Prince of Obsession – Chapter I FREE

Loves, the release date for Prince of Obsession is approaching fast! The 18th of January is just around the corner, and guess what? On the 3rd, just a few days from now, the manuscript will be ready to go to my ARC readers (readers who receive the e-book in advance, for free, and post a review on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads on the release date). If you’d like to hop on my ARC team leave me a comment or send me your e-mail details to anaatcalin@gmail.com, and I’ll send you the book as soon as it’s set to go out. Until then, here’s what this sequel to Prince of Midnight is about, and the first chapter:

Anagratiu_v4_Ebook

 

Carpathian prince Radek the Handsome no longer turns into a monster at nightfall. But does that make him any less wicked than his brother, Lord Dracula?

Three nights before their wedding, former journalist Juliet Jochs storms out of Prince Radek’s castle in the Carpathians, determined never to return. Five years later, she makes a terrible discovery—the true reason why Radek broke her heart, and its connection to Dracula.

The Prince and Juliet meet face to face again when he comes on business to her city. He tries to keep cool when she probes his shady dealings, but his craving for her grows possessive, obsessive and even dangerous, striking with a vengeance after their time apart. Stalking her from behind mirrors at night, he can barely contain his dark lust. But can he afford to lose control now that he’s so close to attaining the very goal for which he sacrificed Juliet years ago?

***

CHAPTER I

Prince Radek

 

For the first time in years I’m facing my notorious older brother, Vlad Dracula. Yes, he’s as real as it gets, and just like the cliché describes him—shiny fangs, blood-red lips, cruel bony face.

The Old Priest brought me to his cave deep in a thorny mountain forest, the stalactites above us dripping water in some places, blood in others. Vlad still likes to impale creatures, and he doesn’t miss a chance to set an example among his vampires. I heard he likes to impale them upside down, making them resemble bleeding bats.

“I must say, little brother,” his voice bounces off the wet cave walls. “I was disappointed not to get an invite to your wedding. When is it again, in three days?”

I remain still as a statue, determined to wait the show out. Vlad grins, his predator canines glinting in the undulating light from the cave water. Large, with a black cape hanging on broad shoulders, he’s sure earned his title as Dark Lord.

“Tell me, Radek the Handsome,” he continues, placing special emphasis on my old title. The chains on his boots clamor as he steps down the stairs from his black throne towards me, his vampires hissing all around the cave and retreating fearfully into the cavernous tunnels that radiate from it. “How long has it been since you and I last saw each other face to face? A century? More?”

“Since the Nazis,” I say evenly.

“The last time we actually worked together.” He stops a few feet away. He’s taller and broader than me, and still not beyond trying to intimidate me. My jaw tightens as I try not to flash a silver blade at his throat.

“Before the truce,” he continues when all he gets from me is a cold stare. “The truce when I was generous enough to give you my castle and my scepter.”

“You didn’t have much of a choice but cede them to me. Be grateful I didn’t continue to hunt you down, you would have lost.”

He squares his shoulders, a big dark presence, only the face white and angular. “You know damn well you wouldn’t stand a chance if I was immune against silver and if I could walk into the sunlight.”

“But you’re not immune to silver, and you cannot walk into the sunlight,” I say, cocking an eyebrow and balling my fist to feel the silver blade strapped to my forearm under the black leather jacket.

Cruelty glints like blades in his dark irises, his jaw clenches for a moment, but then he relaxes and gives me a large, perfectly white grin.

“I didn’t ask the Old Priest to bring you here in order revive old conflicts, little brother.” Fuck, I hate it when he calls me that. “I’m here to claim what you promised me.”

I frown at him. “I never promised you anything.”

“No?” He looks at me with fake confusion, then starts pacing around me. “One night six months ago you met the Old Priest at church, and told him you’ll send me the girl when you’re done with her. Now, not only that you failed to deliver what you promised, but I find that you’re about to marry her, and I’m not even invited. That hurts.”

He stops in front of me after a full circle, now closer than last time, forcing me to look up at him. Anger boils inside of him, I can tell by the way his vampires hiss, restless, pulling deeper inside the tunnels. They sense him. The Old Priest, now one of these creatures as well but much uglier, presses himself against the cave wall to the side, shivering.

“What do you want, Vlad?” I say between my teeth.

He spreads his arms, the cape making him resemble a huge, regal vulture. “It’s easy. I want what you promised me. You told the Old Priest Juliet Jochs was a classy beauty in great genetic form.” He stresses the last words just like I have months ago. “You said she’d be very nutritious for me, and I could use nutritious right now, to be honest.”

My eyes become slits. “You know I’m marrying her in a few days. Besides, why now? You could have staked your claim right after the final battle, three months ago.”

“I’ll only say this, little brother, a mere reminder, really. Our truce only stands if both of us keep our promises.”

It’s my turn to start pacing. “To be honest, Vlad, I’m kind of losing interest in Juliet Jochs. I’ve been consuming her freely for months now, and well, you know me. I’m bored quickly.” I halt and look around, spreading my arms. “By the way, what kind of a welcome is this? Why doesn’t anybody offer me a cup of wine?”

Vlad grins, probably knowing what I’m doing. He nods and signals towards one of the tunnels with two claw-like fingers. To my surprise—however masked—the one hurrying over is Victoria, or rather a new version of her. She’s even thinner than before, her hair half dark half white, and messy as if she’s slept in hay. She also resembles a hologram because, due to the midnight monster’s curse, she materializes in more dimensions at the same time, and in none fully. Twelve equally-disturbing looking women follow her as she moves to an adjacent tunnel to pick up wine and cups—she manages to materialize completely when she grabs things—then walking over, keeping her eyes down.

I resent looking at Victoria because I resent what she’s done, but those other women do unsettle me, because I’m partly guilty of what happened to them. But it’s imperative that Vlad doesn’t pick up on the slightest trace of emotional weakness on me, which is hard. He’s literally known me for centuries, since the day I was born.

Victoria is now cursed to always be surrounded by the women she’d kept in the dungeon for so long, the living corpses who spit black, foul body liquid at people, infecting them with the Black Plague. She’s basically the one who turned them into what they are today, so she has to pay the price. She can’t move around without them, the Bloody Maries always floating around her like shadows.

“I’m surprised to hear that, Radek,” Vlad says as Victoria is pouring wine. “If you’ve lost interest in Juliet Jochs, then why marry her? Why tie your destiny to hers forever—because it is forever for us.”

“Merely a strategic alliance.” I pick the medieval cup of wine from Victoria without giving her another glance, as if she’s truly nothing more than a slave. “Juliet Jochs can make it big in the Western world, and she can serve my purposes there. I have money, but she has the connections, the influence, and the open doors.”

“Then, if all she is to you is a tool, you wouldn’t mind passing her on to me afterwards, would you?”

I look at him calmly, pondering, twirling the wine in my hand. “I would mind, because I hope to be using her for a long time. That’s why I’m marrying her. And she wouldn’t be much use out in the open if she couldn’t walk into the sunlight, or if the slightest touch of silver would make her writhe in pain, would she?”

Vlad looks me up and down. “Who are you trying to fool Radek? This woman healed you of the midnight monster, and gave you love that infiltrated your very flesh. You risked your life for her a few months ago.”

“It was the first time I felt something for a woman, Vlad, sure I was confused. I mistook gratitude for love, deep sexual attraction for emotional connection. I may be old, but these were new feelings to me.”

Vlad grins and, for a moment, it doesn’t look so vile.

“Little brother,” he says, almost a whisper. “I remember that sweet confusion.”

Memories come back to me and, for another moment, my animosity against Vlad drops. “Ruxandra—”

“Ruxandrs. Long ago.” He takes a deep breath, and snaps out of it. “Before we get melancholic, let’s get back to the true reason why I asked to see you today.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“I’ll be completely honest. I wanted to present you with a choice—you either give Juliet Jochs over to me, or you help my get the one thing that will reinstate my powers forever. The one thing that will make Dracula invincible again.”

The blood drains from my head. “Dracula’s Grail…”

“Refuse, and it will cost you Juliet Jochs. Even if you are telling the truth—which I doubt—and you’re no longer in love with her, you must care about her a great deal. In the end, she healed you of the midnight monster, and loved you even as a disgusting creature.” He holds up his big hands with the long, dangerous claws. “Which means you wouldn’t want these on her, would you?”

Vlad and I look hard into each other’s eyes. We both know—what I say now will determine whether the war between us starts again or not.

“If you refuse to help me,” Vlad slurs, “I will kill her, little brother. I’ll hunt her down and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot protect her every second, not from me. Sooner or later I will get her.” He bends just a little bit closer to me, glancing from the corner of his eye to Victoria. “And, if by some incredible chance I don’t succeed, someone else will. Your future wife has made some pretty nasty enemies. So. What say you?”

I ponder, my fists clenched and my muscles flexed under the leather jacket, the silver blades pressed against my sinews.

“The one thing that will reinstate your full power,” I grunt through my teeth, “Dracula’s Grail, isn’t easily found. And, if found, it’s not easily obtained. For centuries secret societies have tried to get their hands on it, and….” I stop before Victoria, the Old Priest, or the vampires get ideas.

Vlad grins dangerously. “Don’t pretend you didn’t try to get your hands on it yourself.” He bursts into wall-shaking laughter. “What, you didn’t think I’d see through your schemes, little brother? Only that you were planning on using the Grail against me, probably eliminate me for good. But I suggest you don’t even think about it. You see, if I die, things will become even worse for Juliet Jochs. The last thing I’ll do is order these guys to sink their fangs in her.” He motions around the cave at the tunnels full of vampires. “Or their claws and curses,” he mentions with a wave of his hand towards Victoria and her Bloody Maries. “And you know my subjects are forced to do my bidding even in my death.”

I look around from under my eyebrows, gaging the danger. Vlad sure has built a powerful army. Victoria’s type of monster is new, and she’s not the only oddity he’s added to his collection. I look at the Old Priest and the Bloody Maries.

“What can I say, Vlad,” I hiss. “You leave me no choice.”

***

 

 

Juliet

 

Radek is back! Thank God, I’ve been worried sick since he went to see his brother.

With an ecstatic smile on my face, I hurry down the castle stairs to the vestibule where I heard his voice. But he’s gone before I get to him.

As I follow his voice from one room to another—wonder whom he’s talking to—I’m led through the dimensions from one narrow passageway to eerie lonely room, to yet another passageway and another room. I stop, facing a wooden chair beside a crown glass window, like in some absurd theater play.

“No more dimensions games, Radek,” I call out, growing angry.

He’s been avoiding me for weeks, and it’s becoming increasingly hard for me to keep up my enthusiasm about our upcoming wedding. I’m glad to the moon and back that he returned safely from his meeting with Dracula, which had me biting my nails in terror, but now a more long-term, nagging worry returns—he’s been neglecting me. Why?

I notice a door in a corner, and stomp to it, my cheeks now burning. The door leads me to my own chambers, where I’m alone again. I curse in frustration.

He relocated me to these chambers two weeks ago, and went out with strange business every evening. Gone are the nights when he held me pressed to his naked body, and kissed me all over like his life depended on it. At least now he’s letting me see Lazarus—a newborn vampire—and Magda—a hundred-year-old witch—down in town. They’re my only friends. I didn’t tell them my worries about Radek losing interest though, because I didn’t want to admit them to myself, but I did turn to some tricks to reawaken his passion. Tricks I learned before I even knew Radek, before I knew anything about the Hidden World, before I knew the paranormal was as real as banks, cancer and David Bowie.

Tonight I’m wearing one of those white silk negligees that Radek likes so much. I even procured a set of cuffs to spice up what I hoped would be lovemaking.

“Juliet.”

Startled, I turn swiftly and find Radek leaning against the doorframe. He’s got a bottle of wine in one hand, and crystal wine glasses in the other.

“I’m sorry. Did I scare you?” He walks over smoothly like the prince he is, black suit jacket open, revealing a lean but muscular body under it. My heart aches at how beautiful he is.

He places the bottle on the medieval desk by the window, a bad-boy smile on those lips like red roses, his ivory face perfect and somehow detached. I think I catch the perfume of another woman on him. I gather the silk night robe tighter around me, watching him pour us both wine, struggling with my anger and burning cheeks.

“So, I gather the meeting with your brother went well?” I manage as I take the glass he gives me.

“Wonderfully. The truce stands solid. He was a bit hurt we didn’t invite him to the wedding.”

I snort. “Is that why he summoned you? To reprimand you on that?”

“And to make sure I wouldn’t attack him, now that I emerged even more powerful from the battle three months ago.”

I hold his stare. “Aren’t you taking this a little too lightly? The battle was terrible, we both almost got killed, and—”

The perfume of the other woman wafts over again as he shifts and leans on the desk.

“Who were you talking to earlier in the hall? I heard you,” I demand.

“Just our new housekeeper.”

“Our new housekeeper smells of pastry and Mr. Proper. Not Chanel No 5.”

He looks at me in that specific way men do when they’re thinking of a lie to tell. For a moment I hope the lie is good, because I really want to believe it. But, instead, Radek grins widely and opens his arms in a come-on-babe gesture. I’m sure the earth has just been pulled from under my feet. No, no, no, he isn’t doing this to me.

“Juliet, I actually didn’t even intend to keep this from you.” He looks to the door and calls a woman’s name, but I don’t register it. It’s like my brain is protecting itself.

My jaw drops when a blonde with a killer body dressed in a red negligee steps like a cat into the room.

“I thought maybe it was time we spiced up our relationship,” Radek says. “One on one, things kind of got stale.”

The image in front of my eyes is swimming, giving me a hard time believing this is actually happening. A part of me is screaming to scratch his eyes out, but another part just says,

“You feel our relationship has already grown stale? After only three months in which we’ve loved each other freely?” After you risked your life to save mine, after I healed you of the midnight monster, after I gave everything up for you, after, after, after.

I stand frozen with the glass of wine in my hand.

“Please, Juliet, be reasonable,” he says as the blonde stops by his side, a white hand with red polished fingernails snaking on his shoulder. He takes it and kisses it, forcing me to blink as if to wipe the image away. No, this can’t be really happening, he must be putting up some kind of show.

“I’ve been limited by the midnight monster for so long,” he continues. “Now that I’m free of it, I can do things I couldn’t even dream of before. It’s been six hundred years of prison inside my own body, hiding my deadly secret. Now I can finally enjoy life and sex to the fullest—thanks to you, of course.” He grins at me, and the playboy glint in his eyes spears me. “I can finally enjoy things I dreamt of for centuries, like a threesome with two beautiful women, fully naked.”

I just stand here like a statue as the blonde closes the short distance between us and caresses my face seductively. The part of me I recognize wants to spit her in the face and call her a whore, but….

I just snort, looking her up and down appreciatively. “Wow, what can I say, Radek. She is indeed beautiful. But I’m afraid I’m as straight as they come and, if you still intend to go ahead with the wedding in three days, I suggest that you send her back to where you found her.”

The woman opens her mouth to speak, and I cock an eyebrow, stunned that she dares believe she has a say in this.

“Why so bitter, milady,” she says in a thick Slavic accent. “I’ll gladly please you as well.” But I can see the delight behind her cat-like blue eyes hooded by heavy mascara—she already feels she’s better than me, her heart is swelling with self-esteem thinking the prince will even forgo his wedding with me for a night with her. But no, he won’t give her this satisfaction. Will he?

My heart sinks as I watch his hand touch the small of her back, grazing her spine. Her eyelids flutter at his touch, her hand moving away from my face, cupping her own breast.

“I want to marry you, Juliet,” Radek says as he strokes the blonde, “but not in the terms we had until now.” He looks me straight in the face. “I want an open relationship.”

