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Authors: Morgan Hawke

In Arrears

BOOK: In Arrears
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Published by Mojocastle Press, LLC

Price, Utah

 

This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.

 

 

In Arrears

ISBN: 1-60180-127-0

Copyright
ã
2010
Morgan Hawke

Cover Art Copyright
ã
2010
Ookami Kasumi

All rights reserved.

 

 

Excluding legitimate review sites and review publications, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher.

 

Copying, scanning, uploading, selling and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without permission from the publisher is illegal, punishable by law and will be prosecuted.

Available online at:

http://www.mojocastle.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Also By Morgan Hawke:

 

Uber-Gothic: Industrial Sorcery

 

The Cheater’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance

 

Demoness

 

Security Issues

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication:

 

 

To my Fans: Thank you for your patience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Arrears

 

One

 

 

In the heart of Old Town, the sleek black automobile eased down the cobblestone road of the heavily shadowed alleyway. It rolled to a stop before the massive wooden gates to the Entertainment District. The back passenger door behind the driver opened.

With a smile of anticipation, Roth Jaeger stepped out of the car. The long tendrils of his red hair lifted in the rising breeze to caress his bare cheeks. His ruffled white collar fluttered against the black velvet lapels of his aqua and teal long coat, embroidered with roses in gold thread. The long hem of the open coat brushed against his creased charcoal slacks. Dust from the road whispered across his freshly shined black dress shoes.

Roth turned to look up beyond the sharply peaked and deeply shadowed gothic skyline of the aged town. The last rays of sunlight bled along the undersides of the distant clouds. Though he couldn’t see it, he knew that behind him on the other side of the tall wooden wall, deep shadows filled the narrow alleyways of the labyrinthine entertainment district. Contemplating the view, he smoothed a hand along his goatee and the trimmed hair lining his jawline.

It was almost time.

The driver’s side window rolled down and a young man with flyaway silver-blond hair looked out. He frowned, his slender brows dropping low over his ash-gray eyes. A jagged scar marked his face from his right eye down to his jaw. “Lieutenant Colonel Jaeger, please tell me that I don’t need to pack our gear to flee yet another city?”

Roth turned to smirk at the young man. “Whatever do you mean, First Lieutenant?”

The young First Lieutenant scowled openly. “I mean, sir, do you actually plan on sticking around and paying your bills this time, or are you planning on leaving me behind to clean up your wine, women, and gambling debts
again
?”
 

Roth smoothed away his smirk and lifted a slender red brow. “You know, you could quit the Company and find gainful employment elsewhere...?” He abruptly winced and snapped his fingers. “Oh, wait, my mistake, you can’t.” He smiled brightly. “No honest merchant will hire someone with
that
kind of sword scar.”

The young man’s gaze narrowed into an open glare. “And who put that scar there?” He curled his lip in a snarl. “Sir.”

Roth shrugged and looked away. “Not my fault you didn’t dodge the practice sword fast enough, Ash.”

“I was eleven!”

Roth turned just enough to shoot a corner of the eye glare at the blond youth. “Are you saying I
should
have left you to starve to death in that burned-out town? That I shouldn’t have brought you into the company, fed you, clothed you, and taught you how to be a halfway decent fighter?”

The young man turned away scowling ferociously. “In addition to how to cheat at cards, dice, and mahjong. All while dodging debt collectors in town after town, when you
remembered
to bring me with you.” He glared at the windshield. “Sir.”
 

The deep, sonorous bell bonged out from the hilltop church on the other side of the city. The tones echoed long and loud, once, twice, thrice.

Roth looked up at the darkening sky and nodded.
Ah, there...
Day was officially over and night had begun. He turned to face the immense gate and the iron studded plank doors that barred it. “You are dismissed, First Lieutenant.”

Behind him, the car’s engine started. “You are a total bastard, Jaeger.”

Roth nodded. “Comes with the job, Ash.”

The two-storey tall doors rattled, clanked, and opened outward.

Roth strode beyond them without hesitation, his blood surging in anticipation.
 

