12 May 2012 @ 10:52 pm

There’s a pretty dame that comes in. Her hair is longer than most choose to wear these days, shiny and lustrous with a natural wave, and smart, sensible clothes. Most women in here put too much effort into what they wear, considering that most of it ends up coming off later into the night. This one… No, she’s different. She walks right past him, not even a glance in his direction, and sits down at the bar. He doesn’t hear her order. He dares a glance back at her.

Smooth. Sleek. Reasonable. She’s not the usual around a place like this, and that intrigues him. A girl with a face and body like that comes out here looking for a good time, but she looks like she’s on a business trip. He listens without looking around at her from his personal booth, but cannot hear anything. Her face is turned away even when he does glance over, keeping him from a good look at her pretty face. Even when he sends someone over to talk to her and ask a few questions, they are met curtly and succinctly. They’re no match for Shasta, so they come back with empty hands. Generic drink, untouched. Only the standard amount of makeup, applied precisely. Nice voice, soft but with a bit of huskiness. She turned every one of them down.

She pulls a book out of her bag and begins to read. None of his lackeys can see the title. Still, she does not look over at him. He waits another hour and she has not yet left.

Shasta eases himself into the chair next to her and orders a scotch. The young woman does not look up from her reading. He hates to be the one to disrupt her, but…

“You’ve been waiting here for a while.”

She looks up at him. He anticipates the usual: a short moment of shock, dilation of pupils, flush spreading in cheeks, lips part, and then a reply.

She gives none of those. Her pupils have already dilated from reading in the club’s dim lighting, and the rest he is not shown. “Yes, I have.” They were right, but her voice is more than he imagined. It’s just the right amount of smoky and sweet. Her eyes are bright and intelligent, but he can’t tell anything about her personally by looking at her.

“What’s a pretty girl like you doing sitting here all by herself, then?”

“Waiting for something.” She answers evenly, staring him in the eye. Not a lot of people do that. There’s something in his gaze that repels them. They look everywhere but into his eyes.

“Know what you’re waiting for?”

“Now that it looks like my date’s a no-show, I guess not.” She still hasn’t touched her drink.

“Standing up a vision such as yourself? Why, that’s positively criminal.” He gives his most charming smile, and she doesn’t even bat an eye. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Lucille Shepard,” she replies.

“You, my dear Miss Shepard, are an odd bird. Do you know why that is? You sit here for two hours, and yet you did not glance my way even once.”

“Does it work for you? That trick, of calling a woman odd.”

Shasta chuckles. He likes this one. “What are you reading? If you don’t mind my asking.” She turns the book over so he can see the title. He smiles fondly. “Paradise Lost. One of my favourites. A classic, of course. Have you read it before, my dear?”

“Yes.” Cutting straight to the point, no embellishments, no elaboration. Well, she is a tricky one, isn’t she? He loves a good challenge.

“It is a rare thing to find such an intelligent, lovely young woman in an establishment like this. I would be absolutely honoured if you were to join me at my table. The men there look like a rough bunch, but they’re really decent fellows. What do you say?”

“I am afraid not,” she stands gracefully. “It isn’t really my crowd.” She sets a few bills on the table for the bartender and places her book back in her purse. “Thank you, though.”

 “Please,” Shasta’s hand skims hers, and he leans toward her before she can get very far. “Feel free to stop by at any point. I promise, I will make it worth your while.”

She stares at him levelly and then walks away.

* * *

The woman called Lucille is back in a week and three days. He had someone follow her home, but he found nothing suspicious about her. Regular apartment, regular associates, regular habits. Everything about her seems perfectly standard, but almost meticulously so, a person trying to maintain status quo to an obsessive degree. He loves a mystery, and that is what she is. It will not be an easy task for him to win her over, but he intends to do just that.

This time, he approaches her right away. “Another date?” He questions, sliding into the seat beside her.

“No. Waiting for something.” She turns her gaze on him, weighing him. His skin prickles pleasantly under her scrutiny.

Today, the atmosphere is particularly hazy. Everyone seems but a wisp of smoke, blown away by too heavy an exhalation. The music feels distant, the dancers vaporous. Conversation is vapid. She seems the only thing substantial in the club, while everything else wafts and orbits around him in a misty daze.

“Do you know what you are waiting for today?” Her stare is heavy. She is not trying to pick him apart, as he does with everyone else. He tries to do the same to her, but there is nothing to dismantle. She is solid, shielded.

“Maybe.”

“Perhaps,” he wets his lips, leaning in. “You will let me help you. If not to come sit with me, something of a little more intimacy.” She raises an eyebrow. “Not like that, my dear. I have quite the library at home. I would like very much if you could see my collection.”

Ah, there. A slight glimmer in her eyes. She’s interested, but he’s going to have to work to keep it.

“I don’t even know your name.”

He smirks. “See, I was hoping you would avoid those formalities. My name,” he holds a hand out for her. She slips hers, warm and calloused—he tries to read the patterns the calluses form to no avail—into his and he kisses her hand lightly. “Is Shasta Cassidy. You have likely heard of me in the papers. They make me out to be the bad guy, and well, I suppose I am. Are you terribly fond of a little danger, Miss Shepard?”

“If I had no tolerance for it, I would not have stayed when you said your name.”

Brilliant. “Then come with me, darling Lucille. We shall see what I can find for you.” Again, he tries his charming smile as he offers her an arm. She takes the arm but only gives a polite nod, and no smile.

Shasta tries everything he can think of. He brags about his riches, about his manors, about his power, about his travels and adventures and inventions and moments of heroism. She does not react to these at all. She maintains that same air of placidity and only gives an appreciative smile when they reach his personal library. He leads her to where he keeps the rare classics and leaves for a few minutes. The library is being heavily guarded, of course. Precautions must be taken. It was a test, really, to judge her.

