InuYasha Fan Fiction ❯ Purity 9: Subterfuge ❯ Twenty-Eight ( Chapter 98 )

[ X - Adult: No readers under 18. Contains Graphic Adult Themes/Extreme violence. ]
~~Chapter Ninety-Eight~~
~Twenty-Eight~


-< i>OoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoOoO-

'You say it's your birthday
'It's my birthday, too, yeah
'They say it's your birthday
'We're gonna have a good time
'I'm glad it's your birthday
'Happy birthday to you …'

-'Birthday' by the Beatles.

-Valerie-


"V . . . Oh, V-ee . . ."

Swatting a hand over her shoulder as though to brush away an annoying insect, Valerie stubbornly tried to stay asleep.  "Go play in traffic," she grumbled as she snuggled down further under the blankets.

A soft chuckle brushed over her neck in an entirely unsettling way.  "Come on, V.  You're not really going to sleep all day, are you?"

"Yes," she mumbled, along with a few other choice words that weren't quite intelligible.

Evan's chuckle sounded again.  "Okay," he allowed easily enough.  "I just figured you'd want your present . . ."

Valerie's eyes snapped open at the mention of 'present', and she sat bolt-upright.  "Fail, Roka," she complained.  "Where's my coffee?"

He laughed and leaned up on his elbow as he reached over to nab a steaming mug off the nightstand beside him.  "Here you go, birthday girl," he said.  "You want your birthday kiss now or later?"

Valerie didn't answer, bringing the cup to her lips with one hand, smashing her hand over Evan's face with the other as the incorrigible man leaned in to try to pilfer that kiss.

True to form, he just laughed.  "You're going to fuck up your whole year if you don't get your birthday kisses," he pointed out a little too reasonably.

"You're so full of it," she informed him despite the hint of a smile that quirked her lips as she drained the cup and set it aside.  "Now, about that present . . ."

He laughed.  "Patience, V.  I thought we'd play a little game."

She blinked and shook her head slowly.  "A game?  What kind of game?"

"Relax, it's an easy game," he assured her with a wolfish grin.  "You can even leave your clothes on for it—unless you don't want to, of course."

Rolling her eyes, she snorted indelicately, stifling a yawn with the back of her hand.  "Nice try, Roka," she shot back.  "Tell me about this game of yours."

He chuckled again—the sound that never failed to send a very distinct and almost enjoyable shiver right up her spine.  She ignored it.  "It's easy," he repeated.  "Here's the deal: I give you a gift, and you can either keep it or trade it for the next one."

Valerie's mouth dropped open, and she stared at him, trying to decide whether or not he was being serious.  He looked like he was.  She wrinkled her nose.  "Or you could just give all the presents to me," she suggested with a pointed lifting of her eyebrow.

"Are you kidding?" he replied incredulously.  "You gotta be, right?  I mean, it'd be one thing if you were my girlfriend.  Then I'd be more than happy to give all the presents to you, bu-u-u-ut . . ."

"O-O-Oh, that's just low," she shot back.

Evan's grin widened.  "It was, wasn't it?  Still, it was worth a shot."

She snorted and waved a hand dismissively.  "Fine, fine.  Bring on the presents then, rocker-boy."

Evan chuckled and pulled a long, narrow box wrapped in festive pink paper out of a huge bag that Valerie hadn't noticed beside the bed.  She leaned to the side, trying to sneak a peek, but the infuriating man was faster, and he pushed the bag away with the toe of his boot.  "No cheating, woman," he said, clucking his tongue in mock censure.  "Here you go."

She eyed him for a long moment, trying to make him feel bad.  It didn't work, not that she figured that it would, anyway.  Taking her time, she turned the package over in her hands and gave it a little shake.  It rattled dully but gave no real indication as to what was inside, and she sighed.  Carefully picking at the tape that held the seam closed, she bit her lip when Evan rolled his eyes.

"Give it up, V.  Just tear into it; you know you want to."

With a giggle, Valerie gave up on the pretext and did as he had suggested, tearing the paper away in a matter of seconds before slipping the box out of the cardboard sleeve and carefully lifting the lid.  "A fountain pen?" she asked quizzically, her fingertips running gently over the length of the pen.

"Not just any pen, woman," he scoffed.  "It's a Montblanc—a personalized Montblanc."

