Bonella Jeremiah Harmm, or Bonnie to her family, friends, and fans, wiped away the blood and peered at the violet line left by her needle. Satisfied that the final pass of ink had penetrated the skin to an acceptable depth, she turned off the black light and smoothed cool and protective gel that would slow healing onto the width and breadth of the nearly invisible tattoo. When the final step was complete, she patted her client’s shoulder.
“Our work here is done.” She pushed herself back in the rolling chair and straightened her spine. The muscles between her shoulder blades cramped in surprise at the sudden movement. She had been hunched for hours, so engrossed in her work that she had not paid any attention to her posture in the small chair. Since the client was a VIP, Bonnie had driven out to the man’s house and her usual workstation—ergonomically designed with her lanky frame in mind—was miles away.
The client was, as well, reluctant to move, his own body still wading through a flood of endorphins brought on by the painful work done over the ribs of his flank. He moaned softly. His voice was muffled, his face stuffed into the hole of his personal massage table. “We good to go?”
“Good to go,” she confirmed. She pulled the myriad chopsticks from her hair and scratched her scalp with the tips of her fingers. She closed her eyes and rolled them beneath her lids while her black locks worked themselves free of bun-dage. Oh, yeah, she thought. That’s what I’m talking about. When she opened her eyes, she realized that her client had lifted to his elbows and was watching her moment of self-pleasure with rapt attention. She dropped her arms.
“Don’t stop on my account.” He displayed one of his sexy, heavily insured, and trademarked smiles.
“Speaking of accounts,” she said. “Time to balance yours.”
“You are undeniably hot when you talk business.” He pushed up from his elbows and swung his long legs off the table, leaving behind the towel that had draped his buttocks. The bottoms of his bare feet slapped on the cool hardwood floor. He stretched his arms above his head and groaned as the bones along his spine crackled like distant weapon fire. He twisted his torso one way and then the other to revive his drowsing muscles. When he was sure that he had her full attention, he paused to pop a pectoral/bicep combo for her viewing pleasure.
Bonnie realized that her gaze had become predatory. Time to look elsewhere, she told herself. Now. She snorted through her nose and turned away to start packing her equipment.
“What?” His offense sounded genuine. “You don’t like what you see?”
She snapped one latex glove off into the other and dropped the both of them on top of the bloody gauze in the portable HAZMAT box. She pumped a generous glob of anti-bacterial gel onto her left hand, rubbed it between her palms, and began to smear it up to her elbows.
“Sorry, Alarik,” she said, after she could trust that raw lust would not taint her voice. “I’m Team Howard.”
He gasped with half-feigned shock that she would choose his co-star over his own self. “The kid’s only seventeen years old!”
She laughed. “Howard is eternally seventeen. The actor’s like, what, twenty-two?”
“Oh, bummer,” she said, faking a pout. “That’s a bit old for my taste.”
He chuckled as he selected an article of clothing from the nearby stack. “Still younger than me.” He pulled his jeans up, commando-style. His fingers shook as he buttoned the fly. “Even my character is a thousand years older than his.”
Despite his ready laugh, she realized that her teasing had ruffled the man’s brilliant plumage. Sweet milk, Bonnie lamented. It was a joke. She felt stupid for choosing a topic that was no laughing matter for men in his position. At thirty-five, Alarik had another ten years of leading man stamina, if he ate right and kept on top of things (mainly women), but the kid who played Howard had another twenty. A decade in Hollywood had not completely buffed her rough edges and she cursed her north-coast origins. Time to soothe another fragile ego.
She leaned back in her chair and raked the man’s flesh with her gaze. She preferred men with dark hair and darker eyes but she was not completely immune to grey-eyed blondes. He was, without doubt, a prime specimen of the masculine sex. His shoulder-to-hip ratio ranked high on the Universal Virility Scale. His sun-starved skin did not speak of a life spent indoors. Instead, she could easily imagine him wrapped in furs, strapped with weapons, and surrounded by a wasteland of snow. Her heartbeat quickened, inspired by the growing intensity of her regard. Alarik did not move to put on his shirt and blood pinked his chest.
Heat, she thought. His body could keep more than one woman warm on a cold night.
