“I did what you asked and talked to Joyous to arrange you a meeting with the Marquis, Saphira. It’s happening tonight.”
As my mind wraps around the idea joy fills my chest. I grab Jeanie’s hand in anticipatory anxiety. “And you think it’ll work? Jeremy will sure have men on my tracks, he’s had me followed for days.”
Jeanie gives me a sly smile. “Joyous organized a pub party with masquerade theme. We won’t be leaving the house wearing or carrying masks so Jeremy won’t suspect that we’re going to that pub of the whole bunch in the Old Downtown, but the hostess will hand us our fake visages once we’re in, and his men will lose our trail.”
“You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you?”
I wrap my arms around her, and barely manage to restrain my glee for the rest of the day. I can only think of Kieran, and that I’ll actually see him again tonight.
When the moment comes for Jeanie and me to descend the stairs in the evening I’m anxious but determined. I’ve defied worse men than Jeremy by now, to put it mildly. I’m wearing leather trousers and high heels, but underneath I have fishnet stockings and in my bag there’s a scarf that I can use as skirt. We’re planning to change in the ladies room at the pub so Jeremy’s men don’t recognize us by our outfits.
We bump into Jeremy at the front doors, blocking our way out. He stands flanked by two of his policemen, hands on the holster, gun easy to see. Being muscular and dressed in black he’d make an impression on anyone who’s seen and experienced less than me lately. His sister overhauls me and walks straight to him.
Despite her red skirt, black pumps and leather jacket she looks like a milky-skinned, fluffy schoolgirl. Her shiny curls bounce down her shoulders, and I realize – maybe for the first time in my life – that Jeanie Simmons, the little girl who used to watch with her nose stuck to the window as her older brother played with us in the yard has grown into a young woman. But her face is still as innocent as back then, and her skin as beautiful.
“Jeremy, you promised,” she whines at her brother. “Saphira has had enough grief, she needs something to help lift her spirits.”
Jeremy looks me up and down. I know he wants me – he’s always had a thing for leather pants and high heels. His eyes are on me, but he speaks to his sister.
“And I’m not in your way. But the boys here will be coming with you, and they won’t leave your side. The Marquis could be lurking.”
“But Jeremy, they’re wearing uniforms and they carry guns! They’ll freak everybody out!”
Jeremy glances at them. “Okay, get civilian jackets and hide your gear,” he commands the men, who do as told and escort us to the car while a frowning, suspicious Jeremy watches from the door.
Jeanie and I can’t talk on the way to the Old Downtown, since the men’s ears are surely funnels that lead straight to Jeremy, but we’re both restless. Our plans have gone to waste. Even if the hostess gives us masks at the door, we won’t be able to lose the men.
“I wonder why Jeremy didn’t come himself,” Jeanie spews and folds her arms across her chest like a pouty child as the men escort us among the crowd and the pubs in the Old Downtown.
“He didn’t want a fight with me.” I sound as defiant as I feel. “He’ll be avoiding me for a while longer until he thinks I’ve calmed down.”
The air is wet and chilly, soaking my flesh. Like Jeanie, I hug myself to keep the cold out of my bones and hurry awkwardly in my ouchy shoes.
There’s great hustle at the entrance to the Black Horse. Once inside the foyer and among the aspiring attendees the wet cold turns to sweaty heat. Bodies crush Jeanie and me into our companions, some people rub between us, but the policemen hustle their way back in position quickly.
I’m ever more desperate that we won’t be able to lose them as we approach the hostess, who imparts coupons and gesticulates, establishing some order. She’s costumed as a witch, but she manages to get the chaotic crowd through as efficiently and fast as a jail warden. Soon I’m right in front of her. She looks me straight in the eye, and I recognize Lord Barkley’s secretary from the lunatic asylum.
I’m sweating, certain I’m lost. A scream so sharp that it stabs my ears shoots from amidst the crowd behind and a great commotion starts, crushing and swaying us like a violent sea storm.
“He’s got my bag,” a girl calls. “Someone get the police!”
The commotion in the entrance foyer of the pub becomes crushing, people pushing elbows into my ribs and my back, shoving me right into the witch-costumed hostess’ arms. One of the policemen makes it right behind me, but Jeanie gets a brilliant idea.
