Artist: kanarek13 Art Post
Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal/Peter, Neal/Jones/OFC, Neal/Jones, Elizabeth/Jones
Word Count: 30,188 - Part Four: 7,233
Beta Credit: Beta credit goes to the lovely elrhiarhodan, miri_thompson, and embroiderama.
Warnings: Dub Con, BDSM and dark themes
Summary: Author Peter Burke can't seem to get a handle on his latest gothic horror novel--until he meets Neal Caffrey. There's something about this charming, sophisticated club owner that strikes a chord with Peter. But is Neal all that he appears to be? Or is Peter entering a world of darkness that he may not be able to come back from?
Peter was awakened by the ringing of his phone. Scrabbling for it, he hit the accept button without looking at the caller ID.
“Good morning, Peter.”
“Neal.” Peter sat up and rubbed his face, trying to wake up.
Sorry it’s so early.” Neal’s voice was cheerful and Peter cursed him silently for being a morning person. “I just wanted to make sure I talked to you before you made plans for this evening.”
“Um, okay.” He headed to his dresser to pull out some jeans. “Why?”
“Because I want you to come to the club tonight.”
The club. Peter wasn’t sure that was a good idea. He had a hard enough time fighting his reaction to Neal in an average setting. Going to the club and being surrounded by people having sex…. “Neal, I don’t think that’s my sort of thing.”
“People come to the club for many reasons, Peter,” Neal chuckled. “Tonight we just happen to have a fantastic trio playing that I thought you might like. That’s all.”
“Oh.” Peter blushed even though he knew Neal couldn’t see him.
“It’s an invitation to hear some good music, Peter.” Neal was laughing. “I’m not going to debauch you.” He paused. “Unless you want me to…”
Peter inhaled sharply as he imagined himself spread out on his bed, Neal above him, their cocks rubbing together.
“I’m teasing you, Peter. But I really would like for you to come to the club tonight.” Neal’s tone was expectant.
Peter meant to say no. The word was on the tip of his tongue. What came out was “Okay. I’d like that.”
“Wonderful. The band starts at nine. Parking’s not the best so I’ll send a car for you.”
“Are you sure? I can drive myself.” Peter wasn’t sure he wanted to go without the availability of an escape vehicle.
“Trust me. You’ll be better off being picked up.”
“Okay then.” Peter walked over to his closet to see what would be appropriate for that evening.
“Excellent. And Peter? Wear the leather pants.” With a chuckle, Neal was off the line.
Peter stared at the phone. How did Neal know he had leather pants?” He dug deeper into his closet and pulled out the garment in question.
Peter put them on the bed and took a considering look. The pants were made of soft black leather and were tailored specifically to his long legs. The last time he’d had them on was for the author photo for his last book. Maybe that’s where Neal saw them.
He normally didn’t wear them but when he did he usually went commando. Might not be a good idea this time, he thought. He didn’t want to make it any easier for Neal to play his games.
It wasn’t difficult for Peter to imagine Neal’s slender fingers unzipping him, pulling him out, dropping to his knees -. He shook his head - the voice in his mind was taunting him again. But it was hard not to go there – especially considering where he would be this evening.
He needed focus on work and stop fantasizing about the evening and Neal. Taking one last look at the pants, he headed to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
Peter made sure to compliment Elizabeth on the results of her salon visit when she arrived at the office that afternoon. Once, early in their acquaintance, he’d made the mistake of ignoring it and Elizabeth’s response was something he never wanted to see again.
“So, tell me about last night?” Elizabeth took off her coat and hung it up on the tree.
“It was nothing special.” Peter shrugged. “We had dinner, we danced, he went home.”
“Danced?” Elizabeth’s eyes glinted with humor. “You, the man who swears he has three left feet, danced?”
“Yeah.” Peter rubbed the back of his neck and grinned. “We jitterbugged. It was fun.”
“See, I knew Neal was good for you.” She clapped her hands. “Are you going out again soon?”
“Actually, I’m meeting Neal at his club tonight.”
“Wait, what? Peter, are you sure that’s a good idea?” The shock in Elizabeth’s voice was unmistakable.
“I’m just going to hear the band they have tonight, El,” he reassured her. “That’s all.”
“Peter…” she began.
“El…” He imitated her tone.
“I just worry about you.” She pursed her lips at him.
“I know.” He walked over to her side of the desk and kissed her forehead. “I’m a big boy, El. I know how to say no.”
“Okay.” She was quiet for a moment. “So obviously you’re going. What are you wearing?”
“Not sure. Are leather pants too cliché for a BDSM club?” he asked with a wicked tone as he headed towards the kitchen for more coffee.
