Jeremy’s fingers clench around my upper arm. He practically drags me down the stairs and out of the inn into the nightly rain. I’m scared and calling his name, begging him to release me, but he doesn’t stop even as I stumble and lose my shoes. He treats me like a worthless criminal, and I sense his jealousy, frustration and broken pride at having lost so much to Kieran. Hatred is driving him mad.
His men follow, and Jeanie calls after us from the rear of the flock, but Jeremy’s way too deep in his wrath to mind even his sister. He drags me down the street, taking the middle of the road and displaying me like a Salem witch, his policemen sloshing behind. I’m scared as heck to see the Black Monks so close, but they keep quiet on the sidewalks, their faces only black gaps under the hoods.
Lights go on here and there, and prying faces with tousled hair appear behind windows with lamps in their hands. But soon fear wins over curiosity and they close even the shutters, leaving the decaying historical buildings only shadows in the heavy rain. I’m soaked and freezing, my cheeks hurt from the cold, and I feel catapulted back into the darkest times of the Middle Ages.
Little by little the town goes silent like a graveyard, only our precession’s rhythmic slosh down the road cutting through it. I scramble and limp awkwardly as my foot soles go bloody, but the pain is insignificant. Thoughts of Kieran fill my head. These cratures are too many. Kieran and his men are at their mercy, and it’s all my fault.
As we reach the grey mausoleum that my parental home looks like my heartache for Kieran is almost unbearable. I’d give my life to be able to take back what I asked of him. I’m driving myself crazy and only let it go a bit as Jeremy throws me into the big armchair by the fireplace.
One side of my face is suddenly burning from the heat, but the other one feels like needles as it defrosts. I try to get up and talk to Jeremy, but he pushes me back into the now drenched – and ruined – cushioned antique. Someone tries to put a blanket around me, but he doesn’t let them. I go instantly angry, and I’m determined to say something, but people – most with white hair and reprimanding expressions, some even with expensive canes – trickle into the room, making me stop with my mouth open. They seem so well synchronized in their arrival timing, that I’m sure the gathering must’ve been prepared in advance. A meeting of the elite circle, of which Jeremy has been holding ever since Gunnar died.
My mother comes too, but she stops by the entrance, clutching her hands before her mouth, eyes swollen from crying. She looks at me like she’s doing something terrible that she’s yet convinced she must for my sake. Soon more women follow, some much younger than their male companions.
“The beast has managed to escape,” Jeremy begins like a master of ceremonies – or sectarian leader by the way he opens his arms and raises his voice. “But don’t be dismayed! We got Saphira back, and she’ll help us bait him to us.”
I’m beginning to see where this is going and jump up from my seat. “What? No!”
“Kieran Slate, a.k.a. the Marquis of Vandenesse is a killer and a monster.” He tries to cup my face in his hands. I slap them and jerk back, but it doesn’t throw him off balance at all.
“It’s safe for you to speak out the truth, Saphira,” he says. “The doors are closed and sealed, we’re among the most trustworthy friends of your father. They know all about Kieran Slate and his story, they know he’s an engineered serpent-man, and that he forced you to be with him.”
“His story, yes. I wonder how much the people here contributed to that story,” I spew angrily, my eyes sweeping over their affected, arrogant, despicable faces. I wonder how many of them had their way with Catherine before Gunnar finished her, and I shudder as the atrocity of that crime courses through me once again.
“Saphira, the Marquis killed important men from Northville,” Mum intervenes with a step forward. “He has the power to hypnotize people, and this is how he got you on his side, but –”
“No one got me on their side, mother,” I cut her off. “And I can’t believe you speak of important men as if Catherine Lancaster or any one of these monsters’ victims were something less.”
She shakes her head like someone trying to get rid of a too painful truth. “The Marquis kills in a horrendous way.”
“More horrendous than gang rape and torture? Do you have to feel it in your flesh to understand the gravity of that?” Blood floods my veins in a rush, my face must be on fire and I can’t believe what I just said to my mother. I go mute in a second.
“This is preposterous,” a male phony-face with nasal voice intervenes. “She’s on the beast’s side!”
“We can’t use her,” another guy cuts in. “She was engaged to the monster.”
“Against her will,” Mum exclaims. “He wanted to use her in his revenge, and he blackmailed her. He manipulated her mind, look what he turned her into!”
“Manipulated or not, she’s clearly in love with him,” a woman with huge implants and super pumped lips chimes in. Once again being good with faces comes in handy – I recognize her from the Night of Venice, when her attitude was very different. She drooled over Kieran and looked daggers at me as he said I was his girlfriend.
“She’s the devil’s mistress!” An angry old man shakes his cane.
“And she must enjoy his bed since she defends him with such force. She’s as rotten as he is.” – Pretty Lauren with an evil grin. She stands with her arms crossed in a corner.
Voices rise over each other, and once again I feel like one of Salem’s witches. Jeremy moves around energetically – things clearly aren’t going according to his plan. These people are more interested in exorcizing me than using me as bait or whatever else. But this is not about me or these bastards’ inquisition-worthy trial, it’s about Kieran Slate, the man I’ve fallen in love with madly, stronger than I ever thought possible. I look the truth in the face – I’d do anything for him. It’s now or never. I squeeze my eyes shut, pray, and as my eyelids snap open again I make the first move.
To be continued on Friday.