“These guys are officers,” she calls out, ripping my “escort’s” jacket open. He cusses under his breath as his police-blue shirt and his gun become visible to the public.
People grab and steer him towards the screaming girl, and Jeanie rips open the other guy’s jacket while the hostess pulls me to her and talks so close to my ear that her spittle lands on it.
“I staged the theft.” With that she pushes a mask in my hands, grabs my nape and hauls me inside the pub. Her cloaked back topped by a pointy hat shifts to cover the entrance and thereby shield me from being followed.
I gather myself quickly and make my way through the crowd to the heart of the pub. I manage to hustle through the line to the ladies’ room, but the girls I elbow in the process have been waiting for quite a while, and they’re irritable. They lose their manners too, shaking fists and cursing like wantons from the cheapest brothel.
“I just need to talk to someone who’s inside, I’m no competition for the toilet,” I try to defend myself.
It doesn’t help, they’re still aggressive. I’m scared, but I have to go through with it. In the end, I’ll get out of here dressed differently and wearing a mask, so I stand a good chance of getting away without a beating.
It’s full inside the ladies’ room, and I must take my clothes off right here, among giggling girls by the mirrors. They go “Oh,” and “WTF” as I proceed with my business like an exhibitionist. I’m embarrassed, but there’s no time for pudency.
The leather pants are sticky on my sweaty legs, and losing them doesn’t go as fast as I planned at home. I’m not as graceful as I imagined I’d be as I step out of them. I stumble and catch myself by holding on to one of the girls, who’s enthusiastic that under the pants I’m wearing torn fishnet stockings just like hers.
With a friendly “Hot,” she helps me back into my high heels and watches with an impressed grin as I tie the black sheen scarf around my hips. I shuffle off the silk shirt and reveal the pink corset with black lace above the breasts, and pin my hair up in a bun, which I cover with a black sheen cap. It’s not like I’m the only blonde in here, but better take too many precautions against being recognized than too few.
I can’t believe the exhilarating feeling I get as I fling the door open and hold up my mask in front of my face, walking out of there like Catwoman on Jimmy Choos. With every step I pray I don’t sprain my ankle and spill myself on the floor before all the open mouths that shook fists at me only minutes ago. If that happens, and my disguise is compromised, I’m pretty sure my own mother would have difficulty identifying me under all the bruises from the beating I’d get. But God hears my prayers.
I make it past the waiting line and work my way slowly among the masks, the back-slapping men and laughing women, but soon I attract more attention than I can use. The costume is too sexy. I chose it because it was easy to conceal from Jeremy, but now I realize it’s practically “begging” for attention.
The thought worries me, but before I can dwell on it I see him. The man in the Zorro mask strolling his way towards me. My heart drums as he gets closer.
I’d never fail to recognize the Marquis’ marble-like skin and defined features, they’re so handsome and youthful. I sigh as his arm goes around my middle and his bittersweet scent slithers through my nostrils. For a moment there I think he’s using his powers on me again, but then I admit to myself I’m just drunk-in-love with him, and I let go.
He gently leads me to sit at a corner table that seems reserved for us. He keeps his arm on the wall at the level of my head, trapping me in the small space, his other hand caressing its way up my thigh, his fingers sinking hungry into my flesh, tearing the stockings. I keep back the sounds of pleasure that threaten to leave my throat, since people stand crammed together close to the table, shielding us like a human curtain.
“It wasn’t me, Saphira,” Kieran’s voice ripples. It feels like chocolate to my senses. “I didn’t kill your – Gunnar.”
“I never doubted that.” I keep it low too, making sure my words drown in the chatter. “But Jeremy has the whole town instigated against you. You have to get out of Northville.”
“I can’t. Not without you.”
“As soon as all this calms down I’ll move to London, and I’m sure you have your ways of finding me there. We’ll just let things cool for a while.”
“It hurt like hell to be away from you even for a few days. You want me to put up with that torture for another while that might be months?”
Emotion swells inside me. Our surroundings seem to fade away. His dark shirt is open at the neck and down to the upper part of his chest, revealing the smooth skin beneath it that I long to explore. My fingers tremble at the silky feel of it, the feel of a creature half human, half serpent.
