Thank you for taking time to read the prologue from Hidden Design, the Prophecy. Although the prologue is no longer part of the Hidden Design novel, we felt it is a great way to give you a small taste of the flavor of the story. We affectionately referrer to this chapter as, "How Mikki found her mojo." We hope you enjoyed reading this and will consider pre-ordering the print paperback or purchasing the ebook after the official launch on Sept 1, 2016.~Tia Tormen and CK Stone.
With their first brush of contact, impressions from Ray Lee flooded Mikki's mind. Eagerness, anticipation, happiness at seeing her again and hope that there might be something more between them--that was the puzzling one. There was also a little apprehension about what she might think of him.
She stepped into Ray Lee's flat, processing the new information and leaned against a fairly clean wall to get an initial sense of his place.
His eyes sparkled. "Mikki, it's so cool that you're here. I'm so glad the 'legendary' Mackenzie Daneen has the time to redesign and decorate my home."
Mikki laughed. "I'm not legendary . . . not yet." She looked around the room. The mismatched furniture was best described as "Dumpster Chic." It looked like he had picked it up off the curb before New York City Sanitation could beat him to it.
Vincent, her boss, once told her that diplomacy was one of the most critical aspects of her job; that she didn't want to insult the client's taste in decor while suggesting how she'd change things. However, taking account of the room from her safety position, she said, "Ray, to be honest, I'm not sure you really need an interior designer. You need two cans of gasoline and a lighter." Somehow, she suspected Vincent would disapprove of recommending arson.
Ray Lee laughed from his awkward perch on the back of a repulsive puce sofa. At twenty-one, skinny, with lank brown hair sporting one green streak, and skin pale from too little sunlight, he wasn't typical of most of the clients she worked with. With direction from Vincent, she'd mostly been doing rooms for yuppies on tight budgets and occasionally served as assistant on larger accounts. Vincent called it "her apprenticeship," and thus far she'd been garnering mixed reviews.
"Aw, come on," Ray Lee said, grinning shyly. "It's not that bad, is it?" He wore thick, geeky black glasses, baggy jeans, and a black t-shirt advertising "Bondage Bear," some band she'd never heard of. Mikki had grown up around money, but had never seen a more improbable millionaire than Ray Lee, bassist for "Tainted Collision."
"Yes, Ray . . . it is that bad. You may think I'm not being fair, but it looks pretty scary."
The furniture and floor were buried beneath layers of detritus, mostly-empty carry-out containers, scores of anime plushies, DVDs and video tapes, scattered books and piles of comics, games for the numerous video game systems scattered around the huge television and assorted pieces of clothing that had either never made it into the hamper, or were trying to escape.
Ray Lee shrugged and hopped from the back of the sofa. "If you think this room is scary, wait till you see the kitchen."
Mikki shuddered; she had wondered where the pungent odor of decomposition was coming from.
"Ray," she said. "I hope you're not expecting to see your damage deposit again."
He laughed. "You know, that's what Mr. Rosen used to say, back before I bought this building off of him."
Mikki cocked an eyebrow. "You own this whole brownstone?"
He nodded, not meeting Mikki's gaze. "Yup. All three floors of it."
Mikki nodded, soothing herself. Okay, she thought. I may have more to work with than I realized. Her professional demeanor strengthened--just a little.
"Um," Ray said, "you're looking at this wrong."
"What do you mean?" Mikki asked, shaking herself free from her own thoughts.
"You're missing the good parts; my place has nowhere to go but up, and you have a pretty good budget to play with."
He had a point. "Define 'pretty good.'"
"Umm . . . blank check?"
"Ooh," she said, her spirits rising. "Those are two very dangerous words to use around an interior designer."
"It's okay," he said, turning his face to hers. "I trust you." He smiled.
"Thank you," she said. "Though I have to ask, why me? I mean, I know we were in high school together, but . . ."
"You don't remember me?" he asked, not sounding at all hurt.
"Barely," she confessed.
"That's okay," he said. "You were two grades ahead of me; I really wasn't one of your crowd."
"I never thought I had a 'crowd.'"
He shrugged nervously. "Maybe. I never had the guts to say anything to you. You were, you know, beautiful. And you were always nice to me. You were nice to everybody. Even people who didn't deserve it."
"Well, I'm definitely glad you remembered me."
He blushed slightly. "I just . . . you know . . . thought you might like to work on a big project. I mean, I heard you just got started, and figured you probably weren't doing anything really cool yet."
"Thank you. I'm flattered."
She had only been working with Vincent at An Intimate Touch for about eight months. He had faith in her talent, but not her experience. When Ray called the company insisting that he would only accept the services of "The legendary Mikki Daneen," Vincent said he had laid it on a touch thick and she thought somebody was pranking her. At first, she hadn't even remembered the awkward kid she'd gone to school with.
