The most important scenes in the book by now, Part I – There’s a goody in the end : )
“Excuse me,” I say and push back my chair. I leave the table and make my way through the crowd towards the exit, then take up such a pace down the stairs that I stumble over my own dress folds.
I manage to reach the bottom of the flight on my feet and lean on a marble pillar, hand on my belly and struggling for deep breaths. The freaking corset makes it hard.
The first toilet is full of powdering noses, so I seek a more secluded cloakroom to cool down. This part of the venue is still undergoing some renovation, which keeps precious personalities at bay. Given that the ball’s full of them, this wing is empty.
I stroll among a few scaffolds for interior and take the curve around the corner. I stop in my tracks and my breathing catches, yet this time it’s not the corset.
An elegant back in a tailcoat, stripping off a pair of black gloves. He moves like a feral licking its bloody snout, which must be why the white-faced dead man in a suit sitting on the floor facing him, back against the wall, actually fits the picture for a second. I realize I’m witnessing a murder and I want to scream, but the killer turns, and my heart stops.
His face is marble-white with astonishing features and the blackest eyes I’ve ever seen, his hair dark, rich and glossy. He’s probably no older than twenty, barely more than a dazzling boy who gives women wet dreams. But the calmness he displays, the composure, it leaves no doubt – it was him.
I turn on my heels and run back towards the populated hallway, my shoes clattering on the marble floor, dress folds gathered in my hands. I barge into the packed toilet, breathless and unable to utter one intelligible word. The powdering noses now staring and batting fake lashes don’t look like much help.
I crack the door and peek outside. People stroll up and down the luxurious hallway, stiff and wearing the fake grins specific for these business balls. He’s nowhere in sight. I slap a bit of water on my cheeks, which brings my shaking limbs back in moving condition, and hurry up to the ball room, intent on blurting out a report to my father.
But only a few steps into the dancing and tumbler-clinking crowd the young killer blocks my route, arranging his tie and fixing me with those dangerous dark eyes. I freeze in place. Before I realize what’s happening he reaches around my waist and leads me into a slow dance. He moves so naturally, no one would suspect that something’s wrong with this picture. I move along, my mind blocked and relying only on my sixth sense – I dread what would come out of struggling away from such a man.
“Are you going to tell on me?” His voice is a pleasant baritone. Soft, warm, it could fool anyone. It could’ve fooled me.
“You just killed a man.” I begin to shake.
“I had the best reason there is for that.”
“There are no good reasons for murder. You’re a psycho.”
“You’re good with labels. Stamp people a lot?” He exudes a bittersweet scent that stirs me inside.
“No more than they stamp me.”
“I have a label for you too, then.” He sounds menacing. I can see “dead woman” racing my way. But he takes distance, keeping my hand in a smooth palm. His eyes hypnotize me into calmness as he takes it to his beautiful young lips. “Persephone.”
“Why Persephone?” I whisper with my last drop of wit. He seems to hypnotize me in the most real sense of the word.
“Because I might just take you with me back to the Underworld.”
Dressed all-business in his best suit, Father has a content expression, a bit devious maybe. Big stomach ahead of him – liver issues, which he ignores again with a glass of scotch and ice cubes – he stands leaning with a hand on his desk. There’s something about him that resembles a mafia boss, but the years when he was truly dangerous are gone, he’s just a poser now. He’s facing someone sitting in the revolving leather armchair in front of him. I can only see the back of it.
“Ah, Saphira,” he says with a sly grin, “please, do come in.”
He hurries to my side. He must be tense, his salt-and-pepper hair seems on volts.
“Let me introduce you to the newest member of our community, the Marquis of Vandenesse.”
The chair turns while Father talks, and the dark-eyed killer appears before me. The blood freezes in my veins. Those eyes settle on mine as flashes of the dead face at his feet come at me again and again. I’m certain I just went snow-white.
He stands and approaches, tall and elegant in his black suit. He’s as close to me as he was on that dance floor a week ago, before I managed to break the trance he’d put my senses in, and make a fool of myself claiming out loud to have witnessed a murder no one found a trace of. As for him, he’d dissolved in thin air. Ever since I kept myself locked in, fearing a moment such as this.
“The Marquis,” Father pushes the conversation since it doesn’t pick up by itself, “has bought the manor with the fields. The perfect home for the perfect gentleman.”
The manor. That means a healthy realtor commission for my father, which blows away all the family troubles. Just like that, as if they’ve never been there. Father must be feeling dangerously grateful.