“I missed you so much, Kieran,” I whisper.
My words set him on fire. He kisses me with those beautiful lips that make me vibrate down to my core, a rich, full kiss. His tongue fills my mouth, and I give in under his tight embrace.
“I don’t want to be separated from you another minute,” I let out among heated pecks, my hands sinking in his glossy hair.
Kieran rests his forehead against mine, looking down at his hand that still kneads my thigh.
“Run away with me, Saphira,” he lures. “We’ll leave everything behind us, the past, the revenge, and till the end of time I’ll work on making it up to you for all the pain I’ve caused you.”
“You’d do that? You’d give up the very purpose that kept you going all these years for me?”
He looks straight into my eyes. “I’d do anything for you, Saphira. As for revenge – even if not by my hand, Gunnar Lothar is dead, and his circle of monsters broken. They’re running in all directions, scared. The arms of the law should take it from here. My job is done.”
I caress his face, wanting to take in the feel of him through the fine ridges in my palms. “There’s nothing I want more than to run away with you, Kieran, leave everything behind and start anew, start clean, just you and me. But that would fuel Jeremy’s hatred against you, he’d hunt you down with even more bile and determination.”
“I’m not afraid of Jeremy Simmons.” He cups my face with both his hands. “Come with me. I promise you the dark times are over. I promise you’ll be able to love me and feel good about it too – your words, your wish.”
His eyes search mine full of hope, and I understand that this is his tormented soul’s only chance at redemption. I either accept, or Kieran Slate will succumb to the serpent Marquis forever. I make a firm decision and take the hand he offers me as he stands.
I’ve never felt more certain of anything. It’s for the first time when I’m completely sure that I’m doing the right thing. I’m madly in love with this man, and I’m well aware that eloping with him through the back door means surrendering myself to him entirely. I make the choice full-heartedly. He grabs a short leather jacket from the pegs by the exit, flings it over my shoulders, and we plunge out into the night.
The streets are narrow, dark and chilly, only here and there an orange light flickering at a window, but Kieran’s arm around me and the warm proximity of his body is all the “safe” I need. I mentally say farewell to the buildings that stand dark and timeless on each side of the cobbled street like a tunnel – this is the old part of Northville, which miraculously escaped bombardment during the war. These houses are almost as old as the line of Kings and Queens, and their walls witnessed many of the Middle Ages’ terrors and horrors, including the black plague. There are still basements where community graves were found.
Just a few months ago I thought I could never leave this place, even though its mystery chilled me to the bones, but somehow I couldn’t stop probing it. Today I know the town was always a cruel place, and that all through my life it’s been an anonymous retreat for rich twisted devils and their dark practices. I’m glad it’s going down.
Rain begins to fall from the laden skies, the drops big and hard like gravel on my face. I put the jacket over my head, but my legs are wet and freezing. The rain shortly soaks Kieran’s shirt too, making it cling to his sinewy body, but he doesn’t seem bothered in the least.
“Don’t you –”
“I’ve been through far worse than a little angry water, Saphira,” he interrupts, increasing pace as we slosh through the puddles. “It’s you we need to get to warmth fast.” My feet practically swim in the cold water in my shoes.
“Where are we going?” My teeth clatter, and Kieran’s hold tightens.
“An inn. Joyous awaits us there with a car.”
But at the next street Kieran suddenly halts. He pulls me back behind the last corner we passed, and he does it so fast I get dizzy. I come to myself and follow his gaze around the gutter to realize that we’re looking at Virgin Vivien’s house – what’s left of it after the fire. Two figures in monk-like cloaks – one tall and broad, the other small and thin – go separate ways from it. They’ve obviously been in there together, but it turns out one of them – the one that heads our way – is a woman. I can’t see that far, especially through the heavy rain, but Kieran’s eyes turn to serpent slits, and he identifies her.
“You won’t believe this. It’s Pretty Lauren.”
Surprise kicks out my manners and language. “You gotta be shitting me.”
