Saphira witnessed the Marquis murdering a man – though she only saw the Marquis removing his gloves by the corpse. She has thus become of interest to a murderer. He solved her father’s financial difficulties to win the man’s favor, and maneuvered Saphira to attend his banquet. He managed to sway her up to the dark tower, where she could no longer resist his power over her. His kiss had her hypnotized, and she was ready to give herself to him right there, but the Marquis retreated into the darkness. Then the door burst open and Saphira saw a face she forgot to expect. In this episode the action reaches dangerous highs as the Marquis finally reveals his secret.
Jeremy Simmons stares at me, his expression worried. He’s gained weight since the last time I saw him – in bed with Pretty Lauren – or his fancy suit makes him look that way. As he approaches I realize the extra weight is muscle mass. His facial features are more square and hard than I know them – a result of the testosterone he’s been taking, I guess. Jeanie said he fell in a workout fever after we broke up. He looks good, but my mind is soaked with the Marquis, his bittersweet scent, those hypnotic dark eyes and the feel of his lips on mine.
“Why on Earth did he bring you here?” Jeremy says and approaches like a man on a rescue mission.
“Don’t,” I mutter. Jeremy gets me wrong. He lifts his arms in the air then drops them, looking exasperated.
“Saphira, I’ll grovel if I have to. I’m not asking you to forgive me for what happened with Lauren, but let’s at least be civil. It’s been a long time.”
I can’t repress a smile – his ego must be as pumped as his muscles if he believes I’m still hurt. I shake my head easily and hold up my palm to stop him talking.
“All forgiven, Jeremy, no need to go there. It’s not that.”
He blinks, puzzled. “Then what is it?”
“I’m just surprised to see you all of a sudden, after all this time. Especially in the tower of the manor.”
“I was trying to get to you in the crowd when I saw our host sneak you out of the ballroom. I choked with worry. I couldn’t use the same exit, people seemed obstinate to block it, so it took a while to find another way. I was afraid I might be too late.”
I can’t believe his guts, but I refrain from comments on the matter. “Too late for what? What made you think he might’ve hurt me?”
Jeremy’s features lock. He straightens up and looks through me, his lips seamed to each other. I realize he knows things about the Marquis, and I put two and two together fast – Jeremy hasn’t been in Northville since we broke up. He had no reason to appear now. He’s a detective in London, and the Marquis is a murderer. In the blink of an eye Jeremy Simmons becomes interesting to me all over again, but in a way that’s light years away from romantic.
I manage to talk him out of the room, avoiding his holding up his lamp to see the portrait. Just a few moments later I descend the spiraling stairs with him, my arm hooked around his, my brain spinning around ways to get him talking. I fail all the way as he leads me into the crowd. Even though he sticks around, he keeps scarce of words. Nevertheless, I can see the gravity in his face whenever he looks at the Marquis.
On the rare occasions the Marquis looks at Jeremy he seems to scan the man inside out. His youthful features are relaxed as he glides in the crowd, talking to people, as if Jeremy’s presence doesn’t worry him in the least. Stone Mask and Joyous flank him the entire time, and a group’s constantly shifting to back them up, which makes it clear they’re undercover security. I can’t help stealing glances at him, compelled by his unusual beauty and the memory of his kiss.
I realize I’m always around him, beginning to act like a stalker. Refusing to sink any lower, I stomp to the wardrobe, let the valet help me into my coat and hurry down the manor stairs. I increase pace with every step, but before I get to slide on my butt on the last one a chauffeur catches me and elegantly motions to a car. He tells me the Marquis insists that I’m safe and comfortable. As the car departs I look back at the majestic manor, wondering if he’s watching me leave.
For days I keep myself locked in the attic, painting him in a frenzy, canvas after canvas. I sink my hands in the watercolor and reproduce his portrait with my fingers. My brain spins with questions – should I tell Jeremy what I saw? Should I risk it? Should I paint the scene, let it speak for itself? The answer subdues my morals every time, reminding me my own father could have the same fate as the man at the Royale if I betray the Marquis’ secret. So I ignore Jeremy’s calls, fearing his questions. It’s not the same when the piranha Vladimir Pukov resumes attack.
As usual, I don’t answer at first, but then it hits me – maybe he decided he wouldn’t let the Marquis intimidate him out of the chase. I need something to distract me from the dark-eyed murderer who’s been haunting my nights and daydreams too, so I pick up.
“Well, er, uhm, hello beautiful,” he babbles. He didn’t expect to actually hear me at the other end of the line. I’m half nice, half mocking, which he registers but doesn’t let sway him.
“I got reservations at the Apostles,” he brags. It’s the fanciest restaurant in town, in the old town center, all high ceilings and paintings to match the Sistine Chapel. The owner didn’t save a dime, and invested a lot in art, the piranha observes as soon as we’re settled at our table in a booth.
I wear a little black dress this time, like Virgin Vivien – it keeps unwanted hands off her, so I hope for the same effect now. After the same model, my hair is up in a tight golden bun, and my make-up discrete. To my dismay this only makes the piranha go serious-relationship on me, holding my hand over the table – immaculate cloth, I notice, it even smells of flowery detergent.
“I’d like to know more about your own art, Saphira,” he says.
“It’s not –”
“Hush, no,” he stretches over and squashes my lips with his finger. He’s so ridiculous looking long into my eyes and pretending to be gentle, that I fidget to keep back a burst of laughter. “I understand you like to be taken seriously. And my intentions with you are very serious.”
“So are mine.” That dark, liquid voice gives me the goose bumps. I look in the direction it came from and see the Marquis walking to our table from behind the fake wall that separates it from the rest of the restaurant. I freeze as he stops by our side, an elegant feral in a dark suit, his eyes intense down on Pukov.