“We’ll sure be doing more business together,” the killer says in that deceitful voice of his, his eyes not leaving mine. Chills course down my spine.
“However I can be of service, Marquis,” Father replies, and pauses to be offered the Marquis’ first name. The Marquis doesn’t react as expected, but keeps looking hard at me, while my eyes wander helpless all over his young face. He’s so handsome, it’s compelling.
“Oh, you can, my dear Mr. Lothar,” he says. “Will you allow me to engage the assistance of your charming daughter?”
“In what way?”
This time the Marquis addresses me directly. “I hear you paint, Saphira.”
“Your mother mentioned you were up with brush and canvas before she went out to get you. The old manor could use some new fittings and decoration, so I would like to see what you have.”
“Oh, certainly,” Father cuts in. “We can show you an entire collection.”
“It’s not much worth,” I block.
“Word has it you sold two of your works for nice amounts last year,” the Marquis says.
“How did you hear that?”
“Quality tends to become famous.”
“Yes, well, quality hasn’t found its way out of this house since.”
He lifts his chin, and his eyes flash with cunning. “I’d like to get an impression of my own.”
I go weak at the knees as Father encourages the killer and invites him out of the study and up the stairs, all the while speaking highly of what he called until now a “craft for spoiled brats.”
The door to the attic squeaks open, revealing my work in progress and the crowd of finished ones, some rolled up, some leaning against the walls, the tripod and on each other. I thank God with all I have that I haven’t started to paint him, the dark-eyed killer. That would’ve been terribly embarassing right now, but if I survive this visit I know I won’t be able to resist putting what I feel in a portrait. Something very strange is bustling inside of me.
The Marquis walks right to my oldest painting that hangs on the wall. The Dark Castle. If I had some presence of mind until now, when Mum gets Father out of the room invoking the Marquis’ assistant’s asking for the host to see to the transaction papers, fear grips me.
I’m alone with the killer.
“This painting mirrors your soul.” His voice fills the wooden room, liquid and rich.
I want to say something witty, but fear’s got my lips bloodless and shivering. With small steps I advance to my working place and palm a nail. The Marquis still stands with his back at me, black hair glossy, hands in his trouser pockets.
“I can feel your special golden eyes on me,” he says calmly. “And I know what you have in your hand.”
I begin to shake.
“In my business,” he continues, “if I didn’t know when someone holds a weapon behind my back, I’d be long dead. Or something similar to dead.”
He turns, and I’m certain I’m looking at a demon, as handsome as sin. He approaches, and I can’t detect the slightest trace of fear in his moves or in his face. I don’t unsettle him at all. Again he stands too close, his scent bittersweet, anaesthetizing my senses. His stare keeps steady on me, and I understand that he’s making himself available for questions. I take the chance.
“Why did you kill that man at the ball, Marquis?”
“Right to the heart of the matter. Don’t I deserve some small talk first?”
“Oh, you don’t want to hear what I believe that you deserve.”
He gives me an indulgent smile. “Are you so direct on all your suitors?”
My heart jumps. “Suitors?”
“What did you expect, Saphira?” His voice lowers, threatening, and his stare deepens. “You have a secret of mine, so I can’t have you walking around free. It’s either this or the underworld.”
“What on earth are you trying to tell me?” My heart drums, I’m breathless.
“That there’s more special about you than just the color of your eyes. You managed to break free from my grip on your senses when we first met. That’s a rare gift, you see. So knowing what you know, I need you completely in my power. And I’ll have you completely in my power, no matter how many houses I have to buy from your father.”
“I’ll run away,” I whisper.
He laughs. It’s a quiet, but confident sound. “Tell me, Saphira. Do I strike you as someone who’s easily eluded?”
“There must be exceptions. There are always exceptions,” I attempt to defy to the very end.
His presence grows darker, crushing and chilling, not of this world. “None of them alive to tell the tale.”
The Marquis stands on the grand stairs, an elegant young man of a stunning beauty. The contours of his face, pale and flawless, contrast with his eerie dark eyes, and make something stir in my chest. I punch the feeling away, but it keeps returning. He is our host, so at least I’m relieved he’s not the new master of Jeanie’s heart. It must be one of the two men flanking him. Still, Jeanie is the exception rather than the rule. The female sighs around at the sight of him – including Lauren’s – leave no doubt the young Marquis fills the dreams of many.
A buzz starts in my head, and I no longer listen to the cause of death. I know it’s a fake. The man died at the hand of the Marquis, I saw it. I saw his dead eyes fixed on his murderer.