“Only if you don’t wear a shirt.” Elizabeth followed him.
“Cute.” Peter laughed. “Seriously though, I thought my leather pants and a black shirt would work.”
“That’s perfect. You should watch out for chafing though.” She leaned against the counter as he fired up the Keurig.
“Chafing?” Puzzled, he looked at her.
“Yeah. Going commando in leather can be painful.” Elizabeth took down a glass and filled it with ice water.
“Who says I’ll be going commando?” Peter said in mock outrage. She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Okay, yeah. But these are the silk lined ones. Shouldn’t be a problem.” He fixed his coffee and turned to go back to the office.
“Just remember though, protein stains are tough to get out of leather,” Elizabeth commented slyly.
“Protein?” Peter asked before his mind caught up to what she was implying. “Oh, Ms. Mitchell, you are all sorts of wrong.”
“That’s why you love me.” She gave him a cheeky grin.
“It’s one of the many reasons, yes.” He sat down at his desk and opened up his file. “But now I would love you if you could find me information on clothing styles from 1890.”
“On it.” Elizabeth began typing at her keyboard.
Peter looked at his document but didn’t really see it. Neal’s invitation was too much at the forefront of his thoughts. He felt like the fly in that poem by Mary Howitt. Neal had all but asked ‘Will you walk into my parlor?’ And Peter had said yes.
He hoped tonight wouldn’t have the same ending.
The ride was smooth as the limo cruised through the darkened streets. Peter was impressed by the vehicle. Soft leather seats, a fully stocked bar - Neal had pulled out all the stops for the short ride from his house to the club.
Pouring a glass of bourbon, he considered the evening. The writer in him was intrigued with the opportunity to observe and possibly use the club in his book. His gut, however, was telling him to be cautious, and his instincts were shouting that this was not just a regular date. He couldn’t put his finger on why he felt that way – he just knew that something was not as it should be.
He was reminded of the gazelles on the Serengeti – placidly grazing but always aware of the lions lurking nearby. Never sure when those predators would stop sunning themselves and pounce on their prey. He was Neal’s prey – Peter was sure of it. He just didn’t know what the end game was supposed to be, and that worried him.
The limo pulled up to the club before he could finish that thought. The driver came around and opened the door for him.
“Welcome to l’appel Du Vide, Mr. Burke. Mr. Caffrey wanted you to know that he’ll be waiting for you in the lounge.”
“Thank you.” Peter nodded at the driver. Stepping away from the limo, he took a look at the building. He knew the history – it was built by a Turkish tobacco baron at the turn of the century, became a finishing school for young women in the thirties, owned at one time by a professor from Columbia University. He’d even considered using the location in an earlier book, but that hadn’t panned out.
The windows glowed like amber and he could see shadows of the patrons moving about in the lower rooms. It all looked normal – there was no indication of the activities that he was sure were taking place behind closed doors. The front door opened and a couple exited, brushing past him as they talked quietly to each other.
The door closed but not before Peter heard the sound of a piano and caught a glimpse of the opulent marble entranceway. It beckoned to him, and he wasn’t sure he was comfortable with that.
Shivering, Peter moved forward, only to practically trip over a black cat that ran across his path. It hissed at him, then scurried off. Peter regained his balance then continued on; he refused to consider that a sign of bad luck.
He saw Neal leaning against the door, watching him with hooded eyes. Dressed in a grey shirt, the sleeves rolled up, legs encased in deep blue denim that stopped at black leather boots, Neal pushed himself off the door jamb and stepped out onto the stoop. His hair was casually arranged, a slight breeze making a lock fall down to curl on his forehead. It made him look younger, innocent. Peter knew that was far from the case.
There was something unsettling about Neal’s attire. Peter had only known him in Armani suits, and seeing him dressed this way – so unstudied – made Neal seem approachable. Less dangerous. More like someone Peter could spend forever with.
Shoving that thought into the back of his mind, Peter spoke first. “I thought you were in the lounge?”
“Couldn’t wait to see you.” Neal’s gaze swept over him, and Peter heard him make a small sound of pleasure when he saw the leather pants. “You look fantastic.”
Blushing, Peter responded, “I could say the same thing about you.”
Neal smiled. “Thank you. Ready to enter the den of iniquity?” He chuckled.
“Why not.” Peter let Neal get the door and entered at his gesture. He looked around, marveling at the marble interior.
“What are you looking for?” Neal walked next to him.
“Oh, just a plaque on the wall. You know, ‘Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate’.” Peter glanced at Neal to see if he caught the reference.
“‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.” Neal laughed. “Sorry to say, Peter, this is not the Gates of Hell and Dante is nowhere to be found. Although the upper floors can put one in mind of the Second Ring.”