A sharp pain goes through my heart, heat flushing to my cheeks. I hear my mother’s words in my head, words she told my sister and me a felt lifetime ago. ‘Life will kick us in the face. And our lovers. Our lovers will kick us in the face.’

I stare from Radek to the blonde, who now leans against him, massaging her own tits and looking provocatively into my eyes while Radek watches what she’s doing over her shoulder with an I’ll-do-your-every-hole grin. Her lascivious stare tells me, ‘He prefers me, boring long-time girlfriend’.

On the outside, I remain calm. On the inside, I’m on fire. I square my shoulders and push out my chin, placing the glass of wine gently on the medieval desk—ignoring the part of me that’s raging to throw it into Radek’s face.

“I’m not in the mood for wine today. Or a threesome. Radek, I would like to leave the castle now, and I’d like to find my way easily.” This means no games with the dimensions like before.

He looks me in the face, his stare growing deep and hard. It’s like he wants to carve my features into his memory. Is this what he wanted all along? Was he determining me to leave him so that he doesn’t have to be the one walking away?

“Are you sure about this, Juliet?”

I snort and smile. “Hypocrite.”

We just look each other in the eyes for moments. He doesn’t even blink, his feelings unreadable beyond the fact that they’re intense, while my heart is crumbling to pieces. My skin burns all over, but the rage of the moment enables me to keep my ground, which I’m mighty grateful for.

“I will ask Lazarus to come get my things later.” I look them up and down one last time. “Ask the housekeeper to have them ready. It’s the last thing I ask of you.”

Radek’s voice stops me as I head to the door.

“I have a final request from you as well.”

I glance over my shoulder. “Yes.”

“It’s about our other arrangements.” He leaves the blonde by the desk, walking towards me. “I’m still willing to honor all our other plans besides the wedding. I’m willing to buy Herald Gruff’s e-zine, which you will then run. Of course, in exchange for you building a credible and likeable public persona for me in Germany, securing me people’s approval.”

“And influential people’s trust,” I finish in his place.

I feel him close behind me, but he doesn’t answer. With a bleeding heart and a huge lump in my throat, I walk out the door. Soon after that I’m running out into the night, the white silk robe floating behind me as hot tears stream down my face. I run until I fall to my knees at Magda’s door, sobbing hard, bracing myself as if to keep my body from crumbling to pieces.

***

 

Radek

 

I stare out the window, leaning with my hands on the sidewalls. It pains me to have hurt the woman that I owe my life and my very humanity to, but it was for her own good.

“You think she’ll still help you in the Western World?” Irina asks from behind me. She’s laid down on Juliet’s bed.

“Get up,” I say evenly.

“I will,” she says seductively, “but only if you turn around to watch me do it.”

Anger grips me, but I manage to keep my tone calm. “You, in her bed. It’s a sacrilege that I don’t want to witness. Get up.”

“You really do love her,” she whispers.

“Lord Dracula was right,” she continues when I don’t answer. “You were truly marrying her for love.”

I ponder. How do I put this? “If you look into the life Juliet and I led together this last month, you’ll find out that we grew apart before my meeting with my brother tonight.”

“But she is important to you.”

“Of course she is important to me. She healed me of the midnight monster, and used intense love to do it. I’ll always be grateful to her for it, and in her debt.”

“But do you love her back, prince?” Her voice is pleading, making it clear she’s desperate for me to deny it. Given that she’s one of Vlad’s vampires, I better play along.

“Not enough to tie my life to hers forever,” I say, turning around to find her now sitting on the bed like an unhappy child. “She will be useful to me in the Western World because she wants to make sure I’ll honor my promise to her friends, the witch Magda, and Lazarus. I promised that I’d fight for the good guys, and use my power to back them up in the war against evil. Lazarus is also a vampire, by the way.”

“I know. I was one of those who bit him in the final battle three months ago.” She licks her lips, remembering the taste of him on the one hand, and trying to seduce me on the other. The strategy flops miserably.

“That’s not why I brought you here, Irina.”

She pouts playfully, but I can tell her disappointment is real.

“Too bad,” she says. “I have talents, you know. You would’ve liked them.”

“This isn’t about me.” The problem with living forever is that you come to see straight through people. “This is about you wanting to feel more valuable than Juliet. But, to me, no woman has ever been more valuable. She’s unique, and special. I may not desire her the same way I did in the beginning, but she’s still the only woman that’s worth something in my life.”

Only part of that is true, but I manage to mask it well. Another thing that comes with an unnaturally long life is a strong grip on the display of one’s emotions.

Irina keeps sitting on the bed, doing nothing to signal an intention of leaving. I exit the room without giving her another glance, making things as clear as they get. I may still need her later, but right now the least I can do for Juliet and my own aching heart is not giving this lustful vampiress satisfaction.

***

The Devil’s Elixir is OUT TODAY!

The Devil’s Elixir has just hit Amazon today, and the first reviews are already trickling in from all over the world. Deeply grateful right now!

October 17, 2018

Format: Kindle Edition

The Devil’s Elixir – Chapter I (NEW Book Project)

Jumping up and down with joy, folks! A month ago I started a new book project that is advancing fast towards release, namely it should be out there by the 15th of June! But guess what–you guys get to enjoy it in advance, chapter by chapter (or, better yet, episode by episode) on here as an online series. This book can be read as a standalone, same as all of my books, since I don’t like to make my novels overly dependent on each other or condition my readers to read all of them. You can enjoy one or all of them if you choose to. This one is a sequel to The Executioner, Part One and Part Two already available on Amazon. Now this is what the sequel, The Devil’s Elixir, is about:

Leona Ignat is sex starved. She lives a secluded life as a teacher, and has occult abilities that abstinence sharpens. But when a mysterious stalker begins watching her from the shadow, Leona’s spells turn into deadly curses. Her powers run amok, and so do her hormones.

Nathaniel Sinclair is a monk. Gifted with all the allure of the forbidden fruit, Leona can’t help but lust after him. But Nathaniel is only here to protect her, and help re-channel her energies. He fights to keep her powers in balance and to find the shadow stalker, while Leona is faced with an even more dangerous villain—the consuming need to lead the world’s most resilient monk into temptation.

Enjoy CHAPTER I 🙂

THE MAN IN THE SHADOW

“You call this a teacher?” Pavel Tudose blurts. He’s the lecherous biology teacher at the Vocational School for Gypsies and Other Social Trash, as Leona calls it.

“Look at her!” He pulls Leona’s lapel, then lets go with disgust. “She sports the black outfit of a mourning governess, but the dress is so tight her tits might as well spill out.”

Leona looks him up and down. There’s a stain of sweat under Tudose’s armpit. He’s wearing the same slacks he’s worn all week, beard unkempt and eyebrows like bushes with dandruff. She keeps her hands together in front of her, her fingernails sinking into the back of either hand in order to keep from slapping him.

“I’m the only English teacher this shit hole could get,” Leona spews.

“Shit hole?” Tudose repeats, ostentatiously appalled. He turns to principal Serena Gheorghe, one finger still pointing at Leona, the stink of his sweat wafting over. “Did you hear that? You want that foul mouth teaching our teenagers?”

“You sure wanted this foul mouth all around your penis. When I made it clear it’ll never happen, you lost it and promised retribution,” Leona says, glaring at him.

“You little tramp,” Tudose exclaims, stricken that she dared tell. He moves to grab her, but Principal Gheorghe’s voice stops him.

“Remind me, Pavel, why did you bring Miss Ignat to my office?”

“You mean to tell me you forgot?” Tudose shrieks. “I caught her making out with a boy from 12 B just outside the classroom! He barely just turned eighteen!”

“Say what?” Leona exclaims. They hadn’t told her why she’d been summoned to the principal’s office until now.

“I remember that quite well, thank you. But I’ll need a name,” the principal demands.

“Armando Gabor.” Tudose throws Leona a vindictive look. “One of her own.”

He means also a gypsy.

The principal’s eyes fly over to Leona, narrowing. She’s a well-groomed woman in her fifties with a carefully designed chestnut perm and warm brown eyes, but now they cool with sternness.

“You’re not taking this guy seriously, are you?” Leona says, unable to control the volume of her voice anymore. “Armando Gabor is this school’s number one troublemaker, you know that. Yes, he grabbed me, yes, he does it often, he says things to me, like he says things to all young teachers, but we never made out! This is a gross lie!”

Doubt lifts from the principal’s face, and she nods at Leona. She knows the goods. Armando Gabor makes virtual headlines in this school every single day. Placing her hands on the desk the principal rises to her feet. Leona is grateful the woman finally takes charge, because her fingernails left searing scratches on the backs of her hands by now. Darn it, this scratching thing has turned into a nervous tic.

“Pavel, we’ve known each other a lifetime, and I treasure your dedication to this school,” Serena Gheorghe says. “You’ve always been willing to help these children form a set of values, but look at yourself now. You’re bullying your own colleague.” She pauses to let her words sink in. Beside Leona, Tudose is shaking with anger, his cheeks stained with red blotches. His blood pressure must have shot through the roof, sultry heat emanating from his body.

“This woman,” he grunts through his teeth, “has just called this school a shit hole. How can she possibly contribute anything of value with that mindset?”

Leona’s temper flares, and she makes a half-turn to him.

“Between you and me, you’re the useless one in this school.” She presses her own index finger into her own chest to mark every sentence. “I am one of these kids. I am a gypsy. I grew up in a family where the guts to break and enter, surprise a couple in bed and rob them was celebrated and respected. Where a woman worth marrying was illiterate. Where a real man was a pimp in a dark alleyway. I know these kids, I would have become like them, hadn’t someone given me a chance at a different perspective, at education. Yes, this place is a shit hole. But if anyone can help make it better, it’s people like me.”

Tudose’s eyes fill with hatred.

“You’ll never be anything but gypsy trash,” he grunts between his teeth. “The only thing worth a fuck about you is your ass.”

“Pavel!” Principal Gheorghe intervenes, outraged. As for Leona, this is where her reason shuts down. Anger boils in the pit of her stomach, and she can feel her whole face redden. She loses grip over her tongue. Before she knows it, she’s pointing at the biology teacher, her mouth moving of its own accord.

“You deserve to feel the flesh melt off of your bones like wax off a candle.”

Principal Gheorghe tries to appease her with light hands on her shoulders, but the bell rings, and Leona scurries out of the principal’s office before tears of frustration can flood her eyes.

She grabs the register for 12 B from the register cabinet and walks up to the classroom. This is where she has to put up with Armando Gabor’s brashness, twice a week. Today, though, she’s not up for it.

“Here’s our piece of crispy ass,” Armando shoots from the last desk by the wall. Leona tosses the register onto the teacher’s desk. She normally avoids his gaze, but all this strategy has ever accomplished so far was spur him on. Hell, for all she knows, he could be the one spreading the rumors about him and Leona making out on the school hallways.

Well, today things change. She grabs the edge of the desk with both hands, and shoots him a mortal glare, meeting his dark-russet look. He’s leering at her, his young gypsy face handsome if it weren’t for some teenage acne, his hair styled in a bad-boy ruffle. The tips of his hair are dyed blond. Leather jacket over a body that girls in the classroom drool over, shredded jeans and dirty boots, he’s sitting on the desk.

“Take a seat on the chair, Mr. Gabor.”

“I’m confortable like this. Might get even cozier if you come and join me.” He pats his thigh, then grabs his crotch.

“Take the chair, and I will.”

There’s sudden silence, while everyone stares with surprise spread over their faces. Whohohohoho they eventually burst, laughter and balls of paper flying all over the place. Only Armando’s jaw is still slackened, and he’s looking at Leona in shock.

“Do it,” she slurs. “And I’ll be right there.”

The class goes crazy, while Armando frowns, trying to understand what the hell is happening. Leona knows he’s much smarter than he lets on, so he surely expects there’s a catch. Still, he grabs the chair, drags it the necessary distance from the desk, and takes a seat. As promised, Leona squares her shoulders and walks over. She stops by his side, and bumps his thigh with her knee, nudging him.

“Be a gentleman.”

Armando offers his leg for her to sit, his features locking as he’s trying to hide his bewilderment.

“You.” She pats his desk mate’s shoulder, a chubby ginger haired kid with glasses. “To the blackboard, pick up the chalk, and write what I dictate.” She lets her arm glide over Armando’s shoulder while she talks, under his leather jacket to his back. Everyone stares, mouths open, the classroom so quiet only the rustle of paper here and there is audible. “Everyone, copy from the blackboard or, should Bobi here write it wrong, write as you know is correct.”

The chubby kid pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and walks heavily to the blackboard. A “kick me” sign is still glued to his back, but no one cares right now. Leona puts up a far better show. Armando looks up at Leona, daring a naughty grin and opening his mouth to say something, but she holds up a finger to stop him, without touching his lips.

“Do not speak, hunk,” she says, loud enough for the class to hear. “But when everyone’s looking away, you may start to touch me.”

The Inspectorate will catch fire when they hear about this, but to hell with it. She’s not gonna help any of these kids by patting their heads. For years it has been tried and tried and tried again, and they’re still ending up being pimped and dealt to in dark alleyways. They need someone who speaks their own language. Someone who’ll buy their crack and then slap them over the face with it.

She turns her attention to Bobi, her fingers already finding the area on Armando’s back.

“Go ahead, Bobi, write this: I. Shall. Not—” She speaks slowly, giving the kid time to write. She’s ready with her fingers around the right spot on Armando’s spine. As expected, Armando can’t believe his luck, and his hand touches her knee, going up her thigh, over her black pencil dress. Everybody is looking, more or less obviously, as expected.

“—touch my teacher in the manner I would touch a lover.” She says the words slowly, pressing hard enough for her fingers to activate the spots on Armando’s spine through his t-shirt. The young man’s features distort as he realizes something’s wrong.

“What the fuck,” he cries when he notices his fingers cramp and crumple, stiffening in the shape of claws. The grin stretches over Leona’s face as she drives her fingers harder into the nerves around his spine, drilling through the kid’s taut flesh.

“I shall not touch my teacher in the manner I would touch a lover,” she repeats like a spell. Armando jumps up from the chair, causing her to stumble from his lap. He’s thrashing around with his fingers still clawed.

Getting off the floor and cursing inwardly for the glitch, Leona continues to chant. “I shall not touch my teacher in the manner I would touch a lover. Or my hand will wither and fall off. I shall not speak to my teachers in the manner I would speak to stray dogs, or my tongue will dry and die. I shall not grab a girl against her will, or my cock will prune out and hang like a rag in the wind.”

She imagines that last part would be funny, if everyone weren’t so stunned at what’s happening with Armando. Girls and a few boys start screaming, while he begs, “Please, please, make this go away!”

Leona grins. “I would have to touch you again. But I imagine you don’t want my hands on your body anymore, do you?”

“Just fix this!”

“Come here.” Leona beckons him over with her finger. He hesitates, then gives his own hand a scared look and hurries over. He’s a head taller than Leona, and she realizes she might have to fear his retribution when his shock and fear subside, but now the fireball is on the roll. She winds her arms around Armando to make it look like a hug, hands going inconspicuously under his jacket from his waist. She drives her fingers into the right spot, and his begin to regain flexibility.

“Remember,” she whispers into the kid’s ear. “I know what spots to hit to make everything else I said happen, too.”

Released from the embrace, Armando looks at his hand, then at Leona. His eyes narrow, but not in the dangerous expression she expected—the boy is curious how she did it. Maybe there’s still hope for his future, as outrageous as this would sound to other teachers.

“Go back to your place, now, please,” she says, turning her back on him and walking behind her desk.

With a satisfied smile, Leona turns her attention to the stunned Bobi. When the kid meets her gaze he closes his mouth, pushes his glasses up his nose, and swallows audibly. She approaches the blackboard, inspecting the words he’d written: “I shall not touch my te.” He didn’t get to finish, of course, his attention sucked towards Armando when he’d started screaming. She didn’t expect any less than perfect spelling, really. Bobi is as close to a nerd as they come in this place.

