Mysteries of the Asylum – Ep. 21 of “The Marquis”

The car stops, ending the magic moment Kieran and I share. Zed Stone Mask opens the door to the sight of the lunatic asylum, a grey desolate castle guarded by a black gate made of wrought iron. Its spires rise high and seem to pierce the clouds, thunder adding the final touch to a creepy landscape. After only a few steps my high heels slump into a puddle of mud, but Kieran catches me before I sprawl full-body onto the ground.

The yard is huge and barren but for the patches of yellowish grass, some of the lunatics strolling like ghosts here and there, accompanied by bulky nurses – their physique must be a hiring requirement for security reasons, surely.

At the grand entrance we realize the place is even heavier guarded. Men in “Security” jackets line the walls beyond the imposing entrance doors. I can see them when they open automatically to let out two policemen in uniforms. One of them places a hand on Zed’s chest to stop him.

“This is as far as you come, sir,” he tells Zed, who looks him up and down with his cold blue eyes. Then, as if asking for permission to break the guy’s bones, he looks at Kieran, whose arm is around me, more men in black – members of his staff – backing us.

“We’re here to see Mrs Grant,” Kieran addresses the man who stopped Zed, since he seems to be the one in charge.

“Ronald Lord Barkley would have to approve the visit,” the policeman says.

“Then let me see him and request approval.”

The policeman cranes his neck theatrically, making a show of what bothers him as his gaze sweeps over the men behind us.

“Mrs Grant is in both hospital and police custody, Monsieur le Marquis. She might be a target for whoever set fire to her house –” he stresses “whoever” to mark his suspicion of Kieran himself. “So we’ll allow only one or maximum two people at a time to see her, such as you and Miss Lothar. But we won’t allow a whole bunch of action heroes like your men by any means.” He looks at me, and for a moment I feel he wants to silently transmit me something.

“It’s quite generous of you to allow the Marquis and me to go in at the same time,” I respond. “But I think it would be best if I requested approval to see Mrs Grant alone.”

Kieran squeezes my arm, and whispers through his teeth, “What are you doing?”

“Excuse us,” I tell the policeman with a polite smile and draw Kieran aside. With well-rehearsed moves his men make a wall between the policemen and us, creating the necessary private sphere.

“There’s no way Mrs Grant will talk to anybody but a person she knows closely and trusts,” I whisper under my breath. “Plus that so much police and security could be a trap for you.”

“There’s no way I’m letting you inside this place on your own.”

“Why not? Mrs Grant knows me, she’ll open up to me much faster than if you’re there to monitor our conversation. Lord Barkley has also known me since I was a kid, he’ll take less time to give his approval.”

“Once they separate us on this threshold they might take you away from me.” He pulls me to his chest and locks me in his arms. “I don’t want a day to pass without knowing exactly where you are, Saphira, who’s around you and how they might influence you. I don’t want to lose you before I’ve even had a chance to make things right between us.”

My heart jumps as I realize just how important I am to Kieran. His insecurity is sexy, and it makes me feel powerful in a way I’m not entirely proud of, but I’ll deal with that later. I nod.

“All right.”

His men step aside to allow us to face the policeman again, who now pushes his chest forward, hands in his pockets, forbidding frown on his brow.

“We’d like to request approval from Lord Barkley to see Mrs Grant,” I say, drawing closer to Kieran with my arm around his, my chin up and my attitude worthy of a Marquis’ fiancé. “Together.”

“Wonderful,” the man responds without hesitation and leads us inside the asylum.

I’ve never been in here before, and the place gives me the creeps. When doors fall shut behind us with a thud, I wish at least Zed had come with us. I’ve grown to trust him in a strange way.

The two policemen lead us down a tiled corridor lined by security men to Ronald Lord Barkley’s office. By the moment the door opens to his secretary’s narrow antechamber I’ve got goose skin for all the bad reasons – the screams from the upper levels which probably come from people being subjected to electroshocks, the occasional door ajar allowing glimpses into greenish rooms with iron beds and chipped bathtubs. This is a place of shudder and gloom despite all the money that flows into it, and I can’t help increasing pace. I thank God with all I have that Kieran didn’t let me enter alone. His reliable presence and the warmth of his body help me act halfway decent, but when Lord Barkley’s full-moon-faced and red-lipped secretary opens the door to his office I’m about to lose composure.

The man sits at his desk, his livid cheeks slack and his mouth a hatched curve with the ends downward. He has drooping eyes and thinning hair, and his frame is long and skinny. He holds a cigarette between his knotty fingers that scream out his arthritis, and when the Marquis enters the room behind me, his face seems to draw even longer. But what strikes me most is something else.

Two people sit on either side of his desk. One of them – to his right – is my mother, also long and skinny, her face gaunt and haunted, her greying hair up in her usual bun. She too has a cigarette between her fingers, and tears well in her eyes as she sees me. She puts out the cigarette and stands up. My eyes fly to the other side of the desk.

Inspector Jeremy Simmons fixes me with his small dark eyes, but nothing in his expression betrays surprise. I realize immediately he’s here because he expected me. Or us. His bulky muscles fill the armchair he sits sprawled in, and his square jaw is covered by a three-day-beard that adds to his bad-boy demeanour. Tension is heavy in the room, the silence oppressive. Jeremy is the first to break it and speak.

“Isn’t this a pleasant surprise,” he says, making himself even broader by putting a big hand on the desk and resting an ankle over his knee. “Miss Saphira Lothar and Monsieur le Marquis de Vandenesse.”

Jealousy lurks in his words. My eyes fly from one person to the other. The Marquis is close behind me, but I can’t bring myself to look at him, as if taking my eyes off the three characters before me would somehow trigger their doing something terrible to us.

“This is exactly why I didn’t want to leave you alone,” the Marquis tells me loud enough for everybody else to hear it.

Jeremy stands up as if electroshocked himself and stomps to us. “Take your hands off her, you bastard!”

“Back off.” Kieran grows menacing, and I can’t help turning to look into his face. He resembles a marble statue, but the life in his black eyes is searing. I place a hand on his arm.

“Kieran, we’re here for approval to see Mrs Grant, that’s the only reason for our visit.” I bend to the side to look at Lord Barkley past Jeremy. “Lord Barkley, please. Allow us just a few minutes with Mrs Grant, it’s urgent.”

“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Saphira,” the man croaks.

“But, Lord Barkley –”

“Save it, Saphira,” the Marquis stops me. My head snaps to him, and I find his eyes still fixed on Jeremy. They watch each other like hawks. “Any information Mrs Grant had to give, these three people here already have it. And they surely don’t want us to know it too, otherwise they wouldn’t take all this trouble to block access to her.”

Mum steps forward, crying. “That’s not true! Lynn Grant refused to talk to anybody, even the police. We’re here because we expected Saphira would want to see Lynn, and you wouldn’t by any means let her come alone. You’ve been keeping Saphira locked in for weeks, and you didn’t allow her to see even us, her family. You sequestrated her, you’re sick!”

“That’s not the reason I didn’t come to see you,” I step in. “I didn’t return home because I don’t want to have anything to do with that monster you call my father anymore.”

Mum blinks as if slapped. She babbles until she finds back to herself and her words. “Where did that come from, Saphira?”

I walk towards my mother, pointing a finger at her. “Enough you’ve pretended, a whole lifetime. You always knew something was wrong with him, which is why you abandoned yourself to booze and cigarettes. You thought substances would numb you, but all they did was throw you deeper into depression. And that man I used to call ‘Father’ is not the only criminal. This town crawls with sick bastards like him, so don’t take out your frustration and fury on the Marquis, because he’s not the one you truly want to choke.”

“What on Earth do you mean?” Mum whispers, her hands shaking.

***

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Repentance – Ep. 18 of “The Marquis”

“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.

 

***

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Enjoyed this? Please let me know your thoughts in a comment. Stay tuned for a new episode on Tuesday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, feel free to help yourself to The Executioner (Part I) 🙂

 

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Secrets by the Fireplace – Ep. 17 of “The Marquis”

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.”

