in ,e&6 T"e pro, e/ *as+ K0ra *asn9t s!re *"at ,ot"ere& "er /ore6 S!re+ o1a0+ *"en "e9& sai& it *as o;er ,et*een t"e/ a 2e* /in!tes ago+ s"e9& ,een !na, e to s*a o* t"e %o//ent t"at t"eir re ations"ip %o! & "a;e ,een &o%1e& on an egg ti/er ' prett0 /!%" t"e sa/e *a0 seA *it" "i/ "a& r!n6 T"en "e9& gotten !p an& %o/pare& "er to a &ea& 2is" in 2ront o2 e;er0one6 K0ra et "er e0es % ose an& r!,,e& "er te/p es6 T"is %o! &n9t ,e "appening6 Not on top o2 e;er0t"ing e se t"at "a& "appene& to&a06 4irst s"e9& a*a1ene& to "ear "er an& a&0 po!n&ing on t"e 2 oor+ %o/p aining "er a ar/ ,!<<er *as too o!&6 T"en &!ring !n%" "o!r+ s"e 2o!n& o!t t"e &r0 % eaner "a& ost near 0 e;er0 pie%e o2 % ot"ing s"e o*ne& asi&e 2ro/ *"at s"e "a& on6 To top a t"at o22+ t"is a2ternoon s"e9& st!/, e& onto an a%%o!nting error at *or1 t"at %o! & /ean "er :o, i2 s"e &i&n9t 2ig!re o!t *"at a/o!nts s"e9& a&&e& !p *rong an& 5!i%16 S"e9& %onsi&ere& opting o!t o2 &rin1s *it" Craig a toget"er+ 2earing *"at e se 2ate "a& in store 2or "er t"at &a06 Instea&+ s"e9& 2ig!re& t"ings %o! &n9t get /!%" *orse6 ?"+ "o* ;er0 *rong s"e9& ,een6 F!iet gigg ing 2ro/ t"e % !, patrons penetrate& K0ra9s &istra%te& state6 S"e , in1e& an& stare& !p at Craig *"o *as *earing an a too satis2ie& eApression on "is 2a%e6 K0ra t*iste& "er ips in %onte/p ation6 Go! 1no* so/et"ing- .i%"ae *as rig"t6 Craig *as a :er16 T"e on 0 pro, e/ *as+ .i%"ae *as a *a0s rig"t6 3"i%" *as in2inite 0 irritating6 ?!t o2 t"e %orner o2 "er e0e+ s"e sa* t"e /an in 5!estion /o;ing in "er &ire%tion6 Dear+ s*eet+ so i& .i%"ae 6 Hoo&6 >e%a!se s"e9& nee& "i/ to "e p "er get o!t o2 "ere *it" at east a /o&i%!/ o2 &ignit06 K0ra p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ t"e inti/ate ta, e 2or t*o+ "er 1nees *o,, ing so "ar& s"e *as a2rai& s"e /ig"t 1no%1 o;er "er %"air6 T"an12! 0+ s"e &i&n9t6 S"e g an%e& at .i%"ae 9s t"!n&ero!s 2a%e+ t"en at @o so/9s s/!g eApression+ "a 2 te/pte& to et .i%"ae "a;e a go at "er atest eA6 >!t+ strange 0+ s"e *asn9t a t"at !pset t"at Craig "a& ,ro1en t"ings o22 *it" "er6 In 2a%t+ s"e *as ' re ie;e&6 3"at &i& t"at /eanIt /eant s"e s"o! & "a;e *a 1e& a*a0 *"en "e9& %o/pare& "er s1in to a pea%" at t"e pro&!%e se%tion o2 t"e o%a s!per/ar1et t"ree *ee1s ago6 3"at a a/e %o/e7on ine+ s"e t"o!g"t no*6 )n& a,o!t as origina as t"e g!0 "i/se 26 T"e oser pro,a, 0 "!ng o!t at t"e s!per/ar1et to pi%1 !p %"i%1s6

K0ra g an%e& aro!n& t"e % !,+ rea i<ing t"at a /ost e;er0 pair o2 e0es *as on "er+ *aiting 2or "er response to Craig9s %o//ent6 S"e ti te& "er "ea& an& s/i e& at "er eA+ satis2ie& t"at "e oo1e& instant 0 a2rai& o2 *"at s"e /ig"t sa06 )n& "e "a& goo& reason to ,e6 =Ges+ *e + Craig+ ,etter a &ea& 2is" t"an a ost %a!se+ e;en *it" Iiagra6= S"e s"o;e& "er %"air !n&er t"e ta, e+ *"i%" in t!rn "it "is %"air+ 1no%1ing t"e ,a%1 o2 it against one o2 Craig9s /ore strategi% areas6 @e gaspe& an& gra,,e& t"e ;i%init0 in 5!estion *it" ,ot" "an&s+ *"i e one o2 K0ra9s o*n "an&s *ent to %o;er "er /o!t"6 =I9/ so sorr0+= s"e sai&6 =I &i&n9t /ean8= S"e 2e t 2ingers on "er ar/6 =Bet9s go+= .i%"ae sai& in t"at &eep ,aritone t"at a *a0s %o//an&e& "er attention6 =Go! ,it%"J= Craig sai&+ pro,a, 0 /eaning to s"o!t t"e ins! t+ t"o!g" it %a/e o!t as a "ig"7pit%"e& *"i/per6 E;en *it" "er gen!ine re/orse+ s"e 2e t t"e ;oi%e 2it6 .i%"ae s o*e& "is step+ an& t"is ti/e K0ra 2o!n& "erse 2 t!gging "i/ to*ar& t"e &oor6 =Ca "er t"at again an& 0o!9 ,e eating 0o!r teet"+= s"e "ear& .i%"ae te Craig6 T"an12! 0 t"ere *ere no /ore eA%"anges in t"e 2e* /o/ents it too1 t"e/ to get 2ro/ t"e ta, e to t"e &oor6 ?n%e o!tsi&e+ K0ra , in1e& against t"e setting s!n+ t"en %o apse& against t"e % ose& &oor+ t"e t"i%1 ate7s!//er4 ori&a"eat see/ing to spra0 ,ea&s o2 s*eat a o;er "er s1in6 S"e , in1e& !p into .i%"ae 9s g o*ering 2a%e6 ) o%1 o2 ra;en7 , a%1 "air "!ng o;er "is ,ro*+ "is nat!ra "one07%o ore& s1in oo1ing &ar1er 0et in t"e *aning ig"t6 S"e g an%e& to*ar& t"e &oor t"en 2o!n& "erse 2 s/i ing6 =I rea 0 &i&n9t /ean to ' *e + 0o! 1no*+ "it "i/ *it" t"e %"air6= =T"at9s a s"a/e+ seeing as it *as so 2itting6= S"e , in1e& an& t"e si&e o2 .i%"ae 9s /o!t" ,!&ge& !p in a grin6 @e rea 0 *as &e;astating 0 "an&so/e *"en "e grinne&6 =@a;e I to & 0o! ate 0 t"at 0o! rea 0 1no* "o* to pi%1 9e/-= "e as1e&+ ro ing t"e s ee;es o2 "is %risp *"ite s"irt !p "is "air7peppere& 2orear/s *"i e "is ,rig"t 0 %o ore& tie 2 appe& in t"e *ar/ ,ree<e6 =E;er0 %"an%e 0o! get6= =Gea"+ *e + I /!st not ,e te ing 0o! o!& 0 eno!g"6= @e :a,,e& a t"!/, to*ar& t"e

% !,6 =3"0 0o! et /orons i1e @o so/ get t"e ,etter o2 0o!+ I9 ne;er 1no*6= =3"o sai& "e got t"e ,etter o2 /e-= K0ra 5!ir1e& a ,ro* at "i/6 S"e p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ t"e &oor an& ,egan *a 1ing to*ar& t"e par1ing ot *"ere t"e09& par1e& t"eir %ars+ "ers a t"irt070ear7o & .!stang %on;erti, e+ "is a r!gge& ate7/o&e SDI *it" t*o air7 %on&itioning !nits6 3it" ea%" step K0ra too1+ s"e 2e t an0 a/!se/ent sti ingering 2ro/ t"e en%o!nter seep 2ro/ "er /!s% es6 ?n an0 ot"er o%%asion s"e /ig"t , a/e t"e rea%tion on t"e intense ate7s!//er 4 ori&a "eat6 >!t s"e 1ne* t"at *asn9t t"e %ase no*6 @er ,o02rien& "a& :!st ,ro1en !p *it" "er6 3orse+ "e9& ins! te& "er seA!a it06 =D"7o"6 @ere it %o/es6 P"ase t*o+= .i%"ae sai& 5!iet 0 ,esi&e "er6 K0ra e ,o*e& "i/ in t"e ri,s6 @e %a!g"t "er *"en s"e /ig"t "a;e trippe& o;er "er o*n 2eet6 =S"!t !p6= =Bet9s see6 4irst t"ere9s a/!se/ent+ ,e%a!se+ *e + et9s a&/it it+ a ,rea1!p ,et*een 0o! an& one o2 0o!r ,o02rien&s is a *a0s a so!r%e 2or "!/or6= =H a& 0o!9re en:o0ing 0o!rse 26= @is gri/a%e sai& t"e opposite *as t"e %ase6 =T"en %o/es t"e grie;ing perio&6 No /atter "o* !n&eser;ing t"e :er1+ 0o!9re a *a0s "!rt ,0 "is re:e%tion6= =Ke0 *or& ,eing re:e%tion "ere+ I t"in1+= s"e pointe& o!t6 .i%"ae stoppe& neAt to "er .!stang+ a%%epte& "er 1e0s+ t"en opene& t"e &oor 2or "er6 S"e instant 0 p!s"e& t"e ,!tton to re ease t"e ragtop an& p!s"e& it ,a%16 =T"en a2ter t"at %o/es t"e eating6 3ee17 ong ,inges 2i e& *it" a t"e st!22 0o! gripe at /e 2or eating6= S"e s/i e& at "i/6 =)s I re%a + 0o! &o en:o0 t"at p"ase6= @e ga;e "er a partia grin6 =Gea"+ /a0,e t"at part9s not so ,a&6= S"e % i/,e& in an& "e % ose& t"e &oor a2ter "er6 S"e t!rne& t"e 1e0 an& t"e so!n& o2 ;intage @eart instant 0 2i e& t"e "!/i& air6 @e ar%"e& a ,ro* an& s"e t!rne& t"e ;o !/e &o*n6 =T"e0 &on9t &eser;e 0o!+ 0o! 1no* t"at-= K0ra 2astene& "er "air ,a%1 *it" a ri,,on s"e "a& &rape& aro!n& t"e rear;ie* /irror6 =I &on9t gi;e 0o! t"is /!%" "e *"en 0o! ,rea1 !p *it" one o2 0o!r gir 2rien&s6=

@e %"!%1 e& so2t 06 =T"at9s ,e%a!se I9/ not t"e one in nee& o2 %onso ation6 T"e0 are6= =)"6 I see6= S"e s%anne& "is &ar1 2eat!res+ 2ee ing ,etter :!st ta 1ing to "i/6 =3"i e I+ on t"e ot"er "an&+ a/ not"ing ,!t a "eap o2 so,,ing 2e/a e "or/ones in nee& o2 /opping !p 2ro/ t"e 2 oor6= =D"7"!"6= S"e s/i e&+ ,!t e;en as s"e &i&+ a &a/na, e tear s i& &o*n "er o*er as" an& sp as"e& onto "er , o!se6 S"e r!,,e& at "er %"ee1 in irritation6 S"e 1ne* Craig @o so/ &i&n9t &eser;e a sing e oo1 ,a%16 >!t s"e %o! &n9t see/ to "e p "erse 26 (e:e%tion *as re:e%tion+ no /atter "o* 0o! oo1e& at it6 .i%"ae *as rig"t6 S"e *as an i&iot6 ) t"o!g" "e9& ne;er rea 0 %o/e o!t an& to & "er t"at6 =@e0+= "e sai& 5!iet 0+ %!r;ing "is 2ingers !n&er "er %"in6 =)re 0o! going to ,e o1a0-= S"e st!%1 "er %"in !p in t"e air an& sni22e&6 =?2 %o!rse6= =@//6= @e ,r!s"e& anot"er tear 2ro/ "er %"ee1 *it" a s o* r!, o2 "is t"!/,6 @is ga<e see/e& to inger on "er /o!t"+ t"en "e /et "er ga<e6 @e ga;e "er a %oaAing grin6 =Go! !p 2or o!r nor/a post,rea1!p o!ting-= =It9s *"at I i;e 2or6= @e narro*e& "is ga<e at "er+ t"en tappe& "er ;isor to , o%1 t"e setting s!n ig"t6 =4o o* /e6 I "a;e a ne* p a%e in /in&6= K0ra *at%"e& "i/ *a 1 a%ross t"e ot to "is SDI6 Ta + ,roa&7s"o! &ere& an& s en&er7 *aiste& *it" t"i%1 &ar1 "air an& a grin t"at *o! & oo1 too na!g"t0 e;en in t"e ,e&roo/+ .i%"ae (o/ero *as &rop7&ea& gorgeo!s6 )n& "e *as "er ,est 2rien&6 @e pa!se& neAt to "is %ar t"en "a 2 t!rne& to oo1 ,a%1 at "er pensi;e 0+ "is pro2i e in s"a&o*6 K0ra %a!g"t "er ,reat"+ t"en s*a o*e& "ar&6 )n& "e *as "er ,est 2rien&' EEE .i%"ae ai& "is "an& against K0ra9s o*er ,a%1 an& g!i&e& "er insi&e t"e %o<0 itt e ,oo1store "e9& 2o!n& on t"e o!ts1irts o2 to*n6 T"e /o/ent "e9& spotte& it+ "e9& 1no*n K0ra *o! & o;e it6 )n& "e *asn9t &isappointe&6 @er 5!iet+ *i&e7e0e& pon&ering o2 t"e teetering s"e ;es t"at %o;ere& near 0 e;er0 in%" o2 a;ai a, e spa%e to & "i/ s"e9& 2orgotten t"e % !,+ @o so/+ an& t"e ,rea1!p o2 a re ations"ip t"at *as ,o!n& 2or t"e

D!/pster t"e instant it starte&6 =?"7""+= s"e sai& 5!iet 0+ as i2 t"e0 *ere in a i,rar0 rat"er t"an a ,oo1store6 =I o;e it6= @e %o! &n9t "e p grinning &o*n at "er6 =I 1ne* 0o! *o! &6= @er ga<e &arte& 2ro/ "ere to t"ere t"en ,a%1 again6 =Bea& t"e *a06 I9/ rig"t ,e"in& 0o!6= @e g an%e& at "is *at%"6 =>!t tr0 to i/it 0o!rse 2 to a "a 2 "o!r6= S"e groane&6 =?1a0+ 2ort072i;e /in!tes6 ?r I ea;e *it"o!t 0o!6= S"e s/i e& at "i/ an& 1isse& "i/ on t"e %"ee1+ igniting a sorts o2 interesting e/otions "e *asn9t 5!i%1 eno!g" to &en06 =Go!9& ne;er ea;e *it"o!t /e6= @e *at%"e& "er &isappear ,et*een t"e s"e ;es an& eA"a e& a ong+ e;en ,reat"6 ?"+ s"e *as rig"t t"ere6 @e steppe& in "er *a1e+ *at%"ing as s"e *a 1e& "er 2ingers o;er t"e ,in&ings o2 t"e /is/at%"e&+ &i22erent7%o ore& ,oo1s ining t"e s"e 2 at s"o! &er e;e 6 @er ,ro*n "air *as sti "e & ,a%1 ,0 t"at si 0 re& ri,,on s"e a *a0s *ore *"en s"e &ro;e *it" t"e top &o*n6 3"i%" *as a t"e ti/e6 @er s1irt *"oos"e& aro!n& "er an1 es as s"e *a 1e&6 @e si ent 0 %!rse& an& %a e& "i/se 2 t*e ;e 1in&s o2 a 2oo 2or %ontin!ing to a%t i1e K0ra9s 2rien& *"en /ore an& /ore ate 0 "e *ante& to % ai/ "er as "is o;er6 =@a;e 0o! rea& t"is-= s"e as1e&+ tipping a ,oo1 o!t 2ro/ t"e rest6 @e s"oo1 "is "ea&6 =Nope6 Don9t *ant to+ eit"er6= S"e s/i e& at "i/6 =Go! &on9t 1no* *"at 0o!9re /issing6= @is ga<e eis!re 0 s1i//e& "er *e 7&e2ine& pin1+ !npainte& ips6 ?"+ no6 T"at *as pre%ise 0 t"e pro, e/6 @e *as a2rai& "e 1ne* eAa%t 0 *"at "e *as /issing6 )n& it *as ,eginning to &ri;e "i/ %ra<06 @e p!t "is "an& o;er "ers an& s i& t"e ,oo1 ,a%1 into its s ot6 @er eApression so,ere& an& s"e 2 i%1e& "er *et tong!e a%ross "er ips6 .i%"ae 2o!g"t a groan an& re/o;e& "is "an&+ t"en %ontin!e& &o*n t"e ais e6No+ no+no6No /atter "o* ;er0 te/pting+ "e %o! & ne;er a o* t"eir re ations"ip to %ross o;er to an inti/ate e;e 6 @e ;a !e& "er 2rien&s"ip too /!%" 2or t"at6 )n& "e9& seen 2irst"an& t"at s"e *asn9t ;er0 goo& at t"e &ating ga/e6 @e &i&n9t t"in1 "e %o! & "an& e getting "ot an& "ea;0 *it" K0ra on 0 to sa0 goo&,0e to "er an& t"eir 2rien&s"ip in a 2e* *ee1s9 ti/e6 Not a &a0 *ent ,0 t"at "e &i&n9t t"an1+ an& o%%asiona 0 &a/n+ 2ate t"at "e9& ,een in;o ;e& *it" so/eone e se *"en t"e09& 2irst /et at t"e 2ir/ 2o!r 0ears ago6 I2 "e an& Cessi%a "a&n9t ,een going o!t+ "e pro,a, 0 *o! & "a;e /a&e a p a0 2or K0ra6 S"e pro,a, 0 *o! & "a;e gone 2or it6 )n& t"e /ess t"at *o! & "a;e ens!e& *o! &+ in a i1e i"oo&+ "a;e g!arantee& not on 0 t"at s"e *o! &

"a;e e2t t"e 2ir/+ ,!t a so t"at "e *o! & "a;e /isse& o!t on *"at "a& e;o ;e& into one o2 t"e /ost i/portant re ations"ips in "is i2e6 )s an on 0 %"i &+ "is /ot"er 2ro/Per!+ an& "is 2at"er 2ro/Spain+ "e spent a great &ea o2 ti/e tr0ing to &e2ine eAa%t 0 *"o "e *as6 )n& i2 K0ra &i&n9t "e p "i/ in t"at 5!est+ s"e at east insiste& t"at "e 2orget a,o!t t"at ,att e e;er0 no* an& again6 )n& 2or t"at "e *o! & ,e eterna 0 grate2! 6 @e *as :!st "i/+ s"e9& to & "i/ ti/e an& again6 @e *asn9t a%%o!nta, e to an0one ,!t "i/se 26 )n& t"at9s eAa%t 0 t"e *a0 "e 2e t6 )t east *"en "e *as *it" "er6 3e + /ost 0 *"en "e *as *it" "er6 No* "e g an%e& at "is *at%"+ *on&ering "o* 2ar s"e9& go o;er t"e ti/e i/it "e9& set6 )n& :!st "o* in t"e "e "e *as going to get "er o!t o2 t"ere6 EEE =Ti%1+ to%1+= .i%"ae sai& ,e"in& K0ra6 S"e g an%e& to 2in& "i/ tapping t"e 2a%e o2 "is *at%"6 S"e s/i e& t"en ro!n&e& a %orner+ a,sent 0 r!nning "er 2ingertips a ong t"e spines o2 t"e ,oo1s6 S"e pa!se& 2or a /o/ent an& too1 a &eep ,reat"6 S"e o;e& e;er0t"ing a,o!t ,oo1s6 T"e *a0 t"e0 so!n&e& *"en 0o! %ra%1e& t"e/ open6 T"e s%ent o2 2res" 0 /i e& paper6 T"e ;ar0ing teAt!res+ 2ro/ t"e s/oot" g oss0 paper,a%1 %o;ers *it" raise& ettering to t"e p!%1ere& eat"er o2 "ar&,a%1s6 T"e &i22erent art*or1 t"at &epi%te& so/eone9s ;ision o2 t"e %"ara%ters or t"e topi% insi&e6 4i%tion+ non2i%tion+ %o//er%ia ,estse ers+ o,s%!re iterar0 to/,s+ t"e teAt ,et*een t"e %o;ers &i&n9t /atter6 S"e in"a e& a o2 it *it" t"e passion o2 a ong7ti/e rea&er6 T"ere *ere 2e* t"ings s"e i1e& ,etter t"an osing "erse 2 in t"e pages o2 a si<< ing+ "ot ro/an%e6 Espe%ia 0 a2ter "a;ing s!22ere& a 2ai e& one o2 "er o*n6 ?2 %o!rse+ .i%"ae to & "er s"e *as %ra<0 2or rea&ing ro/an%e no;e s *"en "er i2e a rea&0 rese/, e& an on7 going soap opera6 =Sta0 t!ne& to/orro* 2or t"e neAt insta /ent o2 9T"e Da0s o2 K0ra 3"ite9s Bo;e Bi2e69= S"e s/i e& as s"e 2o!n& t"e ro/an%e se%tion o2 t"e ,oo1store an& ,egan tipping o!t ,oo1 a2ter ,oo1 @a;e it6 (ea& it6 Interesting ,!t not !p /0 a e0 rig"t no*6 ?ne ,0 one+ s"e s%anne& ,a%17%o;er %op0+ too1 in t"e a!t"or na/e+ e0e& t"e art*or1+ t"en s i& t"e ,oo1s ,a%1 into t"eir neat itt e s ots6 ?ne 0ear .i%"ae "a& gi;en "er a s!,s%ription to a ,oo1 % !, 2or C"rist/as6 S"e9& s!spe%te& "e9& &one it so "e *o! &n9t "a;e to a%%o/pan0 "er on t"ese ,oo17,!0ing eApe&itions6 S"e9& /aintaine& t"e s!,s%ription+ ,!t t"ere *as sti so/et"ing a,o!t t"e eAperien%e o2 ,!0ing a ,oo1 in person t"at 2i e& "er *it" a &eep sense o2 satis2a%tion6 ) 2ee ing o2 :o06 ?2 ,eing s!rro!n&e& ,0 &o<ens an& &o<ens o2 stories peop e& *it" %"ara%ters s"e %o! & a *a0s i&enti20 *it"6 T"e sense o2 ' *e + not ,eing a one6

S"e t*iste& "er ips6 ?1a0+ so /a0,e Craig9s ,rea1ing !p *it" "er &i& ,ot"er "er /ore t"an s"e *ante& to et on6 >!t ess t"an s"e *o! & "a;e s!spe%te&6 3"at got to "er *as "is %o//ent on "er seA!a pro*ess6 ?r a%1 t"ereo26 3as s"e rea 0 t"at ,a& in ,e&Co! & t"at ,e one o2 t"e reasons *"0 s"e got &!/pe& so o2ten- S"e /a&e a 2a%e6 3e + t"at /ig"t ,e t"e pro, e/ i2 s"e s ept *it" e;en a /o&erate per%entage o2 t"e g!0s s"e &ate&6 >!t s"e &i&n9t6 T"e tr!t" *as s"e "a&n9t 2e t /o;e& to6 S"e rea%"e& t"e en& o2 t"e se%tion an& i& 0 /o;e& on to t"e neAt6 @//6 Sti ro/an%e6 >!t o2 t"e non2i%tion ;ariet06 S"e p! e& o!t a ,oo1 entit e&Fifty Ways to Please Your Lover an& ea2e& t"ro!g" t"e %ontents6 @er e0es *i&ene& at t"e grap"i% s%enes &epi%te& at t"e ,eginning o2 ea%" %"apter6Okay 6 S"e s o* 0 s i& t"e ,oo1 ,a%1 in an& too1 o!t t"e neAt one6 SeA Kitten 1016 >e2ore s"e %o! & 5!estion "er interest in it+ K0ra a,sent 0 opene& t"e ,oo1 to t"e in&eA6 3or&s s!%" as =trans2or/ation+= =ne* attit!&e= an& =,rea1ing o & "a,its= eape& o!t at "er+ one a2ter anot"er6 S"e t"o!g"t o2 .i%"ae 9s %o/paring "er i2e to a soap opera6 Prett0 /!%" o2 t"e sa/e o &+ sa/e o &+ *it" itt e ;ariation6 S"e g an%e& !p 2ro/ t"e ,oo1 an& %a!g"t a re2 e%tion o2 "erse 2 in a/! tipane& *in&o* ,et*een t"e t*o ,oo1%ases opposite "er6 ?!tsi&e t"e s!n "a& tota 0 set+ so t"e g ass t"re* "er i/age ,a%1 at "er a /ost as % ean 0 as a /irror6 K0ra s*a o*e&+ i2ting a "an& !p to 2inger t"e si 0 ri,,on in "er "air+ too1 in "er ong+ straig"t ,ro*n "air+ t!gge& at "er o;ersi<e s"irt6 P ain6 Si/p e6 Dire%t6 S"e9& %ons%io!s 0 %"osen t"e oo1 ,e%a!se s"e t"o!g"t it ,est &epi%te& *"at s"e *as a a,o!t6 S"e g an%e& at t"e ,oo1 in "er "an&+ *on&ering i2 it *as ong past ti/e 2or a %"ange6 )n& /a0,e t"is *"o e seA71itten approa%" *o! & ,e :!st t"e ti%1et6 S"e t!rne& t"e ,oo1 o;er an& s%anne& t"e ,a%17%o;er %op06 =9Is 0o!r i2e ,ase& on rea%ting instea& o2 a%ting-9= K0ra no&&e&6 =9Tire& o2 t"e sa/e o & person staring ,a%1 at 0o! in t"e /irror-9=Oh, yes 6 =93ant to s"o%1 t"ose % osest to 0o!-9= S"e eane& ,a%1 so s"e %o! & oo1 &o*n t"e ais e s"e9& %o/e 2ro/6 .i%"ae stoo& t"ere+ 2ro*ning at a stret%" o2 tra;e ,oo1s+ "is &ar1 "air to!s e&+ "is *"ite s"irt as %risp as e;er+ "is s a%1s "!gging "is ong t"ig"s to per2e%tion6 S"e s*a o*e& "ar& t"en straig"tene& an& oo1e& ,a%1 &o*n at t"e ,oo1 % !t%"e& in "er "an&6 .i%"ae *o! & pro,a, 0 s%o22 at t"e p!r%"ase6 ) se 27/a&e /an+ "e9& p! e& "i/se 2 !p ,0 t"e pro;er,ia ,ootstraps *it" itt e "e p 2ro/ "is parents or an0one e se6 )n&+ s"e s!ppose&+ so "a& s"e6 >!t t"ere *as a ,ig &i22eren%e ,et*een ,eing a ,oo11eeper an& ,eing a partner in a ;er0 s!%%ess2! ar%"ite%t!ra 2ir/6 S"e ran "er 2ingers o;er t"e %o;er o2 t"e ,oo1+ 5!estioning t"e *is&o/ o2 an0 sort o2 ra&i%a %"ange6 T"e tr!t" *as+ &espite "er "it7an&7r!n &ating eAperien%es+ s"e rea 0 *asn9t a t"atexperienced *"en it %a/e to t"e opposite seA6

T"en again+ it /ig"t ,e i//ense 0 grati20ing to s"o%1 t"ose % osest to "er6 T"e i/age o2 Craig %ra* ing ,a%1 to "er on "is "an&s an& 1nees ,egging 2or 2orgi;eness %ertain 0 "e & a great &ea o2 appea 6 >!t 2or so/e reason+ it *as .i%"ae 9s 2a%e s"e sa* *"en s"e i/agine& "erse 2 &oing an0t"ing *it" t"e in2or/ation t"e a!t"or to!te&6 =9No ris1s6 No pri<es+9= s"e sai& so2t 06 EEE =Done6= .i%"ae g an%e& !p 2ro/ t"e tra;e og!e onCentra )/eri%a"e "e & an& stare& at *"ere K0ra stoo& neAt to "i/+ a g oss0 "ar&,a%1 ,oo1 % !t%"e& in "er "an&s6 =I t"in1 0o! set a re%or&6= S"e t!%1e& a stra0 stran& o2 g oss0 ,ro*n "air t"at "a& es%ape& 2ro/ t"e ri,,on ,e"in& "er ear+ t"en s"r!gge&6 =It :!st 1in& o2 :!/pe& o!t at /e6= @e rea%"e& 2or t"e ,oo1+ s!rprise& *"en s"e p! e& it o!t o2 t"e *a06 @e raise& "is ,ro*s6 =3"at gi;es- Go!9re !s!a 0 eager to s"o* /e "o* iterate 0o! are an& pester /e to rea& *"ate;er 0o! %"ose6= =T"is one9s :!st 2or /e6= =4e/a e porn-= S"e a!g"e& an& /o;e& past "i/+ ea;ing t"e s!,t e s%ent o2 "er per2!/e in "er *a1e6 @e groane& an& 2o o*e&+ "is %!riosit0 pi5!e&6 =Co/e on6= @e eane& % oser an& *"ispere& into "er ear+ =Bet /e see6= S"e s"oo1 "er "ea&6 =Nope6= =Go! 1no* I9/ going to 2in& o!t sooner or ater6 Go! /ig"t as *e gi;e !p no*6= S"e p oppe& t"e ,oo1 %o;er &o*n on t"e %as"ier9s &es16 @e too1 o!t "is *a et ,!t s"e ,r!s"e& "i/ asi&e6 =Not t"is ti/e6 T"an1s6= K0ra ne;er t!rne& &o*n a gi2t6 Henero!s "erse 2+ t"e0 see/e& to a *a0s ,e pa0ing 2or ea%" ot"er9s p!r%"ases6 Neit"er o2 t"e/ "a& e;er o,:e%te&6 @e %rosse& "is ar/s an& eane& against t"e %o!nter+ p a0ing non%"a ant6 =?1a0+ I gi;e !p6= S"e e0e& "i/+ s!spi%ion s"a&o*ing "er arge green e0es6 =D"7"!"6 Bi1e I ,!0 t"at one6=

S"e "an&e& o;er t"e /one0+ &ire%ting t"e ,oo1store o*ner to 5!i%1 0 ,ag t"e ,oo16 =It9s not going to *or16= .i%"ae opene& t"e &oor 2or "er+ t"en 2o o*e& "er o!tsi&e6 T"e s!n "a& %o/p ete 0 set+ ea;ing a "a<0 g o* aro!n& t"e street an& par1ing7 ot ig"ts6 T"e air *as so t"i%1 0o! %o! & "a;e trippe& o;er it6 @e too1 "er 1e0+ opene& t"e &oor to t"e .!stang an& "an&e& "er in :!st as "e a *a0s &i&6 @e to & "er "e *as :!st ,eing a gent e/an6 @e 1ne* it *as ,e%a!se "e a *a0s got a itt e g i/pse o2 so/e pri/e eg as s"e % i/,e& insi&e6 ?2 %o!rse it "e pe& t"at s"e *as %o/p ete 0 ignorant o2 "is not7so7inno%ent ga/e6 =So+= "e sai&+ *at%"ing as s"e p!t t"e ,ag *it" t"e ,oo1 on t"e passenger seat6 =Do 0o! 2ee ,etter-= S"e no&&e&6 =.!%"6 T"an1s6= @e g an%e& at "is *at%"6 =3"at &o 0o! 2ee !p 2or- So/e pri/o C!,an or sea2oo&-= S"e t*iste& "er ips6 =)%t!a 0+ I9/ not ;er0 "!ngr06 I t"o!g"t I9& :!st go "o/e an& %a it an ear 0 nig"t6= .i%"ae narro*e& "is ga<e6 Ta 1 a,o!t not so inno%ent K0ra "a& to ,e one o2 t"e *orst iars "e9& e;er /et 3"i%"+ o2 %o!rse+ *as 0et anot"er reason *"0 s"e *as so en&earing6 =>oo1 t"at goo&+ "!"-= @er a!g"ter so!n&e& !nnat!ra 0 "!s10 in t"e /oist nig"t air6 =Ho "o/e an& n!1e so/et"ing+ .i%"ae 6 I9 see 0o! at *or1 in t"e /orning6= @e "esitate& t"en 2ina 0 p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ *"ere "e *as eaning on t"e &oor6 =?1a06 9Nig"t6= S"e graspe& "is "an&+ "er s1in re/ar1a, 0 "ot6 @e g an%e& at "er6 =T"an1s6 Go! 1no*+ 2or t"is6= =3"at are 2rien&s 2or-= =@//6= S"e see/e& to gi;e "i/ a on%e7o;er6 =3"at+ in&ee&-= T"en s"e starte& t"e .!stang an& p! e& a*a0+ not e;en gi;ing "i/ t"e itt e *a;e s"e nor/a 0 &i&6 .i%"ae r!,,e& "is %"in+ t"en starte& *a 1ing to*ar& "is SDI6 3"0 &i& "e 2ee as t"o!g" K0ra "a& :!st ,ro1en so/e sort o2 !nspo1en %o&e ,et*een t"e/- )n& *"0 &i& "e ,ot" &rea& an& %e e,rate t"e possi,i it0-

C"apter 2 K#$ ?1a0+ so/et"ing &e2inite 0 *as not rig"t6 T"e 2o o*ing e;ening+ .i%"ae *o;e "is SDI t"ro!g" r!s"7"o!r tra22i%+ "eat rising in *a;es 2ro/ t"e si<< ing asp"a t+ t"i%1 , a%1 stor/ % o!&s gat"ering on t"e "ori<on6 @e s a//e& on t"e ,ra1es to a;oi& ra//ing a %ar t"at "a& %!t "i/ o22 2ro/ t"e 2ront an& pra0e& t"e g!0 ri&ing "is ,!/per *o! &n9t "it "i/ 2ro/ ,e"in&6 .i%"ae , e* o!t a ong ,reat"6 3rang ing *it" tra22i% *as not "e ping "is &ar1 /oo&6 @e9& "a& an o&& sensation in "is g!t e;er sin%e "e9& *at%"e& K0ra &ri;e o22 2ro/ t"e ,oo1store6 )n& t"at 2ee ing "a& on 0 gaine& /o/ent!/ sin%e t"en6 @e9& gotten "er ans*ering /a%"ine *"en "e9& %a e& to %"e%1 on "er ast nig"t6 )n& e;er0 ti/e "e9& &!%1e& into "er o22i%e t"ro!g"o!t t"e &a0+ s"e9& "a& "er nose st!%1 in t"at ,oo16 S"e9& sti re2!se& to et "i/ see it6 )n& t"e paper ,ag s"e9& tape& to t"e %o;er on 0 ent a /ore /0sterio!s 5!a it0 to t"e "ar&,a%16 T"en *"en "e9& stoppe& ,0 "er o22i%e to see i2 s"e *ante& to go 2or a %!p o2 %o22ee a2ter *or1+ "e9& &is%o;ere& s"e9& e2t an "o!r ear ier6 3"at in t"e "e *as t"e /atter *it" "er- 3as s"e !pset *it" "i/- S"e &i&n9t see/ to ,e6 In 2a%t+ s"e &i&n9t see/ to ,e a t"at !pset a,o!t Craig @o so/ an& t"eir ,rea1!p+ eit"er6 3"i%" *as o&&er sti 6 It !s!a 0 too1 "er a goo& ong *ee1 o2 /oping+ /o%1 &epression+ an& /arat"on eating to get o;er a ,rea1!p+ e;en i2 t"e re ations"ip itse 2 "a& on 0 aste& t"e sa/e a/o!nt o2 ti/e6 @e :!st &i&n9t get it6 )n eAit ra/p e/erge& to "is rig"t+ a ne* s"opping %o/p eA ,e%1oning "i/ 2ro/ ,e0on&6 @e s*er;e& to get o22 t"e %ro*&e& "ig"*a06 .a0,e "e9& gi;en !p too easi 0 ast nig"t6 .a0,e s"e9& nee&e& "i/6 .a0,e "e9& rea& t"e signa s *rong an& s"e9& spent t"e nig"t *as"ing "er pi o* *it" tea/6 T"e t"o!g"t /a&e "is :a* % en%"6 Craig @o so/+ an& t"e &o<en or so t"at "a& %o/e ,e2ore "i/+ &i&n9t &eser;e an "o!r o2 K0ra9s %o/pan0+ /!%" ess a sing e one o2 "er tears6 ) pint o2 >en L Cerr09s6 T"at s"o! & get K0ra to open !p to "i/6 Te "i/ *"at *as going on6 @e 5!i%1 0 stoppe& ,0 a near,0 store+ /a&e t"e p!r%"ase+ t"en pointe& t"e SDI in t"e &ire%tion o2 "er apart/ent %o/p eA6 3it"in t*ent0 /in!tes "e stoo& on t"e se%on&72 oor an&ing+ 1no%1ing on "er &oor6 =K0ra-= "e %a e& t"ro!g" t"e o &+ neon7pin17painte& &oor6 No response6

@e gri/a%e&6 @er .!stang *as par1e& at t"e %!r,+ so "e 1ne* s"e "a& to ,e "o/e6 =I 1no* 0o!9re in t"ere+ so 0o! /ig"t as *e open !p6= ?2 %o!rse+ t"ere *as t"e possi,i it0 t"at s"e9& a rea&0 rep a%e& @o so/ *it" t"e neAt :er1 on "er ist6 T"e t"o!g"t ,ot"ere& "i/ /ore t"an it s"o! & "a;e6 4ar /ore6 @e %!rse& !n&er "is ,reat" an& 1no%1e& again6 =Do 0o! /in&J So/e peop e are tr0ing to *at%"Wheel of Fortune! Keep it &o*n !p t"ereJ= t"e an& a&0 *"o i;e& a 2 oor ,e o* ,e o*e& !p t"e stairs6 =T"is ain9t no ,or&e o6= Not t"at 0o! %o! & te ,0 "er ang!age+ .i%"ae t"o!g"t6 @e stare& &o*n t"e *in&ing stair*e rig"t into .rs6Ka/ins109s too7t"in+ aging 2a%e6 @e a *a0s 2o!n& it "ar& to ,e ie;e t"at s!%" a *in&o*7s"attering ;oi%e %o! & %o/e 2ro/ s!%" a s/a pa%1age6 =Sorr0+ .rs6 K6+ I9 tr0 to ,e /ore 5!iet6= =Go! &o t"atJ= s"e 0e e&+ near 0 , o*ing ,a%1 "is "air6 .i%"ae gri/a%e& an& steppe& !p to K0ra9s apart/ent &oor6 3"0 K0ra p!t !p *it" t"e o & ,att e7aA *as ,e0on& "i/6 Strange 0+ s"e see/e& to i1e t"e an& a&09s inter2eren%e6 Per"aps ,e%a!se s"e9& "a& s!%" itt e parenta in;o ;e/ent 2or so /!%" o2 "er i2e6 =K0ra-= "e sai& /ore 5!iet 0+ %!r;ing "is "an& aro!n& t"e &oor1no,6 It t!rne& easi 06 4ig!res s"e9& ea;e "er &oor !n o%1e&6 T"en again+ "e %o! &n9t i/agine an0 t"ie2 *it" t"e g!ts to get past .rs6 Ka/ins106 @e p!s"e& open t"e &oor an& peere& aro!n& t"e %o or2! 0 &e%orate& interior o2 t"e apart/ent6 T"e o & p a%e *as ni%e6 3it" arge+ air0 roo/s an& po is"e& pa e *oo& 2 oors+ t"e one7,e&roo/ apart/ent a /ost /a&e p!tting !p *it" t"e %!r/!&geon 0 o & an& a&0 *ort" it6 ) /ost6 I2 .i%"ae *ere K0ra+ "e9& "a;e /o;e& o!t a ong ti/e ago6 =K0ra-= @e so2t 0 % ose& t"e &oor ,e"in& "i/+ e0eing a ine o2 &is%ar&e& % ot"es ittering t"e 2 oor6 @e 2ro*ne& an& pi%1e& !p t"e s1irt s"e9& ,een *earing ear ier6 K0ra *as 2asti&io!s 0 neat It *asn9t i1e "er to :!st ea;e "er % ot"es 0ing aro!n&' @e pi%1e& !p ea%" ite/ as "e *ent+ t"en peere& into t"e e/pt0 ,e&roo/6 3"ere *as s"e- @is ga<e 2o%!se& on a s/a + e/pt0 ,oA sitting :!st o!tsi&e t"e % ose& ,at"roo/ &oor6 Dropping t"e s1irt+ "e pi%1e& !p t"e ,oA an& 1no%1e& on t"e &oor6 =K0ra+ are 0o! in t"ere-= ) s/a s5!ea to & "i/ t"at s"e *as6 @e t!rne& t"e ,oA aro!n&6 @air &0e- @e gri/a%e&6 3"at in t"e "e *as s"e &oing in t"ereT"e o%1 % i%1e& on t"e &oor an& "e steppe& ,a%1+ eApe%ting "er to %o/e o!t6 @e 5!i%1 0 &is%o;ere& t"at s"e "a&n9t ,een !n o%1ing t"e &oor+ ,!t rat"er o%1ing it+ as i2 a2rai& "e

*o! & %o/e in6 =K0ra+ *"at t"e "e is going on-= "e as1e& t"ro!g" t"e t"i%1 *oo&6 =Ho a*a0+= s"e sai&6 .i%"ae eane& against t"e &oor:a/, an& sig"e&6 =Go!9re !pset *it" /e6 T"at9s it+ isn9t it- T"e reason *"0 0o! &i&n9t *ant to go o!t to eat *it" /e ast nig"t+ *"0 0o! ,are 0 ta 1e& to /e to&a06= =Don9t ,e st!pi&6= @e oo1e& at *"ere "e sti "e & t"e i%e %rea/ in "is ot"er "an& an& %onsi&ere& p!tting it in t"e 2ree<er6 =I2 I sai& so/et"ing to /a1e 0o! angr0 *it" /e+ I apo ogi<e6= =No nee& to apo ogi<e6= =I see6 Is t"at ,e%a!se t"ere isn9t an0t"ing to apo ogi<e 2or- ?r are 0o! sa0ing I s"o! &n9t *aste /0 ti/e ,e%a!se *"at I sai& or &i& *as %o/p ete 0 !n2orgi;a, e-= ) so2t gigg e 2i tere& t"ro!g" t"e *oo&6 @e stare& at t"e &oor+ *on&ering :!st *"at *as so 2!nn06 =K0ra+ %o/e on o!t "ere an& ta 1 to /e6 I9/ not into ta 1ing to &oors6= Si en%e6 D"7o"6 T"is *as *orse t"an "e t"o!g"t6 )n& "e *as at a oss as to *"at to &o neAt6 Not on%e in t"e past 2o!r 0ears "a& "e seen K0ra angr06 In 2a%t+ "e "a&n9t a % !e *"at it oo1e& i1e6 3o! & s"e gigg e i2 s"e *as !pset- @e *o! &n9t &is%o!nt t"e possi,i it06 3e + t"ere "a& ,een t"at ti/e *"en t"e0 *ere in a /a par1ing ot an& a *o/an "a& &!/pe& a 1itten o!t o2 "er %ar /ere 2eet 2ro/ a ,!s0 interse%tion6 K0ra "a& res%!e& t"e s%rap o2 2!r8t"e 2e ine in 5!estion t"at e;en no* a<i 0 %onsi&ere& .i%"ae 2ro/ "is per%" on top o2 t"e si ent te e;ision8an& gi;en t"e *o/an *"at72or6 @e9& a /ost 2orgotten a,o!t t"e in%i&ent ,e%a!se it *as so !n%"ara%teristi% 2or K0ra to ose "er %oo a,o!t an0t"ing6 Go! *ante& to %!t in ine- No pro, e/6 It pro,a, 0 /eant 0o! *ere in /ore o2 a "!rr0 t"an s"e *as6 @e%1+ 0o! /ig"t e;en "a;e a *i2e in a,or *aiting in t"e %ar *"o *o! &n9t go to t"e "ospita !nti 0o! got "er t"at %ase o2 ,eer6 Go! "on1e& 0o!r "orn at "er an& s"e *o! & *a;e at 0o!+ t"in1ing t"e gest!re a greeting rat"er t"an a re,!1e6 .i%"ae sig"e& an& % ose& "is e0es6 T"ere *as no te ing eAa%t 0 *"at *as going t"ro!g" K0ra9s /in&6

S!&&en 0 t"e &oor opene& in*ar&+ ta1ing a*a0 .i%"ae 9s eaning s!pport an& near 0 topp ing "i/ to t"e 2 oor6 =Hi;e a g!0 so/e *arning+ *"0 &on9t 0o!+= "e /!/, e&+ 2ig"ting to straig"ten "i/se 26 ?n 0 on%e "e *as stan&ing+ "e rea i<e& t"at t"e open &oor *asn9t t"e on 0 t"ing to 1no%1 "i/ o22 ,a an%e6 K0ra9s appearan%e a,so !te 0 2 oore& "i/6 EEE =So-= K0ra as1e&+ ,are 0 a, e to %on%ea "er eA%ite/ent as s"e 2or%e& "erse 2 to stan& %o/p ete 0 sti in 2ront o2 .i%"ae 6 =3"at &o 0o! t"in1-= @e st!/, e& ,a%1*ar& a %o!p e o2 steps+ "is /o!t" /o;ing+ a t"o!g" no so!n&s %a/e o!t =I 1no*6 So/et"ing+ isn9t it- I "ar& 0 re%ogni<e& /0se 2 in t"e /irror :!st no*6= )n& s"e "ar& 0 "a&6 3"o 1ne* *"at a &i22eren%e t*o itt e "o!rs %o! & /a1e in so/eone9s i2e- K0ra rea%"e& !p to p !%1 at "er ne* 0 %roppe& "air+ sti 2ee ing ig"t7 "ea&e& ,0 t"e a,sen%e o2 t"e *eig"t o2 "er ong tresses6 >!t s"e "a&n9t stoppe& at t"e s"ort+ sassi 0 st0 e& 9&o6 ?"+ no6 ?n t"e *a0 "o/e 2ro/ t"e sa on s"e9& &e%i&e& s"e9& *ante& to %"ange t"e %o or+ as *e + an& pi%1e& !p one o2 t"ose "o/e &0e 1its6 S"e9& a *a0s ,een %!rio!s a,o!t t"e sa0ing t"at , on&es "a& /ore 2!n6 S"e *ante& to 2in& o!t 2or "erse 2 i2 it *as tr!e6 T"en+ o2 %o!rse+ t"ere *as "er ne* *ar&ro,e6 @a;ing to rep a%e t"e t"ings t"e % eaner "a& ost an0*a0+ s"e9& gone s"opping *it" t"e %"e%1 t"e09& iss!e& to %o;er t"e oss6 >!t s"e9& sta0e& *e a*a0 2ro/ t"e p a%es *"ere s"e !s!a 0 ,o!g"t "er % ot"es6 Instea& s"e9& ;ent!re& into t"e tren&0 itt e s"ops inG,orCit0an& ta1en t"e a&;i%e o2 t"e sa esgir s6 T"e o!t2it s"e "a& on no* *as "er 2a;orite8a "ot7pin1 stret%"0 tan1 top *it" a tig"t itt e /o%17 eopar&7s1in eat"er s1irt6 Tr!e+ so /a0,e s"e9& 2e t as i2 s"e *as in itt e /ore t"an "er !n&er*ear an& *on&ering *"ere t"e rest o2 "er % ot"es *ere *"en s"e9& 2irst trie& t"e ra%0 o!t2it on6 >!t t"e /ore /in!tes t"at "a& ti%1e& ,0+ t"e /ore %o/2orta, e s"e9& 2e t Not on 0 in "er ne* &!&s+ ,!t in "er s1in+ perio&6 )n& t"e ne* % ot"es "e pe& "er /a1e one ;er0 i/portant &is%o;er08 s"e "a& ,reastsJ S!re+ s"e9& a *a0s 1no*n s"e9&had t"e/+ "a& t"e/6 S"e :!st "a&n9t rea i<e& "o* ro!n& an& s/oot" an& seA0 t"e0 *ere6 3"i%" *as p a!si, e ,e%a!se t"e0 *ere !s!a 0 "i&&en !n&er t"ree a0ers o2 % ot"ing an& an !nattra%ti;e s ings"ot o2 a ,ra6 .i%"ae s!&&en 0 oo1e& pa e6 @er s/i e ;anis"e& an& s"e steppe& 2or*ar&+ near 0 tripping o;er t"e 2o!r7in%" "ee s s"e *ore6 ?1a0+ t"ese *o! & ta1e a itt e getting !se& to6 =)re 0o! a rig"t-= s"e as1e&+ g!i&ing "i/ a*a0 2ro/ t"e p ant stan& t"at "e & "er 2a;orite 2ern an& to*ar& t"e %o!%"6 @e p oppe& &o*n onto t"e pa e %!s"ions as t"o!g" "is spine "a& &isappeare&+ an& sat t"ere staring at "er6