“Now, let us finish that sentence,” she says.

***

 

Late in the evening, as Leona’s steps echo along the corridor towards the exit, and the lights go out in her wake, fear begins to nestle in the pit of her stomach. What if Armando Gabor got over the stun already, been through the relief stage and by now decided he wants retribution? In the end, she did humiliate him in front of the entire class. He was the badass leader, and now she made a fool out of him.

She stops in front of the exit door, clutching the handle of her briefcase tighter. She straightens her back. You won’t let these pricks intimidate the shit out of you. She places a hand on the rusty door latch, scrutinizing the schoolyard beyond it through the bars that protect the glass.

A screeching sound draws her attention from behind, making her look over her shoulder. The door to the students’ closet is ajar, moving loosely in the draught and evoking the start of a horror movie in Leona’s mind.

Unable to resist, Leona heads for the closet. The only company she finds is her own reflection in the mirror, which is cracked at one corner, and smeared with prints and other sticky stuff. Low moans seem to come from the last stall and, though her heart is thudding in anxiety, she can’t fight the urge to walk over. Someone might be in trouble, and the only help around at this hour is her. The janitor is probably lying drunk in the small storeroom at the other end of the hallway.

By the time she reaches the last stall the moans have stopped. Leona stays in front of the door, the line of blackness between it and the doorframe an invitation for her to push it open. Her heart beats faster, as if it knows something terrible awaits beyond it. Her fingers tremble as they touch the dirty stall door and give it a slight push, which reveals someone’s foot with a worn shoe. Seems the person is slouched by the toilet. Panicking, Leona pushes the door all the way.

It bumps into the person’s other foot instead of the wall, but it’s enough for Leona to take in the full view—Pavel Tudose is on his butt with his back at the toilet, head tilted backwards over the toilet seat, half his face, beefy neck and upper part of his chest crumpled as if the flesh has disintegrated. His tongue sticks out of his mouth, blackened and porous, still gurgling with some kind of pus, as if worms are eating it away. Leona gives out a sharp cry, her first thought being her own words for him in the principal’s office. But then her terrified gaze lowers to the large stain of blood on his shirt at the level of his stomach, and she understands this has been murder. A murder committed in the exact fashion of her curse. She notices a sandglass shaped bottle in his hand, but her time has run out. Blood rushes from her head to her feet, and she blacks out.

***

 

 

Leona is sitting on a sofa in the teachers’ lounge, a blanket around her shoulders, rocking back and forth. Her mind has been blank for a while now, and her stare fixed on the floor tiles. She’s loosened the tight bun that she’s normally wearing on top of her head, releasing the strain at the root of her hair, her thick black mane draped over one shoulder to the side.

She’s aware of the policemen swarming about the place, the spinning lights that play on her cheek, the fill of voices and rip of tape they use to seal crime scenes. Apparently they keep finding evidence related to the murder, drops of blood, and did they say acid?

“The bottle in his hand contained acid,” she hears the detective repeat somewhere close to her. She lifts her eyelids to see he’s speaking to principal Serena Gheorghe. The woman is bracing herself, her shiny perm a bit messy from all the times she’s run her hand through it.

“We still have to determine whether it bears the prints of anyone else besides the victim himself,” the detective concludes. Leona catches him glance at her and, noticing she’s back to herself, he heads over.

“I already told you everything I know,” she says in a cracked voice as the heavy man hunkers down before her, the hem of his worn-out beige coat splaying over the floor. He’s got salt-and-pepper stubble, receding hair, and drooping, detached eyes. He doesn’t seem moved by any of this.

“People tend to remember details as the shock lessens, ma’am,” he says in the same impassible voice he’s interrogated her in just half an hour before. “Just thought I’d make sure there isn’t anything that came back to you and that you might want to share.”

Leona gives him a tired smile, now looking him directly in the face. She still doesn’t feel anything, not dread, not sadness, not anger, but she is a bit amused. “You suspect of me, don’t you? At the very least you think I’m hiding something.”

“Are you?”

Leona shrugs. “Why would I? It would only make my own life difficult, isn’t it?”

The detective keeps looking at her, saying nothing, his gaze impossible to interpret. Well, Leona could care less if she’s a suspect or not. She’s so tired all she wants is to sleep for like a decade or so.

“Listen,” she says, her shoulders sagging. “I know that hiding anything or making things up would only make this hard on me. Plus that I watched enough Navy CIS to know you guys have a lot of tricks in the book, and I’m no match for them.”

“You might be quite a match,” the detective says. “Your ex-boyfriend, Inspector Hector Varlam, must have taught you a thing or two.”

The name snaps in Leona’s head. “Mr.—” Did he even introduce himself yet?

“Marin. Detective Constantin Marin.”

“Well, Detective Marin, Hector Varlam was never really my boyfriend, and he’s been out of the picture for three years now. I spent two of those years in a monastery to get over that part of my story. He did bring quite a few things into my life but, I assure you, tips and tricks to get away with murder weren’t among them.”

“But an unhealthy obsession was, right?”

“What do you mean? I wasn’t—”

“Obsessed with him? Maybe not. But you seem to have sparked obsession in him.”

This can’t be right. “What makes you say that?”

The detective motions with his head curtly in the general direction behind him. “See that woman over there?”

Glancing in that direction, Leona sees Pavel Tudose’s wife crying and gesticulating between two police officers, right this moment actually pointing at Leona. She can’t hear what the woman is saying, the acoustics in the teachers’ lounge has always been crappy, and now with so many people it’s impossible to hear that far. But her hatred of Leona is alight in her distorted face.

“According to her,” the detective continues, “her husband has been keeping pictures of you in a box under a plant in his study. The wife discovered them a few days ago and confronted him, but that only led to domestic violence. Apparently, the man was stalking you, and some of the pictures even have traces of semen on them.”

Leona’s flesh creases, and her nose too.

“Now, connecting two obsessed men and the acid,” the inspector goes on. “It was said acid that made the victim’s flesh melt off his bones. Those were the words you used when you cursed him, right? Well, at first glance it looked like, in his madness for you, he offered himself as sacrifice to your fantasies, but the stab in the stomach ruled that version out. Someone killed him, someone crazy enough about you to be capable of murder.”

That someone would be so crazy about her

“But if the murderer could have made this look like suicide, why not only use the acid? Why stab the man and make murder only more obvious?”

“It actually makes a whole lot of sense.”

“Say what?”

For the first time the detective’s face betrays emotion. His drooping eyes sparkle, like he thinks he’s on to something. “I think this murder is an offering to you, and the perpetrator wanted you to know it.” He leans in so close that Leona can smell the scent of cigarettes on him. “I think the murderer is an obsessed stalker, namely Hector Varlam, Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to—”

“Actually, she does mind,” a deep voice rumbles from the crowd. That voice is enough to make Leona’s heart jump into her throat.

She looks up to see Viscount Nathaniel Sinclair make his way among the people in the teachers’ lounge. His overly muscular figure in a black shirt grows larger and larger as he approaches. People move out of his way with open mouths, and some even go, “wow,” “I’ll be damned,” and “what the fuck!” And no wonder, really. The Viscount isn’t your average gym pump, he seems a real-life Hulk, one with a handsome face and slightly dark skin, making it impossible to place his origin beyond “somewhere exotic”.

“And who are you, if I may ask?” detective Marin says, doing his best to hide his bewilderment. He gets heavily back to his feet.

“Tell him, Miss Ignat. Who am I?” Nathaniel’s sparkling eyes meet Leona’s awe-struck face. They make such a contrast to his skin that it’s compelling for any human’s eye. Leona’s throat goes dry. She’s often slapped herself inwardly for the sin of lusting after him, since he’s basically a freaking monk. What a freaking waste….

“He is….” What is she supposed to say?

“I am her spiritual adviser and confessor,” Nathaniel says and offers the detective his hand, since Leona is consistently failing to speak.

“Oh, a priest, then?” The detective measures Nathaniel up and down. Detective Marin is fleshy, and he sports a worthy gut, but he’s half the Viscount’s bulk, and two heads smaller. “You don’t look like a priest.”

Actually he does, in some weird way. The black clothing he always wears, even his huge, protective bulk. He has a strange, compelling beauty though, which gives him the hellish sex appeal of the forbidden fruit.

“I’m of a less known confession,” Nathaniel rumbles softly.

“But why are you here? Did Miss Ignat confess to you anything she should now tell me?” Marin looks at Leona with a suspicious frown.

“No, detective, I assure you. But Miss Ignat has been in the monastery for a reason, and that was to process the trauma Hector Varlam had put her through. As you probably imagine, I’d like to avoid that trauma returning.”

“Well, I don’t know the details of her relationship with my former colleague, but if it was a traumatic one, shouldn’t she have turned to a shrink instead of a priest?”

“Mr. Sinclair was all the support I needed,” Leona intervenes, also getting to her feet. Her knees are shaking, and she gathers the blanket tighter around herself to mask it.

In truth, Nathaniel never spent time with Leona at the monastery, even though she worshipped him like a god and lived for the glimpses she got of him. Every time he’d glance in her general direction she’d cling to hope, but he looked away without a twitch on his face, and she remembers that painfully well.

“I would like you to stay in town and available at all times, Miss Ignat,” the detective says from behind Leona as she starts pacing towards Nathaniel, blanket even tighter around her. Excitement swells in her chest as he places his huge, warm hand on the small of her back.

“You will have access to her, detective,” Nathaniel says. “But it will have to go through me.” He hands the inspector a business card, which the detective flips over and then again over.

“You also happen to be a lawyer, Mr. Sinclair?”

With a cordial smile for the detective, Nathaniel’s warm hand applies a little pressure to the small of Leona’s back, and she starts walking. All her colleagues, their families, friends and police staff are staring as she and Nathaniel leave the teachers’ lounge, his bulk a huge guardian by the side of her slim figure.

“I gather they never saw you in the company of a man before,” he says in a low voice. It’s the first time she hears it in years.

“You made it pretty clear that male company is to remain a no-no for me.”

“I’m glad to see you didn’t disregard my instructions.”

“Come on, Viscount. You would have found out, and confined me back between the monastery walls in no time.”

Leona and Nathaniel emerge under the overhang outside the teachers’ lounge, rain pouring down beyond it, thick bubbles splashing onto the cracked asphalt in the small courtyard that surrounds the teachers’ exit.

“Why didn’t you use this exit when you were leaving the school earlier this evening?” Nathaniel inquires calmly. Leona’s chest tightens, and she turns halfway to look up at his face.

“The janitor had already locked it. Why? You suspect of me, too?”

His bright irises fix her face directly, making the muscles in her core clench. “I hear you cursed him in the principal’s office. Considering your talents, a direct influence isn’t excluded.”

He presses the button on the umbrella stick in his other hand, and the umbrella opens above them. He shields Leona from the rain until they reach his car, where he opens the door for her to get in. His presence strains poor Leona’s starved hormones. She grabs the edges of the blanket tightly and reminds herself that, even if she hadn’t sworn off sex forever, Viscount Nathaniel Sinclair is as much off limits as Jesus Christ.

Still, she masochistically enjoys the prickle in her stomach as he slips into the driver’s seat, making the car tilt. But after only a few minutes she begins to wonder about their destination. The pouring rain leaves thick rivulets on the side windows, blurring the nightly city lights, teaming up with the sound of the wipers.

“Where are we going?” she says.

“I’m taking you home,” he replies in his gentlemanly tone. “Then we’ll have a talk.”

“You want to talk at my place?”

“Where else?”

Leona turns to the side, with her shoulder against the back of her seat to face him.

“If I remember correctly, you avoided being seen at all, let alone with someone, even less with a woman. Your identity as head of the Order of Lords is top secret. You mean to tell me that, after you made an appearance worthy of a stage back at school, you want to take it up a notch and make a show at my place, too?”

He frowns at the road. “Your place is safe. I made sure about that.”

Made sure?” It hits her. “Oh,” she whispers as understanding deepens. “You have me monitored. I thought you trusted me.”

“I can’t trust anyone who knows the Order’s secrets, Leona. Not after everything that happened with the Executioner, and sure as hell not after I found you in bed with the chief villain, inspector Hector Varlam.” He throws her a glance. “That’s how we first met, remember?”

The shame from that night strikes, weighing like a stone in Leona’s chest. She drops her eyes to her shoes. The motion of the car makes her sick, but she can’t look at Nathaniel right now.

“Well, I suppose I should thank you for watching over me. If it weren’t for you, I would have ended up in police custody tonight for sure. But, as you may know, I live with my aunt in an old house in the peninsula, which we share with a big gypsy family. Everyone would see you, plus that I’m not allowed to bring men at home.”

She still can’t look at Nathaniel, but she feels his sparkling gaze on her head. “I know who you live with. As I know that you’re not allowed to cross the threshold in male company, and that you’re not allowed to spend nights out.”

Leona looks up at him as she understands more and more of this. “I never actually had a chance, vow or no vow at the monastery, did I? The gypsy family, they’re your people, right?”

“We can talk here,” Nathaniel changes the subject abruptly, pulling over in front of the old dilapidated building that is Leona’s house. He lets the engine run, probably because it’s obvious she needs the heat by the way she keeps the blanket about her, and makes herself small in her seat. Thank God he doesn’t know she’s shivering because of him.

“How come you stepped in personally, Viscount?” she says. “Your identity is such sensitive information. A few years ago you wouldn’t have intervened for matters much more serious than this.”

“This matter is way more serious than you imagine.” Gravity deepens his gaze. “In one thing I agree with Detective Marin. Whoever killed your colleague, they did it for you.” He pauses, giving his following words more weight. “Either a secret admirer of yours killed the man out of jealousy or out of obsession for you, Hector Varlam being among the suspects. Or you killed the man yourself—these are the two scenarios that detective Marin would choose from. To me, there’s also a third possibility. One that has to do with your curse.”

“The curse? The man was stabbed in the gut! It was clearly murder.”

“Magic doesn’t work the way people expect it to,” Nathaniel says. “It makes things tie together, often in very logical ways. Your curse could have put the murderer in there with Mr. Tudose. It could have attracted the murderer into his life, so to say. Anyway, I’m glad to see you got over the shock of discovering him in that closet.”

“I’d be lying to say Tudose’s death makes me in any way sad. Since you’re so well informed regarding my life, did you know he tried to force my head into his lap once when he brought me home in his car?”

The muscles in Nathaniel’s arms flex, and his eyes gleam like a panther’s ready to attack. It lights a spark in the pit of Leona’s stomach, seeing him so ready to protect her.

“Why didn’t you notify the Order?” he demands, his tone now hard, contrasting with the soft-spoken giant from moments before.

“What would you have done?” she whispers, searching his eyes. She hungers for his answer. How would he have defended her?

“I would have sent my men to extract him from your life. You don’t have to put up with abuse.”

The expectation in her chest deflates. Not exactly the answer she dreamed to hear. She forces herself to look away from him before he can read the disappointment in her face. But the moment she shifts her gaze she notices two strange figures at the entrance to the neighborhood bar.

The Gossip Parlor is a meeting place for wild students and some older drunks seeking to impress the youngsters with made-up adventure stories. Loud rock music shakes the bar, and cigarette smoke floats so thick you could cut it with a knife. Leona has only been there once or twice to get vodka for her aunt late at night when all other stores were closed, but the patrons are regulars from the neighborhood. They all know her, and she knows them. All wild and loud, but decent, really. Which is why the two hooded figures looking like dealer and client surprise her. She catches a glimpse of one of the men as he looks anxiously over his shoulder, and her jaw drops.