***

Next episode.

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Enjoyed this? Please let me know your thoughts in a comment. Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, help yourself to The Executioner (Part I).

 

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Confessions – Ep. 16 of “The Marquis”

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.

***

Next episode.

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Enjoyed this? Please let me know your thoughts in a comment. Stay tuned for a new episode on Tuesday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, help yourself to The Executioner (Part I).

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The Fight – Ep. 15 of “The Marquis”

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.

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, help yourself to The Executioner (Part I).

 

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The Serpent-Man – Ep. 14 of “The Marquis”

The Marquis is naked, with his back at me. I recognize him immediately, even though he looks nothing like the man I know. My heart hammers inside my chest as I watch this creature with spiked spinal cord writhe, his flesh transparent and slippery. My eyes pop out of their sockets as his muscular serpent tail spans and throws up his torso – the only part of him that still resembles anything human.

My heart drums in my ears, mixing with the whistling sound the monster makes, his bitter-sweet scent strong as varnish, giving me a headache. His tail is curved on the floor, now sustaining him in a standing position, the tip of it slashing the air left and right. It swings until it hits a cell gate, bending one of the iron bars with a bang. The muscles in his torso swell from under the transparent skin that turns opaque here and there into patches of leather. He squirms and hisses as he shreds his skin, driving me to press my hands to my ears.

For a moment I catch his profile, and fail to keep back a shriek. He turns to me full-face, and I burst out in a long row of screams that I don’t hear. His black eyes protrude like blisters from his eye-sockets, his nose is sunken in and his nostrils diagonal slits, truly like a snake’s. Only the bone-structure of his face is recognizable, and his lips that looked so beautiful in their human form are black and wet like moving leeches.

My hands drop from my ears and I hear myself scream. The creature bares vampire-like fangs in a whistle, the muscles swelling in his arms as he raises them, his hands taking the shape of claws, and his nails shooting out from the tips of his fingers, turning long and sharp as blades. He’s a huge monster perched on his dragon tail.

Horror runs through my limbs, and so does adrenaline. I turn and run as fast as I can back the way I came – or so I think. The monster is chasing me, I can hear his tail slashing the floor as he slithers his way after me, his calls splintery.

“There’s no escape, Saphira.”

I heave in panic, but manage to go on, taking curve after curve and by some miracle managing not to skid or stumble.

“Don’t run. The place is packed.” He sounds closer. I cry out in a surging effort of putting distance between us, and at the next turn I see a round black opening, a tunnel.

I plunge into what I discover is a dry sewer, but dread courses down my spine as I realize there’s a long way to a real way out. Left and right there’s no option but further tunnels, and above my head there’s a rusty grate. My hands reach for it, and I hoist myself up with more strength than I ever thought possible for me. Blood still races through my veins, which can only mean that I’m yet alive, so either adrenaline has turned me into Cat woman, or the snake has desisted from the chase. Keeping to the grate with my head upside-down like a bat rather than a cat, I look behind. Indeed, he’s not there.

I let go of the grate and drop back to the floor, keeping on one knee and listening to my own breath. My brain refuses to ask itself questions, but decides to keep looking for an exit. Turning back isn’t an option. The fright seems to have reduced my intellect to the most basic functions – search for safety first, think later.

I reel through the tunnels, feeling dizzy and trailing the wall with my palm. The lack of ventilation makes breathing difficult, and the less oxygen I receive, the less reliable my senses. Soon the place begins to spin with me, but then I see it. Right before me, a grate that leads outside, to the moonlight shining on rocks covered with moss – the fields. The bars seem to have enough distance from each other that I could slip through them, however difficultly.

I hurry to them, but bump into a glass pane that I failed to see. Of course. No ventilation in the old sewers to prevent infiltration by enemies. I reach for the crumbled wall bits on the floor, grab a bigger stone and swing it at the pane. But what the darn thing does is drop at my feet, and I realize that the lack of air has rendered me a zombie that can’t even throw a stone.

I pick the stone up again and bang it on the pane – me leaning on it with my mouth open and slobbering – until it cracks. I manage to take a few steps back and launch the stone at it again. The glass splinters and falls from my path. Shards remain around the frame, irregular and menacing like the teeth of a shark, but I manage to slip between two central bars without a scratch.

Whether the chance at real freedom lifts the curtain of stupidity off my brain or if it’s just the oxygen that I now breathe in like a junkie, I don’t know. But I begin to reason again and realize that this exit must be guarded by the Marquis’ men, so I keep to the wall at first, waiting for any sign of sentinels. It seems no one’s there, and I decide to venture in the open fields, but the full moon doesn’t make it exactly easy to keep inconspicuous.

The cold bites into my flesh, the wind hitting me hard in the face. It’s so strong that I’m quickly reminded of the train rides where I used to stick my head out the window, and gasp at the gush. The dress is dirty and glued to my body, feeling icy from the sweat, and my ankles crackle and hurt as I slip on the mossy stones.

To my horror the Marquis emerges from behind a group of big rocks. I stop in place, my heart beating in my throat as I watch the man I’m running from walk to me, dressed in jeans and what looks like a crumpled suit jacket over an open white shirt that reveals his torso. As if he put on whatever he could find first. His face seems a statue sculpted in marble, and his pitch black eyes send voltage through me. Their intensity is the only reminder of the terrible beast I’d seen in the catacombs, the difference between that and this beautiful young man mind-blowing.

As he approaches, drops of rain begin to hit my face and shoulders. The Marquis stretches his hand to me.

“Saphira, come,” he says.

My tongue is frozen, I can’t say a word.

“Saphira, it’s full moon, the Serpents’ Night. They’re uncontrollable, dangerous.”

I walk backwards out of instinct, and he increases pace toward me. “Listen to me, woman! I don’t know how long I can keep myself under control, let alone the others. Let me take you to safety.”

I understand he’d desisted the chase in order to get a grip on himself and approach me as a man. I stop and decide to let him talk, but it’s too late. A slimy tail coils around my ankle and pulls, making me fall flat with my face in the mud. Another tail punches my jaw as I raise my head, causing me to see stars for a few moments, and when vision settles again I cry out loud.

Right before my eyes a huge snakemouth opens, its jaws big enough to swallow me in a snap. My eyes widen as the four fangs and rosy flesh beyond them dart close, but the instant before it can bite my face off a huge dragon tail punches the snake so hard that the hit thunders in my ear. The Marquis now stands with his back at me again in his serpent form, his dragon tail coiling protectively in a circle around me as I lay on the ground. Hisses and slimy crawls fill my ears, and then we stand surrounded.

***

Next Episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Tuesday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, help yourself to The Executioner (Part I).

Also please don’t forget about the weekly Meet and Greet day tomorrow. If you have blogs you admire and consider relevant for the world (or run such a blog yourself), please leave a few words about it and a link in a comment. I’ll be very happy to read from you, and know that I always, always, always check out the recommended blogs and followers’ blogs. Can’t wait to read from you!

Pic source.

Escape from the Dark Tower – Ep. 13 of “The Marquis”

The head of security closes the door, leaving me gawking and blinking. His words soon sink in, and my heart rejoices – Vivien might yet be alive, and the Marquis might indeed requite my passion, like Lauren said. With the duvet wrapped around me I pace around the room, chewing on my fingernails and struggling to switch on my wits to silence the guilty desires that attack me.

My best bet regarding Basarab’s identity is Ronald Lord Barkley, the head of the lunatic asylum. He’s despicable enough. I need to talk to Vivien’s mother very soon, and for that I need to see the Marquis right away.

I take a quick shower to get rid of the soot, wash my hair –to save time I apply no conditioner – so when I bang on the door my hair resembles messy straw that goes perfectly with the aerial dress, making me seem a lunatic myself. I’m aware of the effect golden eyes have without make-up when staring out of a thin and pale face with rather delicate bone structure, so I expect the security guard to back away a couple of steps at the mere sight of me.