In the deeply shadowed alleyways, unpainted wooden shutters were pushed back with a rattle to reveal barred windows with frames and lintels of bright scarlet. Cast-iron gates were opened to allow access to brightly painted doors. Strings of lights suspended over doorways and under eves bloomed to multi-colored life. Tall, slender flags were unfurled to proclaim the names of wine shops, bars, restaurants, gambling dens, smoking shops, and all the other various adult establishments. Lights, chimes, music, and honey sweet musky incense filled the alleys, calling out to those who sought pleasure in all its many forms.

They called this the Floating World, with denizens as beautiful and ephemeral as butterflies, yet as subtle and poisonous as spiders. It was a world outside of cold reality, a world of dreams—and nightmares. It was a place in between, where gods and demons walked among the mortals that tread its mysterious and ever-changing pathways.

Roth grinned. As far as he was concerned, Floating World was where one ended up after a full night of drinking, gambling, smoking, and sex.

Not that he minded.

He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Black Rose Company that took on the petty and secret wars waged by corporations and countries. His days were spent wielding sword and pistol in vicious battles against men that were little more than animalistic killing machines, or passed out from exhaustion. His nights, however, were spent in the Floating World, the entertainment district found in every city in the world, seeking full-figured company and oblivion.

He loved wine, women, rich and heady tobacco, and gambling, in that order. Unfortunately, Lady Luck was a fickle mistress. She did not often bless him with her presence, and occasionally, he would swear that she’d cursed him. He’d been forced to flee more than one city with heavily-muscled debt collectors dogging his heels.

On the other hand, it didn’t take much to lose the collectors. Few had the speed or stamina to keep up with him. Even fewer had the skill to track his wildly erratic trail through city after city, town after town, and hidden battlefield after hidden battlefield.

Hell, he’d lost his own First Lieutenant more than a few times, even when he
hadn’t
meant to leave him behind to pay off, or
work
off, his debts.

What luck he
did
have was due to Mother Nature. He had been blessed with elegant features, clear aqua eyes, and rich red-gold hair that swept in silky waves down to the middle of his back. His occupation gave him a sleekly muscular build and grace in his movements. It also gave him more than a few nasty scars, but the women never seemed to mind.

By day, he wore the gold-trimmed, black long coat of his Company, but at night, he dressed in the height of fashion. He had no interest in drawing the attention of his enemies when he was drinking, or worse — fucking.

However, he refused to go anywhere unarmed. Holstered under his arm was his pride and joy, the Bloody Kiss. The enhanced Colt pistol’s grip was carved ebony with silver filigree roses entwined around it. One of the few things he’d actually paid full price for.

Lady luck might only kiss him occasionally, but his appearance guaranteed that he never had any difficulty gaining entrance to the better establishments, or lacked for feminine company of the private or professional persuasion.

In short, he
looked
like he had money, so it was assumed that he did. He snorted.
Only idiots judge a book by its cover.

Luckily, the world had a
lot
of idiots.

Several lovely girls and more than a few handsome youths waved to him from the doorways of their establishments.

“Hey, mister, need a drink...?”

“Hi, handsome! Looking for some company...?”

“Come gamble with us here! We guarantee a fair chance!”

Speaking of idiots...
He smiled and passed them by. The past month had been a total bitch, physically and mentally, so he was in the mood for some serious relaxation.

According to the keeper of the inn where he’d been staying for the past two days, there was a new high-class brothel in the district. Apparently, in addition to catering to every form of sexual deviation known to man, they offered a bath with professional massage. They also served top-dollar wine with their top-dollar women.

Unfortunately, the innkeeper hadn’t been able to provide directions, or the name of the place. Instead, he’d pulled out a small business card that was blank white except for a deep red peony imprinted upon it. “This is the flower on the flag by the door.” He handed Roth the card and pointed at it. “Find this flower and you’ve found the place.”

After a full hour of strolling through alley after alley, checking shop flag after shop flag, he found the flower.

The House of the Peony wasn’t the first oriental courtesan house, or more accurately, whorehouse he’d seen set up in an old warehouse. However, it definitely wasn’t one he remembered ever seeing before. He was pretty sure that when he’d last visited the city three years ago, that warehouse had been occupied by a less than savory gambling den.

