This is the final episode of Saphira. Her father throws a Christmas party in which Saphira’s (unwilling) engagement to the Marquis is announced. Her heart drums in suspense as the Marquis reveals the true purpose of his murders and his reason for wanting to marry her. In the end it all links together, and Saphira realizes the true measure of the Marquis’ danger.
Father got so ecstatic about the Marquis’ asking for my hand in marriage, that he throws a huge Christmas party to announce it. Mum’s all flashing smiles too, her Marge-Simpson-hair littered with ornaments and making it easy to mistake her for the Christmas tree. Me she styled into the ice queen tonight, the white and the glitter mirroring the upcoming wedding and my state of mind – frozen.
It’s as if my brain refuses to acknowledge the horror of my situation – I’m forced to marry a serpent-like monster whom I witnessed killing two men. And yet one single fact worries me – on the first night we danced together, he told me he had the best of reasons for doing what he does; I told him there is no good reason for murder; now I know there is indeed no one good reason – there are plenty.
“Saphy, I can’t believe this,” a girlish squeal rings in my ear before Jeanie Simmons squeezes me in her arms. My cheek twitches as I look at her. She’s such a pure vision with those cute curls and flushing cheeks that I dread her attraction to Joyous. He’s as much a criminal as the Marquis, and Jeanie doesn’t have a clue.
“The Marquis is every girl’s dream,” she exclaims, her small but surprisingly strong hands shaking my arms. “He’s super hot and super rich. Pretty Lauren is eating her heart out.”
Both of us glance in Lauren’s direction. Indeed, she seems pissed with arms folded across her chest, looking like one of Cinderella’s evil sisters with those pouty lips, bad-girl make-up and provocative scotch-red dress to match her hair. She lost the battle for the hottest bachelor in town, but I’m sure she’ll try to get him in her bed the way she got Jeremy, just to prove to herself she’s the better.
“You look like a fairy tale princess,” Jeanie returns her attention to me, her eyes sparkling as she looks me over from head to toes. “Silk ice-queen dress, neat. I love it!”
I don’t, but that’s beside the point. Virgin Vivien joins to save me from the fashion-talk, her noble features alight with true emotion – I can tell she’s happy for me.
“Saphira, I so, so, so congratulate you,” she says, taking my hands in hers. “I never saw this coming.”
“Neither did I,” I manage. Vivien takes it as a joke and laughs.
“You didn’t even hint at it at the banquet. I mean, how long have you even known each other?”
“A while now.”
“Was it a secret romance?” She leans in with a classy ghost of a wink.
My cheek twitches again, and my smile must look disturbed, since Vivien turns serious. “Saph, is everything all right?”
Jeremy steps in, surprising me. I didn’t realize he was around, let alone so close. “Saph, if there’s anything you need to say . . .” He’s got his no-nonsense London detective look on, injecting me with the urge to speak. He’s been on to the Marquis all along anyway, the truth might not even be wholly new to him.
The pressure is heavy, and I’m about to crack and cry out loud that the Marquis is a monster murderer who forced me into this, and that no, we do not know each other well, I don’t even know his first name. But that moment murmur increases, and clapping hands make up a crescendo. Both Vivien and Jeremy turn like opening doors to clear my sight, and I see him. The Marquis.
He walks directly to me, elegant and dangerous like a panther, his dark eyes hypnotic on that youthful ivory face. He extends his hand – gloved and black – and I’m compelled to offer mine. He leans in and takes it to his lips, his eyes fixed on my face, threatening as hell from under his brows.
Soon his arm is around me, keeping me close to his body that feels hard and delicious under his clothes. He’s using that inexplicable power he has over me to influence my feelings, and I don’t stand a chance to resist him. He leads me around to greet people, who congratulate and stare. I’m sure I look like a zombie. I can’t even speak, as if he put a spell on me that seals my lips to anyone but him. I feel like a living mind in a corpse, I want to scream but I’m unable to.
Lauren bats her lashes at the Marquis when we come to her circle, smiling seductively. He gives her a reserved smile back, no more. If I were myself, I’d probably welcome her winning him over, but I’m not myself.
After a while the Marquis and I have a moment alone with a glass of red wine, and his hold on me lessens. I take the chance to win some of his trust, since it seems like my only option.
“You were right,” I mutter with some difficulty.