Only that no one answers my knocks. I realize that after Zed left I didn’t hear the locks. I pull the door and find it indeed open. Standing on the landing before the stairs spiralling downward, I close my eyes and take a deep breath – my first breath of freedom in what feels like an eternity. There’s no trace of the men usually guarding me. Remembering Zed’s tense demeanour, what’s happening with the Marquis tonight must have the whole staff tending to him.

A crazy idea leaks into my mind – all are busy with the Marquis; there must be little to no security down in the catacombs that I now know lead to the lunatic asylum, so I can use them as a way out too.

With a candle in my hand – the only portable illumination item I found in my chamber – I descend the spiral stairs, at first watching my every step. But soon I panic under the delusion that insects crawl from their cracks towards me. I’m aware it’s only paranoia, but I’m unable to control it and increase pace until I take two stairs at a time, stumbling and bumping between wall and banister. I spin out of the small exit into the corridor on the ground floor, relieved at the haze of moonlight that seeps in through the high arched windows, revealing the contours of baroque-framed mirrors.

The corridor is empty and obscure, the sound of my steps rebounding against stone and glass. The many mirrors make it creepy, but anything’s better than the dark tower – the place I’m coming from – and the catacombs – the place I’m going to.

The candle drips hot on my hand and will soon burn out, making me desperate for an alternative. There’s no way I’ll make it through the catacombs without sustained illumination, so I venture to the Marquis’ study at the end of the main corridor.

The double doors are the tallest I’ve ever seen – double my height – as well as heavy and creaky. Still, I feel no fear – should anybody discover me, I’ll just say with my chin up I’m searching for the Marquis, my fiancé. But when I find the study empty as well, only a faint beam of silver from the moon seeping between the heavy drawn curtains, my heart picks up a crazy pace. This is indeed a fantastic chance at escape. I don’t even know if it’s the right decision, but the temptation is too great. I’ve never thought freedom was of such importance to me until I lost it.

I decide not to run to Jeremy. I’ll go to my parents’ house, enter through the back, get money from Father’s safe in a few minutes and take the next train to London. I’m sure that, as soon as he’ll discover my escape, the Marquis will search for me at Jeremy’s, and only afterwards at my parents’. London will be last on his list.

With wobbling legs and trembling hands I grope through the Marquis’ study and find a hand lantern in the upper drawer of his mahogany desk. My imagination hits with a scene of Pretty Lauren’s skinny backside on it, her high-heeled legs wrapped around his hips.

I shake it violently out of my head. I know it never happened, but jealousy stings my heart, and the next thought is even more unpleasant – if I do pull out the escape, I’ll never see him again. I stand still, exploring the feeling – the Marquis’ beautiful face, his warm lips on mine, his velvety fingers sliding down my back, giving me goose bumps; it will never happen again.

I slap myself twice, cursing the monster’s power over me. If I stay, it will only grow until I become his slave body and soul. With a jolt of will I decide in favour of freedom and hurry out the doors, the round stain of light from the lantern darting its way before my feet that run seemingly of their own accord.

The opening in the wall that leads down to the catacombs is hidden behind a foyer – where I ran into Virgin Vivien at the engagement banquet – and then down another corridor, chilly, very narrow and smelling of wet stone.

Down in the catacombs cells roll by me like rusty landscape by a lazy train, and I wish I were faster, much faster. I take a turn, my legs flexing in a desperate attempt to pick up yet more pace, but after the second turn I slow down, my eyes widening. My heart stops.

Dry snakeskin stretches before me, thick and crumpled and trailing around the next elbow-shaped corner like a dead mega-python. I understand where it’s coming from, and dread makes my skin crawl. Still, compelled by a hypnotic pull I walk slowly along the dry serpent coating around the curve, where a mind-blowing scene unfolds.

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here and, if you’re in for a whole novel in the same genre, help yourself to The Executioner (Part I).

Also please don’t forget about the weekly Meet and Greet day. If you have blogs you admire and consider relevant for the world (or run such a blog yourself), please leave a few words about it and a link in a comment. I’ll be very happy to read from you, and know that I always, always, always check out the recommended blogs and followers’ blogs. Can’t wait to read from you!

Pic source.

Full Moon and the Serpent – Ep. 12 of The Marquis

Saphira doesn’t fully trust the Marquis, yet she can’t resist his pull. She finds herself giving in to his advances, but this is no ordinary night in which they can just be together. Full moon sheds light on another one of the Marquis’ secrets, which proves perilous for the young woman.

***

The Marquis’ mouth closes on mine, soft and warm, while his arm curls around my waist, pressing me gently to him. His body feels stone hard under his shirt, and he smells young and manly and alluring. I turn to jelly in his arms, allowing him to stretch me on the bed under him with no resistance. His kiss makes me dizzy, and small stars seem to circle my head.

This feels very different from what happened last night, even though his passion grows in the same possessive way. His hands explore my body greedily as his tongue consumes me in deep kisses. My mind empties and I part my legs, ready to accept him, but he breaks the intimacy, bridging to distance with thirsty pecks on my lips.

He pulls away and stands, yet the expression in his face shows it’s not easy. His neckline is open, his hair a bit ruffled and his face so youthful and handsome that it hurts. He retreats as I scramble out of bed and advance toward him, wanting him so badly that I lose control and all sense of shame.

“Please,” I beg, losing my bra and letting my panties fall to the floor. I now stand completely naked before him, smeared with soot, my hair a messy blonde broom, hoping that I look depraved enough to stir the animal in him. I want him inside of me so much I barely refrain from touching myself.

His dark, hypnotic eyes wander all over me with a hunger that makes me moisten and lose a sigh.

“Please,” I repeat, but manage to keep in place.

“It can’t be, Saphira, not now,” he says, his voice low and husky. “Not tonight.”

“Why?”

“I can’t explain.” He retreats further, his white hand now on the doorknob. I see the skin patching into alligator leather, then fading into white human flesh, then pulsing into faint spots of leather again, and I realize he’s fighting to keep back the serpent.

My eyes find his just in time to see them narrowing, his black irises turning to slits. He makes a pained grimace and pulls the door open. The fight between human and serpent makes him bare his teeth, a pointy tongue slithering out and licking his upper lip. When he speaks, his slivery voice makes my hair stand on end.

“Trust me, Saphira. Please, trust me,” he hisses and throws the door open, lunging into the obscurity.

For moments I stand there, naked, stunned and with my heart pounding until Zed appears in the doorframe. His stony features are locked in urgency. He can’t help looking me up and down –I’m a naked person dirty with soot. I snatch the duvet from the bed and wrap it fast around me.

“What’s with the Marquis?” I inquire.

“It’s a bad night,” Zed says and throws a glance out the window. I do the same.

“Full moon? But, is that –”

“It has nothing to do with the occult or cheesy magic,” Zed explains in an even tone. “The moon has power on the inner workings of the Serpent as it does over the tide.”

He turns to leave, but then turns to me again on a second thought. “We have strong reason to believe your friend Vivien Grant is alive. The Marquis ordered us to find her and protect her. For your sake. Believe it or not, you’re high up on his list of priorities, and in a good way. You have every reason to trust him.”

“Have you been eavesdropping?” I breathe, getting the goosebumps at his words.

He looks me up and down coldly, but not without interest – more like curiosity – and he leaves without replying.

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Tuesday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here.

Also please don’t forget tomorrow is the Meet and Greet day. If you have blogs you admire and consider relevant for the world (or run such a blog yourself), please leave a few words about it and a link in a comment. I’ll be very happy to read from you, and know that I always, always, always check out the recommended blogs and followers’ blogs. Can’t wait to read from you!

Pic source.

The Mysterious Man – Ep. 11 of The Marquis

Forced to face the dangerous Marquis in the dark tower, fear took hold of Saphira. But it turned out the Marquis wasn’t there to hurt her, but to disclaim any fault in her best friend’s supposed death. And he doesn’t stop there. He has truths for Saphira that will shake everything she thought she knew, including information about a mysterious enemy.