It really was a gorgeous pen, and Valerie couldn't help but be a little surprised that Evan had picked out such a thing for her.  He'd left the little tab with the price embossed on it in the box, which just figured.  He was likely trying to make a point to let her know that he had actually listened to her demand that he get her something expensive when he ought to have realized that she was joking.  Not surprisingly, the Montblanc had cost almost eight hundred dollars.  Price aside, though, she had to admit that the pen was gorgeous, and also true, her initials were engraved on the clip.  In fact, she was happy enough with it that she didn't notice when he pulled another gift out of the bag and cleared his throat.

Glancing up from the booklet that had come in the package with the fountain pen, Valerie blinked and stared blankly at the gift in his hands for a moment.  "I don't know, Roka," she remarked slowly.  "I like this pen a lot."

"So you don't want this one?"

She made a face and bit her lip as she closed the booklet and sat back.  "Why don't you let me open them all so I can pick which one I like best?"

"That's not how the game is played," he scoffed.  "Rules are rules, V."

"Your rules suck."

He laughed since she was pouting, and he gave the gift in his hands a little shake.  "So you want to trade or not?"

Heaving a longsuffering sigh, Valerie put the booklet back and snapped the box closed again.  "Fine—if you want to be mean," she huffed, sticking the box under his nose.

Evan took it and handed over the next one.  Valerie shot him another pouting glance before ripping into the new present.  "Oh . . ." she breathed as she carefully lifted the delicate sculpture out of the box.  A spindly fairy complete with flirty little skirt and intricately carved wings—the newest in the set of the mystical creature creations that acclaimed artist Cleo Nazuride was known for . . . "It's beautiful . . ."

"You're a Nazuride fan?  Really?  Good!"

She nodded slowly and without taking her eyes off the sculpture.  She already owned one—just one.  It was a gift from her foster parents when she'd graduated from high school.  Though she'd thought that the fifteen-hundred-dollar price tag was a little exorbitant, she couldn't help but love the piece just because of the beauty of it.  There were only a thousand pieces made of each release worldwide, which accounted for the price, and though Valerie always loved to see the latest ones, she'd never actually bought any of the others.  This one she recognized from the small gallery that she passed by every day on her way to work.  That Evan had bought one for her?  She smiled.  "I love her work," she admitted quietly.

"Mama does, too.  Besides, I cheated on that one," Evan confessed.

Valerie glanced up and frowned.  "Cheated?"

He nodded.  "You've got one of them in your living room, right?  The mermaid, right?"

"It was a present from my foster parents," she admitted as her gaze fell to the statue in her hands once more.  "So beautiful . . ."

He didn't seem to be as impressed with the piece as she was.  "It's all right," he allowed.  "It's just a figurine."

She shot him a look designed to let him know just what she thought of his assertion that it was 'just a figurine'.  Biting her lip, though, she sighed and slowly shook her head.  Sitting patiently, his eyes reflecting a certain warmth that she didn't quite understand, Evan seemed content just to watch her open the gifts he'd selected.  "Evan," she said quietly as she shifted her gaze to the gift once more.  "I was kidding about the expensive present thing."

He chuckled softly and shrugged but seemed a little surprised by her softly uttered commentary.  "You don't really think I bought those things because you said you wanted something expensive, do you?"

"Didn't you?" she countered.

"I bought stuff that I thought you'd like," he replied simply, in a tone that implied that she ought to have known as much.

"Still . . ."

"Yeah, yeah," Evan drawled, waving off her concern and tapping the next present against his thigh.  "Moment of truth time, V.  Keep or trade?"

She grimaced as her grip tightened slightly.  He seemed to be having a good time playing the game he'd invented.  The least she could do was play along with him, right?  "Entirely unfair, Roka," she grumbled, still reluctant to give up the beautiful figurine.

Evan laughed, proving once more that he didn't really have a soul.  "You can stop if you really want to," he said slowly.

Valerie sighed and frowned at the figurine.  She was perfectly happy with the gift she was holding, but that nagging sense of curiosity was hard to ignore.  "Evan . . ."

"For the record, I guess I should tell you that I've arranged your presents in order from cheapest to most expensive," he pointed out casually.  "That means that this one cost more than that one."

Rolling her eyes, she shot him a droll look but didn't relinquish the statue, either.  "And I told you that you should've known that I was kidding about the expensive-thing," she shot back.

Evan's grin widened.  "I've got more money than God, remember?  It ain't a big thing."