***

Stay tuned for a new chapter next week loves 🙂 Until then, you can enjoy any of my other books, all available for you here. Two of them are even on promotion today, available, for 0,99!

 

 

 

 

Tristan and Isolde Reloaded – Chapter XX

THIS CHAPTER FEATURES MATURE CONTENT! 18+

Blurb:

Wickedly handsome and shamelessly rich, Tristan Stahl is a villain. A businessman by day and an underground cage fighter by night, he fears no one, and respects one man alone – his adoptive father, Mark Stahl. It’s at Mark’s request that Tristan recruits Isolde Molnar for her “special talents”. He doesn’t expect complications from this “piece of livestock”, but working closely with her turns out challenging in more ways than one. Throw a modern alchemist’s potion in the mix along with Mark Stahl’s growing infatuation with the girl, and there you have it – a retelling of the Tristan and Isolde tale with a modern, sexy flair. Enjoy!

Chapter XX – Deadly Passion

“Have you lost your mind?” My heart beats like a rabbit’s, and my cheeks are burning. Still, I can’t find it in myself to struggle from his embrace. “I’m your father’s—”

“He doesn’t have to know,” Tristan purrs. “He has no idea you’re a virgin, so he’ll have no reason to suspect.”

“But Gertrude and all your people heard me back at the dress store, when I told you I’d never been with a man.”

“Mark doesn’t maintain chit-chat relationships with the staff. Nobody will dare break the news to him.”

Anger squeezes my throat. “So you want to do me, and then throw me into his bed, is that it?”

“Yes. That’s it.”

I plant my hands on his iron hard chest and push at him with all I have. He doesn’t budge, but it serves as release for my anger. “Do you believe yourself, you bastard?” When I fail to move him, I throw my fists at his chest, beating down on him. “You want to use me and toss me like a condom, and you tell it to my face, too?”

“Would you prefer that I lied?”

I scream in outrage. He lets me beat him, his face hard, his jaw set, his gaze icy. He doesn’t move at all, he simply waits it out. The sides of my fists hurt, and I’m pretty sure they’ll bruise, but I don’t stop hitting him until I’m exhausted. I fall to my knees, crying and heaving, my dress deflating all around me like a parachute on the ground.

Shimmer in the limelight makes me glance to the side and remember that we’re not alone: the guards down by my foster father’s cross stare at us, but probably all they can see is unintelligible movement. We’re too far up. My foster father is looking, too, and I think our gazes meet.

I feel Tristan’s fingers sink into my hair, his big fist clenching on a handful. Astounded, I gaze up at him. He tugs, it’s painful, and I moan. He inhales sharply—the sight of me at his feet clearly turns this magnificent monster on. He opens his fly with his other hand, reaches in, and frees his erection. By God!

He’s huge. His shaft is a freaking weapon made of muscle.

“Take me in your mouth now, if you want to save him.” His voice is gruff with want, and his eyes flash like a beast’s ready to tear into my flesh. “He doesn’t have long, so don’t negotiate.”

His fist tightens on my hair, and the pain sharpens. He tugs my head back, touching his shaft to my lips. It smells of clean cotton. The moment he tinges my skin his lids flutter, his lips part, and he breathes in sharply, while his cock twitches on my mouth, releasing a drop of warm pre-cum. He wants me that much?

“Not here,” I whisper. “Please, it’s all I ask.”

He looks down at me on my knees before him. Keeping my head in place, he pushes his hips forward, and his shaft digs into my lips. He’s still on the outside, rubbing lengthwise on my mouth and my face, surely smudging my makeup. He pushes harder, and that weapon of a cock splits my lip. He moans deeply from his chest like he enjoys my blood.

“Tristan, I beg of you,” I manage, my lips squashed against his rough manhood, tears shimmering hot in my lower eyelids. I’m choking with indignation. “It’s my first time.”

He watches me for a few moments with a cold, unreadable expression, but then he steps back and tucks himself back in. He grips his erection over his trousers, probably to still it. My lips feel dry and cracked, and I run my tongue over the place where he’s been only a moment before, tasting my own blood and his salty pre-cum. Shock lessens, and my heart jolts—I’ve actually had my mouth on the most intimate part of Tristan Stahl’s body.

Turning to the Roman guards, Tristan’s voice booms, resounding against the cave. “Take the pig down from the cross, and drive him to the hospital. Make sure he stays alive. Keep guards on him, don’t leave him alone even for a minute.”

His attention returns to me, and my insides twist with a mix of anticipation and rage.

“Come,” he orders.

“Where are we going?”

“No time for questions, Isolde.” The way he says that, the way he looks at me, there’s no doubt—he won’t leave me a choice. I put my hand in his, and stagger up to my feet.

He slides an arm like an iron beam under me and cradles me to what seems a secret door beaten into the hard mud. I guess I could fight this, argue and scream, find a way to run with it to Mark, but it hits me with a bang—I want Tristan to be the first man in my life, even though I know he’ll be a brute. Damn you and your love potion, Marie France Cassel.

Tristan pushes the door, which makes an unsticking sound as it parts with the frame. It appears heavy like the entrance to a vault.

“Jesus, you’re strong,” I think out loud. Seems my neurons have all fainted. He doesn’t say anything.

He sets me down on my feet on a corridor smelling of mold. Above us, I can hear the muffled laughter and music of the mega theme party upstairs.

“This palace has secret passages?” I say in a quivering voice.

“They all do,” Tristan replies dismissively as he leads the way. I should want to jump on his back, screaming and scratching with indignation right now. Instead, I take a deep breath and go for another strategy.

“I always thought this place much too serious and, I don’t know, too sober for such things. Secret passageways are so France.” I even try a small laugh. I hope conversation will make Tristan see me as a human again, not just a piece of warm meat to stick his dick into.

“No one beats the Germans at secret passages.”

He turns, annoyance crossing his sharp blue eyes, making it clear he doesn’t welcome the chitchat. He grabs my hand as if he’s lost patience, and practically drags me into what looks like a royal bedroom. He shuts the doors and hauls me onto a small divan by the wall. My back knocks against it and, despite my hands gripping to silky cushions, I feel like I’ve just been thrown into a prison cell.

Tristan approaches me, losing his suit jacket and tossing it to the side. He begins unbuttoning his white shirt that clings to his fighter muscles, and something stirs in my core. Silver light from the garden filters into the spacious room through the two windows on the far wall that frame Tristan’s figure. Apart from the shirt that outlines the shape of his body, he’s all made of blackness against the light, while he can see me clearly like a deer in his headlights.

He stands right before me and lifts my chin with his forefinger. His shirt is completely open now, his blue eyes luminous like a monster’s in his shadow face. I keep my gaze glued to his, but register his other hand working on his fly, freeing his manhood. My heart pumps like crazy, and I can’t believe this is actually happening to me.

“You’ll take me in your mouth,” he says gruffly. I make out his hand moving up and down his shaft—he’s stroking himself; my pulse throbs in my throat, and cream from my private parts trickles into my panties. What the—?

“Do it without objection,” he demands. “Do it until you feel my cum down your throat, and it may just save your virtue.”

This is wrong, this is sick, but it turns me on big time. My panties are soaked.

“No,” I whisper. I see the surprise cross Tristan’s eyes, and his hand stops moving.

Slowly, I bend down, bringing my face closer to his shaft, touching it with my breath. I grip the rim of my dress and lift the skirts, gathering the material in my lap and beside my hips. I’m a step away from revealing the most intimate part of my body to him. Underneath the skirts I’m wearing black stockings up to mid-thigh, and I make sure I display them for Tristan.

“This is the first time I’m being intimate with a man, Tristan,” I say in a low, secretive voice. “And I prefer to give you my virtue than my dignity.”

He inhales sharply, as if my very words make him horny. His big hand goes around the back of my neck, gripping my nape as he bends down to me. A split second before it happens I realize his mouth is going to leave me breathless, and I take in air. He crushes my lips under his, overriding me like a wave. That vicious mouth of his that I’ve been wanting to taste for so long is now actually on mine, causing me pain as it presses on the split.

Tristan’s teeth sink hard into my lower lip. I yelp as blood squirts out, and I try to pull back, but he keeps his teeth in like a pit-bull. He sucks on my pierced flesh, and fear rolls like ice on the inside of my skin. Just how damaged is this man? He moans with the frenzy, both his hands sinking into my chignon and messing up my hair.

Once again I try to pull away, intent on using as pretext that we can’t look a mess when we return to the party, but he apparently lost every ounce of reason. He keeps his hands in my hair, his tongue sliding hungrily into my mouth. Dear God, he’s kissing me with a deadly passion, and I have no way of fighting it.

My body softens in his arms, and I give in to him. I let my arms go around his broad torso and I press my tits against his iron chest—it feels delicious. I want more, and I snake onto him, feeling his body respond. He pushes himself into me, knocking me into the wooden back of the divan, smothering me with his hot mouth. I’m breathless when he breaks the kiss, looking into my eyes. There’s the raw desire of a caveman in his gaze, mixed with bloodlust. My lips feel sore and swollen, and I shake all over.

“That smart mouth of yours makes me want to eat you alive,” he says gruffly, the sound of his voice giving me goose bumps. It’s so animal sexy, and his wintry scent now mixed with the sweat of his body is an aphrodisiac.

“I didn’t think brains were something that you looked for in a woman,” I mumble. Speaking is hard, that’s how demanding he’s been on my lips.

“Me neither.” He grins viciously, and plunges into another kiss. I can’t restrain muffled moans while his hands splay on my neck and chest, going down to my necklace and tearing it. I can hear the emerald beads hit the parquet floor in a ripple, and a flash of Mark demanding to know where they went stirs me from Tristan’s embrace. His hands harden on me, keeping me in place.

He plasters me to his body, forcing my legs apart to accommodate his hips between them. I think he’s on his knees, but he still reaches me perfectly in all the right places. His fingers hook into the rim of my cleavage and pull down, my tits springing out and filling his rough palms. He releases a groan, and kisses my neck wildly, pushing his body into mine, squeezing my breasts. His manhood twitches against my most intimate part, only my lace panties between us. My skirts are in my lap and his trousers still on, only his manhood out, which makes the contact between us so secret, so meaningful. The touch of his mouth on my skin sends pleasure all over me, making me sigh and clutch his taut triceps, arching into his mouth, offering him my neck, my chest, opening my legs wider.

“Aw, Tristan, don’t stop,” I slur.

My heart beats like crazy in expectation. I’m convinced that this is it, Tristan Stahl is going to rip my soaked panties and enter me, and my head swims. But only a big hand goes down between my legs, strokes aside the lace, and swipes over my swollen private part. He’s surprisingly gentle, but I wince with the bolt of pleasure that shoots through me. He brings his face above mine, searching my eyes. His own are luscious like a starved animal’s chained just feet away from his meal.

“How does this feel?” His voice is husky, barely controlled.

“It feels like heaven.” My lids are heavy, hooding my eyes. I can barely restrain myself, my high heels planted firmly in the ground, and my hips moving into his touch. He strokes again, now with more pressure. “Aw, yes!” I arch my head back and push my hips forward, rolling my eyes at the sensation. I’m now twisted in an awkward position, my arms spread over the back of the divan, holding tightly, and my hips off the cushions, moving to meet the moves of Tristan’s hand. He brings his big body over mine, the sides of his shirt open, his face above my eyes. I think he wants to drink in how I feel, to relish what his touch is doing to me.

“This is my first time, too, Isolde,” he says huskily. “The first time I’ve ever wanted to pleasure a woman. Damn that witch and her potions.”

His words, his touch, his scent, it all brings me to the highest point. My hips arch further up, and orgasm breaks out from my clitoris. My neck arches back, my muscles stretch and tense, my eyelids squeeze, and I release a long moan that stops in Tristan’s palm that presses on my lips.

He releases me as soon as my moans die down, my body relaxing on the divan like a mass of jelly molding to the wood and cushions. He can use me now, and that’s just what he intends to do, I realize.

He grabs the sides of my thighs above the stockings and positions himself between my legs. This is it!

But no.

His long manhood touches me there, and he begins rubbing along my slit, relishing the wetness. He does not try to enter.

I look at him baffled. “What are you doing?”

He’s frowning, his lips slightly parted, painful need written all over him. His fingers drill into my flesh, marking his want. I bite back a yelp.

“If I thrust into you now I don’t think I can . . .” He pants, rocking his hips harder into mine. “Fuck,” he growls.

His body tightens, and his sap splashes on the inside of my skirts, a few drops landing on my skin. His groans are delicious to my ears, shooting current all through me. He breathes hard, his whole body relaxing, and I open my arms to receive him. For just a moment he leans his entire weight on my body, suffocating me against the wooden back of the divan, but he comes back to himself fast. We look long at each other, and I swear my heart has just melted away. I’m falling deeply in love with Tristan Stahl, the villain, the man who just took me with a passion I never thought I’d experience from a man.

The way his eyes lick all over me, for a moment I think he feels the same. But then he gets off me, tucks himself in, and starts buttoning up his shirt. The ice returns to his eyes, and soon an alternate reality seems to have replaced the passion between us.

“This won’t happen again,” he states coldly. I blink at him, trying to wrap my head around this extreme switch of his. There’s no trace left of the passionate Tristan from before.

“Why?” The question leaves my mouth like a ghost.

He shuffles his suit jacket on, just like a client who finished screwing a hooker. “Because you’re going to be Mark’s woman. Even if it’s only for a while, it will bring you many advantages, and you don’t need complications. And neither do I.”

Rage boils inside my chest, and my mouth goes dry. I glare at him. “I was going to become your adoptive father’s woman half an hour ago, too. That didn’t stop you from pushing your penis on my mouth. You think you’re any less despicable if you never do it again?”

He stands in front of me, now completely dressed, looking as if nothing ever happened between us. Nobody would guess that he’s been intimate with me just moments ago.

“Yes,” he says evenly, fastening his Rolex around his wrist. “Look, Isolde, I’ll put this in clear terms for you.” He sits on the divan by my side, hand on the wooden back. I read contempt all over his face, which I now see clearly in the light from the garden. So this is what they mean when they say men can do you and then ditch you like a used condom. “I’m engaged to be married, and while it is a marriage of convenience, it’s also the only relationship I have interest in. I’ve fucked other women before Gertrude, and I will fuck other women after I’m married to her. As you may have noticed, I have particularities in matters of sex. I wouldn’t be able to live them out with my respected wife, would I?”

Rage is choking me. I’ve been used in the filthiest way, I’m no more than a public toilet to him. The man split my lip trying to fuck my mouth, and he enjoyed it. I take my hand to the place, hot with anger. Hadn’t he been so out of his mind horny to make him think he wouldn’t last enough for it to be worth it, he would have taken my virginity and tossed me away in the same sick manner. I want to scream at him that his warm seed is still dripping off me, but I bite it from my lips, tears salty in the back of my throat.

“Secondly,” he says, “Mark hasn’t shown interest in a woman in over a decade. That he likes you the way he does is special, and I don’t want to spoil it for him.”

TO BE CONTINUED

***

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for more! Subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook andTwitter to be notified each time a new chapter is uploaded. Here’s the whole story:

Prologue – Meet Tristan The Ripper

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

OR ENJOY THE HEAT IN MY FULL LENGTH BOOKS

The Executioner Part One

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The Executioner Part Two

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The Revenge of Andrey Jones

RoAJ

The Revenge of Andrey Jones is LIVE!

The day has come, folks!”The Revenge of Andrey Jones” has released, and let me tell you it’s a goody. I’ve been preparing this one for you for a while now, and when things got out of hand, I found myself on a joy ride 🙂 Full of dark romance, suspense and dark erotic, this one will surprise you! Get it for only $ 1,17 on Amazon, and enjoy a wild night 🙂

RoAJ

There’s a fine line between love and hate

Lila Banks is driven and cool-headed—until she meets dream employer Andrey Jones, and finds herself drooling over him. The last thing she expects is that he’s hated her for years. His father, the villain known as Big Boss, had once left his family for Lila—or so Andrey thinks. Today, he wants revenge.