***

 

I measure him up and down. Tall and strong, dark eyes intense and sovereign in his ivory face, he looks honest and confident, and even a shade respectable. I decide to at least assume he’s telling the truth.

“Say I take that for a fact. What do you suppose the ‘mysterious man’ was after? Why did he need to get inside the asylum?”

“The sewers underneath the asylum link to the catacombs under this manor. He wanted access to those sewers and therefore to me. He wants my head.”

A revelation hits me. “You think the mysterious man is Ivan Basarab. The Slayer.”

The Marquis snorts as if insulted. “The Slayer. Undeserved distinction for a coward who fights from the shadow. He’s afraid to face me for real.”

“You think he succeeded in breaching the sewers?”

“If he did, it’s irrelevant. I secured them from halfway to here. But I do have something more on Basarab’s true identity. I think he’s a Northville local.”

A shock. “Say what?”

The Marquis continues. “Your friend Vivien Grant clearly knew him. Her mother too. I also think that he was a member of the group that raped and killed Catherine, and that gave me over to the people who turned me into what I am today.”

The pathos with which he speaks the words, the fearlessness in “rape” and “kill” and “what I am today” emphasize his entitlement to revenge. I surprise myself indulging him. And accepting his theory. Tension dissolves from my body as I begin to understand things. I let go of my knees.

“When you proved to be stronger and deadlier than the other serpents, you became dangerous to your makers,” I draw the conclusion. “Then you went independent. That’s when they must’ve activated Basarab, the Slayer. He’s always been one of them.”

The Marquis smiles a disturbingly charming smile. “You’re very bright, Saphira.”

“So Ivan Basarab is a false name for a man we already know.” I attempt to ignore how his praise makes me feel.

“That’s right.”

He looks hard at me with those impossibly black eyes that seem to hypnotize me, only that this time I’m sure he’s not trying. Silence settles between us for moments in which I just stare, unable to rip my eyes from him.

“What are you thinking?” He whispers, lowering himself so close that his bitter-sweet breath touches my face, the mattress and the pillows giving in under his weight as he leans on his hands. I feel lost.

“I’m wondering why I find it so easy to take your word for everything,” I whisper.

His expression deepens, his eyes now flooding mine. It’s hard to breathe, they seem to weigh on me.

“Because I may be a villain, but I’m the only person without a reason to lie to you. All you ever got from me was the truth. You’re beginning to trust me.”

I let my gaze wander all over his marble face.

“I must be really stupid.”

“By no means. You’re one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, actually. And I wish to win  your complete trust.”

“What use do you have for it?”

“It’s the key to your affection.”

My heart flutters. “You desire my affection?”

“Ardently,” he says, his eyes lowering to my lips.

 

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here.

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Truth – Ep. 10 of The Marquis

Engaged with the Marquis against her will, Saphira tried to escape, but has been intercepted and witnessed her best friend’s house burning. After a talk with the girl’s mother she’s drawn the conclusion that her best friend’s fate was the Marquis’ work – as a warning to her, among other things – and now, once again in the Marquis’ power, she must face him. But this meeting will reveal another side to the story that Saphira didn’t expect.

***

From fire-fighter to cop to nurse I get transferred back to Zed’s hands, who drives me back to the Marquis’ manor in silence. I’m dizzy and coughing and convinced that the man Mrs Grant referred to is the Marquis, and that Vivien had discovered his secrets, which put her in death’s way.

I’m shaking as Zed escorts me to my chamber in the tower and seals the door behind me, pulling three heavy locks from the outside. In a fit I take off my soot-smeared clothes and brace myself, rubbing my arms up and down nervously and chewing on my lower lip until I taste blood with ash. Curling between the cold pillows on the bed, feeling dirty and drained, I stare at the ragged canopy hanging over me as my mind spins around Vivien. My head snaps to the door the moment it creaks open, and the Marquis enters the chamber.

I retreat to the bedhead and brace my knees, but lose control of my shaking as he approaches. My lips are dry and cracked, yet the tip of my nose drips sweat. Those black eyes, demonic in his pale face, scare me to death, but for the first time he doesn’t try to numb me with his hypnotic powers. His neckline is open, revealing part of his marble-like pectorals, lean but strong and smooth like serpent muscle.

“You really believed you could elude me, Saphira?” His voice is calm and slithery. I can’t bring myself to speak. My vocal cords seem stuck, and my arms lock painfully around my knees. I wouldn’t be able to let go if I wanted to, I’m so afraid.

“There’s no way out of this for you but the one I provide,” he says and stops still, staring hard at me. For moments he looks a statue of marble with eyes of coal, a deceivingly handsome monster.

“What will you do with me?” The question comes out of my throat in a hoarse whisper. I think I recognize a shade of hurt in his eyes.

“Why Jeremy Simmons of all people?” He demands.

“He –” I cough and lock my fingers into my wrists. The marks left by the cuffs hurt, distracting my attention from the fear and restoring my ability to speak. “He was the only one who offered an alternative.”

“And did you consider the consequences in case his alternative went wrong?”

I ponder. “I didn’t.”

“You didn’t.”

He walks around the bed and stops by my side. I sink my fingers deeper into my wrists, but can’t keep down the fear anymore. He’s too close now. I expect him to grab my hair and pull my head back, then push his serpent tongue deep through my mouth to my inner organs and rip out my stomach like he did Pukov’s, but what he does is sit by me, a humid coldness emanating from his body. I know he’s warm in his human form, so he must be in an intermediary state between man and serpent. I shudder with horror.

“A few weeks ago, your friend Vivien Grant began seeing a myserious man,” he says, his voice dazzling my senses. “They met only at night. Always around the lunatic asylum, according to what the police discovered by now, but he kept cloaked and hooded, and no one other than Vivien ever saw his face. Last time they saw each other they also entered the asylum. The place is as fortified as a high-security prison, as you sure know, so Vivien must’ve used her good relations to some of the personnel – which is what the mysterious man needed her for. After he got what he wanted he tried to dispose of her and any proof of their relationship, and caused the fire. The girl’s mother was probably supposed to die in it as well, but managed to escape.”

He looks into my eyes, the blackness of his gaze chilling. I can’t imagine how I could ever accept his closeness while “sober” of his hypnotic powers, he’s such a perfect blend between man and beast, so unnatural. His beauty is of a rather fantastic than human nature, and it’s hard to put up with for a normal person. “He has you mesmerized,”He has you all fooled,” Mrs Grant’s words come back to me. He must wield immense power over the psyche.

“Mrs Grant says Vivien didn’t trust the ‘mysterious man’. So she couldn’t have helped him,” I manage.

“He must’ve found some way to persuade her. Blackmail maybe?”

“No way. Vivien is – was – as clean as an angel.”

“Then maybe threats? Against her family, her friends?”

“You should know,” I hiss between my teeth.

“Saphira, I never lied to you. I don’t have to, you see, because I’m in a position of power. So believe me when I tell you – I’m not the mysterious man.”

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Stay tuned for a new episode on Tuesday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here.

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Blood Trails – Ep. 9 of The Marquis

Forced by the dark and dangerous Marquis into an engagement that serves his purposes of revenge, young artist Saphira finds herself at a crossroads of emotions – dread and attraction, which she blames on the Marquis’ mysterious hypnotic powers. She yet decided to try and escape him. She left with Inspector Jeremy Simmons, but the Marquis’ head of security, Zed, intercepted them. Behind Zed Saphira saw something burning, and when she identified what it was despair packed her.

***

Jeremy throws open the door on his side, pulls out his gun and points it at Zed over the upper frame.

“Stop right there,” he calls out, and Zed does as told. Yet nothing in the security guard’s face changes. His eyes remain steely, as if Jeremy’s action doesn’t catch him off guard, but he chooses not to react. I know how fast and deadly Zed can be, I’ve seen him on the night the Marquis killed Pukov. I know that, if he decides to, he’s quicker with that gun than Jeremy can imagine. But right now nothing of all this matters.

