Beverly Hills, CA...
Marlene silently moved through the under-construction mansion like a ghost, her eyes sweeping The Covenant's contract workers efforts. They'd soon be done within the month. A new compound had been slapped together, a rush job, if ever she saw one, but oh so necessary. Everything seemed to be in order, going in accordance to the plans that she and Father Pat had specified, but it was still hard to relax. Her mind was keened, waiting for the next shoe to drop, the next crisis to occur. She closed her eyes and tried to center her entire being.
"Why don't we get out of here for a few hours?" Shabazz said quietly, coming into the kitchen from the deck. "I can't meditate in here with all the work crews rolling in and out... your nerves are shattered and the team can live without us for a while."
Marlene let out a long, weary sigh. "You're right. I just..."
"Go get a shower. Put on something light and comfortable. Let's go get some real tea, take a walk, eat, break the static charge connection to all this upheaval-okay?"
She allowed her eyes to drink in the warmth of his and then absorb Shabazz's dark, walnut hue and strong, regal features. Standing in the doorway with the brilliant early morning sun backlighting him, creating a silhouette of his frame, the gentle breeze billowing out his wide-legged gauze pantaloons and embroidered African shirt, Shabazz seemed like a tall standing stone-unmovable... unstoppable. His half smile said it all.
"I'll be down in less than twenty minutes," she said, turning away from him slowly. It was so hard to tear her eyes away from his; she'd almost forgotten how much so until this moment.
The way his power arc caressed her from across the room made her hurry down the hall and up the stairs. But she refused to open her third eye. It was so much more thrilling this way, not knowing exactly what he was up to, how he'd planned to spend the day with her or for how long and where.
Excitement and anticipation made her nearly run down the hall like a teenager. As soon as she got to their bedroom, she entered it quickly, shut the door, and then stripped off her robe and kicked off her slippers, enjoying the freedom of her nudity as she hunted for an outfit.
Within that private sanctuary she found a long, pale yellow cotton sheath with silk embroidered panels, her favorite matching black lace bra and panty set, and then dashed for the shower, clutching her essential oils... rosemary, lemon oil, a splash of jasmine water... yes!
* * *
This time she hadn't lied. Marlene was done and ready to go out with him within twenty minutes like she'd claimed; a rarity for the female species. Shabazz stood up from the living room sofa as soon as Marlene entered the room. Damn, she looked good. Anticipation roiled through him.
The pale, lemony color of her sleeveless dress against her gorgeous, ebony skin drew his slow appraisal... he loved the way the square neckline of the cotton garment was cut down low enough to expose a hint of her cleavage... multi-layered scents from the oils she'd blended wafted toward him... the satin sheen that glistened from her neck and arms and legs to die for... the split in the sides of the garment allowed a glimpse of thigh as she walked... her flat natural sandals laced at the delicate bones in her ankles... the way she'd added tortoise shell and ebony sticks to her hair to wind her locks up high like a silver crown was awesome.
She smiled a half smile. He smiled a half smile.
"You ready?" he asked, suppressing a small current that ran down his locks.
"Uhmmm, hmmm," she replied casually, but the glint in her eyes spoke volumes as they walked out of the house together.
"No purse, no keys?"
"I'm with you... do I need 'em?"
He laughed. "Nooo... not necessarily."
"I carry that huge black back all the time... figured, today, I'd leave it here."
He liked that and didn't say more. Theirs was an old dance, much like a paired stepper's set-easy, fluid, the moves were known, but that didn't take away from the familiar joy of it all.
"You leave a note?" she asked quietly, hopping into the Jeep as he opened the door.
"Under Mike's door like an express check-out hotel bill."
They both laughed. Shabazz slammed the Jeep door, issued her a wink, and rounded the vehicle to get in. He watched her watching him from the corner of his eye as he turned on the engine and then backed out of the driveway.
"You're a hard woman to surprise, Marlene Stone." He glimpsed her, allowing his gaze to lock with hers for a moment before returning his attention to the road.
"I didn't peek," she murmured.
"But you knew I was trying to get you out of the house."