Cold, calculated and almost evil, Andrey uses Lila in vile ways, but the boomerang is bound to return. Will Andrey be able to resist Lila when she turns his own weapons against him? A story of dark seduction, walking the fine line between love and hate.

The Marquis – Epilogue – THE END

It’s true what they say about London – it’s rainy, gloomy, but full of charm. After only a few days here I feel like a maiden who’s eloped with the prince of her dreams to his magic land. My heart slowly cleanses itself of all the hurt and trauma from Northville, and I actually feel this love can put my soul back together.

Kieran and I spent the first couple of weeks alone in a beautiful townhouse. In the morning we’d watch the fabled London rain together, me wearing his shirt and holding a steaming cup of tea by the window, surrounded by his strong marble arms. On each one of these mornings my heart swelled with heavenly pleasure and joy. We visited old cathedrals, places and museums, we went out to concerts and restaurants on fairy-tale dates, and I can swear all I feel is bliss. Until I think of my mother.

It’s a good thing she stayed back in Northville. A good thing for me. It’s not like she didn’t want to come and be part of our lives, but the idea made me cringe with every one of her pleas. Kieran offered to pay for her to enjoy a most comfortable life wherever she would like to lead it, but since staying with us wasn’t an option because I refused, she decided to stay in Northville, where she could contemplate her past and her wounds.

Northville. The place can never go back to normal life. The town people saw too much, experienced too much, know too much. They agreed to help keep the serpents’ secret, and now the town has become a fortress, a heavily guarded keep for the serpents’ world-changing mysteries.

Lauren remained in the dungeons deep under the manor in the end, while Zed, Joyous and Jeanie stayed behind to oversee Northville’s fortification, and only joined us again today – on my first exhibition.

We’re at one of the most renowned art galleries in London, now filled with my paintings. They’re enjoying great success, but I have a feeling that has more to do with the power and money of the Marquis de Vandenesse than with my work. This event seems more of an introduction to the Londoner high society than anything else. People are more curious about me – the Marquis’ future wife – than about the paintings, though a few persons do show themselves impressed by a few pieces which they also decide to buy. Whether for the sake of the art or for the Marquis’ favour, I’ll never know for sure. But what I enjoy most about tonight is watching the young and handsome Kieran Slate as the Marquis de Vandenesse surrounded by elegant people seeking his attention, and realizing that all his hypnotic black eyes ever seek is me.

“It must be a true blessing, being worshipped like that,” a calm voice says, and soon the woman it belongs to steps in front of me.

“Vivien!” I make a move to hug her, but the golden lace dress I’m wearing screams at the brusque move. It threatens to tear, though it cost a small fortune – a paradox of fashion I always failed to understand, and a purchase I decide not to replicate. Vivien giggles a bit when I fail to wrap my arms around her, giving her an apologetic smile.

“You’re the most envied woman in the room, Saphira Lothar, soon-to-be Saphira de Vandenesse.” She looks me up and down, her intelligent brown eyes as kind as her words and voice. “Beautiful, talented, special and loved beyond measure by your man. None of these people miss any of these things, trust me.”

“I have a hard time fighting my vanity right now, I must admit.” I squeeze her hand, hoping the gesture expresses as much as a hug would. I keep my voice down, though I want to call out how happy I am to have her here. “So wonderful that you came.”

“I won’t stay long.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you going? I mean, I doubt you wish to return to Northville . . .”

“Indeed, I have no desire to do that.” She drops her gaze, but I keep mine steady on her. I can’t help but marvel. Despite all the torture she’s been through, she’s lost nothing of her inherent refinement and style.

Vivien Grant is a highly educated young woman, she speaks four languages fluently, she’s been to the finest schools, and majored in Philosophy. She’s a true intellectual. Her cleverness is obvious in her eyes, which intimidated men all her life – the very reason she was always single, I think. But after everything she’s been through she’s lost a bit too much weight, and the black pencil dress doesn’t do much to hide the willowy lines of her body – something that makes her look like a model, and attracts the eyes of fat-bellied rich men. She’s not too tall, not too short, and she moves with the gracefulness of a ballerina. The natural porcelain smoothness of her face adds a touch of innocence to the nobility of her features, and so does her un-dyed brown hair that’s now restrained in a sleek elegant chignon.

“But where will you go?” I whisper. “And . . . why?”

She lifts her eyes and directs her gaze to someone in the room. I follow it and see Zed in the Marquis’ entourage. Though the pain that last distorted his edgy, stony features is now well hidden behind the “Stone-mask” and the ice-blue of his eyes, there’s a bitterness and sullenness about him that scream it out. I remember Joyous’ explanation about what killed Yvette, and I grab Vivien’s wrist.

“No! It can’t be! You really . . . The Black Monks’ curse . . . Vivien, are you?”

She yanks her hand away and looks around as if to remind me we are being watched, and to get a grip on my temper. “I don’t understand what happened, Saphira. I just know I can’t be around him anymore. I just . . . shouldn’t feel how I feel about him. Yvette died because of it. And somehow he holds me responsible for that, as if it’s my fault we are now bound to each other, I . . .” She looks up, blinking and seeking to dry her tears and gag her sobs.

I take her hand in both of mine. “Please, Vivien. You just arrived, I just got you back. You can’t leave me again, please.”

“You don’t need me, Saph. You’ll enjoy a wonderful life with Kieran, and you’ll share your happiness with Jeanie and Joyous. I don’t fit in this picture, I’m broken and nothing can fix me.”

“With more reason. You need us.”

“No, Saph, I don’t need you, no matter how much I love you. And neither did you need me for healing, let’s be honest. What healed you was Kieran’s love that is special and perfect. Joyous loves Jeanie the same way, with a love that is natural only for superhumans.” Her voice breaks with sadness. “With the same love Zed felt for Yvette, and will never feel for me.”

Distress must be obvious in my face, because Kieran joins us and wraps a protective arm around me. “Is everything all right here?”

Vivien looks at us with her eyes full of tears but also kindness. “I wish you to be so very happy together, Saphira and Kieran, with nothing to ever shadow your love again. From the bottom of my heart, I truly wish that for the two of you.”

Unable to control her tears anymore she turns and hurries away, losing herself in the crowd. I want to follow, but Kieran stops me.

“Don’t.” He looks at Zed. I follow his gaze, and I see it – the terrible truth. Connections fire in my head as I grasp the truth.

“Oh. My. God.”

“The stake is high, Saphira,” Kieran whispers gravely. “And whether it will ever burn or not depends only on Vivien Grant.”

 

***

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for having followed the story of Saphira and Kieran the Marquis! It’s been an exhilirating ride for me, and I hope you enjoyed it as well. Stay tuned for many more goodies to come on this site, from personality tests and psych secrets to new thrilling stories of suspense and love. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about the tests, articles and stories, I’ll be happy to answer them. A big, warm hug,

Yours,

Ana

 

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Blades and Roses – Ep. 43 of “The Marquis”

Ivan Basarab is dead. It becomes clear to me as the wounds in Kieran’s picture begin regenerating like slowly closing zippers. His reptilian powers of self-healing work freely, which means no one is attacking him anymore.

The canvas of Basarab’s picture, on the other hand, is drenched in red, dripping thickly on the floor and on Lauren’s shoes. It’s dead quiet outside, as if the wind itself were holding its breath, and all I can hear is the beating of my own pulse in my ears. As the breeze makes it through the window again I release the air from my lungs and fall to my knees.

“It’s finished,” I whisper, covering my face with palms full of colour.

“What just happened?” Lauren mumbles. I look up at her through the blurry veil of my tears, but I can see she’s completely bewildered. Intoxicated with hatred and seeing me hopelessly fighting to save Kieran, she did the only thing that was in her power– she stabbed and slit Basarab’s picture. The outcome is something neither of us expected, but synapses fast-wire in my brain, helping me put two and two together.

“Normally it’s the pictures that work as doubles for the people,” I explain quietly, “taking all the blows and the harm. But it seems the energy you put into your attack combined with the energy I put into making the painting reversed effects.”

“What the hell does that mean?” The turbid green of her eyes isn’t enough to camouflage her bewilderment this time.

“It basically means that by killing the picture, you killed the man.” I can hardly believe it myself as I voice it. “Incredible . . .” Incredible what human emotion, intention and energy can do. “It was . . . teamwork.”

A fat drop of red splashes on the tile under the tripod holding Basarab’s picture, and releases a chain reaction – the rusty smell of blood fills my nose, making me sick. The adrenaline has kept me unaware of the smell until now, but the relief that it’s all over brings back sensitivity to all my senses.

Billy Dean – Ivan Basarab – has open wounds that reach his bones, fat and muscle visible as if the canvas were made of flesh. My stomach can’t take the image, and I break down, crawling on all fours and struggling against the sickness.

Fortunately Lauren proves great presence of mind. She hurries to me, helps me up and out of the room from the Dark Tower, leading me down the gloomy spiral stairs and away from the horror behind. Even the spiders and insects seem to clear from the place as we descend.

I feel so sick that I rely on Lauren completely. From the night she almost beat me to death at the asylum I know how strong she is despite the very few pounds of flesh that cover her bones, but the fact that she’s so fast and stable on her feet despite the stilettos and the tight leather outfit is rather admirable.

As we emerge in the granite main corridor on the ground floor I manage to voice my thoughts, and Lauren admits she’s been training with Jeremy – probably while the Inspector was under Basarab’s possession – for months for this mission. In my head, I thank God her allegiances switched from Basarab to us, otherwise she would’ve easily killed me. In my stained canvas gown, barefoot and exhausted, I wouldn’t have posed much of a challenge.

The manor is huge, hollow, quiet and dark, only our steps filling it like ghosts. Lauren leans me on a pillar by the main entrance in order to try and open the double doors, but even with all Jeremy’s training she’s not strong enough to pull aside the enormous bronze lock that traverses them. I should’ve thought about it, the thing is designed to withstand a whole crowd pushing to open the doors.

We have to go down to the catacombs and use the opening that I discovered the night I first witnessed Kieran turn into a serpent. His men had replaced the glass I’d broken with a bulky bronze door, but I know the way to open it.

Lauren and I emerge out onto the rocky fields. The sea is far, but the salty breeze seems to carry drops from its raging crests. I close my eyes but open my arms and breathe in deeply, allowing the freshness of the night to fill my lungs.

“It’s over. It’s really over.” Relief courses from head to feet, turning me soft.

The horrors of these past months run before my mind’s eye and through my heart like they say things do a moment before you die. Before I first met Kieran at the Royale a felt eternity ago I was a pampered upper class girl secluded among her paintings, with little knowledge of the world out there. So much has changed since then. Right now I feel like I’ve just escaped execution after a long line of torments and tortures. My flesh hurts and my soul aches, but I’m alive.

A hand clasps my upper arm and hides me behind a back dressed in dark fighting clothes. I recognize the leather expansible outfit the serpents wore when they left for battle, as well as Joyous’ locks. He hisses at Lauren, who retreats in a hunched, rather awkward-looking fighting position on her mosquito legs, eyes wide and knives ready to protect herself.

“No, Joyous, wait,” I intervene, holding tightly to his arm and straining to make him listen. “She’s helped me back in the tower. She’s on our side now, and it was her who killed Basarab.”

Joyous doesn’t react immediately, but keeps circling Lauren while I keep dragging after him and holding tightly to his arm to prevent him from hurting her. He measures her from head to toes viciously, and finally addresses me, yet not taking his eyes off Lauren.

“Maybe it was only an act she put on as she realized her people were losing.”

“Her people were losing, but Kieran was dying. She saved him, Joyous!”

He still doesn’t look convinced. After glancing from Joyous to me a few times Lauren gives a crooked, daring smile and drops her knives, lifting her hands in the air in a gesture of surrender. The expression on her face still retains a kind of mocking pride, though – her way of keeping dignity as people emerge from the shadow, throw her down and tie her hands behind her back. Frankly I don’t blame her for it. She had to put up with enough humiliation.

“Treat her well until this is cleared,” Joyous orders. “Put her in a dungeon, but make sure she has minimal comfort.”

I want to intervene and plead that they don’t put her in a cell at all, but Joyous clasps my shoulders and makes me look at him. There’s something pained in the Healer’s eerie honey-coloured eyes surrounded by dark circles.

“I know you trust her, Saphira, but I can’t do the same, since . . .”

He pauses, and my heart jumps. “Since what?” I clasp his wrists in anguish. “Don’t hover, Joyous, I beg of you!”

He drops his voice as if to help keep us both calm. “There have been losses, Saphira.”

“Losses, what losses? Oh, God, Jeanie?!”

“No.”

My pulse seems to settle, but then the name hits me like an arrow in the breastbone.

 

***

To be continued on Friday.

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Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday, we are drawing towards the end! ONLY ONE EPISODE TO GO plus Epilogue! Until then, feel free to roam this site for all the goodies it has to offer.

 

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Russian Roulette-Vivien – Ep. 35 of The Marquis

Kieran Slate – a.k.a. the Marquis of Vandenesse – is a dangerous though honourable man. His people would give their lives for him, and I would as well. My skin is still all pebbles from the story of how he saved Joyous, and what the ever-present grin on the young man’s face actually stands for.

I can’t stop thinking about it as we make our way towards poor Vivien’s cell down the sickly-lit asylum corridors – Yvette made sure the route is safe. She leads the way, her head bobbing as she glances in all directions, while Zed Stone Mask tails behind me.

I’m only wearing a white gown specific for patients, and I feel as light as the feather coating of a hen, even doubting that my body still has the same consistency from before. Whatever Joyous did with me, it’s downright not of this world. The only familiar sensations are the nervous sweating of my palms, and the bite of the cold floor on the soles of my feet, but considering everything I went through since the night the Marquis entered my life hardly anything surprises me anymore.

Yvette stretches her arm behind her to stop us as she peeks around a corner. I come to a halt and Zed bumps into me, since his eyes have been scanning the place from above my head for potential spotters.

“There’s a guard at her door,” Yvette whispers. “I’ll distract him, and you get in. It should be unlocked, this is a wing that hasn’t seen the slightest investment in many years, and it’s where they keep the weakest patients that don’t stand a chance of escape.”

I shudder as I realize what this means for Vivien’s state, and I barely refrain from rushing Yvette.

“Then why do they need a guard?” Zed says.

“There may be no danger of escape from the inside, but Inspector Simmons imagined that Vivien Grant might get saved.” She throws a meaningful glance at Zed. “He foresaw a scenario such as this one. But he didn’t foresee my part in it.”

Yvette doesn’t wait for a reaction from either Zed or me before she dashes around the corner and stalks toward the guard. The clicking of her high heels on the floor draws the man’s attention immediately. There’s something domineering and intimidating about “Plump Morticia” that has the men in this place tremble. This must’ve pushed Zed’s buttons, I imagine. He’d probably never go for girlish, sweet or vulnerable. I’ve said it before – I’d thought him emotionally crippled until not long ago, or gay in the best-case scenario – but it turns out he’s just darn hard to impress.

“Get back,” he whispers, placing a large hand on my shoulder and drawing me backwards. He takes my place by the corner and peeks around it, his skill allowing perfect stealth. He moves indeed like a serpent, and I doubt any human could pick up being followed or observed by him.

“Let’s go, Guardian Angel,” Yvette’s voice echoes across the corridor as she addresses the guard at Vivien’s door. “We have a situation at the main entrance. The guys need back-up.”

“But Miss Danes,” the man replies shyly, “I’m forbidden to leave my position.”

“You’ll be forbidden your pay check if you go smart-ass on me.”