S"e gigg e&+ t"e so!n& e/erging 2oreign to "er o*n ears6 S"e &i&n9t gigg e6 In 2a%t+ s"e &i&n9t e;en t"in1 s"e 1ne* "o*6 =I 1no*+ isn9t it so/et"ing- T"e gir at t"e store to & /e"ose ess *as t"e *a0 to go+ ,!t I t"in1 t"e 2is"net sto%1ings /a1e t"e o!t2it6 Don9t 0o!-= =I8I8I8= K0ra p!t "er "an&s on "er "ips+ i1ing t"e 2ee o2 "er ,o&0 ,eneat" t"e seA0 /ateria 6 =Go!'-= =I ' ,ro!g"t 0o! so/e i%e %rea/+= "e %roa1e&+ t"r!sting a ,ag in "er &ire%tion6 =@//+ @a 2 >a1e&+ 27T*iste&6 .0 2a;orite+= s"e sai&6 =>!t I9/ a2rai& i2 I "a;e an0 o2 it rig"t no*+ I9 pop a sea/ or so/et"ing6= =?r ' or so/et"ing+= .i%"ae agree&6 3a 1ing on t"e tips o2 "er toes+ s"e steppe& into t"e 1it%"en an& p!t t"e i%e %rea/ in t"e 2ree<er6 =So-= s"e pro/pte&+ stan&ing in 2ront o2 "i/ again6 =So8= @e % eare& "is t"roat6 =So+ *"at-= S"e ro e& "er e0es to stare at t"e %ei ing6 =Go! &i&n9t ans*er /0 5!estion6 3"at &o 0o! t"in1-= @is &ar1 e0es narro*e& as "e oo1e& e;er0*"ere ,!t at "er6 =?"+ %o/e on+ .i%"ae 6 Boo1 at /e6= =No6= @is 5!i%1 re2!sa /a&e "er a!g"6 =It9s i1e oo1ing at /0 sister na1e&6 I2 I "a& a sister6 3"i%" I &on9t6 >!t seeing as'= @is /o!t" % a/pe& % ose& an& "e %ontin!e& staring at t"e opposite *a 6 =Not eAa%t 0 t"e rea%tion I *as "oping 2or6= @is ga<e s a//e& into "ers6 K0ra near 0 st!/, e& ,a%1*ar& 2ro/ t"e i/pa%t6 ) "eate& 5!estion oo/e& arge in "is &ar1 e0es as "e %onsi&ere& "er6 ) s"i;er ran o;er "er s1in i1e a o;er9s to!%"+ "eating "er , oo& an& /a1ing "er nipp es "ar&en6 S"e s"i2te& "er *eig"t 2ro/ one 2oot to t"e ot"er6 =3"at9s t"e /atter- It9s not i1e 0o! "a;en9t oo1e& at /e ,e2ore6 Go!9;e seen /e in ess t"an t"is p ent0 o2 ti/es6=

=?"+ 0ea"- 3"en-= =3"en *e go to t"e ,ea%"+ 2or starters6= =?"6= S"e s/i e&6 =Go!9re ' 0o!9re'= S"e gest!re& *it" "er "an&6 =I9/'= => on&6= S"e sig"e&6 =Tr!st 0o! to state t"e o,;io!s6 4or a g!0 *"o &esigns "o!ses+ 0o! are %o/p ete 0 !ni/aginati;e in 0o!r persona i2e+ 0o! 1no*-= =Ges+ *e + :!&ging ,0 t"e oo1s o2 0o!+ 0o! "a;e eno!g" i/agination 2or ,ot" o2 !s6= ) rea%tion6 No* t"e0 *ere ta 1ing6 =Do 0o! t"in1 it9s origina - I /ean+ I :!st 1in& o2 *ent *it" /0 g!t6 C"ose t"ings I i1e& instea& o2 *"at I t"o!g"t *o! & ,e appropriate6= S"e s"i;ere& again+ re is"ing t"e <ing o2 &aring r!s"ing t"ro!g" "er ;eins6 S"e "e & !p "er "an&s6 =3ait6 No* t"at I 2ina 0 "a;e 0o!r attention+ I *ant 0o!r %o/p ete opinion6= S*i;e ing aro!n& on t"e "ee s a itt e too 5!i%1 0+ s"e teetere& pre%ario!s 0+ an& rea%"e& 2or so/et"ing to "o & on to6 T"ere *as not"ing6 S"e an&e& s5!are 0 in .i%"ae 9s ap6 )ir r!s"e& 2ro/ K0ra9s !ngs at t"e s!&&en /o;e6 S"e gigg e& an& *rigg e& aro!n& to 2a%e "i/6 )n& i//e&iate 0 ,e%a/e a*are o2 a rea%tion s"e *o! & ne;er "a;e t"o!g"t s"e9& get 2ro/ "i/6 =?"+= s"e /!r/!re&6 =?"J= Ta 1 a,o!t 0o!r s"o%1ers6 Ges+ s"e "a& eApe%te& to s"o%1 .i%"ae 6 >!t s"e "a&n9t eApe%te& to ,e s"o%1e& ,0 "is ' *e + s"o%16 S"e %a!g"t "er ,reat"+ a/a<e& t"at s"e "a& e i%ite& s!%" a rea%tion6 )n& /ore t"an :!st a itt e t"ri e&' EEE ?"+ in&ee&6 )*areness s!rge& t"ro!g" .i%"ae 9s , oo&strea/ i1e an o;erpo*ering &r!g6 E;er0t"ing t"at *as K0ra 2i e& "is senses6 @er s*eet s/e 6 @er so2t "air6 @er e;en so2ter s1in6 @er s en&er+ ;er0 ;o !pt!o!s ,o&06

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t"e e/pat"0 in "is &ar1 e0es *"i e anot"er part o2 "er per1e& !p in %"a enge6 3it" /ore non%"a an%e t"an s"e 2e t+ s"e sai&+ =@ere goes not"ing+= an& &o*ne& t"e 2ier0 a/,er i5!i&6 =@ere goes e;er0t"ing+= .i%"ae sai&+ an& /otione& to Co"n6 =>ring "er a ,eer6= K0ra "e & "er ,reat"+ *aiting 2or t"e ,!rning sensation to pass6 @er e0esteare& + ,!t s"e re2!se& to gi;e in to t"e !rge to %o!g"6 Ho&+ ,!t t"at *as one o2 t"e nastiest t"ings s"e9& e;er taste&6 3"0 &i& peop e %"oose to &rin1 s!%" a*2! st!22S"e ga;e in an& %o!g"e& !nti s"e *as a2rai& "er sto/a%" *o! & en& !p on t"e ,ar in 2ront o2 "er6 )ttra%ti;e t"o!g"t6 =Co/e "ere o2ten-= s"e "ear& a /a e ;oi%e sa0 at "er e ,o*6 ) gigg e t"at s"o%1e& e;en K0ra ,!,, e& !p 2ro/ "er t"roat at t"e terri, e %o/e7on ine6 =) t"e ti/e6= S"e g an%e& at t"e /an in 5!estion6 S"e9& seen "i/ in t"e % !, a n!/,er o2 ti/es+ ,!t "a& ne;er ta 1e& to "i/6 3or& "a& it t"at "e *or1e& at t"e ins!ran%e agen%0 !p t"e *a06 =>!<< o22+ ,!&&0+= .i%"ae sai&6 K0ra e ,o*e& "i/ an& t!rne& "er attention to t"e ot"er /an6 =I9/ K0ra 3"ite+= s"e sai&+ eAten&ing "er "an&6 T"e /an *ari 0 e0e& .i%"ae + t"en too1 "er "an&6 =C"ar ie S%"*art<9s t"e na/e+ ins!ran%e is /0 ga/e6= =Ni%e to /eet 0o!+ C"ar ie6= @is ga<e ,!&ge& s o* 0 2ro/ .i%"ae ,a%1 to "er an& "e eane& 2or*ar&6 =3"o9s t"at-= S"e :a,,e& a t"!/, in .i%"ae 9s &ire%tion6 =3"o+ "i/- Go! /ean asi&e 2ro/ ,eing a /a:or pain t"e ,!tt-= S"e s/i e& at ,ot" /en+ earning a s%o* 2ro/ .i%"ae an& a grin 2ro/ C"ar ie6 =@e9s /0 ,est 2rien&6= C"ar ie si& e& !p a itt e % oser to "er6 =So!n&s i1e a position I /ig"t ,e intereste& in6= =Hi;e /e a ,rea1+= .i%"ae sai&6 K0ra rea%"e& 2or t"e ,eer t"e 9ten&er "a& p!t in 2ront o2 "er6 =3"at- Do 0o! t"in1 0o!9re t"e on 0 /an %apa, e o2 ,eing /0 2rien&-=

=I9/ sa0ing t"at C"ar ie isn9t as intereste& in ,eing 0o!r 2rien& as "e is intereste& in seeing *"at 0o!9re "i&ing !n&er t"at s1irt6= =I "a;e *"at e;er0 ot"er *o/an "as6= .i%"ae e0e& "er &!,io!s 06 =Gea"+ ,!t it9s one "e "asn9t seen ,e2ore6= C"ar ie eane& % oser6 =Can I get 0o! anot"er &rin1-= =Ges6= =No+= .i%"ae sai&6 @e straig"tene& 2ro/ *"ere "e *as eaning against t"e ,ar6 =Sorr0+ C"ar ie+ ,!t t"is gir 9s ta1en6 @it t"e roa&6= K0ra a!g"e&6 Not as a res! t o2 .i%"ae 9s %a;e/an ta%ti%s+ ,!t ,e%a!se o2 t"e p"rase "e9& !se&6 =Sorr0+ C"ar ie6= S"e "a&n9t "ear& t"ose *or&s paire& !p sin%e t"at %o//er%ia 6 3"at *as it 2or- T!na- S"e %o! &n9t re/e/,er6 S"e sippe& "er ,eer+ s"r!gging *"en C"ar ie ga;e "er a 5!estioning ga<e6 =It *as ni%e to /eet 0o!+ C"ar ie6= EEE .i%"ae trie& to %o;er K0ra *it" "is :a%1et ,!t *as t"*arte& again ,0 a si/p e s"r!g o2 t"ose s/oot"+ great7s/e ing s"o! &ers6 =3o! & 0o! stop-= s"e sai& *it" a &eep sig"+ t"o!g" t"e t*in1 e in "er green e0es to & "i/ s"e *as t"oro!g" 0 en:o0ing "is attentions6 =Not !nti 0o! eit"er agree to %o;er !p or ea;e6= S"e t!gge& at t"e "e/ o2 t"at tin0 s1irt+ %a ing "is attention to t"e egs it ,are 0 %o;ere&6 @e % eare& "is t"roat an& t!rne& "is "ea& a*a0+ tr0ing i1e "e to ignore t"e "eat sprea&ing t"ro!g" "is groin6 K0ra t!gge& on "is s"irts ee;e in p a02! re,!1e6 =3"at is it *it" 0o! tonig"t+ an0*a0-= @e s%o* e& at "er6 =I &on9t get *"at 0o! /ean6= =4irst 0o! tr0 to stop /e 2ro/ ea;ing t"e apart/ent+ t"en 0o! %ontin!a 0 tr0 to %o;er /e !p+ an& no* 0o!9re %"asing peop e a*a0 2ro/ /e6 Go!9;e ne;er &one an0t"ing i1e t"is ,e2ore6= =Gea"+ *e + I %o! & sa0 t"at 0o!9;e ne;er &one an0t"ing i1e t"is ,e2ore+ eit"er+= "e sai& !n&er "is ,reat"6 =)n& t"ose peop e 0o! re2erre& to aren9t peop e6 T"e09re &ogs6=

@er ,!rst o2 a!g"ter 2!rt"er irritate& "i/6 @e r!,,e& t"e ,a%1 o2 "is ne%1 an& i2te& "is ,ott e+ on 0 to 2in& "e9& e/ptie& it6 @e raise& "is ,ro*s an& o*ere& t"e a/,er g ass ,a%1 to t"e ,ar6 =Go! &on9t get it+ &o 0o!- E;en a2ter a t"ese 0ears+ an& a t"e :er1s 0o!9;e gone o!t *it"+ 0o! &on9t "a;e a % !e "o* t"e /a e /in& *or1s6= K0ra sat !p a itt e straig"ter+ t"enre%rosse& "er egs6 =3e + t"en+ /a0,e 0o! s"o! & e&!%ate /e6= E&!%ate "er6 @e &i&n9t *ant to e&!%ate "er6 @e *ante& to ta1e "er "o/e an& o%1 "er !p in "er apart/ent+ a one+ !nti s"e %a/e to "er senses6 =Ta1e t"at g!0+ 2or eAa/p e6= =D"7"!"6= =@e *asn9t intereste& in ,eing 0o!r 2rien&6 @e *as intereste& in %"e%1ing into t"e nearest /ote roo/ *it" 0o!6= =3"0 not "is p a%e-= =>e%a!se "is *i2e9s pro,a, 0 at "is p a%e6= @e %o! & te ,0 t"e *i&ening o2 "er %"ar%oa 7ri//e& e0es t"at s"e "a&n9t noti%e& t"e *e&&ing ,an& t"e i&iot "a&n9t ,ot"ere& to ta1e o22 ,e2ore approa%"ing K0ra6 =Hot 0o!6= S"e /a&e a 2a%e at "i/6 =I :!st s*appe& na/es *it" t"e g!0+ .i%"ae 6 Not p"one n!/,ers6= =?n 0 ,e%a!se I %"ase& "i/ o226= S"e ;is!a 0 ,rist e&6 =)n& "o* &o 0o! 1no* t"at &oesn9t :!st pro;e /0 point8"e *asn9t intereste& in /e seA!a 0+ ,!t *as on 0 see1ing o!t a /a e72e/a e 2rien&s"ip-= =>e%a!se t"e t0pe o2 /a e72e/a e 2rien&s"ips t"at g!09s a2ter in% !&e so/e eAtra%!rri%! ar a%ti;ities6= =Bi1e tennis-= =I2 it in% !&es a ,e&+ 0es6= =>e& tennis6 So!n&s interesting6= .i%"ae % eare& "is t"roat6 =)n& s"ort7 i;e&6= K0ra %rosse& "er ar/s !n&er "er ne* 0 2o!n& ,reasts6 .i%"ae 9s ga<e 2o o*e& t"e /o;e/ent+ no /atter "o* "ar& "e 2o!g"t not to oo16 =I9/ getting t"e &istin%t i/pression

0o! &on9t i1e /0 ne* oo1+ .i%"ae 6= @e , in1e& at "er6 @e o;e& it6 @e "ate& it6 @e or&ere& anot"er ,eer6 =I2 I &i&n9t t"in1 t"e so e intent o2 it *as to get ,a%1 at a %ertain so/eone+ I *o! &n9t /in& a ,it6= @e narro*e& "is e0es+ *at%"ing as "er s1in pa e&6 =@o* &i& 0o! 1no*-= s"e as1e& 5!iet 06 =>e%a!se I 1no* 0o!6= =)n& 0o!9re sa0ing /0 ne* oo1 is not /e6= =I9/ sa0ing t"at 0o! %an ,e *"ate;er 0o! *ant to ,e+ K0ra6 >!t &on9t %"ange 2or so/e :er1 *"o "asn9t a % !e "o* /!%" 0o!9re *ort"6= ) t"o!g"t2! s"a&o* entere& "er e0es6 .i%"ae gri/a%e& an& oo1e& t"e ot"er *a0+ g aring at t"e g!0 neAt to "i/ *"o *as a so appre%iating K0ra9s &isp a0e& assets6 =)n& "o* /!%" a/ I *ort"-= s"e as1e&+ "er *or&s a /ere *"isper in t"e o!& roo/6 @e a%%epte& a 2res" ,eer6 =3"at-= =Co/e on6 Go! "ear& /e+ .i%"ae 6 )n& 0o! 1no* eAa%t 0 *"at I9/ ta 1ing a,o!t6= 3e + "e9& %ertain 0 steppe& straig"t into t"at one+ "a&n9t "e=Bet9s :!st sa0+ /ore t"an ten o2 t"e :er1s 0o!9;e &ate& in t"e past 2o!r /ont"s %o/,ine&6= =T"at /!%"-= =.ore+= "e sai& ,e2ore "e %o! & %onsi&er t"e *is&o/ o2 t"e a&/ission6 =I see6= K0ra t!rne& "er attention ,a%1 to "er o*n ,are 0 to!%"e& ,eer+ r!nning "er p!rp e7tippe& 2ingernai s !p an& &o*n t"e ,ott e+ t"en t!gging at t"e a,e 6 D"7o"6 @e "ate& *"en s"e got 5!iet i1e t"is6 .ain 0 ,e%a!se it /eant s"e *as 2or/! ating a 5!estion "e *o! & ,e tota 0 !nprepare& to ans*er6 =I9/ "!ngr0+= "e anno!n%e&+ ta1ing a 2e* ,i s o!t o2 "is po%1et an& 2 i%1ing t"e/ on t"e ,ar6 =Bet9s sa0 *e go get so/et"ing to eat6= K0ra ai& a "an& on "is ar/6 =I sa0 *e sta0 an& ta 1 a,o!t 0o!r o;e i2e+ instea&6= ?"+ "e 6 T"ere it *as6

=3"en9s t"e ast ti/e 0o! *ent o!t *it" so/eone+ .i%"ae -= s"e as1e&6 =3"at9s t"at got to &o *it" t"e pri%e o2 ,eer-= S"e s"r!gge&+ :igg ing t"ose s*eet s*e s o2 2 es"6 =@e0+ i2 /0 o;e i2e is open 2or &is%!ssion+ so is 0o!rs6= =?r a%1 t"ereo2+= "e /!ttere&6 =EAa%t 0 /0 point6= @e stare& a%ross t"e ,ar at t"e ,ott es ine& !p against t"e /irror6 =Ke 0 Ca%1son6= =?ne &inner &oesn9t %o!nt6= =Pene ope St6 C air6= S"e no&&e&6 =?1a06 Ges+ 0o! &i& go o!t *it" "er a 2e* ti/es6 ),o!t a 0ear ago6 Dnti s"e+ i1e e;er0one e se 0o!9;e gone o!t *it"+ got tire& o2 r!nning se%on& 2i&& e to 0o!r %areer6= =Ges+ *e + /a0,e I "a;en9t 2o!n& a *o/an as &ri;en to s!%%ee& as I a/6= =3"at a,o!t CanetPa /ieri - P"0 is sai& 0o! t*o "a& gone o!t a ti/e or t*o ,e2ore I "ire& on at t"e 2ir/6= @is partner- @e gri/a%e&6 Tr!st t"e r!/or7/ongering se%retar0 to 2i K0ra in on t"at !n*ort"0 pie%e o2 gossip6 =T*o &inners6 Not *ort" /entioning6= =.a0,e t"at9s ,e%a!se 0o!9re not *i ing to p!t t"e ti/e 0o! p!t into 0o!r %areer+ into 0o!r persona i2e6= =@e0+ I p!t ti/e into o!r 2rien&s"ip6= S"e s/i e&6 =Gea"+ 0o! &o6 C!rio!s 2a%t+ t"at6= =@o* &o 0o! /ean-= =.i%"ae + *"0 "a;en9t 0o! an& I e;er gone o!t-=3"oa6Dangero!s 5!estion6 @e to & "i/se 2 to 1eep it ig"t6 Big"t *as goo&6 @esitating *as ,a&6 @e "e & "er ga<e *it"o!t , in1ing6 =Co/e on+ K0ra6 3e go o!t a t"e ti/e6 3e9re o!t no*6= =T"at9s not *"at I /ean6= S"e %ontin!e& to /!ti ate t"e a,e on "er ,eer ,ott e6 =3"0 "a;en9t 0o! e;er as1e& /e o!t-=

=3"at-= @e near 0 %"o1e& on "is o*n tong!e6 =Go! "ear& /e6 Go!6 .e6 3"0 "a;en9t *e e;er &ate&-= =3e *or1 toget"er6 )n& ,esi&es+ I9/ not 0o!r t0pe6= =@o* &o 0o! 1no*-= @e trie& to 2ig!re o!t *"ere s"e *as going *it" t"is6 =>e%a!se 0o!9;e ne;er as1e& /e o!t6= =@a7"a6= @e trie& to %o;er "er !p *it" "is :a%1et again6 =Tr0 t"at one /ore ti/e an& I9/ going to so%1 0o!6= .i%"ae 2ro<e+ i//e&iate 0 re%ogni<ing t"e t"reat in "er e0es6 )t so/e point in t"e %on;ersation+ s"e9& gro*n serio!s6 )n& "er eApression re2 e%te& t"at6 3as it *"en s"e9& as1e& *"0 "e9& ne;er as1e& "er o!t on adate&ate - @e9& "a<ar& a 0es6 >!t t"at *as a 5!estion "e *asn9t !p to ans*ering rig"t no*6 Si/p 0 ,e%a!se "e *as as1ing "i/se 2 t"e sa/e 5!estion6 )not"er app i%ant 2or:er1"oo& si& e& !p ,esi&e K0ra at t"e ,ar6 .i%"ae 9s 2ingers tig"tene& on "is :a%1et as "e /o;e& to p a%e it a%ross t"e ,a%1 o2 t"e stoo 6 T"e g!0 in a too *"ite s!it t"at s%rea/e& =nort"ern transp ant= t!gge& on "is ape s an& grinne& s!ggesti;e 0 at K0ra6 =I9;e :!st %o/e to a %on% !sion a,o!t so/et"ing6= K0ra t!rne& "er attention to t"e g!0 an& s/i e&6 =?"-= =I9;e &e%i&e& t"at I *ant to %o/e ,a%1 in /0 neAt i2e as t"at s1irt6= .i%"ae % en%"e& "is :a* at t"e o,;io!s %o/e7on6 )n& near 0 gro!n& "is ,a%1 teet" to a p! p *"en "e "ear& K0ra9s eas0 a!g"ter in response6 S"e a!n%"e& into an eAp anation a,o!t "o* s"e %a/e a,o!t *earing t"e tig"t+ s"in0+ sorr0 eA%!se 2or a s1irt to t"e stranger+ opening t"e &oor to %on;ersation e;en 2!rt"er6 .i%"ae 9s patien%e t"er/o/eter e&ge& !p *it" ea%" se%on& t"at passe&6 i2 I to!%" it-= t"e atest :er1 sai&6 =I9;e ne;er seen an0t"ing 5!ite i1e it6= =?"+ s!re+= K0ra sai&6

.i%"ae snat%"e& t"e g!09s "an& a*a0 ,e2ore "e %o! & /a1e %onta%t *it" t"e eat"er6 =T"in1 again+ /oron6= =.i%"ae J= K0ra stare& at "i/ in open s"o%16 =Co/e on+= "e sai&+ p anting "is :a%1et o;er "er s"o! &ers a ong *it" "is "an&s6 3"en s"e trie& to *rigg e a*a0+ "e tig"tene& "is 2ingers !nti s"e ga;e a itt e 0e p o2 pain6 =3e9re getting o!t o2 "ere6= =.i%"ae ' o"J= @e pra%ti%a 0 "a! e& "er o22 t"e ,arstoo + te ing "i/se 2 "e &i&n9t %are i2 s"e ,ro1e an an1 e *"en s"e st!/, e& in t"ose seA08ri&i%! o!s "ee s6 @e &i&n9t stop !nti t"e0 *ere stan&ing o!tsi&e t"e &oor+ /!%" as t"e0 "a& t"e nig"t ,e2ore+ ,!t t"is ti/e 2or entire 0 &i22erent reasons6 =I %an9t ,e ie;e 0o! :!st &i& t"at+= K0ra sai&+ "er 2a%e 2 !s"e&+ spar1s ig"ting "er re/ar1a, e green e0es6 =Gea"+ *e + ,e ie;e it+= "e sai&+ a o*ing "er to s"r!g o!t o2 t"e :a%1et no* t"at t"e0 *ere o!tsi&e in t"e t"i%1 )!g!st "eat6 =It *as eit"er t"at or I *as going to "it t"e g!06= @e eane& % oser to "er6 =Don9t te /e 0o! ,o!g"t t"at st!pi& %o/e7on ine6= S"e t"r!st o!t "er %"in+ p!tting "er 2a%e e;en % oser to "is6 =It *as origina 6 )n& "e *as ni%e6= =@e *as a :er16= =3e rig"t no*+ 0o!9re t"e on 0 one a%ting i1e a8= .i%"ae *asn9t s!re "o*+ *"en or *"0 it "a& "appene&6 ?ne /o/ent "e9& ,een arg!ing *it" "er+ t"e neAt "is ga<e "a& 2astene& on "er ani/ate& /o!t"+ an& "e9& ,een 2i e& *it" s!%" an !rgent nee& to 1iss "er t"at "e ' *e + "e &i&6 )n& t"e instant "is ips /et "ers+ "e 1ne* "e *as a goner6 So/e"o* "e9& a *a0s 1no*n+ &eep &o*n insi&e+ t"at 1issing K0ra *o! & ,e a i2e7 a tering e;ent6 S"e9& ,itten /ost o2 "er s"in0 ip g oss a*a0+ ea;ing on 0 t"e s/oot"+ p !/p teAt!re o2 "er ips6 So 2! 6 So *ar/6 So in;iting6 So &a/n irresisti, e6 @er e0es *ere *i&e an& 2! o2 &is,e ie26 >!t .i%"ae %o! &n9t "e p "i/se 26 3it" a so2t groan "e t"rea& "is 2ingers t"ro!g" "er spi10 , on& "air an& "a! e& "er % oser+ s"!&&ering *"en s"e *ent ,one ess against "i/+ "er ips parte&+ "er tong!e &arting o!t as i2 in anti%ipation o2 "is neAt 1iss6 EEE

3o*' K0ra opene& !p !n&er t"e assa! t o2 .i%"ae 9s &e%a&ent /o!t"6 T"e e5!i;a ent o2 a 4o!rt" o2 C! 0 2ire*or1s &isp a0 eAp o&e& in "er /in&+ t"e neAt ,!rst ,igger t"an t"e ast+ !nti "er toes %!r e& !p tig"t in "er "ig"7"ee e& san&a s6 ) s"e %o! & t"in1 *as t"at it *as a goo& t"ing .i%"ae *as "o &ing "er !p or s"e *o! & "a;e %o apse& to t"e si&e*a 1 in a p!&& e o2 stea/ing !st6 ?"+ s!re+ s"e9& o2ten ti/es *on&ere& *"at it *o! & ,e i1e to 1iss .i%"ae 6 >!t t"at *as !s!a 0 *"en s"e *as in ,e& ,0 "erse 2 ate at nig"t+ rea&ing "er atest 2a;orite ro/an%e no;e 6 )n& i2 s"e got a itt e %arrie& a*a0 in t"e s"o*er 2ro/ ti/e to ti/e *it" t"o!g"ts o2 .i%"ae 9s grinning 2a%e r!nning t"ro!g" "er /in&+ *e t"at *as ,et*een "er an& "er "an&"e & s"o*er /assager6 >!t t"e rea t"ing ' *o*J T"e rea t"ing *as pro;ing to ,e ,etter t"an an0t"ing e;en "er 2a;orite ro/an%e no;e ist %o! & "a;e %oo1e& !p6 )s .i%"ae 9s tong!e p !n&ere& "er a too *i ing /o!t"+ s"e t"o!g"t ea%" an& e;er0 one o2 "er %e s *o! & 2!se into t"e neAt !nti s"e *asn9t so /!%" a separate entit0 ,!t rat"er a p"0si%a part o2 t"e /an 1issing "er6 >e"in& "er+ t"e &oor opene&+ %a!sing .i%"ae 9s s"a&o*0 &ar1 e0es to open a ong *it" it6 ) spar1 o2 re%ognition see/e& to "it "i/ at t"e sa/e ti/e it "it "er an& t"e0 :!/pe& a*a0 2ro/ ea%" ot"er as i2 ,!rne&6 3"i%" *asn9t so 2ar 2ro/ t"e tr!t"+ K0ra t"o!g"t as s"e 2o!g"t to %at%" "er r!na*a0 ,reat"6 3"at s"e9& 2e t+ *"i e "e & so % ose to "i/+ "a& %o/e ;er0 % ose to t"e sensation o2 ,eing ,!rne&6 )n& it *asn9t going a*a06 =I %an9t ,e ie;e I :!st &i& t"at+= .i%"ae sai&+ pa%ing a s"ort &istan%e o22+ t"en ,a%1 again6 @e stare& at "er as i2 oo1ing 2or so/e sort o2 eAp anation on "er 2a%e+ ,!t a s"e %o! & &o *as &rag t"e ,a%1 o2 "er "an& s !ggis" 0 against "er ;er07*e 71isse& ips6 =) I9;e got to sa0 is t"at *"oe;er ta!g"t 0o! "o* to 1iss ' *e + t"e0 &i& a rea 0+ rea 0 goo& :o,6= )/!se/ent ,rie2 0 ,a%1 it "is &ar1 e0es+ /a1ing t"e/ e;en /ore attra%ti;e6 )n& &angero!s6 =Go!9re not too s"a,,0+ eit"er6= =Cason .onroe6 4irst gra&e6= =Ear 0 starter+ *eren9t 0o!-= =?"+ 0ea"6 I ne;er ea;e an0 stone !nt!rne&6= )t east s"e !s!a 0 &i&n9t6 >!t e;en as s"e ga*1e& at .i%"ae + s"e rea i<e& s"e *as

staring at one o2 t"e ,iggest stones s"e9& e;er en%o!ntere&+ s/a%17&a, in 2ront o2 "er6 )n&+ o"+ ,o0+ &i& s"e e;er *ant to t!rn it o;er6 Con2!sion *arre& *it" nee& in K0ra9s ting ing ,o&06 .i%"ae "a& a *a0s :!st ,een "er ,est 2rien&6 @e *asn9t attra%te& to "er6 S"e *asn9t attra%te& to "i/6 )t east t"at9s *"at t"e09& a *a0s to & ea%" ot"er6 E;en i2 .i%"ae 9s /o!t" "a& :!st *"ispere& so/et"ing a toget"er &i22erent to "er6 )n& &espite t"e nee& r!s"ing t"ro!g" "er ,o&0+ so t"i%1 an& so a 7%ons!/ing s"e 2e t &i<<06 B!st6 P!re an& si/p e6 T"at9s *"at it *as ,et*een t"e/6 )2ter a + "o* ong *ere t*o attra%ti;e+ i1e7/in&e& peop e s!ppose& to ,e aro!n& ea%" ot"er *it"o!t so/et"ing "appeningCo! & it ,e t"at .i%"ae *ante& to see *"at s"e *as "i&ing !n&er "er s1irt+ as *e @e ran "is "an& t"ro!g" "is "air an& sig"e&+ "is eApression %on%erne& e;en *"i e &esire s"one 2ro/ t"e &ept"s o2 "is e0es6 =3"at sa0 *e 2orget t"at :!st "appene&+ "!"-= S"e no&&e& n!/, 06 4orget t"at it "appene&6 So!n&e& i1e a p an to "er6 (ig"t no*+ s"e &i&n9t "a;e t"e /enta %apa%it0 to t"in1 ,e0on& t"at6 )n& s"e *as re ie;e& t"at .i%"ae "a& %o/e !p *it" a so !tion6 S"e *as a so a ta& &isappointe&6 ?1a0+ /a0,e /ore t"an a ta&6 .a0,e a &ar1+ 5!iet part o2 "er *is"e& "e *o! & p!s" "er !p against t"e ro!g" st!%%o *a o2 t"e ,ar an& ta1e "er rig"t t"en an& t"ere6 Hi;e "er a 2! %ras" %o!rse on *"at e se s"e "a& /issing o!t on ,0 1eeping .i%"ae as "er 2rien& instea& o2 "er o;er6 S"e s"i;ere&+ e;en t"o!g" it *as so "ot o!tsi&e+ ten&ri s o2 "er "air st!%1 to "er &a/p ne%16 .i%"ae 9s ga<e &roppe& to t"e 2ront o2 "er s"irt+ no &o!,t oo1ing at *"ere "er nipp es *ere "ar& an& a%"0+ pressing against t"e 2ront o2 "er tan1 top i1e t*o "eat7 see1ing /issi es *it" "i/ as t"e target6 @is ga<e *as i1e a %aress+ 2 !ttering o;er "er ,are 0 %on%ea e& ,o&0 an& !rging "er s"i;er into a 2! 7o!t s"!&&er t"at near 0 s"oo1 "er % ear o22 "er "ee s6 .er%06 @e 2ina 0 t!rne& "is "ea& a*a0 an& o!& 0 % eare& "is t"roat as /ore patrons eAite& t"e ,ar6 )s t"e strangers ,egan *a 1ing in t"e opposite &ire%tion+ t"e repetiti;e so!n& o2 t"eir s"oes on t"e pa;e/ent see/e& to /i/i% t"e t"i%1 %a&en%e o2 K0ra9s ,eating "eart6 =Co/e on+ et9s get o!t o2 "ere+= .i%"ae sai&+ ta1ing "er ar/ an& ea&ing "er to*ar& t"e par1ing ot6 C"apter 4 K#$ Se%tion II:

>e t"e part+ &on9t :!st p a0 it

.i%"ae "a&n9t gotten a *in1 o2 s eep ast nig"t6 @e9& ain in t"e t*iste& s"eets+ stare& at t"e %ei ing an& trie& to /a1e so/e sort o2 sense o!t o2 *"at "a& "appene& o;er t"e past 2ort07eig"t "o!rs6 )n& no* "is a%1 o2 s eep *as s"o*ing6 It *as nearnoonon a 4ri&a0 an& "e9& re*or1e& t"e sa/e seg/ent on t"e s%"e/ati% at east 2i;e ti/es+ see/ing 0 !na, e to &ra* a straig"t ine6 @e %a!g"t t"e iron06 @e %o! &n9t see/ to /o;e 2ro/ point ) to > in "is persona i2e+ eit"er+ so *"0 s"o! & "is pro2essiona i2e ,e an0 &i22erent)n& t"at *as t"e pro, e/+ *asn9t it- Ne;er "a& "e a o*e& "is persona i2e to inter2ere *it" *"at *ent on at t"e 2ir/6 @is partners o%%asiona 0 "a& so/et"ing or ot"er %o/e !p6 ) *ee1en& eAten&e& *"i e on ;a%ation6 ) /isse& appoint/ent ,e%a!se a persona !n%" "a& gone ong6 >!t not "i/6 Ne;er "i/6 @e too1 %are to /a1e s!re t"at *"at *ent on at "o/e &i&n9t i/pa%t "is :o, per2or/an%e6 It9s *"at "e pe& /a1e t"e 2ir/ *"at it *as to&a06 )n& it "a& 1ept "is i2e si/p e an& !n%o/p i%ate&6 @e ,r!s"e& o22 t"e s%"e/ati% on t"e &ra2ting ta, e in 2ront o2 "i/ t"en sat ,a%1 an& sig"e&6 =@o 0 s"it+= "e "ear& one o2 t"e :!nior ar%"ite%ts eA% ai/ 2ro/ t"e ta, e a%ross t"e narro* "a *a0 neAt to "i/6 .i%"ae g an%e& o;er to *at%" t"e t*ent072i;e70ear7o & pra%ti%a 0 reena%t a s%ene 2ro/The Exorcist as "e %rane& "is ne%1 to *at%" one parti%! ar 0 &e%a&ent7 oo1ing K0ra step 2ro/ "er o22i%e an& *a 1 &o*n t"e "a to t"e se%retar09s &es16 T"e , !e pen%i in .i%"ae 9s "an& snappe& % ean 0 in t*o as K0ra ,ent to sa0 so/et"ing to P"0 is+ "er tig"t p!rp e &ress in%"ing !p t"e ,a%1 o2 "er ong+ s en&er egs6 So/eti/e &!ring t"e nig"t+ "e9& %o/2orte& "i/se 2 *it" t"e i1e i"oo& t"at K0ra *o! & "a;e %!re& "erse 2 o2 *"ate;er ri&i%! o!s ,!g "a& /a&e "er &ress !p as s"e "a& an& t"at t"is /orning s"e *o! & ret!rn to t"e o & K0ra "e "a& 1no*n an& o;e& an& %o! & 1eep "is "an&s o226 >!t+ no6 @e9& oo1e& !p 2ro/ "is &ra2ting ta, e s"ort 0 a2ter % o%1ing in to 2in& t*o per10 ,reasts e;en *it" t"e e&ge o2 "is &ra2ting ta, e+ t"e ne%1 ine o2 "er &ress e;en s"orter t"an t"e tan1 top s"e9& *orn ast nig"t )n& t"e t"ree ti/es s"e9& %o/e o!t to see to one t"ing or anot"er+ se;en /a e e/p o0ees "a& gone into a !st7in&!%e& tran%e+ no goo& to an0,o&0 !nti at east ten /in!tes a2ter K0ra *ent ,a%1 into "er o22i%e6 ?2 %o!rse+ "e &i&n9t /iss t"at t"e t"ree 2e/a e e/p o0ees 2ro*ne& a2ter "er /!%" t"e

sa/e *a0 "e *as &oing6 ?n 0 "e s!spe%te& 2or entire 0 &i22erent reasons6 =(ea&0 2or !n%"-= .i%"ae , in1e&+ ,ringing K0ra an& "er ;i;i& p!rp e &ress into 2o%!s6 @eat si<< e& a ong "is ner;e en&ings an& 2or a /in!te+ "e *as a2rai& "e *o! &n9t ,e a, e to get !p6 =B!n%"-= =Gea"+= s"e sai&+ s/i ing6 S"e "a& pin1 ip g oss on to&a06 =It9s 4ri&a06 3e a *a0s go o!t to !n%" on 4ri&a06= =4ri&a06= S"e a!g"e&6 =Eart" to .i%"ae 6= S"e %a/e to stan& neAt to "i/6 =3"at9s t"e /atter@a;ing tro!, e *it" t"e Ne;i e a%%o!nt-= .i%"ae 5!i%1 0 ro e& !p t"e p ans in 2ront o2 "i/ to %on%ea t"e "o es "e9& *orn in t"e paper erasing t"ings6 =)%t!a 0+ K0ra+ I t"in1 0o! an& I nee& to "a;e a itt e ta 16= =Hoo&6 3e %an &o it o;er !n%"6= So/e"o* a nor/a !n%" *it" "er &i&n9t see/ a t"at nor/a an0/ore6 Not oo1ing t"e *a0 s"e &i&6 )n& %ertain 0 not 2ee ing t"e *a0 "e &i&6 =I t"in1 *e s"o! & "a;e t"e ta 1 "ere6= @e got !p 2ro/ t"e %"air6 =Bet9s go to t"e %on2eren%e roo/6= EEE =3"at &o 0o! /ean /0 ne* *ar&ro,e isn9t appropriate 2or *or1-= K0ra gape& at *"ere .i%"ae eane& against t"e %on2eren%e7roo/ ta, e+ "is ar/s %rosse& o;er "is ,roa& %"est6 @is s1in oo1e& e;en &ar1er %ontraste& against t"e sno*0 *"iteness o2 "is ong7s ee;e& s"irt6 @e9& ro e& !p t"e s ee;es+ re;ea ing "is %or&e& 2orear/s an& %risp &ar1 "air6 Tr0 as s"e /ig"t+ s"e9& ,een !na, e to &o as t"e09& agree& an& 2orget t"at ast nig"t9s 1iss "a& ne;er "appene&6 S"e9& a*a1ene& to t"e so!n& o2 .r6Ti,,s9s 0o* ,e%a!se at so/e point+ s"e "a& s5!ee<e& t"e %at to "er %"est+ o,;io!s 0 a itt e too "ar&6 .r6 T6 "a& not ,een "app06 Neit"er "a& s"e+ 2or t"at /atter6 S"e see/e& to ,e itt e /ore t"an a *a 1ing %o e%tion o2 "or/ones+ "er e;er0 t"o!g"t ,eginning an& en&ing *it" .i%"ae 6 S"e "a&n9t ,an1e& onthat *"en s"e9& pi%1e& !pSex itten !"! an& set o!t to rein;ent "erse 26 Ges+ s"e a&/itte&+ s"e "a& ,een st!ng ,0 Craig9s %rass *or&s a,o!t "er a%1 o2 eApertise in ,e&6 )n&+ again 0es+ s"e s!ppose& "er &esire to get ,a%1 at "i/ "a& ,een

so/e*"at at t"e root o2 "er /a1eo;er6 >!t t"e tr!t" *as+ *"ene;er s"e9& oo1e& in t"e /irror ,e2ore+ s"e9& ,are 0 seen "erse 26 Instea& s"e9& seen &etai s6 T"e 2a%t t"at "er teet" nee&e& ,r!s"ing+ "er "air nee&e& tri//ing+ or a <it "a& ,ro1en o!t on "er %"in6 No* *"en s"e oo1e& in t"e /irror+ s"e sa* ' *e + "er6 @er appearan%e sai&+ 3o*J OingJ )n& s"e 2e t ,ot" o2 t"ose *or&s to t"e ,one6 Espe%ia 0 *"en s"e %a!g"t .i%"ae oo1ing at "er as t"o!g" "e *ante& to eat "er *"o e6 T"e pro, e/ *as+ "e *asn9t oo1ing at "er t"at *a0 no*6 No* ' *e + "e oo1e& pisse&6 S"e %rosse& "er ar/s !n&er "er ,reasts6 =No,o&0 e se see/s to "a;e a pro, e/ *it" /0 % ot"es6 I &on9t see *"0 0o! "a;e an iss!e *it" t"e/6= S"e s"i2te& on "er s"oes+ a rea&0 2ee ing /ore %o/2orta, e in t"e "ig" "ee s6 =In 2a%t+ I9;e re%ei;e& no 2e*er t"an t"ree %o/p i/ents t"is /orning6= @e pointe& a 2inger in "er &ire%tion6 =T"at9s /0 point eAa%t 06= =3"at- T"at peop e are %o/p i/enting /e-= =T"at peop e8/a e peop e+ in parti%! ar8are pa0ing attention to 0o! at a 6= =Co/e on+ .i%"ae 6 I9;e *or1e& "ere 2or 2o!r 0ears6 E;er0one "ere is /0 2rien&6= =Go! /ig"t *ant to tr0 as1ing so/e o2 0o!r 2e/a e %o7*or1ers *"at t"e0 t"in1+= "e sai& !n&er "is ,reat"6 =Par&on /e-= =Not"ing6= @e p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ t"e ta, e an& steppe& % oser to t"e &oor6 K0ra %rane& "er ne%1 to see 2o!r near,0 e/p o0ees near 0 2a ing o22 t"eir %"airs to see *"at *as going on in t"e %on2eren%e roo/6 .i%"ae %!rse& !n&er "is ,reat" an& % ose& t"e &oor6 ) &oor t"at *as ne;er % ose&+ e;en &!ring i/portant /eetings6 K0ra s/i e&6 =T"e09re going to t"in1 so/et"ing ' !npro2essiona is going on in "ere6= =3"i%" pro;es /0 point e;en /ore6= =@o* so-= =>e2ore+ t"e t"o!g"t *o! & ne;er "a;e entere& t"eir /in&s6= =Go! /ean+ *"en I *as p ain7Cane 3"ite-= =T"ere *as not"ing p ain a,o!t 0o!+ K0ra+= "e sai& 5!iet 06 =I "appene& to i1e p ain K0ra6=

=3e + I &i&n9t6= @e %o%1e& a ,ro*6 =3e + at east not !nti a2ter I got to 1no* t"e ne* K0ra6= .i%"ae steppe& to t"e si&e,oar& an& po!re& t*o g asses o2 *ater 2ro/ a /eta %ara2e e2t o;er 2ro/ a /orning % ient /eeting6 @e "an&e& "er one t"en too1 a &eep g! p 2ro/ t"e ot"er6 =So is t"is .i%"ae + /0 ,oss+ spea1ing-= s"e as1e&6 =?r .i%"ae + /0 2rien&-= T"e0 "a& ne;er "a& to &i22erentiate ,et*een t"e t*o ,e2ore6 No* t"at t"e0 *ere+ t"e0 stare& at ea%" ot"er %!rio!s 06 =T"e 2rien&6 >e%a!se i2 it *as .i%"ae + one o2 t"e partners o2 t"e 2ir/+ I9& ,e ta 1ing to 0o! a,o!t t"e a%%o!nting error anot"er partner pi%1e& !p on *"i e going o;er t"e ,oo1s t"is /orning6= K0ra near 0 &roppe& "er g ass6 .i%"ae *a;e&6 =4orget I sai& t"at6 Canet9s going to %a 0o! into "er o22i%e to % ear e;er0t"ing !p t"is a2ternoon6= @e sig"e& an& r!,,e& "is t"!/, an& in&eA 2ingers against "is 2ore"ea&6 =Boo1+ K0ra+ I 1no* 0o! t"in1 I9/ :!st ,eing o;erprote%ti;e *it" t"e % ot"es t"ing+ ,!t I9& appre%iate it i2 0o! %o! & step ,a%1 2or a /o/ent an& see t"ings 2ro/ /0 perspe%ti;e6= S"e t*iste& "er ips6 =Ho a"ea&6= =?1a06 Tr0 seeing a t"e /a e e/p o0ees 2o o*ing 0o!r e;er0 /o;e+ e;er0 ti/e 0o! step o!t o2 0o!r o22i%e+ p!tting t"e/ ten /in!tes ,e"in& in *"ate;er t"e09re &oing6= =T"e09re *at%"ing /e-= s"e as1e&+ 2ee ing *ar/ at t"e t"o!g"t6 No one "a& e;er *at%"e& t"e o & K0ra6 .i%"ae gri/a%e&6 =No* /! tip 0 t"at ten /in!tes ,0+ *"at- @o* /an0 ti/es "a;e 0o! %o/e o!t o2 0o!r o22i%e t"is /orning- T"ree-= S"e too1 a sip o2 t"e i5!i&+ s!rprise& "e9& noti%e&6 =T"at9s t"irt0 /in!tes o2 ost ti/e6= =I %an a *a0s sta0 in /0 o22i%e+= s"e sai&+ teasing "i/6 =T"en t"e0 *o! & a 2in& so/e reason to pass 0o!r o22i%e+ or %o/e into it6= @e p!t "is