She wasn't inclined to believe him.  He hadn't known when her birthday was until she'd told him, had he?  Which meant that he'd spent his day yesterday, running around, buying presents for her, and for some reason, that idea made her want to laugh.  He just didn't know how to do anything halfway, did he . . .?

"So you're not even a little curious as to what is in this box?" he asked lightly.

Valerie sighed and wrinkled her nose.  "I think this is just fine," she said.

"That right?  Seriously?"

He was goading her. She knew he was, not that it made her any less curious.  Then to make matters worse, he pulled another package out of the bag, too, and this one, he set on the bed near her just to taunt her, she was sure.  "You're really a jerk," she remarked mildly.  "Just so you know."

"C'mon, V.  Be a sport," he teased, waving the smaller package under her nose.

"All right," she grumped, snatching the box and thrusting the sculpture at him.  "If I don't like this one as much, though, can I have that one back?"

He set the delicate piece aside and shrugged offhandedly.  "If you really think so, V."

She didn't reply as she tore the paper off the black velvet jeweler's box and flipped back the lid.  A soft gasp escaped her as her eyes widened at the three carat solitaire teardrop diamond pendant hanging on a thin platinum chain and matching earrings nestled in the bed of black satin.  "Oh, my . . ." she breathed.  Even in the weak light of the very early morning sun that shone through the window, the diamonds glittered and glinted.

To his credit, he gave her a few minutes to stare at the set before clearing his throat once more.  "You going to stop now?" he asked, nodding his head at the last box sitting on the bed.

If it weren't for the size of the remaining gift, she probably would have agreed to stop with the necklace and earrings.  Too bad that the last box was large enough to peak her interest all over again.  It was shaped like a garment box but was definitely bigger, and she really couldn't help the curiosity that welled up inside her as she continued to stare at it.

"I'm really starting to dislike you," she pointed out in a huff as she snapped the box closed and held it out to him.

Evan chuckled again and leaned against the footboard.  "Ah, it's almost over," he assured her.

She picked up the final box and turned it over.  "And you think I'll like this better than those other things?" she challenged.

He shrugged but kept grinning.

Valerie ripped open the last package and wedged the lid off the box.

And then she giggled.

A silver fox fur throw blanket that was unbelievably soft under her fingers was nestled carefully in layers of simple white tissue paper, and she pulled it out of the box, snuggling the fur against her cheek.  "Is it real?" she asked breathlessly, her eyes drifting closed.

"Well, as politically incorrect as it is, yes, it's real," he allowed.  "You like it?"

"I've died and gone to heaven," she informed him.  "Oh, my God . . . So soft . . .!"

"So, I take it that you approve?"

She nodded dreamily and buried herself deep in the folds of the blanket with a happy sigh.

Evan chuckled.  "Hey, baby . . ."

Fluttering a hand at him, Valerie curled up in bed again, wondering if she couldn't get away with a nice nap since she was pretty sure that the blanket was probably as close to absolute divine bliss as she was ever going to get.  "Quiet, Roka.  I'm going back to sleep now."

He chuckled again and leaned toward her, hooking the blanket with his index finger to pull it away from her face.  "But there's one more package to trade for," he pointed out reasonably, his voice a low, almost gravely, infinitely intimate resonance.

"Perfectly happy with this," she murmured, shrugging her shoulder to loosen his grip on the blanket.

"Oh, come on," he coaxed gently.  "You're not even a little interested to see what's in this package?"

He shook it.  She heard him shake it.  It made a nice, dullish thumping sound.  Okay, so she was mildly interested.  If she didn't open her eyes, though, she could resist the burgeoning curiosity that he was inspiring in her.  "Not even a little," she lied.

The damned man shook it again.  Valerie made a face, not that he could see her.  He couldn't.  It didn't matter, though.  He knew she was interested, didn't he?  At least, curious just to know what he could possibly believe would be better than the sinfully warm, decadently soft fur.  "But I picked this one out especially for you."

"You picked all these out just for me, didn't you?"

Evan snorted.  "You think that I went running around all day just to buy a bunch of presents that I'm going to have to return tomorrow?" he scoffed.

Valerie sat up slowly, unable to hide the frown on her face as the blanket fell away, as she met Evan's amused gaze.  For some reason, the idea that he might have sent someone else shopping for her presents bothered her, didn't it?  It bothered her a lot . . . "Did you pay someone else to do it?" she heard herself asking before she could stop herself.