But, this was no joke. A major account, all to herself. Free rein to completely transform somebody's entire living space. It was an extraordinary opportunity, one that simultaneously thrilled and terrified her. The opportunity of a lifetime depending on what she did with this . . . disaster area? Demilitarized zone? Toxic waste dump?
Blank check. She shivered from a brief surge of adrenaline. "Thanks, Ray," she said. "I won't let you down. So, let's see the rest of your place."
The kitchen . . . she wasn't going in there without a full hazmat suit. The second bedroom; Ray had made a half-hearted attempt to turn it into his office. The bathroom . . . better hang on to that hazmat suit.
"And this," Ray said, "is my room." He walked across it to turn on a light in an oversized, surprisingly clean aquarium where three or four small Koi fish swam under pink and white lotus flowers and floating lily pads. "Ceiling light's burned out," he said. "I've been meaning to replace it, but I'd need to get a ladder and . . . " he shrugged.
The dim light from the aquarium shimmered, half-revealing a room that was uncluttered compared to the rest of the apartment. Posters decorated the walls, a tightly packed shelf adorned with chrome-plated shuriken overhung a small table stacked with shelves of action figures. The bed itself was made up with a clean, white sateen comforter and matching toss pillows. An expensive-looking computer sat on a small desk near the closet. In the far shadow-drenched corner sat a bass guitar, held upright in a stand.
Ray's bass was pristine, its lacquered blue finish reflecting the aquarium's dancing light. The guitar, primary among these things, stood apart, but the other elements in this room, these were the important things; these were the items Ray prized.
For the first time since arriving, Mikki felt that she was seeing Ray as he really was: a decent guy who, by talent or luck, had landed a cushy gig.
"Nice instrument," she said stepping over to where the guitar sat displayed, lightly running her fingers down its long neck.
Ray beamed, and suddenly looked relaxed for the first time since she'd arrived. "Thanks. That's Loretta." He stepped from behind Mikki and picked it up, threw the strap over his shoulder, and casually played a brief riff. "She's a six-string fretless Fender. Bought her with the money we made when our first batch of songs caught on and started selling. Named her after a girl I knew."
He played the melody again, now strong and clear. "Whoa," he said, looking at his hands as if surprised to see what they were doing. "That's not bad."
"I like it," she said.
"Me too," he said, paying more attention to the music than to her. His fingers danced along the instrument neck, coaxing out myriad variations of the same basic riff. "Yeah. There's something here. I think I really like that. Record it," he said to himself, nodding. "Yeah, yeah, gotta get this down."
The music abruptly stopped. Using his toe, Ray nudged a switch on a small metal box on the floor. The computer monitor glowed to life, showing a program already running. He played again, a jagged green line on the screen danced to the music. He picked through a more refined version of the tune he'd been playing.
Mikki was amazed to watch as this man, this musician, let the world fall away as he immersed himself in his music. The air seemed to shimmer around him. It reminded her of the way heat rippled off of sidewalks in the summer. She saw it nagging at the edge of her vision and felt it wash over her as he played. It was as if Ray was heating his whole world with his passion. She felt the hair on her neck rise and goosebumps chase down her arms in response.
He stopped to toe a roller ball on the floor, and played back what he'd recorded. "Good," he said, as the computer repeated what he had just played. "Yeah, that's real good."
"I take it I just witnessed the birth of a song?" she asked, smiling.
Ray flushed with the glow of creativity. "I think so. Might wind up calling this one 'Mikki's song.' Why not?"
Mikki felt her cheeks warm slightly. Her professionalism slipped a little.
Ray chuckled. "Maybe I'll even try and write the lyrics myself," he said. "A dippy love song might be fun."
"Nothing dippy about love songs, as long as they're good. You made that look so easy. Can you show me how to play?" she asked, motioning towards his bass. More of her precarious professionalism dropped. I'm just getting to understand my client better. Professionals do that.
"Don't want me touching Loretta?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No, it's not that, it's just . . . a fretless isn't newbie-friendly. Hang on a sec."
He opened his closet and pulled out a guitar case. It was black, worn in places, and covered in stickers with pithy sayings. "My guitar from high school," he said and pulled the instrument from the case.
As smoothly beautiful as Loretta was, this one was equally worn and used. No stickers adorned it, but different colored lacquers, two mismatched pickups and long loops of replaced strings made it something of an oddity.
"But that's not a bass."
"Well, no. This is the one I learned to play on before I took up the bass. She's the one I always go back to."
"And what's her name?"
Ray blushed, deeply. "Uhm," he stammered. "I named her after a girl."