*ater g ass &o*n on t"e %on2eren%e ta, e6 =Ki&&ing asi&e+ &o 0o! 1no* *"ere I9/ %o/ing 2ro/ "ere-= =D"7"!"6= =Hoo&6= =>!t it &oesn9t /ean I9/ going to &ress an0 &i22erent 06= =K0ra'= S"e p!t "er g ass &o*n neAt to "is6 =No* it9s 0o!r t!rn to see t"ings t"ro!g" /0 e0es6 3"at 0o!9re sa0ing is %o/ing a*2! 0 % ose to seA!a "arass/ent6= =>! s"it6= =Is it-= S"e t*iste& "er ips6 =Bet /e as1 0o! t"is6 I2 P"0 is *ere to *ear t"e sa/e o!t2it I "a;e on no*+ *o! & 0o! ,e sa0ing an0t"ing to "er-= @is eApression t!rne& pensi;e6 =No6= S"e % eare& "er t"roat6 =3"at 0o!9re sa0ing is t"at a 2e* e/p o0ees are "a;ing a "ar& ti/e %ontro ing t"e/se ;es6 I &on9t see "o* t"at9s /0 pro, e/6 In 2a%t+ I t"in1 t"at /a0,e it9s t"e/ 0o! s"o! & ,e ta 1ing to rig"t no*6 Not /e6= So t"ere+ s"e sai& /enta 06 @is e0es &ar1ene&6 K0ra9s t"roat ig"tene&6 S"e re%ogni<e& t"at oo16 It *as t"e sa/e one "e9& *orn ast nig"t6 (ig"t ,e2ore "e9& 1isse& "er6 S"e s5!inte& at "i/+ &oing as "e as1e& ear ier an& tr0ing to get a oo1 at t"e sit!ation 2ro/ "is e0es6 S"e *as !nprepare& 2or t"e s"o%1 o2 e e%tri% attra%tion6 T"e ting ing in "er ,reasts6 T"e s"eer &esire to 1iss "i/6 S"e steppe& % oser to "i/ an& "e too1 a step ,a%1+ p!tting "is rear e;en *it" t"e %on2eren%e ta, e again6 =Go! 1no*+ .i%"ae += s"e *"ispere&+ p a%ing "er pa /s on "is s"o! &ers6 =Go! %an ,e s!%" a rotten sti%17in7t"e7/!&'= T"en s"e 1isse& "i/6 EEE @o 0 %o*6

.i%"ae *as so ta1en a,a%1 ,0 K0ra9s a&;an%es t"at "e %o! & &o itt e /ore t"an stare at "er as s"e i%1e& t"ose p !/p ips o2 "ers+ t"en presse& t"e/ *anton 0 against "is6 E;en as "is ips respon&e&+ "is tong!e &ipping o!t 2or a /!%"7nee&e& taste o2 "er+ "e 1ne* t"at t"is *as %ra<06 Co/p ete 0 oon07,in7/ateria insane6 Not on 0 s"o! &n9t t"e0 ,e &oing t"is+ t"e0 s"o! &n9t ,e &oing it at *or16 =.//6= K0ra9s "!/ see/e& to ;i,rate straig"t t"ro!g" "i/ as "e /e &e& "is /o!t" to "ers+ &e ;ing &eeper+ "is "an&s s i&ing to "er "ips an& "a! ing "er against "i/ *"ere "e eane& against t"e %on2eren%e ta, e6 =.i%"ae '= =S""+= "e sai&+ %o apsing ,a%1 on top o2 t"e ta, e an& p! ing "er *it" "i/ !nti s"e *as stra&& ing "i/+ "er &ress "!ng !p to gi;e "i/ a ,ir&9s7e0e ;ie* o2 "er /at%"ing p!rp e panties an& "er s*o en *o/an"oo& :!st ,eneat" t"e si 10 2a,ri%6 .i%"ae 1ne* "e s"o! & stop+ ,!t ,e2ore "e %o! & a%t s"e positione& "er ar/s insi&e "is an& p!s"e& t"e/ o!t*ar&+ 2or%ing "i/ &o*n to t"e ta, e6 )pparent 0 o;er%o/ing "er initia "esitation+ s"e 2o o*e&+ pasting "er /o!t" against "is again an& p!tting t"e *o/an"oo& "e9& :!st ,een a&/iring in ;er0 % ose %onta%t *it" "is i//e&iate aro!sa 6 E;en as "e t"rea&e& "is 2ingers t"ro!g" "er spi10 , on& "air+ .i%"ae trie& to re/in& "i/se 2 o2 t"e /an0 reasons *"0 t"e0 s"o! &n9t ,e &oing t"is6 >!t "is ,o&0 *asn9t "a;ing an0 o2 it6 It *ante& t"e *o/an stra&& e& a%ross "is "ips+ an& it *asn9t going to stop !nti "e "a& "er6 @e s1i//e& "is "an&s &o*n o;er t"e so2t+ stret%"0 2a,ri% t"at %o;ere& "er ,a%1 t"en s5!ee<e& "er %!r;0 r!/p+ pressing "er e;en "ar&er against "i/6 @e groane&+ in *orse s"ape t"an "e e;er t"o!g"t possi, e6 Ne;er "a& "e ost tra%1 o2 *"ere "e *as6 >!t "e *asn9t a,o!t to 2orget *"o "e *as *it"6 T"is *as K0ra6 @is ,est 2rien&6 T"e gir *"o %"ange& ,o02rien&s a /ost as o2ten as s"e %"ange& pant0 "ose6 ?n 0 s"e *asn9t *earing an06 Pant0 "ose+ t"at is6 )n& s"e *as ,et*een ,o02rien&s6 )n& as t"eir %on;ersation ast nig"t "a& &ri;en "o/e+ it "a& ,een a *"i e sin%e "e9& ,een *it" a *o/an6 )*+ "e 6 @e &ragge& "is 2ingers against "er &e%a&ent 0 ,are egs t"en !p again+ re;e ing in t"e so2tness o2 "er s1in6

=.i%"ae -= =@//-= @e "ear& K0ra9s ;oi%e tr0 to penetrate t"e t"i%1 % o!& o2 &esire+ ,!t "e *as "e p ess to stop 1issing "er+ to stop to!%"ing "er6 @e steere& "is 2ingers in t"e &ire%tion o2 "er %rot%"6 @e %o apse& against t"e "ar& ta, e *"en "e 2e t "er s i%1 "eat t"ro!g" "er si 1 panties6 =.i%"ae J= T"is ti/e s"e p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ "i/6 It too1"er%! ean e22ort to open "is e0es6 )n& *"en "e &i&+ "e 2o!n& "i/se 2 staring at t"e %on2eren%e roo/ %ei ing6 3or16 @e *as at *or16 )n& "e9& near 0 :!st in"a e& K0ra6 @e g an%e& at *"ere s"e straig"tene& "er &ress+ "er green e0es *i&e *it" &is,e ie2+ "er s1in 2 !s"e&6 =3o*6 I ne;er 1ne* 0o! 2e t t"at *a0 a,o!t /e6= S"e s%r!n%"e& "er , on& spi1es6 =It9s t"e % ot"es+ isn9t it-= =@o* I 2ee a,o!t 0o!-= "e repeate& &!/, 0+ /anaging to pee "i/se 2 o22 t"e ta, e6 =3"at are 0o! ta 1ing a,o!t-= S"e pa%e& a s"ort &istan%e a*a0 an& gest!re& to*ar& "i/6 =I 1isse& 0o! ,e%a!se+ *e + I *as tr0ing to see t"ings t"ro!g" 0o!r e0es6= @is ,ro*s s"ot !p so 2ast "e *as s!rprise& t"e0 &i&n9t s"oot straig"t o22 "is 2a%e6 =.0 e0es-= S"e no&&e&6 =D"7"!"6= S"e 2ranti%a 0 pa%e& in 2ront o2 "i/6 =)n& rig"t no* I &on9t 1no* *"at to /a1e o2 it6= S"e stare& at "i/6 =Eit"er I9/ t"e *orst 1in& o2 ;o0e!r6 ?r a es,ian6= .i%"ae %a!g"t "i/se 2 grinning6 K0ra pointe& at "i/6 =Don9t 0o! &are a!g"+ .i%"ae J= =3"0 not- I2 an0t"ing is *ort"0 o2 a a!g"+ it9s *"at 0o! :!st sai&6= S"e /a&e a 2a%e at "i/6 =No*+ te /e *"at Canet *ants to ta 1 to /e a,o!t6 S"e *ent o;er t"e ,oo1s ear ier t"is *ee16 3"0 *o! & s"e oo1 t"ro!g" t"e/ again-=

.i%"ae stare& at "er an& "er a,i it0 to ,e so %o/pose& a2ter *"at "a& "appene& ,et*een t"e/6 =3"at-= @e s5!inte& at "er6 Despite "er a,r!pt %"ange o2 s!,:e%t+ "e &i&n9t t"in1 s"e *as as p!t ,a%1 toget"er as s"e *o! & "a;e "i/ ,e ie;e6 @er s1in *as 2 !s"e&6 @er ,reat"ing sti !ne;en6 Get s"e 2orge& a"ea& an0*a0+ %on2o!n&ing "i/ e;en 2!rt"er sin%e s"e "a& ,een t"e one to 1iss "i/ ' no /atter t"e ,i<arre reason6 =I /ean+ I 1no* t"ere9s an error6 I 2o!n& it 0ester&a06 )n& I9/ "a;ing a &a/na, e ti/e tr0ing to 2ig!re o!t *"ere it originates6 >!t I9;e ne;er ,een %a e& in 2or a si/p e /is%a %! ation ,e2ore6= @e r!,,e& "is 2a%e *it" "is "an&s+ t"e s%rat%"ing so!n& "e ping "i/ to %on%entrate6 =3e + t"ere *as t"at one ti/e'= .i%"ae *at%"e& "er ,ite "er ,otto/ ip6 Dn&o!,te& 0 s"e *as re/e/,ering "er 2irst *ee1 on t"e :o,+ *"en "is partners "a& *ante& to et "er go ,e%a!se o2 a *"opper o2 a /is%a %! ation t"at "a& ta1en a *ee1 to straig"ten o!t6 S"e oo1e& at "i/+ "er green e0es a /ost 1no%1ing "i/ ,a%1 o;er t"e ta, e6 =Go! &on9t t"in1 I s"o! & ,e a2rai& 2or /0 :o,+ &o 0o!-= =?2 %o!rse not I9/ s!re it9s not a t"at serio!s6 Canet :!st sai& s"e *ante& to &is%!ss it *it" 0o!+ is a 6 Not"ing to *orr0 a,o!t6= S"e stoo& staring at "i/+ t"e 5!iet ti/e gi;ing "i/ spa%e to ret"in1 t"e past ten /in!tes6 @a& "e rea 0 :!st /a&e o!t *it" "is ,est 2rien&@e &ragge& t"e ,a%1 o2 "is "an& a%ross "is /o!t" an& %a/e a*a0 *it" pin1 ip g oss6 Gea"+ "e &e2inite 0 "a& :!st /a&e o!t *it" "is ,est 2rien&6 Not on 0 "a& "e :!st /a&e o!t *it" "er8i2 s"e "a&n9t %a e& a "a t to t"ings+ "e *as a2rai& "e /ig"t "a;e t!gge& "er itt e panties &o*n "er egs an& &one /!%" /ore t"an /a&e o!t *it" "er6 @e *asn9t s!re *"i%" ,ot"ere& "i/ /ore6 T"at "e %a/e so % ose to &oing :!st t"at6 ?r t"at K0ra *as a%ting as i2 t"e0 "a& &one not"ing /ore serio!s t"an &is%!ss t"e *eat"er6 K0ra t!rne& a*a0 2ro/ "i/+ t"en opene& t"e &oor6 .i%"ae s%!rrie& to %o;er !p an0 proo2 o2 "is /o/entar0 apse in :!&g/ent6 =3"ere are 0o! going-= "e as1e&6 =To tr0 to 2iA t"e pro, e/ ,e2ore Canet as1s to see /e6=

=)n& !n%"-= S"e , in1e& at "i/ as i2 "e9& gone ig"t in t"e "ea&6 =I9 get so/et"ing 2ro/ t"e /a%"ine6 See 0o! ater-= =Bater-= S"e s/i e&6 =Gea"6 I2 0o!9re not 2ee&ing /e no*+ I t"in1 it9s on 0 2air t"at 0o! 2ee& /e ater6= =Bater'= .i%"ae "ap ess 0 *at%"e& "er sa!nter 2ro/ t"e roo/ on t"ose o!trageo!s "ee s+ te ing "i/se 2 "e *asn9t going to oo16 Instea& "is ga<e &roppe& to "er p !/p r!/p6 @e near 0 groane& o!t o!&+ ;irt!a 0 &ete%ting "is "an&prints on t"e ;e ;et7 i1e /ateria 6 @e ran "is "an&s t"ro!g" "is "air t"en *a 1e& o!t o2 t"e %on2eren%e roo/ a2ter "er6 =3"at-= "e pra%ti%a 0 ,ar1e& at one o2 t"e asso%iate ar%"ite%ts6 T"e g!0 s%ra/, e& to get ,a%1 to *or1+ *"i e .i%"ae sat at "is stoo + !nro e& t"e p ans an& stare& at t"e , !eprints stret%"e& a%ross t"e ,oar&6 3"at in t"e "e *as "e going to &oC"apter 5 K#$ Bater t"at e;ening .i%"ae "a& e;er0t"ing sorte& o!t6 @e sat at t"e ta, e at t"e .eAi%an resta!rant n!rsing a ,eer an& *aiting 2or K0ra to arri;e6 3"i e+ 0es+ "e9& ,e t"e 2irst to a&/it t"at t"ere eAiste& a strange 1in& o2 %"e/istr0 ,et*een "i/ an& K0ra *"en t"e0 1isse&8a t"o!g" s"e see/e& &eter/ine& to ignore it8,e%o/ing in;o ;e& *it" "er on an inti/ate e;e *o! & ,e t"e ,iggest /ista1e o2 "is i2e6 4orget t"at s!%" inti/a%0 *o! & o, iterate t"eir 2rien&s"ip6 I2 "e too1 t"ings an0 2!rt"er *it" K0ra8eAp ore& :!st "o* "ot "e %o! & %oaA t"e spar1s t"at 2 e* ,et*een t"e/8 "e9& ,e itt e /ore t"an a re,o!n& g!0+ :!st a 2i 7in a2ter "er re%or&7setting t"ree7*ee1 re ations"ip *it" Craig @o so/6 )n& t"at tit e &i&n9t interest "i/ in t"e east6 Not on 0 *o! & "e ,e 2 !s"ing t"eir 2rien&s"ip &o*n t"e toi et+ "e9& g!arantee t"at t"eir tr0st *o! &n9t ast a *ee16 (e,o!n& re ations"ips ne;er aste& ong6 @e9& %o/e to 1no* t"at 2irst"an&6 4irst t"ere *o! & ,e t"e 2antasti% seA' @is /in& *an&ere& to s/oot"+ s i%1 2 es"+ g oss0 ips an& s*ir ing tong!es6 3"ere *as "e-

?"+ 0es6 @is &isinterest in p a0ing re,o!n& g!0 to K0ra9s &esire to get o;er t"e atest :er16 )2ter 2antasti% seA+ t"e0 *o! & *a1e !p one &a0 an& oo1 at ea%" ot"er an& 2ig!re o!t t"at t"is isn9t *"at t"e0 *ante& at a K0ra *o! & ,e rea&0 to go ,a%1 o!t an& %on5!er t"e :er1 *or &6 )n& "e9& ,e e2t "e p ess 0 *at%"ing a2ter "er6 E;en i2 t"e0 trie& to /o;e ,a%1 to 2rien&s"ip stat!s+ it *o! & ne;er *or16 @e9& ,are 0 ,een a, e to to erate "er ,o02rien&s ,e2ore6 ?n%e t"e0 *ere inti/ate+ an& "e 1ne* eAa%t 0 *"at Cer1 N!/,er 4i2teen *o! & ,e gi2te& *it"+ "e9& go insane6 In t"e %orner o2 t"e 2a/i 07o*ne& .eAi%an resta!rant+ a /aria%"i ,an& starte& !p6 @e gri/a%e&6 3"at *as "e t"in1ing- ?&&s *ere t"at t"e spar1s t"at 2 e* ,et*een "i/ an& K0ra *o! &n9t see t"e/ into a ,e&roo/6 @e9& ,een tr0ing to *or1 o!t t"e s"i2t in "is 2ee ings 2or "er+ an& 2ig!re& t"at t"e *"o e !n%"arte&7territor0 ang e *as t"e on 0 reason *"0 eit"er o2 t"e/ *as e;en re/ote 0 attra%te& to ea%" ot"er6 Bi1e 0 t"e09& rea%" t"e point o2 no ret!rn ' an& r!n s%rea/ing in t"e ot"er &ire%tion6 @e9& , in1 an& s"e9& t!rn ,a%1 into "is ,est 2rien&+ a *o/an "e9& a *a0s ;ie*e& as a sister6 3e ' t"at "e trie& to ;ie* as a sister+ an0*a06 =Sorr0 I9/ ate6= .i%"ae , in1e& !p to *"ere K0ra *as straig"tening "er s"ort+ s"ort s1irt+ t"en a*1*ar& 0 tr0ing to sit in t"e %"air a%ross 2ro/ "i/ *it"o!t gi;ing t"e *or &8an& "i/ 8a peep s"o*6 @e %a!g"t a g i/pse o2 *"ite %otton panties an& 2ig!re& s"e9& 2ai e&6 =Go! %"ange&+= "e ;irt!a 0 %roa1e&+ t"en too1 a &eep s*a o* o2 ,eer to % ear t"e 2rog 2ro/ "is t"roat6 =Gea"6= S"e 2 as"e& "i/ a s/i e an& &!g into t"e %"ips an& sa sa on t"e ta, e6 S"e s"r!gge&+ %a!sing a , a%1 a%0 strap to ,o* &o*n o;er one s"o! &er6 S"e a,sent 0 p!s"e& it ,a%1 !p6 =I %o! &n9t %o/e o!t to &inner in /0 *or17% ot"es6= .i%"ae raise& "is ,ro*s6 =I t"o!g"t *e9& a rea&0 &is%!sse& t"at t"at p!rp e n!/,er 0o! "a& on ear ier *as not proper *or1 attire6= =)n& I t"o!g"t I a rea&0 to & 0o! t"at *"at I *ear to *or1 &oesn9t /atter+ t"at it9s /0 :o, per2or/an%e t"at %o!nts6= =So ong as e;er0one9s % ear on *"at :o, 0o!9re per2or/ing6= S"e %r!n%"e& &o*n on a %"ip6 =3"at are 0o! sa0ing-= @e eane& ,a%1 in "is %"air+ irritate& to 2in& t"at e;er0 /!s% e in "is ,o&0 *as as tig"t as t"e s"irt s"e "a& on6 =T"at 0o! %o! & :!st as easi 0 ta1e !p resi&en%e on a see&0 %orner

an& o22er t*ent07&o ar , o* :o,s6= S"e stare& at "i/+ open/o!t"e&6 =I &on9t 1no* *"et"er to ,e ins! te& or 2 attere&6= =Ins! te& is *"at I *as going 2or6= T"e si&e o2 "er /o!t" ,!&ge& !p into a "a 2 s/i e6 =I 2ig!re& t"at /!%" o!t6= S"e *ipe& sa t 2ro/ "er "an&s6 =>!t I 2ig!re I9& pro,a, 0 %"arge at east ten ti/es t"e rate 0o! 5!ote&6= .i%"ae near 0 %"o1e& on "is ,eer6 @is ga<e *as &ra*n to "er /o!t"+ painte& siren7re& 2or t"e o%%asion+ an& t"e *a0 s"e ran a 2ingertip 2irst o;er an& !n&er it to get ri& o2 an0 sa t resi&!e6 T"en s"e ran "er tong!e a ong "er si 10 ips+ /a1ing it a too eas0 to i/agine "er !n<ipping "is pants an& setting "er /in& to t"e tas1 t"e0 *ere ta 1ing a,o!t6 )*+ "e 6 S"e pointe& a 2inger at "i/+ an& 2or a /o/ent .i%"ae t"o!g"t s"e 1ne* *"at "e *as t"in1ing6 Instea& s"e sai&+ =Go! 1no*+ 0o!9re an e;en ,igger sti%17in7t"e7/!& t"an I t"o!g"t6= Sti%1 ' /!&6 @ar& ' so2t an& *et6 T"e *aitress %a/e !p+ p!tting an en& to K0ra9s ine o2 %on;ersation an& .i%"ae 9s in%reasing 0 /isera, e state6 I2 t"ere *as one t"ing t"at %o! & &i;ert .i%"ae 9s attention a*a0 2ro/ K0ra an& "er &e%a&ent /o!t"+ it *as "er "a,it o2 ta1ing 2i2teen /in!tes to or&er a si/p e /ea 6 S"e %o! & ne;er :!st sa0 =I9 "a;e N!/,er Ten= an& ,e &one *it" it6 No6 S"e *ante& N!/,er Ten+ *it" a ,it o2 T"irteen+ an& toss in a taste o2 N!/,er 4i;e6 ?"+ an& %o! & 0o! p!t t"is an& t"at on t"e si&e@e sat ,a%1 an& *at%"e& "er+ %ease ess 0 a/a<e& t"at t"e *aitress *as a, e to stan& patient 0 an& *rite &o*n e;er0t"ing K0ra or&ere& instea& o2 "itting "er o;er t"e "ea& *it" t"e or&er pa& an& s!ggesting t"at s"e /ig"t ,e "appier eating so/ep a%e e se6 =)re 0o! &one-= .i%"ae as1e& on%e K0ra 2ina 0 stoppe& ta 1ing an& oo1e& at "i/6 S"e , in1e&+ %o/p ete 0 % !e ess as to *"at "e9& ,een t"in1ing6 =Ges6= @e % appe& "is /en! % ose&6 =I9 "a;e t"e N!/,er Ten eAa%t 0 t"e *a0 it is6= T"e *aitress s/i e& at "i/+ too1 t"e /en!s+ an& *a 1e& a*a06 K0ra %rosse& "er ar/s on t"e ta, e an& eane& 2or*ar&+ a o*ing "i/ a per2e%t ;ie* o2 "er ro!n&e& ,reasts :!st ,e o* t"e a%0 ne%1 ine o2 "er &ing0 s"irt6 @e 2e t t"e s!&&en

!rge to sti%1 "is 2inger into t"e %o ar o2 "is o*n s"irt an& p! it a*a0 2ro/ *"ere it s!&&en 0 see/e& to ,e %"o1ing "i/6 =Bet9s get ,a%1 to t"e sti%17in7t"e7/!& t"ing+= s"e sai&6 .i%"ae near 0 groane&6 =Bet9s not6= =Go! 1no*+ I9;e gotten not"ing ,!t %o/p i/ents on /0 ne* attire6 3"en I stoppe& at t"e store t"is /orning to get 0og!rt+ t"e %"e%1o!t g!0 sai& I oo1e& ;er0 ni%e6= =3e + t"at9s it t"en+ isn9t it- I2 t"e %"e%1o!t g!0 i1es 0o!r attire+ t"en it /!st ,e a rig"t6= =S/art7ass6= =S"re*6= S"e a!g"e& at t"eir !s!a ig"t"earte& eA%"ange6 =I2 t"e %o/p i/ents ,egan an& en&e& *it" t"e %"e%1o!t g!0 t"en I *o! & agree *it" 0o!+= s"e sai&6 =>!t I :!st !se& "i/ as an eAa/p e6= S"e i2te& "er "an& an& "e & !p a 2o!r 2ingers an& a ring7,earing t"!/,6 @is ga<e <oo/e& in on t"e ne* pie%e o2 :e*e r06 3"en &i& s"e start *earing a t"!/, ring@e gri/a%e&6 NeAt t"ing 0o! 1ne*+ s"e9& ,e sporting one o2 t"ose tong!e rings6 @is /in& ;ent!re& ,a%1 to t"e *"o e t*ent07&o ar iss!e an& "e s i& a itt e o*er in "is %"air6 @e + "e &i&n9t "a;e to *ait 2or K0ra to steer t"e %on;ersation to*ar& seA+ "e *as &oing a goo& :o, o2 it a ,0 "i/se 26 @e trie& to 2o%!s on *"at s"e *as sa0ing6 ='no 2e*er t"an 2i;e &ate re5!ests6= =3"at-= S"e /a&e a 2a%e6 =)re 0o! e;en istening to *"at I9/ sa0ing-= =Sorr06 ) *a0 to 2iA t"e Co"nson &esign :!st o%%!rre& to /e+= "e sai& ,0 rote6 @e !se& t"e eA%!se o%%asiona 0+ ,!t !s!a 0 it *as *"ene;er s"e ;ent!re& into a ong &is%!ssion a,o!t t"e "!/an 5!a ities o2 "er %at6 @e *asn9t an ani/a person an& t"e eA%!se a *a0s et "i/ o22 t"e "oo1 *"en s"e &is%o;ere& "e *asn9t istening6 =)"6 Di&n9t *e 2inis" *it" t"e Co"nson :o, ast *ee1-= 3e + it !s!a 0 *or1e&6

=Di& I sa0 Co"nson- I /eant Ne;i e6= =D"7"!"6 )n0*a0+ *"at I *as sa0ing *as t"at to&a0+ a one+ I re%ei;e& no 2e*er t"an 2i;e8%o!nt 9e/+ 2i;e8&ate re5!ests6= =Di& an0 o2 t"e/ ,ring !p t"e s!,:e%t o2 /one0-= S"e stare& at "i/ , an1 0 2or a /o/ent+ t"en rea i<ation &a*ne&6 =?"+ 0o!9re ,a&6 Go! *ent ,a%1 to t"e prostit!tion iss!e+ &i&n9t 0o!-= S"e t"o!g"t2! 0 ate anot"er %"ip =Go! 1no*+ i2 I &i&n9t 1no* 0o! ,etter+ I9& t"in1 0o! *ere *e a%5!ainte& *it" *or1ing gir s6 E/p"asis on *or1ing6= @e sti22ene&6 =3"at &oes t"at /ean-= S"e s"r!gge&+ %a!sing "er strap to s i&e &o*n "er s"o! &er again6 =C!st t"at 0o!9re not t"e t0pe6= =T"e t0pe to pa0 2or it-= =Not ne%essari 06 Go!9re t"e t0pe t"at *o! & ne;er get in;o ;e& *it" a *o/an *it" a 5!estiona, e past6= =3e9;e gone ,a%1 to t"e sti%17in7t"e7/!& t"ing6= =Not ,0 &esign+ ,!t+ 0es+ I g!ess *e "a;e6= .i%"ae *as 2i e& *it" t"e !rge to te "er eAa%t 0 *"at "e9& i1e to &o *it" "is sti%1 *"en t"e *aitress ,ro!g"t t"eir or&ers6 EEE EAa%t 0 t"e *a0 s"e i1e& t"ings6 K0ra s"i2te& in "er seat an& %onsi&ere& t"e p ates t"e *aitress ai& o!t in 2ront o2 "er6 T"at9s *"at s"e o;e& a,o!t t"is p a%e6 T"e0 a *a0s got "er or&er rig"t6 Too o2ten at ot"er resta!rants s"e "a& to sen& t"ings ,a%1+ "a;e so/et"ing ta1en o22+ or te t"e/ t"e09& 2orgotten so/et"ing6 >!t not "ere6 S"e s/i e& an& 2i e& a 2or1 *it" re2rie& ,eans+ ta1ing t"e rig"tness o2 e;er0t"ing t"at "a& "appene& sin%e "er trans2or/ation as a sign6 ) sign t"at s"e *as /o;ing in t"e rig"t &ire%tion6 S"e g an%e& o;er to 2in& .i%"ae 2ro*ning at "is o*n p ate6 3e + eA%ept 2or .i%"ae 9s strange rea%tion to t"e %"anges s"e9& /a&e6 =I or&ere& t"e N!/,er Ten+= "e to & t"e *aitress6 T"e gir oo1e& irritate& as s"e too1 "is p ate an& "ea&e& ,a%1 to*ar& t"e 1it%"en6 =@o* %o! & s"e "a;e gotten t"at *rong an& e;er0t"ing 0o! or&ere& rig"t-= "e r!/, e&6

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C"apter 6 K#$ K0ra9s 2a;orite roo/ in "er apart/ent "a& a *a0s ,een "er ,e&roo/6 It *as near 0 as arge as t"e i;ing roo/+ *it" a ;a! te& %ei ing an& a ong+ &rop7&o*n %ei ing 2an6 )n& "er partia it0 "a&n9t %"ange& *it" "er trans2or/ation6 T"ere *as so/et"ing! tra2e/inine a,o!t t"e neon7pin1 *a s+ , a%1 iron*or1 ,e& an& a%0 *"ite inens6 T"e o;erst!22e& %"air in t"e %orner *as a %o/,ination o2 ,ot" %o ors an& %o;ere& in go & tasse s an& ,ro%a&e pi o*s6 It *as t"e one roo/ s"e %o! & enter an& i//e&iate 0 2orget a,o!t t"e rest o2 t"e *or &6 S*it%"ing o22 t"e ,e&si&e ig"t+ s"e p oppe& ,a%1 onto t"e ten or so pi o*s %!s"ioning "er against t"e iron "ea&,oar& an& *aite& 2or t"at s*eet 2ee ing to % ai/ "er6 It &i&n9t %o/e6 K0ra a0 i/possi, 0 sti 2or a ong ti/e+ "er ar/s "e & sti22 0 at "er si&es as s"e stare& at t"e p a0 o2 t"e pin1 an& , !e neon ig"ts 2ro/ a sign o!tsi&e "er *in&o*+ *aiting 2or t"e 2ee ing to %o/e6 It &i&n9t6 S"e 2ro*ne& an& s*it%"e& on t"e ,e&si&e ig"t again+ t"en p!s"e& !p onto "er e ,o*s6 3e + t"at &i&n9t /a1e an0 sense6 S"e9& i;e& t"ere 2or t"ree 0ears an& "er ,e&roo/ ne;er 2ai e& to *"is1 "er a*a0 2ro/ t"e *or & an& o22 to /eet t"e san&/an+ a g!0 s"e en;isione& oo1ing ;er0 /!%" i1e (!sse Cro*e6 >!t 2or so/e reason+ s"e 2e t as t"o!g" t"e *or & "a& seepe& !n&er "er &oor+ %reating s"a&o*0+ !neAp ore& %orners6 T"ree "o!rs "a& passe& sin%e s"e an& .i%"ae "a& sp it !p o!tsi&e t"e .eAi%an resta!rant6 @i/ oo1ing as agitate& as s"e9& e;er seen "i/+ *"i e s"e9& 2e t as i2 s"e9& gro*n *ings6 S"e9& ta1en t"e ong *a0 "o/e in "er %on;erti, e+ t"e "ot+ *"ipping *in& i1e rest ess 2ingers t"ro!g" "er s"ort "air6 >!t no* tension %oi e& in "er sto/a%" an& s"e %o! &n9t s eep to sa;e "er i2e6 Sig"ing+ s"e g an%e& to t"e si&e ta, e *"ere "er ne* ,oo1 a06 Sex itten !"! 6 S"e pi%1e& t"e "ar&,a%1 !p+ noti%ing *"ere t"e paper %o;er *as a rea&0 gro*ing tattere& *it" !se6 S"e sett e& ,a%1 against "er pi o*s again an& opene& t"e ,oo1 to *"ere s"e e2t o22+ a,sent 0 petting .r6 Ti,,s *"o stret%"e& o!t neAt to "er6 Ten /in!tes ater+ s"e rea i<e& s"e %o! &n9t re/e/,er a sing e *or& s"e9& rea&6 ?1a0+ no* t"e0 *ere entering !n%"arte& territor06 S"e9& ne;er+ e;er "a& tro!, e s eeping6 3e + at east not *"en s"e *as an a&! t6 @er %"i &"oo& *as anot"er /atter6 >!t not ,eing a, e to es%ape ,et*een t"e pages o2 a goo& ,oo1+ a ,oo1 s"e9& &e;o!re& at e;er0 point !p !nti t"en+ *e + t"at %a e& 2or e/ergen%0 /eas!res6

S"e tosse& ,a%1 t"e %o;er et an& *at%"e& as it an&e& on Ti,,s6 =>en L Cerr09s6= .r6 Ti,,s instant 0 per1e& !p an& /eo*e&+ 2o o*ing K0ra into t"e 1it%"en+ a 2or t"e %"ange in ro!tine6 K0ra retrie;e& a spoon+ t"en t"e i%e %rea/+ s/i ing as s"e rea i<e& .i%"ae "a& gotten "er 2a;orite6 T"en again+ o2 %o!rse "e "a&6 S"e &ippe& t"e spoon &eep insi&e t"e "ea;en 0 /iAt!re+ too1 a s/a ,o* o!t o2 t"e %!p,oar&+ t"en pa&&e& ,a%1 to "er ,e&roo/6 )2ter setting .r6 T6 !p on t"e nig"t ta, e *it" t"e ,o* + s"e s i& a spoon2! o2 i%e %rea/ into "er /o!t" straig"t 2ro/ t"e %arton6 S"e a&/itte& to a /eas!re o2 g!i t t"at .i%"ae *asn9t t"ere to en:o0 it *it" "er+ seeing as "e9& ,o!g"t it an& e;er0t"ing6 T"en again+ *"i e s"e re is"e& %a ing "i/ t"e C!n1 4oo& King+ "e ne;er in&! ge& in i%e %rea/ pig7o!ts t"e *a0 t"at s"e &i&6 .a0,e it *as ,e%a!se "e &i&n9t i1e @a 2 >a1e&+ 27 T*iste&- S"e t"o!g"t t"at /ig"t ,e t"e %ase6 >!t t"en *"0 &i&n9t "e ,!0 "is 2a;oriteK0ra a o*e& t"e %o & %rea/ to /e t on "er tong!e6 3"at *as .i%"ae 9s 2a;orite+ in&ee&@er /in& *ent , an16 3e + t"at &i&n9t /a1e an0 sense6 @e "a& to "a;e a 2a;orite6 C"err0Har%ia6 No6 P"is"4oo&6 No6 S"e /a&e a 2a%e an& spoone& in anot"er /o!t"2! *it"o!t rea 0 tasting it6 S"e stare& at t"e e/pt0 spoon6 S"e %o! &n9t s eep6 Co! &n9t rea&6 )n& no* s"e %o! &n9t en:o0 "er 2a;orite i%e %rea/6 ?1a0+ so/et"ing *as serio!s 0 *rong6 S"e p!t t"e %arton ,a%1 into t"e 2ree<er+ t"en stret%"e& o!t on t"e ,e& again+ sto/a%" 2irst+ *it" "er ,oo1+ &eter/ine& to %on%entrate t"is ti/e6 =9Ta1e *"at 0o! *ant'9= S"e rea& t"e senten%e t"ree ti/es ,e2ore it 2ina 0 registere&6 S"e 2 oppe& "er 2ore"ea& onto t"e open pages6 )n& :!st *"at+ eAa%t 0+ &i& s"e *ant-

.i%"ae 6 S"e near 0 %"o1e&6 S"e &i& not *ant .i%"ae 6 S!re+ /a0,e s"e i//ense 0 en:o0e& t"ro*ing o22 "is e5!i i,ri!/+ ,!t s"e &i&n9t%ant hi$ *ant "i/6 @e *as "er ,est 2rien&J T"at "e a so "a& an a*eso/e %"est span+ ,ea!ti2! 0 intense &ar1 e0es+ a ,!tt to &ie 2or+ an& a &e%a&ent /o!t" t"at so 1ne* "o* to 1iss ' *e + s"e9& 1no*n "e9& "a& a o2 t"ose attri,!tes ,e2ore+ 1issing asi&e6 )n& s"e "a& ne;er serio!s 0 t"o!g"t a,o!t "i/ as &ating /ateria 6 Biar6 ?1a06 .a0,e s"e "a&6 ?n%e or t*i%e6 S"e ro e& o;er to stare at t"e %ei ing6 3"en t"e09& 2irst /et 2o!r 0ears ago+ s"e9& t"o!g"t "i/ one o2 t"e /ost attra%ti;e /en s"e9& e;er /et6 It "a& ,een /ore t"an :!st "is p"0si%a %"ara%teristi%s+ as i/pressi;e as t"ose *ere6 T"ere *as a na/e ess so/et"ing a,o!t .i%"ae t"at si<< e&6 So/et"ing /ore t"an "is /iAe& Batin "eritage pro;i&e&+ a t"o!g" "is &ar1 s1in an& e;en &ar1er e0es *ere tanta i<ing 0 seA06 S"e9& on%e p!t "is appea &o*n to "is a!ra6 3"i e s"e a *a0s s!spe%te& "er a!ra *as p!rp e+ s"e9& s!r/ise& t"at "is *o! &n9t ,e a %o or+ ,!t rat"er a "ot eterna ,!rning 2 a/e6 ?2 %o!rse+ *"en s"e9& 2irst /et "i/+ "e9& ,een &ating t"e oneti/e .iss Ta/pa+ Cessi%a Do,son6 T"e %o!p e "a& ,een siA /ont"s into t"eir re ations"ip an& Cessi%a8*"o "a& ne;er /a&e .iss 4 ori&a an& *"ose n!rsing %areer "a& "it a *a ,e%a!se s"e %o! &n9t &e2ine ,e&si&e /anner /!%" ess e/! ate one8*as /a1ing *e&&ing noises6 Noises K0ra "a& i//e&iate 0 pi%1e& !p on at t"at 0ear9s o22i%e C"rist/as part0+ ,!t t"at .i%"ae eit"er &i&n9t "ear or "a& %"osen to ignore6 ) /ont" ater .iss Ta/pa "a& !p an& e ope& *it" one o2 .i%"ae 9s no* eA7,est 2rien&s6 Not t"at .i%"ae "a& see/e& too !pset ,0 Cessi%a9s a,an&on/ent6 S"e re/e/,ere& t"in1ing t"at "e see/e& /ore &epresse& a,o!t "a;ing ost "is ,est 2rien&6 ) position+ in%i&enta 0+ K0ra 2o!n& "erse 2 ,eing in&ire%t 0 inter;ie*e& 2or+ "a& na,,e&+ an& "a& %"eris"e& e;er sin%e6 No+ s"e &i&n9t go 2 *it" .i%"ae t"e *a0 Pa! ) en "a&6 )n& s"e %o! &n9t te a to!%"&o*n 2ro/ a 2irst &o*n in 2oot,a 6 )n& t"e /ere s/e o2 ,eer /a&e "er *rin1 e "er nose6 >!t t"at "a&n9t see/e& to /atter6 T"e09& % i%1e& i//e&iate 0+ an& 2e into a %o/2orta, e 2rien&s"ip+ a re ations"ip t"at ri;a e& e;en "er % ose %onne%tion *it" "er sister+ ) anna"+ an& t"at *as sa0ing a ot6 S"e an& ) anna" "a& gone t"ro!g" a ot in t"eir i;es6 >!t no*+ 2ina 0+ it appeare& ) anna" "a& 2o!n& "er *a06 S"e9& /arrie& t"at

0!//0 >rit+ >en E&*ar&s+ an& *as i;ing "er o*n 1in& o2 "appi 07e;er7a2ter inPro;i&en%e*it" t"eir pet pot,e ie& pig+ E ;is6 .i%"ae s1ittere& t"ro!g" K0ra9s /in& again+ re/in&ing "er *"at s"e9& ,een t"in1ing a,o!t6 S"e ro e& o;er again an& po!n&e& "er pi o*6 >0 t"e ti/e .i%"ae "a& ,ro1en !p *it" Cessi%a+ s"e9& ,een going o!t *it"' 4!nn0+ s"e %o! &n9t see/ to re/e/,er "is na/e6 >!t "e9& ,een i/portant eno!g" 2or "er to ignore t"e 2a%t t"at .i%"ae *as 2ree6 3e + at east !nti t"e na/e ess ,o02rien& ,ro1e !p *it" "er a s"ort ti/e ater6 >0 t"en+ "er an& .i%"ae 9s 2rien&s"ip "a& prett0 /!%" %e/ente& itse 2 an& s"e9& ne;er t"o!g"t o2 "i/ in an inti/ate *a0 sin%e6 3e + o1a0+ t"ere *as t"e o&& ti/e "e9& %o/e to /in&+ *"i e s"e *as in t"e s"o*er *it" "er *ater /assager6 >!t as ong as t"e person *asn9t re ate& to 0o!+ e;er0t"ing *as open ga/e+ rig"t- It *asn9t as t"o!g" s"e *o! & e;er te "i/ t"at one o2 t"e ,est orgas/s s"e9& e;er eAperien%e& "a& ,een *it" a 2antas0 i/age o2 "i/+ s"aring t"e s"o*er *it" "er+ a s i%1+ soap0 &ar1 s1in an& s1i 2! "an&s+ an& e;en /ore attenti;e /o!t"' S"e stret%"e& o!t "er egs an& *igg e& "er toes in t"e so2t+ *orn s"eets6 @a& s"e 1no*n *"at a &a/n goo& 1isser "e *as+ t"at orgas/ pro,a, 0 *o! & "a;e ,een ,etter 0et6 @er ga<e &ri2te& to*ar& t"e ,at"roo/ &oor an& t"e s"o*er /assager *aiting :!st ,e0on&6 S"e s5!as"e& "er e0es s"!t6 No6 S"e %o! &n9t6 S"e *o! &n9t6 .i%"ae *as "er ,est 2rien&6 Ta1e *"at 0o! *ant' 3"at &i& s"e *antS"e ro e& o;er an& rea%"e& 2or t"e p"one6 S"e &i&n9t 1no* *"at s"e *ante&6 >!t s"e 2ig!re& t"ere *as one s!re2ire *a0 to 2in& o!t' EEE .i%"ae s"oo1 "is "ea& to % ear t"e s eep 2ro/ it6 T"e o;er 0 ,rig"t street ig"ts see/e& to , in& "i/+ an& t"e roar o2 "is SDI engine on t"e 5!iet streets ent a s!rrea 5!a it0 to t"e sit!ation6 I2 K0ra *as %a ing in t"e /i&& e o2 t"e nig"t+ t"en so/et"ing *as *rong6 S"e ne;er %a e& a2ter ten+ or ,e2ore eig"t in t"e /orning6 S"e *as a *a0s t"e t"o!g"t2! one+ no /atter *"at *as "appening6 3as it a %ase o2 &e a0e& grie;ing o;er Craig @o so/- .i%"ae 9s "an&s tig"tene& on t"e steering *"ee 6 ?r /a0,e Craig "a& %onta%te& "er'

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>!t t"at *as t"e o & K0ra6 T"e ne* K0ra stoo& in 2ront o2 .i%"ae pro!& an& ta an& 1no*ing 0 seA0+ t"e si 1 o2 "ernig"tie ,are 0 "i&ing t"e ta!tness o2 "er ,reasts+ t"e 2 atness o2 "er sto/a%"+ or t"e ines o2 "er ;er0 na!g"t0 t"ong panties6 =@o 0 s"it+= .i%"ae *"ispere& !n&er "is ,reat"+ "is ga<e &ar1 in t"e &i/ apart/ent Not eAa%t 0 t"e rea%tion s"e *as oo1ing 2or+ ,!t it *o! & &o6 K0ra rea%"e& o!t an& gra,,e& "i/ ,0 t"e s"irt2ront+ p! ing "i/ to "er6 =K7K0ra- 3"at are 0o! &oing-= .i%"ae as1e&+ "is t"roat *or1ing6 S"e s/i e& at "i/+ ang ing "er "ea& 2irst one *a0 t"en t"e ot"er6 =Kissing 0o!+ o2 %o!rse6= =?2 %o8= K0ra "a& "a 2 eApe%te& t"at sin%e s"e9& gone into t"e 1iss 1no*ing 0+ no e e/ent o2 s!rprise in;o ;e&+ t"at "a 2 t"e t"ri s"e re/e/,ere& *o! & "a;e ,een &raine& o!t o2 t"e eAperien%e6 Instea& s"e 2e t so/et"ing si/i ar to an e e%tri%a s"o%1 as s"e presse& "er ips against .i%"ae 9s6 S"e 2 i%1e& "er tong!e o!t to s i&e it a ong "is ,otto/ ip6 @e taste& i1e s eep6 3ar/ an& intoAi%ating an& ;er0+ ;er0 /a e6 S"e ;ag!e 0 registere& t"at "e stoo& as sti as t"e stone s"e "a& %o/pare& "i/ to+ staring at "er as i2 s"e9& gone insane+ "is ips !n/o;ing6 S"e s/i e&+ t"en rene*e& "er se&!%ti;e atta%1+ s ipping "er tong!e t"ro!g" "is ips an& 2 i%1ing it against "is6 S"e *as &eter/ine& to see t"is t"ro!g" to t"e en&6 =K0ra-= .i%"ae %roa1e&6 =3"at are 0o! &oing-= =Kissing 0o!6= =3e+ !/+ a rea&0 esta, is"e& t"at6= =Ges+ ,!t 0o!9re not 1issing /e ,a%16= S"e s ante& "er "ea& t"e ot"er *a0+ t"en %a!g"t "is ear o,e ,et*een "er teet" an& ga;e a gent e t!g6 S"e %a!g"t "is 5!i%1 inta1e o2 ,reat"+ not gi;ing "i/ a %"an%e to regain %ontro as s"e presse& "er si 17% a& ,o&0 !p against "is+ r!,,ing pro;o%ati;e 06 T"en s"e %a!g"t "er ,reat"6 ?"+ .i%"ae /ig"t ,e sa0ing no+ no+ no *it" "is /o!t" an& "is ips+ ,!t "is ,o&0 pra%ti%a 0 s%rea/e& 0es+ 0es+ 0es6 It e;en ar%"e& into "ers+ "is aro!sa t"i%1 an& ong ,et*een t"e/6 =K0ra-= =S""6 I9/ %on&!%ting an eAperi/ent6=