The gambling den, or rather the monstrous debt he’d accrued there, had been the reason he’d avoided returning to the city.

He smiled broadly. The courtesan house was a vast improvement. “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” He strode for the brass filigree and cut-glass double doors with a bounce in his step.

The man stationed by the doorway wearing a deep blue Chinese tunic embroidered with clouds in silver, stepped into his path and bowed. “May I see your card, sir?”

Roth blinked.
My card...?
He didn’t carry introduction cards. His uniform was more than introduction enough. However, he wasn’t wearing his uniform. On a whim, he offered the card the innkeeper had given him.

The man took the card with the imprinted flower, examined it, and bowed to him. “Thank you, sir.” He turned and opened the door. “Welcome to the House of the Peony.” He didn’t return the card.

Roth nodded and stepped through the doorway, tossing a gold florin to the man in passing. Lady Luck had been kind to him in the last town he’d visited, for once.

Not surprisingly, the man snatched the coin out of the air, but then he closed the door behind Roth and moved ahead of him, stopping him in the decorative wrought-iron entryway with a bow. He reached to his right to grasp a long dangling rope and tugged it three times.

Roth blinked. “Eh...?”

From somewhere deep in the building came the echoing ring of a bell.

The man smiled and brandished the card Roth had given him between two fingers. “You are a special guest. A bath, a massage, then entertainment, yes?”

Years of cardplaying had perfected his poker face, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t surprised. Apparently, the card was some kind of coupon. He nodded and smiled. “Of course.” He waved his hand. “Lead on.”

The man led him down the long hallway where they passed the open doorway to the main room. Soft laughter, refined music, and sweet musky incense filled the air.

Roth peeked in, and his brows lifted. Paintings on cream silk of mountainous vistas and skeins of decoratively folded jewel-toned satin swathed the distant brick walls, disguising them from view. Delicately carved low tables that were polished to a shine were scattered here and there among an ocean of large silk and damask pillows of every color.

Against the far wall on a raised dais, an entire five-piece orchestra played hauntingly sweet music on antique instruments. Two lithe Oriental dancers in sheer robes of scarlet, purple, and violet swayed around their oversized fans.

The bodyguards seated against the walls and servants carrying food and drink to the patrons, were neat and well groomed. All of them, male and female, had their hair drawn back into neat tails that fell past their shoulders, and wore calf-length, high-necked charcoal gray Chinese tunics over white shirts and dark pants.

Seated on the pillows were some of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. They were arrayed like exotic butterflies, in layer after layer of exquisitely fine silk robes held closed with immense sashes that were bow-tied before them. Their long flowing hair of midnight, russet, golden blond, and fiery red were professionally looped and whorled around hair pins of teak, glass, and ebony with dangling jewels that flashed in the low light.

The small handful of male patrons seated among the women were well groomed, well dressed, and appeared to be well behaved, too.

“This way, sir.”

Roth left the open doorway and followed the man down the long polished hallway, through a set of double doors, and down yet another hallway that was lined with windows on one side. They overlooked a contained open-air garden complete with tiny pond and a small maple tree.

At the end of the hallway was a pair of frosted glass doors and two pretty, buxom, and barefoot girls dressed in very short white tunics. They bowed. The tails of their long black hair fell over their shoulders and nearly swept the floor. They straightened with bright smiles and spoke in unison. “Your bath is ready, sir!”

Roth blinked. The girls were clearly adults, but they were short. The tops of their heads only came up to his chin. Just the way he liked them.

Roth’s guide bowed. “Enjoy, sir.” He turned and strode back up the hallway.
 

Roth grinned at the girls and held out his arms. “I am at your mercy!”

Giggling, they grabbed onto his elbows and drew him through the doors.

The bathing room beyond the doors was expansive with windows set high on the distant brick walls. Tall wooden privacy partitions painted with blood red peonies separated the four huge round stone tubs sunk into the floor. Only the last one on the left was filled with steaming hot water.

BOOK: In Arrears
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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