"Was it someone you dated?"
Ray lowered his gaze to the guitar and set to tuning the strings. "No. Just a girl I liked."
A thought struck her. "Ray, you didn't name your first guitar after me, did you?"
He blushed so brightly she thought his cheeks might catch fire. "Maybe."
She clasped her hand over her mouth to stifle a brief laugh. "I'm honored," she said, smiling wide as she placed her hands over her heart. "Really."
Ray grinned, nervously. "So, uhm, Mikki, would you like to play Mikki?"
She nodded. It seemed as though a spark of invisible energy surged from Ray to the guitar and then to Mikki when she grasped the instrument.
She could feel it humming when he plugged it in and helped her get the strap over her head and across her body. He settled the weight of the guitar onto her shoulders and told her how to grasp the neck.
"I'm not getting it," she said. "Could you show me, please?"
He reached for the guitar, awkwardly. "Not from this angle, no." He hesitantly stepped behind her, his body conforming to the curves of her back. He reached his left arm under hers; when she moved to accommodate him, his trembling hand brushed against her.
"Like this," he said, wrapping his fingers under the neck of the guitar. He was so close that she could feel his breath on her ear. "Your fingers do all the work, and you want to keep your thumb out of the way. It's more like . . ."
"Caressing it?" she said. "Like this?" She placed her hand over his, mimicking him. She got her second taste of Ray's mind, drinking deeply of the sensation of a stranger become intimate. Without thought she became aware of his apprehension about her, but also the unmistakable pleasure he was feeling through the simple act of teaching her.
He slid his hand out from under hers. "Yeah. Like that. Now, you, uh, you pluck the strings, like this." He reached his right arm around hers, guiding her index finger across a string. The guitar thrummed gently.
"I get it," she said.
"Good," he said. "Now just play the notes like this, wait, I have an idea."
Not letting go of her right hand, he reached his left back around her and placed his fingers over her own, his fingers guided hers, pressing them into the cool, metal strings as he led her in plucking out a slow, simple riff.
"There you go," he breathed. "Do it again, just like that."
She plucked the strings, playing the notes as he had shown her. Four notes, then the same notes a third up then the first four again.
"Now," he said. "Watch this." His fingers touched the strings she didn't, plucking them at different intervals and tempos. An intricate musical counterpoint developed as each note she played was complemented by the trilling riffs he wove into her simple run.
There was something significant here. It was more than just the track and their own playing. It was more than just the music. Mikki could feel the exhilaration emanating from his body, but there was something going on beyond that. This was Ray Lee at his ecstatic best. Warmth and color flowed from him in unselfconscious brilliance, flooding her senses. Her hands continued their rhythmic journey on the strings, of their own accord. Their shared music took shape. It grew and burgeoned into an entity of its own. It had form. It had texture. It reveled in itself, providing its own reason for existence and challenging anyone or anything to take it away. This was Ray Lee's love. This was his passion.
Mikki couldn't catch her breath. Unconsciously, she pressed back into Ray Lee. Glorious visions swept her along, a hapless straw in the grip of a hurricane. The fierce heat of his body, matching his profound fervor for the music.
Overwhelmed by what they had done together, Mikki's fingers faltered on the strings. After a run of off-cadence plucks and wrong notes, Mikki dropped her hands to her side. She stood, unable to continue from the sheer impact of Ray's intensity.
His hands faltered. "Mikki? Are you okay?"
She stood, mute, stunned.
"Mikki?" Ray smoothly undid the strap and set the instrument aside. When he turned back to her, she stood directly in front of him.
She could see his hands shaking and knew it was from the same intensity she felt. She peered into his face in the dim light and saw the glitter of unshed tears in his eyes.
"That's what I hear. That's what I feel."
"Omigod, Ray . . . " And they flowed into each other's arms.
Exhilaration surged through her as their mouths sought each other. Countless passion-blurred images fought for predominance. Eager hands sought to undo buttons, belts and clasps. No gentle languid exploration of the senses, this was a passion-driven, desire-based need for shared release. This was what Ray did for the music and what the music did for Ray.
She panted. "Please, Ray . . . "
He nodded, flushed and too excited to speak. She guided him to the bed and lay down. She took off her panties while he undid his jeans and pushed down his boxers. He grabbed something off the nightstand and she watched impatiently as he unrolled the condom down the length of his trembling cock.
He rolled on top of her, panting, his eyes wide and wild as he hiked up her skirt. He kissed her again, furiously, guiding himself into her as their lips met.
Mikki moaned and arched her hips to accept his body as he drove himself deep inside her. Her heart beat furiously; her breath coming in short startled gasps each time their bodies thrust together.