@e sti22ene& 2!rt"er6 =3"at 1in& o2 eAperi/ent-= S"e &rape& "er ar/s oose 0 o;er "is s"o! &ers an& tang e& "er 2ingers into "is &ar1+ si 1en "air6 9To see i2 /0 t"eor0 is tr!e6= S"e s i& "er "an&s &o*n an& o;er "is ,a%1 t"en to "is "ips+ pressing e;en /ore s!ggesti;e 0 against "i/6 =Go!9re ta 1ing in %ir% es6= S"e s/i e& to "erse 2+ ta1ing spe%ia note o2 "is ina,i it0 to re2!se "er6 @e /ig"t not 0et ,e respon&ing+ ,!t "e *asn9t p! ing a*a0+ eit"er6 Hoo&6 >!t not great Not 0et6 =No+ I9/ not6 )s1 /e *"at /0 t"eor0 is6= @e i%1e& "is ips an& s"e too1 a&;antage o2 t"e opport!nit0 to %at%" an& s!%1 on "is tong!e6 =I &on9t t"in1 I *ant to 1no*+= "e sai& on%e "is tong!e *as on%e again 2ree&6 =Co/e on+ .i%"ae 6 >e &aring 2or on%e in 0o!r i2e6 I %an te 0o!9;e ne;er &one an0t"ing i1e t"is ,e2ore6 Co/e on6 Tr0 it6 Go!9 i1e it+= s"e tease&6 =I &o!,t t"at6= =Co/e on'= =?1a0+ K0ra6 3"at9s 0o!r t"eor0-= S"e s i& "er rig"t "an& aro!n& "is "ip an& %!ppe& "is "ar& aro!sa 6 S"e 2e t t"e ,rea&t" an& engt" o2 "i/ an& near 0 s*a o*e& "er tong!e6 @er s"o*er /assager "a& not"ing on t"e rea .%Co06 =.0 t"eor0 is t"at t"e reason ,e"in& o!r seA ess 2rien&s"ip is ,e%a!se o2 a%1 o2 opport!nit06= =Ba%1 o2 opport!nit06= @e stare& at "er6 =3e9re a one toget"er a t"e ti/e+ K0ra6= S"e ti te& "er "ea&+ *at%"ing as "is ga<e &roppe& to t"e &eep;ee o2 "ernig"tie 6 @is p!pi s &i ate& an& "e 5!i%1 0 oo1e& ,a%1 !p to "er 2a%e6 =.a0,e a;ai a,i it0 is /ore t"e *or&+ t"en6= S"e poppe& t"e top ,!tton o2 "is :eans6 =Go! see+ e;er sin%e *e9;e /et+ one or t"e ot"er o2 !s "as a *a0s ,een in;o ;e& in a re ations"ip6= S"e 1isse& "i/ again6 =3"en I *as 2ree+ 0o! *ere !na;ai a, e6 3"en 0o! *ere 2ree+ I *as ,!s0 ,rea1ing in

Cer1 N!/,er 3"ate;er6= 4ina 0 "er 2ingers to!%"e& "ot+ si 1en 2 es"6 S"e *as p ease& ,0 .i%"ae 9s o* groan as "is "ips ,!%1e& against "er6 =T"at9s it- T"at9s 0o!r t"eor0-= =In a n!ts"e + 0es6= S"e poppe& t"e rest o2 t"e ,!ttons !nti s"e "e & "is ro%17so i& 2 es" in "er "an&6 =>!t t"at9s not a 6= =K0ra'= "e sai&+ "is ;oi%e so rasp0 s"e near 0 &i&n9t "ear "i/6 @is ,reat"ing *as %oining in 5!i%1 gasps+ e;en t"o!g" "e "a& 0et to ret!rn "er 1iss6 =I t"in1 it9s ong past ti/e t"at 0o! an& /e8*e82ina 0 2o!n& o!t *"at *e9;e ,een /issing6= .i%"ae 2ina 0 rea%te&6 )n& o"+ ,o0+ *as it e;er0t"ing K0ra %o! & "a;e "ope& 2or' Hrasping "er ,otto/+ "e i2te& "er !p against "i/+ /o &ing "er egs aro!n& "is "ips+ "is /o!t" sear%"ing 2or an& 2in&ing "ers an& 1issing "er so &eep 0 s"e *as a2rai& "e *as going a2ter "er ;er0 so! 6 K0ra % !t%"e& "i/ tig"t 06 =3"ere9s t"e ,e&roo/-= "e pra%ti%a 0 gro* e&6 S"e starte& to point it o!t+ t"en rea i<e& "e 1ne* eAa%t 0 *"ere it *as6 =(ig"t *"ere it9s a *a0s ,een6= T"en "is egs *ere /o;ing+ %arr0ing t"e/ ,ot" to*ar& "er pri;ate san%t!ar0 an& t"e seA0 ,e& insi&e6 >e2ore "e9& gotten t"ere+ s"e9& &rape& a s"eer re& s%ar2 o;er t"e ,e&si&e a/p+ gi;ing a s%ar et %ast to t"e entire roo/6 Not t"at .i%"ae see/e& to noti%e6 >e2ore s"e %o! & , in1+ "e9& &roppe& "er on t"e /attress6 S"e ,o!n%e& a %o!p e ti/es+ t"en gaspe& *"en "e a!n%"e& "i/se 2 a%ross "er+ n!&ging open "er t"ig"s *it" "is 1nees6 K0ra9s ,a%1 %a/e !p o22 t"e /attress as "e 1isse& "er again+ "is /o!t" "ot an& *et an& "!ngr06 .er%0' @e 1isse& "er "ar& again t"en p! e& ,a%1 to oo1 in "er e0es+ rest ess 0 p!s"ing "er "air o22 "er 2a%e t"en "o &ing tig"t6 =Do 0o! "a;e an0 i&ea *"at 0o!9re &oing-= S"e s/i e& at "i/+ "er ga<e 2astening on "is /o!t"6 S"e i%1e& "er ips6 =I9/ "oping I9/ a,o!t to engage in t"e /ost 2antasti% seA o2 /0 i2e6= C"apter 7 K#$

.i%"ae *as so "ot 2or K0ra "e *as a2rai& "e *o! & spontaneo!s 0 %o/,!st6 Stan&ing in 2ront o2 "er in t"e ot"er roo/+ 2or%ing "i/se 2 to re/ain !nresponsi;e+ "a& ,een one o2 t"e /ost &i22i%! t t"ings "e9& e;er &one in "is i2e6 @er /o!t" *as &e%a&ent 0 te/pting+ "er ,o&0 so2t an& *ar/6 )n& t"at itt e nig"tgo*n' T"e si 10 /ateria s i& sens!o!s 0 against "er %!r;0 ,o&0 e;er0*"ere "e to!%"e&6 )n& "e to!%"e& "er e;er0*"ere6 ?n%e "e9& 2ina 0 gi;en in to t"e e/otions po!n&ing t"ro!g" "i/+ "e %o! &n9t see/ to get eno!g" o2 "er6 @is /o!t" /o;e& 2ro/ "er ips to "er ne%1 to "er ,reasts i1e a /an gone /a&6 )n& ea%" p a%e "e 1isse& taste& ,etter t"an t"e ast6 @e %!ppe& "er rig"t ,reast in "is "an& t"ro!g" t"e si 1en /ateria an& s"e ar%"e& !p into "is to!%"6 S"e *as so ,ea!ti2! 0 responsi;e6 @e9& 1no*n s"e *o! & ,e6 3"at "e "a&n9t %onsi&ere& *as "is o*n response to "er responsi;eness6 Kno*ing s"e *ante& "i/ &i& a sorts o2 2!nn0 t"ings to "is sto/a%"6 )n& "e *as so "ar& "e "!rt6 K0ra see/e& to ,e "a;ing t"e sa/e pro, e/ "e *as+ "er "an&s t!gging at "is "air+ t"en /o &ing to "is rear en&+ t"en s*er;ing in*ar& to stro1e "i/ *it" 2eat"er7 ig"t to!%"es6 .i%"ae t"re* ,a%1 "is "ea& an& groane&6 4orget ig"t6 @e *ante& "er "ar&6 @ar& an& 2ast an& a nig"t ong6 @e %a!g"t "er 2ingers+ t"en %!r e& t"e/ aro!n& "is aro!sa + s5!ee<ing tig"t6 S"e gaspe&+ "er e0es on "is6 T"en t"at itt e pin1 tong!e o2 "ers &ippe& o!t to /oisten "er ips an& .i%"ae t"o!g"t "e /ig"t ose it rig"t t"en an& t"ere6 Too /!%" ' *a0 too /!%"+ *a0 too soon6 >!t &a/ne& i2 "e %o! & stop "i/se 26 ?n%e e;ents *ere set into /otion+ "e 1ne* t"e0 *o! &n9t ,e a, e to stop !nti t"e0 rea%"e& t"e en&6 )n& t"at *as a point "e *ante& to 1eep 2ar o22 into t"e &istan%e6 I2 t"is *as to ,e "is on 0 ti/e *it" K0ra+ a tr0st t"at /ig"t en& t"eir 2rien&s"ip+ "e 2! 0 inten&e& to get t"e /ost o!t o2 it+ &a/n it6 @e re/o;e& "is "an& 2ro/ "ers to s*eep t"e ,a%1 o2 "is 2ingers !p "er 2 at sto/a%" to t"e top o2 "ernig"tie 6 3it" a &ip o2 a 2inger+ a per10 itt e ,reast %reste& o;er t"e top o2 t"e ig"t , !e si 1+ a %"err07re& nipp e :!st ,egging 2or "is attention6 )n& "e *as a too "app0 to gi;e it *"at it *ante&6 @e s*ir e& "is tong!e aro!n& an& aro!n&+ &ra*ing tig"ter %ir% es !nti "e % ose& "is /o!t" o;er t"e engorge& ,it o2 2 es"6 @e ne;er 1ne* a *o/an %o! & taste so goo&6 S"e *as i1e S!n&a0 pot roast+ "ot 2!&ge+ an& a re2res"ing %o & ,re*8a "is 2a;orite t"ings8ro e& into one6 S"e %rie& o!t+ pressing "er ,reast 2art"er against "is /o!t"6 =P ease+= s"e *"ispere&6 =?"+ p ease+ p ease+ p ease6= .i%"ae re ease& "is grip on "er nipp e+ t"en ran t"e engt" o2 "is tong!e o;er t"e s*o en %rest6 @e re/e/,ere& "er na!g"t0 ga/e ear ier+ as1ing "i/ 5!estions t"at "e9& ,een oat"e to respon& to6 )n& "is o*n &esire spira ing "ig"er an& "ig"er *it" ea%" *or&

s"e !ttere&6 T*o %o! & p a0 at t"at ga/e6 @is 2ingers 2o!n& t"e &a/p s%rap o2 /ateria ,et*een "er egs6 @e t!nne e& insi&e t"e e asti% an& tra%e& a 2ingertip o;er "er tig"t ,!& t"en &o*n ,et*een "er s i%1 2 es"6 =P ease *"at+ K0ra-= @er e0e i&s %ra%1e& open+ re;ea ing green e0es a /ost , a%1 *it" &esire6 =3"at-= @e grinne& at "er t"en ti%1 e& "er *et porta 6 =3"at is it t"at 0o! *ant-= @e s i& "is 2inger !p into "er &ripping *etness6 S"e instant 0 %ontra%te& aro!n& "i/+ !rging "i/ 2art"er insi&e as s"e !n%ons%io!s 0 gro!n& "er "ips against "i/6 .i%"ae o*ere& "is /o!t" to "er ne%1+ 1issing "er+ t"en , o*ing on t"e &a/pness %o;ering "er s1in6 =Te /e6= =Go!+= s"e *"ispere& "ars" 0+ "er 2ingernai s &igging into "is ,a%16 =I *ant 0o!6 Ds6 To ,e :oine&6= S"e rest ess 0 i%1e& "er ips6 =No*6= @e p! e& "is 2inger o!t t"en entere& "er *it" t*o 2ingers+ rea&0ing "er 2or a /ore /eaning2! /eeting6 =Go! *ant to "a;e seA *it" /e-= S"e near 0 %a/e %o/p ete 0 o22 t"e ,e&6 =GesJ= s"e %rie&6 =I *ant to "a;e seAJ= @e re/o;e& "is 2ingers t"en %a!g"t "er %"in in "is "an&6 =3it" /e+= "e pro/pte&+ "o &ing "er sti 6 @er e0es *ere g a<e& ,!t %ogni<ant as "e ga<e& at "er an& s"e see/e& to ,e "a;ing a "ar& ti/e s*a o*ing6 >!t none o2 t"at e5!a e& t"e "a//ering o2 "is "eart in "is %"est6 @e &i&n9t *ant t"is to ,e seA ,e"in& % ose& e0es6 @e *ante& K0ra to 1no* *"o s"e *as /a1ing o;e to6 3ante& "er to re%ogni<e t"at it *as "i/ *"o /o;e& insi&e "er+ %oaAing "er to % i/aA6 )n& "e nee&e& to 1no* t"at s"e nee&e& "i/ in t"e sa/e *a06 S"e no&&e& "er "ea& as ,est s"e %o! & in "is grasp6 =Ges6 I *ant to "a;e seA *it" 0o!6= T"at *as a .i%"ae nee&e&6 @e 5!i%1 0 s"e& "is :eans+ s"irt+ p!t on a %on&o/+ t"en strippe& "er o2 "er tin0 panties6 S"e /o;e& to ta1e o22 t"e nig"tgo*n+ ,!t "e "e & "er sti =No6 Bea;e it on6= T"ere *as a 5!estion in "er e0es6 >!t not 2or ong6 @e entere& "er in one ong stro1e+ &ri;ing straig"t "o/e+ "er 2 es" *et an& tig"t an& o"+ so ;er0 s*eet @er o* /oan *rappe& aro!n& "i/ as tig"t 0 as "er /!s% es+ as "e ,a an%e& "i/se 2 on "is "an&s an& grit "is teet" to 1eep 2ro/ % i/aAing rig"t t"en an& t"ere6

?"+ ,!t s"e 2e t so goo&6 So &a/n rig"t6 @e oo1e& &o*n to *"ere "ernig"tie %o;ere& t"eir :oine& ,o&ies t"en pee e& t"e si 1en /ateria ,a%1 to re;ea :!st "o* goo& t"e0 oo1e& toget"er6 K0ra rest ess 0 g0rate& against "i/+ apparent 0 &e%i&ing t"at 0ing t"ere *aiting 2or "i/ to %ontin!e *asn9t eno!g"6 @is "ips ,!%1e& in;o !ntari 06 @e9& ne;er ,een so % ose to % i/aAing so 5!i%1 0+ not e;en in "is teens6 @e "e & tig"t+ %o!nting ,a%1*ar& 2ro/ ten6 K0ra ,!/pe& "er "an&s against t"e insi&e o2 "is e ,o*s+ t"ro*ing o22 "is ,a an%e+ t"en p!s"e& "i/ o;er to ie 2 at on "is ,a%16 .i%"ae *asn9t entire 0 % ear on *"at "a& "appene& !nti "e g an%e& !p to 2in& "er stra&& ing "i/+ "er "airspi1er t"an !s!a as s"e t!gge& o22 t"enig"tie + a o*ing "i/ to ga<e at "er &e e%ta, e ,o&0 in its entiret0 2or t"e 2irst ti/e6 S"e s o* 0 too1 "i/ ,a%1 insi&e "er6 .i%"ae re;e e& in *at%"ing "er s"i;er as s"e a&:!ste& to "is si<e+ "er sto/a%" /!s% es ta!t an& *e 7&e2ine&+ "er ,reasts pert *it" nipp es see/ing a /ost too arge 2or t"e s/a er /o!n&s6 @e 2anne& "is 2ingers aro!n& "er *aist+ ,!&ge& t"e/ !p*ar&+ %!pping "er ,reasts+ teasing "er nipp es+ t"en 2o o*ing !p a ong t"e &e i%ate ine o2 "er %o ar,one an& ne%16 S"e eane& "er %"ee1 into "is to!%"+ t"en 1isse& "is "an&+ r!nning "er tong!e a ong "is pa / t"en s!%1ing on "is in&eA 2inger6 T"e 2ee o2 "er /o!t" on "is "an&+ an& "is aro!sa ,!rie& &eep in "er ,o&0 pro;e& one o2 t"e /ost eA%r!%iating 0 eroti% /o/ents o2 "is i2e6 Dnti s"e /o;e&' ) groan ,egan so/e*"ere in t"e ;i%init0 o2 .i%"ae 9s groin t"en s i& 2ro/ "is t"roat i1e a *o 29s "o* 6 K0ra s"i//ie& "er "ips+ /o;ing 2or*ar&+ t"en ,a%1+ a /ost as i2 in ase/isitting position+ t"en sat ,a%1 again+ "er ,otto/ "ot against "is t"ig"s+ "er "eat &ripping to %o;er "is s1in6 @e p !%1e& at "er engorge& nipp es6 S"e /oane& an& rea%"e& o!t to ,a an%e "erse 2 against t"e "ea&,oar&+ "er 2ingers %!r ing aro!n& t"e iron*or1 an& "o &ing "er !prig"t e;en as s"e *or1e& "er /agi% on "is ,o&06 K0ra t"re* "er "ea& ,a%1 an& *"ispere& "is na/e as "er /o;e/ents ,e%a/e /ore 2ranti%+ /ore !rgent6 4 a/es eAp o&e& insi&e .i%"ae as "e &roppe& "is "an&s to "er "ips an& *at%"e& "er t"ro!g" "a 27 i&&e& e0es6 @er ,reat"ing %a/e in ragge& gasps+ "er s/a ,reasts ,o!n%e& !p an& &o*n+ "er s*o en 2 es" %o;ere& "i/ t"en *it"&re* on 0 to %o;er "i/ again6 =.i%"ae J= K0ra %a e&+ "er ,a%1 ar%"ing+ "er ,o&0 sti22ening6 .i%"ae ,!%1e& !p against "er on%e+ t*i%e+ t"en K0ra /e te& aro!n& "i/ i1e a s"i//ering p!&& e+ %arr0ing "i/ a ong *it" "er6 K0ra %o apse& against "i/+ "er /!s% es %ontra%ting an& %on;! sing aro!n& "i/6 .i%"ae "e & "er tig"t+ "e & "er sti + ri&ing o!t t"e g orio!s *a;es o2 "is o*n orgas/6 ) o!& po!n&ing so!n&e&6 .i%"ae groane&+ t"in1ing it t"e so!n& o2 "is "eart6

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S"e 5!ir1e& a ,ro*6 ?1a0' S"e g an%e& at t"e &o%1 to 2in& it a2ter ten6 ) 2a%t t"at pani%1e& "er !nti s"e rea i<e& it *as Sat!r&a0 an& s"e &i&n9t "a;e to ,e an0*"ere t"at /orning6 S"e 2 oppe& ,a%1 onto "er o*n pi o* an& &rape& an ar/ a%ross "er e0es6 T"e 2irst t"o!g"t to %o/e to /in& *as ' *o*6 Ne;er in a /i ion 0ears *o! & s"e "a;e g!esse& t"at "er ,est 2rien& *as a ;irt!a seA go&6 ?"+ "e "a& t"e oo1s t"at *o! & et "i/ into an0 gir 9s panties6 >!t s"e9& 2o!n& o!t t"e "ar& *a0 t"at too /an0 attra%ti;e /en 2ig!re& t"e0 %o! & get t"e :o, &one *it" t"eir oo1s a one6 Eit"er t"at+ or t"e0 "a& ,een %atere& to so /!%" o2 t"eir i;es t"at t"e0 &i&n9t "a;e to *or1 "ar& at an0t"ing+ in% !&ing seA6 Not .i%"ae .i%"ae ' 3o*6 @er "an& *an&ere& to t"e ot"er si&e o2 t"e ,e& again+ 2in&ing t"e s"eets %o &6 T"e pani% s"e9& 2e t at seeing t"e ti/e ,egan to %reep in aro!n& "er again6 S"e s5!as"e& "er e0es s"!t+ 2en&ing t"e a%i&0 2ee ing o226 S"e *o! & not pani%6 S"e *o! & not ta1e .i%"ae 9s /orning &isappearing a%t as a sign t"at ast nig"t "a&n9t ,een goo& 2or "i/6 S"e *o! & not e;en i/agine t"at "e regrette& *"at "a& "appene& ,et*een t"e/6 S"e ran "er 2ingers t"ro!g" "er to!s e& "air+ t"en s/i e& at t"e s"ort spi1es *"ere on%e "er "ea;0 ,ro*n tresses "a& ,een6 No+ s"e *o! &n9t t"in1 i1e t"at6 >e%a!se t"at9s eAa%t 0 t"e *a0 t"e o & K0ra *o! & t"in16 )n& s"e *asn9t t"e o & K0ra an0/ore6 ?"+ no6 T"is *as t"e ne* K0ra+ *"o &i&n9t o;erana 0<e t"e /en s"e &ate& or a o* t"eir a%tions to &i%tate "o* s"e %on&!%te& "er i2e6 S"e an& .i%"ae "a& eAperien%e& great seA6 T"at *as it6 .a0,e "e9& "a& to ,e on t"e :o, site t"is /orning6 K0ra s*a o*e& "ar&6 ?1a0+ so /a0,e s"e %o! &n9t ,anis" t"e o & K0ra *it" one *a;e o2 "er "an&6 Per"aps s"e9& "a;e to &o t"is in stages6 )n& %onsi&ering *"at "a& "appene& ast nig"t+ s"e 2ig!re& s"e9& eape& o;er at east a 2e* o2 t"ose stages in on 0 a %o!p e o2 "o!rs6 .r6 Ti,,s got !p 2ro/ "is spot an& ,!tte& "is "ea& against "er "an&6 K0ra a,sent 0 patte& "i/+ t"en rea%"e& 2or t"e %or& ess p"one on t"e nig"tstan&6 =3"at-= s"e as1e& t"e &isappro;ing %at6 =I :!st *ant to *is" "i/ a goo& /orning6= .r6 Ti,,s t*it%"e& "is tai t"en eape& o22 t"e ot"er si&e o2 t"e ,e& as i2 !na, e to stan& *at%"ing "is /istress /a1e a 2oo o2 "erse 26 =@e0+ it9s not i1e I9/ going to as1 "i/ *"ere "e is6 ?r *"0 "e e2t *it"o!t sa0ing goo&,0e or an0t"ing6 It9s Sat!r&a0 an& I *ant to see *"at "e9s !p to t"is *ee1en&6 >est

2rien&s &o t"at6= ?"+ 0ea"- T"en *"0 &i& it 2ee i1e ,ees *ere stinging t"e insi&e o2 "er sto/a%"S"e presse& a!to&ia t"en san1 ,a%1 into t"e pi o*s again+ ,reat"ing &eep 06 =@e o-= .i%"ae 6 K0ra opene& "er /o!t" to spea1+ t"en 5!i%1 0 presse& t"e &is%onne%t ,!tton6 ) s/a + strang e& so!n& es%ape& 2ro/ "er t"roat as s"e stare& in "orror at t"e re%ei;er6?"/igo& 6 S"e &i& not :!st &o t"at6 S"e a,so !te 0+ positi;e 0 %o! & not "a;e :!st "!ng !p on .i%"ae 6 ?"+ ,!t s"e "a&6 3"i%" 1no%1e& "er ,a%1 at east a &e%a&e in t"e age7o & &ating ga/e6 S"e "it "erse 2 repeate& 0 in t"e "ea& *it" t"e %or& ess re%ei;er6 =St!pi&+ st!pi&+ st!pi&6= Espe%ia 0 in t"is &a0 an& age+ o2 Ca er ID6 Not t"at *"at s"e &i& *o! & "a;e ,een o1a0 ,a%1 *"en 0o! %o! & get a*a0 *it" "anging !p on so/eone *it"o!t t"e/ 1no*ing6 >!t at east it *o! & "a;e ,een easier to *rite o22 t"e in%i&ent as a /ista1e6 T"e re%ei;er in "er "an& ;i,rate&+ t"en et o!t a pier%ing ring6 S"e 0e pe& an& &roppe& it+ t"en s%ra/, e& to pi%1 it ,a%1 !p6 S"e 1ne* *"o it *as6 )n& s"e 1ne* t"at "e 1ne* *"at s"e "a& :!st &one6 =@i+ .i%"ae += s"e sai& as %as!a 0 as possi, e6 3"i%"+ *it"o!t an0 /a:or %a22eine+ *asn9t ;er0 %as!a at a 6 =Di& 0o! :!st "ang !p on /e-= S"e /a&e a 2a%e6 =Gea"6 Sorr0 a,o!t t"at6 I *as'= S"e *as *"at- T"ere rea 0 *asn9t an0*"ere to go *it" t"at6 T"e neAt ,est t"ing *o! & ,e to re&ire%t t"e %on;ersation6 =3"ere are 0o!-= ?1a0+ *"0 &i&n9t s"e :!st s/ot"er "erse 2 to &eat" *it" "er pi o* rig"t "ere an& no*Ho&+ %o! & s"e get an0 &ingier- .ore nee&0- S"e groane&+ not i1ing t"e ;ie* s"e *as getting o2 t"e o & K0ra+ t"e ne* K0ra ' o"+ :!st p ain K0ra+ perio&6 .i%"ae 9s %"!%1 e %ra%1 e& o;er t"e ine6 =)re 0o! a rig"t-= =4ine6= EA%ept 2or t"e pi o* s"e "a& o;er "er "ea&6 =Sorr0 I e2t *it"o!t sa0ing goo&,0e6 Di& 0o! get /0 note-=

=Note-= @e9& e2t a note- 3"ere=I e2t it tape& to t"e %o22ee/a1er6 Go! 1no*+ t"in1ing 0o!9& "ea& t"ere 2irst6= S"e "ear& ,a%1gro!n& street noises6 =I 2ig!re& it *o! & ,e a goo& i&ea to get o!t o2 t"ere ,e2ore .rs6 Ka/ins10 got !p6 Go! 1no*+ to sa;e 0o! 2ro/ an0 /ore tro!, e6= .rs6 Ka/ins106 K0ra9s 2a%e ,!rne& "ot6 S"e9& 2orgotten a,o!t "er nos0 an& a&06 =3"at are 0o! &oing 2or !n%"-= "e as1e&6 K0ra s o* 0 &ragge& t"e pi o* 2ro/ "er 2a%e6 =3"at-= =B!n%"6 Go! 1no*+ t"at /ea at t"e /i&& e o2 t"e &a0- 3"at are 0o! &oing 2or it-= C!/ping o22 t"e@o*ar&4ran1 an&>ri&ge6 =3"at-= K0ra ,o te& !prig"t6 @a& s"e sai& t"e *or&s=I9/ at t"e Ne;i e site no*+ ,!t I s"o! & ,e 2inis"ing !p aro!n&noon6 Go! *ant to /eet /e at+ sa0+one o9% o%1atNi1o9s -= =No6= K0ra *on&ere& *"at *as *it" "er /o!t" t"is /orning6 =I /ean+ 0es6 Hree1 so!n&s goo&6= )%t!a 0+ t"e t"o!g"t o2 2oo& /a&e "er si%1 to "er sto/a%" :!st t"en+ ,!t *"at *o! & .i%"ae t"in1 i2 s"e t!rne& "i/ &o*n=K0ra-= "e as1e& 5!iet 06 =)re 0o! s!re 0o!9re a rig"t-= S"e grippe& t"e re%ei;er tig"t 06 =S!re6 I9/ 2ine6= =Go!9re not+ !/+ "a;ing se%on& t"o!g"ts a,o!t *"at "appene& ast nig"t+ are 0o!-= S"e s*a o*e& "ar&6 =No6 )re 0o!-= =No6= =Hoo&6= =Hoo&6= =So+ !/+ I g!ess I9 see 0o! at one+ t"en6=

=?ne6= T"e &ia tone so!n&e& in K0ra9s ear6 S"e s o* 0 p! e& t"e p"one ,a%1 to stare at it+ t"en "it t"e &is%onne%t ,!tton+ on 0 to "it it again to get an o!tsi&e ine6 T"e pro, e/ *as+ s"e *as a,o!t to %a .i%"ae 6 Not .i%"ae + t"e g!0 s"e "a& :!st spent an in%re&i, e nig"t *it"+ ,!t .i%"ae + "er ,est 2rien&6 Go! 1no*+ to get a&;i%e on .i%"ae + "er o;er6 S"e p!t t"e p"one ,a%1 in its %ra& e t"en 2 oppe& ,a%1+ 1i%1ing "er 2eet in a /iAt!re o2 2r!stration an& eA%ite/ent6 3"at *as s"e going to &o- @o* %o! & s"e possi, 0 2a%e "i/ 2or !n%" no* t"at "e 1ne* a,o!t t"e 2!nn0 itt e noises s"e9& /a&e ast nig"tS"e %ra* e& o!t o2 ,e&+ retrie;e& .i%"ae 9s note 2ro/ *"ere it *as+ in&ee&+ tape& to t"e %o22ee/a1er+ t"en pa&&e& to t"e ,at"roo/+ &e%i&ing to ta1e t"ings one step at a ti/e6 4irst s"e9& "a;e a s"o*er6 T"en s"e9& &o "er "air+ get &resse&+ an& &ri;e to t"e resta!rant6 )n& ,et*een no* an& t"en+ "ope2! 0 s"e *o! & "a;e 2ig!re& o!t *"at in t"e "e s"e *as going to &o a,o!t t"e /ess s"e *as a2rai& s"e *as /a1ing o!t o2 "er i2e6 S"e p! e& ,a%1 t"e s"o*er %!rtain an& %a/e 2a%e7to72a%e *it" t"e s"o*er /assager6 It too1 so/e *or1+ ,!t s"e /anage& to t*ist t"e s!%1er o22 t"e en& o2 t"e "ose an& t"ro* it in t"e gar,age %an6 T"e &a/n t"ing "a& a rea&0 gotten "er into eno!g" tro!, e6 EEE .i%"ae "a& t"o!g"t "e9& 1no*n e;er0t"ing t"ere *as to 1no* a,o!t K0ra 3"ite6 Go! *eren9t 2rien&s *it" so/eone 2or 2o!r 0ears *it"o!t earning so/et"ing6 >!t as "e sat a%ross t"e resta!rant ta, e 2ro/ "er "e *on&ere& i2 "e rea 0 1ne* "er at a 6 ?"+ s"e sti oo1e& i1e t"e sa/e K0ra6 3e + at east t"e one *it" t"e spi10 , ea%"e&7 , on& "air6 S"e sti or&ere& "er /ea as i2 t"e %"e2 &i&n9t "a;e a % !e *"at "e *as &oing6 S"e sti ro e& "er stra* paper into a tin0 ,a t"en s/oot"e& it o!t again on 0 to tear it into tin0 itt e s"re&s6 =4rien&s+= "e repeate& &!/, 0+ tr0ing i1e "e to re2o%!s on t"eir %on;ersation6 @e9& arri;e& at t"e resta!rant at one on t"e &ot an& reser;e& t"eir 2a;orite ta, e6 T"en "e9& *aite& ' an& *aite& ' an& *aite&6 4ina 0+ so/e*"ere :!st a2ter one7t"irt0+ K0ra "a& st!/, e& into t"e p a%e+ oo1ing !n%ertain on "er "ig" "ee s+ an& ,are 0 &aring to /eet "is ga<e6 T"en s"e9& as1e& i2 t"e0 %o! & go ,a%1 to ,eing :!st 2rien&s6 (ig"t' =I *as a2rai& t"is *as going to "appen+= "e sai&+ eaning ,a%1 so t"e *aitress %o! & gi;e "i/ "is p ate6

=)2rai& *"at *as going to "appen-= @e *aite& !nti t"e *aitress e2t+ t"en eane& 2or*ar&6 =3"at9s "appening no*6 3"0 &o 0o! t"in1 I resiste& etting an0t"ing "appen at a + K0ra-= =>e%a!se 0o! &i&n9t *ant /e-= S"e gri/a%e& an& ro e& "er e0es6 =4orget I :!st sai& t"at+ p ease6 Ho&+ %o! & I ,e an0 /ore piti2! -= @e stare& at "er as i2 s"e9& gone insane6 =)re 0o! serio!s- Is t"at *"at 0o! t"o!g"t-= ?1a0+ "e &i&n9t 1no* t"e *o/an a%ross 2ro/ "i/ at a 6 @e ne;er *o! & "a;e g!esse& t"at s"e *as t"e inse%!re t0pe+ gi;en to "anging !p on peop e an& nee&ing %onstant reass!ran%es a2ter *"at "a& ,een+ reso!n&ing 0+ t"e ,est &a/n seA o2 "is i2e6 @e r!,,e& t"e ,a%1 o2 "is ne%1 an& pi%1e& !p "is 2or1+ t"o!g" t"e prospe%t o2 eating &i&n9t rea 0 appea to "i/6 Tr!t" ,e to &+ "e "a&n9t ,een in s!%" great s"ape "i/se 2 t"at /orning6 3"en "e9& *o1en !p at siA an& rea i<e& *"ere "e *as+ *"at "e "a& &one an& *"o "e "a& &one it *it"+ "e9& gra,,e& so/e paper+ s%ri,, e& o!t a 5!i%1 note+ t"en r!n o!t o2 t"e &oor so 2ast "e9& ,een o!t o2 ,reat" *"en "e rea%"e& "is %ar6 It "a& ,een a ong ti/e sin%e "e9& spent t"e nig"t at a *o/an9s p a%e6 )n& a2ter sta0ing o;er at K0ra9s+ *"o *as not :!st an0 ot"er *o/an ' *e + "e9& nee&e& a itt e spa%e to tr0 to sort t"ings o!t6 Not t"at t"at spa%e "a& "e pe& an06 @e9& ,een an e/otiona /ess6 @e a ternate 0 1i%1e& "i/se 2 2or ea;ing "er apart/ent *it"o!t sa0ing goo&,0e+ t"en %a!g"t "i/se 2 grinning i1e an i&iot *"en "e re/e/,ere& t"e seA6 )n& t"ro!g" it a + "e9& *an&ere& aro!n& i1e a /an *it" no &ire%tion+ *on&ering *"at t"is s"i2t in t"eir re ations"ip *o! & /ean6 ?2 %o!rse none o2 t"at /attere& no* t"at K0ra "a& s!ggeste& t"e0 go ,a%1 to ,eing 2rien&s6 =4rien&s+= "e sai& again+ tr0ing to re/e/,er t"e *a0 t"ings "a& ,een ,et*een t"e/ ,e2ore ast nig"t6 >e2ore s"e9& %a e& "i/+ t"en se&!%e& "i/+ in "er seA0 itt enig"tie 6 >e2ore s"e gro!n& against "i/+ see1ing "er o*n orgas/ an& in t"e pro%ess+ gi;ing "i/ one "e9& ne;er 2orget6 >e2ore "e9& 2o!n& o!t t"at t"e *o/an a%ross t"e ta, e 2ro/ "i/ *as as *on&er2! in ,e& as s"e *as o!t o2 it6 =4rien&s+= s"e sai&+ t"en no&&e&6 =?1a06= @e ,it into "is g0ro t"en *ipe& "is /o!t" *it" a paper nap1in6 =3e %an &o t"at6= S"e 2ina 0 oo1e& at "i/ instea& o2 staring at "er p ate6 =3e %an-=

.i%"ae sig"e&6 =S!re6 Don9t 0o! t"in1 *e %an-= =I *o! &n9t "a;e s!ggeste& it i2 I &i&n9t t"in1 *e %o! &6= =Hoo&6= =4ine6= =Hreat6= T"en .i%"ae /et "er ga<e an& 1ne* t"at t"e09& en& !p in ,e& at t"e 2irst opport!nit0' C"apter 8 K#$ 4o!r &a0s ater+ .i%"ae sat at "is &ra2ting ta, e at 4is"er+Pa /ieri + (o/ero an& Tanner+ !na, e to %on%entrate on t"e *or1 in 2ront o2 "i/6 @e r!,,e& "is % ose& e0e i&s+ t"en oo1e& at "is *at%"6 It *as a2ter7:00 p6/6S!re+ it *as ate+ ,!t "e %o! &n9t re/e/,er e;er 2ee ing t"is tire&6 ?2 %o!rse+ t"e ate nig"ts "e9& ,een spen&ing *it" K0ra *eren9t "e ping /atters6 T"e great seA "e9& t"o!g"t t"e09& on 0 "a;e t"e on%e- 3e + t"e0 *ere "a;ing it e;er0 &a0+ se;era ti/es a &a0+ an0p a%e t"e0 %o! & 2in& *"ere t"e0 *o! &n9t get %a!g"t )n& no /atter "o* /an0 ti/es "e "a& "er+ "e *ante& "er t*i%e as ,a& 0 again rig"t a2ter*ar&6 Neit"er o2 t"e/ /entione& t"e =2rien&s= %on;ersation again6 3"i%" *as a goo& t"ing+ ,e%a!se &espite t"e ro er %oaster o2 e/otions "e 2o!n& "i/se 2 on *"en t"e0 *eren9t toget"er+ "e *as "a;ing a &a/n goo& ti/e *"en t"e0 *ere toget"er6 K0ra *as as in;enti;e ,et*een t"e s"eets as s"e *as *it" "er appearan%e+ s!rprising "i/ in *a0s no *o/an "a& e;er a%%o/p is"e&6 Co0 an& &e/!re one ti/e+ a *i &%at t"e neAt+ "e ne;er 1ne* *"at "e *as going to get t"e instant t"e0 *ere a one toget"er6 3"at *o! & "appen on%e t"at 2 a/e o2 passion &ie& o!t *as a 5!estion "e *as p!tting o22 ans*ering 2or *"en it a%t!a 0 "appene&6 )n& it *o! &6 @e 1ne* it *o! &6 3"i e t"eir 2rien&s"ip *as ,ase& on %o//on interests+ tr!st an& o0a t0+ t"e seA ,et*een t"e/ ' *e + it *as ,ase& so e 0 on p!re "!/an nee&6 In 2a%t+ "e *as starting to t"in1 t"eir re ations"ip *as a ,it i1e a *i%1e& ;ersion o2 Ce10 an& @0&e6 @e an& K0ra *o! & !n%" toget"er+ go ,oo1 s"opping toget"er+ a t"e ti/e ta 1ing an& teasing t"e *a0 t"e0 a *a0s &i&6 T"en t"e &oor *o! & % ose on "er apart/ent an& t"e09& ,e a o;er ea%" ot"er+ .rs6 Ka/ins10 an& "er ,anging &e/an&s ,e &a/ne&6 T"e ro e7p a0ing *as ,eginning to ta1e its to on "is ps0%"e as *e as "is p"0si%a &e/eanor6 @e &i&n9t 1no* "o* /!%" onger t"e0 %o! & 1eep t"is !p ,e2ore so/et"ing snappe&6

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%on;ersation6 ?r t"at t"e *o/an /ig"t tr0 2iring "er "erse 26 No6 S"e "a& eno!g" to %onten& *it" gi;en Canet9s "an&s7on interest in t"e re%ent a%%o!nting error6 =Canet-= K0ra sai& again+ in %ase t"e se%retar0 "a&n9t "ear& "er t"e 2irst ti/e6 =Is s"e 2ree-= P"0 is *a;e& a "an&6 =?2 %o!rse s"e9s 2ree6 S"e9s ,een *aiting 2or 0o! sin%e s"e got in6 ?"+ an& I9 "a;e 0o! 1no* t"e 2i2teen /in!tes 0o! *ere ate &i&n9t go *it"o!t noti%e+ eit"er6= K0ra trie& i1e "e not to /a1e a 2a%e at t"e o &er *o/an an& si ent 0 %onte/p ate& *a0s to poison t"e &on!ts t"at a *a0s sat on t"e %orner o2 "er &es16 =Co/e in+ K0ra+= Canet sai& *it"o!t oo1ing !p 2ro/ "er &es16 K0ra &i& as as1e&6 =3o! & 0o! i1e /e to % ose t"e &oor-= Canet oo1e& at "er o;er "er g asses6 =I s!ppose t"at *o! & ,e !p to 0o!6= K0ra g an%e& t"ro!g" t"e &oor at *"ere P"0 is preten&e& to &o 2i ing+ *"i%" p!t "er rig"t neAt to t"e open &oor6 K0ra % ose& it6 Canet sig"e& an& s i& "er g asses o226 Not 2or t"e 2irst ti/e+ K0ra noti%e& "o* attra%ti;e t"e ot"er *o/an *as6 )ro!n& t"e sa/e age as K0ra+ *it" si 10 straig"t :et7, a%1 "air an& , a%1 e0es+ Canet oo1e& a /ost eAa%t 0 i1eSa /a @a0e16 )t east+ *"en s"e s/i e&6 3"i%"+ !n2ort!nate 0+ s"e &i&n9t &o o2ten6 In t"e 2o!r 0ears sin%e K0ra "a& signe& on at t"e 2ir/+ i2 Canet *asn9t ,arri%a&e& in "er o22i%e+ s"e *as tra;e ing so/e*"ere+ &r!//ing !p ,!siness 2or t"e 2ir/6 In 2a%t+ K0ra rea i<e& t"at s"e 1ne* ;er0 itt e persona in2or/ation a,o!t t"e one 2e/a e partner6 >r0%e 4is"er *as /arrie& *it" a to&& er an& "a& anot"er ,a,0 on t"e *a06 @ar;e0 Tanner *as &i;or%e& an& trie& to 2it in a persona i2e *"i e /a1ing spo!sa an& %"i & s!pport pa0/ents6 )n& .i%"ae ' S"e %a!g"t "erse 2 s/i ing an& %o!g"e& to % ear "er eApression6 3e + .i%"ae s"e 1ne* ,est o2 a 6 Canet got !p6 =P ease+ "a;e a seat6= S"e *a 1e& to a %ara2e o2 %o22ee in t"e %orner6 =3o! & 0o! i1e a %!p-= =I9& o;e so/e6= Canet *ore a so2t ,ro*n s!it *it" a %a 27 engt" s1irt an& a "ig"7ne%1e& si 1 s"e 6 S"e s/i e& as s"e "an&e& K0ra "er %o22ee6 => a%1+ rig"t-=

=T"at9s 2ine+= K0ra sai&+ a t"o!g" s"e pre2erre& it *it" ots o2 s!gar an& %rea/6 S"e too1 a sip an& *aite& !nti Canet "a& reseate& "erse 2 ,e2ore sa0ing+ =So 0o! %a/e a%ross t"e *it"&ra*a s ip6= Canet9s e0es s ig"t 0 *i&ene&6 =Ges6 Ges+ I &i&6= =I &i&n9t ta1e o!t t"at /!%" /one06= S"e p!t "er %!p on t"e e&ge o2 t"e &es16 =I :!st t"o!g"t I9& set t"e re%or& straig"t ,e2ore t"e %on;ersation goes an0 2!rt"er6= Canet sat ,a%1 in "er %"air+ tapping a nai against "er %!p6 =I see6 T"en 0o! /!st "a;e so/e i&ea *"o &i& *it"&ra* it+ t"en6= =I9/ sti *or1ing on t"at6= =I see6= K0ra "ate& *"en peop e sai& t"at6 >e%a!se it !s!a 0 /eant t"e0 *ere seeing so/et"ing s"e *asn9t6 =Is t"ere an0t"ing e se-= K0ra as1e&6 =I9/ a2rai& t"ere is+= Canet sai&6 =I9;e %ons! te& *it" t"e 2ir/9s %o!n%i on t"is /atter an& "e9s re%o//en&e& t"at I ,ring in an o!tsi&e so!r%e to /onitor t"e in;estigation6= =?!tsi&e so!r%e' Do 0o! /ean an a!&itor-= K0ra *as ag"ast6 Canet *as ,ringing in so/eone 2ro/ t"e o!tsi&eCanet no&&e&6 =Ges6 ?!r attorne0 reass!res /e t"at t"is is /ere 0 a 2or/a it06 It &oesn9t /ean 0o!9re !n&er s!spi%ion 2or an0t"ing6= 3"i%" /eant t"at s"e *as6 K0ra s!&&en 0 *is"e& s"e *asn9t *earing "ig"7"ee e& s"oes ,e%a!se s"e *as a2rai& s"e *o! &n9t ,e a, e to *a 1 o!t o2 t"e o22i%e in t"e/6 )n& s"e &i&n9t t"in1 ta1ing t"e/ o22 an& %arr0ing t"e/ o!t *o! & ,e a goo& i&ea+ eit"er6 =I see+= s"e 2o!n& "erse 2 sa0ing6 >!t t"is ti/e ,ot" o2 t"e/ 1ne* eAa%t 0 *"at s"e *as seeing6 )n& it *asn9t prett06 Canet s/i e&6 =I9/ s!re t"is *i a *or1 o!t 2ine+ K0ra6= 4!nn0+ isn9t t"at *"at .i%"ae "a& to & "er t"is /orning=3"en %an I eApe%t t"e a!&itor-=

=T"is a2ternoon6 )n& I tr!st 0o!9 "e p "i/ o!t as /!%" as 0o! %an6= =?2 %o!rse6= K0ra t!rne& to ea;e6 =?"+ an& I9;e a rea&0 arrange& 2or t"e a!&itor to &o *"at it ta1es to in;estigate t"e /atter6 Go!9 + o2 %o!rse+ sta0 *it" "i/ *"i e "e &oes-= ?;erti/e6 =?2 %o!rse6= Canet s/i e&6 =Hoo&6= C"apter 9 K#$ .i%"ae %arrie& t"e tra0 o2 2oo& into t"e ,e&roo/ on 0 to 2in& K0ra 2ast as eep6 @e gri/a%e& an& p!t t"e tra0 on t"e ,e&si&e ta, e6 It *as/i&nig"tSat!r&a0 an& s"e9& ,een *or1ing nonstop at t"e o22i%e *it" t"e a!&itor Canet "a& ,ro!g"t in+ tr0ing to get to t"e ,otto/ o2 t"e a%%o!nting error6 S"e9& st!/, e& into t"e apart/ent 2i2teen /in!tes ago+ %ra* e& into t"e s"o*er t"en %o apse& a%ross t"e ,e&+ "er "air sti *et+ "er &e e%ta, e ,o&0 *rappe& in a to*e 6 .i%"ae t!gge& at t"e &a/p terr0 % ot"6 @e rea 0 s"o! & get "er o!t o2 it ,e2ore s"e %a!g"t a %"i 6 @e p! e& a 2 ap ,a%1 2ro/ "er % ean+ pin1 s1in an& i//e&iate 0 2e t &esire %areen t"ro!g" "is groin6 ?1a0+ /a0,e t"at *asn9t s!%" a goo& i&ea6 .a0,e i2 "e p!t so/et"ing on "er 2irst' @e sear%"e& t"ro!g" "er &ra*ers 2or so/et"ing as !nattra%ti;e as possi, e6 So/et"ing t"at *o! & "e p "i/ t!%1 "er in *it"o!t s!%%!/,ing to t"e te/ptation to *a1e "er so t"e0 /ig"t %ontin!e t"eir seA!a eAp orations6 @e &is%o;ere& t"at K0ra9s ne* interest in seA0 % ot"es eAten&e& to "er e;ening *ear+ as *e 6 Eit"er t"at or s"e9& a *a0s "a& a na!g"t0 si&e s"e9& 1ept "i&&en !n&er "er %onser;ati;e % ot"ing6 S i&ing t"e &ra*er % ose&+ "e opte& 2or one o2 "is *or1 s"irts instea&+ gra,,ing it 2ro/ *"ere it *as &rape& a%ross t"e ,a%1 o2 a %"air6 @e %are2! 0 s i& t"e s ee;es !p "er ar/s t"en p! e& t"e s"irt toget"er o;er "er %"est+ ,!ttoning it as ,est "e %o! &+ gi;en t"at "e %o! &n9t p! t"e ,a%1 &o*n6 T"ere6 @e %o! & "an& e t"is no*6 @e rea%"e& !n&er t"e "e/ o2 t"e s"irt an& t!gge& on t"e to*e + s i&ing it 2ro/ !n&er "er ,one ess ,o&06