“So then I’m safe here.”
“I didn’t say that.” Neal’s reply sent chills and a frisson of lust skittering down Peter’s spine. Of course he wasn’t safe. He was with Neal.
Before he could reply they entered the main floor of the club. Peter had to admit it was gorgeous. Just like Neal, his mind supplied.
Warm wooden paneling highlighted the blue and silver décor. Comfortable furniture in cozy groupings. Art on the walls that Peter knew had to be originals. He identified a Chagall and at least one Monet.
But what caught his eye was the staircase. The solid oak banister, the wide steps, rising up to the shadowy landing before turning to disappear into the darkness. Something about it spoke to the impious place inside of him, murmuring encouragement so subtly that he didn’t realize he’d taken a few steps towards it until Neal spoke.
“Let’s get a drink before the band starts.” Neal led him over to the bar nestled in the corner. “I’ll have a Bloody Mary,” he told the bartender. “Turning to Peter he said, “We have an excellent microbrew if you’re interested.”
“Sounds good.” Peter looked around while he waited for the bartender to fix Neal’s drink. He was surprised to see the number of people that were there - some laughing, others in intense conversation. Wait staff discreetly served hors d'oeuvres and whisked away empty plates and glasses.
The clientele was eclectic. Peter recognized a Senator, two CEOs, several actors and a pop singer.
“Interesting mix of people,” he commented as Neal handed him his beer. “Aren’t you concerned that they’ll tell the media what happens here?”
Neal smiled. “There’s nothing illegal about this. Peter.” He took a sip of his drink. “They’d have to admit they were here, too. Plus, for some, this is the one place that they can be themselves without fear.”
“You have a point.” Peter wondered whether he fell into that category or whether he should be afraid of what might transpire as the night progressed.
“Let’s go get our seats. The band’s ready to start.”
Peter followed Neal into the small lounge and they sat at a small table in the back. A server placed a small platter of hors d'oeuvres on their table and poured them sparkling water.
“I promised our chef that I’d try some of his new recipes.” Neal motioned to the food. “I hope you don’t mind being a guinea pig.”
Peter considered the display. The food looked wonderful and smelled even better. “Not at all. You just need to tell me what everything is.”
“I can do that.” Neal smiled, picked up a piece, and held it out to Peter. “This is a Smoked Salmon Crostini.” Peter moved to take it but Neal held it just out of reach. “No – taste it.” He touched it to Peter’s lips.
Instinctively Peter opened his mouth and let Neal slide the creation in. The flavors burst against his tongue as Peter felt the brush of Neal’s fingers against his mouth.
“Good?” Neal smiled at Peter’s nod.
Taking a drink of water, Peter cleared his palate. “Really good. Put that on the menu.”
“Consider it done.” Neal took another piece and this time Peter didn’t hesitate to take a bite. Beef this time.
The band began, playing a counterpoint to their dance at the table. Neal kept coaxing him to try different items, teasing him about expanding his horizons. Peter’s glass never seemed to be empty, the sparkling water being replaced by wine, then cognac.
The music was wonderful, the food was delicious but throughout the evening Peter’s mind kept wandering back to the staircase – where it led, what was happening upstairs.
He tried to squelch the thoughts, but they kept sneaking in. He imagined bodies writhing, sliding against each other. Moans of desire slipping past lips tasting skin.
He imagined Neal naked, up against a wall, his hands on Peter’s face while he sucked Neal’s cock.
“Peter?” Neal’s voice intruded into his fantasy. “Are you okay? You look flushed.”
“I’m fine. Just thinking.” Peter didn’t want to tell Neal what he was thinking.
Neal smiled as if he knew. “A writer’s job is never done, right?”
“Something like that.” Peter turned his thoughts to the music and was surprised when band wrapped up the number and began to tear down. Looking around, he realized they were the only ones left in the lounge. He checked his watch – 2 a.m. “Wow, I didn’t realize it was so late.”
“You were relaxed,” Neal replied as he sipped his drink. “It looks good on you.”
“Thanks.” Peter watched the drummer dismantle his kit. “So…what now?”
“Now?” Neal put down his drink and stood. “Now I was going to ask you if you’d like to come upstairs with me.”
“Upstairs?” Peter’s mouth dried up. Walking up the staircase with Neal. Entering one of those rooms….
“My apartment’s on the top floor and I don’t want the evening to end quite yet.” He held out his hand to Peter.
“Oh.” Peter was relieved and disappointed. Taking Neal’s hand, he let himself be pulled out of the chair.