She laughed hard. "I didn't need to be a seer to know that."
He laughed with her. "That obvious, huh?"
"Naaah... we've just known each other for a long time, 'Bazz."
He nodded and simply drove, allowing the companionable silence to fill in the blanks. There was something so serene in her composure, and at this point in his life, he understood that serenity was one of the universe's most sublime gifts. Just knowing that one was in complete sync with their partner, and that all the chit chat and idle banter wasn't necessary, soothed his ravaged soul.
Peering at her from a sidelong glance, his gaze washed over her regal profile. If anything ever happened to that woman...
Without saying a word, her warm palm landed on his thigh, infusing it with radiant heat, and stopping the negative trajectory of his thoughts.
"How many years we been together, Marlene?" He pulled up to a gated community and stopped to look at her.
"A full lifetime," she said quietly.
He nodded. "Yeah. It's been good."
"No," she said, now stroking his cheek. "It's been excellent."
He briefly closed his eyes and captured her hand, pressing a deep, warm kiss into the center of her palm. Without a word, he punched a code into the keypad and waited for the large, ornate iron gates to open.
"Now, I'm curious," she said, glancing around.
"No mental peeking. Like I said, you're a hard woman to surprise." A wash of blue static current ran off his locks, spilling onto his shoulders and running down his arms.
"How'd you keep that level of anticipation from me?" Marlene chuckled and allowed her palm to hover a fraction over his skin.
"Years of discipline," he said, chuckling as he stepped on the gas. There was no need to explain it, he wanted her bad.
* * *
She had no idea what Shabazz was up to and didn't want to ruin the surprise by peeking. But once they entered a long driveway and got out of the Jeep in front of a large bamboo fence, the sensory charge wafting off him contained so much sensuality that it nearly knocked her down.
Marlene hung back and watched as he left her side for a moment to approach the fence. Within moments it slid open and he motioned for her to get back into the vehicle.
Under normal circumstances, she would have been wary, if not totally freaked out. However, it was his whole vibe-relaxed, yet not, that made her forgo immediate judgment. Finally he joined her and quickly jumped into the Jeep to bring it through the narrow passage that had been opened on the far eastern wall of the fence. But that's when she went slack-jawed.
Inside the huge enclosure were the most exquisite Asian gardens nestled away from the urban chaos. The mansion was a retrofitted tea house. Silk robe-wearing workers opened the doors of their vehicle, and an elderly man approached Shabazz with a gracious bow. A slow smile found Marlene's face. Another one of Shabazz's 'some people that know some people' connections. Wow...
"All of our warriors are at your disposal," the elderly man said, his fervent gaze boring into Shabazz's for a moment before capturing Marlene's. "But all is peaceful on this most auspicious day. The tea house has been prepared. Please enjoy your visit."
Shabazz bowed. "Xie xie"
Marlene leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment before they began walking behind their elderly host. That was all that was necessary to convey the deep level of gratitude they both felt... she hadn't ruined his surprise; he'd gone to so much trouble to provide an oasis of sanity.
She took slow, steady breaths, leisurely sauntering along the exquisite stone path that was framed by a shallow pond stocked with golden carp. A slim heron waded in the lily-strewn pool and then stood to pose on one foot. Each blooming plant had been expertly manicured and obviously attended to with ardent care. Peace lived here. Complete Zen. The warm stones beneath her feet sent calming vibrations into her bones, while the man at her side produced sudden heat from his subtle knowing. Large tree fronds swayed in the breeze causing sunlight to sprinkle them between slivers of shade.
Shabazz caught her under the elbow to help her up the steps, even though it wasn't necessary. That wasn't the point. Chivalry was not dead, nor was the arc in the caress at her elbow. She fought a smile. Today was going to be maddening.
Their host, clearly a man of few words, handed them off to a shy hostess once they'd entered the splendor of the wood-carved foyer. Everything was open to the elements, each rectangle cut in the intricate wall design allowed in light and the breeze. Cranes and waterfowl had been etched into the cherry mahogany and rice paper screens were simplistically and elegantly decorated. The tile was an ornate mosaic beneath her feet. Such quiet beauty surrounded them that the experience had become surreal.