T"at a%%o/p is"e&+ "e sat neAt to "er on t"e /attress an& ig"t 0 s*ept "er *isp0 "air ,a%1 2ro/ "er 2a%e6 Dear+ s*eet K0ra6 @e 2ro*ne&6 T"at *as t"e 2irst ti/e "e9& t"o!g"t o2 "er in t"at *a0 sin%e t"e09& /a&e t"e transition 2ro/ 2rien&s to o;ers6 4or t"e past *ee1 s"e9& ,een;a7;a7;oo/ K0ra+ %apa, e o2 s"o%1ing "i/ an& ro%1ing "is *or & in a *a0 it "a& ne;er ,een ro%1e& ,e2ore6 >!t no* *it" "er s eeping+ "er ,ro* sti %rease& 2ro/ *"ere s"e9& ,een *orr0ing so /!%" ate 0+ "e %o! &n9t "e p ,!t 2ee "is origina 2on&ness 2or "er ret!rn6 It not on 0 ret!rne&+ ,!t it ,egan to /ing e *it" t"e %ease ess &esire "e 2e t 2or t"e *o/an 0ing o, i;io!s to "is t"o!g"ts+ t"e t*o e/otions %o/p e/enting ea%" ot"er6 S"e *as an in%re&i, e *o/an+ K0ra6 Strong an& %o/petent an& seA0 as "e 6 Strong an& %o/petent "e9& a *a0s 1no*n a,o!t6 SeA0 *as a re%ent ,!t potent &is%o;er06 @e %o! &n9t re/e/,er a ti/e *"en "e9& "a& so /!%" seA in s!%" a s"ort perio& o2 ti/e6 )n& i2 s"e *as %ons%io!s+ t"e09& pro,a, 0 ,e setting t"e s"eets on 2ire 0et again tonig"t6 .r6 Ti,,s :!/pe& on t"e ,e& an& e0e& K0ra+ t"en oo1e& !p at .i%"ae a%%!sing 06 =3"at- I &i&n9t &o an0t"ing6= ) t"o!g" "e 2o!n& "i/se 2 *is"ing s"e *as eA"a!ste& ,e%a!se o2 "i/ instea& o2 *"at *as going on at *or16 .r6 Ti,,s p oppe& "is o;er2e& 2!rr0 ,!tt &o*n on t"e s"eet6 =)re 0o! "!ngr0-= .i%"ae as1e&+ &e%i&ing t"at no* *as as goo& a ti/e as an0 to %o/e to a tr!%e *it" t"e s%r!220 2e ine t"at see/e& to /ere 0 to erate "is presen%e6 @e pi%1e& !p a pie%e o2 %!,e& "a/ an& "e & it o!t6 .r6 Ti,,s e0e& "i/+ t"en sni22e& eAperi/enta 06 T"en "e ,it t"e pie%e o2 /eat a ong *it" .i%"ae 9s t"!/, an& eape& o22 t"e ,e&6 .i%"ae s"oo1 "is "an&+ t"en eAa/ine& t"e &a/age6 Not"ing "e *o! &n9t re%o;er 2ro/6 Sti + an0 tr!%e *it" t"e :ea o!s %at *as o22 2or t"e ti/e ,eing6 @is ga<e *as &ra*n ,a%1 to K0ra9s s eeping 2a%e6 3it"o!t a i%1 o2 t"e /a1e!p s"e9& ta1en to *earing ate 0+ it *as eas0 to i/agine t"e *o/an "e on%e 1ne*6 T"e one t"at "a& ,een "is ,est 2rien&6 To go or to sta06 T"at *as t"e 5!estion 3"en "e rea i<e& t"at K0ra *as going to ,eat t"e o22i%e a &a0+ "e sa* to erran&s+ t"en %"e%1e& in at t"e 2ir/ "i/se 2 a2ter siA t"at nig"t to 2ina i<e t"e p ans 2or t"e Ne;i e "o!se6 T"e o!tsi&e a!&itor "a& /a&e it i/possi, e 2or an0 "an107pan106 Not t"at "e t"o!g"t K0ra *as !p to an0 an0*a06 S"e9& oo1e& %o/p ete 0 &raine&6 )n& s"e "a& ,een+ i2 "er %!rrent state *as an0t"ing to go ,06 )t e e;en7t"irt0 "e9& 2ina 0 %on;in%e& "er to % ose !p s"op an& %o/e "o/e *it" "i/6 4or so/e strange reason+ s"e9& see/e& s!rprise& t"at "e9& &ri;en to "er p a%e6 T"en a itt e &isappointe&6 @e9& *ante& to ta 1 to "er a,o!t

t"at6 >!t it &i&n9t appear t"e0 *ere going to ,e ta 1ing or /!%" o2 an0t"ing no*6 @e ran a 2ingertip &o*n "er %"e%1 t"en o;er "er :a* ine6 @e &i&n9t 1no* i2 "e "a& t"e strengt" to ea;e "er an& go ,a%1 to "is %on&o6 >!t sta0ing *it" "er i1e t"is+ 2ee ing a *ar/ an& 2!<<0 insi&e+ pose& a pro, e/+ as *e 6 @e *asn9t eAa%t 0 s!re *"0+ ,!t "e &i&n9t 1no* i2 it *as *ise to a o* "is 2ee ings 2or "er to /ing e *it" "is &esire6 Dp !nti no*+ t"e0 ,ot" see/e& to &o a prett0 goo& :o, o2 1eeping ,ot" re ations"ips82rien&s an& o;ers8separate6 )n& "e9& i1e to %ontin!e to &o t"at6 I2 on 0 ,e%a!se "e &i&n9t "a;e t"e %o!rage to t"in1 a,o!t &oing an0t"ing e se6 C!st /ore t"an a *ee1 "a& passe& sin%e s"e9& se&!%e& "i/ *it" pi<<a an& an i%e7 , !enig"tie 6 In t"e &ar1 re%esses o2 "is /in&+ so/eti/es "e s*ore "e %o! & "ear a % o%1 ti%1ing6 ) ti/er o2 sorts+ %o!nting &o*n t"e /in!tes *"en K0ra *o! & *a1e !p an& &o a*a0 *it" "i/ as s"e "a& *it" so /an0 ot"er /en in "er i2e6 @e &i&n9t *ant to t"in1 t"at *a0+ ,!t "e *as a pra%ti%a /an *"o 1ne* "o* to eAa/ine a t"e ang es6 )n& t"e t"o!g"t t"at K0ra /ig"t *a1e !p one /orning+ oo1 at "i/+ an& &e%i&e t"e0 *ere &one ' *e + it oo/e& a ;er0 strong possi,i it0+ in&ee&6 )n& 2ran1 0+ t"e ine;ita,i it0 *as ,eginning to s%are t"e i;ing s"it o!t o2 "i/6 Ho "o/e6 T"at9s *"at "e s"o! & &o6 C!st get !p 2ro/ t"e ,e&+ gat"er "is t"ings+ an& "ea& ,a%1 to "is %on&o 2or t"e nig"t @e9& ea;e "er a note sa0ing "e9& ,e ,a%1 in t"e /orning to ta1e "er to t"e 2ir/+ *"ere t"e09& e2t "er %ar6 @e /o;e& at t"e sa/e ti/e K0ra *"ispere& so/et"ing in "er s eep an& ro e& to*ar& "i/+ s i&ing "er &e i%ate "an& a%ross "is a,&o/en t"en "!//ing in %ontent .i%"ae s*a o*e& "ar&+ oo1ing at *"ere "er p!rp e7painte& nai s *ere /ere /i i/eters 2ro/ t"e *aist o2 "is pants an& "is aro!sa 6 ?1a0+ "e %o! & "an& e t"is6 T"e0 *o! & :!st s eep toget"er6 S eep6 @e *o! &n9t t"in1 ,e0on& t"ose ter/s6 @e9& stret%" o!t neAt to "er an& %at%" so/e s"!t7e0e an& in t"e /orning "e9& &is%o;er t"at not"ing "a& %"ange&6 @e gent 0 s"i2te& "er an& stret%"e& o!t+ &e%i&ing to ea;e "is :eans an& T7s"irt on6 .i%"ae s"!t o22 t"e ig"t an& too1 a &eep ,reat"6 ?n%e "e *as sett e& against t"e pi o*s+ K0ra %!r e& !p against "i/ an& "!//e& again6 D"7o"' EEE K0ra re/o;e& "er "ea& 2ro/ *"ere s"e "a& it proppe& !p against "er "an& an& g an%e& to *"ere t"e a!&itor *as re/o;ing a ong ine o2 tape 2ro/ t"e /an!a %a %! ator ,e"in& "er6 @e stare& at "er 2ore"ea&6 Hreat+ s"e pro,a, 0 "a& pa / "ea&6 3"i%" *o! & ,e 2ine

i2 t"at9s a s"e "a&6 Tr!t" *as+ s"e *as tire& as "e 6 3"en s"e9& *o1en !p at siA t"at /orning to 2in& .i%"ae 9s ar/s %ra& ing "er+ "is %"in resting on t"e top o2 "er "ea&+ s"e9& *ante& not"ing /ore t"an to %!&& e % oser an& 2a ,a%1 as eep6 Instea& s"e9& %a e& a taAi an& "a& %o/e to t"e 2ir/ to 2in& t"e a!&itor a rea&0 t"ere6 T"at *as 2i;e "o!rs ago6 =Done-= s"e as1e&6 T"e a!&itor9s na/e *as 3a ter 3est"ei/er an& s"e9& ,et &o ars to &on!ts "e9& on%e *or1e& at t"e I(S6 @e oo1e& i1e t"e t0pe *"o *o! & get into ta1ing "ar&*or1ing 2a/i ies9 "o!ses a*a06 ?"+ "e *as pro,a, 0 on 0 a 2e* 0ears o &er t"an "er+ an& attra%ti;e eno!g"+ *it" "is , on& "air an& , !e e0es6 >!t t"ere *as so/et"ing ' r!t" ess a,o!t t"e *a0 "e tappe& a*a0 on t"e %a %! ator "e9& ,ro!g"t a ong *it" "i/ e;er0 /orning an& too1 "o/e *it" "i/ e;er0 nig"t6 It /a&e "er s1in %ra* 6 S"e i1e& ,eing a ,oo11eeper+ ,!t it *asn9t eAa%t 0 "er i2e6 S"e "a& t"e sensation t"at 3est"ei/er &rea/e& a,o!t n!/,ers *"en "e s ept6 =Done+= "e 2ina 0 sai&+ 2o &ing t"e %a %! ator tape+ t"en stap ing it in p a%e6 K0ra s*i;e e& "er %"air aro!n& to 2a%e *"ere "e9& set !p s"op on t"e *or1ta, e ,e"in& "er6 =)n&-= =)n& not"ing6 I %an9t %o/e to an0 %on% !sions !nti I get t"e a%t!a *it"&ra*a s ip 2ro/ t"e ,an1 to/orro*6= =?2 %o!rse6= K0ra 2ro*ne&+ t"en oo1e& at "er *at%"6 S"e9& trie& %a ing .i%"ae ear ier+ ,!t "a& gotten "is %e p"one ;oi%e /ai 6 @e "a& 0et to %a ,a%16 =It9s !n%"ti/e6 Do 0o! *ant to go %at%" a ,ite-= 3a ter oo1e& at "er as i2 s"e9& :!st s!ggeste& t"e0 strip na1e& an& "a;e seA on "er %o/p!ter6 =T"en again+ /a0,e not+= s"e sai&+ resisting t"e !rge to ro "er e0es6 3"ere "a& Canet 2o!n& t"is g!03a ter p a%e& "is t"ings in "is ,rie2%ase+ t"en stoo& an& eAten&e& "is "an& to "er6 =T"an1 0o! 2or 0o!r "e p in t"is /atter6 I9 ,e s!re to pass on 0o!r %ooperation to 0o!r e/p o0er6= K0ra "esitant 0 too1 "is "an&6 =Di& 0o! eApe%t an0t"ing ess-= S"e &roppe& "er "an&6 =So I9 see 0o! to/orro* /orning+ t"en-= @e pi%1e& !p "is ,rie2%ase6 =I9 ,e ten&ering /0 2in&ings &ire%t 0 to 0o!r e/p o0er6 I s!ggest 0o! spea1 *it" "er6=

K0ra stare& at "i/+ tr0ing to 2ig!re o!t i2 "e *as ,eing p!rpose 0 o/ino!s or *"et"er it *as :!st part o2 "is &e/eanor6 S"e &e%i&e& it *as "is &e/eanor6 S"e "a&n9t &one an0t"ing *rong6 )n0 in;estigation *as s!re to pro;e t"at o!t6 @e e2t "er o22i%e *it"o!t anot"er *or&+ t"en s"e "ear& t"e o!ter &oor % ose ,e"in& "i/6 S"e 2 oppe& ,a%1 in "er %"air an& %onsi&ere& t"e /ess t"e09& ,ot" /a&e6 S"e rea 0 s"o! & /a1e a &ent in % eaning it !p6 Instea&+ s"e pi%1e& !p t"e p"one an& %a e& .i%"ae again6 @e ans*ere& on t"e t"ir& ring6 =@e o-= "e sai& 5!iet 06 =Q@o a+ a/igoJ=s"e sai&+ tr0ing to in:e%t "!/or into "er ;oi%e6 =Go! !p 2or so/e !n%"I9/ star;ing6 I *as t"in1ing t"at itt e p a%e o!t ,0 t"e /arina6 Go! 1no*+ t"e sea2oo& p a%e-= =Can 0o! "o & on a /in!te-= K0ra p! e& ,a%1+ s!rprise&6 =S!re6= ) /o/ent ater "e *as ,a%16 =I %an9t &o !n%" *it" 0o!+ K0ra6= =3"ere are 0o!-= =It9s t"e ast S!n&a0 o2 t"e /ont"6= S"e trie& to /a1e sense o!t o2 "is *or&s6 =I &on9t ' o"+ *ait6= S"e , e* o!t a ong ,reat"6 =Dinner at 0o!r parents9+ rig"t- I9/ sorr06 I 2orgot6= )n& "e9& o,;io!s 0 2orgotten to /ention it to "er6 =I *as going to ea;e 0o! a note t"is /orning+ ,!t 0o! e2t ,e2ore I &i&6= )n& s"e "a&n9t e2t a note6 Ho&+ t"is *as a*1*ar&6 =3"at ti/e &o 0o! t"in1 0o!9 ,e "o/e ater-= .i%"ae as1e&6 =)%t!a 0+ I9 ,e "o/e in a "a 2 "o!r6= S"e et o!t anot"er ong ,reat" t"in1ing s"e /ig"t as *e ta%1 e so/e o2 t"ere2i ing *"i e s"e *as t"ere6 =T"e a!&itor :!st 2inis"e&6 @e9s going to gi;e Canet "is 2in&ings to/orro*6= =Hoo&+ so e;er0t"ing9s *or1e& o!t t"en6=

S"e ,it "er ,otto/ ip6 @e see/e& so %on2i&ent in "er6 S"e *is"e& s"e %o! & 2ee as s!re6 =Ges+ I g!ess6= S"e s*i;e e& in "er %"air an& 2is"e& aro!n& 2or one o2 t"e energ0 ,ars s"e !s!a 0 1ept in "er p!rse6 =So+ a,o!t tonig"t+ t"en6 I t"o!g"t /a0,e *e %o! & /eet at 0o!r p a%e6= ?!t o2 t"e 2r0ing pan+ into t"e 2ire6 K0ra "a&n9t rea i<e& s"e *as going to /a1e t"e s!ggestion !nti it *as o!t o2 "er /o!t"6 >!t t"e 2a%t t"at t"e0 *ere at "er apart/ent a t"e ti/e *as ,eginning to ,!g "er6 S"e &i&n9t t"in1 .i%"ae *as "i&ing an0t"ing 2ro/ "er+ ,!t s!re 0+ t"ere "a& to ,e a reason *"0 "e *as a;oi&ing ta1ing "er "o/e *it" "i/6 =?1a0+= "e sai& "esitant 06 =3"at ti/e-= S"e g an%e& at "er *at%" e;en t"o!g" s"e a rea&0 1ne* t"e ti/e6 =Sa0 siA- Is t"at too ear 0 2or 0o!-= =I *as t"in1ing too ate6= S"e %a!g"t t"e seA0 inn!en&o in "is ;oi%e an& s/i e&6 =I %o! & /eet 0o! t"ere in an "o!r6= T"ere *as a ;oi%e on t"e ot"er en& o2 t"e ine an& .i%"ae respon&e& to it6 =SiA o9% o%1+ t"en-= =@//6 SiA6= K0ra ,ro1e t"e %onne%tion+ t"en %on%entrate& on 2in&ing t"e energ0 ,ar6 T"ere6 S"e eAa/ine& t"e *rapper t"at *as a itt e *orse 2or *ear an& %"e%1e& t"e eApiration &ate6 ) *ee1 2ro/ to&a06 S"e *as sa2e6 S"e tore open t"e en& *it" "er teet" an& &!g into it+ tr0ing i1e "e to ignore t"e !neasiness s"e 2e t a,o!t e;er0t"ing in "er i2e at t"e /o/ent6 4irst t"ere *as t"e ineAp i%a, e a%%o!nting error6 T"en s"e9& "a& to &ea *it" t"e a!&itor6 )n& no* .i%"ae *as at "is parents9+ *it"o!t "a;ing sai& *or& one a,o!t "er possi, 0 going *it" "i/6 S"e9& /et Con%"ita an& )ntonio (o/ero on%e+ at t"e *e&&ing o2 one o2 .i%"ae 9s %o!sins6 @e9& ,een s"ort a &ate an& s"e9& 2i e& in at t"e ast /in!te6 T"e09& see/e& i1e ni%e eno!g" peop e6 Not t"at s"e9& "a& a %"an%e to rea 0 ta 1 to t"e/6 3"ene;er t"e0 %a/e *it"in spea1ing &istan%e+ .i%"ae "a& *"is1e& "er a*a0+ % ai/ing "e *as sa;ing "er 2ro/ t"e =/arriage ta 1= t"e0 ga;e a o2 "is &ates6 S"e %"e*e& ' an& %"e*e& ' an& %"e*e&+ tr0ing not to t"in1 t"at t"e %on%o%tion o2 n!ts an&8s"e rea& t"e *rapper8%ara/e taste& i1e %ar&,oar&6 ?1a0+ so a2ter a *ee1 o2 "ot seA+ .i%"ae *asn9t eAa%t 0 rea&0 to ta1e "er to "is parents9

2or &inner6 Sin%e s"e &i&n9t "a;e /!%" o2 a 2a/i 0 to %o/pare t"e sit!ation to s"e %o! &n9t sa0 *"et"er t"at *as nor/a or not6 >!t s"e *o! & i1e& to "a;e /a&e t"e &e%ision "erse 26 @e %o! & "a;e as1e&+ an& s"e %o! & "a;e re2!se&6 ) t"o!g" s"e pro,a, 0 *o! &n9t "a;e6 .i%"ae "a& ta 1e& a,o!t *"at a goo& %oo1 "is /ot"er *as6 Cr!/,s 2e to "er s1irt an& K0ra p!s"e& "er %"air ,a%1 to s*eep t"e/ o22 t"e s"ort , a%1 eat"er6.i&s*eep + "er "an& s o*e& an& s"e stare& at t"e seA0 s%rap o2 /ateria t"at &i&n9t ea;e a *"o e ot to t"e i/agination+ t"en 2o o*e& it !p to "er o*7%!t tan1 top6 T"e energ0 ,ar see/e& to o&ge in "er t"roat6 Co! & .i%"ae ,e as"a/e& o2 "erS"e re/e/,ere& "is initia rea%tion to "er trans2or/ation6 @is %o/paring "er to a t*ent07&o ar street7*a 1er6 S"e p! e& t"e *aste,as1et 2ro/ !n&er "er &es1 an& spit t"e /o!t"2! s"e *as %"e*ing o!t+ not tr!sting "er %apa,i ities to s*a o* it6 I2 t"at9s *"at .i%"ae "a& t"o!g"t+ *"at *o! & "is parents t"in1S"e groane& t"en tosse& t"e rest o2 t"e ,ar into t"e *aste,as1et+ as *e 6 Hoo& eno!g" to 2oo aro!n& *it"+ ,!t not to ta1e "o/e to /o/6 3as t"at itS"e /a&e a 2a%e6 3"at *as s"e t"in1ing- T"is *as .i%"ae s"e *as ta 1ing a,o!t6 Ges+ *"i e "is re ations"ip *it" "is parents *as ' *e + &i22i%! t+ to "ear "i/ eAp ain it+ "e *o! & ne;er s%"e/e to 1eep t"e/ 2ro/ seeing "er6 In a i1e i"oo&+ "e *as pro,a, 0 tr0ing to sa;e "er 2ro/ &ea ing *it" t"e/6 T"e pro, e/ *as t"at s"e9& o;e t"e opport!nit0 to get to 1no* t"e/6 S"e g an%e& at "er *at%"6 T"ere *ere "o!rs to go ,e2ore siA6 S"e e0e& t"e /o!ntain o2 2i es an& &e%i&e& t"at t"ere *as not"ing ,etter to &o to "e p t"e ti/e go ,06 EEE .i%"ae p!s"e& ri%e aro!n& "is p ate6 .ea ti/e *it" "is parents *as a *a0s si ent6 @e9& ,een ta!g"t t"at %on;ersation *as ,est e2t 2or *"en e;er0one "a& 2inis"e& eating6 Si ;er*are % in1ing against %"ina+ an& i%e %!,es /e ting in g asses *ere t"e on 0 so!n&s in t"e 2or/a &ining roo/ *"ere "is /ot"er a *a0s set o!t &inner+ e;en t"o!g" t"ere *as on 0 t"e t"ree o2 t"e/6 .i%"ae "a& a *a0s se%ret 0 0earne& 2or t"e/ to eat toget"er in t"e 1it%"en :!st on%e to see *"at it *as i1e6 >!t "is parents see/e& to i1e t"e 2or/a it0 o2 t"e /ea 6 =So+ *"o *as t"at on t"e p"one-= "is 2at"er as1e&6 .i%"ae , in1e& at "is Sti 72! p ate t"en o;er to *"ere "is 2at"er *as p a%ing "is inen nap1in neAt to "is on t"e ta, e6 .i%"ae % eare& "is t"roat t"en s/oot"e& "is tie6 )not"er 2a/i 0 tra&ition *as &ressing 2or t"e /ea6 ?2 %o!rse "is /ot"er a *a0s *ent to %"!r%" on S!n&a0+ ,!t .i%"ae an& "is 2at"er *ere sti re5!ire& to &ress !p+ regar& ess6

=K0ra6= @is parents oo1e& at ea%" ot"er6 =Go! re/e/,er K0ra- I ,ro!g"t "er to Nina9s *e&&ing6 S"e "as ong ,ro*n "air'=&ad ong ,ro*n "air6 =S"e9s a 2rien&6= @e %ringe& t"e /in!te t"e *or&s e2t "is /o!t"6 =4rien&= &i&n9t %o/e % ose to &es%ri,ing "is re ations"ip *it" K0ra ate 06 >!t "e *asn9t 5!ite s!re "o* to go a,o!t % assi20ing it6 Inti/ate 2rien&s- >est 2rien&s *it" ,ene2its- @e 2ro*ne& an& 2o o*e& "is 2at"er9s ea& ,0 p a%ing "is nap1in neAt to "is p ate6 =?"+ 0es+ I re/e/,er "er+= "is /ot"er sai& in "er a%%ente& ;oi%e6 S"e s/i e&6 =S"e is a ni%e gir + no-= .i%"ae no&&e&+ not a,o!t to s"are "o* ;er0 ni%e8or "o* ;er0 na!g"t08s"e rea 0 *as6 =Go! s"o! & ,ring "er to &inner neAt /ont"+= "is 2at"er anno!n%e&6 .i%"ae %o!g"e&+ near 0 %"o1ing on t"e *ater "e *as &rin1ing6 =I &on9t 1no* i2 t"at9s s!%" a goo& i&ea6= =3"0 not-= "is /ot"er as1e&6 3"0 not+ in&ee&.i%"ae r!,,e& "is 2ore"ea&6 =S"e *or1s on S!n&a0s+= "e ie&+ %ringing again6 @e9& ne;er ie& to "is parents6 @e9& stret%"e& t"e tr!t" on o%%asion6 C"a enge& t"e/ /ore 2re5!ent 06 >!t "e "a& ne;er ie& to t"e/6 3"i%" e2t "i/ to *on&er *"0 "e *as 0ing no*6 @e *as t"irt07t"ree 0ears o &+ 2or Ho&9s sa1e6 @e &i&n9t "a;e to ie a,o!t an0t"ing6 Espe%ia 0 *"en "e9& pro,a, 0 get %a!g"t i2 "is re ations"ip *it" K0ra stret%"e& to ,e0on& to/orro*6 Per"aps it *as ,e%a!se "e &i&n9t tr! 0 ,e ie;e t"at it *o! &6 E;er0t"ing *as too ' strange6 Too ne*6 Too ' /in&7, o*ing6 =So *e9 /o;e &inner to Sat!r&a0+ t"en+= "is /ot"er sai&6 =In 2a%t+ t"ere9s no nee& to *ait !nti neAt /ont"6 3e %an "a;e &inner t"is Sat!r&a06 ?r t"e 2o o*ing one+ i2 t"at9s too soon 2or 0o!6= ) 0ear 2ro/ no* *as too soon 2or .i%"ae + ,!t "e &i&n9t &are sa0 t"at6 @e %onsi&ere& te ing t"e/ t"at K0ra *or1e& Sat!r&a0s+ too+ ,!t 1ne* t"at *o! & on 0

res! t in anot"er a ternate &ate6 =I+ !/+ I9 as1 "er+= "e sai&+ t"o!g" "e "a& no intention o2 &oing an0 s!%" t"ing6 )si&e 2ro/ "is o*n %on2!sion regar&ing "is re ations"ip *it" K0ra+ "e &i&n9t t"in1 "is parents an& "is ' o;er *o! & get on so *e 6 Not gi;en K0ra9s re%ent trans2or/ation6 Con%"ita an& )ntonio "a& %o/e to4 ori&a8"is /ot"er ,0 "erse 2 as a teenager+ "is 2at"er *it" "is 2a/i 0 *"en "e *as eig"t8an& t"e09& /a&e it t"eir /ission to 2it into po ite )/eri%an so%iet06 .i%"ae t"o!g"t t"at t"eir ,eing o2 &i22erent "eritage8"is /ot"er 2ro/Per!+ "is 2at"er 2ro/Spain8/a&e t"at &esire &o!, 0 strong6 T"e09& *or1e& "ar& to ,!i & a so i& 2o!n&ation in t"e resta!rant7s!pp 0 ,!siness+ a&opte& )/eri%an tra&itions an& ta!g"t t"eir on 0 %"i & "o* to ,e an )/eri%an6 ?n 0+ .i%"ae gre* !p t"in1ing "is parents &i&n9t "a;e a % !e o2 *"at an )/eri%an *as6 )n )/eri%an *asn9t a state o2 earningP it *as a *a0 o2 ,eing6 ?2 %o!rse+ "e9& ne;er te t"e/ t"at6 >!t "e 1ne* *"at t"e0 %onsi&ere& a%%epta, e ,e"a;ior6 )n&+ *e + K0ra *o! & not ,e a%%epta, e in t"eir e0es6 S"e *o! & ,e pointe& at as an eAa/p e o2 *"at *as *rong *it")/eri%aan& its /an0 te/ptations 2or eA%ess6 @is /ot"er sai& so/et"ing to "is 2at"er a,o!t "a0ing seen an o & 2rien& at t"e %at"e&ra an& t"e t*o *ar/ 0 ta 1e& a,o!t t"e re!nion+ &is%!ssing t"e possi,i it0 o2 in;iting t"e /an an& "is *i2e o;er 2or &inner6 .i%"ae %a!g"t "i/se 2 g an%ing at "is *at%" 2or t"e 2o!rt" ti/e in as /an0 /in!tes6 @e a *a0s sta0e& t"ro!g" ti %o22ee a2ter &essert6 >!t a "e %o! & t"in1 a,o!t *as K0ra getting "o/e a,o!t no* an& "o* /!%" "e *ante& to ,e t"ere *it" "er6 @e p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ t"e ta, e6 =I9/ sorr0+ ,!t I9;e got to go6= =Ho-= @is /ot"er rose+ a %on%erne& 2ro*n %reasing "er 2ore"ea&6 =Nonsense6 Go! "a;en9t "a& &essert 0et+= "is 2at"er sai&6 .i%"ae oo1e& at "is *at%"6 =I :!st re/e/,ere& I pro/ise& to /eet a % ient t"is a2ternoon6= =.i%"ae += "is 2at"er sai& in a ;oi%e t"at ,roo1e& no arg!/ent6 .i%"ae *as going to arg!e6 =Sorr0+ Da&6 .o/+ &inner *as *on&er2! 6= @e starte& 2or t"e &oor+ t"en t!rne&6 =I o;e 0o! ,ot"6= T"e *or&s+ so si/p e+ "a& rare 0 ,een sai& in t"eir "o!se"o &6 )n& t"e0 &!/,2o!n&e& "is parents6

3it" a si/p e+ a*1*ar& *a;e+ "e opene& t"e &oor an& e2t6 EEE Co/e o;er *"en 0o! get "o/e6 K0ra rea& t"e note tape& to "er &oor+ "er "eart &oing a trip e ,eat ,e2ore sett ing into a stea&0+ t"r!//ing r"0t"/6 S"e &i&n9t "a;e to as1 *"o t"e note *as 2ro/6 E;en t"o!g" .i%"ae "a&n9t signe& it+ s"e9& re%ogni<e "is "an&*riting an0*"ere6 @e /!st "a;e e2t "is parents rig"t a2ter s"e ta 1e& to "i/ t*o "o!rs ago6 .a0,e "e9& &roppe& ,0+ "oping to see "er+ an& *"en s"e *asn9t "ere+ "a& &e%i&e& to ea;e a note6 =I "ope 0o! &on9t p an on "a;ing %o/pan0 !p t"ere tonig"tJ= .rs6 Ka/ins10 s%rea/e& !p t"e stair*e 6 K0ra *a;e& t"e note6 =Not to *orr0+ .rs6 K6 I9/ going o!t tonig"t6= T"e o &er *o/an sni22e& t"en "ea&e& ,a%1 to*ar& "er &oor6 =C!st /a1e s!re 0o!9re 5!iet *"en 0o! %o/e "o/e6 )n o & *o/an i1e /0se 2 nee&s "er ,ea!t0 s eepJ= S"e s a//e& "er apart/ent &oor+ ea;ing K0ra s/i ing st!pi& 0 as s"e *at%"e& a2ter "er6 EEE K0ra oo1e& i1e e;er0 /an9s ;ersion o2 a *a 1ing *et &rea/6 Co;ere& 2ro/ ,reast to !pper t"ig" in s"in0 re&8*as t"at p asti%- ?r r!,,er- .i%"ae stoo& "o &ing t"e &oor to "is apart/ent open an& near 0 groane&6 It &i&n9t /atter *"at t"e /ateria *as6 It oo1e& i1e "er seA0 ,o&0 "a& ,een ;a%!!/7pa%1e& ' an& "e %o! &n9t *ait to pee a*a0 t"e *rapping to 2ree t"e 2res" 2 es" *aiting insi&e6 =D/+ "i6= .i%"ae rea i<e& t"at "e "a&n9t oo1e& into K0ra9s 2a%e sin%e ans*ering "er 1no%16 @e &i& so no*6 )n& 2e t "is sto/a%" pit%" to "is 2eet at t"e anAio!s eApression s"e *ore6 D"7o"' @e "e & t"e &oor open6 =Co/e on in6= S"e "esitate&+ t"en s o* 0 steppe& into t"e ni%e 0 &esigne& t*o72 oor %on&o+ "er ga<e &arting aro!n& t"e roo/6 =E;er0t"ing o1a0-= "e as1e&+ % osing t"e &oor6

S"e no&&e&+ %a!sing "er , on& spi10 "air to 5!i;er6 =D/+ 0ea"6 Go!-= Despite "er o,;io!s &is%o/2ort+ .i%"ae 2o!n& "i/se 2 grinning6 @e9& rare 0 1no*n K0ra to ,e !n%o/2orta, e in an0 s!rro!n&ings6 Espe%ia 0 not t"is ,!rsting7at7t"e7sea/s ;ersion o2 "er6 >!t s"e &e2inite 0 see/e& i at ease6 =I9/ 2ine+= "e sai&+ %"ise ing "is ga<e 2ro/ "er p !/p ,a%1si&e an& % earing "is t"roat6 =3o! & 0o! i1e so/e *ine- 3"0 &on9t 0o! go into t"e i;ing roo/ *"i e I go get !s so/e-= =?1a06= S"e &i&n9t /o;e6 Instea&+ .i%"ae *as 2or%e& to in%" "is *a0 aro!n& "er+ "is ,reat" %at%"ing as "e ,r!s"e& !p against t"at s ipper0 &ress s"e *as *earing6 .a0,e "e *o! &n9t ta1e t"e &ress o226 .a0,e "e9& ea;e it on an& ,en& "er o;er t"e %o!%" an& *at%" "o* it s"i//ere& *"en "e ro%1e& into "er' @is pa%e 5!i%1ene&6 )t t"e rate "e *as going+ t"e0 *o! &n9t /a1e it to &inner+ /!%" ess a t"e rest o2 t"e t"ings "e "a& p anne& 2or t"e e;ening6 Ear ier in t"e &a0+ so/eti/e ,e2ore "is /ot"er9s in;iting K0ra o;er 2or &inner an& "is 2at"er9s atte/pt to get "i/ to sta0+ "e rea i<e& t"at "e *as in%apa, e o2 "o &ing ,a%1 an0/ore6 No /atter *"at pat" K0ra "a& /appe& o!t 2or t"e/+ "e %o! & &o not"ing ess t"an gi;e t"is re ations"ip "is a 6 @e &i& it in "is %areer6 )n& no* "e 2o!n& "i/se 2 nee&ing to &o it *it" K0ra6 Co/e *"at /a0+ "e *as in t"is 2or t"e ong "a! ' C"apter 10 K#$ Se%tion III: Betting t"e 1itten roar

Co/e on+ 0o!9;e ,een "ere ,e2ore+"er itt e ;oi%e *"ispere&' Why are you so nervous( S"e s*a o*e& "ar&6 3"at &i& it /ean *"en e;en 0o!r inner ;oi%e *"ispere&S"e s o* 0 steppe& into t"e /o&ern i;ing roo/ *it" its ;a! te& %ei ing+ stone 2irep a%e

an& g ea/ing *oo& ,ea/s an& t"o!g"t t"at it /eant s"e *as in ,ig tro!, e6 E;er sin%e getting .i%"ae 9s note+ s"e9& ,een oo1ing 2or*ar& to tonig"t6 Dnti s"e *as on "er *a0 o;er an& *on&ere& i2 t"e ne* &ress s"e9& ,o!g"t espe%ia 0 2or t"e o%%asion *as o;er1i + *on&ere& i2 s"e9& ,een o22 ,ase t"in1ing t"at .i%"ae "a& p!rpose 0 a;oi&e& in;iting "er o;er6 ?r+ *orse+ t"at s"e9& ,een target7on6 S"e s5!ee<e& "er e0es s"!t an& tosse& "er p!rse onto t"e ,eige eat"er %o!%"6 T"e sa/e %o!%" s"e9& sat on %o!nt ess ti/es %at%"ing t"e atest ;i&eo *it" .i%"ae + p a0ing a S%ra,, e ga/e+ or :!st en:o0ing "is atest CD6 No* s"e e0e& it as i2 s"e &i&n9t 1no* *"at it *as /eant 2or6 S"e oo1e& aro!n& t"e roo/ as i2 seeing it 2or t"e 2irst ti/e6 S"e 1ne* t"at "e9& &esigne& t"e s!,&i;ision o2 %on&os+ 2! !nits t"at *ere /ore i1e "o!ses ,!t 2or t"e %onne%tion t"e0 s"are& *it" a neig",or6 Ea%" !nit *as !ni5!e ,ot" insi&e an& o!t+ *it"o!t %osting a sing e penn0 /ore &!e to .i%"ae 9s ingenio!s i&ea o2 ta1ing t"e sa/e /ateria s an& /a1ing t"e/ &i22erent6 T"e %ontra%tor "a&n9t ,een so s/art+ t"o!g"6 @e9& %o/e !p s"ort on %as" an& %o! &n9t o,tain /ore 2inan%ing6 .i%"ae "a& % ai/e& one o2 t"e %on&os as "is o*n rat"er t"an ta1e t"e g!0 to %o!rt6 S"e g an%e& &o*n at "er *at%"+ t"en %rane& "er ne%1 to tr0 to see into t"e "a *a06 3"at *as ta1ing "i/ so ong- I2 "e &i&n9t %o/e ,a%1 soon+ s"e s*ore s"e9& :!/p o!t o2 "er s1in6 Spea1ing o2 s1in' S"e g an%e& &o*n at "er &ress+ %a!g"t o22 g!ar& ,0 t"e ,rig"tness o2 it6 S"e s"i//ie& "er "ips a itt e+ *at%"ing t"e ig"t p a0 against t"e s"in0 p asti%6 ) rea&0 t"e s1in t"at *as in %onta%t *it" t"e &ress *as /oist *it" s*eat6 T"e s"op gir "a& to & "er to ,e %are2! *"i e *earing it or s"e *as ia, e to ose eno!g" *eig"t in one nig"t t"at t"e s!22o%ating /ateria /ig"t s i&e rig"t o22 "er6 =En:o0ing 0o!rse 2-= K0ra snappe& "er "ea& !p an& stare& at *"ere .i%"ae "e & a ,ott e an& t*o *ineg asses in one "an&+ a tra0 in t"e ot"er6 S"e %a!g"t "erse 2 gigg ing ner;o!s 0 an& stoppe&6 =It9s so/et"ing+ isn9t it-= @e stro&e into t"e roo/ an& p a%e& t"e ite/s "e "e & on t"e %o22ee ta, e6 =)n entit0 !nto itse 2+ &e2inite 06= @er s/i e ;anis"e&6 =Go! &on9t i1e it-= @is ga<e /o;e& o;er t"e &ress ,!t ingere& on "er eApose& 2 es" onger6 =I o;e it6=

K0ra 2e t "er s1in gro* "ot as s"e *at%"e& "is p!pi s get arger in "is a rea&0 &ar1 e0es6 Ho&+ ,!t "e *as one o2 t"e /ost stri1ing 0 "an&so/e /en s"e9& e;er seen6 )t ti/es i1e t"ese+ *"en "e *as oo1ing at "er as i2 "e on 0 "a& "er on "is /in&+ "e sto e "er ,reat" a*a06 ?2 %o!rse+ s"e9& a *a0s t"o!g"t "e *as goo&7 oo1ing+ ,!t so/e"o*+ ear 0 on in t"eir 2rien&s"ip+ s"e9& /anage& to se%!re a pair o2 , in&ers+ p!tting "i/ o227 i/its+ an& /a1ing oo1ing at "i/ t"e *a0 s"e *as no* 2or,i&&en6 =Is re& o1a0-= =(e&-= s"e as1e&+ *on&ering i2 "e *as ta 1ing a,o!t "er &ress6 =3ine6= =?"6 Ges6 ?2 %o!rse6= S"e i2te& a g ass an& *at%"e& as "e 2i e& it t"en "is o*n6 S"e p a%e& it against "er ips+ ,!t 2or so/e o&& reason+ %o! &n9t see/ to /a1e "erse 2 &rin1 2ro/ it6 S"e s/i e&+ noti%ing .i%"ae *at%"e& "er6 =D/+ *"at9s t"e o%%asion-= @e s"oo1 "is "ea&6 =T"ere isn9t one6= S"e oo1e& &o*n into "er g ass6 =)t /0 p a%e+ 0o! get &ire%tions to t"e re2rigerator+= s"e sai&6 =Ges+ *e + *ait ti 0o! see *"at I9;e %oo1e& !p 2or &inner6= =Go! %oo1e&-= =.//+ "//6= ?1a0+ 2orget :!/ping o!t o2 "er s1in6 S"e *as going to r!n 2or t"e &oor6 .i%"ae "a& ne;er on%e+ in t"e 2o!r 0ears t"at s"e9& 1no*n "i/+ %oo1e& 2or "er6 S!re+ "e9& p!t toget"er san&*i%"es+ opene& a ,ag o2 pret<e s+ or&ere& in pi<<a+ ,!t t"at &i&n9t %o!nt6 S"e &i& a t"at+ too6 @er e;e o2 anAiet0 e&ge& !p a %o!p e not%"es6 T"en it "it "er6 T"is ne* ;ie* s"e *as getting o2 .i%"ae 6 @e *as treating "er as "e /ig"t treat one o2 "is &ates6 S"e *as ,ot" 2 attere& ' an& o&& 0 ,ot"ere&6 T"e 2 attere& part 5!i%1 0 retreate&+ ea;ing "er stri%t 0 ,ot"ere&6 S"e 1ne* t"e t0pe o2 *o/en .i%"ae !s!a 0 &ate&6 Ta + s ee1+ sop"isti%ate& ones t"at *o! & 1no* t"e &i22eren%e ,et*een /er ot an& %"ar&onna06

S"e &i&n9t rea i<e "o* &i22erent =&ate /ateria = .i%"ae *as 2ro/ ="er 2rien&= .i%"ae 6 @er 2rien& .i%"ae *o! & "a;e as1e& "er *"at toppings s"e *ante& on "er pi<<a+ "an&e& "er a ,eer an& t"e0 *o! & "a;e ,een &one *it" it6 S"e *asn9t entire 0 s!re *"at to &o *it" t"is .i%"ae 6 @e raise& "is g ass6 =@ere9s to 0o!r % earing t"ings !p at *or16= K0ra stare& at "i/+ t"en rea i<e& so/e a%tion *as re5!ire& 2ro/ "er6 =?"6= S"e i2te& "er g ass+ too+ an& "e % in1e& "is against "ers6 =)/en6= T"is ti/e *"en s"e p!t t"e g ass to "er ips+ s"e %"!gge& "a 2 o2 it &o*n6 3"en s"e 2ina 0 p!t t"e g ass &o*n+ s"e s/i e& at .i%"ae 9s p!<< e& eApression6 =So/et"ing is *rong+= "e sai&+ p!tting "is g ass &o*n neAt to "ers6 S"e % eare& "er t"roat6 =No ' not *rong+ eAa%t 06 I 1no* t"is is going to so!n& si 0+ ,!t'= =3"at-= =T"is a 2ee s ' strange+ so/e"o*6= =Strange goo&- ?r strange ,a&-= S"e s"r!gge&6 =I9/ not eAa%t 0 s!re 0et6= S"e oo1e& to*ar& t"e "a 6 S"e s/e e& so/et"ing %oo1ing an& *rin1 e& "er nose6 =Go!9;e ne;er treate& /e i1e t"is6= @e grinne&6 =I 1no*6 I *as t"in1ing /a0,e it *as ti/e I starte&6= =3"0-= @e , in1e& at "er+ appearing gen!ine 0 s!rprise&6 =>e%a!se I t"in1 0o! &eser;e to ,e treate& spe%ia 6= (ats6 No* s"e 2e t g!i t06 @ere s"e t"o!g"t "e *as treating "er i1e e;er0 ot"er *o/an in "is i2e+ an& "e t"o!g"t "e *as &oing so/et"ing spe%ia 2or "er6 S"e pi%1e& !p "er g ass again6 =I t"o!g"t t"e *a0 0o! *ere treating /e ,e2ore *as prett0 spe%ia 6= S"e %"an%e& a g an%e at "i/ an& 2o!n& "i/ *earing a seA0 grin6 =@o*- >0 1eeping 0o! in ,e&-= S"e ret!rne& t"e s/i e6 =3e ' 0es6= So/et"ing &inge& in t"e ot"er roo/6 =I9& ,etter go see to t"at I *o! &n9t *ant t"e 2irst &inner I e;er %oo1 0o! to ,!rn6=

K0ra *at%"e& "i/ ea;e t"en sig"e& an& p!t t"e g ass ,a%1 &o*n on t"e ta, e6 =I9& /!%" rat"er so/et"ing e se ,!rn6 Bi1e t"e t*o o2 !s6= S"e s%oope& !p a "an&2! o2 %ra%1ers t"en "ea&e& to*ar& t"e ,a %on0 &oors6 It too1 "er a 2e* /o/ents+ ,!t s"e 2ina 0 2ig!re& o!t "o* to !n o%1 t"e/6 T"en+ opening t"e/+ s"e steppe& 2ro/ t"e %oo %on&o into t"e t"i%1+ s! tr0 4 ori&a air6 S"e s"i;ere& an& /o;e& to*ar& t"e rai ing t"at o;er oo1e& t"e H! 26 S"e "a&n9t pai& /!%" attention to t"e ;ie* "e "a& 2ro/ "is %on&o ,e2ore6 No* s"e too1 a &eep ,reat"+ *at%"e& a pe i%an &i;e into t"e *"ite7%appe& *a;es+ an& s/i e& at t"e 2ee o2 t"e s anting s!n 1issing "er s1in6 =3o! & 0o! i1e to eat o!t "ere-= S"e "ear& .i%"ae 9s ;oi%e ,e"in& "er an& *ante& to te "i/ t"at s"e *asn9t rea 0 "!ngr06 >!t t"at *o! &n9t ,e 2air6 S"e t!rne& an& eane& against t"e rai ing6 =3"ate;er 0o! i1e6= @is s/i e *a;ere&6 =?1a06= S"e oo1e& "i/ o;er+ 2ro/ s"in0 oa2ers an& presse& &ar1 s a%1s to %risp si 1 s"irt6 @e9& ro e& t"e s ee;es !p "is 2orear/s an& t"e top ,!ttons *ere !n&one on "is s"irt+ re;ea ing a 2e* so2t+ &ar1 %!r s6 @e oo1e& goo& eno!g" to eat6 )n& &istant eno!g" to ,e o!t o2 rea%"6 @e %a/e to stan& neAt to "er+ oo1ing o!t onto t"e H! 2 o2 .eAi%o6 =3"en I 2irst /o;e& in "ere+ I o;e& t"e ;ie*6 .ost ti/es no*+ I e;en 2orget t"at t"is is o!t "ere6= K0ra t!rne& to oo1 o!t onto t"e *ater *it" "i/6 =I *as :!st t"in1ing t"e sa/e t"ing6 Go! 1no*+ a,o!t *"en I %o/e o;er6= T"ose ti/es see/e& so ong ago an& 2ar a*a0+ a t"o!g" s"e9& :!st ,een o;er t"ere t*o *ee1s ago6 It *asn9t ti/e t"at separate& t"en 2ro/ no*+ ,!t perspe%ti;e6 )n& s"e *asn9t s!re s"e *as a&:!sting a t"at *e to "er ne* o!t oo16 S"e g an%e& at .i%"ae + ta1ing in "is strong pro2i e+ t"e *a0 "e s5!inte& against t"e s!n *it"o!t *orr0ing a,o!t *rin1 es6 =I ta1e it t"is isn9t "o* 0o! en;isione& tonig"t going+= "e sai& 5!iet 06 S"e oo1e& &o*n an& a!g"e& so2t 06 =No6 I g!ess it isn9t6= @is ga<e *as intense *"en "e t!rne& to "er6 =3o! & 0o! "a;e 2e t ,etter i2 I9& atta%1e& 0o! t"e instant 0o! *a 1e& in t"e &oor-= S"e a!to/ati%a 0 rea%"e& o!t an& "oo1e& "er 2inger insi&e t"e top o2 "is s"irt+ t"e "air t"ere ti%1 ing "er s1in6 =Ges6 I g!ess I *o! & "a;e6= =.0 parents as1e& 0o! o;er 2or &inner6= K0ra oo1e& at "i/6 =3"at-=