“Did you think I meant one of the playrooms, Peter?” Neal stepped behind him. “Because if that’s what you want…” His voice caressed Peter’s ear and he felt the pressure of Neal’s fingers trailing their way across the front of his pants. Teasing his cock half hard before he took Peter’s hand again.
“Yes…No…I don’t know.” The words slipped out before Peter could stop them.
Neal didn’t reply. He started walking backwards, Peter’s hand in his. Out of the lounge, to the base of the staircase where he stopped, one foot on the first stair.
“It’s your choice, Peter.” Neal locked their gazes. “It’s always been your choice.”
Peter stared at Neal - taking in his beauty, his intelligence, his darkness. Peter wanted it. God, how he wanted it. Wanted him. Wanted to fuck Neal, be fucked by Neal. Peter wanted to surrender completely and see where it took him.
Still holding Peter’s hand, Neal turned and led him, step by step, up the stairs into the darkening shadows.
The atmosphere was cooler on the upper floor. Blues and silvers graced the walls and thick carpeting muffled their footfalls as they passed by the closed doors.
They climbed higher, the second set of stairs to the third floor. It was darker again – blue-shaded table lamps casting shadows on the walls, on their faces. Neal glanced back at him, silent. Peter wanted to speak but he was afraid that the sound of his voice would break whatever spell was being woven.
Peter was exhilarated and terrified all at once. He had no idea what was going to happen and for the first time in a long time, that was what he wanted. To react. No planning, no scheduling – just acting on impulse.
Neal paused before a deep blue lacquered door. “I want to show you something, Peter, if you’ll let me.” His voice was low, in keeping with the hush that was enveloping them.
Peter’s brow furrowed. Show him something?
“You can say no. Remember, you’re the one in control.” Neal’s hand was on the doorknob, his eyes on Peter. “I just want you to understand.”
“Okay.” Again, Peter’s words skipped ahead of his brain.
Neal opened the door. The room was dark, one low lamp in the corner casting just enough light to make out the furniture. Couches and chairs were facing a curtained wall. There was nothing else.
“I don’t…what do you want me to see, Neal?” Peter was confused.
“This.” Neal must have pressed a button because the curtain slowly parted to reveal a window into the next room.
Peter caught his breath. On the bed were a man and a woman. They were in shadow but it was obvious what was happening. The woman was cuffed to the headboard, her hair obscuring her face. The man had his head between her thighs, his dark hands marking her pale skin.
Peter couldn’t tear his eyes away as they undulated on the bed. He was not into women, but her wantonness was affecting him. “Neal…” His voice was hoarse and his cock was growing hard. “Why…?”
“Because this is a part of you, Peter.” Neal was behind him, hands caressing Peter’s arms. “I knew from the first time we met that you had this in you.”
Neal’s hands moved to Peter’s shirt, unbuttoning it slowly. “Look at them. They are beautiful, aren’t they?”
Peter nodded. He watched the couple through the glass as Neal slowly stripped him of his shirt. They were gorgeous. The man caressing the woman’s nipples as he rubbed his dick against her thigh, her back arching to meet his fingers.
Neal mimicked them, caressing and pinching Peter’s nipples until they were hard and aching. “Can you tell that she likes it, Peter?”
Peter gasped out a ‘yes.’ Neal pulled him back so they were molded together.
“What about you, Peter? Do you like it when I play with your nipples like that?”
“Yes.” He gasped again.
“Tell me, Peter. Tell me what you like.” Neal rolled a nipple between his fingers and Peter moaned.
“I like it when you play with my nipples.” Peter blushed. He’d never said anything like that out loud before.
“Good. I want to hear you tell me what you like.” Neal skated his hand down towards Peter’s waist. “Especially when I fuck you, Peter. I want to hear every moan and whimper when I open you up to take me. I want to know when I hit that spot inside you. I want to hear you scream when you come for me.”
Oh God Peter almost lost it right then.
“Look at the window, Peter. They know we’re watching. We don’t want to disappoint them.” Neal unzipped him and reached in to caress his dick. Painstakingly slow, Peter felt Neal’s hand move up and down, rubbing his cockhead, massaging his balls.
The man was kneeling between the woman’s legs, his cock hard and slick. Peter moaned at the sight of him flipping her legs up onto his shoulders before he thrust into her.
“You want that, Peter?” Neal ground his erection in the cleft of Peter’s ass. “Want to feel me deep inside you?”
“Yes, god yes. Please!” Peter was panting, his eyes locked on the couple through the glass. He couldn’t look away. Neal didn’t want him to. “Want you inside me, Neal.” Moments later he was out of his leather pants and Neal was pushing him up against the window.
“Spread your legs, Peter.” Neal’s voice was in his ear; the words spiraling want and need throughout his body.