“Miss Danes, I have orders from Lord Barkley.”

“Barkley’s out of town, which means I am ‘Orders’ now. Get moving, there’s crazy asses at the door making your peers’ life difficult.”

My heart races, I’m nervous to a sweat and taken aback by Yvette’s approach. She’d proved there’s a ghetto matron behind the warm accommodating lady when she kicked Lauren’s butt, but still. Intimidated, the guard follows her – I can tell by the fading echo of their steps.

“Now,” Zed says and dashes around the corner towards Vivien’s cell. I follow on my tiptoes, my heart beating fast in anticipation of the moment when I’d lay eyes on her.

A bitter moment it is. Zed opens the door, and as it peels off my field of vision it reveals my good Virgin Vivien lying on a dirty mattress by the grated window. She’s skeletal-thin, the skin glued to her bones, and paper-white. She lies straight like a wooden board, wearing only the sack-like gown that she’s had on as I witnessed her being subjected to electroshocks. She seems dead.

I hurry over and drop on my knees by her side, caressing her forehead with trembling fingers. Her eyes are closed and her mouth half open, her lips cracked and there’s white foam at the corners. Despite the wretched condition she’s in her features are still smooth and noble, the face of a true princess.

She mumbles something very low, as if she’s delirious. I barely manage to keep hysteria at bay as I grab her around her waist with both arms and try to lift her off the bed.

“Zed, please help me!”

“Take it easy, Saphira, and keep it low,” he warns in his usual cold, detached voice.

“Please, do something! She’s in great suffering!”

“And your pulling and dragging doesn’t make it any better. Step aside.”

I obey, allowing him to scoop Vivien up from the bed and take a few long strides to the door, which I open wide, completely forgetting to check the area. I bump into a guard in white blocking our way, glaring over my head at Zed. But before I even get to shriek Zed leans Vivien on me – I instinctively support her weight – then twists and breaks the man’s neck right before my eyes. The guard drops dead on the floor, and all I can do is stare in shock at his still open, blank eyes. A second later the alarm starts screaming.

“Let’s move,” Zed calls over the sharp, maddening sound as he picks Vivien up again. Not a muscle moves on his face, as if taking a life is nothing more than shaving for him. I register what he says but I can’t react, staring at his back taking distance from me on the corridor, Vivien’s bony legs dangling from the cradle of his arms.

“Now, Saphira!” He urges, spinning around to look at me. The lights go out frame by frame, turning the corridor into a tunnel of black closing toward Zed. It stirs me from the grip of stun and gets my limbs moving.

Soon I’m running to Zed, who gets out of the way to allow that I take the lead, then follows close behind me at a jog, telling me when to turn left or right along a labyrinth of corridors. The place grows more ruinous and desolate as we reach deeper into the old maze of the asylum, the doors we run by rusty, the light bulbs hanging by bare threads and flickering. This part of the asylum is a dangerous place, humidity having permeated the ceiling and touching the electricity lines. A part of it where patients are left to die. A living grave.

“Turn right,” Zed calls again, but the moment I take the turn I realize we’re heading toward a dead-end.

“We’re trapped!” I shriek.

“The hatch, lift the hatch!”

I skid and drop on the floor where I see a rusty trap door indeed, and clasp the grip with both hands. I pull once, twice, three times, but it’s not fast enough. By the time I manage to open it, allowing Zed to jump into the dark abyss beneath it with Vivien in his arms and without a second thought, the sound of running men chasing us already reaches my ears.

Scared, I don’t waste another moment and jump after Zed. I sprain my ankle upon landing, but my brain releases endorphins immediately. I’m aware that pain will strike with a vengeance if we get out of this alive, but right now I’m grateful I can keep moving, even though with difficulty.

A gunshot rips through the dark catacombs and through the sound of my breathing. I stop in place.

“Keep running!” Zed calls, and for the first time ever he truly sounds desperate. His command gets me back in a strained limp, while he waits with Vivien in his arms and starts moving only after I’ve taken the lead. I realize he wants to protect me and that he won’t run any faster than I do, which spurs me on to try yet harder.

I stumble and fall over something hard and edgy, and as I pat around in the darkness to save myself my hands find what feels like dry hay. The smell is foul, and as I begin to make out the contours of corpses I start to scream like crazy. The dry hay was someone’s hair.

Zed grabs my wrist and lifts me up from the pile of bodies, but I can’t stop screaming. I’m forced to step on them to move forward, stumbling, falling, crying.

“You’re gonna get us killed!” Zed growls. He doesn’t try to keep it low anymore either.

As we escape the foul-smelling grave and reach what resembles flat terrain again it feels like being released from shackles. With a yell of effort I force myself to run, focused only on one spot before me – a white circle, literally the light at the end of the tunnel.

I ignore everything else as I hurry toward it with all I’ve got, and when the light begins to take clear shape my heart rejoices like I didn’t think it still could after everything I’ve been through in this cursed place.

Kieran steps out of the light to meet me, and I fly right into his open arms. I cry uncontrollably, caressing his marble statue of a face, so beautiful as he kisses my forehead and my hands, his pitch-black eyes searching mine with hunger and pain.

Another gunshot tears through the background. Then another. Kieran lifts his face to look behind me, and his expression goes steel-sharp. I turn around to see Zed falling to the ground with Vivien in his arms as Kieran’s men pour behind him to shield him from further bullets before the metal high-tech doors close. I realize they must be marking the borders from where Kieran had secured the catacombs that link to his manor. Still, for Zed, it’s too late.

To be continued on Friday.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Stay tuned for a new chapter of The Executioner on Tuesday! Until then, enjoy the previous episodes here. If you don’t feel like waiting for the episodes, buy the whole book here, and enjoy a ride of suspense, mystery and love. Looking forward to reading from you! Love, Ana.

Pic source.

The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 4

The Marquis shields me from the other serpents. I can’t bring myself to stand, tasting mud in my mouth, my fingers clawing the pasty earth, the rain battering my back.

I try to tell myself this isn’t real, but every bit of my body feels the reality. Serpents squirm, some tangling with each other and building a slimy circle around the Marquis and me. They look like him, the torsos of men with monster faces, and serpent tails.

Suddenly, one of them launches toward the Marquis, whose long claws shoot out from his fingertips and slash the creature while it’s still in the air. It falls to the ground, writhing and whistling, but only a second later another one swings forward.

The Marquis’ tail coils around my body, his dragon scales wet and slippery as it slides on my skin, tightening until it immobilizes my arms along my torso. He lifts me in the air, away from the snakes. I close my eyes tightly to reduce the vertigo as the tail’s jerks scramble my brains.

When I manage to open them again the Marquis is high on the curve of his tail, holding me even higher. I panic as I watch his claws slash at incoming offensives. Snakes fall left and right, and the ground begins to spin away from me as the Marquis pirouettes and drives me higher up in the air. Gravity seems to pull at my stomach, it feels like a falling rock.

The Marquis turns his face to me from beneath, his blister-like eyes apparently bleeding, as well as his black lips. One of the attackers takes advantage of this break in the Marquis’ focus and jumps at him, thrusting its teeth in the muscle between his neck and his shoulder.

His whistle stabs my eardrums, but even though his pain is obvious his tail doesn’t slacken off me. His sways are jerky as he retreats with me towards the manor that I’ve tried so hard to escape, while his torso dashes forward. He bites the snakes again and again, swift like a huge cobra. He’s stronger and faster than them, so fast that his attacks add to my vertigo.

Once we’re inside the chilly manor, the doors thud closed. The Marquis sets me gently on the cold floor, his tail unwinding from my body, but my skin still crawls after its touch. I remain lying on my back on the granite, my eyes open and my head spinning with the vaulted ceiling above.

“Why, Saphira?” The Marquis heaves. “Why did you do something so reckless?”

I roll on the side to look at him. He’s on the floor too, supporting his weight on his palms, his flesh now transparent and his veins visible through it. He’s becoming a man again, his body gaining heat, and his face morphing from a monster to a beautiful human.

“I couldn’t resist the temptation,” I murmur. The sight of him transforming fascinates me, and my mouth remains open after I’ve spoken.

“Temptation?” He looks at me with a frown, blood dripping from his shoulder.

“You’re hurt.”

“No, don’t change the subject.” He shakes his head slowly, strands of damp hair falling over his forehead. “What were you tempted by?”

“Freedom.”

He bends his head and hunches, baring his teeth in pain while his tail begins to split like a snake tongue. With a cry he throws his head back and spans like a bow. My breath catches. His tail splits into legs, ripping and bleeding until human sinews replace the serpent muscle. In a matter of seconds, the wounds close as thighs and calves take shape.

“Oh my God,” I whisper, staring in awe.

Panting hard, the Marquis drops naked on the floor, looking like a marble sculpture. His flawless skin, his lean muscles and his youthful profile stand in contrast with the monster from only moments before, but they also prove he’s not a simple man. No human can be this beautiful. The wound between his head and his shoulder now yawns wider, bloody, looking painful. My heart clenches.

“We need to get that cleaned up ASAP,” I say. “And drain the venom out.”

“The venom won’t do anything to me.” He breathes with difficulty and tries to stand, but he drops right back on his palms. He spits blood, and I panic.

“It doesn’t look like it. It looks like you’re going to die.”

“If I died, would you care?” With his head still hanging he turns his face to me, revealing the ghost of a grin. His pitch black eyes show exhaustion and pain.

I scramble up, grab his arm and swing it around my neck, winding my other arm around his waist. He puts a foot down, the muscles in his thigh flexing strong as he stands, which is great help, because he seems to weigh a ton. But that’s the last display of strength the Marquis can offer.

Blood drips on the floor as we begin to move down the hall. The Marquis limps, and I notice a wound in his hip. The corridor turns darker with every step, and a glance through the windows lining the outer wall shows heavy clouds placing the moon in shadow. The storm roars outside, and for a moment I visualize all those snakes from before flooding the manor.

“They’ll eventually crawl their way inside.” Panic’s sharp in my words.

“My study,” the Marquis mutters. “We’ll be safe there, no cracks, no openings. We’ll start the fire to block the chimney.”

We increase our pace toward the high double doors as the slimy sound of serpent slither begins to close in on us.

***

We make it to the study, the Marquis leaning on the pillar by the entrance as I push the doors shut. I help him to the couch, and hurry to the outline of the fireplace.

“Where’s the firewood?” I spin in place, the semi-obscurity making it hard on my eyes.

“No wood. A lever in the centre of the mantelpiece, it looks like a candle. Feels like one too if you can’t see well.”

I grope, find it and pull. What must be wood logs rolls into the fireplace from somewhere inside it, the sound followed by a splash and a sizzle. Fire bounces to life, making me take a few steps back. I’m amazed the Marquis should use technology in so vintage a place as this study. The warmth hits my numb cheeks, making blood prickle through them again.

I turn to look at the Marquis’ naked figure, his arms spread on the rest of the leather couch, displaying the marble beauty of his body. He resembles a work of art in the firelight, marred by trails of blood that trickle from his shoulder down his chest and from his hip down his sculpted thigh.

I rip my eyes from him and scan the place for anything I can use for his wounds. I identify the corner liquor cabinet, grab the vodka and soak a starched white napkin with it. I hurry to the couch with the napkin in one hand and the bottle in the other, and curl one leg under me as I sit facing the Marquis and pressing the napkin on the wound on his shoulder. He winces and squeezes his eyelids.

My gaze glides over his profile. His eyes are hooded as he relaxes his head back on the rest of the couch, now that the sting of alcohol is more bearable.

“You saved me,” I whisper.

He squints at me, as if he only just remembered. “Why did you run, Saphira?”

My eyes wandering all over his face, I realize the pain he goes through in his transformation. A revelation hits me – The Marquis may be a monster, but Kieran Slate is a victim. Emotion swells in my chest as my gaze lingers on his white, bloodless lips, then on his tormented black eyes.

“You weren’t exactly nice to me,” I whisper.

He looks sad at me, maybe hurt. “But why try to elope with Inspector Boy?”

“I . . .”

I move the soaked napkin to the wound on his hip. He winces and hisses, the sinews in his body tightening.

“I wasn’t eloping with him. He offered an alternative. But I’d like you to leave him alone, please,” I dare.

“You still have feelings for him?” He grimaces again at the touch of more alcohol on his wound.

“No, not like that, not anymore. He and I go way back though, he’s . . . say a childhood friend to me.”

Uncomfortable silence settles between us. The fire rustle fills the room, but I’m not sure the burn in my cheeks is because of the heat or because of the awkwardness.

I walk to the corner liquor cabinet again and grab more starched napkins and a bottle of water. My ears perk up, scanning the silence for serpent slither outside. My skin crawls at the memory of it, sending a shudder all through me.

“Are you sure they can’t get in?” I inquire after I’ve returned by the Marquis. Despite his exhaustion, this spot right by his side feels safe.

“Positive. This room is as good as a vault. But returning to the subject of Jeremy Simmons. How come you trusted him, Saphira? He cheated on you in the past, and you’re not one to forgive easily, as far as I know.”

“Uhm, er –” I busy myself soaking another napkin – with water this time – as a pretext to keep my eyes down to what I’m doing and not look into the Marquis’ face. “My situation was desperate, and I’ve known Jeremy all my life. I needed someone, and he was the next best thing.”

“Next best thing to what? Or to whom?”

My heart clenches as I remember that my father, the man I should trust most, is a deranged killer, and my mother a poor soul who keeps her intuition numb with liquor and too many cigarettes.

I force my mind away from the subject and shrug. “Jeanie and Vivien, my best friends, I guess. But I didn’t want to drag them into this horror. Jeremy was already in it.”

“How about your mother? Why isn’t she the one who enjoys your trust most?” The Marquis asks softly. My eyes shoot up at his, and the truth stumbles out of my mouth.

“She’s distant. She always did what she thought was best for me, but somehow she was actually never . . . there.” I look down again to hide the tears that start to well in my eyes. “I now understand why. She always sensed something was mighty off with Dad, and it consumed her emotionally. It still does.”

This is hardly the time for confessions, and thoughts of the serpents remind me of that. I fire a glance to the door. “Are you sure they can’t come in here? It seems so still out there it gives me the creeps.”

“Relax, this room is completely safe. Besides, it’s past midnight. The effect of the moon on the inner serpent is lessening, we’re more controlled now.”

The kindness in his voice sends warmth through me, and I’m wondering if he’s using his powers on me again. If he is, he does it in a wholly different way than before. We search each other’s faces for moments until I kick the conversation back on track, starting to dab the blood off his chest.

“How come this place is crawling with serpent-men? I thought you were the only one.”

“They are my staff.”

My hand freezes mid-dab. “Say what?”

“When I decided to stop working as a hit man for my makers, many of my peers decided to follow,” he explains. “I couldn’t trust people who didn’t share my curse or my secret, I’m sure you understand. As for tonight, full moon lends unbound power to the serpent inside the man. It’s next to impossible to fight the inner monster under the shine of full moon, and we can’t resist transformation.”

Now I understand why Zed left the door to my tower chamber unlocked – the inner demon tormented him, and he needed to get out fast, which unbalanced his otherwise steely focus.

“But they are your men. How come they attacked you?”

“I protected what would’ve been their prey – you –, so I stood their enemy. Tonight they’re slaves to their instincts and don’t acknowledge any other master.”

He protected me. At the risk of his own life. Gratitude fills my heart.

“Thank you so much, Kieran. So much.” I squeeze his hand, searching his beautiful face and hoping to convey the feeling that overwhelms me. A tired smile draws the corner of his sweet mouth, his eyes closing as if to let him take in a pleasant sensation.

“It’s been a while since I’ve heard that name. I cherish it, you know? It’s my only bridge to the human I once was.”

