Used by the powerful Marquis in his revenge, Saphira is desperate for a way out. But there is more to the Marquis than his lust for revenge, dark secrets buried deep in his past. Saphira found an excuse to leave the manor where he kept her prisoner, and made a plan to meet Jeremy Simmons, an Inspector who’s been after the Marquis for a long time. Jeremy is her only chance at information and rescue, but the end of this meeting holds a big surprise for Saphira.
Jeremy emerges into the Notary’s small office. Wearing a tight black turtleneck and trousers, a black cap concealing his hair, he casts a dark, bulky shadow over the entire place. Square-faced and with a grave mien, he looks as much a security agent as Zed, only that Jeremy’s a licensed Inspector, approved by the law, the letter and society. He inspires trust, which is strengthened by memories of our shared childhood, but dimmed by the night when I caught him in bed with Pretty Lauren and ended our engagement in tears, pointed fingers and cusses. I stand still, uncertain how to react as his muscular arms close around me.
“You’re so thin, Saph,” he whispers, a bit rueful.
Indeed, I feel like Popeye’s Olive in the arms of a troll.
“My appetite took quite a few blows lately,” I say with a bitter attempt at a laugh.
“I imagine being forced into prostitution is not an easy bite to swallow,” he says, and presses his lips on the top of my head. I try to struggle from his arms, but he won’t let me, and all I manage is to raise my head to look into his eyes.
“It’s not like that, Jeremy. The Marquis had me lure a man in a place where he could take him down without witnesses, but it never came to –”
“You don’t have to go there, Saph. I saw what happened in the dungeons, what he did to you, and I swear I’ll rip his heart out for it. I wish you knew how much it hurt,” he says, his eyes now hooded as he leans in to inhale my scent. “I missed this so much.”
“Jeremy, I didn’t take the chance to come here for an amorous rendezvous. I did it because you promised me something important.” I try to put distance between us with palms on his overly pumped chest. I’m uncomfortable with his arms holding me prisoner, since his closeness infringes my sick loyalty to the Marquis. A henchman, terrible and dark, the Marquis might yet have feelings for me according to Lauren, and I have without a doubt a crush on him, no matter how much I resent it.
“Nothing is more important than this, Saph.” Jeremy grabs my shoulders and looks me straight in the face. “I still love you. And I will do everything in my power to save you from Kieran Slate.”
His declaration of love is good for my ego, but nothing more. For months after the incident with Lauren I dreamed of Jeremy crawling at my feet asking for forgiveness. Had he done it, we’d be together now. But he was too proud, and decided to ask his superiors to transfer him to London instead, burying his pain or whatever he felt in obsessive weightlifting, and explaining how men will be men only in e-mails. At my turn, I’ve been too proud to ask Lauren if they still saw each other when she went to London, which was often.
“I thought you and Lauren had some kind of clandestine affair going.” I raise my chin and square my shoulders in an I’m-entitled-to-know attitude.
“Of course we don’t.”
I snort bitterly. “’Of course’? How come ‘Of course’? You did her a month before our set wedding day.”
“It was a one-time thing, Saphira. I was weak and stupid, I –”
I hold up my palm to stop him talking. “It’s all right. No need to dig out the dead. But I assumed you’d be seeing someone anyway, it’s been two years since we broke up.”
“Those haunting golden eyes of yours are impossible to forget, Saphira. I tried, but I couldn’t get serious with anyone, I never got over you,” he says, the confessional tone of his voice making it hard to doubt his words. In the end, I’ve known him for a lifetime, I know how to read him. But then again, he’s known me for just as long, and he’s skilled at fooling me.
The sour part of me wants to retort something accordingly sour, such as, “what you can’t forget is how I let you do everything you wanted with me.” Young and inexperienced, I never refused Jeremy for fear of losing him. I doubt he’s found another such sex slave again. But I refrain from spitting out the line, and go for a curt and to-the-point response.
“Please don’t waste time, Jeremy. Lauren might be back any second. Why did you call me here?”
“You still ask?” He frowns, making me feel like an idiot missing some obvious point. Which is, indeed, a fact. “Kieran Slate, a.k.a. the Marquis. He’s a terrible danger to you. You need to break away from him and run. Run away with me.”
I freeze at the idea and realize one more disturbing truth – I do not want to break away from the Marquis.
“I don’t . . . I’m not prepared. If I disappear, he can make that recording of me reach everybody in Northville.”
Jeremy pulls me close again, his face now inches from mine. I can feel the smell of mint as he speaks.
“So freaking what? Does that even matter under the circumstances? Look. I initially wanted to spare you these details, but it seems you need the truth held naked and ugly in your face.” But he’s hesitant to speak out whatever truth he means.
“Go ahead, Jeremy, I’m not a child.”
He tightens his jaw, his brow furrowing.
“Kieran Slate was engineered into a serpent-man, that you know,” he says. “You also know how it came to that. You also understood from our talk yesterday that his makers used him as a hit man. But you don’t know the horrendous details of it all. He killed on command and in terrible ways, Saphira. He dragged his victims in the tunnels underneath London and maimed them. Soon he began accepting other clients besides his makers, and made a fortune as a contract killer. That’s how he became filthy rich. The Marquis of Vandenesse was one of his targets, whose identity Kieran Slate assumed. After that he not only cashed in from his clients, but also took over his victims’ wealth.” His eyes drill into mine. “Kieran Slate made a flourishing business out of death, Saphira.”
Jeremy’s words slither under my skin, making the blood draw from my face. Again I remember the Night of Venice, and how I’ve learned that, before dying, his victims had signed cession of all their wealth to the Marquis.
“After he’s done with his revenge, after he has no more use for you, he’ll leave you a physical and psychological wreck, Saph,” Jeremy continues. “And if by any chance his hypnotic grip on your senses makes you not care about yourself, think about your mother. Your dad may be a monster who deserves his fate, but that poor woman who loves you above all else? Come with me, Saphira. I’ll take you to a safehouse, and bring your mother to you.”
Muffled voices come from the stairs, and I recognize Billy the Notary’s flattering tone directed to Lauren, as well as a blur of her bitchy responses. The stairs creak under their steps. I look straight into Jeremy’s eyes. He has me persuaded.
He grabs my hand, pulling me after him down a dark set of stairs. The bookcase that conceals the secret exit closes the very second the front door opens, and Billy and Lauren walk into Billy’s dirty office. Lauren will surely think I left while she was at the ladies’ room, and Billy will support that.
Jeremy and I hurry to a car at the back of the building, right by the fire escape. He opens the door for me and I lunge in, my heart beating hard.
The Marquis is evil and dangerous, and this affair can only end badly for me – I tell myself as Jeremy drives away. I strengthen myself in the conviction that it was his hypnotic powers alone that made me fall for him, that I can’t have been so stupid to do so of my own accord, and I pray to all saints that distance will cure the sick crush.
But only a few streets down a black car speeds by us and blocks our way. It brakes with a loud, sharp screech, making Jeremy come to a violent halt that almost throws me through the windshield. I stop myself with forearms on the top of the glove compartment, knocking hard into it. My heart smashes my chest as Zed “Stone Mask,” the Marquis’ head of security, emerges from the driver’s seat, walking towards us and pulling out his gun, his steely eyes fixed on me through the windshield. Behind him black and grey smoke rises in the air, billowing in one heavy cloud, and when I realize where it comes from I let out a scream.
To be continued . . .
Enjoyed this? Check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Tuesday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.
READ THE STORY FROM THE BEGINNING: PREQUEL – Saphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.