Peter did, feeling Neal’s jeans rub against him, before Neal was all over him. Neal slid his fingers, coated with lube, in and out of Peter. Stretching him, ghosting over his prostate, sending sparks of desire directly to Peter’s cock. Peter babbled his want, begging Neal to fuck him with his fingers, pleading with him to make him come with his cock. Neal’s hand kept pumping him, keeping him hard as he thrust a third finger into Peter’s hole.
“That’s it, Peter. Open up for me.” Dark and low, Neal whispered the debauched things he wanted to do to Peter. And Peter knew he would let him. He knew he would let Neal do anything to him.
Peter let out a whimper as Neal’s fingers disappeared, leaving him abandoned, empty.
“Patience.” The sound of Neal’s zipper elicited an almost Pavlovian response as Peter’s cock twitched.
Peter felt the head of Neal’s erection press against him, probing, until he popped through and slid home.
“Oh God…so good,” Peter whined.
Neal filled him. His thickness, the burn – it was better than Peter had imagined. He was split open, taken, owned. He lost himself, reveling in the feeling of Neal inside him, finally fucking him.
Peter loved the rasp of Neal’s jeans and the bite of the zipper against his ass cheeks as Neal pounded deeper and deeper into him. Time stopped. It was just Neal’s cock thrusting in and out of him, rocking them against the glass. Neal’s hand stroking Peter’s dick. Neal’s mouth laying kisses on his neck. Peter’s head dropped and he closed his eyes.
“Eyes up, Peter. They’re going to come.” Neal snapped his hips and repeatedly bottomed out in Peter’s ass.
With a moan, Peter focused on the window. The woman arched up, her mouth open in a cry that Peter couldn’t hear but could imagine. The man sped up, then stilled as he came.
Peter wanted to come with them, but Neal had his hand squeezing the base of Peter’s cock. “I’m not done with you yet, Peter.” He slowed his thrusts, teasing Peter by pulling almost all the way out, then inch-by-inch, sliding back in until he was seated all the way.
The man released the woman from her restraints, brushing her hair from her face as he kissed her. She turned towards towards the glass and Peter could finally see her face. He gasped, chills flowing down his spine. He knew that face. Had seen it every day for over ten years.
“Elizabeth?” His mind refused to accept that he had just witnessed his assistant and best friend have sex.
He saw Elizabeth stretch and look directly at him as if the glass were not there. Peter couldn’t believe what he saw – her eyes, glowing blue. She smiled knowingly, touched herself and licked her lips.
He had to get out of there. His mind was trying to override the pleasure he was feeling and kick in the flight response. Peter struggled until he felt the scrape of Neal’s teeth against his skin. Not teeth – fangs. “Let me go!”
“I can’t, Peter. You belong to me.”
“Yes. Now and forever.” Neal whispered into Peter's ear. “‘I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul’.” He licked the side of Peter’s neck as he continued to thrust into him. “You are my dark thing, Peter. And I do love you…”
He bit down and Peter screamed. Pain radiated throughout his body, warring with his need. He bucked into Neal’s hand as he fought to get away, but Neal had him trapped against the glass.
The agony spiraled, mixing with Peter’s arousal as he barreled towards the cliff – egged on by the pressure of Neal’s teeth in his neck, sucking Peter’s life from his vein, his fingers squeezing Peter’s erection, moving faster and faster, his cock shoving into Peter’s ass, hammering his prostate with each thrust.
Peter tried again to break free, but there was no way out. Neal had him ensnared. He felt his orgasm rise up, plunging him over the edge, into the void.
The game was over and there was no second place. Neal had won.
Peter gave in, gave up, shooting hot and fast over Neal’s hand, waves of dizziness overcoming him. He sagged to the ground, his legs giving way.
The last thing he remembered was the copper taste of his blood on Neal’s lips.
A steady beep pulled Peter from unconsciousness. At first he thought it was his alarm clock, but upon further consideration he realized it wasn’t the right sound.
In fact, none of the sounds were right. No creaking of the house as it settled, no scraping of the tree outside his window, no rush of the cars as they drove past his home.
He opened his eyes and found himself staring at a nondescript ceiling made up of acoustic tiles. As he turned his head, the pain that sliced behind his eyeballs almost made him vomit. Blearily, Peter could see medical equipment next to the bed. A heart monitor – the source of the beeping sound – and a stand with a saline bag hanging from it, plus some other machines that he couldn’t identify.
Breathing shallowly through his mouth to dispel the nausea, Peter made the connection that he was in a hospital room.
He just didn’t know why.
He tried to recall the last thing that happened to him. He remembered working on the book, Elizabeth leaving early for her evening out, going upstairs to get ready for his date with Neal, then…blurs.
