Dark GoldBy: Christine Feehan
“Joshua, this is a very important business meeting,” Alexandria Houton cautioned her younger brother as she parked her beat-up Volkswagen in the large lot behind the restaurant. For a moment she rested her hand on his curly hair, looking down into his bright eyes. A rush of love instantly warmed her, pushing aside her fears and frustrations and her mouth curved into a smile. “You’re so grown up, Josh, I don’t know why I’m repeating myself. But this is my only chance at a dream position like this. You know we need this job, don’t you?”
“Sure, Alex. Don’t worry. I’ll stay around back and play with my truck.” He grinned at her, his beloved sister who had been his only parent since their mother and father died in a car accident before his second birthday.
“I’m sorry the baby-sitter flaked on us. She was—um, sick.”
“Drunk, Alex,” he corrected solemnly as he gathered up his backpack and toy.
“Where in the world did you hear such a thing?” she demanded, horrified that a six-year-old would know what drunk was. She slid from the car and carefully brushed off her one good suit. The outfit had cost a month’s income, but Alexandria regarded it as a necessary investment. She looked far younger than her twenty-three years and desperately needed the edge a sophisticated, expensive suit could give her.
Josh hugged his favorite toy, a worn Tonka dump truck. “I heard you telling her to go home, that she wasn’t fit to watch over me because she was drunk.”
Alexandria had specifically told him to go to his room. Instead, he had lurked nearby to eavesdrop. He knew it was an invaluable way to pick up information Alexandria considered proper only for adults. Still, Alexandria found herself grinning at his mischievous upturned face.
“Big Ears, huh?”
He looked sheepish.
“It’s okay, little buddy. We do better on our own, don’t we?” She said it with far more confidence than she felt. They lived in a rat-trap, a boardinghouse patronized mainly by prostitutes, alcoholics, and drug users. Alexandria was terrified for Joshua’s future. Everything depended on this meeting.
Thomas Ivan, the genius behind the top-selling, wildly imaginative video and computer games featuring vampires and demons, was looking for a new graphic designer. Ivan had graced the cover of nearly every magazine that counted. And he had been intrigued enough with her samples to request a meeting. Alexandria knew she was talented; now if only he wouldn’t judge her on her youthful looks. She was competing with many more experienced designers.
Alexandria dragged her slim portfolio from the car and took Joshua’s hand. “This might take a while. You have your snacks in your backpack, don’t you?”
He nodded, silky curls bobbing across his forehead. Alexandria tightened her grip on his hand. Joshua was everything to her, her only family, her reason for fighting so hard to move to a better neighborhood, a better standard of living. Joshua was a bright, sensitive, compassionate child. Alexandria believed he deserved everything good that life had to offer, and she was determined to get it for him.
She led him across the restaurant’s back acreage, graced with a grove of trees. A path led to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. “Don’t go out to the cliffs, Joshua. The edges are dangerous. They can crumble right under your feet, or you could slip and fall.”
“I know, you already told me.” There was a hint of exasperation in his voice. “I know the rules, Alex.”
“Henry is here tonight. He’ll be looking out for you.” Henry was an elderly homeless man from their neighborhood who often slept in the grove behind this restaurant. Alexandria had frequently given him food and loose change and, more important, respect, and in return, Henry kept an eye out to do her favors.
Alexandria waved to the thin, stooped man now hobbling toward them. “Hi, Henry. It’s so nice of you to do this for me.”
“You were lucky you ran into me at the market earlier. I was going to sleep under the bridge tonight.” Henry looked around carefully with his faded blue eyes. “There’s been some strange things happening hereabouts.”
“Gang activity?” Alexandria asked anxiously. She didn’t want Joshua exposed to the dangers or pressures of that kind of life.
Henry shook his head. “Nothing like that. Cops wouldn’t allow that in these parts. That’s why I sleep here. Fact is, they wouldn’t let
stay if they knew about it.”
“So what strange things have been happening around here?”
Joshua tugged at her skirt. “You’re going to be late for your meeting, Alex. Henry and I’ll be fine,” he insisted, reading her distress. He settled himself under a canopy of trees, sitting cross-legged on a rock beside the faint path leading to the cliffs.
With creaking kneecaps, Henry sat down beside him. “Right. Go along, Alex.” He waved a gnarled hand. “We’ll just play with this fine truck, won’t we, boy?”
Alexandria bit her lip, suddenly indecisive. Was it wrong to leave Joshua with just this worn-out, arthritic old man to look after him?
“Alex!” As if reading her concerns, Joshua glared at her, his manhood clearly affronted.