I throw my door open, scramble out of the car and start running, stumbling and falling and getting back up, losing my shoes and calling out Vivien’s name. Her house is burning a few streets up, and the smoke grows thicker as I approach. People run in all directions, yelling and coughing in scarves and handkerchiefs they hold at their mouths. I’m dirty and coughing by the time I reach the corner closest to Vivien’s house, where I’m forced to stop.

Through thick smoke I see fire fighters in red-and-white jackets and helmets hold bulky hoses, calling out urgent commands at each other. The tension sends a clear message – they’re doing everything they can, but they’re not optimistic. Flames surge with a roar from the window on the first floor where I know Vivien’s room is, and a woman yells somewhere close.

Even though I can’t see her right, by some mysterious mechanism in my brain I recognize her as Vivien’s Mum, and feel my way to her, keeping contact with a wall through the thickening smoke. The woman is being held back by two people, one a fire fighter by the jacket and helmet, the other civilian. I wrap my arms around her waist, making her turn around and burst into even more violent crying. Noticing she knows and accepts me, the fire fighter and the other man let go.

“Saphira!” Her arms now go around my neck and squeeze me so hard it adds to the clogging of the smoke. Despair and adrenaline feed her strength, and she doesn’t even attempt to control it until she decides she needs to face me. By what I can guess through my teary eyes her own are red, her dark hair messy like a witch’s and her voice that of a woman gone mad with pain.

“That monster –” she coughs – “He wanted to destroy all proof and he destroyed my girl in stride. He destroyed her, Saphira!”

It takes a few moments of her coughing and hysterically repeating, “He destroyed her,” until I gather myself enough to make sense of what she’s saying.

“Who? Who destroyed her, what are you talking about?”

“She wanted to unmask him, and he disposed of her. I warned her to stop the chase, I knew he was dangerous. I’ve been married to a monster like him for decades.”

That Mrs Grant would think of her husband and Vivien’s father in those terms is completely new to me, and I’m taken aback. The memory of Vivien opening her arms to stop me as I hurried to the stairs that led to the dungeons last night flashes in my mind as my lungs constrict and spit out the soot in violent coughs of my own. “Saph, we need to talk.”

“Who are you talking about, Mrs Grant?” I manage in a bruised voice.

Mrs Grant’s lips move, but a burst of flames from the house covers the sound. I wince and stagger, yet find balance again and repeat the, “who,” which for some reason Mrs Grant takes as a refusal to believe the name from my part rather than a genuine question.

“He has you mesmerized,” she admonishes. “He has you all fooled. But her he couldn’t charm, she discovered his true rot.”

“Everyone clear the street,” a fire-fighter calls, running toward us with arms spread wide as if to protect us.

“Run!” another one calls in the distance just before a huge explosion deafens me and sends my head spinning. I can’t hear anything but the buzz in my ears, and see people moving in slow motion as Mrs Grant pulls me to the ground and glass shards fly over us.

***

Next episode.

Previous episode.

All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Friday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.

READ THE STORY FROM THE BEGINNING: PREQUEL – Saphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

Stay tuned for a nee chapter of The Executioner Part I on Thursday.

Old Loves – Ep. 8 of The Marquis

Used by the powerful Marquis in his revenge, Saphira is desperate for a way out. But there is more to the Marquis than his lust for revenge, dark secrets buried deep in his past. Saphira found an excuse to leave the manor where he kept her prisoner, and made a plan to meet Jeremy Simmons, an Inspector who’s been after the Marquis for a long time. Jeremy is her only chance at information and rescue, but the end of this meeting holds a big surprise for Saphira.

***

Jeremy emerges into the Notary’s small office. Wearing a tight black turtleneck and trousers, a black cap concealing his hair, he casts a dark, bulky shadow over the entire place. Square-faced and with a grave mien, he looks as much a security agent as Zed, only that Jeremy’s a licensed Inspector, approved by the law, the letter and society. He inspires trust, which is strengthened by memories of our shared childhood, but dimmed by the night when I caught him in bed with Pretty Lauren and ended our engagement in tears, pointed fingers and cusses. I stand still, uncertain how to react as his muscular arms close around me.

“You’re so thin, Saph,” he whispers, a bit rueful.

Indeed, I feel like Popeye’s Olive in the arms of a troll.

“My appetite took quite a few blows lately,” I say with a bitter attempt at a laugh.

“I imagine being forced into prostitution is not an easy bite to swallow,” he says, and presses his lips on the top of my head. I try to struggle from his arms, but he won’t let me, and all I manage is to raise my head to look into his eyes.

“It’s not like that, Jeremy. The Marquis had me lure a man in a place where he could take him down without witnesses, but it never came to –”

“You don’t have to go there, Saph. I saw what happened in the dungeons, what he did to you, and I swear I’ll rip his heart out for it. I wish you knew how much it hurt,” he says, his eyes now hooded as he leans in to inhale my scent. “I missed this so much.”

“Jeremy, I didn’t take the chance to come here for an amorous rendezvous. I did it because you promised me something important.” I try to put distance between us with palms on his overly pumped chest. I’m uncomfortable with his arms holding me prisoner, since his closeness infringes my sick loyalty to the Marquis. A henchman, terrible and dark, the Marquis might yet have feelings for me according to Lauren, and I have without a doubt a crush on him, no matter how much I resent it.

“Nothing is more important than this, Saph.” Jeremy grabs my shoulders and looks me straight in the face. “I still love you. And I will do everything in my power to save you from Kieran Slate.”

His declaration of love is good for my ego, but nothing more. For months after the incident with Lauren I dreamed of Jeremy crawling at my feet asking for forgiveness. Had he done it, we’d be together now. But he was too proud, and decided to ask his superiors to transfer him to London instead, burying his pain or whatever he felt in obsessive weightlifting, and explaining how men will be men only in e-mails. At my turn, I’ve been too proud to ask Lauren if they still saw each other when she went to London, which was often.

“I thought you and Lauren had some kind of clandestine affair going.” I raise my chin and square my shoulders in an I’m-entitled-to-know attitude.

“Of course we don’t.”

I snort bitterly. “’Of course’? How come ‘Of course’? You did her a month before our set wedding day.”

“It was a one-time thing, Saphira. I was weak and stupid, I –”

I hold up my palm to stop him talking. “It’s all right. No need to dig out the dead. But I assumed you’d be seeing someone anyway, it’s been two years since we broke up.”

“Those haunting golden eyes of yours are impossible to forget, Saphira. I tried, but I couldn’t get serious with anyone, I never got over you,” he says, the confessional tone of his voice making it hard to doubt his words. In the end, I’ve known him for a lifetime, I know how to read him. But then again, he’s known me for just as long, and he’s skilled at fooling me.

The sour part of me wants to retort something accordingly sour, such as, “what you can’t forget is how I let you do everything you wanted with me.” Young and inexperienced, I never refused Jeremy for fear of losing him. I doubt he’s found another such sex slave again. But I refrain from spitting out the line, and go for a curt and to-the-point response.

“Please don’t waste time, Jeremy. Lauren might be back any second. Why did you call me here?”

“You still ask?” He frowns, making me feel like an idiot missing some obvious point. Which is, indeed, a fact. “Kieran Slate, a.k.a. the Marquis. He’s a terrible danger to you. You need to break away from him and run. Run away with me.”

I freeze at the idea and realize one more disturbing truth – I do not want to break away from the Marquis.

“I don’t . . . I’m not prepared. If I disappear, he can make that recording of me reach everybody in Northville.”

Jeremy pulls me close again, his face now inches from mine. I can feel the smell of mint as he speaks.

“So freaking what? Does that even matter under the circumstances? Look. I initially wanted to spare you these details, but it seems you need the truth held naked and ugly in your face.” But he’s hesitant to speak out whatever truth he means.

“Go ahead, Jeremy, I’m not a child.”

He tightens his jaw, his brow furrowing.