Looking past the equipment, he saw Elizabeth asleep in a chair nearby. He tried calling to her, but his throat wouldn’t seem to work. He must have made some noise because her eyes flew open.
“Peter! You’re awake!” She was next to him before he had a chance to register that she’d moved. “I was so worried.” She took his hand, her fingers warm against his skin. Peter tried to talk again and again nothing happened.
“Let me get the nurse.” Peter watched as Elizabeth stepped out for a moment, returning with a cup and a petite blonde in her wake. “They said you can have ice chips. The doctor will be here soon.”
“Hi, Peter. My name’s Amanda. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up.” Amanda smiled at him. “I’m going to check your vitals, and see if we can raise the bed so you can have some of those ice chips, okay?”
Peter nodded, motioning for Elizabeth to give him the cup. He needed to have his voice so he could ask what the hell had happened to him.
Amanda moved efficiently around the bed, checking Peter’s pulse and his blood pressure, then raising the head of the bed so he could sit up.
“Here you go.” Elizabeth held out the cup. Spooning a few chips into his mouth, Peter felt like he’d died and gone to heaven as the ice slid down his throat. He coughed, clearing the last of the dryness.
“What…what happened?” His voice was still a scratchy whisper.
“What do you remember?” Elizabeth’s face was serious.
“Not much.” Peter swallowed more chips. “We were in the office working and then you needed to go get ready for your evening. I stayed a bit later to finish up and then headed to my bedroom to dress for my date with Neal. After that...just bits and pieces…”
He trailed off at Elizabeth’s expression.
“El, what’s wrong?”
“Peter,” she paused, a concerned look on her face. “ - who’s Neal?”
“What do you mean, ‘who’s Neal’?” Peter didn’t understand what she was asking. “Neal Caffrey - the guy I’ve been going out with. The one you’ve nagged me about. He owns that club on Riverside you were interested in. I had a date with him Saturday. We went…we went…”
He couldn’t remember. Thinking desperately, all he could come up with was murky images of dark rooms, writhing bodies, blue eyes.
“Peter,” Elizabeth’s voice was low. “You’ve been unconscious in the hospital for almost a week. I found you passed out on your kitchen floor Sunday morning.”
“What?” That didn’t make sense. “No, it was evening. Saturday. I was getting ready to go to Neal’s club. l’appel Du Vide. 78 Riverside Drive.” He knew he was repeating himself, but he had to get Elizabeth to believe him. “You teased me because I was wearing leather pants.”
He swore that’s what happened. He remembered it, so it had to have happened – right?
“Peter, there’s no club at 78 Riverside Drive.” The gentleness in Elizabeth’s voice was almost his undoing. “It’s been a private art gallery for over a year.”
“No! Neal owns it. It’s a BDSM club. You wanted to go and I kidded you about being kinky.” Peter was getting agitated. “And you met Neal, at my house. He came over for dinner and sucked whipped crème off your finger. You met him!”
“Peter, you need to calm down…” Elizabeth began, but Peter cut her off.
“Tell me you remember!” He was shouting but he didn’t care. She had to remember…
“I can’t, Peter, I’m sorry. I’ve never met anyone named Neal Caffrey.” Elizabeth put her hand on his, but he shook her off. Peter didn’t want her touching him if she was going to lie to him.
“You’re lying.” He voiced the thought in his head. “El, how could you lie to me?”
“Peter, listen to me! I’m not lying! I found you unconscious on the floor. You were so pale I thought you were dead.” There were tears in Elizabeth’s eyes. “The doctors said you were suffering from traumatic blood loss, but they had no clue why. They said if I had come over that afternoon like I’d planned, it would have been too late.”
Her words shocked him. Blood loss…traumatic…too late… He was trying to make sense of what she was saying, but the understanding wouldn’t come.
“I was so scared, Peter.” A small sob escaped her. “I thought I’d lost you.”
“I’m sorry.” He whispered the words. “I’m sorry, El. Please don’t cry.” He took her hand and squeezed it.
They sat in silence, Peter thinking about what she’d said and trying to rationalize it with what he knew in his gut to be true. They were not syncing up.
“Tell me about Neal, Peter.” Her statement took him by surprise.
“Neal – tell me about him.” She sat back and looked at him. "For some reason you think you went out with this man and that I’ve met him. Tell me and let’s see if we can’t figure out what’s going on.”
Peter wasn’t sure if she was serious or just humoring him but maybe if he said the words out loud, the universe would right itself and things would be as he knew they should be.
