The Meadowside Inn was close to the beach and had a back entrance. Walking in, the first thing I saw was Valentin behind the bar. One patron sat on a stool a few feet away from him.
Valentin’s magnificent head of rock-god tresses looked divine against the red button-down shirt he had tucked into belted pants. Despite having pleasurable shivers, a sudden warmth coursed through me, and I couldn’t contain the beating of my heart.
He and Joey exchanged the customary fist bump.
I avoided his eyes. “So you’re a bartender?”
“Today I am,” he replied. “A friend of mine had an emergency. What can I get for you?”
“How about a margarita?” I said.
“Yeah, how about a soda? Your brother just turned twenty-one, but you haven’t.”
“Fine, fine … Pepsi, then.”
Joey seated himself on a stool and asked for a beer.
I removed my coat and laid it on an unoccupied stool then hoisted myself onto the stool beside Joey. I placed my handbag on the bar and glanced around. The jukebox was a few feet from the door, between the door and the window. There were four wooden booths with a partition behind the fourth booth. I could see a pool table in the back, with more tables and chairs.
Valentin placed the soda before me, asking, “So what happened with this car you went to see?”
“The mechanic says it has oil seepage from the engine bay to the cabin,” I explained. “He said it wouldn’t be a big problem, but …”
Valentin was shaking his head. “It’ll be a problem. Did you sign a bill of sale yet?”
“No, but the mechanic got me a thousand dollars off the price.”
“He should have told you not to buy it. A friend of mine has a 300ZX for sale—nice paint and interior, leather seats, no rips, no tears. He had it completely redone. It’s in excellent condition, runs exceptionally well—chrome spoke wheels, new radial tires, good working AC, everything. It’s red, though, not blue, but that can be painted.” He moved down the bar to tend to the other patron. “The guy who’s selling it will be here within the hour,” he continued, his voice trailing. “I’ll make sure you get a good price.”
“I appreciate your help,” I said when he returned.
“Not a problem. We don’t want to see you driving some heap of junk choking as it throttles up the road. Ever read the story Tootle when you were a kid?”
I laughed. “No …”
“I read it to my daughter—the train that wanted to drive off the track. That would have been your car, deciding it wants to try driving on the sidewalk or bumbling through houses.”
I laughed again. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“Well, surely you’ve read The Three Little Pigs. One built a house of straw. The other built a house of sticks. The patient one built his house very carefully out of bricks—”
“Stop!” I kept laughing.
The phone behind the bar rang. He excused himself then turned and walked a few paces to grab the phone, where he held a brief conversation. Returning to us, he told Joey, “That was a guy from the club. He was broken down and stranded at 3:00 a.m. last night.”
“Is everything all right?” Joey asked.
“Yes. I had Tommy with me, so we went down there with his truck. This is a guy who always gets me in these conversations about regrinding valves and torquing head bolts. It’s all he wants to talk about. I had to cut him off.”
Joey said, “I may have to take you with me to help someone pick out his first ride.”
“I could get him a good chopper bike or sell him the Norton I’ve been working on. It’s a good bike, just harder to work on, hard to get parts. I did the murals on this myself.” Valentin looked at me and smiled. “I’m sorry. How are you?”
“I’m good,” I told him. “How are you?”
“Not bad,” he replied. “Your brother mentioned that you wrote a book.”
“Oh, yeah!” I perked up in an instant and babbled on about the agent, my revisions, and my plans.
“That’s very ambitious,” he said. “What’s it about?”
“Kind of a bizarre love story with a few twists … turns into a mystery.”
He raised his eyebrows as though it impressed him. “I want an autographed copy,” he said. “I’d be happy to buy it.”
His vote of confidence and his kindness managed to pique my curiosity. “It must have been an incredible experience going to school in Spain,” I gushed. “What were your favorite places there?”
He appeared to give it some thought. “I loved Barcelona, loved Santiago de Compostela. Seville, too. I liked Segovia and Formentera. Spain is beautiful. You have to go see it.”