The oldest inn in the old city. A gas lamp burns low on the table by the window where the Marquis stands, parting the curtains with his fingers and watching the entrance. I walk in drying my hair with a towel, the floorboards gritting under my feet until I drop on the bed. We haven’t had time to change clothes, so I’m still wearing the torn fishnet stockings and the pink corset with black lace, which is humid and uncomfortable. I stare at the Marquis, and I’m sure he feels it, but he keeps looking out the window into the night.
“That was surely Ivan Basarab, Saphira, why didn’t you let me chase him? There would have been no one truly dangerous left to chase me and my kind, and we could’ve lived in peace forever.”
“What if you failed to catch him?” I keep my voice low and soft, cautious not to instigate him in any way. “He would’ve known we’d try to get his real identity out of Lauren, and he would’ve killed her like he did Gunnar.”
“I would’ve caught him.” His voice is controlled, but I know better. The way he stands there in his wet clothes that cling to his spanned body, the profile of his face resembling that of a ruthless prince, they tell me how much he wants to get out there into the storm and hunt down the Slayer.
“You don’t know that, Kieran. You know nothing about the real Ivan Basarab, he could be some engineered creature himself as far that goes.”
“I’ve fought engineered creatures before. My makers sent me for the lives of many, and I have yet to meet my match – I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant. It’s a truth I’m not even proud of.”
“But this is The Slayer, Kieran. He’s specialized in taking down assassins like you.”
“And yet he works from the shadow because he’s afraid of me.”
He twists a chair through the air and brings it into place before me by the bed, then he straddles it with smooth feral moves The memories make me lean back, but he gathers my hands in his and comes so close that his bittersweet scent infiltrates through my nostrils and lures me back into calmness.
“Saphira, I meant it when I asked you to run away with me. I crave it, but Basarab’s presence here will bring death and destruction over Northville even with me gone. When Basarab doesn’t need Lauren Morris anymore he’ll kill her, and he’ll probably end Inspector Jeremy Simmons too. Not to mention what he’ll do to poor Mrs Grant who’s trapped at the asylum. Hell will break loose over this town, Saphira.”
I look down as I process his words, in order to keep my true thoughts hidden until the right moment. Until I’ve truly understood his. “Why didn’t you think about all this before you asked me to elope with you?”
“I did, but I – ” He hesitates for a moment, then his voice drops to a soft, chocolate slur. “Truth is that moment I didn’t care, Saphira. All I cared about was being with you.”
“And what changed?”
He presses my hands to his wet chest and moves by my side on the bed, making the mattress wobble. I can feel he searches my face, but I keep looking down to hide my tears. My heart slams into my chest and pumps an embarrassing flush to my cheeks.
“I’ll tell you what changed when I first met you, Saphira. The boy I used to be, Kieran Slate, I thought he found his end under the punches and knives of Pukov’s men. What my makers brought back to life was a ghost who, fuelled by anger and hatred, grew to be the best of their monsters. I crawled in the sewers underneath London and left them only to bring death upon rich bastards that my makers wanted removed from their way. I did unspeakable things to them, Saphira, and I enjoyed it. I came to Northville determined to do unspeakable things to Catherine’s tormentors. And to do terrible things to you. The night at the Royale, when I turned around and saw you staring at me I couldn’t believe my wicked luck. My luck that you’d walk right into my claws.”
Tears drip on my thighs that are criss-crossed by fishnet stockings like a hooker’s. I feel bad, and he makes it even worse as he lifts my head and looks directly into my tears-filled eyes.
“But the next instant it hit me how unlike your father you were,” he says. “Your face . . .” He strokes a tear off my cheek, looking at me as if I’m a vision. “These stunning golden eyes, they ripped straight through me. I became instantly aware that I’d been blinded by my hatred, and that I shouldn’t make a victim of you. Still, I took such second thoughts as weakness from my part, vestiges of the human I once was. Yet by the time I found you back in the banquet hall I’d changed all my plans, making them easier on you . . .”
“Nothing of what you did to me was ever easy on me, Kieran,” I whisper. I should feel anger, and yet I’m overwhelmed by pain as if a knife cuts me with every one of his words. He takes me in his arms and presses me to his wet, hard chest, his voice vibrating in my skull.