“I – I spilled coffee on him when I went to the café to get us coffee. He invited me for dinner.” Faster and faster, the words tumbled out of him. Peter described Neal – his hair, his eyes, how he dressed. He told her about dinner at Peter Luger’s, Neal’s car, dancing in his living room. He told her about her reaction to Neal, the club, and how she encouraged Peter to go out with him even though Peter was hesitant.
He even told her about Neal kissing him and the dreams.
“He’s real, El. Right?” Peter wanted Elizabeth to confirm it. “Please tell me he’s real.”
“Oh, hon, I wish I could.” She wouldn’t look at him as she spoke. It disturbed him. After all the years they had known each other, Peter could tell when Elizabeth was hedging.
“What, El. You know something.”
She bit her lip, pausing before she spoke. “Peter, your description of Neal? That’s Nicholas.”
“Nicholas?” Peter had no clue who she meant until she spoke.
“Your character. Nicholas Halden. From the new book you’re working on.”
Nicholas Halden. The main character in his new book. Who he based on Neal – didn’t he?
“And those dates?” She picked up her purse from the floor. “Let me show you something.”
She pulled out her planner and her Blackberry. Flipping to a page in the book she handed it to him. Pushing a few buttons on her phone, she turned the screen so he could see it. Both items had a Tuesday night listed as a meet and greet hosted by their publishing house with the driver picking him up at seven. “You were really excited because they sent a convertible BMW instead of one of the ‘stuffy Town Cars’.” She made air quotes.
“Flip to Friday.” She changed the date on her Blackberry and handed it to him. “That night you scheduled a lesson at the house from a coach from Dance Manhattan. You said you wanted to possibly use swing dancing as a backdrop for the new book in your paranormal series.”
It was all there in black and white. His book, the appointments, Nicholas Halden. Neal - easily explained away.
“You must have been dreaming while you were unconscious.” Elizabeth spoke quietly but firmly. “I’m sorry, Peter. But Neal isn’t real.”
“No…no…” It wasn’t true. Neal wasn’t a character in his book. He wasn’t a dream. Peter had met him, touched him, kissed him….
He looked into Elizabeth’s eyes and started to shake. Cold filled his chest and he couldn’t breathe. The machines started wailing, alarms going off everywhere. Suddenly, the room was filled with doctors and nurses shouting about his heart rate and yelling for sedatives.
They held him down while a nurse injected something into his IV. The last thing Peter registered before the blackness sucked him under was a pair of sapphire blue eyes.
October – A year later.
The Strand was packed for the signing of Peter’s new book. Customers were lined up at the registers, credit cards in hand, to purchase a copy. Between the Shadow and the Soul was rapidly becoming his best-selling book to date. It wasn’t what he had originally planned to write, but after his stint in the hospital, it came pouring out of him.
“My hand is cramping.” Peter muttered the comment under his breath then turned on a smile for the next person in line. “And who do I make this out to?”
“Jenny.” The twenty-something blonde giggled as she stood with her girlfriends. “This is my second copy. I just had to meet you.”
“Thank you.” Peter scribbled her name and a few sentences and handed her the book.
“Can I get my picture taken with you? Please?” Another giggle.
“Sure.” Peter stood up and put his arm around her shoulder. Getting in position for the shot, his eyes widened when he felt her grab his ass. God only knows what that picture looked like, he thought as the camera phone flashed.
The girl leaned up, whispered in his ear, and handed him a piece of paper before Elizabeth ushered her away.
“You okay?” Her voice was concerned. “What did she say?”
“Something that’s not repeatable in public and would probably put me in traction.”
“Oh wow! You have to tell me!” Elizabeth looked pleadingly at him.
“Maybe later.” Peter looked at the line of people. “We need to get through this first.”
“Then drinks?” Elizabeth checked her watch. “We’re done at five and I’m going to need alcohol.”
“Oh definitely!” Sitting back down, Peter smiled at the next person. “Hi there. Who should I make this out to?”
Three hours and one major hand cramp later, the line was down to about half a dozen people. Peter was bleary-eyed and his throat was hoarse from the constant talking.
Taking a drink from the bottle of water Elizabeth had gotten him, he turned to the next person in line.
“So who can I make this out to?” Peter repeated for the umpteenth time, not really paying attention to the figure in front of him.
“Neal Caffrey.” The reply was soft and dark.
Peter’s head shot up. Standing in front of him was a slim man dressed in black slacks and a green corduroy button-down shirt. Wavy brown hair framed chiseled cheekbones and sky-blue eyes. Eyes that Peter swore he’d seen before.
“I’m a big fan.” The man held out a copy of Peter’s newest book. “I’ve read everything you’ve written. But I think this one is my favorite.”