Evan laughed.  Whether it was because of the sulkiness that she couldn't keep out of her tone or the obvious irritation on her face that she didn't bother to try to hide, she didn't know.  Either way, he grinned at her, the jerk . . . "Of course I didn't," he admitted, sounding anything but contrite.  "Yes, I picked out all your presents."

Wrinkling her nose, Valerie snorted.  "I don't care," she shot back disagreeably, wondering vaguely if he'd stop laughing if she tossed the blanket straight into his face.  "Did you at least pick out that one yourself?" she asked, nodding at the unopened package in his hands.

"I picked out all of them," he reiterated.  "So yes, I picked out this one, too."

"But you said you didn't," she grumbled, her gaze taking on a saddened sort of expression as she stared at the beautiful fur blanket.

"I didn't say that," he argued mildly.  "I was teasing you, woman."

She didn't believe him entirely.  What he had said was more than enough to make her wonder whether or not he was telling her the truth.  "Fine then," she replied, shoving the fur at him.  "I don't want anything that you didn't pick out, anyway."

He opened his mouth to argue with her, but blinked when she yanked the last gift out of his hands.  "You know, I really did pick everything out for you," he said.

'Stop it,' she chided herself as she frowned at the package in her hands.  'Just why are you letting that get to you?'  Valerie sighed and bit her cheek.  She knew why, didn't she?  Of course that she knew that he was busy.  She wasn't fool enough to try to tell herself that he wasn't.  Still, what was the point of a few presents that meant nothing to him if he didn't take the time to choose them himself?  It made the gifts rather hollow, didn't it?  And it made her feel as though her birthday had been downgraded to something that he was doing to humor her . . . and that bothered her more than she could credit.

"You going to open that or are you just going to stare at it all day?" he teased.

Drawing a deep breath, brushing aside the bruised ego that made her feel entirely childish, Valerie shot him an overly bright smile and tore open the final gift.

And blinked.

"Oh, my God," she stated flatly as she gaped at the silly plastic box in her hands.  "You bought me a lunch box?"

He chuckled.  "Not just any lunch box, woman—a Princess Sasha lunch box—and I'll have you know that it was damn near impossible to find."

Shaking her head, she couldn't help the little laugh that escaped her as she lifted her gaze to meet his.  The silliness of the lunch box . . . the idea that he'd listened—really listened—to her story . . . It left her feeling a warmth that she just couldn't credit, even if she didn't fully appreciate how that could possibly be.  The lunch box she hadn't gotten but had so desperately wanted when she was a child . . . and as goofy as it was now—more than twenty years later—there was also something infinitely sweet in the gesture—something that maybe only a man like Evan Zelig would think of.

"I would have liked this better twenty years ago," she remarked dryly though her smile didn't fade.  Letting her gaze fall away, she blinked quickly as the sudden and perverse urge to cry shot through her.

"Yeah, well, why don't you open it?" he prodded.

Biting back the tears that stabbed her eyelids, Valerie laughed.  "For the thermos, you mean?"

His grin widened.  "Well, you did want more coffee, didn't you?"

"You filled up the thermos with coffee?"

"Yeah, I did," he told her.  "It should still be hot . . . I hope."

She giggled as she carefully opened the lurid pink plastic lunch box and lifted out the thermos.  Princess Sasha and her very best friends were printed on the thermos, smiling prettily up at her as she giggled again and twisted the lid.  When she pulled it loose, however, a small bit of plastic fell out, clattering dully against the inside of the box.  "What's this?" she asked, lifting the thing that had fallen.  No bigger than a credit card and not that much thicker, either, there were raised bumps on the one side of it, and it looked like a . . .

Grabbing her hand and tugging her to her feet and out of the bedroom, Evan marched her into the living room, only to stop near the barely opened window.  She didn't remember leaving that open the night before, but she didn't have time to remark on that, either.  "Push the middle button," Evan said, his grin widening as that expression that brought to mind a little puppy that was all excited about having been praised for doing something good surfaced on his face.

She eyed him for a moment, unable to quite grasp what her brain whispered, and she slowly, hesitantly, pushed the button.

The little light bulb on the card flashed once then two more times in quick succession, and from the distance, Valerie heard the very distinct sound of a car horn beeping in the same cadence as the blinking light.  Casting him a quizzical glance, she wasn't surprised when his grin widened even more before she stepped over to the window and peeked down at the street below.