He takes the glass to his lips, looking purposefully away, as if to allow me to regain some self-control. “About what?”
“You did have the best of reasons to take Pukov’s life.”
“I’m glad we begin to think alike.”
“Who was that woman, Marquis?” I dare. “The one Pukov killed?”
“He beat and raped her, then had others do the same,” he cuts. “But he wasn’t the one to kill her.”
My throat knots. It dawns on me. “The man at the Royale, he was one of them?”
“Your wit is quick.”
“My God. They’re all from Northville.”
“And they’re all here now.”
I can’t believe my ears. Instinctively I look around, my gaze sweeping over every male face starting with my father – an obsolete, dusty Godfather-type of businessman – and ending with Jeremy, who stands a protective pillar by his sister Jeanie and Virgin Vivien, frowning at his suspect – the Marquis. William “Billy” Dean – the mouse-faced notary public who’s had a crush on Lauren forever – would never fit the profile after my standards. Maybe Ronald Lord Barkley, the livid head of the lunatic asylum; he looks deranged enough.
But when the Marquis glides behind me, one arm coiling around my stomach and the other pointing discretely but clearly in the direction of the killer, my blood turns to ice grain, scraping my veins.
“It was him.”
The words make the sky drop and squash my heart. I stare frozen, unable to feel.
“That’s why you insisted to marry me. It wasn’t just to keep me quiet about the murder at the Royale,” I whisper.
“Quick wit despite the shock. I like you more and more, Saphira.”
The haze begins to lift, and the reality presents its grotesque face – my father killed that woman. He raped and killed her, taking some sick pleasure in it. Somehow my intuition confirms, even if I would have never suspected it of my own accord.
“What do you intend to do?” I manage.
“Initially I planned a slaughter,” he hisses. I become aware of his men lining the walls, Joyous and Stone Mask guarding the exit, ready to seal it at their boss’ signal that the bloodbath may begin. I doubt they’d spare the collaterals. “But when you surprised me at the Royale, I had a much better idea.”
My skin crawls. “Who was the woman, Marquis? Who was she to you?” I force myself to look aside to his face over my shoulder. His eyes are black and deadly on my father.
“She was the woman I loved. I was very young back then, and nothing like I am now. I tried to protect her, but Pukov’s men battered me to a pulp. Pukov himself never even took notice of me.”
“But how is it possible that his men could defeat you? I mean, you’re –,” I stop.
“A monster,” the Marquis finishes for me. He smiles that wicked smile of his. “I told you, I was nothing like I am now. I was an orphan in love with an aristocrat, a hopeless but requited love. A secret love. But since I didn’t have anyone in the world but her, Pukov’s men did with me what they did with every such opportunity – they sold me to my maker.”
Chill after chill crawl under my skin. “Will you do with me what they did with her?”
Mystery replaces the threat in the Marquis’ eyes, and I’m somewhat calmer. But his good will is a mirage.
“You will assist me in my revenge, Saphira. And I’ll make my revenge epic.” With these words he extends his gloved hand again, and his power compels me to take it. He says the good-byes for both of us, and invokes a romantic chariot ride as reason for our leaving the party. The bastards don’t have a clue how very lucky they are. On the inside I’m boiling. I’m paying for the sins of sadistic perverts.
They gather at the windows and in the doorstep to watch the Marquis help me into the chariot under falling snow-flakes, believing me the fairy-tale princess, when in truth I’m the sacrificial lamb. The Marquis opens his coat like a demon his black wings to look like he’s warming me, but I can’t feel the cold anyway. My heart drums in anxiety with the tramping of horse hooves as I watch the black tower emerge from the white winter night. The Marquis’ lips touch my ear, his breath warm.
“I told you I’d be taking you with me to the underworld, Persephone.”
Epilogue with bonus scenes to be released in the upcoming Christmas Stories for Adults on the 22nd of December. Stay tuned!
Liked this? Check out the previous episodes of Saphira here, and stay tuned for the COVER REVEAL to the upcoming Christmas Stories for Adults tomorrow! The book will contain all three stories – Hyperion, Saphira and Lila –, with bonus end scenes that will only be disclosed in the book. Please feel free to roam this site for all the previous episodes to all three stories in the Stories for the Coffee Breaks section, and enjoy the suspense and the mystery.
UPDATE: Saphira’s whole story has been published in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.