“Signed the cession on the day he died, word has it,” another man says. Soon the discussion heats up, and I stand with a dizzy head, seeking my way to cooler air. The cologne and body warmth of the crowd smothers me.
Jeanie asks if I’m okay and wants to join, but I refuse. On my way to the door the baldhead piranha who’s been terrorizing me with phone calls walks my way with a filthy grin on. I don’t stand a chance to avoid him, but then I see it. I see what’s behind him. I want to scream, but I fail.
The young Marquis walks close behind the piranha Vladimir Pukov and stops him with a hand on the piranha’s shoulder. Something flashes in his other hand –metal. I only see it for a second or two, but it’s enough to make things clear – he can kill the piranha in cold blood, same as he did the man at the Royale.
“I have to step in,” he says. “You’re heading too confidently towards my date.”
At that word both the piranha and I look puzzled at each other, then at the Marquis.
“My apologies,” the piranha says, his shoulders slumping, his baldhead glistening with sweat under the chandelier. He has no idea that he’s facing a murderer, but he’s intimidated nonetheless. It’s the first time I see the bastard humbled, and it feels good. “I didn’t realize you and Miss Lothar –”
“Apologies accepted,” the Marquis replies before the piranha finishes, then offers me his arm. I’m afraid of the consequences of a refusal to take it, so I do without a thought.
He sweeps me with elegance away from the staring piranha. Surprised faces and Venetian masks draw from our path as we glide among them, and I become ashamed of my appearance. Most women look glittery and flamboyant but decent, their dresses long, so I feel more like an escort than a lady in my short golden cocktail dress, my hair unrestrained down my back. It’s too much, maybe even ostentatious. Inside I’m shooting reproof at my mom, who I now notice on the side, a happy smile on her face. Dad must be ecstatic at the sight of the Marquis and me together too.
The Marquis stops here and there and introduces me to people I know already. A particular piece of news is as shocking to them as it is to me – I’m the Marquis’ girlfriend. Some of them would’ve considered their own daughters, sisters or themselves a far better pick, especially since they’re leading rich sharks in London and Paris. They have some difficulty swallowing the info that a bankrupt artist from the province has won the freaking lottery with the Marquis’ interest.
I have even more difficulty. I stare up at the Marquis’ face as he speaks, and find myself compelled by those dark, murky eyes. The way his hair frames his head, rich and glossy, it enhances the youthfulness of his features and the menacing feel of his gaze. I’m all too aware that he was ready to kill a man just minutes before. The scene of him removing his gloves after taking that man’s life at the Royale comes back like a stinging warning, and fear makes my muscles clench.
He leads the way amidst the crowd and then out of the banquet hall without anybody noticing. A line of people who look like guests but must actually be the Marquis’ staff close behind us like a human wall as we leave through a narrow – and secret – exit. My heart pounds in my throat as he takes me up dark stairs to the tower, an architectural ghost.
“Why are we going there?” I manage, breathless with anxiety.
“Don’t be afraid,” his voice resounds close. It makes me feel drunk, and I know he’s got a grip on my senses again. The fear subsides, and my hand relaxes as he takes it in his. The touch of his skin electrifies me.
I’m little more than a zombie with a crush by the time we reach the room at the top, the door creaking open like an old cell grate. The place looks a dungeon, the walls black and foreboding. The Marquis leads me slowly to a niche to the side, lights a candle, and holds it up to illuminate what I expect to be a wall. But when the painting I made of him reveals itself in the candlelight my senses shudder out of the trance, and I reawaken to reality.
I’m standing in the manor’s oldest tower with a murderer, looking at my best-kept secret. The Marquis seems to read my mind.
“You took mine, I took yours.”
“How did you even know about it?” I whisper, trying to hide my fear. I’ve painted it in repeated fits of nightly obsessions after the day he visited at my parents’ house, he shouldn’t even know of its existence.
“Your father. I suppose he wanted to make it clear to me that the chances stood high for the two of us.”
I’m embarrassed and enraged. “He had no right.”
“He had a reason.”
“He just wants to see me married to someone wealthy,” I spit. “I understand you’re as filthy rich as they come, so he’s doing his best to bring us together. That’s as noble as his reasons get.”
I can feel the warmth of him close behind me, and my knees threaten to melt. I struggle to keep control. My jaw tightens as my thoughts run in errant circles. The Marquis bends his head so that his lips touch my ear, sending a thrill all through my skin.
“You think it’s a good idea to put your father in that light? I understand tonight you learned what I do with greedy bastards.”