Stone Mask and Joyous flank him on each side now too, only that Stone Mask’s steely eyes shoot daggers, and Joyous’ smile seems deranged like a killer psycho’s. Just a shade different from his smile at the banquet, but it gives him a whole new aura, and I think of poor Jeanie.
Beads of sweat appear on the piranha’s baldhead again, and his fleshy frame cringes in his suit.
“Marquis of Vandenesse.” He attempts to stand, but Stone Mask pushes him back down into his chair. Pukov’s eyes widen as he realizes the conflict is no longer veiled.
“You didn’t contact her in days,” Pukov explains himself, sounding anxious. “I assumed it was just that night at the banquet.” The last words fade as his look at the Marquis gains more rounded meaning – he assumed the Marquis did me that night, and then ditched me, therefore leaving the path open for Pukov to do the same. But that’s not what the Marquis picks up on.
“And how do you know that I haven’t contacted her? Did you stalk her?”
“You must’ve done the same, since you’re here.” Pukov says. Then something in the Marquis’ eyes makes more sweat break out through his skin, his face now luscious with it. “I mean you’re in your every right to, since the two of you are more serious than I thought, obviously. Saphira could’ve told me, but she chose not to.”
The Marquis flashes a youthful smile at him. “Are you blaming the lady now?”
“She did give course to my invitation.”
“She broke under your insistences.”
“I hardly think that’s fair. She didn’t have to answer my calls.”
“You cornered her from every direction. You’ve been burning her phone for weeks, had her father lobby for you, even offered him money.”
Pukov would like to grin, but he bites his inner cheek. “Didn’t you?”
“Not to get her in my bed, but to secure her as my wife.”
Both Pukov’s and my jaw drop.
“This is direct,” Pukov says. “I apologize, I didn’t realize the two of you were this far.” It’s obvious he retires from the exchange because he’s afraid of the Marquis, not because he’s any less convinced that I’m a bitch who lifted her tail, merely playing hard to get. But the Marquis isn’t willing to let him off the hook.
“Your pattern of thinking, Mr. Pukov, it’s brought ruin to innocent destinies before. It got a particular young woman raped and killed. Do you feel she provoked you the way Saphira did?”
His words fire shock in my head.
Stone Mask and Joyous tighten their presence on each side of Pukov, while the Marquis bends down to loom over him, a hand on the rest of his chair, the other one a fist on the table. It looks strong and angry despite the Marquis’ low voice.
“You pursued her affections as aggressively as you do Saphira’s. She wasn’t interested, but you wouldn’t take no for an answer. You persuaded yourself she was just playing difficult, and forced yourself on her in an alleyway. She fell limp while you had your way with her, which drove you mad. You beat her up so badly, that by the time anybody could identify her again she was dead in a dumpster, after having been roughly used by a number of your friends – for money, for days.”
My heart beats in a rage as I process what the Marquis is saying. The piranha’s eyes are wide with fear, fixed on the Marquis’ menacing face.
“Say her name, Vladimir. I’m sure you remember it. You don’t forget an experience like that easily,” the Marquis slurs darkly.
The piranha tries but fails, and the Marquis doesn’t give him another chance. What happens next electrifies me to the marrow.
I strain to understand what I’m seeing as something looking blade-sharp begins slithering out of the Marquis’ mouth. I jump up as I realize a serpent tongue undulates slowly towards the piranha, but someone’s behind me and covers my scream with their hand. I have no choice but watch how the young man with the angelic face and demon-like eyes forces the thing that moves out of his mouth down the piranha’s throat. A bubble seems to form in Pukov’s belly then further up in his chest. I can see it moving under his shirt, and I feel a violent need to throw up. The tongue twists and turns inside the piranha and then yanks out in a splutter of blood, coiled tightly around what I realize is the man’s stomach. I press my eyes shut, releasing the fear and shock into the hand that presses hard on my mouth.
When I open them I see the Marquis through my tears, I see the skin on his hands changing texture into something reptilian. The tablecloth catches fire like paper at the edges under his touch, but Joyous is quick to spill the piranha’s glass of water on it. The Marquis pulls a pair of special gloves over his hands, then starts wiping the blood off the piranha’s face with white towels that Stone Mask provides. Joyous moves just as fast and skilled while he cleans the scene, suddenly assisted by people pouring in from around the fake wall. I recognize some of them from the banquet.
I’m being led out through the back, into a limo. I’m shivering and I’m sure I’ll pass out, but then the Marquis takes the place opposite from me, looking elegant and youthful as if nothing happened, removing his gloves the way I saw him at the Royale.
“You weren’t mocking,” I breathe with my last drop of self-awareness. “You’re indeed a demon.”
“Demons are the creation of a god, Saphira. I’m the creation of a man.”
To be continued.
Liked this? Check out the previous episodes on the Stories for Coffee Breaks section on this site, and stay tuned for a new episode of Lila tomorrow – she will finally discover why Andrey Jones framed her for murder.
Here is the whole schedule for this week (Stories and Quizzes), and if you have a particular love for graphics don’t miss the cover reveal for the Christmas Stories – Suspense & Mystery for Adults on Sunday. The e-book will be released on Amazon on the 22nd of December, and it will contain all three stories of Hyperion, Saphira and Lila in full – including final goody parts that will not be included in the episodes on this site. So if you’re thinking of a nice last-minute present for your friends and family, this may just be it.
UPDATE: Saphira’s whole story has been released in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.
Please feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer, and take advantage to the fullest. Enjoy!