“Kieran Slate was engineered into a serpent-man, that you know,” he says. “You also know how it came to that. You also understood from our talk yesterday that his makers used him as a hit man. But you don’t know the horrendous details of it all. He killed on command and in terrible ways, Saphira. He dragged his victims in the tunnels underneath London and maimed them. Soon he began accepting other clients besides his makers, and made a fortune as a contract killer. That’s how he became filthy rich. The Marquis of Vandenesse was one of his targets, whose identity Kieran Slate assumed. After that he not only cashed in from his clients, but also took over his victims’ wealth.” His eyes drill into mine. “Kieran Slate made a flourishing business out of death, Saphira.”

Jeremy’s words slither under my skin, making the blood draw from my face. Again I remember the Night of Venice, and how I’ve learned that, before dying, his victims had signed cession of all their wealth to the Marquis.

“After he’s done with his revenge, after he has no more use for you, he’ll leave you a physical and psychological wreck, Saph,” Jeremy continues. “And if by any chance his hypnotic grip on your senses makes you not care about yourself, think about your mother. Your dad may be a monster who deserves his fate, but that poor woman who loves you above all else? Come with me, Saphira. I’ll take you to a safehouse, and bring your mother to you.”

Muffled voices come from the stairs, and I recognize Billy the Notary’s flattering tone directed to Lauren, as well as a blur of her bitchy responses. The stairs creak under their steps. I look straight into Jeremy’s eyes. He has me persuaded.

He grabs my hand, pulling me after him down a dark set of stairs. The bookcase that conceals the secret exit closes the very second the front door opens, and Billy and Lauren walk into Billy’s dirty office. Lauren will surely think I left while she was at the ladies’ room, and Billy will support that.

Jeremy and I hurry to a car at the back of the building, right by the fire escape. He opens the door for me and I lunge in, my heart beating hard.

The Marquis is evil and dangerous, and this affair can only end badly for me – I tell myself as Jeremy drives away. I strengthen myself in the conviction that it was his hypnotic powers alone that made me fall for him, that I can’t have been so stupid to do so of my own accord, and I pray to all saints that distance will cure the sick crush.

But only a few streets down a black car speeds by us and blocks our way. It brakes with a loud, sharp screech, making Jeremy come to a violent halt that almost throws me through the windshield. I stop myself with forearms on the top of the glove compartment, knocking hard into it. My heart smashes my chest as Zed “Stone Mask,” the Marquis’ head of security, emerges from the driver’s seat, walking towards us and pulling out his gun, his steely eyes fixed on me through the windshield. Behind him black and grey smoke rises in the air, billowing in one heavy cloud, and when I realize where it comes from I let out a scream.

To be continued . . .

***

Next episode.

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All previous episodes.

Enjoyed this? Check out the prequel, Saphira, in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Tuesday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.

READ THE STORY FROM THE BEGINNING: PREQUEL – Saphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults.

 

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Jealousy – Ep. 7 of The Marquis

Used by the Marquis for vengeance and for physical pleasures, young artist Saphira struggles to escape his power. She has come up with a plan to persuade him to let her leave his grand manor, so that she can secretly meet Inspector Jeremy Simmons – the one man who knows more about the Marquis’ dark powers and his past than Saphira. But her plans are dangerous, and discovery may cost Saphira her life. The Marquis allows her to leave only in the company of his spy, Pretty Lauren, a woman who was once Saphira’s best friend, and who today is her worst enemy. Will Saphira’s plan succeed, or will the Marquis catch her?

***

Lauren and I descend the manor stairs side by side, each with her chin up and a sour attitude. I feel slightly superior because of my elegant two-piece outfit of a creamy white and the respect-inspiring golden bun that I managed to restrain my hair in, while Lauren looks a hooker in her short red dress and pumps too high for her skinny legs.

By the last step my stomach turns and twists as I think what must be happening in the Marquis’ men’s heads while they flank and tail us like a squad of bodyguards. They must be convinced the Marquis has cheated on me with her. Maybe he has. My heart shrinks with jealousy, but I manage to keep control.

We get into the black car waiting in front of the manor, the fountain with gargoyles that spit water in warmer seasons looming beyond it in the fog. The Marquis is a monster, a murderer, and I must break away from him, I tell myself. I must help Jeremy to bring him down, and free myself from his blackmail and his cruelty. I won’t be swayed by his inebriating power on my senses, or by his charm when I’m “sober.”

A short clapping sound rips me from my thoughts. I look to my side to see Lauren redoing her lipstick in a small round pocket-mirror, and I forget my determination, now replaced by hot jealousy again. In the flash of a second I want to jump over our bags that occupy the seat between us, straddle her and tear her reddish hair, but instead clamp my hands together on my lap, hurting under the gloves that conceal the marks of last night’s cuffs.

“Repairing your mouth after a blow job?” I spit, glaring at her.

“How I’d love to let you believe that,” she says, puckering her lips while still looking in the mirror, then smacking them. She claps the pocket mirror back shut and places it in her bag, in which she rummages as she speaks. “I could let you boil in your own juice over it for at least a few hours, but I won’t risk the Marquis’ good feelings about me for short-lived satisfaction. He’d tell you the truth when you asked, and that would kill my chances.”

The Marquis’ good feelings. Her chances. Jealousy chokes me, and I pray my cheeks haven’t turned red.

“You hope to get him between your legs. But I doubt your satisfaction will last any longer than it did with Jeremy.”

“Who says the satisfaction with Jeremy didn’t last?” She grins, lights a long slim cigarette and cracks the window. The draught pulls out most of the smoke, but it still reaches me and stings my eyes. She knows I’m sensitive to it, the bitch. By the time we come to our destination I’ll be looking like a poltergeist with red-rimmed golden eyes.

“Are you still seeing him?” I inquire.

“Jealous?”

“Curios.”

She takes a drag of her cigarette, her cheeks hollowing, the skin stretching on her thin but sharp jaw line.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” she says.

“That it did.” I look away through the window. It’s foggy and grey outside. The seeming indifference sets Lauren on fire, as I expected.

“I saw you leaving after him last night. Vivien tried to keep your fiancé’s men off your heels, but Zed here –” she throws one curt knock on the black glass that separates us from the driver’s side of the car where Zed and the driver sit – “is hard to fool.”

I bite my lower lip and refrain from responding. I know she wants to know what happened, so I decide to let her boil in her own juice.

“Why would you still want Jeremy, Saphira?” She inquires, annoyed by my silence. “He’s no match for the Marquis in looks or assets. Is the power of the first love that great?” She mocks, but beyond that she’s dying to know. I take the opportunity to hurt her, hoping it will cause at least a tenth of the pain she once caused me.

“I don’t give a shit about Jeremy, Lauren, you can have him. Catching him in bed with you installed automatic nausea at the thought of sex with him. I didn’t follow Jeremy out of the hall, I went down to the dungeons. Remember the catacombs you used to play in with the boys back when we were kids? I always wanted to do it in there. Well, the Marquis fulfilled my fantasy last night, he cuffed me to the wall and banged me. He made me come so hard –”

“He’s in love with you, Saphira, there’s no arguing that,” she interrupts and throws me a killer glare. The statement stuns me into dumbness.

“I can’t say I didn’t try to seduce him,” she continues. “I think you can tell. But he has the resilience of a man with a fresh crush. Still, infatuation doesn’t last an eternity, Saphira, and when it fades, I’ll be there to take advantage.”

That last sentence is a declaration of war, but I’m so stunned by her words that I can’t speak, and almost miss the turn where I can ask for a stop at Billy the Notary’s. In the last moment I jerk to the separating black glass and knock hard, my mouth still open and my eyes blinking, trying to gather myself. The glass lowers and Zed’s profile appears, as stony and expressionless as ever, offering me his ear to speak in like in an intercom. I can see the small headphone and the curled transparent wire that links it to whatever bodyguard gadgets are hidden under his black suit.

“Please stop at Billy the Notary’s,” I say the line I’ve prepared. “It’s on our route, and I might as well set in motion the formalities for the upcoming change of my name.”

I can only hope he buys it. My heart beats hard in my chest, not only with anxiety that Zed might refuse, but also because of what Lauren just said. I can barely believe it when Zed gives a curt nod and motions the driver to pull over. Relishing in the idea that the Marquis might be in love with me, I forget to expect that Lauren would want to come along, so I’m surprised when she expresses this desire, grabbing her purse.