"This is gorgeous," Marlene finally breathed out once they were escorted to a private room.
Shabazz held her hand as she sat on the floor upon a large red and gold silk pillow. He then took a seat across from her with only a small, low teakwood table between them.
"You like it?" Shabazz murmured, his question spoken so quietly and in such a low timbre that she stopped glancing around at the art to stare at him.
"I love it," she admittedly quietly, her eyes never leaving his. Sensual fire leapt from his palm into hers as he caressed her hand with his. "More importantly, I love you... that you'd go to such lengths."
"You needed a break," was all he said just above a whisper, and then accepted the menus from the young woman who was waiting.
The waitress bowed and backed away, and then gently shut the door behind her.
"You didn't get to experience China the way you should have," Shabazz murmured, studying the menu. "White tea."
Marlene just stared at him for a moment, content to go on this lazy, sexy, meandering adventure with him this early morning. "White tea?"
"Hand picked, just the tips of the buds... a very old, very time consuming, labor intensive, delicate process to ensure the most beneficial results. You must understand the Tao of the tea."
A subtle smile slid across her face. "Then, white tea it is."
He offered her a slight bow from where he sat and picked up the tiny crystal chime by his place setting and rang it. The discreet young woman returned and Shabazz gave her their order in Mandarin, adding more to it than white tea, of that Marlene was sure. But she let all that ride, her goal was to slowly explore where he'd take her. It had been so long since they'd had time like this to play that it nearly brought tears to her eyes.
Shabazz clearly felt it, too. He didn't say a word but simply closed his eyes and remained still, breathing slowly as he sat across from her yogi style. Soon she became aware of the smallest details around her: the way the cool, early morning breeze lifted the edge of a silk napkin; an ant trudging solo across the floor; the sandalwood oil that had fused masculine heat to Shabazz's skin; the way sunlight dappled through the open screens to paint the polished wood floor. The heat stirring within her for this man who'd endured much and yet still gave so much from his core. The very subtle hint of blue-white static beginning to thread through his locks.
A light tap at the door brought them out of their reverie. The tea server brought in a medium-sized, hand-painted, white porcelain pot decorated with cranes. She set the aromatic infuser down carefully, arranged two cups in front of Marlene and Shabazz, and then placed two tiny bean curd pastries before them.
"The tea should steep a while before it is poured," the server said, her eyes lowered.
"I got it, I'll pour," Shabazz said calmly. "Thank you."
The server was practically gone before Marlene could blink.
"What is this place, Shabazz?" she finally asked, unable to contain herself.
He lifted a section of the dense, sweet, filled pastry with his chopsticks and leaned across the table, offering Marlene a sample. "A place off radar, where VIPs can chill without paparazzi, without drama, and without worrying about security." He arched his eyebrow as he felt her inner radar snap on. "Mar..."
"Okay, okay," she said, tucking away her nervous curiosity. "But can you blame me?"
Shabazz slowly poured their tea and then skillfully balanced another bite of pastry between his chopsticks. "It's a Guardian compound," he said with a sly smile. "Tea house and bed & breakfast for VIPs with an excellent selection of fare by day... to pay their rent." He let his gaze slide over her and linger on her mouth. "But don't let their tranquility fool you, Mar. These are some of the best martial arts fighters in the county. Their sword room is no joke."
"Deep." She took up her tea with two fingers and blew across the aromatic surface. "But... I don't quite get it." She took a sip of tea and set it down, allowing the warmth to spread through her chest and abdomen as it slid down her throat.
"You needed to relax," he said quietly, dropping a bit of sweet moon cake on his tongue. "You needed to know that if your radar was down for a while, and if by chance something jumped off, there'd be a whole battalion of warriors to deal with it, beyond just me and you." He lifted his loose shirt and extracted his gun, calmly setting it on the table. "I brought Sleeping Beauty-don't worry."