Ray's deep brown eyes gazed into hers, lost in the sensations their bodies created. He kissed her deeply as his entire body tensed, and he plunged deep inside her again and again.
Her moans of desire matched his shudders and she cried out as pounding waves of pleasure coursed through her.
Ray wasn't going to last long that way--but neither was Mikki. Her breath grew more and more ragged, matching Ray's, until at last they both cried out from the ecstasy of release and their bodies locked together, pulsing in unison.
His mind opened completely to her, images from the most intimate corners of his psyche washed over her. His favorite ice cream: Rocky Road. A dog named "Wally." His fantasies: the two of them alone in their high school music room, and his confession to her of how he secretly always thought she was way hot. A memory: Ray's band blowing the roof off a smoky, low-rent nightclub in the Bronx, thunderous applause from the awestruck crowd. A sensation: hot, sweat-soaked guitar strings thrumming beneath his fingers. Memory scraps and bits of personal history that defined who he was. One after the other they raced through her mind, leaving an afterimage like the brilliance of fireworks against an inky night sky.
Ray collapsed onto her, spent and gasping for breath. Mikki lay panting beneath him, caressing his sweat-slicked back with one hand, weaving the fingers of her other hand through his hair. Outside in the street, the sounds of car horns and beeping alarms sounded in an odd harmonic accompaniment to the music that still emanated from the computer and speakers. Savoring the post-orgasmic calm, she sifted through the flood of information.
Her insights came quickly and easily when she was aroused, blossoming into a complete bonding when she reached climax; and given how easily she picked up on and shared her lovers' moods, that was often. Just about every time she made love, she went away physically satisfied and carrying a stunning trove of intimate insight into her partner's mind.
Ray Lee kissed each of her eyelids, trailing his lips over the bridge of her nose and across her cheek. "Mikki," he murmured. "You're so beautiful . . ." He rolled off her and pulled her into his arms in one motion. They lay together naked, his arm wrapped around her. Mikki, using his shoulder as a pillow, caressed his chest with her fingertips. She mulled over what had just happened, sorting through the muddle of images Ray had unwittingly shared with her.
She'd had psychic flashes back in high school. Her friends told her that she shouldn't expect much from her first time, that sex wouldn't be that good until she got used to it. But she'd made liars out of all of them on the night she finally agreed to go "all the way" with her boyfriend, his naked lust intoxicating her, carrying her into her first orgasm.
The images that came with the climax, the impossible, overwhelming details of his mind . . . all those things she learned in those few moments, why the hell hadn't anybody ever told her about that?
She had learned to listen to that sense, that abstract voice in her head, no matter how illogical it seemed.
He had very little to hide. All he wanted out of life was to play music, and be recognized for playing it well. Most people had fantasies about getting rich, or getting even with the people who had done them wrong. Ray's were about rewarding the people who'd been good to him.
Mikki chuckled at the thought. Sometimes it was nice to be good. His tastes were interesting though, like his thing for anime. It was more than just a passing fancy, or a love of animated, Japanese schoolgirls. The art form itself captivated him, the bold colors, the sweeping stories, the over-the-top heroics. If it was possible, he'd live in an anime.
The thought struck her like a slap to the face. She jolted violently, rousing Ray.
"Wha . . . ?" he asked.
She stared wide-eyed at the wall. Light from the aquarium shimmered across it.
Yes. Yes, it was a good idea. No, an excellent idea!
Ray's home was going to be anime nirvana.
Bold, primary colors. Silly, pseudo-Japanese furniture. Lots of mellifluous lines and sleek textures--luxurious things to touch and enjoy. His comics and videos would not be hidden; they would be displayed proudly in a sunlit pergola. There would be a manga portrait of the band. A mural-sized LED TV, showing his favorite movie--Princess Mononoke--at a rate of one frame per hour. Sinuous furniture, smooth plastics, sensuous silks and flowing sateen, all evocative of his music. This was important, too.
It was going to be Ray's apartment. Ray's home would be just his, a sanctuary, bold and beautiful, with . . . with . . .
"Mikki?" Ray asked. "Are you all right?"
She nodded. Oh, yes. She was all right. She was very, very all right.
What else could she do for Ray? She wasn't certain. She hadn't gotten enough. She hadn't been looking.
But it was all in there. His ideal living space, drawn directly from his subconscious, a place that would soothe, or inspire him like no other place in the world could. It was there. Waiting for her to find it. And now she knew what to look for to give him exactly what he wanted.
She sat up, quaking with excitement. "We're going again," she said, throwing a leg over his waist and leaning down to kiss him.
"Fine by me," he said between kisses, his body already responding to her touch.
"Only this time," she breathed in his ear as she kissed it, "you're going to show me what you really want."