I fall behind and let Lauren lead the way up the creaky stairs to Billy’s office. The building is old and mouldy, but its Victorian charm nonetheless intact. I watch Lauren’s bottom move under her red silk dress, and realize she must be freezing with only a leather jacket over her torso. It’s January, in the end. Girls go to unimaginable lengths to be attractive, but Lauren has always been a sexy cat-girl, so her reasons for acting desperate escape me.

We’ve known each other since childhood, she and I and Vivien used to be best friends. Jeanie, Jeremy’s little sister, was yet a toddler watching with her small hands and nose pressed to the window while the rest of us played in the yard, and ventured at the cliffs and in the forest beyond the Manor with the Fields. Catching Lauren in bed with Jeremy two years ago, a month before he and I were supposed to get married, broke me in quite a number of ways. So Lauren’s manifesting more hatred and grudge than me has been a challenge to common sense and to my logic, but now that it becomes clear she’d have a go at any man who shows interest in me makes me wonder if there’s not more to it than plain meanness.

The door to Billy’s office opens to reveal the mouse-faced man in a crumpled suit, the glasses large and round on his narrow, grey face. The office is cluttered with shelves and books and papers, his desk a mess, the small sofa patched and greasy, and the window closed. A catastrophe, since cigarette smoke fills the place, making me cough hard.

“Oh, Lauren, Lauren Morris, wow,” he exclaims as he recognizes Lauren, straightening his back like a soldier on command. He seems unsure and shaky in his greeting to me. “Saphira, what a pleasant surprise.”

He hurries to the window, pulls a few times until it unsticks and cracks, and then motions us to take a seat on the gross looking sofa.

“That’s all right, I prefer to stand,” I say, my eyes darting from him to Lauren, who lights a cigarette and stomps about the room like an undercover spy. She seems to be looking for something – or someone. Maybe the Marquis instructed her to. I’m now relieved that Jeremy isn’t waiting here, that he’s either late or already gone. Still, I’m anxious, afraid he might pop in any second and expose our plans to Lauren.

“To what do I owe the honour?” Billy says, clearing his desk with fast and clumsy hands, then emptying an ashtray in the paper bin and offering it to Lauren.

“I need to see to some formalities for the change of my name. I’ll soon be married to the Marquis of Vandenesse, and I –”

“I know, I attended the engagement ball yesterday,” he interrupts, and in his eagerness stumbles and spills the cup of coffee he intended to offer Lauren all over her.

“Oh, God, oh, oh, that’s terrible, I’m so sorry,” he says, eyes wide, hands all over Lauren, who he clearly has a thing for. I remember he was pretty obvious about it the night at my parents’ house, when my father announced my engagement to the Marquis.

“You complete idiot,” she cusses.

“Oh, please, let me –”

“Just take your hands off me. I know where the bathroom is,” she spews and stalks to the door, then up the creaking stairs. When I turn my eyes back to Billy, he’s so composed I’m staggered.

“I’ll keep her out for as long as I can. I’ll knock three times when she’s on her way back,” he says, and follows Lauren.

I stare, amazed by his presence of mind. Soon after they leave the cluttered bookcase behind his desk opens heavily like a hidden door, as if pushed by a ghost.

***

Previous episode.

Next episode.

Enjoyed this? Check out episodes of the prequel, Saphira, here, or the whole prequel in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Tuesday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.

READ THE STORY FROM THE BEGINNING: PREQUEL – Saphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults

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A Dark Love – Ep. 5 of The Marquis

The young and powerful Marquis seeks revenge for the death of his former lover, and he uses his main target’s daughter to get it. He forced the girl into an engagement and a dirty arrangement, but things have taken new turns. Saphira is falling in love with him despite her fight to hate him, and in the last episode the passion between them broke loose from its hinges. But the Marquis is a mysterious creature, and his plans are dark, taking Saphira down perilous roads.

(Previous episodes)

***

“Who told you?” the Marquis demands to know.

“It was . . .” I wish I could brace myself and hide. I stand naked and with my hands cuffed to the sides before the Marquis, the stockings and high heels making me feel like a prostitute. He shuffles his shirt back on, buttons up his pants and tightens his belt, his pitch black eyes striking on his ivory face. He’s taken me like a master his slave, and now he interrogates me like an inquisitor.

“It was Jeremy Simmons, wasn’t it?”

“Up in the ballroom,” I attempt a lie, but the grin crooking on his face tells me he’s not buying it. He pulls me hard to him. The chains holding my hands rattle, and my breasts crush into his chest, him being dressed and me naked making me feel vulnerable and worthless. His eyes are now close, defiant and even angrier than before.

“You were down here with him, weren’t you, Saphira? Did he give you my name along with the sob story of Catherine Lancaster and the stable boy?”

“Is that sob story not why you seek revenge?” I whisper.

He bares his white teeth in a grin that’s as threatening as the split serpent tongue that now moves between them.

“If you ever see Jeremy Simmons alone again,” he hisses, “I’ll make his head a trophy on my wall.”

I hear the jealousy in his words, and my heart flutters. I know this is sick, but I’m no less jealous of Catherine Lancaster.

“Jeremy is an Inspector. His murder would have the police all over you.”

“The police are already all over me, Saphira. But they have nothing except stories, like your ex, the Inspector boy.”

His serpent tongue slithers out of his mouth, making the finest hairs stand on my arms as it licks my cheek in a cold, wet stroke. He takes distance again, his black eyes nailing me in place. A patch of skin on his face seems to peel off like burning paper, revealing thick serpent scales the colour of ash as he lifts my chin with two fingers.

“Don’t betray me, Saphira,” he warns, his voice now deep but silvery, like a monster’s. “Or you’ll know a new measure of my wrath.”

I’m afraid of antagonizing him. He presses me harder to his body and lets out a sharp, piping sound that makes my ears buzz and my eyes scrunch, reverberating through the dungeons. In  response many steps march down the catacombs.

The Marquis holds me crushed to his chest, covering my nakedness but not our intimacy as his men appear, wearing dark suits and grim attitudes. It’s clear to everyone what happened between us, and it’s especially humiliating since my arms are still spread open, and in cuffs.

“A new dress,” he orders. “A comfortable one.”

One of his men hurries to carry out the command, while the Marquis frees my hands. I fall in his arms, my legs weak and my will numb. The hard sinews beneath his shirt feel like steel on my flesh, his glinting black gaze making me all too aware of the power he has over me. I’m stripped of clothes and of options.

A mighty awkward while later the man who went away returns with a simple dark-red strap dress, which the Marquis takes from him, then dismisses the entire team. I hear them whisper and murmur at the end of the aisle while I get dressed, the Marquis watching me from the gate of the cell. For a brief moment I think I read something more than jealousy in his gaze.

His white hand covers mine in a possessive gesture as I hook it around his elbow – at his invitation. Some of his men look puzzled when they see us, one of them raising a questioning eyebrow, as if he’s never expected such display despite our engagement. I recognize him as Stone Mask, one of the Marquis’ personal bodyguards. I still wonder why he needs security; it’s not like anyone in Northville stands a chance against him, and I doubt even Jeremy with his steroid-pumped muscles would really pose a challenge. Then I think of Ivan Basarab, the Slayer. But then again, Basarab doesn’t dare take on the Marquis head-on either . . .

We ascend back to the ground floor and soon we’re in front of the ballroom. The Marquis makes a show of our entrance, the pool of men in black suits behind us, our slow walk among the crowd attracting stares and whispers. The golden locks I managed to arrange my hair in before the party are now dishevelled, and my make-up surely patched and smeared, which makes me want to crawl away from sight, but the Marquis presents me like the trophy most worthy of having.

I identify Jeremy looking hard at us from amidst a group, his eyes furious, his overdone muscles clearly tense under his suit. I glance at the Marquis and notice the two have locked glares. I realize Jeremy has been hidden in the dungeons all along, heard and maybe witnessed what happened between the Marquis and me. The challenging grin on the Marquis’ face confirms, and I wish the earth would split and swallow me.