“I hope to one day.” I smiled. “So, have you been to Transylvania?”
“What’s so funny?”
“Such a common question, and, yes, once when I was fourteen. We went to Russia, then Craiova, then the relatives took us to Brasov.”
“Is it nice?”
That weird déjà vu thing happened. I said, “I have to tell you—I don’t know if it’s because your voice is familiar, or your presence is familiar, but the feeling gets stronger every time I talk to you. I feel like I know you, or I knew you before.”
He seemed intrigued by that. “You believe in past lives?”
“I don’t know. Part of me thinks we may get to come back again and again until we get it right. I would like to think that.”
“Oh, doll, I would sure like to get it right.” I seemed to have touched a tender place inside of him. I could tell by the sudden glint of light in his dark eyes. “If only that were true. I need to do some soul searching, seek deliverance.”
I had to wonder if Valentin was joking, but there was something about his eyes and expression. “You’re serious.”
“He is serious,” Joey assured me.
“Yes!” Valentin said. “I want to do the right thing for my daughter. I just don’t know where to begin.”
Despite the absurdity of it all, he was precious in his vulnerability.
“Fine. Shall I call for a priest to hear your confession or go for broke and host a full-scale exorcism?”
He laughed to no end about that—merry, hearty laughter—and his playfulness kindled a new fire in me.
I shook my head. “You’re messing with me.”
“Then why do you say that?”
“I’m not sure I will ever be forgiven for the things I’ve done.”
“Well, you don’t believe in God, right?”
“A ruling God who condemns people to hell? No, I don’t.”
“Then who are you looking to for forgiveness?”
“Not believing in the Abrahamic concept of God isn’t a license to do unforgivable things, and not believing doesn’t make it any easier to live with what I’ve done.”
“Because you can’t forgive yourself.”
“Okay, so what have you done?”
“I’ve hurt people, caused irreparable damage in some instances. Isn’t that enough?”
“But we’ve all done that.”
“Ah, she is precious,” he said to Joey. He leaned in on the counter and clasped my hand. “You truly are an angel.”
“I do feel as if there was never a time we didn’t know each other.”
“That’s a good feeling.” He let go of my hand and stood.
That was when Katharine walked in.
She approached and stood there in silence for a moment or two. “I need to talk to you,” she finally said to Valentin. She threw her purse down on the bar.
“I can’t leave, love,” he told her. “I’m working.”
“You can’t leave the bar for two seconds to talk to me? Or is it her you can’t leave for two seconds?”
My eyes widened. “What, me? Oh great, now she’s blaming me. I’m here to check out a car he said was for sale.”
She kept her eyes focused on Valentin. “I don’t see how it would take that long for you to respond.”
“To your ultimatum?”
“What difference does it make? It’s a yes or a no.”
“You don’t want to do this here.”
Joey sighed. “Time to check out that pool table.” He got up with his beer and went to the back.
Katharine flashed those baby blues on me. “How would you feel if the man you loved wanted to move out and still have a relationship with your child, but not you?”
“I’m not getting in the middle of this,” I said. “Why would you put me in the middle of this? I barely know either of you.”
“I have talked to you,” Valentin said to her. “I told you I’ll take care of you, and I’ll always take care of my children, no matter what.” He looked at me like a helpless little boy. “Talk to her.”
“Are you serious?” The predicament had me flustered.“Why would she listen to me? Honestly, if I wanted to talk to my husband, and he asked some other woman in a bar to talk to me, I would be even madder.”
“I’m sorry,” Katharine said, appearing to calm down. “It’s not that I’d really want to deny him custody.”
“Well, if he’s a good father—”
“He’s a good father.”
“Settled!” I yelled. “My work is done here.”
Valentin laughed again, and I wished he hadn’t. It made me want to hug him. He said, “You see? You’re a good person and a kind person, and that’s why I knew she’d listen.”