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against "ers+ tin0 s"i;ers trai ing &o*n "er spine t"en ,a%1 !p again6 =?1a0+ so t"en I9 :!st %o/e o!t an& as1 0o!6= S"e ,egan to sti22en+ ,!t "e starte& /a1ing itt e %ir% es at t"e nape o2 "er ne%16 =@a;e 0o! t"o!g"t a,o!t *"ere a t"is is going-= @e stare& intent 0 at "er6 =Go!6.e63"ate;er9s "appening ,et*een !s-= EEE .i%"ae *at%"e& /0ria& e/otions p a0 o;er K0ra9s ,ea!ti2! 2a%e6 T"e e;ening s!n %ast "er s1in ag o* an& "eig"tene& t"e s"a&o* o2 "er e0es6 @e &i&n9t rea i<e "o* i/portant "er ans*er *as to "i/ !nti "e as1e& t"e 5!estion6 It *as a "e %o! & &o not to 2ree<e !p+ to %ontin!e /assaging "er ne%1 as "e *aite& 2or "er response6 =@a;e I t"o!g"t a,o!t *"ere t"is is going'= s"e repeate& ,e2ore oo1ing ,a%1 o!t at t"e *ater6 .i%"ae 2o!g"t t"e &esire to /a1e "er 2a%e "i/6 To ans*er "i/ &ire%t 06 =D/+ I g!ess I "a;e6 ) itt e6= (e ie2 r!s"e& t"ro!g" "is ,o&0 i1e an e iAir6 =Hoo&6= S"e eane& into "i/6 =I "a;e to a&/it+ t"o!g"+ t"at I rea 0 t"o!g"t 0o! *ere p!rpose 0 1eeping /e a*a0 2ro/ 0o!r p a%e6 Go! 1no*+ a2ter t"e %"ange in o!r 2rien&s"ip6= S"e oo1e& at "i/6 =Bi1e 0o! *ere tr0ing to 1eep a part o2 0o!rse 2 % ose& o22 2ro/ /e6= @e gri/a%e&6 =I t"in1 it9s ,e%a!se I *as6= S"e i2te& an e0e,ro* an& "e ran "is ot"er "an& t"ro!g" "is "air6 =I &on9t 1no*6 I t"in1 t"e *or& 0o! !se& ear ier8strange+ *asn9t it-8is eAa%t 0 "o* I9& &es%ri,e t"e *a0 I9;e ,een 2ee ing ate 06 So/eti/es I t"in1 t"ings are /o;ing too 2ast6 ?t"er ti/es not 2ast eno!g"6= S"e no&&e& an& ran "er 2ingertips o;er "is 2orear/6 =So/eti/es I *ant to 2orget a,o!t t"e seA an& as1 /0 ,est 2rien& a 5!estion6 >!t /ost ti/es I *ant to 2orget t"e 5!estions an& go 2or t"e seA6= =)n& no*-= s"e as1e&+ "er ;oi%e o* an& "!s106 =3"at are 0o! 2ee ing rig"t t"is /in!te-= @e s1i//e& "er pro;o%ati;e eApression+ t"en &roppe& "is ga<e &o*n to *"ere "er s/a ,reasts presse& against t"e s"in0 2a,ri% o2 "er &ress6 =(ig"t no* I *ant to sa0 9to "e *it" &inner9 an& p!t t"at %"aise ong!e ,e"in& 0o! to *or18=

@er ips t!rne& !p into a s!ggesti;e s/i e6 =So et9s "!rr0 !p an& eat &inner+ t"en *e %an %"e%1 o!t t"e %"aise6= @e tig"tene& "is 2ingers on "er ne%1 t"en t!gge& "er % oser6 @er ,reat" *as "ot on "is 2a%e as "e %onsi&ere& "er 2or a ong /o/ent+ t"en presse& "is /o!t" against "ers 2or a ingering 1iss6 =So!n&s i1e a p an to /e6= EEE It *as on 0 *"en .i%"ae *as 2i ing "er to o;er2 o*ing+ "is t"i%1 2 es" p! sing insi&e "er+ "is "ips presse& against "ers+ t"at K0ra 2e t a &o!,t ea;e6 )s s"e 2o!g"t to %at%" "er ,reat"+ s"e presse& "er /o!t" against "is s"o! &er+ apping t"e sa t 2ro/ "is "ot s1in+ see/ing 0 !na, e to get eno!g"6 )s agree&+ t"e09& gone insi&e to eat t"e &inner "e9& prepare&6 I2 s"e9& 2e t a itt e !n%o/2orta, e sitting at "is &ining7 roo/ ta, e+ a inen nap1in in "er ap *"en s"e *as !se& to "o &ing a paper one+ oo1ing at t"e /ea t"at *as a /ost too prett0 to eat+ s"e pro/ise& "erse 2 t"at s"e *o! &n9t et .i%"ae 1no* t"at6 @e9& o,;io!s 0 *or1e& "ar& to i/press "er6 I2 "e on 0 1ne* "o* ;er0 i/presse& s"e *as a rea&06 @e *as a /an as &eter/ine& in "is persona i2e as "e *as in "is pro2essiona one6 @e9& prepare& &essert+ as *e 6 >!t K0ra "a& "a& anot"er 1in& o2 &essert in /in&6 So s"e9& ta1en "i/ ,0 t"e "an& an& e& "i/ ,a%1 o!t to t"e ,a %on0+ s ipping o!t o2 "er % ot"es as s"e *ent6 T"en t"e09& ,eg!n t"e e;ening9s eAtra%!rri%! ar a%ti;ities on t"e %"aise ong!e + t"e s!nset ,at"ing t"e/ in a *ar/ 0e o* g o*+ t!rning .i%"ae into an )<te% go& as "e straine& a,o;e "er+ "is 2a%e a *or1 o2 *on&er as "e &ro;e into "er again an& again6 T"at *as 2o!r "o!rs ago+ an& asi&e 2ro/ a ,rie2 ,at"roo/ ,rea1 t"e09& ,een going at it e;er sin%e6 K0ra 1ept *aiting 2or t"e s"eer passion t"at too1 "o & o2 "er e;er0 ti/e .i%"ae to!%"e& "er to pass6 EApe%te& to open "er e0es an& 2in& "er nee& o2 "i/ essene& ,0 "a 26 Instea& s"e 2o!n& s"e *ante& "i/ /ore an& /ore ea%" ti/e t"e0 /a&e o;e6 E;en a2ter s"e9& passe& t"e point *"ere s"e %o! &n9t p"0si%a 0 go on+ s"e *ante& "i/ again6 )n& t"at "a&n9t a tere& a ,it *it" t"e %"ange in ;en!e6 It &i&n9t /atter *"et"er t"e0 *ere at "er apart/ent on "er o &+ s5!ea10 /attress+ at *or1 on top o2 "is &ra2ting ta, e+ or "ere in "is &esigner 1ing7si<e ,e& *it" t"e /ono%"ro/ati% inens6 S"e % ose& "er e0es an& &!g "er 2ingers into "is ar/s6 In 2a%t+ tonig"t t"eir o;e/a1ing see/e& to ,e ,etter t"an e;er+ /ore intense so/e"o*6 No+ .i%"ae *as /ore intense6 @is stro1es ong an& %ontro e&+ "is ga<e "otter6 )n& s"e &i&n9t t"in1 it *as on 0 ,e%a!se t"e0 *ere at "is p a%e6 So/et"ing see/e& to "a;e s"i2te& in "is 2ee ings 2or "er6 So/et"ing s"e %o! &n9t p!t a 2inger on ,!t % ear 0 *ante& to6

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S"e s/i e& !p at "i/ e;en as s"e %ontin!e& to r!n t"e tip o2 "er tong!e a ong "is t"i%1 s"a2t6 =Nope6 P!re protein6= S"e 2it "er ips o;er t"e top+ s*ir ing "er tong!e aro!n& t"e ri&ge t"en &ipping it into t"e e0e *in1ing at "er 2ro/ t"e top6 T"e proo2 o2 "is aro!sa ,ea&e& t"ere an& s"e i%1e& it o226 Bang!i& 0+ s"e /o;e& a "an& to %!p "is s*o en sa%+ gent 0 s5!ee<ing t"en *rappe& "er 2ingers aro!n& "is t"ro,,ing ste/6 S"e 2astene& "er /o!t" o;er "i/ again+ t"is ti/e app 0ing s!%tion6 .i%"ae groane& an& "is "ips ,!%1e& against "er+ near 0 topp ing o;er t"e tra06 =K0ra+= "e *"ispere& in "!s10 *arning6 S"e , in1e& !p at "i/+ 2eigning inno%en%e6 =3"at-= =In a,o!t t*o se%on&s+ 0o!9re going to get a *"o e &i22erent 1in& o2 s0r!p6= =?"-= S"e i%1e& "er ips as i2 sa;oring t"e t"o!g"t6 =Is it goo&-= S"e pi%1e& !p t"e ,o* again an& &ri,, e& t"e re/ain&er o2 t"e %"o%o ate s0r!p o;er "is p! sing 2 es"+ t"en set a,o!t /eti%! o!s 0 % eaning it o22+ s!%1ing+ t"en i%1ing+ t"en s!%1ing again6 T"ere *as so/et"ing po*er2! 0 pro;o%ati;e a,o!t "o &ing "i/ in "er /o!t"6 ),o!t gi;ing to "i/+ p eas!ring "i/+ t"at /a&e "er so "ot "er o*n t"ig"s &a/pene&6 S"e gaspe& *"en "e p !%1e& at one o2 "er nipp es6 S"e app ie& e;en /ore s!%tion+ "a;ing re/o;e& e;er0 &rop o2 %"o%o ate an& *as no* going 2or t"e gran& pri<e6 .i%"ae 9s o*+ &ra*n7o!t /oan 2i e& t"e air+ a erting "er to "o* ;er0 % ose "e *as to % i/aA6 S"e too1 "i/ in as 2ar as s"e %o! & an& ,egan *or1ing "er "an& on t"e o*er part o2 "is s"a2t6 Dp an& &o*n+ !p an& &o*n+ 5!i%1ening t"e r"0t"/ o2 "er "an& an& "er /o!t"6 S"e 2e t "is 2ingers ,et*een "er egs6 S"e opene& "er t"ig"s+ a o*ing "i/ a%%ess to "er s i%1 %ore+ *"ere "e i//e&iate 0 2o!n& "er tig"t+ 5!i;ering ,it o2 2 es" an& s5!ee<e& at t"e sa/e ti/e "e % i/aAe&+ p! ing K0ra rig"t a ong *it" "i/6 K0ra s*a o*e& an& s*a o*e&+ tr0ing to ta1e in e;er0 &rop o2 "i/ as "e 2i e& "er /o!t"+ e;en as "er o*n /!s% es %ontra%te& in s*eet agon06 4ina 0 t"e "ot strea/ &issipate& an& s"e i%1e& "i/ % ean+ "er ga<e 2astene& on "is 2a%e+ *at%"ing "i/6 .i%"ae s/oot"e& "er s"ort "air ,a%1 an& grinne&6 =Go! 1no*+ I9 ne;er ,e a, e to eat %"o%o ate again *it"o!t getting a "ar&7on6= S"e stret%"e& o!t ,esi&e "i/ t"en % ose& "er e0es an& s/i e&6 =Hoo&6= S"e /a0 "a;e

so!n&e& non%"a ant+ ,!t it to!%"e& "er to 1no* t"at s"e "a& %reate& a /e/or0 2or ,ot" o2 t"e/ t"at *o! &n9t &i/ *it" t"e /orning ig"t6 S"e 2e t so/et"ing against "er ips6 S"e opene& t"e/ *it"o!t opening "er e0es at t"e sa/e ti/e s"e opene& "er egs 2or .i%"ae 9s ot"er "an&6 @e poppe& anot"er pie%e o2 %"o%o ate into "er /o!t"+ t"en s i& t*o 2ingers &eep insi&e "er 2 es"6 S"e gaspe& an& ar%"e& "er ,a%16 =So "ot ' so *et+= s"e "ear& "i/ /!r/!r+ t"e so!n& o2 "is appro;a as /!%" o2 a t!rn7 on as "is 2ingers6 @e s o* 0 re/o;e& "is 2ingers+ gi;ing "er % it a itt e t*ea1 as "e &i& so6 S"e /o;e& to protest ,!t "e instant 0 p a%e& /ore %"o%o ate in "er /o!t"6 S"e "!//e& as s"e %"e*e&+ t"en /oane& *"en "is 2ingers *ere rep a%e& ,0 so/et"ing ! ti/ate 0 /ore satis20ing' C"apter 11 K#$ =It9s %a e& o;e+ st!pi&6= T"e 2o o*ing &a0 K0ra a0 ,a%1 on "er so2a+ a,sent 0 patting .r6 Ti,,s as t"e /orning s!n s ante& t"ro!g" "er 2ront *in&o* an& ,at"e& "er 2eet in *ar/t"6 S"e9& e2t .i%"ae 9s %on&o at a,o!tsiA o9% o%1+ nee&ing to get "o/e to s"o*er an& %"ange 2or *or16 S"e *as rea&06 )t east p"0si%a 06 >!t e/otiona 0 s"e nee&e& a itt e no7nonsense %o!nse ing6 )n& "er sister ) anna" "a& a *a0s ,een goo& at &o ing t"at o!t 3e + at east s"e !se& to ,e6 Sti o22i%ia 0 in t"e "one0/oon stages o2 "er o*n re ations"ip+ "er sister so!n&e& ' *e + not /!%" i1e "er !s!a + pra%ti%a sister6 =Hasp6 Go! :!st !se& t"e ! ti/ate o2 2o!r7 etter *or&s+= K0ra :o1e&6 S"e n!&ge& .r6 T6 2ro/ "er ap an& sat !p+ not *anting to %rease "er s1irt an& , o!se an0 /ore t"an s"e a rea&0 "a&6 S"e9& sett e& on t"e eopar&7print s1irt+ a 2ri 0 , a%1 ,ra an& a s"eer *"ite , o!se t"at &i&n9t "i&e a t"ing6 =No+ serio!s 06 I nee& 2or 0o! to te /e *"at to &o+ ) 6 I /ean+ .i%"ae 9s /0 ,est 2rien&6 @e9s ,een t"at 2or 2o!r 0ears6 )n& no* "e9s t"e ,est &a/n o;er I9;e e;er "a&6= S"e sig"e& an& straig"tene& a 1ni%11na%1 on "er %o22ee ta, e t"at &i&n9t nee& straig"tening6 S"e /o;e& it ,a%16 =3"at s"o! & I &o-= =.arr0 "i/6= K0ra :!/pe& !p 2ro/ t"e so2a so 2ast+ s"e near 0 trippe&6 =I9/ serio!s+ K0ra+= ) anna" sai&+ %on;i%tion in "er ;oi%e6 =Go!9re te ing /e a t"is as i2 it9s so/e sort o2 pro, e/+ *"en it so!n&s to /e i1e 0o!9;e 2o!n& 0o!r so! /ate6=

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K0ra9s t"roat 2e t so tig"t s"e *as a2rai& s"e /ig"t %"o1e6 S"e *as &istra%te& an& *as ,are 0 a*are o2 ,r!s"ing ,0 .i%"ae on "er *a0 o!t o2 t"e o22i%e6 @er t"ings' S"e nee&e& to % ear o!t "er t"ings6 @er ears rang *it" t"e s*i2tness in *"i%" e;er0t"ing "appene&6 T"e a!&itor "a& s!,/itte& "is report6 T"e report "e & "er a%%o!nta, e 2or t"e /issing /one06 Canet sai& s"e *o! & ,e %onta%ting t"e proper a!t"orities an& t"e0 *o! & pro,a, 0 ,e %onta%ting "er soon 2or a state/ent6 T"e a!t"orities' .0 Ho&+ *as s"e going to ,e arreste&- >e%a!se o2 a st!pi& a%%o!nting errorS"e gra,,e& a ,oA 2ro/ t"e s!pp 0 roo/ t"en "!rrie& to "er o22i%e+ e/pt0ing o!t &ra*ers *it"o!t seeing *"at s"e *as ta1ing6 T"en s!&&en 0+ t"e rea i<ation o2 "er sit!ation "it "er+ an& "er egs rea%te& t"e sa/e *a0 e;er0 ot"er part o2 "er ,o&0 "a&6 T"e0 ga;e o!t on "er6 S"e &roppe& into "er %"air an& sat staring at t"e *a 6 ) *a s"e9& seen near 0 e;er0 &a0 2or t"e past 2o!r 0ears6 =K0ra-= S"e "ear& .i%"ae 9s ;oi%e+ ,!t s"e %o! &n9t see/ to ,ring "erse 2 to respon& to it6 =3"at "appene&-= S"e s*a o*e& *it" /!%" &i22i%! t0 t"en *"ispere&+ =@a;en9t 0o! "ear&- I9/ a t"ie26= =Di& Canet 2ire 0o!-= =No6 I5!it 6= =Go! s"o! &n9t "a;e6= K0ra 2ro*ne& t"en s o* 0 t!rne& to 2a%e t"e /an *"o "a& 2i e& "er *or & *it" p eas!re s!%" a s"ort ti/e ago6 =3"at-= =(esigne&6 Go! s"o! &n9t "a;e &one it6 Canet *o! & "a;e nee&e& t"e appro;a o2 a t"e partners ,e2ore s"e %o! & "a;e 2ire& 0o!6= S"e pointe& to*ar& t"e &oor6 =)re 0o! sa0ing I s"o! & "a;e gone t"ro!g" t"at again+ t"is ti/e *it" a 2o!r o2 0o!-= S"e a!g"e& *it"o!t "!/or6 =T"an1s+ ,!t no t"an1s6= S"e opene& t"e /i&& e &ra*er+ te ing "erse 2 to ta1e "er ti/e6 T"e neAt t"ing s"e 1ne*+ Canet *o! & ,e a%%!sing "er o2 ta1ing o22i%e s!pp ies6 =I &on9t i1e ,eing %a e& a iar6= @e s o* 0 ro!n&e& "er an& sat on t"e %orner o2 "er &es16 =Boo1 at /e6=

S"e re2!se& t"e re5!est6 @e %!r;e& "is 2ingers !n&er "er %"in an& gent 0 n!&ge& "er 2a%e !p6 =3it"&ra* 0o!r resignation6= =No6= @is ga<e roa/e& o;er "er6 =3"0 &i&n9t 0o! te /e t"ings "a& gone t"is 2ar-= =?"+ /a0,e it *as ,e%a!se I "a& no i&ea t"e0 "a&-= =Go! "a& to "a;e s!spe%te& so/et"ing+= "e sai& 5!iet 0+ "is t"!/, %aressing "er :a* ine+ sen&ing itt e s"i;ers o;er "er s1in &espite t"e sit!ation6 =I &i&n9t6 3"0 s"o! & I "a;e- I "a&n9t &one an0t"ing *rong6 I "a;e no i&ea *"o too1 t"at arge pett0 %as" *it"&ra*a o!t+ ,!t it *asn9t /e6= S"e stare& at "i/+ &aring "i/ to &e20 "er6 =Di& 0o! oo1 into *"o /ig"t "a;e &one it-= =No6 I ass!/e& it *as a ,an1 error6 Go! 1no*+ t"e %as"ier a&&e& on an eAtra <ero ,0 /ista1e6= =)n&-= =)n& t"is /orning t"e a!&itor pro&!%e& ,an1 re%or&s s"o*ing t"e %as"7o!t at t"e "ig"er a/o!nt+ gi;en to K0ra 3"ite6= @e re/o;e& "is "an& an& % aspe& it *it" "is ot"er in "is ap6 K0ra %ontin!e& re/o;ing "er ite/s 2ro/ "er &es16 @er sorr0 eA%!se 2or a ,onsai p ant t"at ) anna" "a& gi;en "er &!ring "er ast trip6 ) pi%t!re 2ra/e ,earing a pi%t!re o2 a 0o!nger ) anna" an& "erse 26 ) 1ni%11na%1 .i%"ae "a& gi;en "er6 ) %r0sta paper*eig"t 2ro/ t"e partners ast C"rist/as6 S"e starte& to p!t t"e paper*eig"t in t"e ,oA+ t"en instea& &roppe& it into t"e gar,age6 =P ease+= s"e sai&6 =I9& rat"er ,e a one no*6= S"e g an%e& !p to 2in& "i/ s5!inting at "er in %on%ern6 =I :!st nee&+ !/+ a itt e ti/e to a&:!st+ 0o! 1no*- I 2ee i1e I9;e :!st ,een "it on t"e si&e o2 t"e "ea& *it" a t*o7,072o!r6=

=Go! oo1 t"at *a0+ too6= S"e /a&e a 2a%e6 =T"an1s6 T"at9s s!re to ,rig"ten /0 &a06= @e %"!%1 e& 5!iet 06 =Ho "o/e+ K0ra6 I9 straig"ten t"is o!t6= =Straig"ten *"at o!t- It9s a rea&0 &one6I5!it 6F7D7I7T6T"at9s it6 T"e en&6= S"e oo1e& at "i/ pointe& 06 =)n& I &on9t *ant 0o! to &o a sing e t"ing to %"ange t"at6= =>!t8= =3"at+ are 0o! "earing i/paire&-= s"e sai&6 .i%"ae 9s e0es narro*e&6 S"e eA"a e& o!& 06 =Sorr06 I to & 0o! I9& /!%" rat"er ,e a one rig"t no*6 Eit"er sta0 an& ris1 /ore a,!se+ or ea;e6= S"e trie& to sti "er s"a1ing "an&s6 =P ease6= =I9 see 0o! ater at 0o!r p a%e-= S"e no&&e&+ ,!t so/e"o* s"e %o! &n9t ;is!a i<e %ontin!ing on *it" t"ings as nor/a 6 Not t"at t"eir re ations"ip *as nor/a 6 It *as :!st one /ore ano/a 0 "eape& !p on e;er0t"ing e se6 =I9 ,ring > L C6= S"e no&&e& again6 4ina 0+ .i%"ae p!s"e& a*a0 2ro/ t"e &es1 an& starte& 2or t"e &oor6 S"e sense& "i/ "esitate+ ,!t s"e %ontin!e& % earing "er t"ings o!t as i2 s"e &i&n9t 1no* "e *as t"ere6 T"en "e *as gone6 EEE Bater t"at nig"t+ .i%"ae % i/,e& t"e steps to K0ra9s apart/ent+ ,earing C"inese 2oo& an& i%e %rea/6 @e sti %o! &n9t 2ig!re o!t "o* e;er0t"ing "a& gotten so o!t o2 "an& at t"e 2ir/ *it"o!t "is "a;ing "a& a % !e6 )2ter K0ra e2t+ "e9& gone into Canet9s o22i%e an& s"!t t"e &oor6 >!t "e "a&n9t 2o!n& o!t an0t"ing /ore 2ro/ "er t"an "e9& a rea&0 earne& 2ro/ K0ra6 @e9& as1e& *"0 "e or t"e ot"er partners "a&n9t ,een %ons! te& on t"e /atter an& Canet "a& re/in&e& "i/ t"at s"e *as in %"arge o2 personne /atters an& s"e9& ,een t"e one ! ti/ate 0 responsi, e 2or ta1ing %are o2 it6 @e %o! &n9t arg!e t"at point6 )nn!a 0 t"e partners tra&e& o22 on a&/inistration &!ties

an& t"is 0ear Canet *as in %"arge o2 2ir/ /atters6 ) a2ternoon "e9& /! e& o;er t"e sit!ation+ tr0ing to 2ig!re o!t *"at "a& "appene&6 C!st ,e2ore ea;ing+ "e9& %ornere& Canet again an& s!ggeste& t"at s"e /ig"t *ant to oo1 into P"0 isKi%" er as t"e %! prit6 It *as no se%ret t"at K0ra an& t"e gossip0 se%retar0 "a& ne;er gotten a ong6 Canet in&i%ate& t"at s"e *o! & ta1e "is s!ggestion !n&er a&;ise/ent ,!t .i%"ae got t"e i/pression t"at s"e t"o!g"t t"e /atter *as % ose&6 T"e 2ir/ *as o!t t"ree t"o!san& &o ars6 T*ent07se;en "!n&re& a2ter t"e t"ree "!n&re& t"at *as p!t in t"e o22i%e pett0 %as" 2!n&6 No+ s"e &i&n9t p an to prose%!te or to tr0 to re% ai/ t"e /one0+ s"e9& sai&+ &!e /ost 0 to .i%"ae 9s persona %onne%tion to K0ra6 .i%"ae to & "er "e p anne& to %a t"e partners toget"er to &is%!ss t"e /atter6 Not t"at "e eApe%te& it to /a1e a *"o e ot o2 &i22eren%e6 Ges+ "is a%tions /ig"t % ear K0ra9s na/e6 >!t "e &i&n9t eApe%t "er to ret!rn to t"e 2ir/6 @e too1 t"e 2e* re/aining stairs to "er apart/ent+ 2ee ing a "o o* sensation in "is %"est6 @e i1e& *or1ing *it" K0ra6 Bi1e& seeing "er at t"e 2ir/ e;er0 /orning+ s"aring %o22ee *it" "er+ :oining "er 2or !n%"+ or stea ing into "er o22i%e 2or a 2e* /in!tes !n&er t"e g!ise o2 a pro2essiona /atter to :!st s"oot t"e ,ree<e *it" "er6 @e + "e9& i1e& &oing a t"at ,e2ore t"e09& ,e%o/e inti/ate 0 in;o ;e&6 )n& no* s"e *o! & no onger ,e t"ere6 @e rea 0 "ate& t"at6 @e :!gg e& t"e ite/s "e "e & an& raise& "is "an& to 1no%16 =I *o! &n9t ,ot"er i2 I *ere 0o!J= No /atter "o* /an0 ti/es .rs6 Ka/ins10 s"o!te& at "i/+ .i%"ae &i&n9t t"in1 "e9& e;er get !se& to t"e so!n&6 @e t!rne& to oo1 &o*n t"e stair*e at "er+ *on&ering i2 t"e *o/an "a& e;er ,een /arrie& an& *"et"er or not "er "!s,an& "a& ,een &ea26 =S"e9s not in-= "e as1e&+ 2ro*ning6 @e9& seen "er .!stang o!t 2ront6 K0ra ne;er *ent an0*"ere *it"o!t "er .!stang6 =?"+ s"e9s in a rig"tJ It9s 0o! s"e &oesn9t *ant to seeJ S"e ga;e /e eApress instr!%tions to te 0o! to ta1e a "i1e an& not to %onta%t "er+ t"at s"e9 ,e in to!%" *it" 0o! *"en s"e9s goo& an& rea&0J= T"e *or&s %a/e o!t as one ong+ r!n7on senten%e+ t"e ear7sp itting ;o !/e o2 .rs6K69s ;oi%e ,rea1ing not at a 6

.i%"ae stare& at "er6 =I &on9t 1no* *"at 0o! &i& to "er+ ,!t i2 0o! so /!%" as "ar/e& a "air on t"at gir 9s "ea&+ I s*ear I9 %o/e a2ter 0o! *it" /0 ,roo/J No* go on+ get o!t o2 "ere ,e2ore I &e%i&e to &o it an0*a0J= .i%"ae raise& "is e0e,ro*s an& *at%"e& as s"e *ent ,a%1 insi&e "er apart/ent an& s a//e& t"e &oor+ pra%ti%a 0 s"a1ing t"e entire ,!i &ing6 @e s*a o*e& "ar& t"en oo1e& to*ar& K0ra9s % ose& &oor6 3as it tr!e- @a& K0ra re5!este& t"at .rs6 K6 t!rn "i/ a*a0- 3"i e t"e an& a&0 *as o!&+ "e &i&n9t 1no* i2 s"e *as %apa, e o2 0ing6 @e &i&n9t get it @e 1ne* K0ra *as !pset6 @e9& ,e !pset+ too6 >!t s"e9& ne;er t!rne& "i/ a*a0 ,e2ore6 @e ,egan to *a 1 to*ar& t"e stairs+ t"en stoppe&6 )s "er 2rien&+ "e *o! & ne;er et "er o22 t"e "oo1 t"at eas06 3"0+ t"en+ as "er o;er+ *as "e r!nning a*a0 *it" "is tai ,et*een "is egs4ear o2 re:e%tion+ "e rea i<e&6 S5!aring "is s"o! &ers+ "e t!rne& ,a%1 to*ar& "er &oor an& 1no%1e& so!n& 06 =K0ra- I 1no* 0o!9re in t"ere6= @e trie& t"e "an& e6 Bo%1e&6 =?pen !p+ K0ra6 I *ant to ta 1 to 0o!6= No response6 =?1a0+ Ineed to ta 1 to 0o!6 To /a1e s!re 0o!9re o1a06= Sti not"ing6 @e %o! &n9t e;en /a1e o!t a so!n& in t"e apart/ent6 =Co/e on+ K0ra8= =@e06 )re 0o! &ea2- T"e gir &oesn9t *ant to see 0o!6 No* s%ra/6= .i%"ae starte& at t"e so!n& o2 .rs6K69s rene*e& 0e ing6 T"is ti/e s"e *as "o &ing t"e ,roo/ s"e "a& t"reatene& "i/ *it" ear ier6 S"e starte& !p t"e stairs6 .i%"ae "e & !p "is "an&s t"e ,est "e %o! & %onsi&ering t"e ite/s "e "e &6 =?1a0+ o1a06 I9/ going6= @e &i&n9t /o;e an& neit"er &i& s"e6 =3e -= s"e s"o!te&6

@e 2ig!re& at t"is rate+ "e *o! & ,e t"e one in nee& o2 a "earing ai&6 =P!t t"e ,roo/ a*a06= =I9 &o no s!%" t"ing6= =T"en step ,a%1 2ro/ t"e stairs6= S"e s5!inte& "er e0es at "i/+ t"en s o* 0 &es%en&e& t"e stairs6 =T"at9s it6 Keep going6 Hoo&6 No* go ,a%1 into 0o!r apart/ent6= =I9 go ,a%1 into /0 apart/ent *"en I9/ goo& an& rea&0J I &on9t nee& an0 Co"nn07%o/e7 too7o2ten to te /e *"at to &oJ= .i%"ae gri/a%e&6 =T"en pro/ise /e 0o! *on9t "it /e *it" t"at ,roo/6= S"e oo1e& at t"e ite/ in 5!estion t"en ,a%1 at "i/6 =Go! &on9t /ess *it" /e+ I *on9t /ess *it" 0o!J= =Hoo&6= @e g an%e& at K0ra9s sti 7% ose& &oor+ t"en %a!tio!s 0 &es%en&e& t"e re/ain&er o2 t"e stairs6 @e ,egan to pass .rs6 Ka/ins10+ t"en "esitate&6 S"e i2te& t"e ,roo/ as i2 to *"a%1 "i/6 =3"oa6 I9/ not p anning on &oing an0t"ing6= =Go!9& ,etter notJ >e%a!se I *on9t "esitate to !se t"is+ 0o! 1no*J= T"is % ose !p+ .i%"ae *in%e& against t"e ons a!g"t o2 "er "ig"7&e%i,e ;oi%e6 =Do 0o! i1e C"inese-= S"e stare& at "i/ as i2 s"e *as re%onsi&ering *"a%1ing "i/6 =T"e09re o1a06 Di22erent 2ro/ t"e .eAi%ans+ ,!t "e0+ I9/ no ra%ist6= @e 2o!g"t a grin6 =I /eant 2oo&6= @e "e & o!t t"e ,ags in "is "an&s6 =@ere6 .err0 C"rist/as6= T"e o & an& a&0 &i&n9t appear to 1no* "o* to rea%t as .i%"ae t!rne& an& "ea&e& t"ro!g" t"e narro* "a ea&ing to t"e &oor6 =C"rist/as isn9t 2or 2o!r /ont"sJ= .i%"ae s"oo1 "is "ea& an& e2t6 C"apter 12

K#$ T"e 2o o*ing a2ternoon+ K0ra ,!rro*e& 2art"er !n&er t"e %o;ers+ ignoring .r6 Ti,,s pa*ing at "er "an&s an& t"e so!n& o2 so/eone 1no%1ing at "er 2ront &oor6 S"e 1ne* it %o! &n9t ,e .i%"ae 6 .i%"ae *as at *or16 )n& .i%"ae ne;er p!t an0t"ing a,o;e *or16 S"e pee1e& o!t at t"e ans*ering /a%"ine6 T"e re& &igita n!/,ers to & "er s"e "a& ten /essages6 S"e p! e& t"e , an1et ,a%1 !p+ g a& s"e9& t!rne& t"e ringer o226 =.iss 3"iteJ ?pen t"e &oor t"is /in!teJ T"is is 0o!r an& a&0J= )s i2 s"e %o! & "a;e /ista1en "er 2or an0one e se6 K0ra 2ro*ne&6 3"at *as .rs6 Ka/ins10 &oing 1no%1ing at "er &oor=I 1no* 0o!9re in t"ereJ I *o! & "a;e "ear& 0o! "a& 0o! gone an0*"ereJ= K0ra &i&n9t 2ee i1e ,!&ging an in%"6 So s"e &i&n9t6 .r6 Ti,,s /eo*e&+ .rs6 K6 ,e o*e&+ an& K0ra *is"e& s"e *ere an0p a%e at t"at one /o/ent ,!t t"ere6 I2 s"e "a&n9t opene& t"e &oor 2or .i%"ae ast nig"t+ s"e %ertain 0 *asn9t going to et "er an& a&0 in no*6 @er "eart ga;e a pain2! s5!ee<e6 It "a& ,een so &i22i%! t to "ear "i/ %a o!t 2or "er e;en a2ter .rs6 K6 "a& to & "i/ to go a*a06 ?2 %o!rse t"e o & *o/an "a& parap"rase& /!%" o2 *"at s"e9& sai&+ ,!t t"e /essage "a& ,een t"e sa/e: K0ra "a& *ante& to ,e e2t a one6 )n& a one s"e "a& sta0e& 2or t"e past t*ent072o!r "o!rs6 ) one+ "o e& !p in "er ,e& eA%ept 2or pott0 ,rea1s an& trips to t"e 1it%"en to 2ee& .r6 Ti,,s6 @erse 2 ' *e + s"e &i&n9t e;en *ant to t"in1 a,o!t 2oo&+ a t"o!g" s"e "a& sippe& so/e *ater in t"e ,at"roo/6 .i%"ae *o! & ,e 2!rio!s *it" "er6 S"e 1ne* t"at6 >!t s"e %o! &n9t "e p "erse 26 T"e one t"ing s"e9& a *a0s pri&e& "erse 2 on *as "er "onest06 )n& to ,e !n2air 0 a%%!se& o2 a %ri/e s"e "a&n9t %o//itte& ate a*a0 at "er as ;er0 2e* t"ings %o! &6 Di&n9t "e !n&erstan& t"atS"e 1ne* at so/e point ;er0 soon s"e9& "a;e to &rag "erse 2 o!t o2 ,e& an& oo1 2or a ne* :o,6 >!t rig"t no*+ s"e %o! & &o itt e /ore t"an /o!rn t"e oss o2 "er ast one6 S"e a so 1ne* at so/e point s"e9& "a;e to ta 1 to .i%"ae 6 >!t s"e %o! &n9t t"in1 a,o!t t"at rig"t no*+ eit"er6 =Go! painte& t"e stin1ing *oo&*or1J= T"e a,nor/a 0 o!& so!n& o2 .rs6Ka/ins109s ;oi%e start e& K0ra straig"t o!t o2 ,e&6

H! ping &eep ,reat"s o2 air+ s"e stoo& staring at "er an& a&0 in s"o%16 Ne;er in t"e t"ree 0ears t"at s"e9& i;e& t"ere "a& .rs6 K6 %o/e !p t"e stairs+ /!%" ess into "er apart/ent6 T"at s"e *as stan&ing t"ere no*+ "o &ing so/et"ing in "er "an&s+ /a&e K0ra eAtre/e 0 paranoi&6 .rs6 Ka/ins10 "e & !p a 1e06 =I9/ t"e an& a&0+ re/e/,erJ= K0ra *in%e& a*a0 2ro/ t"e o!& so!n& o2 "er ;oi%e6 =3"at9s t"e /atter- Go! ,een &rin1ing+ gir - )/ I ta 1ing too o!& 2or 0o!-= =No+ I "a;en9t ,een &rin1ing+= K0ra *"ispere&+ t"in1ing t"at /ig"t not ,e s!%" a ,a& i&ea6 =3"at are 0o! &oing "ere-= =Go!r ,o02rien& e2t t"is 2or 0o! ast nig"t6 I 1ept it in t"e re2rigerator *aiting 2or 0o! to ea;e 2or *or1+ ,!t *"en 0o! &i&n9t I 2ig!re& so/et"ing *as *rong6 So I &e%i&e& I9& ,ring it !p6= K0ra oo1e& at t"e ,ags 2ro/ "er 2a;orite C"inese resta!rant6 =I &i&n9t go to *or1 ,e%a!se I no onger "a;e a :o,6= =No onger "a;e a :o,J 3"at+ are 0o! %ra<0+ gir - Do 0o! 1no* *"at state t"e e%ono/09s in ate 0J )re 0o! going to ,e a, e to pa0 0o!r rent-= K0ra p!t "er "an&s o;er "er ears6 =P ease6 Co! & 0o! o*er it :!st a %o!p e o2 &e%i,e s-= .rs6 Ka/ins10 stare& at "er6 =)/ I ta 1ing too o!&-= =3e + 0ea"+= K0ra sai&+ tr0ing to ,e po ite+ ,!t /issing t"e /ar16 >0 %o/ing into "er apart/ent+ "er an& a&0 "a& in;a&e& K0ra9s persona spa%e6 )n& t"at /eant t"e g o;es *ere o226 =Go!9re a,o!t t*o s"o!ts a*a0 2ro/ ,rea1ing /0 ear&r!/s6= K0ra ,ra%e& "erse 2 2or anot"er tira&e+ ,!t *as s!rprise& *"en .rs6 K6 p! e& so/et"ing o!t o2 t"e 2ront o2 "er ro,e6 S"e rea i<e& it *as a "earing ai&6 S"e s"oo1 it6 =.0 sister 1eeps te ing /e I s"o! & get a ne* one6 I te "er 9I &on9t nee& a ne* "earing ai&6 T"is one "as *or1e& :!st 2ine 2or t"e past ten 0ears69= =I &on9t t"in1 it9s *or1ing at a += K0ra sai&+ %ra* ing ,a%1 into ,e& an& %o;ering "erse 2 *it" "er , an1et+ "oping to &! t"e noise6 S"e gaspe& *"en .rs6 K6 0an1e& t"e , an1et ,a%16 =Is t"is t"e *a0 0o! treat g!ests-= s"e s"o!te&6 =It9s no *on&er t"at t"e on 0 one *"o %o/es o;er is t"at Co"nn07%o/e7 ate 06= S"e oo1e& at t"e ,ags in "er "an&s+ t"en t"r!st t"e/ at K0ra6 =) t"o!g" I gotta sa0+ a g!0 *"o ,rings a ga i%e %rea/ %an9t ,e a ,a&6= K0ra :ost e& t"e ,ags6 .rs6K69s ;oi%e *as o*er no*+ a /ost at a nor/a e;e 6

=.0 @er/an !se& to ,ring /e i%ori%e6 C"err0+ not t"at stra*,err0 st!226= K0ra p! e& t"e s"eet ,a%1 !p to "er %"in an& peere& at t"e ot"er *o/an6 =@er/an-= =.0 "!s,an&6 3e + ate "!s,an&+ an0*a06 Die& a 0ear or so ,e2ore 0o! /o;e& in6 4rea1 a%%i&ent6 @e *as painting a ,ri&ge an& a pe i%an &i;e7,o/,e& "i/6= .rs6 Ka/ins10 ta 1e& t"e *a0 s"e s"o!te&+ in one ong !n,ro1en strea/ o2 t"o!g"t6 K0ra stare& at "er+ spee%" ess6 @o* &i& one respon& to t"e 1in& o2 in2or/ation s"e *as s"aring- =Sorr06= S"e 2ina 0 /anage& to get so/et"ing o!t6 =Gea"+ *e + it9s ,een a 2e* 0ears no*6 3e "a;e one &a!g"ter6 Pene ope6 S"e i;es in3as"ingtonstate6 3or1s 2or so/e %onser;ationist gro!p or ot"er6 So/et"ing to &o *it" o* s6 9T"ere9s p ent0 o2 t"at t0pe o2 *or1 "ere+ *"at *it" t"e e;erg a&es an& a +9 I te "er6 >!t s"e &on9t isten to /e6 Ca s /e on%e a *ee16= .rs6 K6 "a& a &a!g"ter=Go! re/in& /e o2 "er6 I g!ess t"at9s *"0 I too1 a i1ing to 0o! t"e 2irst ti/e 0o! %a/e ,0 to see t"e apart/ent6 9No* "ere9s a gir a *o/an %an tr!st+9 I to & /0se 26 Don9t 0o! /a1e /e o!t to ,e a iar6= K0ra 2e t as t"o!g" s"e9& passe& o;er into so/e para e !ni;erse6 S"e pin%"e& "er eg !n&er t"e s"eet :!st to /a1e s!re s"e *asn9t &rea/ing6 =No*+ 0o! gonna get !p or a/ I gonna "a;e to start s%rea/ing again-= 3as t"at a t*in1 e in t"e o & *o/an9s e0es- Ges+ K0ra &e%i&e&+ it *as6 )n& it *as so !neApe%te&+ s"e 2orgot to ,e irritate&6 =I9 get !p6= =Hoo&6= .rs6 Ka/ins10 t!rne& 2ro/ t"e ,e& an& steppe& to*ar& t"e &oor6 =Go! 1no* it9s against t"e ease 2or 0o! to /ess *it" an0t"ing in "ere6= K0ra tense&+ ,e%a!se s"e9& &one a *"o e ot o2 /essing6 4ro/ p! ing !p t"e ratt0 o & %arpeting an& po is"ing t"e *oo& 2 oors+ to painting t"e *a s neon %o ors an& t"e *oo&*or1 *"ite+ s"e9& %"ange& :!st a,o!t e;er0t"ing in t"e apart/ent6 .rs6 Ka/ins10 no&&e&6 =I i1e it6= S"e oo1e& o;er "er s"o! &er6 =No* get 0o!rse 2 !p an& go o!t an& 2in& 0o!rse 2 anot"er :o,6 T"e 2irst &a0 0o! /iss t"e rent+ I9 ,oot 0o!r ,on0 ,!tt o!t o2 "ere 2aster t"an 0o! %an , in16 )n& &on9t t"in1 t"at I *on9t6= K0ra s%oote& !nti "er 2eet &ang e& o;er t"e si&e o2 t"e ,e&6 S"e oo1e& &o*n at t"e ,ags+ not &o!,ting t"at a "er 2a;orites *ere in t"ere6 )n& s!&&en 0 s"e *as ra;eno!s6 =.rs6 K6-= s"e %a e& as t"e *o/an opene& t"e 2ront &oor6 =D/+ *"ere9s t"e i%e %rea/-=

T"e &oor s a//e& ,e"in& t"e *o/an9s retreating ,a%1 an& K0ra "ear& "er a!g"ter in t"e "a 6 S"e s/i e&6 S"e9& a *a0s s!spe%te& t"ere *as /ore to t"e o & *o/an6 No* t"at s"e 1ne* t"at t"ere *as+ s"e *asn9t s!re s"e i1e& it6 Not one ,it6 I2 s"e *ante& to *aste a*a0 in "er ,e& ,0 "erse 2+ *"at ,!siness *as it o2 an0one9s- .!%" ess .rs6Ka/ins109s S"e spotte& t"e ,oo1 s"e9& ,o!g"t t"at "a& %o/pe e& "er to %"ange so /!%" o2 "er i2e6Sex itten !"! 6 Gea"+ rig"t6 It *o! & "a;e ,een ,etter tit e&+&o% to Totally Scre% )p Your Life in Ten, *diot+Proof Steps' S"e pi%1e& !p t"e ,oo1 an& &roppe& it into t"e gar,age %an+ t"en e0e& "er ,e& onging 06 =I2 0o!9re not o!t o2 t"is apart/ent in "a 2 an "o!r+ I9/ going to %o/e ,a%1 in an& get 0o!J= .rs6 Ka/ins10 s"o!te& t"ro!g" t"e &oor6 K0ra /a&e a 2a%e an& got o!t o2 ,e&+ not s!re *"at s"e *as /ore a2rai& o2: t"at .rs6 K *o! & /a1e goo& on "er t"reat or t"at s"e *o! &n9t' EEE .i%"ae par1e& "is %ar neAt to K0ra9s .!stang in t"e nig"t% !, ot6 @e %"e%1e& "is "air in t"e /irror+ t"en too1 a &eep ,reat"6 @e rea 0 %o! &n9t sa0 *"0 "e *as so ner;o!s6 Ges+ "e %o! &6 @e "a&n9t spo1en to K0ra sin%e 0ester&a0+ rig"t a2ter s"e 5!it t"e 2ir/6 @e9& e2t no 2e*er t"an a &o<en /essages on "er /a%"ine+ an& %a e& a &o<en /ore ti/es a,o;e t"at6 )n& at 2i;e t"is a2ternoon+ s"e9& 2ina 0 %a e& ,a%16 @e9& ,een so re ie;e& to "ear "er ;oi%e+ "e "a&n9t rea 0 registere& *"at s"e9& sai&6 T"en s"e9& repeate& "erse 26 S"e9& an&e& a ne* :o, at a tren&0 ne* %o!t!re s"op6 S"e9& ,een s"opping a2ter a parti%! ar 0 &epressing :o, inter;ie* an& s"e an& t"e storeo*ner "a& "it it o226 )n&+ i/agine t"at+ t"e store9s ,oo11eeper "a& gone into a,or t"at /orning an& t"e0 *ere in &ire nee& o2 a rep a%e/ent6 K0ra "a& *ante& to %e e,rate6 =.eet /e at Bo ita9s a2ter *or16 Go! 1no*+ :!st i1e o & ti/es6= .i%"ae 2or%e& "i/se 2 to get o!t o2 t"e %ar+ t"e "eat "itting "i/ i1e a 2!rna%e , ast6 T"e0 "a&n9t ,een ,a%1 to t"e % !, sin%e t"e09& ,e%o/e inti/ate6 )n& "e *asn9t s!re "e i1e& t"e i&ea o2 going ,a%1 to =o & ti/es6= @e % ose& t"e %ar &oor+ t"en "a& to open it again to get t"e 2 o*ers "e9& pi%1e& !p6 T"e0 *ere ,rig"t an& %"eer2! 6 T"e ,a oon t"at rea& Congrat! ations "a& ,een a itt e too %"eer2! + "o*e;er+ an& "e9& poppe& it on%e "e got into t"e %ar6 @e 2ig!re& K0ra *o! & 1no* *"at "e /eant6 @e steppe& into t"e &ar1 % !, an& ga;e "is e0es a /o/ent to a&:!st6 T"e p a%e *as "opping *it" t"e !s!a a2ter7*or1 %ro*&6 @e s5!inte&+ oo1ing o;er t"e ta, es6 No K0ra6 T"en "e spotte& "er6 T"ere6 )t t"e ,ar6