Peter stared. He knew this man, he could feel it. He just didn’t know from where. Searching his memory, he found gauzy images that slipped out of his grasp into the ether.
“Peter!” Elizabeth’s hiss pulled him out of his thoughts. Mentally shaking himself, he realized that the man – Neal – was patiently waiting for him to take the book.
“Sorry.” Peter opened the front cover. “It’s Neal, right?”
“Yeah.” Neal smiled at him.
“So what did you like about the story?”
“The darkness.” Neal’s voice dropped in volume and Peter needed to lean in to hear him. “The way you described the main character’s slide into what some might perceive as madness was riveting.”
Peter shivered at Neal’s tone. It stirred something in him that was dangerous yet familiar.
“Plus the sensuality between Nick Halden and Alistair Stone was incredible.” Neal was right at the edge of Peter’s bubble, leaning in to his comfort zone but not invading it. The scent of his cologne coupled with something dusky underneath wrapped around Peter, making him hungry, but not for food. “I have to admit, it kept me up at night.”
Peter blushed at the implication. He knew there was no reason to – hell, he wrote those scenes. But hearing Neal’s voice hinting at getting off to his words sent tingles of lust straight to his cock.
“I…uh…I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Peter finished signing the book and handed it back. He looked for Elizabeth. He needed to get some air. To get away from this man that was affecting him.
“Mr. Burke?” Neal was still in front of him. “I know I’ll have to wait in line again, but would you consider signing another copy for my assistant? She’s a big fan as well.”
No! Peter’s brain was shouting the denial as he replied. “I’d be happy to.”
“Thank you! She’ll love it!” Neal picked up a book from the table. Peter watched him head over to the register and tried not to admire the way he walked or the curve of his ass.
Elizabeth, however, had no compunction in expressing her opinion. “Damn, Peter,” she whispered in his ear. “He’s sex on legs!”
“El!” Peter hissed back. “Not in front of the fans.”
“But he is! You need to go after that.”
“Oh my God, will you be quiet?” Peter tried to shush her and smiled apologetically at the older lady standing at the table. “Um…who do I make this out to?”
“Harriet. And I’m with her,” the lady said. “He’s hot. You should tap that.”
Peter wanted to crawl under the table and disappear. “Uh, thank you for coming,” he said weakly as he handed the lady her book.
He could hear Elizabeth sniggering behind him. “See, even the fans think you should go there.”
“Not funny, El.” Peter greeted the next fan and signed another book.
“He’s in line again,” Elizabeth informed him. “You should ask him out.”
“El.” Peter didn’t want to be having this conversation in the middle of The Strand. “Keep your voice down.”
“Seriously, Peter, you haven’t dated in forever.” Elizabeth put a hand on his shoulder. “Ask him out. If you don’t, I’ll do it for you.”
If you don’t, I’ll do it for you.
Peter froze. Elizabeth had said the same thing to him once before. He knew the words but couldn’t remember the context. The hair on the back of his neck rose.
“Hi.” Neal was back, book in hand. “Thank you again for this. June will be so thrilled.” He handed Peter the novel. “She loves the Neruda quote you used for the title.
Neal’s voice was smoky as he quoted “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
Peter almost dropped the book. His head spun and his equilibrium wasn’t working. Dimly he could hear Elizabeth asking if he felt okay. Closing his eyes, he breathed shallowly until the dizziness passed.
“Yeah, I think so.” He lifted his head and looked at her. “I think I need to eat something, though.”
“There’s a deli on the corner.” Neal offered the information in a quiet, concerned voice.
“You know, that sounds perfect.” Peter signed his name and handed the book back to Neal. “Are you hungry?”
Neal’s smile lit up the room. “I could use a bite.”
“How about coming with me? I swear I won’t pass out on you.”
“Promise.” Peter grabbed his coat. “El, can you take care of this?”
She grinned and kissed his cheek. “Of course, don’t I always?”
“I’d be lost without you.” Peter rounded the table. “Shall we?” He bowed slightly to let Neal go ahead of him. As they left the bookstore, he asked, ”So Neal, what do you do for a living?”
“I run a small art gallery…”
Absorbed in their discussion, neither man paid attention to the black cat that darted across their path and then stopped and hissed.
It ran to the entrance to the bookstore and yowled, demanding to be picked up by the woman standing at the door. Scooping the feline up, she nuzzled its fur for a moment. The cat meowed, its tone questioning.
“Oh no.” Elizabeth smiled, her blue eyes beginning to glow. “I think it’s going exactly as we planned.” She scratched to cat under its chin and asked, “So Teddy, are you in the mood for some salmon?” The cat chirruped. “Of course it’s Wild Atlantic.” Laughing delightedly, she turned and went back into the store.