“Please think about it,” Katharine said to him. “I have to go.” She turned to me. “Good luck with the car.”
Valentin walked her to the door, and then stopped at the jukebox. He played “Always” by Atlantic Starr—such a tenderhearted song. When he turned around, the other patron, who was now leaving, stopped before him. They spoke, and in the brief moment before they parted, he caught me staring at him. It was obvious that he did, and I feared his discerning gaze. I thought he was undressing me with his eyes. He was first to look away.
When he got back to the bar, slipping artfully behind it, we talked about music—as if that little scene had been purely my fantasy. I learned that he shared my eclectic tastes and appreciation for many styles of music. Like me, he was a big Motown fan. He seemed to know anyone I mentioned. I couldn’t deny that his energy was captivating. I loved how animated he was, the passion in his voice, and his warmth. His smile was as infectious as his enthusiasm, and, yes, he was beautiful in a way that was difficult to ignore.
He said, “There are things I’d love to share with you one day.”
I laughed. “Oh, go on, I can’t wait … tell me your secrets.”
He seemed surprised by this request but quickly regained his composure. “You will hate me.”
“Uh, I think it’s safe to say, based on whatever the hell just happened here tonight, we are friends. I would never hate you. There is nothing you can say to me that would make me hate you. And nothing shocks me, by the way.”
“Nothing? How sad for you at such a tender age!”
“I would try to be helpful and not judge.”
“You will turn away.”
“Oh, man, you are so dramatic. What could be so terrible? I’d never turn away from you.”
“You say that now.”
“Does this have something to do with me?”
“No, my dear.”
“I am struggling with my dark side.”
“What dark side? Are you a vampire or something?”
He laughed. “Metaphorically speaking, I am, indeed.”
“Seriously,” I teased. “It’s okay if you are a vampire … really. I’d still be your friend.”
He laughed more.
“No shock if that’s the secret.”
“But you’ve seen me in daytime!”
“And you’ve seen me laugh and smile … no fangs.”
As maddening and exasperating as he was, I had to wonder if this drama was part of his repertoire—another stunning performance pulled from his bag of tricks. Perhaps I was dealing with the “Lord Hades” that Billy despised, and, of course, I would resist him at any cost. It was a promise I made to myself.
As far as reinforcing the strength of my mind’s resolve, my body was a useless entity. In his presence, it betrayed me like dangerous waters beckoning to me in their mystifying beauty, the thrill of their tantalizing fluidity caressing my body as I resisted taking the plunge. Yes, my body betrayed me. It ignored me like a preoccupied stranger. With a will of its own, it intoxicated me. As I had cruelly learned, I could control what happened to it only if people were merciful. Watching Valentin, and listening to him, was not merciful. It was a torturous joy.
“I want you to know something,” he said.
“Although you’re not going to tell me—”
“I’m talking about something else.” His tormented eyes focused on me, seeming to yield no mercy.
“You do know you have Scorpio eyes, right?” I said it, not knowing why, or how I dared.
He responded to my question with a beguiling smile that made me want to surrender to him in all ways. “Yes, the Scorpio eyes,” he said. “I’ve heard that. I suppose it would be true of you, as well, but it’s possible we both coincidentally match that description.” His voice was more tantalizing than I wanted it to be.
I remembered he had commented on my eyes before. Now I had begun to use eye shadow and mascara, which enhanced the effect.
“What do you think?” I asked him.
“I really don’t know. I have no way of knowing.”
“But you think I match the description.”
He leaned over the bar now, resting his arms on the edge. “I want you to know that my respect for you knows no bounds, that you never have to fear me, because I’d never betray your trust. As for your eyes, I’ll put it this way. I’m looking into these almond-shaped gems, big and booming, a brilliant witch hazel with specks of amber, gold, brown, and green, different colors in different lights. Even at a distance, they are full of mysterious lights. They have the hypnotic intensity to entrance. Up close, they shine with a never-ending curiosity, all the while guarded. Above all, you have the eyes of an angel, a bit mischievous, perhaps, but always sparkling with your love, caring, and concern.”