Panic widened her eyes. "'Bazz, did they know you came in here strapped? I mean, most Guardian camps have regs about who can come in packing and if that girl comes back, she might not-"
"She's not coming back," he said in a casual tone. "I rented this suite for the day."
"Suite?" Marlene looked around and then chuckled, shaking her head.
Shabazz stood up and walked to the far side of the room, throwing open two ornately carved recessed doors. Marlene simply gawked at the low, goose down mattress ensconced in silk drapes and framed by ornate black lacquer. She then watched a white-hot, blue arc of desire whir down Shabazz's locks, spill over his shoulders, and race down his arms to leap from the tips of his fingers and melt into the doors. It was the sexiest thing she'd seen him do in a long time and it stole her breath to witness that heat sweep across the floor like a blue wash to cover the bed as though custom preparing it for his vibe, and his vibe alone.
But as she watched the current hit the headboard, she saw him slowly close his eyes and send it in her direction, away from the bed. If it weren't moving with such swift purpose she might have been tempted to tease him a little about showing off. Forget that, though. She couldn't even smile; she'd underestimated how serious he was about everything between them today. The static wave he'd sent in her direction actually turned down the silk duvet, hit the floor with an audible splash, and rattled the china on the table before enveloping her.
She bit her lip to keep from crying out as she gripped the edge of the table for support. Pleasure leaked into her body by spasm-generating degrees. She was immediately so wet and ached for him so badly that a small whimper escaped her. The instant delirium he'd caused made her drop her head forward to rest on the table. She'd only seen him go here a few times during their union, and this was definitely the last thing she'd expected today. When she lifted her chin to stare at him, blue-white static covered his dark skin and small currents zinged through his hair.
"Turn it on, baby," he murmured, his gaze locked with hers. "Read it all... what's up in my head right now ought not be a surprise."
She could barely stand much less open her third eye. Sweet heat felt like it was licking every nerve ending she owned. The urge to weep, to laugh, to holler all came down to a slicing gasp as the muscles in his stomach contracted and she felt it deep in her valley.
"'Bazz, lemme get up," she whispered, needing to push both hands against the table to find her legs.
"I got you," he said in a low, thick rumble, moving toward her with an outstretched palm.
She winced from pleasure overload and turned her head as though she'd been slapped. "The closer you get near me..."
"Yeah," he said calmly, and stooped behind her, gathering her in his arms. "I know," he whispered into the back of her hair and slowly pulled out the sticks holding up her locks, making her hair spill. "I prepared the room."
Speechless, she simply leaned back against him and let him stand for them both. He'd prepared the room... a tactical suite prep... aw Lawd. Every fiber of wood, every bit of mortar, every fabric and floorboard would be charged with his desire the moment he flipped on the current... and that current was on, hot as a mother...sending pleasure shards up through the soles of her feet through her sandals, his kiss at the nape of her neck about to make her pass out.
His hands were in her hair, hers stroked down his toned sides, but every touch felt like he was caressing her everywhere at once. Tears stung her eyes as he slid down her back, kissing the dip in her spine, lighting base chakra points... his hands a sensual sweep of butterfly roughness against her thighs and calves, loosening the straps of her sandals... dear God, he was gonna have her walk across the floor barefoot in a charged room.
"Relax," he whispered against her behind, kissing a lobe of it and making her see stars.
He peeled a sandal away from her foot, and she held her foot up just a fraction from the floor, standing one-legged like the heron in the pond.
"'Bazz, baby... the bottom of the foot is..."
"Sensitive," he murmured, placing a kiss at the back of her knee. "Mirrors every organ within the body. I know my reflexology," he whispered kissing her Achilles heel and gently forcing her foot down onto the floor.
The arch and wail she released was instant. Hurriedly, he removed her other sandal and placed her foot down, rewarded by a gasp that held back a sob. She squeezed her thighs together, beginning to sway. In one lithe move he was on his feet, had encircled her in his arms, and found her mouth to drive home a punishing kiss. She clung to his tall, muscular frame like a woman downing and almost climbed up his body when he kicked off his leather sandals and his bare feet hit the floor. Her voice set several small birds outside their window to flight. His hands radiated sudden liquid pleasure, but so much more... love, commitment, trust, patience, unconditional acceptance, and she clung to each delineated gift as it passed through her aura in a different color band of awareness.