@is sto/a%" tig"tene&+ /!%" as it a *a0s &i& *"en "e sa* "er6 >!t t"e sensation *as &o!, 0 intense gi;en t"e e;ents o2 t"e past t*o &a0s6 S"e "a& on t"at % ing0 p!rp e &ress t"at "!gge& "er in a t"e rig"t p a%es+ an& gaine& t"e attention o2 e;er0 g!0 in t"e p a%e6 @e /a&e "is *a0 in "er &ire%tion+ prepare& to ,att e t"e/ a a*a06 T"en "is step 2a tere& as "e noti%e& *"o *as sitting at K0ra9s si&e6 Craig @o so/6 Da/n6 4or a ong /o/ent .i%"ae stoo& staring at t"e t*o peop e *"o "a& ,een a %o!p e a /ere ten &a0s ago6 K0ra *as istening intent 0 to so/et"ing Craig *as sa0ing an& "e *as treating "er as i2 s"e *ere t"e on 0 *o/an in t"e p a%e6 3"en t"e :er1 &i&n9t e;en g an%e at t"e passing *aitress+ .i%"ae 2e t "is 2ists % en%"6 T"en K0ra t"re* ,a%1 "er "ea& an& a!g"e&+ &raping "er "an& easi 0 aro!n& Craig9s s"o! &ers6 Craig oo1e& as t"o!g" "e *ante& not"ing /ore t"an to &e;o!r "er6 )n& .i%"ae *ante& to 1i "i/6 Instea& "e t!rne& ,a%1 to*ar& t"e &oor an& *a 1e& o!t+ not parti%! ar 0 anAio!s to ,e%o/e eA7Cer1 N!/,er 4o!rteen' EEE K0ra oo1e& at "er *at%"6 .i%"ae s"o! & "a;e ,een t"ere ,0 no*6 S"e as1e& C6>6 2or t"e p"one6 =3"o are 0o! %a ing-= Craig as1e&+ eaning in a itt e too % ose 0 2or "er i1ing6 S"e n!&ge& "i/ a*a06 =.0 &ate6= 3"en s"e9& initia 0 entere& t"e % !, to 2in& Craig t"ere+ s"e9& ,een ps0%"e& *it" t"e opport!nit0 to "a;e "er eA 2ina 0 see "er an& "er ne* oo16 )n& o"+ ,o0+ "a& "e rea%te& t"e *a0 s"e9& "ope&+ instant 0 "o/ing in on "er e;en as s"e /a&e it % ear s"e *as *aiting 2or so/eone e se an& "a& no intention o2 p!rs!ing an0t"ing 2!rt"er *it" "i/6 >!t t"e t"ri o2 "a;ing Craig @o so/ sa i;ate a2ter "er i1e a repentant &og in pri/e eg7 "!/ping /o&e starte& *earing ;er0 t"in on 0 t*o /in!tes into t"eir %on;ersation6 )n& s"e *is"e& "e *o! & &isappear ,a%1 into t"e *oo&*or1 an& ea;e "er a one6 =>o0+ 0o! *or1 5!i%1+= Craig sai&+ so/e o2 "is o & *"in0 se 2 s!r2a%ing 2or a ;isit6 Go! "a;e no i&ea+ K0ra t"o!g"t6 C!st *ait !nti "e sa* t"at .i%"ae *as "er &ate6

S"e s/i e& to "erse 2 an& &ia e&6 S"e &i&n9t get an0 ans*er at .i%"ae 9s "o!se+ t"e 2ir/+ or "is %e p"one6 T"at9s o&&6 S"e &ia e& "er apart/ent an& retrie;e& "er /essages6 =K0ra+ it9s .i%"ae 6 Can9t /a1e it tonig"t6 Sorr06 EAp ain ater6= @e "a& e2t t"e /essage 2i;e /in!tes ago6 E;er0 ast reason to %e e,rate e;aporate& into t"e i5!or7sat!rate& air6 )n& s"e9& %ertain 0 "a& reason to %e e,rate6 K0ra s o* 0 "an&e& t"e p"one ,a%1 to C6>6+ t"en pi%1e& !p "er p!rse6 =3"ere are 0o! going-= Craig as1e&6 S"e *rin1 e& "er nose6 =.0 &ate as1e& /e to /eet "i/ so/e*"ere e se+= s"e ie&+ rea 0 not s!re *"0 s"e "a&6 So/e"o* s"e &i&n9t *ant "i/ to 1no* t"at s"e9& ,een essentia 0 stoo& !p6 =@e0+ I "a;e an i&ea6 3"0 &on9t 0o! :!st sta0 "ere *it" /e- Go! 1no*+ re i;e o & ti/es6= @e s1i//e& "is 2inger &o*n "er ,are ar/6 =.a1e so/e ne* ti/es6= K0ra s"!&&ere&+ *on&ering *"at s"e9& 2o!n& attra%ti;e in t"e /an oo1ing at "er as i2 s"e *ere on t"e /en!6 =No+ t"an1 0o!6 I "a;e eno!g" /e/ories *it" 0o! to ast t*o i2eti/es6= S"e9& eApe%te& to 2ee tri!/p"ant as s"e *a 1e& o!t o2 t"e ,ar+ "ea& "e & "ig"6 Instea& a s"e %o! & t"in1 a,o!t *as .i%"ae + an& *on&er *"0 "e9& %an%e e& o!t on "er6 EEE .i%"ae &re* a ine+ t"en anot"er perpen&i%! ar to it+ t"en :oine& t"e/ at t*o spots to in&i%ate *"ere t"e ne* 1it%"en is an& on Ne;i e9s "o!se &esign *o! & go6 @e , e* a ong ,reat" o!t an& r!,,e& t"e ,a%1 o2 "is ne%16 @e "a& "ope& t"at ret!rning to *or1 *o! & "e p %"ase t"e i/age o2 K0ra sitting *it" "er eA7,o02rien& 2ro/ "is /in&6 Instea&+ t"e si en%e 2i ing t"e open area /a&e it t"at K0ra *as a "ecould t"in1 a,o!t6 Not to /ention t"e 2a%t t"at "e 1ept seeing "er stret%"e&+ g orio!s 0 na1e&+ a%ross "is *or1ta, e6 @e %!rse& !n&er "is ,reat"6 @e s"o! & "a;e tr!ste& "is ear ier instin%ts6 @e9& ,een a2rai& in t"e ,eginning t"at "e *o! & en& !p ,eing not"ing /ore t"an a re,o!n& g!0 to "e p K0ra get past "er atest ,rea1!p6 )n& it *as oo1ing as i2 t"at9s eAa%t 0 *"at "e9& en&e& !p ,e%o/ing6 3orse+ s"e /ig"t e;en go ,a%1 to t"e g!0 s"e "a& ,een on t"e re,o!n& 2ro/6 So/et"ing t"at ne;er "appene& ,e2ore+ ,!t t"is see/e& to ,e a ti/e 2or 2irsts6 @e rea%"e& 2or t"e %!p o2 %o22ee "e9& pi%1e& !p on t"e *a0 ,a%1 to t"e o22i%e+ an& near 0 1no%1e& it o;er6 @e gri/a%e& an& s"oo1 &rop ets o2 t"e "ot i5!i& 2ro/ "is "an&6

=Go! s"o! & "a;e rea& t"e si&e6 Danger: @ot6= .i%"ae oo1e& !p+ "is "eart eaping at t"e prospe%t o2 seeing K0ra6 Instea&+ "is partner CanetPa /ieri stoo& on t"e ot"er si&e o2 "is &ra2ting ta, e+ s/i ing at "i/6 3"at *as s"e &oing "ere- ?n "is s"ort ist o2 peop e "e %o! & to erate seeing rig"t no*+ "er na/e *asn9t % ose to appearing6 @e 2ro*ne& t"en *ent ,a%1 to *or1ing on t"e , !eprint6 =Go!9re "ere ate6= =So are 0o!6= @e % eare& "is t"roat+ "oping *it" si/p e ,o&0 ang!age t"at "e %o! & %o//!ni%ate t"at "e9& rat"er ,e a one6 =Ne;i e %"ange& t"e p ans again6= =S"o%1er6= =Gea"6= @e erase& an o &er ine+ t"en oo1e& !p at Canet6 S"e see/e& to "a;e so/et"ing on "er /in&6 @e *o! & rat"er s"e &i&n9t s"are it *it" "i/ :!st t"en6 Not a2ter e;er0t"ing t"at "a& "appene&+ pre%ipitate& ,0 Canet9s r!n7in *it" K0ra t"at "a& %a!se& "er to 5!it6 =@a;e 0o! %"e%1e& o!t P"0 is-= It *as "er t!rn to 2ro*n6 =No6= =I see6= .i%"ae t!rne& ,a%1 to "is *or16 Se;era /ore /o/ents passe&+ t"en "e "ear& t"e r!st ing o2 % ot"ing6 @e g an%e& !p+ eApe%ting to see Canet going ,a%1 to "er on%e6 Instea& "e 2o!n& "er !n&oing t"e ,!ttons on "er :a%1et an& re;ea ing t"e , a%1 ,ra s"e *ore !n&erneat"6 .i%"ae 9s e0e,ro*s rose an& "e g an%e& to "er 2a%e6 T"ere *as no *a0 in "e s"e *as &oing *"at "e t"o!g"t s"e *as &oing6 S!re+ ,a%1 in t"e ,eginning+ "e "a& t"o!g"t Canet *as attra%ti;e6 @e9& e;en "a& &inner *it" "er on%e or t*i%e6 >!t o;er t"e past 2e* 0ears+ t"e09& ,een not"ing ,!t *or1 asso%iates6 Partners at t"e sa/e 2ir/+ t"e on 0 t"ing t"e0 "a& in %o//on *as t"e ,otto/ ine6 >!t rig"t no*+ Canet see/e& intent on s"o*ing "i/ an entire 0 &i22erent ,otto/ ine6 Na/e 0 "ers6 S"e s/i e&6 =I 2ig!re& sin%e 0o!+ 0o! 1no*+ i1e to &o it in t"e o22i%e+ /a0,e 0o! an& I %o! & "a;e a go at it6=

S"e ro!n&e& t"e &ra2ting ta, e e;en as .i%"ae sat staring at "er+ rea i<ing t*o t"ings6 4irst+ t"at Canet /!st "a;e ,een t"ere *"en "e an& K0ra "a& !se& t"e ta, e 2or+ !/+ persona p!rposes6 )n& se%on&+ t"at Canet see/e& to *ant to reena%t t"e s%ene+ inserting "erse 2 into K0ra9s p a%e6 .i%"ae tense& an& to & "i/se 2 t"is *asn9t "appening6 =Canet'= =S""6= S"e s"r!gge& o!t o2 t"e :a%1et an& et t"e %onser;ati;e 0 %!t na;07, !e /ateria 2a to t"e 2 oor6 =Go! &on9t "a;e to sa0 an0t"ing6 I 1no* t"is is so/et"ing ,ot" o2 !s "a;e *ante& 2or a ;er0 ong ti/e6= )n& *"at 2antas0 an& &i& s"e i;e in.i%"ae 1ne* "e s"o! & /o;e+ p!t so/e i//e&iate &istan%e ,et*een "i/ an& t"e *o/an a&;an%ing on "i/ i1e a s"e7*o 26 >!t "e %o! & &o itt e /ore t"an stare in s"o%1 as s"e eane& against "is &ra2ting ta, e in 2ront o2 "i/+ t"r!sting "er 2! ,reasts o!t at "i/ in open in;itation6 @er "an& &isappeare& ,e"in& "er ,a%1 t"en "er s1irt *"oos"e& 2ro/ "er ,o&0+ re;ea ing a s1i/p0 pair o2 panties t"at /at%"e& "er ,ra6 .i%"ae 9s e0es *i&ene&6 ?1a0+ t"e *o/an *as n!ts6 Co/p ete 0+ %erti2ia, 0 insane6 )n& s"e *as 1issing "i/6 3"oa6 So/et"ing *as serio!s 0 *rong "ere6 Canet *as not on 0 1issing "i/+ s"e *as % a*ing at "is s"irt72ront i1e a *o/an gone /a&+ an& grin&ing "er pe ;is against "is ro!g" 06 .i%"ae 9s ,o&0 2ina 0 respon&e& to t"e %o//an&s "is ,rain *as sen&ing "i/6 @e si/! taneo!s 0 p!s"e& "er a*a0 an& ro e& "is %"air ,a%1 !nti "e "a& eno!g" roo/ to stan&6 =Canet+ *"at are 0o! &oing-= S"e &i&n9t "a;e a % !e "o* "e rea 0 2e t6 S"e st!%1 "er 2inger in "er /o!t" t"en &ippe& t"e &a/pene& tip insi&e a ,ra %!p6 =I9/ &oing *"at I s"o! & "a;e &one 0ears ago6= S"e !n&i& t"e % ip at t"e nape o2 "er ne%1 an& "er "air t!/, e& &o*n aro!n& "er ,are s"o! &ers6 =I9;e a *a0s "a& a t"ing 2or 0o!+ 0o! 1no* t"at &on9t 0o!+ .i%"ae -= @e "e & "is "an& !p to 1eep "er 2ro/ a&;an%ing on "i/ again6 =No+ I &i&n9t6= =S!re 0o! &i&6= @er "an& &isappeare& ,e"in& "er ,a%1 again+ t"en "er ,ra oosene& o;er "er ,reasts6 =It9s :!st t"at 0o! *ere a *a0s so ,!s0 ta1ing %are o2 .iss S%atter,rain t"at 0o! &i&n9t "a;e a /o/ent to a%t on 0o!r attra%tion6=

.i%"ae narro*e& "is e0es6 .iss S%atter,rain=>!t no* t"at s"e9s 2ina 0 gone+ *e + 0o! an& I %an ta1e !p *"ere *e e2t o22+ %an9t *e-= .i%"ae s/i e&+ ,!t t"ere *as a,so !te 0 no "!/or in t"e eApression6 =>ri iant /o;e+ t"at6 T"e *a0 0o! got K0ra to 5!it6= Canet tit e& "er "ea& an& ga;e a itt e a!g"6 =Ges+ I9& "a;e to sa0 it *as a ,it %reati;e /0se 26 I 1ne* 0o!9& ne;er agree to 2ire "er+ gi;en 0o!r ' spe%ia 2rien&s"ip an& a 6 So I "a& to 2in& a *a0 to /a1e "er 5!it6= T"e on 0 p a%e on Canet9s ,o&0 .i%"ae *ante& to to!%" *as "er ne%16 >!t "e &i&n9t t"in1 it *o! & ,e a goo& i&ea to strang e "er :!st t"en6 =Creati;e is eAa%t 0 t"e *or& I9& "a;e !se&+= "e sai&6 @er s/i e *i&ene& as s"e steppe& % oser to "i/6 @e graspe& "er ar/s tig"t 0+ "o &ing "er a*a06 @e ret!rne& "er s/i e6 =)n& %reati;e is eAa%t 0 "o* I9/ going to get in or&er to 2or%e 0o! o!t o2 t"e 2ir/6= S"e , in1e& at "i/6 ?n%e+ t*i%e+ t"ree ti/es+ as i2 in%apa, e o2 !n&erstan&ing "is *or&s6 =(ig"t a2ter 0o! a&/it *"at 0o! &i& to >r0%e an& @ar;e0+ an& apo ogi<e to K0ra6= Canet9s 2a%e re&&ene&+ ,!t .i%"ae s!spe%te& it "a& ;er0 itt e to &o *it" passion6 =3"at-= s"e *"ispere& "ars" 06 Sti "o &ing on to one ar/+ "e ,ent an& retrie;e& "er s1irt an& :a%1et+ t"en t"r!st t"e/ at "er6 =I9& s!ggest 0o! ea;e ,e2ore 0o! "!/i iate 0o!rse 2 e;en 2!rt"er+ Canet6= EEE Pa0,a%1 *as ;er0 &e2inite 0 a ,it%"+ K0ra &e%i&e& t"e 2o o*ing &a0 as s"e rep a%e& t"e te ep"one re%ei;er one ast ti/e+ "a;ing 2ai e& in "er atte/pt to get t"ro!g" to .i%"ae 6 S"e &r!//e& "er s"ort 2ingernai s against t"e %o & p asti% t"en oo1e& at "er *at%"8 10:00 a6/6S"e 1ne* "e *as at *or16 @e "a& to ,e6 3"0 t"en *as "e a;oi&ing "er %a s3as t"is "is *a0 o2 etting "er 1no* "o* it 2e t to ,e ignore&- I2 it *as+ s"e &e%i&e& s"e &i&n9t i1e it6 Bast nig"t s"e9& %o/e straig"t "o/e 2ro/ t"e % !, an& *aite& 2or .i%"ae to %a + to eAp ain *"0 "e "a& ,een !na, e to /eet "er as "e9& pro/ise&6 @e ne;er "a&6 So s"e9& pi%1e& !p so/e &e i san&*i%"es an& 1no%1e& on .rs6Ka/ins109s &oor6 S"e 2ig!re& "er o22er o2 2oo& %o! & &o &o!, e &!t06 It *o! & ser;e as a t"an170o! 2or ig"ting a 2ire !n&er K0ra t"at /orning6 )n& to et .rs6 K6 1no* t"at K0ra "a& gotten a ne* :o, an& *o! &n9t ,e ate on t"e rent6

K0ra a,sent 0 s%r!n%"e& "er s"ort "air6 S"e &i&n9t "a;e to %"e%1 in at "er ne* :o, !nti a2ter t*o6 3"i%" e2t "er a *"o e 2o!r "o!rs to 2i 6 Ti/e s"e *as a2rai& s"e9& !se to *orr0 a,o!t "er re ations"ip *it" .i%"ae 6 )n& s"e "ate& to *orr06 T"ings *ere eit"er one *a0 or t"e0 *ere anot"er6 S"e9& ne;er ,een parti%! ar 0 1een on *aiting aro!n& to 2in& o!t6 S"e pi%1e& !p t"e p"one an& %a e& 4is"er+Pa /ieri + (o/ero an& Tanner again+ ,!t rat"er t"an as1ing 2or .i%"ae t"is ti/e+ s"e re5!este& to spea1 *it" one o2 t"e :!nior asso%iates6 T"ere *as no *a0 in "e s"e *as going to *ait6 EEE T"e &a0 *as anot"er4 ori&as%or%"er &espite t"e ,ree<e t"at 1i%1e& !p o22 t"e H! 2+ t"reatening to stea t"e re;ise& , !eprints o!t 2ro/ *"ere .i%"ae "e & t"e/ against "is %ar "oo&6 @e s5!inte& against t"e/i&&a0s!n an& stare& at t"e %onstr!%tion 2ore/an6 =Ne;i e *ants t"e is an& /o;e& "ere+= "e to & .%4ar an&6 =Isn9t t"at *"ere it *as to ,egin *it"-= .i%"ae gri/a%e& an& rea i<e& .%4ar an& *as rig"t6 (at"er t"an re;ising t"e , !eprint+ "e %o! & "a;e :!st p! e& o!t t"e origina one6 @e ran "is "an& rest ess 0 t"ro!g" "is to!s e& "air6 =Gea"6 It is6= =T"is is going to %ost6= .i%"ae no&&e&+ a rea&0 *e ;erse& on "o* /!%" o;er ,!&get t"e pro:e%t *as going to an&6 =C!st so 0o! 1no*6= T"e 2ore/an ro e& !p t"e , !eprints an& t!%1e& t"e/ into "is *or1 ,e t+ t"en &isappeare& into t"e arge+ eig"t7t"o!san&7s5!are72oot retro7st0 e "o!se t"at s"o! & "a;e ,een 2inis"e& a /ont" ago6 .i%"ae s!%1e& in a &eep ,reat" an& t!rne& to get ,a%1 into "is SDI6 @e p!t a "an& o;er "is e0es as s!n ig"t re2 e%te& o22 t"e *in&o* o2 an approa%"ing %ar6 @is sto/a%" pit%"e& as "e rea i<e& it *asn9t :!st an0 ot"er %ar+ ,!t K0ra9s .!stang6 )n& s"e *as *a;ing at "i/ as i2 "e9& :!st e2t "er ,e& t"is /orning instea& o2 a;oi&ing "er p"one %a s6 @ea;en "e p "i/6 @e %o! & "an& e "er so ong as "e &i&n9t "a;e to see "er6 S"e par1e&

t"e .!stang an& % i/,e& o!t+ "er *"ite 2 o*ere& s!//er &ress too s"ort to ,e *earing in t"is 1in& o2 *in&6 S"e % ose& t"e &oor+ t"en ,ent to retrie;e so/et"ing o!t o2 t"e ,a%1 seat o2 t"e %on;erti, e6 ) g!st %a!g"t t"e "e/ o2 "er &ress an& , e* it !p+ gi;ing "i/ a 2! ;ie* o2 &e e%ta, e re& t"ong !n&er*ear an& "er %ertain 0 /ore7t"an7per2e%t ,otto/ ,e2ore t"e /ateria &rape& ,a%1 &o*n again6 .i%"ae g! pe& an& p! e& at "is s!&&en 0 too tig"t tie6 K0ra *a 1e& !p to "i/+ a spi10 , ea%"e&7, on& "air+ arge &ar1 g asses an& seA0 p a02! ness6 =@i+= s"e sai&+ "o &ing a stra* ,as1et to "er sto/a%" *it" one "an& an& gi;ing "i/ a itt e *a;e *it" "er ot"er6 @e s5!inte& at "er6 =Go! 1no* 0o! :!st re;ea e& t"e %o or o2 0o!r !n&er*ear to e;er0one *"o *as oo1ing+ &on9t 0o!-= =C!st so ong as 0o! *ere oo1ing+ too+ t"at9s a t"at /atters6= .i%"ae 9s , oo& t"r!//e& t"i%1 0 t"ro!g" "is ;eins6 ?"+ ,o06 @e *as in &eep tro!, e6 C"apter 13 K#$ ?1a0+ t"is *as *or1ing o!t ,etter t"an K0ra "a& "ope&6 Not on 0 &i&n9t .i%"ae see/ to ,e /a& at "er+ ,!t t"e ,!i &ing site *as t"e per2e%t o%ation 2or *"at s"e "a& in /in&6 Positione& so/e 2i2t0 2eet 2ro/ t"e ,ea%"+ t"e0 "a& a ong stret%" o2 open san& to !se an0 *a0 t"e0 p ease&6 P ease& ,eing t"e 1e0 *or&6 =Co/e on6 I9;e 2iAe& !s a pi%ni% !n%"6= S"e s i& "er "an& into "is an& t!gge& "i/ to*ar& t"e ,a%1 o2 t"e "o!se6 =Go! 2iAe& !n%"-= =Gep6 Go!9 ,e "app0 to 1no* I e;en %oo1e& it6 No /atter "o* /!%" easier it *o! & "a;e ,een to pi%1 !p t"e 2oo& at a %"i%1en :oint6= S"e s/i e& at "i/6 ) rig"t6 .a0,e t"ere *as a ,it o2 ineAp i%a, e *ariness in "is e0es6 >!t s"e %o! & "an& e t"at6 )t east s"e "ope& s"e %o! &6 It *as a goo& sign t"at "e *as 2o o*ing "er *it" itt e resistan%e6 =@ere+ "o & t"is+= s"e sai&+ "an&ing "i/ t"e ,as1et *"en t"e09& *a 1e& a *a0s &o*n t"e ,ea%"+ stopping in 2ront o2 an area s"a&e& ,0 trees6

S"e r!//age& aro!n& insi&e t"e ,as1et !nti s"e 2o!n& t*o ,ea%" to*e s6 T"en s"e ,egan to ,en& o;er+ inten&ing to s/oot" t"e/ o!t on t"e *"ite san&6 .i%"ae /a&e a strang e& so!n& an& s"e 5!i%1 0 %ro!%"e& instea&6 S"e p!t a "an& o;er "er e0es+ :!&ging t"e "o!se to ,e 2ar eno!g" &o*n t"e ,ea%" 2or an0 serio!s peeping6 Ges+ an0 on oo1ers *o! & ,e a, e to /a1e o!t a %o!p e on t"e san&+ ,!t t"e0 *o! &n9t ,e a, e to te *"at t"e0 *ere &oing6 Not i2 t"is *or1e& o!t t"e *a0 s"e p anne&6 =Sit+= s"e sai&+ patting one o2 t"e to*e s6 @e stoo& sto%17sti 6 =3"at9s t"e /atter-= @e gri/a%e&6 =In %ase 0o! "a&n9t noti%e&+ I9/ not eAa%t 0 &resse& 2or t"e ,ea%"6= S"e s/i e&6 =T"at9s 2iAa, e6= S"e stoo& an& p!t t"e ,as1et &o*n neAt to t"e to*e s ,e2ore !n&oing "is tie an& !n,!ttoning "is s"irt @e see/e& o&& 0 &istra%te& as s"e t!gge& t"e s"irt &o*n "is ar/s t"en 2o &e& it an& t"e tie %are2! 0 an& ai& t"e/ a%ross t"e ,as1et6 S"e ,ent to "is s"oes6 =Bi2t+= s"e sai&6 @e &i&6 S"e easi 0 re/o;e& 2irst one s"oe an& so%1+ t"en t"e ot"er6 S"e %onsi&ere& "is pants9 egs+ t"en ro e& t"e/ ,ot" !p to :!st ,e o* t"e 1nees6 S"e stoo& !p to a&/ire "er "an&i*or1 an& "er ,reat" see/e& to ,e snat%"e& straig"t a*a0 2ro/ "er6 .i%"ae *as a,so !te 0 /agni2i%ent stan&ing t"ere in 2! s!n ig"t+ "is sin2! 0 ,roa& %"est an& "ar& a,s &ar1+ "is , a%1 "air , o*ing in t"e *in&6 )&& t"e intense s"a&o* in "is e0es an& 0o! "a& a g!0 *"o %o! & easi 0 "a;e pose& 2or a ro/an%e ,oo1 %o;er6 ?n 0 "e *as rea 6 )n& "e *as a "ers6 =K0ra+= "e sai&6 S"e 1i%1e& o22 "er san&a s t"en sat on one o2 t"e to*e s %rosse&7 egge&6 =.i%"ae += s"e sai& in ret!rn6 =I9;e reser;e& a spe%ia spot 2or 0o!+ rig"t "ere6= @e 2ina 0 sat in 2ront o2 "er6 Hoo&6 Hoo&6 S"e i%1e& "er ips in anti%ipation an& s%oote& a itt e % oser6 @is eApression gre* a itt e *arier6

S"e a!g"e&6 =3"at is it *it" 0o! to&a0-= s"e as1e&6 =I %o! & as1 t"e sa/e 5!estion o2 0o!6= S"e s"r!gge& "er s"o! &ers an& ,egan ri2 ing aro!n& in t"e ,as1et 2or t"e t"ings s"e *ante&6 Not t"e 2oo&6 T"e 2oo& %o! & *ait6 =I 2ig!re& sin%e 0o! &i&n9t *ant to %o/e to %e e,rate *it" /e ast nig"t+ t"at I9& "a;e to ,ring t"e %e e,ration to 0o!6= =D"7"!"6 Congrat! ations6= S"e ti te& "er "ea& an& oo1e& at "i/6 =T"at so!n&s sin%ere6= =Ges+ *e + a g!0 "as a rig"t to ,e a itt e *ar0 *"en "is gir 2rien& a;oi&s "is %a s 2or t*o &a0s6= 3ar/t" <inge& t"ro!g" "er at t"e !se o2 t"e *or& =gir 2rien&6= =Ges+ *e + I9/ sorr0 a,o!t t"at6= =D"7"!"6= =3"at9s 0o!r eA%!se-= @e gri/a%e&6 =3"at &o 0o! /ean-= =Go!9;e a;oi&e& /0 %a s sin%e I ta 1e& to 0o! 0ester&a06= =I "a;e not6 I9;e ,een ,!s06= =)n& 0o!9re a iar6= =.a0,e6= S"e t!gge& on "is egs6 =Go! &on9t oo1 ;er0 %o/2orta, e6 @ere6 3"0 &on9t 0o!8= S"e p! e& on "is an1 es !nti "is egs *ere on eit"er si&e o2 "er6 =T"ere6 Ges6 T"at9s ,etter6= S"e s%oote& % oser sti + t"en stret%"e& o!t "er o*n egs so t"at t"e0 reste& on "is+ t"eir 1nees para e 6 S"e %o! & 2ee t"e ,ree<e on "er %rot%" an& 1ne* t"at t"e *in& "a& again , o*n "er s1irt !p6 )n& i2 t"e "ot oo1 on .i%"ae 9s 2a%e *as an0 in&i%ation+ "e *as getting /ore t"an a "ea t"0 oo1 at t"e 2ront o2 "er t"ong panties6 S"e eane& ,a%1 on "er ar/s an& s"i//ie&+ gi;ing "i/ an e;en ,etter oo1 @is ga<e rose to "ers6 =K0ra- 3"at are 0o! &oing-=

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ease& "er &o*n to %o;er "i/+ in%" ,0 tort!ro!s in%"6 S"e gaspe& ,!t /aintaine& e0e %onta%t+ a o*ing "i/ to &rin1 in "er eApression o2 e%stas06 @e *as in no "!rr06 )n& neit"er &i& K0ra see/ to ,e6 @e /o;e& s o* 0+ t"eir positioning pre;enting an0t"ing &i22erent6 S ig"t 0 !p+ &eeper into "er &ripping 2 es"+ t"en &o*n again6 S"e *rappe& "er egs aro!n& "is *aist an& too1 "i/ in e;en &eeper6 @e presse& "is "an&s against "er ,a%1+ 2ee ing "er 2! ,o&0 s"i;er t"o!g" t"e &a0 *as "ot6 S o* 0 ' enti%ing 0+ s"e ,ore &o*n on "i/6 @e s o* 0 so!g"t t"e 2ront o2 "er &ress6 T*o t!gs o2 t"e 2a,ri% 2ree& "er ,reasts+ "er nipp es g orio!s 0 ere%t6 @e positione& t"e /ateria so t"at it %!ppe& t"e s*e s 2ro/ !n&erneat"+ "o &ing "er nipp es !prig"t6 @e ,ent "is "ea& to one an& too1 "is 2i o2 t"e p!%1ere& 2 es"+ t!gging an& s!%1ing !nti K0ra9s e0es 2ina 0 2 !ttere& % ose& an& s"e so2t 0 %rie& o!t6 @e graspe& "er "ips an& gro!n& "er against "i/ /ore !rgent 0+ t"in1ing "e9& ne;er get eno!g" o2 t"e *o/an in "is ar/s6 3"et"er it *as to/orro* or 2i2t0 0ears 2ro/ no*+ "e9& *ant "er t"e sa/e *a0 as "e *ante& "er no*6 .a0,e e;en /ore so6 @e ,reat"e&+ "e s/e e& "er6 @e % ose& "is e0es+ "e sa* "er6 @e to!%"e& "er+ an& "is s1in see/e& to /e & *it" "ers6 .i%"ae "a&n9t 1no*n "e %o! & 2ee t"is *a0 a,o!t anot"er person6 @a&n9t 1no*n 0o! %o! & 2ee t"is *a0+ perio&6 It9s not t"at "e &i&n9t ,e ie;e it *"en ot"ers ta 1e& a,o!t o;e6 @e :!st "a&n9t "a& an0t"ing to %o/pare it to6 Dnti no*6 Dnti K0ra6 K0ra9s /o;e/ents gre* /ore rest ess+ /ore 2ranti%6 @e gent 0 graspe& "er "ips an& "e & "er sti 6 =S""6 Not 0et6= @er e0e i&s 2 !ttere& open an& "er tong!e 2 i%1e& o!t to /oisten "er ips6 =@ere+= "e sai&+ ta1ing "er ar/s 2ro/ *"ere t"e0 *ere &rape& aro!n& "is ne%16 @e repositione& t"e/ !nti t"e0 *ere ,e"in& "er+ propping "er o*n *eig"t against t"e/6 T"en "e straig"tene& "er egs o!t ,e"in& "i/ an& proppe& "i/se 2 !p on "is o*n "an&s so t"at t"e0 *ere in prett0 /!%" in t"e sa/e position+ /agni2i%ent 0 :oine& in t"e /i&& e6 @e *at%"e& "er s*a o* as "er ga<e &roppe& &o*n to ta1e in t"e sa/e ;ie* "e en:o0e&6 @is "ar& t"i%1ness "a 2 insi&e "er s i%1+ engorge& 2 es"6 @e /o;e& :!st s ig"t 0 an& s"e t"re* "er "ea& ,a%1 an& /oane&6 In ' an& o!t6 In ' an& o!t6 T"i%1 tension %oi e& in .i%"ae 9s groin as "e s o* 0 /a&e o;e to K0ra6 )n& "e 1ne* t"at9s eAa%t 0 *"at "e *as &oing6 .a1ing o;e6 3"i e "e "a& t"o!g"t t"at a t"e0 *ere "a;ing *as seA ,e2ore+ "e no* 1ne* "e9& ,een *rong6 @e9& o;e& K0ra pro,a, 0 2ro/ t"e 2irst /o/ent "e9& ai& e0es on "er6 3"i%" /a&e ,eing *it" "er no* t"at /!%" s*eeter6

K0ra9s ,reat" %a/e in 5!i%1 gasps+ e;en t"o!g" t"e0 *ere ,are 0 /o;ing6 @e rea%"e& o!t an& /o;e& t"e "e/ o2 "er &ress ,a%1 an& a*a0 so "e %o! & *at%" t"e s%! pte& /!s% es o2 "er a,&o/en6 S"e oo1e& &o*n to see *"at "e9& &one+ t"en "er /o!t" &roppe& open an& s"e /oane&+ "er % i/aA "itting "er ,0 s!rprise6 .i%"ae "it t"e pea1 at t"e eAa%t sa/e /o/ent6 3"ere e;er0 orgas/ "e9& "a& !p !nti t"at point "a& ,een 2ast an& %ons!/ing+ t"is one *as s o*+ an& pain2! 0 %on%entrate&+ see/ing to go on an& on+ "is /!s% es %ontra%ting in %a&en%e *it" t"e near,0 s!r2+ s"a1ing "i/ &o*n to t"e ,one6 K0ra "it t"e gro!n& ,e2ore "e &i& an& % !ng to "i/ as i2 "a;ing &i22i%! t0 %at%"ing "er ,reat"6 .i%"ae p!t "is ar/s aro!n& "er an& "e & tig"t 06 =.arr0 /e+ .i%"ae '= EEE T"at *asn9t eAa%t 0 "o* K0ra "a& inten&e& t"e *or&s to %o/e o!t6 S"e s*a o*e& "ar&+ tr0ing to regain "er strengt"+ tin0 spas/s sti ri%o%"eting t"ro!g" "er ,o&06 S"e % a/pe& "er e0es % ose&6 S"e9& inten&e& to "a;e *i & ,ea%" seA *it" "i/+ "an&72ee& "i/ t"e 2oo& s"e9& /a&e+ t"en *or1 "er *a0 aro!n& to proposing6 Instea& s"e "a& , !rte& it o!t /!%" t"e sa/e *a0 a /an so/eti/es to & a *o/an "e o;e& "er *"i e in t"e /a& t"roes o2 passion6 =3"at &i& 0o! sa0-= .i%"ae 9s ;oi%e *as ,are 0 a ,reat" against "er s"o! &er as "e grippe& "er ar/s an& gent 0 /o;e& "er so "e %o! & oo1 into "er 2a%e6 S"e a;oi&e& "is ga<e+ t"en s/i e&6 =3e + t"at *as %ertain 0 a s!rprise+ *asn9t it-= S"e %"!%1 e& ner;o!s 06 @is e0es *ere 2i e& *it" passion an& %!riosit0+ a /iAt!re t"at /a&e it i/possi, e 2or "er to oo1 a*a0 2ro/ "i/6 =I /ean+ I p anne& to as1 0o! t"e 5!estion ' :!st not i1e t"at6= @e &i&n9t sa0 an0t"ing 2or a ong /o/ent+ /ere 0 sat t"ere staring at "er6 =Go!9re serio!s+ aren9t 0o!-= =)s S!n&a0.ass6= @e 2e si ent again+ t"en s o* 0 *it"&re* 2ro/ "er an& p !%1e& "er 2ro/ "is ap6 K0ra /o;e& to 2iA "er % ot"es+ s!&&en 0 2ee ing eApose&+ na1e&6

=T"at so!n&s si 0+ &oesn9t it- .0 as1ing 0o! to /arr0 /e-= @is eApression to & "er t"at "e t"o!g"t s"e *as insane6 =It9s :!st t"at+ I &on9t 1no*+ sin%e *e "a;en9t ,een ta 1ing /!%" ate 0+ it9s e2t /e a ot o2 ti/e to t"in16 )n& ' an&'= @e narro*e& "is e0es6 =)n& 0o! ,ring /e i%e %rea/6= .i%"ae /!st "a;e ,een ;er0 &istra%te& ,e%a!se "e 2orgot to re/o;e t"e %on&o/ ,e2ore <ipping "is pants ,a%1!p6 =T"at9s not *"at I /eant to sa06 I /ean+ 0es+ 0o! ,ring /e i%e %rea/6 >!t'= @e ,egan p!tting "is so%1s ,a%1 on an& s i& into "is s"irt6 S"e p!t "er "an& on "is ar/6 =P ease+ .i%"ae + oo1 at /e6= @e &i&6 )n& s"e a /ost *is"e& "e "a&n9t6 =Go! see+= s"e sai&+ "ating t"e pani%1e& so!n& o2 "er ;oi%e+ =*"en t"ings starte& getting serio!s ,et*een !s+ *e + I sa* t"at as a pro, e/6 .0 sister+ ) anna"+ "as a rea&0 pointe& o!t to /e t"at ' *e + I "a;e %o//it/ent iss!es6 )n& I9;e rea i<e& t"at I a so "a;e &eep7 roote& re:e%tion iss!es+ as *e 6= S"e trie& to s*a o* ,!t "er t"roat *as so tig"t s"e %o! &n9t6 =I t"in1 t"at ,e%a!se o2 /0 !p,ringing+ I "a;e tro!, e opening /0se 2 !p to peop e+ tr!sting peop e'= @e *as ,!ttoning "is s"irt no*6 =)n& ' an&'= K0ra 2o!g"t to "o & on to "er t"o!g"ts6 =T"at 2ear /a&e /e &o st!pi& t"ings6 Bi1e+ I9& "e & on to a :o, t"at pai& t"e ,i s ,e%a!se I *as so &a/n s%are& o2 osing it t"at I *o! &n9t ris1 oo1ing 2or an0t"ing e se6 Not t"at I *as !n"app0 at 0o!r 2ir/+ ,!t ' *e + I o;e /0 ne* :o,6 I9/ not :!st a ,oo11eeper6 I p a0 an i/portant ro e at t"e store+ so/et"ing I &i&n9t &o at t"e 2ir/6 T"e on 0 t"ing 2or /e t"ere *as !/+ 0o!+ o2 %o!rse6= S"e rea i<e& s"e *as ,a,, ing+ ,!t %o! &n9t see/ to stop "erse 2 as "er *or&s %a/e o!t in a r!s"6 =)n& it9s /esse& !p /0 persona i2e+ too6 I g!ess I *as so a2rai& o2 re:e%tion t"at I9& ne;er &are %o//it to an0 one /an6 3"ene;er it %a/e ti/e to go to t"e neAt e;e + I9& !n%ons%io!s 0 &o so/et"ing to s%re* it !p6 So/et"ing t"at *o! & g!arantee t"at t"ings *o! &n9t go an0 2!rt"er6= @er ;oi%e &roppe&6 =Bi1e *"at I a /ost &i& *it" 0o!6= 4ina 0 "e9& 2inis"e& &ressing an& oo1e& &ire%t 0 at "er6 T"e intensit0 o2 "is ga<e near 0 1no%1e& "er o;er6 =I o;e 0o!+ K0ra6=

S"e %a!g"t "er ,reat" an& "er "eart eApan&e& pain2! 0 in "er %"est6 =I9;e %o/e to a%%ept t"e 2a%t t"at I pro,a, 0 a *a0s "a;e6 4ro/ t"at 2irst &a0 *e /et6= =.e+ too+= s"e *"ispere&6 @e p!t a 2inger against "er ips6 =No6 Go! &i&n9t6= S"e opene& "er /o!t" to o,:e%t+ ,!t "e s"oo1 "is "ea&6 =No6 Go!9;e "a& 0o!r %"an%e6 No* it9s /0 t!rn6= =>!t'= =Go! see+ I &on9t t"in1 t"at 0o! "a;e rea i<e& t"at t"ere9s a *a0s ,een so/et"ing ,et*een !s6 C!st i1e *it" e;er0t"ing e se in 0o!r i2e+ 0o!9re going *it" t"e 2 o*6 Bi2e gi;es 0o! a p!n%"+ 0o! ro *it" it6 ) /ost i1e 0o! t"in1 0o! &eser;e t"e "it6= @e s"oo1 "is "ea& again6 =Go! r!n into a pro, e/ at *or1 an& rat"er t"an 2ig"t it+ 0o! 5!it6= @e starte& to get !p6 =>0 t"e *a0+ I t"in1 0o!9 ,e "app0 to 1no* t"at Canet or%"estrate& t"e entire e;ent6= =Canet-= @e stoo& to "is 2! "eig"t an& too1 a &eep ,reat"6 =K0ra+ 0o! &on9t 1no* *"at 0o! *ant6 Not rea 06= @is e0es "e & o;e as "e oo1e& at "er+ ,!t t"e0 a so "e & a e;e o2 sa&ness t"at /a&e "er sto/a%" "!rt6 =Go!r eA &!/ps 0o!8an eA I sa* 0o! *it" ast nig"t8an& 0o! trans2or/ 0o!rse 26 Tr0 to /a1e 0o!rse 2 into so/et"ing 0o! t"in1 "e9 *ant6= =Go! sa* /e *it" Craig-= T"e ;ise aro!n& "er "eart tig"tene& 2!rt"er6 =T"at is &e2inite 0 not *"at 0o! t"o!g"t it *as6 Ges ' /a0,e so/e o2 /0 trans2or/ation *as a res! t o2 "is re:e%tion6 >!t on 0 a s/a part o2 it+ .i%"ae 6 )n& t"e tr!t" is+ *"en "e %a/e o;er an& sat neAt to /e ast nig"t8*"i e I *as *aiting 2or 0o!+ I /ig"t a&&8I &is%o;ere& t"at I &i&n9t %are one *a0 or anot"er *"at "e t"o!g"t o2 /e6= .i%"ae ran "is "an&s t"ro!g" "is "air se;era ti/es an& %!rse& !n&er "is ,reat"6 =I spent so &a/n /!%" o2 /0 o*n ti/e o;er t"e past *ee1 %ons!/e& *it" %ontro ing /0se 2+= "e %ontin!e& "ars" 0+ a%ting as i2 "e "a&n9t "ear& "er6 =Tr0ing not to get in too &eep6 )2rai& t"at I *as p a0ing t"e ro e o2 t"e re,o!n& re ations"ip+ t"e g!0 0o! go o!t *it" to "e p 0o! get o;er 0o!r ast one6 I ne;er stoppe& to t"in1 a,o!t 0o!6 Consi&er t"at /a0,e you *eren9t rea&0 2or /e6 4or !s6= =>!t I a/+= s"e *"ispere&+ 2ig"ting to get to "er o*n 2eet6 @e stare& at "er &!,io!s 06 =I a/J= s"e s"o!te&+ "er ire gro*ing6 =I %an9t ,e ie;e 0o!9re &oing t"isJ= S"e sta 1e& a s"ort *a0s a*a0+ t"en ,a%1 again+ 1i%1ing san& onto t"e to*e s6 =4or Ho&9s sa1e+

.i%"ae + 0o!9re treating /e i1e a %"i &6= @e rea%"e& o!t a "an&6 S"e "a& a /in& to s ap it a*a06 >!t instea& s"e a o*e& "i/ to %!p "er 2a%e *it" s!%" gent eness s"e near 0 %rie&6 =.a0,e a part o2 0o! sti is a %"i &+ K0ra6 .a0,e t"at sensiti;e %ore+ t"at p a%e *"ere 0o! o;e+ "as ,een % ose& o22 to e;er0t"ing an& e;er0,o&0 sin%e 0o!r parents &ie&6 )n& no*'= S"e sni22 e&+ "er e0es *e ing *it" tears6 =)n& no*+ t"is is a so ne* to 0o! t"at 0o! %an9t possi, 0 1no* *"at 0o! *ant6 )n& I t"in1 0o!r ,ras" proposa o2 /arriage is e;i&en%e o2 t"at6= 4r!stration an& pain s*ir e& insi&e K0ra so ;io ent 0 s"e "a& to 2ig"t to 1eep "er ,a an%e6 T"en s"e i2te& "er ,are 2oot an& ,ro!g"t it &o*n on top o2 "is+ an ine22e%t!a gest!re sin%e "e9& a rea&0 p!t "is s"oes ,a%1 on6 @e s"oo1 "is "ea& an& %!r;e& "is 2ingers aro!n& t"e ,a%1 o2 "er ne%16 T"en "e 1isse& "er6 To K0ra+ it 2e t ;er0 /!%" i1e goo&,0e' C"apter 14 K#$ T*o *ee1s ater+ .i%"ae %a/e to rea i<e one i/portant t"ing8"e *as a po/po!s ass6 )n& t"e res! ts o2 t"at po/po!sness *ere so/et"ing "e "a& to &ea *it" 2ro/ t"e ti/e "e *o1e !p in t"e /orning+ !nti "e *ent to ,e& at nig"t6 >!t "e sti t"o!g"t "e *as rig"t6 K0ra %o! &n9t possi, 0 1no* *"at s"e *ante&6 S"e9& &0e& "er "air 2ro/ ,ro*n to , on& an& "a& see/e& &eter/ine& to p a0 t"e part a t"e *a0 t"ro!g"6 S"e9& ,een i1e a teenager *it" "er 2irst taste o2 2ree&o/6 T"at eig"teen70ear7o & t"at /arrie& rig"t o!t o2 "ig" s%"oo ,e%a!se+ *e + it see/e& i1e t"e t"ing to &o at t"e ti/e6 >!t .i%"ae 1ne* t"at t"ose t0pes o2 re ations"ips ;er0 rare 0 /a&e it6 @e 1ne* 2rien&s 2ro/ %o ege *"o *ere &i;or%e& a rea&0+ 2or Ho&9s sa1e+ an& so/e o2 t"e/ "a& a rea&0 /o;e& on to /arriage n!/,er t*o6 T"e on 0 pro, e/ *as+ t"at e;er0 no* an& again+ "e *on&ere& i2 it *as rea 0 K0ra *"o &i&n9t 1no* *"at s"e *ante&+ or i2he *as t"e one *"o "a& r!n s%rea/ing in t"e ot"er &ire%tion 2orfear t"at K0ra &i&n9t 1no* *"at s"e *ante&6 ?r p ain 2ear+ perio&6