My skin tingled, and I doubt my expression concealed my surprise. “Wow, you’re good,” I said. “Are you a poet, too?”
“Oh, hell no.” He stood and backed away a few paces. “But I am an artist. I notice details.”
Joey returned then, and the car owner arrived with a friend. It was too soon—way too soon. Valentin introduced everyone, and, after the exchange of pleasantries, I headed out with Joey and the others.
“Goodbye, Danielle,” Valentin said before we left. “Good luck.”
I smiled, thanking him.
As a favor to Valentin, I got a sweet deal on the car and agreed to buy it.
On the way to the parking lot, I teased Joey. “Thanks for leaving me alone with them.”
He laughed. “Were you scared?”
“Billy said Valentin and Gianni are Hells Angels.”
“No,” he said, “one of the clubs Gianni belongs to is affiliated with the Hells Angels. That’s the only link between us and them.”
“He also said Valentin was a member of the Pagans.”
“That would make no sense if he thought V was HA. HA and the Pagans are rival gangs. Valentin doesn’t belong to either one.”
“The Warlocks, maybe?”
“No, he belongs to a local club. Tommy and Gianni belong to veterans’ clubs. Nico and I have no affiliations. We ride independent, but there’s nothing wrong with the clubs. They do charity toy runs for donations to children. The Lynx are good people, and we’re not derelicts, like Billy might have people believe. We all have jobs.”
We reached his bike and stopped.
I said, “What’s interesting is, I have no idea what any of them do. I know Valentin is some kind of artist.”
“Yeah, a graphic artist. He works for an ad agency in Manhattan. They just promoted him to assistant art director. Nico wants to do the same thing.”
I was delightfully surprised again. “Well, you still left me alone with him. I know Katharine was there but not for long.”
“I trust Valentin.”
“What, that he wouldn’t hit on me? That he would jump to my defense if some other guy came in and started harassing me?”
“Yes and yes.”
“How do you know that?”
“I know him.”
“For how long? Because up until a couple of months ago, I’d never heard of him.”
“Over a year.”
“So, after knowing him a year, you’re sure he would never do that, never be tempted.”
“I can’t say whether or not he’d be tempted. You’re a beautiful girl.”
“Aw, well, thanks. Anyway, Katharine was doing a number on him.”
“Yeah, she always gets him to give in. That’s the whole problem. He has a soft spot when it comes to her. That’s what’s really going on, not that he wants to use or hurt her. He married her because he wanted to step up, be the gentleman, but he’s not ready for that.”
“Yet they have two children.”
“They have one.”
“Billy said two.”
“They’re from different mothers.”
“Oh, God … so he doesn’t learn his lessons, does he? Who’s the other one?”
“The mother of his son lives in New York. I never see her. But I do think he learned his lesson. I’m pretty sure about that.”
“Would you vouch for Nico, too, that he wouldn’t pursue me?”
“Maybe to a lesser extent, but yeah.”
I had to laugh. “You do know he has a thing for me.”
“Nico told me. More people are watching out for you than you think. Don’t get me wrong, I trust Gianni, but I’m glad you turned him down.”
“You know I turned him down, too?”
“He told Valentin. Hey, don’t worry about it. Just put that freaking helmet on, so we can get out of here. Doesn’t sound to me like you were too scared about Valentin.” He helped me strap the helmet on before getting on the bike sans his own helmet. I got behind him and braced myself for the chilly ride home.
Deadly Veils Book One: Shattering Truths was originally published as Deadly Veils: Book One: Provenance of Bondage copyright © October 2015 by Kyrian Lyndon. The revised edition, Deadly Veils: Book One: Shattering Truths was published in December 2016. Cover design by KH Koehler Design.