Her fingers threaded through his locks, tangled beyond hope within the coarse, dense thicket, she opened her third eye while his tongue twined with hers, petting his mind with the simple refrain, I love you.
He broke the kiss with a sharp gasp, his pelvis soldered to hers, hands aggressively caressing her back, his gaze intent. "To understand the Tao of the tea, you must first select only the most fragile bud..." He lowered his mouth to her nipple and gently pulled it between his teeth through her light, cotton dress. "Time consuming, labor intensive, delicate process to ensure the best results," he murmured, wetting her dress and making her insane all at the same time.
Her response was a low, guttural moan. She could feel her legs giving out from under her as he laved the angry pebble, suckling it, and rhythmically rolling the other one between his thumb and forefinger until the bud between her thighs throbbed with agony. A quickie here and there before anyone could notice hardly made up for what they'd denied themselves out of duty. It had been so long since they'd been together like this that her mind was shrieking, her body in pure sobs.
"I know," he said in a hard breath against her neck and then captured her mouth.
She'd left the channel open; he'd heard her without words. Tears streamed down her face, her hands were on fire as they canvassed his glorious skin. "Please get me off this floor and into bed before I lose my mind."
Only needing to be told once, he picked her up around her waist, walking blindly, still kissing her. "It's worse there, trust me," he said, stopping briefly before depositing her where she'd requested. "You have any idea how long I wanted to do this all day?"
"Oh, God!" Her wail fused with a shudder the moment her body touched the bed.
"Told ya," he said through a gasp, blanketing her arch with a hard slide. "I missed you like nobody's business."
Nodding frantically, she grappled with his clothes, trying to wrestle his shirt over his head while yanking at his pants. "Your skin... that's what's driving me-"
His kiss crushed away her words as he slid off his pants, only breaking quickly to yank off his shirt. Crouched above her he held her wrists to the pillows, and then simply lifted the edge of her dress with a hard nuzzle. She lifted her head to stare at him, hoping the plea in her eyes would be heeded. He simply shook his head no. Marlene shut her eyes.
"I love you," she whispered with a tense chuckle. "You gotta go easy on me."
A blue arc began to eat its way through her soft cotton dress.
"You're an old school warrior... you can handle it, right, Mar?"
He smiled and then they both chuckled softly, until it was no longer funny. Her body convulsed as his hands slid down her arms, covered her breasts, the swell of her hips, and then parted her thighs.
"Tell me why I should go easy on you, when you never give me a break, Marlene?" he murmured against her wet panties, then dipped in his tongue under the elastic. A small blue ball of energy rolled off his tongue and slid inside her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, sliding out of his hold to shimmy down her panties for him.
He nodded and slid up her dress. "Good."
Linens in her fists, the only thing that kept her from levitating off the mattress as his tongue teased her was his steadying grip around her hips while he suckled her to tears. But then he slowly lifted his head with mild panic beginning to bubble within him as a purple glow began to overtake her palms.
"Don't go there," he whispered against her thigh with a smile.
"You started it," she said, winded as the last climax seized her.
"But you don't understand a man's pain."
Their eyes met as he released her and she slipped off her bra and dress. His gaze caressed her body and he planted a soft kiss between her breasts. He was wrong. She understood the Tao of her man. Knew what he needed most times before he did. Today he needed to rock her world, not for himself, but for her-to ensure his place in her heart... unbeknownst to him, an incontrovertible place already etched in stone, but one where he wasn't sure still existed. This morning he needed to become a believer.
She placed a palm in the center of his chest and then spread her hands across the wide, dark expanse of it, gently grazing his tight, raisin-hued nipples with the heels of her palms. "How long we been together, me and you?" she murmured, taking his earlier question and turning it back on him.
"Since forever," he whispered hoarsely, his voice tight but his gaze unwavering as he lowered himself down to nestle between her thighs without entering her.