.i%"ae i& 0 ran "is "an&s t"ro!g" "is "air+ t"e /e/or0 o2 t"e oo1 on K0ra9s 2a%e *"en "e9& t!rne& &o*n "er proposa t*isting "is g!t S"e9& p!t e;er0t"ing on t"e ine6 E;er0t"ing t"at *as i/portant to "er6 )n& e;en *"en "e ,egan "is arrogant spee%"+ 5!estioning "er sin%erit0+ s"e "a&n9t retreate&6 S"e9& p o*e& a"ea&+ &eter/ine& to *in "i/ o;er6 )n& "e9& t!rne& "er a*a06 Da/n+&a/n +&a/n 6 It *asn9t o2ten t"at .i%"ae sat an& t"o!g"t a,o!t "is i2e6 @e9& spent so /!%" ti/e /ere 0 i;ing it+ *or1ing to*ar& "is pro2essiona goa s+ ignoring "is persona nee&s+ t"at t"e *a0 o2 i2e *as prett0 /!%" par 2or t"e %o!rse 2or "i/6 @e9& rea 0 ne;er t"o!g"t a,o!t /arriage an& 2a/i 0 t"e *a0 a ot o2 g!0s &i&6 Part o2 t"e reason ste//e& 2ro/ "is o*n str!gg e to i&enti20 "i/se 2 as a person6 )s :!st .i%"ae (o/ero6 Not .i%"ae (o/ero+ ar%"ite%t6 ?r .i%"ae (o/ero o2 /iAe& Batino "eritage6 )not"er !n&enia, e part o2 "is pro, e/ gre* 2ro/ "is nee& 2or a,so !te %ontro 6 In "is pro2essiona i2e+ %ontro *as 1e06 >!t it *asn9t !nti K0ra "a& /a&e "i/ ose %ontro t"at "e9& rea i<e& "e9& trie& to eAa%t t"at sa/e %ontro in "is persona i2e6 @e s*it%"e& o22 t"e a/p a,o;e "is &ra2ting ta, e an& sig"e&6 It *as a2ter siA an& "e *as t"e on 0 person e2t at t"e 2ir/6 ?2 t"is+ "e *as a,so !te 0 %ertain6 @e9& /et *it" "is ot"er partners t"e &a0 a2ter Canet9s si%1 se&!%tion s%ene an& s"a/e ess a&/ission an& t"e09& ;ote& !nani/o!s 0 t"at s"e "a& to se "er s"ares ,a%1 to t"e/ at /ar1et ;a !e6 >!t Canet9s *asn9t t"e on 0 o22i%e e2t e/pt06 K0ra9s *as+ too6 )n& soon t"e se%retar0 t"at Canet "a& ,arre& an0 o2 t"e/ 2ro/ 2iring *o! & a so ,e ea;ing6 Not ,e%a!se t"e09& et "er go+ ,!t ,e%a!se s"e *as 2o o*ing Canet *"ere;er s"e *as going6 Hoo& ri&&an%e6 .i%"ae r!,,e& "is 2a%e *it" "is "an&s an& sig"e&6 @e rea 0 s"o! & get so/et"ing to eat6 )t so/ep a%e "e an& K0ra "a& ne;er gone6 T"e pro, e/ *it" t"at *as t"at t"e09& trie& near 0 e;er0 resta!rant *it"in a t*ent07/i e ra&i!s+ ea;ing "i/ *it" ;er0 2e* options6 T"e p"one rang+ :arring "i/ 2ro/ "is t"o!g"ts6 )2ter 2i;e o9% o%1 t"e %a er *as gi;en t"e option o2 p!n%"ing in t"e eAtension n!/,er to ea;e a spe%i2i% /essage 2or t"e person t"e0 *ere %a ing6 >!t rat"er t"an a o*ing t"e %a to go to ;oi%e /ai + .i%"ae p !%1e& !p t"e re%ei;er6 I2 "e "ope& it *as K0ra+ "e *asn9t te ing6 =@e o-= To/ Ne;i e9s ;oi%e rang o!t o!& an& % ear6 =.i%"ae + I9/ so g a& I %a!g"t 0o!6= .i%"ae proppe& "is e ,o* against "is ta, e an& r!,,e& "is te/p es6

=Sa/ant"a an& I "a;e %"ange& o!r /in&s again6 T"is ti/e it9s t"e /aster ,at"6 3"at *e9& i1e 0o! to &o8= .i%"ae sat staring , in& 0 at t"e p ans in 2ront o2 "i/ an& on 0 "a 2 istene& to t"e i/pr!&ent /an on t"e ot"er en& o2 t"e ine6 T"e /aster ,at"roo/ *as &one+ ,!t t"at &i&n9t /atter6 =(ip it a o!t an& start again+= To/ sai&6 T"e0 *ante& t"e t!, on t"e ot"er si&e6 )n& t"e09& %"ange& t"eir /in&s on t"e %o or s%"e/e6 T"e09& "a;e to ta1e t"e pa e pin1 por%e ain t!, ,a%1 in eA%"ange 2or an e/era &7green one6 ?"+ an& t"e sin1+ too6 T"e /ention o2 t"e %o or /a&e .i%"ae t"in1 o2 K0ra9s e0es6 3i&e an& eApressi;e an& re2 e%ting "er e;er0 e/otion6 E;en in ,e&6 Espe%ia 0 in ,e&6 T"en "e re/e/,ere& t"e pain t"e09& "e & *"en "e9& e22e%ti;e 0 %a e& "er an i&iot @e %ringe&6 =Go! got a t"at-= .i%"ae t!ne& ,a%1 in on t"e %on;ersation6 =Ges6 Ges+ I got it6= =)re 0o! s!re- I *ant 0o! to ta1e &o*n e;er0 *or& I9/ sa0ing6 >e%a!se *e nee& to get it rig"t t"is ti/e6= .i%"ae 9s :a* tig"tene&6 =T"ere9s not"ing *rong *it" it no*6= Ne;i e 2e si ent on t"e ot"er en& o2 t"e ine6 .i%"ae "a& ne;er 5!estione& a % ient ,e2ore6 @e9& a *a0s :!st ' gone *it" t"e 2 o*6 @e re%ogni<e& t"e *or&s "e9& to & K0ra on t"e ,ea%" an& %ringe& again6 =Boo1+ .i%"ae + I 1no* t"is is ast /in!te an& t"at t"e "o!se is s%"e&! e& to ,e &one to/orro*+ ,!t t"is is so/et"ing Sa/ an& I rea 0 *ant6= =C!st i1e t"e t*ent0 ot"er %"anges6= @e p! e& on t"e e&ge o2 t"e , !eprints in 2ront o2 "i/ an& ,egan ro ing t"e/ !p6 =T"at9s it+ To/6 No /ore %"anges6= =?"6= =I2 0o! &e%i&e 0o! *ant an0t"ing /ore &one+ 0o!9re going to "a;e to %onta%t anot"er 2ir/6= )n& *it" t"at+ .i%"ae "!ng !p6 @e sig"e& an& presse& "is 2ingertips tig"t 0 against "is % ose& e0e i&s to *ar& o22 t"e "ea&a%"e ,!i &ing t"ere6 3"at "a& "e &one- Ne;i e "a& eno!g" 2rien&s to 1eep t"e 2ir/ ,!s0 2or t"e neAt 2i2t0 0ears6 Get "e9& essentia 0 :!st to & t"e i&iot to get ost

T"e p"one rang again6 @e stare& at it+ *eig"ing "is options6 T"is %o! & ,e t"e point *"ere "e apo ogi<e& an& agree& to &o *"ate;er Ne;i e *ante& "i/ to6 It *as+ a2ter a + "is /one06 Ges+ ,!t it *as .i%"ae 9s i2e6 @e ans*ere& t"e p"one6 =Boo1+ To/+ not"ing 0o! %o! & sa0 is going to %"ange /0 /in& 8= =.i%"ae -= ?"+ Ho&6 It *as K0ra6 .i%"ae 9s "eart ,eat so o!& 0 "e *as %ertain s"e %o! & "ear it6 @e "a&n9t "ear& 2ro/ "er in t*o *ee1s6 )n& "e "a&n9t trie& to %a "er+ eit"er6 3e + /a0,e t"ere *as t"at one ti/e *"en "e9& %a e& an& "!ng !p *"en s"e ans*ere&+ ,!t t"at &i&n9t %o!nt ,e%a!se s"e &i&n9t "a;e Ca er ID6 =K0ra-= "e sai&+ t"in1ing "e "a& sai& it ,e2ore+ ,!t "e /!st not "a;e6 =@i6= =@i+ 0o!rse 26= T"ere *as t"e so!n& o2 a pa%1age ,eing opene& on t"e ot"er en& o2 t"e p"one6 =I *as :!st *on&ering *"at 0o! "a& on tap 2or &inner tonig"t6= .i%"ae 9s ,ro*s p! e& toget"er6 S"e *as a%ting as t"o!g" t"e09& :!st spo1en 0ester&a06 =I *as t"in1ing a,o!t getting so/e >>F6= =Hoo&6 I9/ /a1ing spag"etti6= @e s/i e&+ "is e;er0 /!s% e re aAing6 ?"+ "o* "e9& /isse& "er6 Not :!st "er !s" ,o&0 ,!t "er 2rien&s"ip6 S"e %o! & /a1e "i/ a!g" in a *a0 no one e se e;er *o! &6 =3it" gar i% ,rea&-= =3it" gar i% ,rea&6= =Hoo&6= @e *ent si ent+ not 5!ite 1no*ing *"at to sa06 T"ings ,et*een t"e/ ' *e + t"e0 "a&n9t

eAa%t 0 en&e& *e 6 So *"at &i& t"is p"one %a /ean- 3as it *"at "is %onte/poraries %a e& a ,oot0 %a - 3"en a *o/an or a /an %a e& an eA o!t o2 t"e , !e 2or a "ot seA!a 2 ing 2or t"e nig"t=I 1no* *"at 0o!9re t"in1ing+= K0ra sai&6 =Go!9re *on&ering *"at t"is /eans+ /0 %a ing 0o! i1e t"is6= =D/+ 0ea"6 So/et"ing i1e t"at6= S"e &i&n9t sa0 an0t"ing 2or a ong /o/ent6 =T"en is it eno!g" to sa0 t"at I /iss /0 ,est 2rien&-= No+ it *asn9t6 @e *ante& to "ear /!%" /ore6 >!t t"at *as a start6 =Sa/e "ere6= =Hoo&6 T"en I9 see 0o! in t*ent0 /in!tes-= =Ges+ t*ent06= EEE T"e o & K0ra *o! & "a;e gi;en !p t"e /o/ent .i%"ae *a 1e& a*a0 2ro/ "er on t"at &a/n ,ea%" t*o *ee1s ago6 )n&+ in a sense+ s"e s!ppose& s"e "a&6 4or a *"i e+ an0*a06 T*o ong+ agoni<ing *ee1s to ,e eAa%t6 4o!rteen &a0s in *"i%" s"e operate& on a!to/ati% pi ot+ going to *or1 at "er ne* :o,+ ret!rning "o/e+ 2ee&ing .r6 T6+ 2ee&ing "erse 2+ rea&ing+ t"en going to ,e& ear 06 I2 "er /o;e/ents see/e& a ,it et"argi%+ *e t"at *as to ,e eApe%te&+ *asn9t it- )2ter a + it *asn9t e;er0 &a0 t"at a gir as1e& a g!0 to /arr0 "er on 0 to ,e to & s"e *as too 2 ig"t0 to 1no* *"at s"e *ante&6 T"en t"is /orning+ s"e9& *o1en !p an& ain in ,e&+ staring at t"e %ei ing+ a rest ess energ0 re;er,erating t"ro!g" "er ,o&0+ a 2r!stration t"at re2!se& to ,e ignore&6 T"en *it"o!t 1no*ing *"ere it %a/e 2ro/+ s"e et o!t a 0e t"at sent .r6 Ti,,s s"ooting 2ro/ t"e ,e& an& .rs6 Ka/ins10 po!n&ing on "er %ei ing6 S"e9& "a& it6 S"e9& gi;en t"e o & K0ra t*o 2! *ee1s to %on;in%e "er t"at t"is is t"e *a0 s"e s"o! & "an& e t"ings6 )n& t"e itt e *i/p "a& %rie& an& /ope& !nti s"e *ante& to s%rea/6 In 2a%t+ s"e "a& s%rea/e&6 >!t t"e ne* K0ra+ t"e K0ra s"e "a& %o/e to 1no* !n&er t"e g!ise o2 , ea%"e&7, on& "air an& ta1e7%"arge energ0+ e/erge& tri!/p"ant+ sti%1ing "er tong!e o!t at t"e person s"e !se& to ,e+ gi;ing "erse 2 *"at essentia 0 a/o!nte& to a s*i2t 1i%1 in t"e ,!tt6 S"e *asn9t an0*"ere near gi;ing !p6 Not *it"o!t presenting at east a to1en 2ig"t+ an0*a06 4orget to1en6 S"e *as &e% aring a 7o!t *ar6 ?1a0+ so .i%"ae "a& a%%!se& "er o2 "i&ing ,e"in& "er ne* oo1s6 S"e t*iste& "er ips

an& rea i<e& 2or t"e 2irst ti/e t"at t"at9s eAa%t 0 *"athe "a& &one+ t"e "0po%rite6 @e sa* , on& "air an& s"ort s1irts an& a!to/ati%a 0 :!&ge& "er in%apa, e o2 /a1ing a serio!s &e%ision6 >e%a!se+ o2 %o!rse+ a t"at peroAi&e %o! & "a;e s"ort7%ir%!ite& a 2e* i/portant ,rain %e s6 T"at *as s!ppose& to ,e "er eA%!se6 3"at *as "is@e *as s%are&spit ess + s"e rea i<e&6 )n& s"e *asn9t- >!t at east s"e &i&n9t oo1 rig"t into "is e0es an& %a "i/ a 0e o*7 ,e ie& %o*ar&6 I2 "e t"o!g"t "e *as s%are& no*+ :!st *ait !nti s"e got t"ro!g" *it" "i/ tonig"t 3it" "er ne* /in&7set+ it "a& ta1en "er no ti/e at a to 2or/! ate a p an t"at *o! & "a! "i/ ,a%1 into "er i2e6 3"et"er it *o! & ,e as "er 2rien& or "er o;er+ s"e &i&n9t 1no*6 3"at s"e &i& 1no* *as t"at s"e *ante& t"e *"o e nine 0ar&s6 )n& s"e *as not going to stop !nti s"e got it6 EEE .i%"ae % i/,e& t"e steps to K0ra9s apart/ent 5!iet 0+ a2rai& t"at+ at an0 /o/ent+ .rs6 Ka/ins10 *o! & open "er &oor an& start %"asing "i/ *it" a ,roo/6 @e stoo& on t"e se%on&72 oor an&ing an& too1 a &eep ,reat"6 @e "a&n9t ,een "ere in so ong t"at "is %"est 2e t tig"t In a "onest0+ "e &i&n9t 1no* *"at to eApe%t6 ) part o2 "i/ *ante& t"ings ,et*een "i/ an& K0ra to go ,a%1 to t"e sa2et0 o2 t"eir 2rien&s"ip6 >!t /ost o2 "i/ *ante& to *a 1 in t"at apart/ent+ toss "er o;er "is s"o! &er+ t"en %arr0 "er ,a%1 to "er ,e&roo/6 E;er0 nig"t+ a nig"t+ "e s*ore "e %o! & 2ee K0ra9s presen%e neAt to "i/6 Insi&e "i/6 )s i2 s"e *ere t"ere+ :!st !n&er "is s1in6 )n& t"e passage o2 ti/e "a& &one not"ing to e i/inate t"at sensation6 @e "ear& a %rea1 on t"e 2 oor,oar&s an& oo1e& &o*n t"e stairs to 2in& .rs6 Ka/ins10 oo1ing !p at "i/+ "er ar/s %rosse& o;er "er ,at"ro,e an& ' *as t"at a s/i e on "er %ragg0 2a%e- Ges+ "e ,e ie;e& it *as6 =3e -= s"e as1e& in a ;oi%e "e *as !n2a/i iar *it"6 ) nor/a ;oi%e at a "!/an &e%i,e e;e 6 =3"at are 0o! *aiting 2or- Kno%1 on t"e &oor6= D"7o"6 So/et"ing *as ;er0 &e2inite 0 *rong i2 .rs6 K *as ,eing ni%e to "i/6 @e stare& at K0ra9s % ose& &oor+ terri2ie& o2 *"at "e *as ea;ing "i/se 2 open 2or6 )n& /ore t"an a itt e eA%ite& to 2in& o!t6 @e 1no%1e& on t"e &oor on%e6 T"en again6

4ina 0 it opene&6 )n& "e 2o!n& "i/se 2 staring at t"e K0ra "e on%e 1ne*6 T"e K0ra "e9& ,een 2rien&s *it" 2or 2o!r 0ears6 ) sig" o2 re ie2 2i e& "is %"ee1s an& "e s/i e& at "er as "e too1 "er in6 @er spi10 , on& "air *as on%e again ,ro*n an& so2t 0 st0 e&6 @er %a 27 engt" s1irt an& ,oA0 *"ite , o!se %o;ere& near 0 e;er0 in%" o2 s1in an& *as reass!ring 0 !nre;ea ing6 =@i+= s"e sai&+ /otioning 2or "i/ to %o/e in6 =@i+ 0o!rse 26= @e steppe& insi&e an& s"e % ose& t"e &oor ,e"in& "i/6 =Go! oo18= @e gest!re& to "er appearan%e6 =Go! oo1 /ore i1e t"e *o/an I !se& to 1no*6= So/et"ing &e%i&e& 0 &e%a&ent entere& "er eApression6 =Gea"+ s"e oo1s 2a/i iar to /e+ too6= .i%"ae see/e& in%apa, e o2 /o;e/ent6 3"i e t"e o!ter trappings "a& %"ange&+ t"e %ore *o/an *as eAa%t 0 t"e sa/e6 @er /o!t" *it" or *it"o!t ip g oss *as in2inite 0 1issa, e6 )n& "e &is%o;ere& t"at t"e % ot"es /a&e "is pa /s it%" *it" t"e &esire to pee t"e/ a*a0 an& eAp ore t"e treas!res "i&&en !n&erneat"6 K0ra9s ips t*iste& as i2 s"e9& rea& "is t"o!g"ts6 .i%"ae % eare& "is t"roat an& "e & !p a siA7pa%1 o2 ,eer an& a ,ott e o2 C"ianti6 =I+ !/+ &i&n9t 1no* *"i%" one 0o! *o! & *ant+ so I ,ro!g"t ,ot"6= S"e rea%"e& 2or t"e ,eer6 =3"0 &on9t 0o! p!t t"e *ine in to %"i - .a0,e *e9 "a;e so/e ater6= S"e e& t"e *a0 into t"e 1it%"en an& p!t t"e siA7pa%1 on t"e s/a ,istro7t0pe ta, e t"at s"e9& set 2or &inner6 @e p!t t"e *ine in t"e re2rigerator t"en % ose& t"e &oor+ e0eing a ,ag on t"e %o!nter6 It "e & a sta%1 o2 ;i&eos6 Ne* re eases t"at "e "a&n9t seen+ /ain 0 ,e%a!se "e "a&n9t "a& "is ;ie*ing ,!&&06 @e "ear& a so!n& ,e"in& "i/6 @is ,ro*s p! e& toget"er6 It *as a /ost i1e a o* "!//ing6 ?r /a0,e a p!rring6 @e t!rne& aro!n&+ oo1ing 2or t"e %at6 K0ra % eare& "er t"roat6 =D/+ *"0 &on9t 0o! "a;e a seat- T"e gar i% ,rea& *i :!st ,e a 2e* /ore /in!tes6= =?1a06= S"e %ra%1e& open t*o ,eers an& "an&e& "i/ one a2ter "e9& sat &o*n6 =So "o*9s e;er0t"ing going at t"e 2ir/- I gat"ere& 2ro/ t"e *a0 0o! ans*ere& t"e p"one t"at 0o!9re sti "a;ing pro, e/s *it" Ne;i e-= @e gri/a%e& an& too1 a s !g o2 t"e %o & ,re*6 =Not an0/ore6 I to & "i/ to s%re* o226= K0ra9s e0es *i&ene&6 S"e *asn9t *earing t"e t"i%1 %"ar%oa s"e9& ta1en to app 0ing+ ,!t

t"e /o;e/ent re/in&e& "i/ o2 t"e *a0 t"e0 oo1e& *"en s"e "a&6 =Go!9re 1i&&ing-= =3e + /a0,e I &i&n9t !se t"ose eAa%t *or&s+ ,!t I &i& te "i/ t"at I *o! &n9t ,e /a1ing an0 /ore %"anges6= @er s/i e trippe& a trigger o* in "is sto/a%"6 =Hoo& 2or 0o!6= S"e "e & o!t "er ,ott e6 @e % in1e& "is against it6 =@ere9s to ta1ing %"arge6= .i%"ae "a& t"e ,ott e "a 2*a0 to "is ips+ t"en 2ro<e6 It str!%1 "i/ t"at t"at9s *"at t"e , on& K0ra *o! & "a;e sai&6 T"e ,r!nette K0ra *o! & "a;e as1e& "i/ i2 "e t"o!g"t it *as a goo& ,!siness /o;e+ not gi;ing t"e %!sto/er *"at "e *ante&6 =So/et"ing *rong-= s"e as1e&+ /o;ing a ,o* o2 sa a& 2ro/ t"e %o!nter to t"e ta, e6 =3rong- D/+ no6 No+ e;er0t"ing9s 2ine6= )n& it *as6 3asn9t itK0ra "a& %o/e to "er senses an& "a& gone ,a%1 to ,eing "erse 26 T"at %ertain 0 %o!nte& 2or so/et"ing6 So *"at i2 "e 2o!n& "i/se 2 oo1ing 2or t"ose s"ort s1irts an& % ing0 tops- )n& eaning :!st so+ tr0ing to get a pee1 insi&e t"e tra&itiona s it in "er s1irt *"en s"e *a 1e&- T"is is *"at "e9& *ante& a a ong+ *asn9t it- T"e ot"er K0ra "a& sto en a*a0 too /!%" o2 "is %ontro .a&e it i/possi, e to t"in1 straig"t+ not to /ention /a&e "i/ %ra<0 *it" !st6 @e s"i2te& in "is %"air+ rea i<ing t"at "is rea%tion to "er+ regar& ess o2 "o* s"e &resse&+ *as :!st as po*er2! 6 @e gri/a%e&6 Di& "e "a;e a "ar&7on- @e s*a o*e& so/e /ore ,eer an& grinne& at K0ra9s 5!estioning ga<e6 ?"+ 0ea"6 @e "a& a *"opper o2 a "ar&7on6 )*+ "e ' @e r!,,e& "is te/p es t"en "o/e& in on t"at strange "!//ing so!n& again6 @e oo1e& aro!n&6 =Is Ti,,s aro!n& so/e*"ere-= =Ti,,s-= T"e so!n& "a& stoppe&6 @e *a;e& "is "an&6 =Ne;er /in&6= @e g an%e& into "is ap+ "oping t"at e;i&en%e o2 "is %on&ition *asn9t too o,;io!s6 @e &i&n9t *ant K0ra to get t"e *rong i&ea6 I2 s"e *ante& to go ,a%1 to ,eing :!st 2rien&s+ t"en "e9& "onor "er *is"es6 ?r tr0 "is &a/ne&est an0*a06

=(ea&0+= K0ra sai& in a o*+ s! tr0 ;oi%e t"at near 0 sent "i/ %atap! ting 2ro/ t"e %"air6 S"e p!t t"e gar i% ,rea& &o*n in t"e /i&& e o2 t"e ta, e t"en too1 o22 "er o;en /itt6 =Go!9re *o!n& !p tig"ter t"an a &r!/6 3"at9s t"e /atter-= s"e as1e&+ "er 2a%e a inno%en%e6 .i%"ae s5!inte& at "er+ "is s!spi%ions raise&6 =Not"ing6 I :!st+ !/+ spi e& a itt e ,it o2 ,eer on /0 pant6= =Bet /e get a to*e 6= .i%"ae /a&e s!re to spi so/e o2 t"e ,eer+ :!st a &rop+ to /a1e goo& on "is stor0 an& "e & o!t "is "an& 2or t"e to*e 6 Instea& K0ra %ro!%"e& neAt to "i/ an& ,egan , otting at t"e spot "erse 26 It too1"er%! ean e22ort not to groan6 =D/+ t"at9s eno!g"+= "e sai&+ 5!i%1 0 ta1ing t"e to*e 2ro/ "er "an&s6 S"e , in1e& !p into "is 2a%e+ a seA0+ 1no*ing eApression in "er green+ green e0es6 =?1a06 I9 :!st get t"e spag"etti6= S"e got !p+ a o*ing "i/ a genero!s 2 as" o2 eg as s"e &i& so6 T"e air7%on&itioning *as on+ ,!t .i%"ae &is%o;ere& "e9& ,ro1en o!t in a s*eat6 =Boo1+ K0ra+ I'= S"e p!t "is p ate &o*n in 2ront o2 "i/6 =Ges-= S"e p!t "er o*n p ate &o*n an& sat a%ross 2ro/ "i/6 =I ' *e + I :!st *ante& to apo ogi<e+ 0o! 1no*+ 2or sa0ing *"at I &i& on t"e ,ea%"'= S"e 2or1e& a /eat,a *it" g!sto an& .i%"ae 2o!n& "i/se 2 *in%ing6 =3"0- Go! *ere rig"t I *as a%ting i1e a %"i &6= S"e /a&e a so!n& o2 &is,e ie26 =I9/ "orri2ie& :!st re/e/,ering *"at I &i&6 Dressing i1e t"at6 )s1ing 0o! ' *e + 0o! 1no*6= 3e ' 0o! 1no*- S"e9& as1e& "i/ to /arr0 "er6 @a& s"e rea 0 gotten o;er "i/ t"at easi 0@e t!rne& "is 2or1 in "is spag"etti6 =(ig"t or *rong+ it *as %r!e 2or /e to sa0 it6= S"e %"e*e& s o* 0+ "er ga<e g !e& to "is 2a%e6 @e %o!g"e&6 =)rrogant6 Po/po!s6=

=)ss6= @e raise& an e0e,ro*6 S"e s/i e&6 =C!st 2inis"ing t"e senten%e6 Go! 1no*+ po/po!s ass6= S"e too1 a sip o2 ,eer+ 2astening "er ips se&!%ti;e 0 aro!n& t"e opening6 .i%"ae 2o!n& "i/se 2 s*a o*ing "ar&6 =Not t"at I9/ %a ing 0o! one or an0t"ing6= =?2 %o!rse not6= @e p!t "is /in& to t"e tas1 o2 eating "is &inner+ an& getting "is t"o!g"ts *e a*a0 2ro/ areas it *as ,etter 2or "i/ not to t"in1 a,o!t6 S!%" as t"e *a0 "er s en&er t"roat %ontra%te& *"en s"e s*a o*e&6 ?r t"e !n%ons%io!s *a0 s"e stro1e& "er ,eer ,ott e as i2 s"e *ere stro1ing "i/6 T"e o* "!/ so!n&e& again6 @e :er1e& "is ga<e 2ro/ "is p ate an& oo1e& to *"ere K0ra *as ta1ing a ,ite o2 pasta6 S"e s/i e& at "i/6 =3"at-= @e s"oo1 "is "ea& an& gri/a%e&6 @e %o! & "a;e s*orn t"e so!n& %a/e 2ro/ "er &ire%tion6 =Do 0o! "a;e .r6 Ti,,s on 0o!r ap-= S"e a!g"e&6 =No6 3"at *o! & /a1e 0o! t"in1 t"at-= ?1a0+ "e *as osing it6 =Not"ing6= S"e pointe& "er 2or1 to*ar& "is p ate6 =@o* is it-= =Hoo&6 It9s goo&6 T"an1s 2or "a;ing /e6= I2 on 0 "e &i&n9t *ant to "a;eher rig"t t"en6 Pre2era, 0 stret%"e& a%ross t"e s/a ta, e+ t"e ,agg0 top an& ong s1irt gone6 @e % eare& "is t"roat6 =Go! 1no*+ I &o "a;e to sa0 t"at I ' *e + I /iss t"e , on& K0ra a itt e+= "e sai&+ "a 2 to "i/se 26 =3"ate;er 2or- S"e *as a ro0a pain in t"e ,!tt6= S"e *as t"e ,est t"ing t"at "a& e;er "appene& to t"e/ ,ot"+ "e rea i<e&6 =No6 I *o! &n9t sa0 t"at6= =>!t 0o! &i&6 >a%1 on t"e ,ea%"6 (e/e/,er-=

=No6 I sai& t"at per"aps s"e+ I /ean t"e trans2or/ation+ "a& /a0,e /esse& !p 0o!r *iring+ t"at9s a 6= @e r!,,e& t"e ,a%1 o2 "is ne%16 3ere t"e0 rea 0 ta 1ing as i2 t"ere *ere t*oK0ras - T"e one in 2ront o2 "i/ *"o *as po ite an& ni%e an& eas0 to ta 1 to an& t"e one t"at a&&e& si<< e to a roo/ :!st ,0 entering it@e s"oo1 "is "ea&6 =3"at &o 0o! /iss a,o!t "er-= =@!"-= .i%"ae 2o!g"t to regain "is %o/pos!re6 Not a &isp a0e& ,reast an0*"ere an& "e *as sti so "ar& it "!rt6 =3"at &o I /iss a,o!t "er-= =I t"o!g"t t"at *as /0 5!estion6= =D/+= "e sai&+ sta ing6 =3e + I g!ess I /iss "er'= 3"at- @er 2or*ar&ness- @er &aring- @er /a1ing &e%isions 2or "i/ ,e%a!se "e *as too /!%" o2 a &a/n %o*ar& to /a1e t"e/ 2or "i/se 2@e rea i<e& it *as a o2 t"e a,o;e6 =E;er0t"ing+= "e sai&+ /eeting K0ra9s ga<e6 =E;er0t"ing-= @e grinne&+ seeing t"e spar1 o2 %"a enge in "er e0es6 =Ges6 E;er0t"ing6 I /iss to!%"ing "er6 Kissing "er6= =.//+ "//6= @e noti%e& s"e9& stoppe& eating an& *as s o* 0 *iping "er /o!t" *it" a paper nap1in6 @is sto/a%" tig"tene& 2!rt"er6 =I /iss tasting "er6 @earing "er %r0 o!t /0 na/e *"en s"e %o/es6= @is ;oi%e gre* o*er an& o*er !nti "e *as a /ost *"ispering6 =3"at e se-= K0ra *"ispere& ,a%1+ "er p!pi s &i ating !nti t"e0 near 0 too1 o;er t"e green o2 "er e0es6 =I /iss t"e *a0 s"e /a1es /e 2ee += "e sai&6 =@e + K0ra+ I /iss 0o!+ perio&6= @e s*a o*e& *it" &i22i%! t06 =>e%a!se regar& ess o2 t"e o!ter pa%1aging+ it9s 0o! *e9re ta 1ing a,o!t "ere+ isn9t it- >ro*n "air+ , on&6 S"ort s1irt+ ong6 It &oesn9t /atter6 It9s 0o! I /iss6 Co/p ete 06= T"ere it *as6 T"at so!n& again6

K0ra got !p 2ro/ t"e ta, e an& s o* 0 ro!n&e& it6 =)n& s"e /isses 0o!6= S"e@e 2o!n& o!t eAa%t 0 *"o K0ra *as ta 1ing a,o!t as s"e *or1e& "er ,!ttons+ re;ea ing t"e % ing0 *"ite tan1 top s"e *ore !n&erneat"6 NeAt %a/e t"e ong s1irt+ !n%o;ering t"e tig"t , a%1 eat"er s1irt t"at "!gge& "er s en&er "ips an& s"ape 0 ,otto/6 .i%"ae 9s ,reat" %a!g"t in "is t"roat as "e rea i<e& "e9& ,een tri%1e&6 K0ra "a&n9t %"ange&6 S"e9& /ere 0 /a&e "i/ t"in1 s"e "a&6 @e groane& an& p! e& "er to "i/6 =Go! e;i + e;i *o/an6= S"e a!g"e& "!s1i 0+ r!nning "er 2ingers t"ro!g" "is "air+ t"en trai ing t"e/ &o*n "is s"irt2ront to "is pants6 S"e i2te& an e0e,ro* as s"e 2o!n& "is t"i%1 ere%tion an& ga;e an eAperi/enta s5!ee<e6 =Go! st!pi&+ st!pi& /an6= )n& "e9& &e2inite 0 ,een t"at6 )n& /!%"/!%" /ore6 =Go! 1no*+ ,ea!t0+ no /atter "o* it9s &isp a0e&+ is on 0 s1in7&eep6 >!t it *asn9t !nti I starte& &isp a0ing t"at s1in+ /0 s1in+ t"at I !neart"e& t"e *o/an !r1ing !n&erneat" a t"ose a0ers o2 % ot"ing an& /enta ,arriers6 )n&+ et9s 2a%e it6 Go! &i&n9t "a;e a % !e *"at to &o *it" /e6= S"e s"r!gge& "er s"o! &ers an& stra&& e& "i/+ p!tting "er !s%io!s 0 &isp a0e& ,reasts at /o!t" e;e 6 =So I 2ig!re& i2 I %"ange& t"at *rapping :!st a ,it+ p!t t"e *"o e o!ter trans2or/ation iss!e asi&e+ t"at 0o!9& %o/e to 1no* *"at I &o6= @er ;oi%e &roppe& to a *"isper6 =Na/e 0+ t"at 0o! o;e /e6= )n& o"+ ,o0+ &i& "e6 =)n& t"at I o;e 0o!6= .i%"ae e0e& "er ,reasts+ "er *or&s <inging in "is ,rain+ ,!t "is groin te/pting "i/ to &o /ore t"an t"in16 So "e &i& t"e on 0 nat!ra t"ing6 @e 2astene& "is /o!t" o;er "er rig"t ,reast t"ro!g" t"e /ateria o2 "er tan1 top+ %reating a arge *et spot aro!n& "er :!tting nipp e6 S"e gaspe& an& "e & "i/ t"ere6 .i%"ae "a& no i&ea "o* "e9& e;er t"o!g"t "e %o! & i;e *it"o!t t"e *o/an in "is ap6 S"e *as e;er0t"ing "e9& e;er "ope& 2or an& /ore6 )n&+ it see/e&+ s"e 1ne* *"at "e *ante& ,etter t"an "e &i&6 3"i%" %o! & on 0 /ean t"at s"e 1ne* "er o*n /in&+ as *e 6 T"eir ti/e apart+ %o/,ine& *it" "is pent7!p 2r!stration+ an& "is o;er*"e /ing 2ee ings 2or "er %o/pe e& "i/ to &o so/et"ing "e "a& ne;er %onsi&ering &oing+ ,!t 2e t o"+ so

rig"t &oing no*6 @e %a!g"t "er "ea& in "is "an&s an& "e & "er sti + "is ga<e 2o%!sing on "er ,ea!ti2! 2a%e6 =I 1no* 0o! as1e& /e+ an& I9/ sorr0 I &i&n9t t"in1 0o! *ere serio!s6 ?r /a0,e I *as :!st too /!%" o2 a %o*ar& to t"in1 &i22erent 0+ ,!t'= @e 1isse& "er ang!i& 0+ s i&ing "is tong!e against "ers+ not e/erging again !nti "e got a goo& ong taste o2 t"e *o/an "e o;e&6 =.arr0 /e+ K0ra6= @e 1isse& "er again6 =(o%1 /0 *or & not :!st tonig"t6 >!t 2ore;er6= S"e stare& at "i/ ong an& "ar&+ passion an& s!spi%ion in "er e0es6 =T"at9s not *"0 I as1e& 0o! "ere+ .i%"ae 6= =No+ I 1no* it9s not6= @e &roppe& "is "an&s &o*n o;er "er ,a%1 t"en s5!ee<e& "er so2t ,otto/+ pressing "er against "is aro!sa 6 =>!t "!/or /e an0*a06= =T"en+ no+= s"e sai&+ a /i e7*i&e s/i e p a0ing on "er 2! + !s%io!s ips6 @e grinne& ,a%1 at "er6 =No-= @e s i& a "an& !n&er t"e s i%1 /ateria o2 "er eat"er s1irt pressing "is t"!/, against "er tig"t 2 es"6 S"e s"i;ere& a o;er6 =Do *e *ant to tr0 t"at again-= S"e rest ess 0 i%1e& "er ips6 .i%"ae "ear& t"at so!n& again+ t"en rea i<e& it "a& ,een %o/ing 2ro/ "er a a ong6 ) %ross ,et*een a p!rring %at an& a nee&0+ seA0 *o/an6 ) *i &%at t"at "e "a& /a&e t"e /ista1e o2 tr0ing to sti%1 ,a%1 into t"e ,ag6 =Bet9s tr0 t"is again+= "e /!r/!re&+ s ipping a 2inger insi&e t"e &a/p %rot%" o2 "er panties an& stro1ing "er6 =.arr0 /e+ K0ra6= @e t"r!st "is 2inger &eep into "er "ot+ tig"t 2 es" an& s"e /oane&6 =?"+ 0es6 .i%"ae 6 Ges+ 0es+ 0es6= .i%"ae got !p 2ro/ t"e %"air+ ta1ing "er *it" "i/6 @e *as going to &o *"at "e *ante& t"e instant "e 2irst entere& t"e apart/ent6 =T"at9s /ore i1e it+= "e sai&+ t"en s a//e& t"e ,e&roo/ &oor ,e"in& t"e/' Epi og!e K# T"ree /ont"s ater'

3e + t"at %ertain 0 *ent *e 6 .i%"ae % ose& t"e &oor a2ter "is parents an& .rs6 Ka/ins10 an& t!rne& to 2a%e "is *i2e6 @is *i2e6 )s "is ga<e ingere& on K0ra *"ere s"e *as oa&ing t"e &is"*as"er a2ter t"e ong /ea t"e09& :!st ser;e&+ "e t"o!g"t t"e *or& *oe2! 0 ina&e5!ate6 S"e *as "is o;er6 @is ,est 2rien&6 @is 2!t!re6&is %ife 6 =Do 0o! t"in1 0o!r parents "a;e 2orgi;en /e 0et-= K0ra as1e&6 =4or *"at-= S"e *igg e& "er "ips+ /a1ing t"e eopar& print on "er s"ort s1irt s i&e against "er ro!n&e& ,otto/6 =3e + 2or &ragging 0o! to t"e :!sti%e o2 t"e pea%e an& /a1ing 0o! /arr0 /e *it"o!t an0one 1no*ing a,o!t it+ o2 %o!rse6= =?"+ t"at6= .i%"ae %"!%1 e& as "e %o e%te& t"e e/pt0 %o22ee %!ps 2ro/ t"e &ining roo/ ta, e an& p!t t"e/ on t"e %o!nter neAt to K0ra6 =)s I re%a + t"ere *asn9t an0 &ragging in;o ;e&6= )"+ "is parents6 @e re/e/,ere& a ti/e *"en "e9& ,een a2rai& o2 *"at t"e09& /a1e o2 K0ra6 Ironi%+ t"en+ t"at K0ra see/e& to get a ong ,etter *it" t"e/ t"an "e e;er "a&6 Not on 0 t"at+ ,!t s"e /a&e "i/ see t"e/ in a *"o e &i22erent ig"t6 No onger &i& "e 2ee "e "a& to p a0 so/e sort o2 goo&7,o0 ro e6 Instea& "e *as no* a, e to sit ,a%1 an& en:o0 t"eir %o/pan06 )n& "e &is%o;ere& "e not on 0 i1e& t"e/+ ,!t t"at t"e0 i1e& "i/6 @i/6 Not *"o "e "a& ,een tr0ing to ,e to p ease t"e/6 Not t"e *e 7/annere& son *"o %a/e to &inner t"e ast S!n&a0 o2 e;er0 /ont" ar/e& *it" goo& /anners+ ,!t t"e /an *"o "a& 2ina 0 ,ro1en o!t o2 "is s"e an& &isagree& *it" t"e/ /ore t"an "e agree&6 )n& in &oing so+ "a& 2ina 0 /anage& to 2in& t"e person *"o "a& ,een "i&ing insi&e6 @is grin *i&ene&6 ) t"at *it"o!t a ,ott e o2 "air &0e6 @e eane& against K0ra9s si&e an& 1isse& "er eApose& ne%1+ e0eing t"e , on& stran&s t"at sti reste& against t"e nape6 ?2 %o!rse+ it &i&n9t "!rt t"at "e "a& t"e *"o e gran&%"i & iss!e going in "is 2a;or+ eit"er+ ,!t "e *o! &n9t t"in1 a,o!t t"at rig"t no*6 =I t"in1 .rs6 Ka/ins10 *ar/e& !p t"ere "a 2*a0 t"o!g" &inner+= K0ra sai&+ p!tting t"e ast o2 t"e %!ps in t"e &is"*as"er+ t"en &r0ing "er "an&s6 .i%"ae %"!%1 e&6 =Ges6 I s!ppose 0o! %o! & sa0 "er te ing /0 parents a,o!t a t"e ra%1et *e /a1e !p "ere an& "o* 0o! an& s"e /a&e a &ea t"at s"e *o! & s"!t o22 "er "earing ai& e;er0 nig"t at ten o9% o%1 *as a 2or/ o2 *ar/ing !p6=

K0ra sna1e& "er ar/s aro!n& "is ne%1 an& a!g"e& against "is %"est6 =?"+ Ho&6 I t"o!g"t I *as going to &ie *"en s"e sai& t"at6= =Di& 0o! noti%e t"e *a0 /0 &a& 1ept oo1ing at "is *at%" a2ter t"at-= @e stro1e& "er ,a%16 =?2 %o!rse+ ,ot" /0 parents are pro,a, 0 "oping t"at o!r nois0 a%ti;ities *i pro&!%e a gran&%"i &6= =?n 0 0o!r parents-= S"e oo1e& !p at "i/+ "er e0es s/i ing6 =(ig"t a2ter 0o! /o;e& in "ere+ .rs6 K6 sent a*a0 2or a %ro%"eting 1it S"e9s a rea&0 "a 2 &one *it" a "i&eo!s 2 ores%ent70e o* ,a,0 , an1et6= .i%"ae &!%1e& "is tong!e6 =I sti %an9t ,e ie;e I et 0o! ta 1 /e into /o;ing in "ere *it" 0o!6= K0ra ti te& "er "ea& to t"e si&e an& s*i;e e& "er "ips s ig"t 06 =I &i&n9t ta 1 0o! into an0t"ing6 I /ere 0 s!ggeste& t"at sin%e I9& a rea&0 &one so /!%" to t"e p a%e+ an& sin%e 0o!r p a%e no onger s!ite& e;en 0o!+ t"at t"is *o! & ,e a ,etter p a%e to i;e6= =Dnti *e 2in& so/et"ing e se *e ,ot" i1e+= "e a&&e&6 =@//6= S"e o*ere& "er "ea& to t"e %o ar o2 "is s"irt an& presse& a "ot 1iss t"ere6 .i%"ae % ose& "is e0es an& r!,,e& "is %"in against t"e top o2 "er spi10 "air6 K0ra9s apart/ent "a& e/erge& t"e on 0 ;ia, e %"oi%e6 S"e *as rig"t6 @is %on&o "a& ne;er rea 0 s!ite& "i/6 3"i e t"is p a%e ' t"is p a%e *as ,o!n& to /a1e an0one re%onsi&er t"eir i;es *it" its ,rig"t+ neon %o ors an&;a7;a7;oo/ &e%or6 =T"is ,eing /arrie& &e2inite 0 "as its ,ene2its+ &on9t 0o! t"in1-= K0ra *"ispere&+ &ragging "er tong!e a ong "is :a* ine t"en , o*ing on t"e &a/p area6 T*o ,rie2 1no%1s so!n&e& 2ro/ t"e &o*nstairs apart/ent6 =?"+ 0ea"6= K0ra g an%e& at t"e *a % o%16 =Is it ten a rea&0-= @e s*ept "er !p into "is ar/s an& ,egan %arr0ing "er to t"e ,e&roo/6 =D"7"!"6= >!t rat"er t"an ta1ing K0ra to t"e ,e&+ "e 1i%1e& open t"e ,at"roo/ &oor instea&6 =3"at are 0o! &oing-= s"e *"ispere&+ "er "!s10 a!g"ter 2i ing "is ears6 =Consi&ering "o* "ot 0o! /a&e /e t"ro!g"o!t &inner *it" 0o!r !n&er7t"e7ta, e a%ti;ities+= "e sai&+ g an%ing at "er 2eet+ =I t"o!g"t *e ,ot" /ig"t nee& a s"o*er 2irst6= @e *at%"e& "er 5!i%1 0 s"i//0 o!t o2 "er % ot"es an& *it"in /o/ents s"e *as stan&ing g orio!s 0 ,are in 2ront o2 "i/6

=Go! 1no*+ t"ere is s!%" a t"ing as p a0ing "ar& to get6= S"e s/i e&6 =)re 0o! 1i&&ing- Go!and t"e s"o*er /assager toget"er- Go!9re ta 1ing 2antas0 /ateria "ere6= S"e rippe& open t"e s"o*er %!rtain6 =Het in t"ere+ .r6 (o/ero6= @e &i& as s"e as1e&+ t"en "e & o!t "is "an& to "e p "er in a2ter "i/6 =3"ate;er 0o! sa0+ .rs6 (o/ero6= =.//+= K0ra sai&+ /a1ing t"at o* p!rring so!n& &eep in "er t"roat'


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