“I swear that hurts me more than it hurts you. Saphira, I fell in love with you, I fell fast and madly and relentlessly. You have no idea how it tormented me, how I suffered when I realized that I wanted you to myself more than anything . . . But I can’t just take you away and leave destruction behind, leave innocent people in the claws of the evil that I brought upon them. We’d never find happiness like this.”
“When what?” He holds me tight, and I can barely breathe anymore.
“When did you realize you felt something for me?” I manage.
He caresses my hair and my face like a worshipper. “I first admitted to myself that you meant something to me on your date with Pukov – jealousy made killing him so much more pleasant, as horrible as that sounds. Soon I stopped fighting my feelings for you because they were too intense, and I realized everything I repressed was coming back with a vengeance. Now I surrendered completely to this madness, to this love. But if we leave Northville, Saphira, and we build our happiness on the demise of these people, it will haunt both of us forever.”
push him gently with my palms and look up into his face with all the emotion I feel inside. With all my being I return the passion that I feel coming from him, but I must assume the responsibility that goes with it.
“Talk to your men, Kieran, ask them to save this town. They’ll fight for you, they’re loyal – proof that the vestiges of your good nature were there long before you met me. And leave discovering Basarab’s true identity to me.”
He looks at me puzzled. “Why are you . . . What is – ”
“Please, listen.Your men are strong, bred to kill and experienced fighters, the only protection this town has.” I swallow. “Jeremy is biased by his hatred for you, so he and his policemen won’t oppose Basarab, who will surely wipe out the whole place once he’s done with it, just like you said. You and your men are Northville’s only chance.”
“I’ve been meaning to offer a very similar solution, but I don’t agree to you having any part in this – ”
“It would be easier for you to take Basarab down if you knew his true identity, right?”
“Of course, but –”
“Kieran, I have a plan.”
The door flies open, and Jeanie and Joyous storm in. Jeanie’s curls and red dress are heavy with rainwater and her eyes alarmed, while Joyous – for the first time without a smile in place – looms lank behind her, his prominent boned head that is almost a circus curiosity high above her rosy cheeked-face. His stare is as creepy as ever, and I still doubt his mental sanity by the look of it, but he’s indeed compelling, attractive maybe in a weird way.
“You need to get out of here, fast, the police are already close,” Jeanie urges, heaving with palms on her knees.
Kieran jumps to his feet and grabs my hand, but I yank it away.
“I don’t like this.” He reaches for me again, but I leap from the bed and hurry to the table, drawing a chair and taking a seat. I can already hear the calls of the squad outside. “Please trust me. And whatever happens with me – do not intervene.”
“What? No way, I can’t do that!” His face is dead-white as he approaches me. I grow desperate as the fight-mongering calls from outside take up. Steps are already rapping up the stairs, but Kieran still won’t move, his eyes flashing into slits and his hands elongating into claws. Jeanie yelps and stumbles backwards, retreating in horror.
“I’m begging you, Kieran,” I cry.
Joyous takes two long strides to the window, throws it open and grabs Kieran’s arm.
“Let’s go. It’s the best thing to do right now.”
Kieran keeps in place. “I will find you again, Saphira, even if I have to turn this whole God forsaken town upside down.”
“You do that.” I get up and press my lips on his, which takes him by surprise. I try to imprint the smooth, rich feel of them into my memory in case this goes wrong. The plan is clear in my head, and it takes only a moment to whisper the most important part in Kieran’s ear. It’s supposed to make him feel more in control, and it does.
His eyes take human shape again. He stares hard at me, and only follows Joyous out the window when the policemen’s steps almost reach the door. I sit back down and take Jeanie’s hand. It helps me keep from shaking.
Without even trying a knock Jeremy breaks down the door and steps over the threshold with an angry frown, his men pouring in like cockroaches from behind him.
To continue see Episode 28. Starting on Tuesday the story of the Marquis and Saphira will go on with Episode 34 until Episode 43-45, which will mark the end. I hope you enjoy it to the fullest! All previous episodes of the story are available here: The Marquis – Online Story, and only the scenes between Saphira and the Marquis summarized here:
I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts and feelings in a comment and, if you liked this, please don’t hesitate to share the post.