Darius stood in the threshold of October’s expansive library, watching her from the shadows where the streams of light from the morning sun did not reach. She was leaned back in the overly-sized, leather executive chair, her legs in skintight jeans propped atop the surface of her large, cherry-finished desk, flipping through a Girls & Corpses magazine. Not a hint of worry troubled her beautiful, porcelain features, not a hair out of place. She looked far from someone waiting patiently for a visit from a marksman. Vlad Adare had arrived promptly and was waiting in the foyer – black hair slicked back, three-piece Italian suit, briefcase, polished leather shoes and all. When Darius invited him inside, he got the impression Vlad was a cocky son-of-a-bitch and overly confident of his abilities. Sometimes that was a good thing. Sometimes, though, it could mean lethal mistakes being made. Darius didn’t want someone working for October who could make those kinds of mistakes. Unfortunately, the decision was ultimately hers alone. However, he knew how thoughtful and calculating she could be when presented with any given situation. He’d known that the very moment she hired him. His breath quickened as suddenly the vision of October before him changed, and she was wearing black, lacy lingerie, her skin oiled and glistening as she sat on the corner of the desk and leaned back, spreading her legs, the cords in her inner thighs pronounced as she showed him the way to Paradise. Her hair spilled over her shoulders to lay on her flat, defined stomach and her face was a seductive lull of primal lust. Her plump, shimmering lips moved slowly and his name as it came from her luscious mouth was irresistibly enticing. The vision was broken when the October of reality felt his eyes on her and lifted her head, her brows furrowed in inquiry.

“Yes, Darius?” she asked softly, her voice resonating throughout the large room. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple and he clasped his hands together tightly to conceal their trembling. She frowned, and he cleared his throat, finding his voice.

“Madame, Mr. Adare is here for your appointment.” She swung her legs off the desk and stood, tossing the closed magazine onto the desk’s surface.

“Splendid,” she said, smiling. She walked toward him and he noticed all the while the way her jeans laid over her hips, how her black spaghetti-strap shirt shifted back and forth over her midriff with each step, how her supple breasts bounced when she walked. He stepped back and she brushed past him, the soft thump of her soft-soled shoes marked her eager trek to the foyer where she found Vlad waiting, already facing her, his stoic face giving her pause, but she didn’t let it show. Standing before him she held her hand out palm down and Vlad, without setting that damn briefcase down Darius noticed with narrowed eyes, took her hand in his, raising her prim hand to his mouth, kissing her knuckles softly with his lips. His eyes were locked on Darius who was fuming at another man’s lips on his mistress. She was anything but. However, he had begun creating a world only he and October lived in, one in which this extravagant mansion, the extravagant secret business was theirs. For some reason, though, he decided to play the part of the submissive butler and October was the dominant sadist and businesswoman. And they didn’t have sex, except for in his head.

“Miss Thorne, a pleasure to meet you,” Vlad said, his voice very masculine and deep voice very softly accented in Russian. October studied his fairly young face and it all fit – his eyes, cheeks, nose, chin and jawline were prominently sharp and pronounced and his eyes were a shocking blue, even against his pale skin. Overall, his features and demeanor were hard, hinting at a life of wisdom born of pain. However, his carriage and seeming nonchalance hinted at an egotistical dickhead attitude. She cocked an eyebrow – she was quite intrigued.

“Charmed, I’m sure,” she said as she dropped her hand, a knowing smile curving her perfect lips. “Shall we conduct our business in the parlor?” she asked, gesturing to it just behind him. With a quick glance to Darius, she added, “Bring our drinks there, will you?” He cast one last look at Vlad, then nodded curtly before extracting himself. Vlad followed October into the parlor, examining the room as he and October seated themselves across from each other on matching Rococo sofas, a large cast-iron fireplace standing over four feet tall to their right. Scattered wall sconces and the sunlight struggling to peek past heavy French Victorian curtains. October already had her materials ready close at hand and wasted no time spreading several photos of Francesca atop the marble turtle top table between them. Vlad set his briefcase down carefully beside him and leaned forward, picking up a picture in each hand, holding them up to study them in the low light.