He stood as still as prey. Where her eyes wandered, his blood rushed. When they reached his groin, he ran one hand down his abdomen and slipped his fingers behind the waistband of his jeans. He pushed down and out, exposing enough of the dark blonde trail and promising shadows to make her nipples tingle. She felt his eyes on her face. He was searching for an honest reaction and the slight parting of her lips for breath pleased him.
“I do not think that you are interested in boys,” he said. His native accent thickened and spiced the precise words. “I think that you prefer men.”
“That is-“ Her husky voice failed. She cleared her throat and spoke again. “That is why I married a man.” With some effort, she hefted her eyes to his face. “Married,” she said. “Me. To a man.”
“Just the one?” He pushed his hand deeper. “I find that hard to believe.“ His breath hitched when he touched the tip of his growing erection.
“Well, then.” She coughed and looked away. “I think we’re all good here. Are we all good here?” She stood and wiped her sweating palms on the hips of her jeans. His sexual psyche had been properly mollified and it was time for her to go. The interaction had her flustered and the slow burn in her womb threatened to ignite. “We’re all good here, right?”
He stepped forward, not close enough to touch without lifting a hand. He wanted her to feel the heat of him. She stared at his smooth chest to avoid his eyes and then snapped her gaze to the side.
“You tell me, hex witch,” he growled. “Are we good?” The term hex witch was often considered an insult but it felt as though she had been called a dirty name in the heat of passion.
Vows be damned, she thought, if he takes one step closer, I’m sunk…
He took one step closer. She decided to give in to her desire. She imagined the many ways she would take him, devour him, absorb him, and, because of those imaginings, her internal locking mechanisms slipped into place before she could even wet her lips for a kiss. Her loins cooled, her nipples flattened, and her pupils normalized. Her subtle panting ceased.
“Yeah,” she said, looking him square in the eye. “We’re good.” Her voice did not waver.
To his credit, Alarik recognized the change in her demeanor. He bowed his neck and took one step back to acknowledge the curtain that had dropped between them. Assured that her moment of weakness was over, Bonnie applied one more dollop of salve to his recovering ego.
“That hurt,” she said. “I think I broke something in my head shutting myself down like that. Please, don’t make me do that again.”
“My apologies.” He did not sound sorry.
She bent to the left and fumbled about until her hand found what she sought. She lifted the plastic cup between them. “And now, there is the matter of the non-refundable deposit.”
He frowned at the container. “I wish you’d let me make that part of the payment in a more… intimate fashion.”
“You’ve made that abundantly clear.” She pushed the cup against his bare chest. “Close the bathroom door behind you, please.”
“You’re whipped,” he said. “He has you wrapped around his dick.”
“Mitch is a territorial man.” She jerked her head in the direction of the bathroom. “Come on. Spill it so I can get out of here.”
“Obviously, it takes more than one man could satisfy a woman of your caliber.” He took the cup, avoiding her fingers. “Is Mitch technically monogamous as well?”
Years of practice kept a tight lid on her amusement at his assertion. “Mitch is a one-woman kind of guy and enough is enough.” She put her hands on his shoulders and turned him towards the bathroom. She placed a cold palm between his blades and pushed. “Go. Fill ‘er up, big boy.”
“We’re going to need a bigger cup,” he muttered as he walked away.
“That’s the spirit,” she called after him.
When the bathroom door closed between them, Bonnie let out a noisy breath to release the last lingering of heat their flirtations had inspired.
If I ever feel the need for a second husband, she mused, I’ll let him audition.
“I heard that,” he said from behind the bathroom door.
She flinched with genuine surprise. Then, she laughed. He had not heard her thoughts, only her dramatic sigh. “Concentrate on the task at hand,” she advised.
With Alarik temporarily distracted in the bathroom, Bonnie retrieved her uFlex™ from the back pocket of her jeans and snapped the device into consciousness. She expected the phone to chime new message alerts but she was surprised to hear it sing with an incoming call. The soft screen registered the name and frozen image of her personal assistant. Bonnie did not hesitate to accept. Dalyce was one of the select few who not only had her number but would also get an answer anytime, day or night.
“Hey, Dalyce,” Bonnie said. “Perfect timing, per usual. I just finished up with my client.”
“Talk louder,” Alarik called out. “The sound of your voice is helping.”