“I cherish it too,” I whisper. “And I won’t use it without your permission.”

“Oh, you have all permission in the world. I like the way it sounds from your mouth.”

He sets his dark eyes on me, soft and kind and intimate. He was cold and even cruel to me before, but somehow I always sensed the good in him. The way he looks at me fills me with affection, and my heart beats in my throat.

***

The study is warm and cosy, the firelight casting a beautiful glow on Kieran’s face. We sit facing each other on the couch.

“But still, I wouldn’t thank me,” he says. “It’s my fault the serpent-men are here in the first place.”

I shake my head. “No, that’s not true. This place was a nest of vipers all along, with my father and his group having raped and killed Catherine. It’s their fault you are here.” I grab his hand with both of mine. “Kieran, this town was a place of morbid mystery until you came along and brought that crime to light. My mother and I, we always sensed something was wrong. To silence that nagging inner voice, she lost herself to liquor, and I – to avoid the same fate – turned to watercolours, oil and canvas. Through painting I searched for something I sensed but couldn’t identify no matter how hard I tried.”

“Is that what you did?” He probes softly.

I bite my lower lip, searching for an example that would best help him understand.

“Remember the painting of the Dark Castle? The one you walked straight to when you first entered my parents’ attic? You said it mirrored my soul. You were right. I’ve been digging in it, portraying it in detail hoping to find something that I now realize didn’t even lie within but without. I was trying to uncover what it was that I sensed.”

“You do have special insight into souls,” he says, his voice low and creamy. “That’s why I had the portrait you made of me brought here and locked in the tower. It made me feel bared.”

I search the depths of his eyes. “You said that portrait was a confession.”

“And that it was. A confession that there was a battered stable boy behind the powerful Marquis. That I wasn’t invincible.”

Scenes of him in his huge serpent form slashing and biting his attackers fill my mind’s eye.

“Not invincible, but incredibly strong. You fought all those creatures by yourself.”

He makes a bitter grimace. “The reason why my makers held me in special regard. And why the mighty Slayer avoids direct confrontation.”

“Speaking of the Slayer,” I latch on the topic, trying to mask the shudder that goes through me as I realize how powerful he actually is. “Ivan Basarab. My best bet is Ronald Lord Barkley, especially since he and Vivien used to meet around the asylum. Vivien’s mother knows for a fact who it is – she told me, but an explosion muffled the sound. All we have to do is ask her to get confirmation. I would’ve told you before, when you came to my room, but I was too scared.”

He smiles a gentle smile, putting his hand over mine. “You’re not scared anymore, I hope. I don’t want you to be afraid of me.”

I smile back. My cheeks prickle with emotion, which I identify as infatuation and a trace of fear. “It’s getting better.”

“Good, because I want us to become real, Saphira. I want . . . I want a true relationship.”

I drop my gaze like a maiden from the past century, embarrassed by my blush. I fight the girlish stupidity with all I have. “You’ve hurt me, Kieran, badly. You used me in terrible ways.”

The couch dips as he changes position and bends to me. My heart races, and I watch my own chest rising and falling as I try to control my breathing. He touches my chin with a soft finger, lifting my gaze to meet his again.

“Is that a no?”

“It is.”

His face draws. Desolation falls over his features, giving me an impulse to allow hope.

“At least for now,” I add quickly. “I need time.”

“And will time help?” He slurs.

I desperately need to change the subject. I take to washing the blood off his muscular thigh, the rhythm of my heart alert. He’s completely naked right in front of me. “What do you think about Ronald Lord Barkley being the true Ivan Basarab? Ivan Basarab sounds East European to me, and I remember he used to help couples adopt children from that area, so this speaks in favour of this theory too.”

“Hm.”

I look up at him. “You don’t think so?”

“If Vivien had anything going with Lord Barkley, she wouldn’t have needed to sneak at night into the lunatic asylum, would she? Basarab wanted access to the sewers so he could get to this manor underground. So it can’t be Barkley, he has access to the sewers anytime. But another person who’s manifested interest in the asylum and its sewers was your father, Gunnar Lothar, right after I bought the manor from him – he argued to Lord Barkley that the place needed expensive restorations anyway, and maybe it would be better to sell. He said that the old building had historical value, and the sewers could be turned into a tourist attraction. He wanted to explore the catacombs, allegedly to assess their potential, but Barkley hated the idea, and the relationship with Gunnar turned cold. So Basarab must’ve turned to threats to force Vivien Grant to help him, especially since she seemed to be on to him.”

I swallow hard. “You’re saying your suspect is my father?”

“He’s my best bet.”

I’m stunned, and I don’t even know what to feel. I look around, gathering my memories of my conversation with Mrs Grant. “Vivien’s mother said the mysterious man had everyone fooled except Vivien. That Vivien ‘discovered his true rot.’ These were her exact words. But my father, we know already how rotten he is.”

“I know, his so-called ‘friends’ know, and now you, but not the rest of Northville. To them, he’s the respectable family and business man.” He lies down on the couch with a grimace of pain, one leg curled in front of me, the other one on the floor.

I can’t help admiring the marble sinews of his naked body. His wounds are now disinfected and clean, but they still need tending to. The sight of them makes me cringe.

“Is there anywhere I can get bandages?” I ask.

“Not in this room, and you can’t go out. The serpents are calmer, but still. They’re wounded and furious.”

“Then we’ll have to improvise.”

I get up from the couch, walk to his desk and open drawers until one object builds team with my imagination – duct tape. I grab a few clean starched napkins from the liquor cabinet and go back to Kieran, who watches me with an amused expression.

“What’s so funny?” I inquire, drawing tape from the roll. It makes a pitchy sound that rips through the rustle of the fire.

“You’re inventive,” he says. “A life-saver in hardship.”

But the moment I bend to place a folded napkin on his shoulder wound, I notice it’s closing. Slowly like a snail, but visibly. I shriek and jump back. When I look into Kieran’s face, he’s smiling.

“There’s something about my kind of reptile,” he says. “Unless you cut off our head, we tend to regenerate.”

***

“Then why –”

“Why I let you take care of me?” His black gaze takes on a special glint in the firelight. “I wanted to feel your hands on me, of your own will. But my wounds didn’t need care. They’ll hurt for another few hours while they’re closing, but by morning I’ll be as good as new.”

“Kieran, you scared the life out of me.” I slap the napkins on the coffee table to mark my discontent at having been fooled. I stay soft-spoken though, not wanting to come across a drama queen jumping at the first opportunity to act hysterical.

“I scared the life out of you many times before, and for that please accept my apologies.” He props himself on his elbow with some difficulty, stretching out his other hand in an invitation.

“Come, lay here with me.”

The sound of his voice, dark and soft, seems to seep in through my pores. I square my shoulders, fighting the urge to obey.

“This needs to stop. You can’t go on numbing my will and playing with my head. If we’re to ever have a chance at a relationship, you’ll want me as myself.”

The haze of hypnotic obedience that made my lids heavy starts retreating, but Kieran’s intense black eyes still dazzle me without the input from his powers. The firelight sends a golden glow on his youthful features. He has the most beautiful face I’ve ever seen. I busy myself with arranging objects on the coffee table in an attempt to hide my weakness and hold my ground.

“Very well then,” he says and sets his other elbow on the couch, now sustaining his weight on both of them and displaying his naked body. He’s most certainly aware of his beauty.

“Shame must be a foreign word to you,” I whisper.

“If the sight offends you, feel free to cover me. There’s a long coat hanging on the peg by the door.”

He may be regenerating, but he’s exhausted, and so am I. I walk to the peg and take the coat. It’s so heavy it disturbs my balance, exhaustion rendering my limbs weak. When I reach the couch Kieran’s eyes are closed. The last thing he expects is what I’m going to do, I’m sure.

I sit by his side. “Will you make room for me, please?”

His eyes snap open in surprise. He draws to the rest of the couch, moving onto his side so that half the couch becomes available and enough for me if I lie on my side as well. I lower myself slowly and nestle my head at his chest, pulling the coat over us both. My heart races as my cheek touches him, his skin like silk over a hard-muscled body.

“I thought you said –” he whispers.

“I asked you to stop influencing me, determining my actions,” I interrupt softly. The heat grows between us. “I asked you to let me exercise my free will. And this is what I do with my free will.”

He kisses my temple, his lips dry and warm. “You were always resilient to my influence.”

“Really? It didn’t feel that way to me.”

“How did it feel then?”

“You often made a zombie out of me.”

“And yet you always retained the ability of defying me.”

“It was a struggle, like moving my legs out of quicksand. But sometimes I chose to sink in, because that way it was easier to put up with the things you did with me.” My voice breaks on the last words.

Kieran pushes one arm under my body, the other one curling around me from above. He presses me to him in a tight embrace and kisses the top of my head.

“I’m so sorry, Saphira. I deserve all snakes’ bites and much more for what I did to you. I beg for your forgiveness, and I’ll do anything to get it.”

“It’s not easy, Kieran. It will take time.”

“As long as you need. I have centuries, and I place them at your feet.”

A sad smile pulls the corner of my mouth. It’s fascinating how exhaustion makes you feel accepting of anything. “A terrible waste, all those centuries scattered by my grave. Unlike you, I’m fully human, my time is limited.”

The fire rustles in the silence as Kieran’s first tear drips on my temple.

***

Enjoyed this? Let me know your thoughts in a comment, and stay tuned for Part III on Monday!

Previously

The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 1.

The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 2.

The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 3.

This is a compilation of The Marquis’ and Saphira’s moments together from the entire story.

Read Part I of the ENTIRE story („Saphira“) here, and Part 2 of the ENTIRE story (“The Marquis”) here. Have fun!

The Marquis and Saphira – Their story – Part 1

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.”

“You do?”

“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.”

“How?”

“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.”

“Why not?”

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?”

“Yes.”

“You’re mocking.”

“You’re shaking.”

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!

The Marquis and Saphira – Their Story – Part 2

Read the entire Part 1 of this story here, and Part 2 (“The Marquis”) here. Have fun!

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Revelations – Ep. 33 of The Marquis

“I should’ve stayed with her,” I keep saying. I’m aware of the soothing hand on my forehead, and soon also of the warmth of a bed and thick duvets that slowly brings my body back to life, but other than that I’m stuck on Lauren’s story inside my head. It’s a while until I can lift my eyelids, and even longer until I come back to myself completely.

“I need to talk to her,” I say to whomever is there to listen. “She has to forgive me.” I try to get up, but a stabbing pain in my ribs knocks me back down. I groan, but luckily someone rushes to my side and does something to take the pain away – I don’t know what.

“Don’t strain yourself.” It’s Yvette’s smoker-deep voice. “You’ve been seriously abused, and you’re still weak.”

Little by little I get used to the waking state again, and Yvette rustles the curtains aside to let light in. I’m still at the asylum – I recognize the bleak gardens outside, even though I can’t see very well – but in a much cozier room. I manage to sit up on the bed eventually, grimacing at the discomfort, and tangling in all the cables that are clipped to my fingertips. Wow, I must be doing shitty.

“How did you manage to get me here?” My vocal cords sound so rusty I must’ve been out for days.

“You’re pretty lucid, I see,” Yvette says with a smile as she heads back to the bed. She checks the IV lines and the machines around me like a dexterous nurse, only that she’s wearing black instead of white. A Morticia-Adams-dress that’s too tight on her plump shape. I can’t help but marvel at how generous her bust is, and at the fact that she doesn’t try to hide it like most women her age. The cleavage, red lipstick and wrinkle-free full-moon face make me wonder whether she grooms this appearance for some much younger lover. Can’t believe where my mind strays . . .

“How much do you remember?” She inquires, hands and eyes up on the machines.

“Everything. I remember that Lauren almost got me killed, and that she ordered I be treated so badly that I eventually die. Which is why I’m surprised to wake up being tended to.”

I catch a glimpse of myself in the screen of a machine, and I cringe. I’m compelled to return my gaze to the image – one eye is swollen and reddish-purple, same as my upper lip that’s crisscrossed by cuts.

Yvette leans down to me with a motherly smile, and caresses my forehead. The scent of aromatic cigarettes is welcome and homely – I must be really damaged to find it pleasant; I always hated the smell of cigarettes.

“You were very lucky, Saphira. It may look bad now, but it’ll all go away. There will be no scars or permanent damage. There’s a God up there who loves you.”

“Yes, I believe so,” I whisper, still terrified by my own image. I try not to look at it again, and pray that Kieran doesn’t get to see me like this. “How did you manage to save my arse?”

“Let’s say I restored the balance of power. Lauren Morris has been sleeping with Lord Barkley for years – this was Barkley’s secret, and how certain people in this town kept him doing what they said. Now, since Miss Morris opened her big slutty mouth in front of me, he must do what I say. I blackmailed him.”

“She’s been sleeping with Ronald Lord Barkley . . .” My stomach knots. I can’t help imagining Pretty Lauren’s skinny model legs in high heels wrapped around Barkley’s pruned hips. Gunnar’s abuse of her when she was a child drilled into her mind severely deep, making her sink in traumatic experiences until she became as dangerous as her abusers.

“This is all my fault . . .” I shake my head, and get a terrible ache.

“No, Saphira.” Yvette cups my face and makes me look into her eyes. “We are all responsible for our own actions, and so is Lauren for hers.”

“That’s not true,” I manage among tears. “It’s a simplistic way of putting things in order to get the burden off the shoulders where it belongs. You can’t tell a raped child that they’re responsible for what they become.”

Yvette searches my eyes. “As I said, you’re pretty darn lucid.”

“Thank God. Don’t try cheap lines on me again, because they don’t soothe me – they enrage me.” I sound angrier than good Yvette deserves. Poor woman is just trying to help, but I can’t bring myself to apologize.

“Okay, then look this truth in the face,” she retorts. “What happened to Lauren Morris was not your fault. You were only a child yourself. Even if you had known what Gunnar was capable of, you couldn’t have confronted or challenged him.”

“No, but I could’ve hindered him. I would’ve never left her side, I would’ve . . .”

“Not knowing what he was capable of kept you alive and unscathed, Saphira! That bastard cared about his image more than anything – his immaculate image of a family man – and had you compromised that, he would’ve gotten rid of you. He may have done with you what he did with Catherine Lancaster!”

Chills go through me and shake me to the bones. The man I’d known as my father . . . I can’t think it to the end. It’s unbearable.

“And raping his neighbors’ daughter didn’t threaten his image, you think?” I grumble, trying to move yet further away from that feeling.

“Lauren Morris’ dad used to work for yours. He kissed Gunnar’s ass big time. So Gunnar sent him and his wife on business trips almost constantly, if you remember, and kept the girl at your house.”

I nod slowly in recollection. That’s how Lauren and I became best friends in the first place. Loose ends come together, and things start to make sense. I look slowly up at Yvette and narrow my eyes – well, my one good eye.

She frowns down at a syringe that she then dips into my belly. “So that your blood doesn’t coagulate,” she explains.

I don’t even wince at the sting – at least one welcome by-product of being subjected to great violence; you become really hard to frighten or sway, not to mention almost immune to pain.

“How long have you been working for Barkley?”

The smile that crosses Yvette’s face is that of a patient wise woman. It fits her better than the tight black dress, I think. “For many years, Saphira.”

“But how come we never met? Are you originally from Northville?”

“Oh yes, I was born here. And you and I met before, a number of times actually. Not that I expected you to remember, you’re high society, crème de la crème, I’m working class – the well-paid and well-connected layer of it, I admit, but still just a face in the crowd.”

A face in the crowd . . .