My head snaps to the side, and I stare at him baffled. A smile draws his young lips, and I feel an urge to kiss him. I bite the inside of my cheek until I taste blood.
“Yes,” he says, “I know what was discussed at your table.”
“In my business I have to keep spies everywhere.”
“You mentioned your business before. What is it exactly?”
“Direct again.” He looks up at the painting and raises the candle. “Let’s talk some art first.”
I decide on direct once more. “You want to know why I painted you?”
“Oh, I know why you painted me. It’s how you did that I find intriguing.”
I look up at the portrait too. It shows him in his full beauty. I’ve been waking up at night with the urge of plunging into the oily colors, forgetting the brush and working on it with my fingers, wishing to feel him, to become one with him so I can understand him. I felt possessed, pushed into it by some evil force, moving like a nut case until I fell exhausted and smeared with pasty color all over, my eyes puffy and heavy.
“How did it get here?” I whisper.
“Your father helped. After you left for the banquet tonight, your maid opened the door to my people, who packed it and brought it here.”
“They were fast.”
“They always are.”
“What’s your name, Marquis?”
That smile again. “I can’t tell you that.”
He looks me in the face, and I’m lost in the depths of his eyes, glittering dangerous in the candlelight. “Because it would give you power over me.”
“Are you a demon, then?”
I haven’t realized that he walked to me while I retreated, and now I bump into the wall opposite from his portrait. I’m hot and start sweating, yet I can’t control my shivering.
“Why do you do this?” I whisper. “Why do you tell people I’m your girlfriend?”
“I’m making this serious. Otherwise you’d think I’m playing with you.”
“I don’t want us to be serious.” The words hurt as they leave my mouth, because in truth I desperately want him to kiss me.
“What do you want?”
“I want you to leave here and never come back,” I lie blatantly.
“I can’t do that, Saphira. Not after everything you saw.”
“I saw the end of a murder, yes. But not exactly what happened. I’ll keep my mouth shut, I assure you.”
“It’s not only what you saw at the Royale.” He’s now too close, and I feel high again. “It’s what you see in me. What you put in that portrait. And what you might reveal in other works too.”
“That is the portrait of a young man, nothing more.”
“That portrait is a confession. You don’t realize this, but it talks too much. You won’t be able to hold back, you’ll reveal more in time.”
I want to keep the line of replies open, but the Marquis’ next move stuns me. His arm winds around me and presses me to him, his other hand stroking its way up the halter under my dress. My heart jumps and my breath catches as his lips, warm and soft, take over mine. My head spins, and I can’t help touching him, letting my hands knot in his hair. He retreats before my passion breaks out of control, a satisfied smile on his face. I know immediately that he’s aware of his power over me, that he’s aware I’d go all the way.
“Not yet, Saphira. Not yet.”
He withdraws in the dark, leaving me shaking with desire. I’m under his spell, and I barely realize where I am until the door creaks sharply, bursting open. My head turns in its direction, and I see the last person I expect to see.
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.
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.”
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.”
My heart pounds in fear as the Marquis leads me up the spiral stairs to the tower. This part of the manor is still in restoration, it’s dark and eerie, insects crawling in cracks and corners. Cobweb sticks to my face, and I half wish he’d use those hypnotizing powers of his on me like he did the last time. The expression on his face is wicked in the light and scorching heat of the torch, and I think he enjoys my distress.
The door to the tower creaks open, but the chamber presents some minimal amenities this time. The sight is a shade gothic, making a chill run down my spine – a dark king size bed with a black canopy and golden-rimmed pillows, a stone fireplace, a vintage vanity table and, of, course, my portrait of him. He places the torch in an iron support, and I stop in place.
“This will be your bedroom,” he says, his voice pleasant and rich. His spell clouds me, but I’m determined to resist. My fists clench by my side.
“Why an unfinished part of the manor? You have a fetish for ‘grim’?” My face burns, and I can’t blame the torch anymore.
“Oh, this will be your chamber alone. I won’t be sharing it.”
I should be relieved, and yet I’m not. “So you don’t intend to consummate the marriage?”
He gives a low laugh as he approaches, tall and warm behind me. His chin lowers to my shoulder, his fine fingers brushing my hair away, freeing the curve of my neck. A thrill goes through me at the touch of his breath on my skin.
“I like the symbol of the tower,” he murmurs, his undertones dangerous. “It’s where Henry the eighth put his allegedly adulterous wife, Anne Boleyn, before he beheaded her.”