“Her name is Francesca Sinclair,” she said as Darius entered with a large silver tray carrying a crystal decanter halfway filled with brandy and a couple of snifters. He set it on the side of the table not currently being used and poured October a drink, then left before offering Vlad a drink. The exchange did not go unnoticed to October. She licked her lips and offered Vlad an apologetic smile. Vlad traced Darius’s deliberately slow exit with his narrowed eyes. “I apologize. He isn’t used to… this type of company.” She glanced to the entry of the parlor, but Darius had already disappeared so she poured Vlad’s drink herself. Clearing her throat, she settled back into the sofa and continued. “I think I’d prefer her to die painfully. Yes,” she said softly, seeing Vlad’s flat expression as he looked up from the photos at her. “Slowly and painfully. Before you finish her off, I want you to tell her she should never have crossed October Willow Thorne.” October smiled, her eyes unfocused as she imagined the scene. She sipped her brandy, then swirled it in her glass. “And, of course, that is why you must make absolute sure she is dead before you, I don’t know, leave her residence, dump her body somewhere, whatever it is you do.”

“How will we arrange payment?” he asked, setting the two photos down and picking up the third to study it as well. “I will give you fifty thousand now and another fifty thousand after I can be sure she’s dead.” Vlad looked up at that, amusement in his eyes.

“Once you can be sure? I never leave a job unfinished.”

“I don’t intend to offend you, Mr. Adare. But I need concrete proof. I have too important a business to run and too many important clients to care for to simply take your word for it.” He set the photo back down on the table and leaned back, sniffing, his palms flatly on his lap. October sat regally, waiting for him to guide the conversation forward. After a few moments of total silence, he gestured with his hands and shoulders in a small shrug, an unappreciated smug look on his handsome face.

“So what do you propose? How can I provide you with proof?” October smiled a small, mysterious smile, one that did not go with her next words.  Had Vlad Adare not been a professional, he would have been appalled and utterly speechless.

“Bring me her head.”

He nodded slowly, pressing his lips together. This is one sadistic bitch.

“Bring you her head?”

“Yes. You have to agree that the best proof of her demise is to remove her head?” October sipped her brandy and Vlad, realizing he hadn’t yet touched his, followed suit, his eyes raising to the large painting hanging over the fireplace – it depicted a feminine skeleton crying streaming tears of blood, kneeling before a grave, a bouquet of roses in her skeletal hands. Waiting for her in the background was a skeleton gentleman in a tuxedo and top hat, his arm around the shoulders of a small skeleton boy. October set her snifter down on the table, following his eyes to the painting. She smiled grimly.

“Isn’t it beautiful? It’s a piece by Heather Calderon. Most definitely a favorite of mine.” He brought his attention back to her directly without answering. This woman wants a severed head… He studied her face, stricken by her beauty… and by her thirst for the blood of her adversary. It was no business of his. She was paying him to complete a job. But he had not often dealt with individuals as sick as she. Oftentimes, when someone desired a body part, they simply just did the evil deed themselves, cutting out the middleman. But he could see she was indeed very serious. Tossing his manners to the wind, he tossed his head back and finished his drink all at once. Setting it back on the table, he interlaced his fingers, leaning forward and resting the flat of his arms on his legs.

“Fine. I will… bring you her head.” She smiled widely, her eyes not betraying her thoughts, and his gut twisted.

“Magnificent!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands in fast succession. She sighed and touched a hand to her chest, as if she had the vapors, a faint blush touching her cheeks. “This is the first time I’ve put a hit out on anyone! My, how exciting!”

Hiding his amusement, he collected the photos of Francesca she had provided and slipped them into his briefcase. “Though in my opinion it needn’t be said, for your benefit, I will say it anyway. I am very good at what I do, Miss Thorne. I take all necessary precautions and do a very thorough cleanup once the target expires, which includes proper disposal of the murder weapon, post-murder maintenance of the crime scene or scenes, depending on what is involved in the elimination of the target, and the erasure of fingerprints. For my safety and yours.”

“’Post-murder maintenance’? I like that.” She stood and wandered to the threshold, where the foyer met the parlor, and called to Darius. Her voice was like a song, settling over him like soft, tumbling rose petals covered in fresh dew, comforting him like a hushed lullaby to a newborn. When he appeared, she gestured with her fingers for Vlad to join them. Their meeting was almost at a close. “Darius, please bring Mr. Adare’s front money to him and see him out.” She turned to Vlad, offering him her hand again. This time, however, he shook it curtly. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Adare. I look forward to seeing you again,” she said in a sultry voice, a brow cocked and her eyes flashing excitedly. Then she turned and retreated down an extensive hallway, her hips swaying as she floated away and into the shadows.