It was pink.  Well, maybe not pink, pink, but more of a pastel pink—white with the barest hint of pink—though it reflected the early fall morning sunlight in a rainbow of colors, thanks to a very thick iridescent finish that was rather like the swirls of mother-of-pearl, and the bright red bow that was tied to the top of the car on the street lilted slightly in the mild breeze.  From where she stood, she couldn't rightfully tell what make the vehicle was, not that it mattered.  Her brain seemed to slow even more as she stared down at the street, as she tried to make sense of the blatantly decked-out birthday present.  "Oh . . . Oh, my," she murmured, pressing the button once more, as though she wanted to make sure that the car she was staring at was really intended for her.  "Roka . . . That's a . . ."

Evan's soft laughter cut her off, and before she was ready, he was tugging her toward the door.  "C'mon, V.  You've got to take her for a test drive."

"But," Valerie protested weakly as Evan pushed open the doors to the stairwell and pulled her along behind him, "but that's a car, Evan," she pointed out, as though he really hadn't realized that already.

"Not just any car, V," he countered lightly, tossing a grin over his shoulder at her.  "It's a Vestron Luminesta—the first one of next year's models to be sold ever."

"Vestron Luminesta?" she repeated almost dumbly.

"Yep," he replied, taking no note of her obvious inability to process the information he'd given her.  "You know—the luxury car of luxury cars.  Perfect for an attorney, right?"

Shaking her head as they descended the stairs at lightning speed, Valerie gasped when they stepped outside, as she got her first really good look at the beautiful car.  "Oh, I . . . I can't accept this, Evan," she breathed, casting him a wide-eyed look as she quickly shook her head.  She didn't dare glance at the car again.  Sure, she'd heard of the Vestron Luminesta.  She'd even put one together online once, just for kicks.  Never had she actually considered owning one—not in a million years . . . Luxury car of luxury cars, sure—with a price tag to match, she knew, and Evan . . . He'd bought one for her?  Was he out of his damn mind . . .?

"Sure you can," he challenged offhandedly, as though he thought that she was just joking.  "I was going to take her for a spin, but she's not really made to fit my ass."

"No, Evan," she said, her voice sounding a lot weaker than she'd like.  "I mean it . . . It's too much."

"Well, considering how much crap you put up with for me, then I'd say it's the least I can do," he replied.  He still didn't sound like she was getting through to him, which wasn't entirely surprising.  Evan wasn't used to being told 'no', and he probably thought that she was just arguing with him on principle . . .

There was a huge difference between a silver fox blanket and a car, though, and Valerie winced.  "Listen to me, Roka.  It's a gorgeous car, and—" she swallowed hard, "—and you're fantastic for having bought one for me, but . . . I really can't accept it.  It's just too much."

Rolling his eyes, he looked like he was finally listening to her—at least, somewhat.  "It's not a big deal, V.  You said yourself that I have more money than God, right?"

Biting her lip, she made the mistake of glancing at the car out of the corner of her eye, and she sighed.  It really was a spectacular car: streamlined enough to earn it the classification of a sports car yet designed to be very easy on the wallet when it came to filling the tank, she knew damn well that they were considered to be one of the safest vehicles on the road, too, and she grimaced.

"I'm happy enough with the lunch box . . . It means . . . It means that you really listened to me; that you really heard me," she murmured, her cheeks pinking as her gaze dropped to the sidewalk—and her sock-covered feet.  "You didn't have to buy me a car."

She started when his fingertips ran down the length of her cheek, under her chin, bringing her face up so that she was looking at him once more, but it was the tender little half-smile on his face that very nearly made her forget to breathe.  "I knew you would be," he told her gently, that smile taking on a rather sad sort of air.  "That's why I bought you the car, too."

He stared at her for another long moment then sighed and let his hand drop away from her face as he straightened his back and shifted his gaze over the city block; the passing traffic, the curious glances that were no more than an afterthought as people hurried about their lives.  "'Sides . . . You can't really tell me that you don't want to take her for a spin, right?"

"Take it back," she said suddenly, grasping his hand when he started to move toward the car.  "I appreciate the thought, I do, but you really should get your money back instead."

"Can't," he said simply, as though it really was no big deal.  "These babies are custom made, you know.  It's not like you can just walk into a showroom and drive one home that same day.  Hell, they even disassemble the old floor models because they're not customized—and even if I could, I wouldn't," he added, a hint of belligerence creeping into his tone.  "This one was made for you, V.  Even the paint job is custom.  The color is in Vestron's catalog now, you know.  V."