“Focus on your deposit,” she shouted over her shoulder and then turned her attention back to the phone. She plowed ahead with directives before the caller had a chance to speak. “Okay, first off, let Mitch know I’ll be at tomorrow’s venue around six-ish. He doesn’t need to send a car. Also, Patty is looking into a new source for UV ink and I want to do a little research first. Check on a company called LuminInk for me. Make sure no animals were harmed, no toxins spilled- yadda, yadda, yadda. You know the drill. Also, Grange called about booking an appointment. Check to see if there have been any cancellations and put him at the top of the waiting list. Call newer clients if you have to, in case any of them are willing to reschedule. Also, you have never let me talk this long before you start shouting over me. Do you need medical attention?” Her laugh was followed by a gap of silence. She spoke into it. “Dalyce? Do I need to call an ambulance?”
“Am I speaking with Bonella Jeremiah Harmm?”
The stranger’s voice and the use of her full name instantly put Bonnie on the defensive. “Who are you and why are you calling from this number?”
“Ma’am, this is Deputy Coroner Trevor Marks with the Humboldt County Coroner’s Office. Your assistant was unwilling to provide me with a direct number but she did agree to transfer my call. Am I speaking with Bonella Jeremiah Harmm?”
“My assistant would never cold-transfer a call. She values her job too much.” The emphasis was for Dalyce’s benefit. The woman should still be listening—and recording—if she were doing her job.
“I believe that she thought this might be a special circumstance,” the man advised. “Am I speaking with Bonella Jeremiah Harmm?”
She ignored his question, again. “Did you say you were with the Humboldt Coroner’s office?” Was he a rabid fanboy using his business connections to get in touch with her or her famous husband? Despite her misgivings, she chose a professional response just in case he was legitimate. “I’m afraid you’ve been provided with the wrong contact information. I no longer represent Harmm Hex & Funeral. If there’s been a death on the Ghost Coast, you need to call the head office directly.” She pulled the phone away from her face to thumb the disconnect icon but when she heard no protest from the caller, she put the phone back to her ear. His silence piqued her curiosity. He did not seem desperate to keep her on the line. “Do you need their direct number?”
“Am I speaking with Bonella Jeremiah Harmm?” He spoke in a slow and clear manner as though he thought she might be the former.
“Yes,” she finally snapped. “Yes, you are speaking with Bonella Jeremiah Harmm and now I’m going to have to change my number. You see, I sometimes get phone calls from crazy fans and that’s why I never answer a call from a number that I don’t recognize and, therefore, I am feeling a bit deceived by my assistant right now.”
“Ma’am, I can assure you that I am not a fan.” The man paused, perhaps to rethink the words he had just spoken, but then he moved forward without apology. “Are you the daughter of Eliday Louis Harmm and Jeremiah Elaine Harmm?”
The air left the room. She pulled the chair close and sat down just as her knees gave out. When she opened her mouth to speak, no breath was available. She wanted to tell the man, No, I am not their only child, as though the lie would work magic and excise this moment—and its potential repercussions—from her life. She knew that this man would rather not be speaking with her because they both knew what was coming next.
“Yes,” she whispered. Her voice was little more than the idea of sound.
“Ms. Harmm, I apologize for the inconvenience.” The cadence of his voice indicated that the ensuing words were written down in front of him. “Ms. Harmm, at 10:35 this morning, a California Highway Patrol traffic helicopter, on a routine patrol, spotted the wreckage of a blue 1967 Ford F-100, registered to Eliday Louis Harmm, in a ravine alongside a logging road in the King Range National Reserve. Rescue personnel were immediately dispatched to the scene but were unable to resuscitate the two occupants of the vehicle. Ma’am, I regret to inform you that the bodies have been identified by the Humboldt County Coroner’s office as belonging to Eliday Louis Harmm and her husband Jeremiah Elaine Harmm.”
The edges of her vision darkened. The bathroom door opened. The sound attracted her attention and she instinctively turned towards it.
Bonnie was sitting upright, her eyes were wide open, and she seemed to be looking in his direction, so Alarik shouted, “I’m coming!” and lobbed the cup across the room. The container hit her in the chest. The lid popped off and fresh cum spilled onto her jean-clad thighs.
“Bonnie?” Alarik asked. “Are you okay?”
She tipped sideways, her eyes still open, her vision completely dark.