“Is that what you intend to do? Behead me?” I struggle to keep my voice from shaking.
“You’re bold, Saphira. I like that. But I can smell your fear. The human body releases certain hormones at fear, and I’m equipped to pick up on them.”
I remember the kind of monster he is, and I can’t restrain a shudder.
“What are you going to do with me, Marquis?”
“I’ll have you do things for me, Saphira. I’ll command, and you’ll comply.”
I snort, bitter and defying. “I already saw what you can do, and the element of surprise is gone. I will not obey your orders. I’d rather die like Pukov.”
“Oh, I know you’d rather die, Saphira. You’re noble and just, true and stern, and this isn’t personal. But you happen to be the daughter of a highly despicable maggot, so you’re a collateral.”
“And you just accept collaterals.”
“I accept their fair sacrifice.”
“I will not obey you,” I repeat, shoulders square, obstinate.
“Not to save your life, and not even to save your father’s under the circumstances, yes. I imagined you’d feel that way. Which is why I said I’d make my revenge epic.”
His lips touch the curve of my neck, soft like velvet, and my skin electrifies. I stiffen and decide not to give him satisfaction, but it’s a challenge. His hand pushes my hair further to the side and drapes it over my other shoulder, while his lips trail to the nape of my neck. I try to turn and stop him, but his hands clench on my upper arms, keeping me in place, while a deep calm clouds my head like an opiate. I know he’s using his powers over me, and I wish I could defy him, but I’m falling deeper under his spell.
His fingers start unlacing the back of my dress, slowly, his kisses light on my neck, making pleasure ripple on my skin. My laces now unfastened, he brushes the dress off my arms, and the silk pools at my feet, leaving me half naked. I can feel his hips against my naked backside – the silk wouldn’t have looked good with anything but a thong.
He undoes my bra, and before I know it, his hands cup my breasts. They’re modest but firm, enough to fill his velvet palms that make my nipples harden. He loses a low moan of satisfaction and turns me around.
I’m now facing him, a handsome monster with fine ivory face and pitch black eyes that drill into mine, taking possession of my mind. He’s still fully dressed in his dark suit while I’m standing vulnerable before him in my thong and halter stockings, my hair undone and my high heels still on. He drinks in the sight of me with avaricious eyes and pushes me to the wall, his lust unleashed. My back slaps against the cold wall while the Marquis pushes against me, his body rock-hard under his shirt. He grabs me beneath my thigh, invading me with a possessive kiss.
I’m hot and burning as his other hand works between us on his fly, and only a moment later I feel his manhood like smooth stone between my legs. His push against my body makes me pull up one knee while he kneads my back thigh with a strong hand and enters me. I arch my back as I receive him, burning with lust and knotting my hands in the rich gloss of his hair. I’m hot and pasty down there, and yet it hurts as he grinds deeper into me, groaning with pleasure and growing brutal. He’s big and relentless, his thrusts making the shoe fall of my foot and the other tip lift from the ground.
He takes me like a master his slave, and yet I build-up like never before, coming hard around him and unable to restrain cries of ecstasy, pulling his hair. It’s not enough to even move him, and he takes in my manifestation with rapacious black eyes. I can feel him throb inside me as he finds his release, his groans low but rich. I fall apart in his arms, heaving and looking down over his arm, ashamed of myself.
We spend moments like that, and his spell on me begins to lessen. Still, the flutter of my heart and the clench of desire inside me don’t pull back, and I’m forced to admit it’s not his mysterious powers that have me charmed. He makes me stand again, his hands on my shoulders keeping me to the wall as he searches my eyes. I blink often, unable to look him in the eye, but then he lets me fall down to my knees before him.
Puzzled, I look up. The anger in his eyes strikes me. It’s the anger of someone who’s lost control. He buttons up his fly looking down on me, and walks like a feral to the fireplace. From the tripod candelabrum on the mantelpiece where the top candle should’ve been he removes a small camera. I’m stunned, and I feel dirty. I crouch in a corner, covering my breasts with my hands, glaring at him with powerless reproof.
“You won’t obey my orders to stay alive,” he says, his gaze dark and dangerous. “But you will comply to keep this from reaching everyone you know.”
“That’s beneath you, Marquis.”
“It’s the only way to manipulate an ice queen,” he sneers. “As I’ve said, your father was the man who killed the woman I loved. But several harmed her before him. You will be my instrument to wreck them all, one by one.”
Enjoyed this? Let me know your thoughts in a comment, and stay tuned for Part II on Sunday!