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Stand-alone stories






Gloved fingers tap irritably on the thick maroon satin of a small settee.

Such a minute movement, but it catches the eye of a man across the room. The hand rests calmly enough on the padded seat, but those fingers give the tension away. Or is it boredom?

The man's eyes narrow.

The room is full of talking and polite laughter, it's a cacophony of rustling cloth, clacking heels, clinking glasses, murmur of conversation, shrill spikes of laughter that every now and then pierce through it all. A masquerade, the supreme opportunity to play a little, venture a little, be bolder than one never could without the blessed mask that covers the face but leaves those lying lips free to smile, flirt, pout, invite, promise.

It isn't really the mask that makes the difference, though. It only covers half of the face and yet somehow transforms some people completely ¨C or maybe it just gives them the confidence to be what they've only ever dreamed of? Those people are the true magnets this night. They are the beacons that irresistibly draw others close, to flutter around them in an effort to try and catch any sign of familiarity in a gesture, the tone of voice, a turn of phrase.

The man shuts all that outside and circumvents a small group with a few gliding steps. Now he can see the sitting figure better, and his lips twitch.

Slim limbs, long tapering fingers, gracefully crossed ankles. Male. Nothing feminine about the narrow hips, or the aquiline curve of the jaw, or the proudly carried head inside a mask, almost like a helmet, that doesn't let a single strand of hair be seen. A riot of feathers cascades from it over both shoulders, a sharp beak almost hides a full, dissatisfied mouth. And all the time the fingers are tapping, tapping.

He sidles closer but not directly. That would be too bold. Around one group of people he walks, stops briefly to exchange a few words with another. Then a nonchalant pose, as his hand rises to correct the velvet mask.

The solitary falcon turns its head. It has noticed him. It is watching him.

A glance over a shoulder. Eyes meet.

He holds the gaze, not letting go, as he steps deliberately aside to let a lady in full skirts sail past, then turns slowly and lets one hand rest lightly on his hip.

The falcon's head jerks a little. Feathers shiver under quickening breath. The fingers have stopped.

He smiles, and the lips beneath the beak part slightly. A glance towards the terrace door, eyes meet again to make sure. The falcon nods, a barely discernible motion. He turns away and walks with a gliding step to the door, towards the cooler air breathing from it.

He knows the falcon will follow its willing prey.

On the terrace he stops to inhale the mist wafting from the park around. Only the most tenacious of nocturnal birds are still singing in the deepening darkness, and even those fall silent as he walks towards the balustrade and the bushes outside it. Steps lead down to the lawn and he descends them, step silent on worn stone, seeing the falcon in the corner of his eye. The slim figure pauses to look around, silhouetted against the light pouring through the glass door and falling upon its feathers.

Grass whispers under his shoes, then under another pair of feet. He smiles, stops, turns around.

The falcon stops, too, and for a moment they just stand there sizing each other up, barely an arm's length apart. They've taken the game being played indoors and twisted it a little, now they need to contemplate their next moves.

His heart beats faster when the falcon steps closer, and he realizes with mild shock how much higher above his own head the crown of that mask rises. He sees eyes gleam through the slits, lips curling into a smile, and a shiver of recognition passes through him; has he seen those lips before?

A hand rises to push up the bird mask but fingers curl around his wrist and the feathered head shakes a little. He acquiesces, an eyebrow twitching, lets his hand ghost lower, to the row of buttons below the ruffled kerchief around the falcon¡¯s neck.

This time his actions are tolerated as he opens the buttons one by one, then the smaller ones on the shirt underneath, until only a black glove separates his fingers from the heat of the skin they glide along.

The falcon breathes unevenly as he caresses a nipple, touches the bump of a collarbone, lets his palm climb along the side of the neck. His mask is close-fitting, it would not hinder him, but that beak might stab his eyes.

His thumb rubs softly that smooth but determined jaw, just below the lower lip. The falcon swallows, he smiles when the tip of a tongue darts out and the head tilts into the touch.

Again a memory flutters through his mind, feeble and distant, and suddenly he¡¯s filled with curiosity. He wants to remove that mask, to see if it hides what his mind¡¯s eye has shown him: strawberry-blond curls, made to be twisted around fingers and played with.

Like those of the girl years ago, the girl he wedded and bedded and tossed away when the whim grew stale. Is this  a stab of regret? Perhaps, but there¡¯s nothing to be done about that, and it¡¯s nothing really. There¡¯s just something familiar about the curve of the mouth he¡¯s fondling...

He pushes the memory away and pulls the head closer, pushes the mask upwards just enough to capture those lips with his own. They¡¯re warm and soft and pliant, and he smiles  into the kiss. Such stupid thing, memories. As if they meant something; it¡¯s just that he¡¯s attracted to certain details, certain features, no matter which sex they belong to. That is all.


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