"What?" she asked, shaking her head, unable to grasp just what he was saying.

He chuckled.  "The color is called 'V'," he explained.  "Guess someone else saw it while they were busy, building yours, and she liked the color so much that she wanted the same on her Luminesta.  Since it's customized, though, they have to get your permission to use the same color on another car.  The girl I talked to said that she'd get in touch with you to see if reusing the color mix is okay with you."

"The color is named 'V'?" she demanded with an incredulous shake of her head.

"Well, yeah.  When they mix a new color from scratch, they always name it after the customer who ordered it."

The irony wasn't lost on her.  "Then shouldn't it be called 'Evan Zelig'?  Very girly . . . very pretty . . . very pink . . . absolutely 'Evan Zelig', if you ask me."

He snorted and tried to look offended.  The grin on his face ruined the overall effect.  "So how 'bout it, V?  Take it for a test drive?  I mean, you can't say you don't want it if you refuse to test drive it first."

Rubbing her arms against the chill in the air, Valerie tried to ignore the bait that he was dangling before her.  After all, there were a million reasons why she couldn't accept such an exorbitant gift, not the least of which was Marvin.  How would he feel if she took the car?  He might not be angry—when was he ever—but wouldn't it be like rubbing salt in an open wound?  There was no way in the world that he could even come close to being able to buy her anything of the sort.  Besides, usually they only went out to dinner and maybe a movie or something to celebrate birthdays since she knew well enough that Marvin always felt bad when he didn't have the money to buy her anything extravagant . . .

"I'm serious, Roka," she began with a shake of her head.  "Take it back.  Donate the money to charity in my name or something.  I . . ." She let out a deep breath and tried not to look at the car.  "I just can't take it.  I'm . . . I'm sorry."

"Jesus, V, it's a gift.  You can't feel bad about accepting a gift, for God's sake," he told her, shaking his head as an expression of definite irritation briefly flickered over his features.

Biting her lip, Valerie slowly shook her head.  "Come on, Roka.  Even you have to admit that buying a car for someone's birthday is a bit much, don't you think?"

"Not really," he replied easily.  "I bought Maddy one a few years ago, and she didn't have an issue with taking it."

Valerie snorted, crossing her arms over her chest as she shot the man a completely exasperated look.  "Did you buy her one this expensive?" she asked pointedly.

Evan shrugged.  "What the fuck does that matter?  This is the one that I thought you'd love, so it's the one I bought."

"Spoken like a spoiled rich kid," she muttered, eyeing the car once more almost sadly.  It wasn't that she didn't want it, no, but how in the hell could she ever really accept it?

"What?  Just because I was raised in a family that had money, it makes the car unacceptable?" he shot back.  Then he took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead like he was trying to control his emotions.  "You know, it's not going to matter if you take it for a short drive.  Besides, did you see the license plate?"

She stared at him for another long moment before she strode a few feet over so that she could get a better look at the rear end of the car, and when she spotted the plate, she shook her head—and giggled.  "'ONLY V', huh?" she said.

He chuckled.  "They didn't like the idea of putting just 'V' on your plate," he explained.  "Wicked, right?"

"Yes, well, as nice as it is, I still can't—" she began.

Waving his hands suddenly to cut her off, he grinned at her.  "Before you say that, V, there's one thing that I really think I should point out to you."

Against her better judgment, she cocked an eyebrow.  "What's that?"

"Unlock the car," he commanded.

She did—reluctantly.  The car beeped twice to let her know that the command had been accepted, and Evan strode over, pulling the door open and slipping in behind the steering wheel—kind of.  His legs were still outside the car, and Valerie closed her eyes when the entirely nice and wholly unmistakable 'new car smell' hit her full on in the face.  'New car' with a healthy dose of 'leather', actually . . . and the interior of the car was the same color as the outside.

He pressed a button in the middle of the steering wheel and grinned at her.  "Top down," he said slowly, carefully.  A moment later, a quiet hum drew her attention as he stood up and snatched the bow off the car as the top retracted.

"Oh, my God," she breathed, her eyes flaring wide as she stared.  "It's a convertible!"

"Totally sexy," he agreed.  "Now you want to take her for a test drive?"

"I . . . I don't have any shoes on," she blurted quickly.