“I’ve even been at your graduation party – a big one your mother threw there, wow,” she continues. “I was at the Manor on the Night of Venice as the Marquis presented you as his girlfriend, and at the Christmas party at your house as your father announced your engagement to the Marquis. I attended your engagement banquet at the Manor too.” She gives me a meaningful, naughty look. “You and the Marquis came to greet us after you came back from your . . . “

That night flashes through my memory. Kieran doing it to me down in the dungeons, then displaying me all over the banquet hall, my arm hooked around his. It was surely clear to everyone that we’d just ravished each other, and Kieran made a point of it. And then it hits me.

Images and events rush through my mind one after the other – the Opera House. Lauren. Billy singing on the stage, his voice angelic; Jeremy befriending Billy, the boys in the catacombs; Lauren following; Vivien and I keeping back, scared. A face in the crowd. Basarab, Ivan.

Jeremy was the most popular boy in town back when we were teenagers. He’d give me those cocky grins that made me melt. He kissed me by the thick oak tree in his back yard. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes again was Lauren right by our side, her eyes jealous and her cheeks red. Billy – a thin mouse-faced boy with spectacles and hormone-caused pimples by now – gazed long at Lauren from somewhere behind her. Little Jeanie watching us from up in her room, nose and little chubby palms stuck to the window. Ronald Lord Barkley visiting all our families very often. A face in the crowd. Basarab, Ivan. Again, the Opera House.

Years later, I walked in and saw Jeremy in bed with Lauren. Just months before Jeremy and I were supposed to be married. She said she did it for revenge, but in truth, who was using whom? Billy worked as a notary, sunken in his work in his smoke-filled, cluttered office; still Jeremy’s best friend, and still hopelessly in love with Lauren; it seemed easy for her to manipulate him. He helped with adoptions a lot. Lord Barkley still visited all our families. Vivien on the table, her body arching under electroshocks, her eyes on a face in the crowd. A face in the crowd. The Opera House. Basarab, Ivan.

The big hooded man walking away from Lauren in the rain the night Kieran and I wanted to elope together. Powerful, giving her orders. Lauren Morris, raped by Gunnar years ago. She’d slept with my fiancé, as well as with the family friend Ronald Lord Barkley who should’ve loved her like a father, and who knows with whom else. A face in the crowd, always there, never noticed. The Opera House. Basarab, Ivan.

“Saphira!” Yvette’s voice drills through to me. “What is it girl? You look as if you saw a ghost.”

I stare up at her. “I know who he is, Yvette. I just realized who Ivan Basarab truly is.”

 

To be continued on Friday.

***

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No Escape – Ep. 31 of “The Marquis”

„Her mother had to leave the asylum,“ Ronald Lord Barkley croaks in my ear. “In a plastic bag.”

The doctor gives the signal, and Vivien arches again on the metal table as electroshock courses through her and the news of her mother’s death through me. She screams, and I do as well, unable to move my eyes from her skeletal frame that twists, her restrained fists so tight that they turn white.

Someone shoves me forward and drags me deeper into the asylum, past doors with grated viewers that mad eyes stare at me through. Female voices fill the corridors from the cells, the screams of doomed minds abandoned to their insanity – or whatever it is that got them locked in here, like rich ex-husbands in no mood for custody fights.

I’m pushed inside a small room with dirty cushioned walls – so that I don’t kill myself by banging my head against them for sure – and a small grated window high above. There’s no chance for me to ever reach it, let alone make it through back to freedom. It’s Jeremy Simmons who closes the door with a vindictive frown, while Ronald Lord Barkley’s long gaunt face seems rather scared and powerless behind him. I understand he’s just a tool in more powerful hands, and I wonder what it is that the elite have on him to secure his complicity.

But that’s about all the thinking I’m able to do before I curl on the floor exhausted from the hurt, the emotional drain and the consequences of long-term rainfall on my virtually naked body. Every bit of my flesh hurts as if I’ve been beaten with rods, I’m cold and my eyes sting. I shiver like a chicken plucked of its feathers, yet manage to fall asleep. I keep waking up from the cold though. Eventually a sensation of warmth and then growing heat takes over me, making me claw my corset and try to rip it off until I’m so finished that I give in gratefully to complete and comfortable blackness. I’m strangely disappointed when it turns out it’s not definitive.

I’m sprawled on the floor as the door opens with a loud, sharp metallic sound. I can only see the lower part of it as if through fog, legs in white pants and white shoes coming at me. White arms grab me and drag me out of the room. My nape hurts, I can’t hold up my head and feel mighty humiliated as my hair hangs like rags around my face as they take me God knows where.

It’s a “treatment room,” a special one. It’s small and it has a lot of pipes. Before a clear idea can form in my mind a jet of water hits me and hurtles me to the wall, and once I’m pinned there its pressure decreases enough for me to feel its temperature – cold as ice.

I scream and gasp, my heart threatening to stop from the arctic liquid that makes me stiffen and ache. I’m fully awake and afraid for my life. I’ve sure gotten myself in really deep shit.

But to my great luck the loud whoosh of water stops abruptly, and as my screams die down I hear a female voice – deep, maybe belonging to a middle-aged respect inspiring lady – rising at the male nurses who’ve just put me through the worst torture yet.

“Are you mad? You’ll put her in hypothermia, you’ll kill her!”

My vision is blurred, but I recognize Lord Barkley’s secretary, the “witch” from last night – or God knows how many nights ago – who helped me get inside the pub incognito. Impaired as I am, I know she’s on my side. And Kieran’s, or at least Joyous’.

It’s funny that I only take a good look at her now – by the way I feel and what she just said, she might be the last friendly face I ever see. Beyond the sour expression that seems to be natural to her, she’s rather attractive with her intelligent dark eyes and round, white face. The red lipstick makes a good contrast to her white skin, black bun – clearly dyed – and elegant black blouse, and it must be the main detail that gives her the overall image of a harpy. She’s a sturdy, full-busted version of Morticia Adams.

“Lord Barkley said –” one of the men begins, but “Plump Morticia” interrupts as she tries to help me up. I’m so frozen I don’t even feel her touch.

“I’m sure he didn’t say put her in hypothermia. This woman should’ve gotten a warm blanket and a hot tea as soon as she was brought in, not be kept wet and technically naked all night.”

“It’s only been a few hours.”

The woman turns her face to the speaker. “Are you stupid, or are you just pretending?”

The man looks down. “I’m sorry, Miss Danes.”

“Give me your jacket.” She stretches her arm. The man hesitates. “Come on now!”

He takes off his white uniform jacket and hands it to the woman. She’s now looking at me again. I’ve practically trickled along the tiled wall to the floor, and I’m looking up at her. She covers me and strokes the wet hairs off my forehead.

“I’m Yvette Danes, Saphira. If they ever lay hands on you again and I happen not to be around – which won’t be happening a lot anymore – use my name to stay them.”

A young and ill-wishing female voice intervenes. “Not if my name can set those hands in motion again.”

Both Yvette and I look in the direction of the voice. Pretty Lauren leans on the doorframe in jeans and a red leather jacket, her skinny arms folded across her chest, her hair falling in fiery locks to her shoulders. She grins, and I feel like a stray dog at her mercy, looking at her from the level of her feet.

“Grab your hoses, boys,” she says.

“Wait, you can’t do this!” Yvette gets up and steps in. But the men have already followed Lauren’s command as if spoken by Lord Barkley himself.

“Yes, I can, lady,” Lauren retorts. “Lord Barkley is, say, indisposed, and I’m his Deputy.”

“But this is outrageous! You’re a tart with no studies or experience!” Yvette bursts. Lauren grins her wicked grin.

“We tarts have our methods. Now get out of the way unless you want to join little Miss Lothar in a refreshing bath.”

It’s clear that Lauren is in a position of power. The nurses obey her as the higher in command. I’m completely in her hands, and already half-dead. I close my eyes as the jets of water hit me so hard they seem to break my bones.

 

To be continued on Friday.

***

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Witch Hunt – Ep. 30 of “The Marquis”

Gunnar Lothar was a rapist, a sadist and a murderer. But he was also my father. He paid for my clothes and food for as long as I can remember. Always goal-oriented, words were never wasted on anything “soulful,” but we could’ve never talked enough about my physical appearance and how that could prove exceptionally useful in coming about a rich husband. Gunnar – at least his social persona – was all about good business.

I don’t know by what miracle I escaped abuse – probably because he used the family-man image to cover his true monstrous inclinations, and that image had to be perfect. For and despite all this, deep down I may be grieving. What I know for sure is that I’m very, very angry.

I tap into that anger and imagine him before me. I mentally make my surroundings fade into the background and talk to him. I let out my wrath and spit my disdain at him while the inquisition-like gathering yells and accuses me. They point fingers. Mum cries with her face in her palms, while Pretty Lauren grins like Maleficent with arms across her chest. Jeremy runs from one bastard to another to persuade them of something – I imagine he’s still holding on to his plan of using me as bait for Kieran.

“Saphira, pull yourself together,” Billy the Notary says in a panicked voice. His smoker-grey narrow face with the thick round spectacles and the thin mousy nose is close to mine.

“Take her to the lunatic asylum, that’s where she belongs,” the angry old man with the cane urges. Men and women agree with him in a surge of voices.

I may have gone too far. Gunnar’s “ghost” pulled me in. Now I can’t stop anymore. Turns out I am grieving, terribly so. I feel betrayed, furious and mad, and I’m acting as if possessed.

Mum howls in pain, and my heart breaks for her, but I can’t stop. I’ve lost control over myself. People grab and drag me out in the rain, once again displaying me like a witch deserving of the stake on the road to the lunatic asylum. I realize it, but can’t bring myself to fight it. I can’t stop “talking” to Gunnar Lothar.

The elite is out in the street, while the “plebs” peek from behind their curtains, scared and practically bullied to stay inside their homes. Little do they know that the old houses are no protection. Our town is now cut off from the rest of the world, the wasteland around it crawling with cops manoeuvred by a bitter and ambitious Inspector, mercenaries hired by the elite, and Ivan Basarab’s Black Monks – creatures that are clearly not normal.

They’re many and dangerous to Kieran and his few loyal men. We’re all doomed, every last one of us. As I realize this the last drop of energy leaves me, and I give in to the arms that feel like cuffs around mine. My feet soon no longer touch the ground, I’m being carried like an offering of heathen sacrifice.

The spiked black gates to the lunatic asylum open to receive me as my carriers’ feet make their way through the mud, the heavy rain battering my face and body that’s still covered only with the soaked corset and the torn fishnet stockings. I’m a certain victim of pneumonia, and I don’t even care.

The asylum doors close behind us. Calls instigating to my being locked up in here resonate against the walls, mixing with the cries of agony from electroshocked patients. The ceiling – greenish in the sickly lighting – spins around as they rotate me and put me back on my feet, only to drag me further into the depths of this prison that I may never leave again except maybe in a plastic bag. But, to my surprise, not everybody who’s accompanied me here is a foe.

Jeanie and Billy the Notary run alongside the group, desperate to get me out of these people’s hands. Pretty Lauren is right behind Jeanie, but all she wants is to take full delight in what she witnesses happening to me. Jeremy is close by with a bad frown and a mad look in his eyes, and soon Ronald Lord Barkley, head of the lunatic asylum, greets us. We don’t stop, he simply joins the group as they take me to what must be my cell, but as we advance the screams turn louder, as if someone’s being tortured. The voice seems familiar, and as we draw closer my heart beats in my throat.

We pass by a half-open door that reveals part of a sorry tiled room with a woman lying on the metal table like cattle for slaughter. With devices at her head, she screams under electroshocks. I recognize her and my steps freeze. She seems to feel my presence, and her bloodshot, terrified eyes dart to the side like a killer puppet’s in a horror movie. This is a living nightmare.

A shockingly emaciated and desolate version of my beloved friend Virgin Vivien fixes me for a second before she starts screaming again. Only that this time it’s not voltage that drives her – the doctors are busy looking at us as well, they’re not operating the devices. I understand immediately – Ivan Basarab is among us, and Vivien just recognized him.

 

***

To be continued on Friday.

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Black Angels – Ep. 28 of “The Marquis”

“You were here with him,“ Jeremy growls through his teeth.

“Let us explain,” Jeanie steps in, but he shoves her to the side and stomps to me. He doesn’t even mind her yelp and the thud as she hits the floor. He scares the crap out of me, and I make to get up, but his big hand pushes me back in my chair, his other fist clenched on the table by the gas lamp.

“You thought you could fool me. Didn’t you imagine that my men would report immediately once they lost you?”

My pulse is high with fright, and my eyes must bulge like potatoes out of my face. I look around at his men devastating the room. Two of them climb out the window, following Kieran and Joyous’ route to the roof. Jeremy squeezes my shoulder, causing me a shriek of pain and forcing my full attention back to him. I can’t believe Jeremy Simmons is actually doing this to me.

“Don’t waste my time, woman, tell me the truth!” He’s beside himself with rage, and I’m even afraid he might hit me.

“Leave her alone, Jeremy, you’ll give her another seizure, and one of those almost killed her tonight,” Jeanie says, forcing herself back on her feet and trying to separate us. I cling to her arm, wanting nothing more than to take distance from her brother. I’m so grateful for Jeanie right now, for her presence of mind. I was right to trust her.

Jeremy retreats a couple of steps, looking at Jeanie and me as if he’s trying to see the big picture.

“What seizure, Jean? Saphira’s been seen with the Marquis of Vandenesse at the pub, technically doing it on the table, and in my book, that’s called fervour, not seizure.” He sounds crazy with jealousy.

“If you heard that, then you must’ve heard as well that as the Marquis tried to take her with him she started twitching and shrugging uncontrollably.”

Jeremy’s eyes fall on me again, slightly calmer. “Is that so? He tried to kidnap you?”

I clear my throat and gather my courage to start with my plan, but one of Jeremy’s men storms in breathlessly, his face alight with urgency. He’s dressed as a civilian, but I recognize him from the house. I’m good with faces.

“Inspector Simmons,” he stammers, “they’re here!”

“Who’s here?” Jeremy barks at him.

“The Black Angels. The Contractor’s fighters. But, Inspector, they’re many, and they’re not, they’re not . . . normal.” He looks terrified and he’s shaking, his fleshy round face glistening with sweat.

Jeremy obviously understands what the man means without further words. He strides to the window and looks out. When he turns to me, a wicked grin stretches on his square, unshaven face. As good looking as women find him for his muscles and testosterone-squared features, right now to me he’s downright ugly.

“Please, Saphira, have a look.”

Curiosity and worry compel me to the window. Under the street lamps and the rain black hooded figures flood the street from side-alleys, and I know on the spot they’re the back-up Ivan Basarab sent to Jeremy. Black Angels. The Contractor.

The one who seems their leader has stopped across from the entrance to the inn, and he apparently senses my staring at him. He lowers his hood and looks up, revealing a face which, even though it’s too far away to see in detail, is clearly disfigured by some terrible disease, covered in red and white blisters full of puss that makes me think of leprosy. I gasp in horror and draw backwards only to bump into Jeremy’s burly chest. His huge palms clasp my upper arms.

“Now the Marquis must face opponents his own size – monsters, like him.” He sounds mad, whether with hatred or sick ambition, I don’t know. Nor does it matter. I jerk away and turn to face him, looking straight into his face. His eyes are wild, like a madman’s.

“You’ve made a pact with the devil, Jeremy! These creatures came to finish the Marquis, but they won’t leave again, not without having finished you as well, and everybody who knows of their existence. They won’t risk their secret leaving Northville.”

He grabs me above my elbow and pulls me to a corner, whispering close to my face. “The borders of Northville have already been sealed. The rocky wasteland all around is now infested with these creatures. No one gets in or out of this cursed town. These creatures will help me end your lover the Marquis once and for all, and for that I’ll pay any price.”

 

To be continued on Tuesday.

***

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STAY TUNED for Quiz 4 – What kind of lover are You? tomorrow evening. I’m looking forward to your choices and interpretations:)

 

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