When he returns, she is curled up in an armchair, reading Chaucer. He drapes a blanket over her and goes to find one of his personal favourites. It takes him a while, and this time when he returns to her, she is fast asleep. He gently removes the book from her hands, bookmarks her place, and has someone take her to a room. He is torn between showing off or giving her something that supposedly suits her. He places her in an elegant Baroque-style room, and writes her a little letter:

Princess Lucille,

I hope you will meet me for breakfast in the morning. Please bring the books. They are my gift to you. Perhaps we can discuss favourite authors over some tea and cakes?

-Not-so Prince Charming

From then on, it seems like she grafts herself into his life, and he doesn’t mind one bit.

* * *

She is fascinating, and she is new. He has to ask her questions. She replies, but never enough to reveal any more about herself. She is a secretive woman, and he respects that. He doesn’t pry.

A few months pass, and he finds that other women are too easy to read. They bore him, and he leaves them when he—they, more like—are finished, feeling unsatisfied. She sits down with him later and pours a cup of tea. It’s the first time he’s been inside her house, and he’s not surprised at what he sees. Bookshelves in almost every room, categorized neatly. The place is spotless; simple, but elegant. Just like her.

“What if I invited you to move in with me?”

She actually smiles. “I would love to.”

* * *

Lucille Shepard is his best friend. He laughs and smiles with her, and eventually admits to himself that he loves her. He is not one to deny the obvious.

He takes her on a trip to Greece, one day, on a whim. She takes off her shoes and walks barefoot along the beach; he takes her hand and whispers something into her ear.

Business calls when he gets back, particularly one of his lackeys who insists on being seen first thing. He says he has crucial information. Shasta sits and pours some brandy into a glass.

“What is it, my dear?”

He doesn’t believe the man at first. He sends the man out and reads over the documents.

The reality hits cripplingly hard.

Lucille Shepard does not exist.

* * *

He smiles at her as she enters his study, and she comes to stand in front of him, where he leans on the edge of his desk. He takes her hand, pulls her close and strokes her hair. “I’m glad you’re here, Princess Lucille,” His arm slips around her waist, and she leans into him. It feels so natural. He lightly kisses her temple and tucks her hair behind her ear. “Or should I say Luciette Springer?” His tone bites, but his lips brush her ear intimately. “Of the SIS. The agent who is trying to guarantee my arrest.”

He pulls back, his hand sliding up to her throat, where his fingers find purchase and grip tight. Her eyes meet his. “Luciette. It suits you, my dear. Tell me, did Bramley hand pick you? I know for certain that you did not lie to me about everything. Oh, I’m sure Bramley chose you because you weren’t fake, not like everyone else. You could get to me. But did you know, sweetheart,” the tone becomes bitter. “That I have grown to love you?” His fingers squeeze.

“And I you,” her eyes say. He hates that look. For some reason, she trusts him.

“But it changes nothing.” His fingers relax and he presses his forehead to hers. His eyes drift shut and he toys with a lock of her hair, leans forward and kisses her lips. “I would still kill you.”

“We’ll catch you,” she says softly.

Shasta smiles sadly. “You have destroyed me, woman.”

* * *

“How does it feel,” Ellis starts when he closes the first door and there is a stranger sitting at his kitchen table. No—half a stranger. “To have duped Shasta Cassidy?”

He has a gun on the table in front of him as he sips his tea. The few guns Ellis keeps around the house are on the kitchen counter. “I found out about your federal agent friend.”

Alarm. “Is she alright?”

“Quite,” he seems calm, but there’s something cold about every word and action. Ellis is rooted to the floor. Shasta Cassidy is sitting in his kitchen with a gun and a cup of tea, and he is angry. “I considered killing her, but that would be much too easy. I’ve come up with a different plan of action.”

“What’s that?” Ellis ventures.

“I’m turning myself in. I’ll confess all of my crimes. I will even admit to the ones Bramley is being convicted of… For a price.” Ah, there’s a catch. “You hand in your gun and badge. You never meddle in my business again. If I so much as see the back of your head after my arrest, you will die. I dislike being made a fool of, Mr. Wellington.”

“If I don’t agree to these terms?”

“I disappear with your pretty little agent.”

Shasta knows how to fall off the grid. He just likes to tease the police.

“I agree.”

“Good,” the man pushes a leaf of paper across the table. “This is the time and place. You had better be the one making the arrest.”

He stands and walks past Ellis, to the door.

“I’m sorry.”

“Save your sympathy. How would you feel if you found that Aidan was using you the whole time?”

“I would be heartbroken.”

“I didn’t think I had one of those, until Luciette.” He walks away.

Ellis feels no victory over winning the war with Cassidy.

* * *

It hurts more than he expected it would. It hurts even worse when she comes to visit him. No glass walls, no guards. She sits down beside him on the cot.

“Come to gloat?”

“To apologise.”

“I have an apology too. I’m sorry I fell for you.” He snorts. “My Delilah.”

“Someone has been trying very hard to get you out.”

“Who?”

“A Mr. Hunter and Mr. Druitt.”

“Will you come with me?”

“I’ll follow.”

“You’ll never catch me, you know.”

“Quite the opposite. I know you too well, and that is why I will catch you.”

“You could join me.”

“The criminal life isn’t for me.”

“It could be.”

She stands up and smiles at him. “It won’t.”

* * *

Matthew Hunter greets Shasta when he gets back.

“How would I go about turning a federal agent to the dark side?”

“I hear you need thirteen Aes Sedai.”

“What?”

“What?” Matthew looks equally confused.

“Do you think she’ll be back?”

“Think it? Shas, I know it. You have really queer taste in girls.”

“She isn’t just any girl.”


 

 
 
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