He kissed her long and slow and deep. She sent the bass lines from vintage love songs into his mind. Old Ohio Players, Luther, Phyllis, Teddy, their era when they'd wear a groove into a platter... a time before CD technology when the familiar pop and hiss of an album meant that it was getting good.
"Not fair," he whispered between his teeth, holding her more tightly.
"Not meant to be," she whispered back. "Come inside out of the rain, baby. I love you."
She dipped her spine and captured the tip of him. A silent, hard shudder claimed him, a force so profound that he just turned his head to the side for a moment, eyes shut tightly to stave off the shiver. When he opened his eyes to stare at her, she knew she was in trouble.
It was all in his grip, the slow, almost frighteningly too calm way his hand slid under her bottom as he sank deeper within her. Pure devastation lingered his eyes, a tremor running the length of his spine. He moved against her methodically anchoring himself for the fallout, her legs twining with his, their silence a thin veil of restraint that would be shorn away in a matter of moments.
She saw it first, the blue flickers whirring through his locks, saw it in his sweat, felt it sending contractions to the top of her womb, making her vision blur from the slow, thunderous ecstasy. Her spinal cord had become a bass wire drawn tight, his fingers sliding up and down her vertebra like she was his axe-have mercy, if he wanted her to be that, the answer was yes! A man who would not be moved, not hurried, was a dangerously sexy thing... one who took his time, measured it in metronome precision, consistent, finding that right spot and pummeling it till she shrieked.
Oh, yes, she understood a man's pain-but did he understand a woman's insanity? Was there knowledge of close to the edge breakdown, this staggering place where he'd left her stranded?
"Please, 'Bazz..." her voice betrayed her and crumbled.
His jaw was locked tight, muscle pulsing to the rhythm of every hard thrust. This was a matter of pride and principle... making love, connecting in spirit, yeah, yeah, yeah, but the truth be told, this seasoned, tactical lover demanded recompense. All attempts to break his rhythm failed, her urgent up-thrusts only made him steadier, more resolute to love her so hard she'd faint.
A silky sheen of sweat helped him slide against her like he were made of black marble, and her fingertips gloried in the thick ropes of slow-moving muscles along the ridges of his wide shoulders, his spine, and the smooth, sculpted perfection of his ass. Then she felt it.
The charge that had been mildly rippling over the surface of his skin spiked and built out of nowhere... and built hard and built fast. Tears welled in his eyes, and he sucked in a huge inhale through his nose, held her tighter, and moved against her faster. Her hands went to his hair. His mind was on fire. He redoubled his grip, she tightened hers.
Soon his face was buried against her neck, breaths heaved in through his mouth, his thrusts deep, ragged, demanding. Her hands wound around his locks till she'd made fists. Her voice broke the silence, adding to the chants of his hard exhales... then the force of his sensory overload rushed up his spine, captured her hands, fusing two beings, two bodies, two minds, a singular wail in multiple keys.
It hit them so hard that purple light flickered in his blue arc. For a moment, everything went dark, and then she had the wonderful sensation of floating down, down, down until her back touched something soft-the goose down mattress.
Marlene opened her eyes glad to be back inside her body. Shabazz was heaving in air, still shuddering, his eyes tightly shut, and tears wetting his face. She wiped her face and his, kissing his cheeks gently. Blue arc was still cascading down his arms.
Seeming unable to bear it any longer, he dropped against her and gathered her in his arms quietly shuddering, and then rolled her over on her side so that they could both breathe. They lay there like that for a long while, facing each other, legs tangled, bodies joined, wrapped in a bonding hug, stroking each other's backs, quietly reflecting on what had just happened.
"I think I now understand the Tao of the tea much better," she said kissing the damp underside of his jaw and speaking to him with her eyes still closed. "But the Tao of Shabazz is simply amazing."
A low, rumbling chuckle filled his chest and he spoke into her hair without opening his eyes. "Good, 'cause I definitely just got schooled on the Tao of Marlene."
"You still love me?" she whispered, holding him a little tighter.
"Bank on it," he murmured and kissed her hair. "Never stopped."