He glanced down at her feet and grinned.  "I can always run upstairs and grab a pair for you."

Her conscience demanded that she turn right around and go back inside without doing any such thing.  'But it's a convertible!' she rationalized, and she'd always, always wanted one of those . . .

Evan chuckled, apparently interpreting the expression on her face correctly, and he grabbed her hand and gently pushed her toward the vehicle.  "It's your birthday, baby.  Live a little, why don't you?"

"And what do you think I should tell Marvin to explain this car?" she asked pointedly.

"I don't rightfully care what you tell the little nutsack," he replied in a mild enough tone despite the telltale darkening of his blue eyes, "but he isn't allowed to drive it."  Wrinkling his nose when he caught the disapproval in her gaze, he sighed.  "Did I tell you, V?  The seats are heated, too."

Uttering a terse growl, Valerie narrowed her eyes on Evan but scooted into the driver's seat anyway, noting a very swirly 'V' was embroidered on the headrests, too.  Evan chuckled and leaned in to push another button on the steering wheel.  Within moments, Valerie could feel the delicious warmth enveloping her, and she sighed happily.  "Oh . . . Oh, so nice . . ."

"Figured you'd like that," he said, unable to keep the pride out of his tone.

Letting out a deep breath, Valerie opened her eyes and shifted her gaze to meet his.  "I guess a test drive can't hurt," she ventured slowly.  Somehow, it felt like she was hammering the nails in her proverbial casket.

He pressed the button to lower the driver's side window before closing the door and leaning casually on it.  "Press the center button on that console."

"This one?" she asked.  He nodded, and she pressed it.

"Vestron Motorworks.  I'm Carol, your personal car guide.  How can I help you today, Ms. Denning?"

Valerie blinked—they knew who she was?

"Morning, Carol," Evan said smoothly.  "Ms. Denning needs to set the indentilocks, right?"

"Of course," Carol agreed.  "Just give me one second . . ." Valerie could hear the soft 'click' of a computer keyboard.  "All right.  Ms. Denning, if you'll press the pad of your thumb on the scanner until you hear a tone, we'll have everything set up in no time."

Valerie frowned at Evan, and he flicked a finger at the remote control in her hand.

The identilock pad was on the front of it just under the buttons.  Pressing her thumb in place, she waited for a second until a soft beep sounded to let her know that her fingerprint had been accepted.

"Okay, you're all set," Carol said pleasantly.  "Is there anything else you needed help with today?"

"N-No, that's it," Valerie replied.  "Thank you."

The woman laughed.  "Not a problem, Ms. Denning.  Feel free to contact me whenever you need my help, and welcome to the Luminesta family."

The connection ended, and Valerie shook her head.

Evan chuckled again.  "You can start the car with that from inside," he told her with a grin, "but you can't put it into gear until you enter your fingerprint there."

She pressed her thumb against the tiny scanner next to the monitor.  The car purred to life, and she giggled softly.  "Nice, but this isn't exactly the kind of car that one can keep on the street."

"That's true," he agreed easily enough.  "So you ready to take her for a spin now?"

Valerie heaved a sigh, but it was more of a wistful sound than anything else.  "Evan—"

"Consider it a bribe," he cut in before she could protest again.

"A bribe?  For what?" she asked.

His grin widened.  "For having to put up with a rock star."

She stared at him for a long moment, then she finally shook her head.  "Fine," she agreed at length.  "A test drive—that's all."

Why did he look like he'd just won the war?

"Let me run upstairs and grab my purse and shoes," she said as she reached for the door handle.

"Nah, I'll get them," he offered.  He looked way too pleased with himself, in her estimation.

Still, she nodded as he stood up and headed back toward the building once more.  "Thanks," she called after him.  He lifted a hand to indicate that he'd heard her, but he didn't stop moving.

'I thought you weren't going to accept the car, Valerie,' her conscience prodded.

'I . . . I'm not . . .' she thought without opening her eyes, 'but taking it for a test drive is okay, isn't it?'


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A/N:
'Birthday' originally appeared on the Beatles' 1968 release, The Beatles (The White Album).  Song written by and copyrighted to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
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Final
Thought from Valerie:
Oh, no, he didn't …!
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Blanket disclaimer for this fanfic (will apply to this and all other chapters in Subterfuge):  I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga.  Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al.  I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.
~Sue~
Chapter 97
Chapter 99
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