Nevertheless, what the Marquis does as he becomes ever more aware of my embarrassment is take me on a slow round of small talk with respectable families, one possessive hand on the small of my back, and pressing his cheek to mine all too often. His displays of affection – if fake or not – make me feel halfway good, but the measuring of the men from head to toes and the envious daggers the women shoot me add to my unease. Some of the men even prove unable to refrain from remarks such as,

“Yours is sure a fiery love story,” – accompanied by lecherous ogling when they think the Marquis and I are not looking – or, “Now, here’s a couple that can’t keep their hands off each other.”

I don’t believe there’s anyone at the engagement ball that can’t tell the Marquis and I have unleashed our passion recently, and probably also picture us ravishing each other in some hidden corner behind heavy velvet curtains. Luckily for me, the Marquis soon decides he’s shown off enough and ends my mandatory attendance.

“This was necessary,” he explains, and I almost take it as an apology until he reprimands through his teeth, “because they saw you follow Simmons out earlier, which made me look bad. Real bad. But the show just now should’ve made matters right.”

He leads me up the spiralling stairs to my chamber in the tower, and my heart drums wondering if he’ll take me again.

The heavy black door that starkly resembles the door to a medieval jail opens into the tower chamber with its few and rather gothic amenities. I walk in but the Marquis doesn’t follow me inside. When I realize this I turn to see him standing in the door, hand on the knob, looking at me as if he wants to eat me alive. We stare at each other for moments until he resolves to speak.

“Change of plans,” he says. “You’re no longer required to do . . . any of the things you’ve been required to do before.”

“You’ll no longer use me in your revenge?”

“I don’t know yet. But if I do, it’ll be in a different way.”

“Does this mean the engagement is off?”

“Wouldn’t you like that? But I’m afraid the engagement is still on –” an uncertain pause “– I still need you.”

“For what?”

“For now all you need to know is this – I won’t hear of you being alone with a man again, or I’ll have him skinned and roasted like a rabbit.” He stares hard at me to make his point. I catch roots in the ground.

“And you will not leave this place unencumbered,” he concludes. “Anything you need, Zed and his boys are at your disposal.” He motions at Stone Mask, and for a moment there I’m actually glad the Marquis has finally attached a name to the expressionless, steely-eyed face. I don’t know what to say, my heart beating like a rock in my chest, but soon after the heavy door falls shut my wit springs to life with a shot of despair – How am I supposed to meet Jeremy tomorrow?

***

Enjoyed this? Check out episodes of the prequel, Saphira, here, or the whole prequel in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Tuesday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.

(Previous episodes of “The Marquis”)

Oh, and Big Announcement: Stay tuned for a new book presentation on Monday, elegant COMEDY, perfect for the fans of Sherlock Holmes and parodies. Especially if you’re a guy with a thing for engines, no fear of rats (no matter how giant) or dangerous sensual women (meet Vittoria Donna Gina), you’ll totally love Mr. Christopher Milner’s, “The Giant Rat of Sumatra.” Details and goodies coming up Monday 🙂

NEXT EPISODE Dangerous Plans – Ep. 6 of The Marquis

PREQUELSaphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults

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The Villain’s Mistress – Ep. 4 of The Marquis

NOTE: This episode is crafted in good taste, is yet recommended only for mature audiences.

***

The Marquis approaches from the darkness of the tunnel, a tall and looming shadow. My heart drums with anxiety that he might’ve known all along I was down here with Jeremy, that he might know exactly what was said between us. Showers of ice seem to roll down my back.

His steps pat the floor, bringing him closer, the rhythm of my heart going crazy. He draws nearer, now I can make out the ivory skin stretching on his perfect cheekbones and jaw, those haunting black eyes glinting in the weak light of the dungeons as he stops before me. He has the nose of a cunning predator and the lips of a sensual devil, lips my eyes keep locked on.

“What are you doing here, Saphira?” He switches on his hypnotic powers, only that this time he doesn’t use them to make me comfortable. The lower vibrations in his voice drive the fear deeper into my bones, paired with the chill of the dungeons, making it impossible to lie.

“I needed to escape the party. I needed away from the fakery.” My voice is shaky despite my telling a truth, only not the truth about why I’m here. I pray the strategy works.

The Marquis takes a couple of steps closer. His suit jacket is open and the upper buttons of his shirt loosened, his hands in the pockets of his pants. He’s sexy as vice.

“There is danger lurking in these catacombs,” he says.

His face lowers close to mine, the contrast between the ivory of his skin and the black gems of his eyes knocking me back. He winds an arm around my waist, slowly and flowingly like the snake he is, pulling me close to him. His flat abdomen is stone hard under his shirt that smells clean and fresh, mingling with the bittersweet scent of his skin. It gives me sensations I have no chance to repress. His power over me grows, and I lose a faint sigh. I feel my lids fall heavy to hood my eyes, unable to look away from his lips. Ashamed of my reaction, I struggle to speak up.

“There isn’t any danger greater than you, Marquis.” I’m tempted to say his name, Kieran, but that would expose my new access to information. I bite the craving to call him by his name off my lips, and sense his desire grow like thickening lava as he watches me do it. He presses me harder to him, my breasts swelling almost completely out of the corset and coming into contact with the fabric of his shirt.

“Then why do you take risks? You were down here with a man, wacky tongues murmur up in the ballroom.” His voice is an eerie whisper, his mouth touching my ear as he speaks. There’s threat slinking in his words.

I can’t speak, intoxicated with his touch and his scent. His free hand brushes my locks aside, his lips trailing down to the curve of my neck, touching my skin only so lightly as he talks.

“Was it Jeremy Simmons? Are you still into your ex?”

“No.” My voice is hoarse.

“Are you into me?” His breath tickles, and after that last word I feel his tongue warm and wet on my bare shoulder, licking it in one pressed stroke like a predator licks the blood off his kill. I shudder and wonder if it’s still human, or if it’s the split serpent tongue that had pulled out Vladimir Pukov’s stomach. His power on my senses increases, making my brain swim in a fuzz.

“Yes,” I whisper and moan as his lips close on my skin, both his hands now caressing my arms downward. The sharp sound of drawing metal penetrates through the blood thumping in my ears. I look down to see a curved dagger in his hand, his jacket and the lower part of his shirt now tucked behind a leather holster at the side of his waist. I should be afraid, but his power keeps me in a haze.

His arms go around me, and I feel the tug of the blade as it slits open the laces of my corset and more material further down my dress that pools at me feet. Slowly, his black eyes wandering hungry on my face, the Marquis guides me backwards into a cell that’s carved into the dungeon wall.

I only stop when my naked back bumps into what feels like chipped stone, bits of iron pushing into my flesh – a chain, I soon realize by the feel of it.

The Marquis’ eyes seek mine, compelling me to look into them. I’m an obedient slave as he stretches my arms to the sides and closes rusty iron cuffs around my wrists, the clang echoing in the dungeon. The cuffs are loose, but the iron bites into the heels of my hands when I let my arms slump. A fight out of them would surely leave me bloody.

He looks down at my bare breasts, my nipples hard in the chill. Once again I find myself before him in stockings and high heels, only that I’m hanging in chains, and only retain enough wit to feel ashamed for my goose bumps.

But they don’t seem to bother the Marquis. Licking his lips he looks hungrily at my body and begins unbuttoning his shirt, which he then removes in a shuffle. He stands bare-chested before me, the leather sheath of his dagger strapped close to his hips. He seems made of marble with perfectly defined sinews, his skin glinting hairless and shadowed only by the contours of his athletic muscles. He’s broad-shouldered and obviously strong.

His eyes seem to devour me as he unfastens the holster, drops it on the floor and undoes his pants. Every last inch of his revealed body is beautiful, and I hear myself sigh with desire as his fingers stroke the sides of my torso. He presses his lips on mine and parts them in a full, rich kiss. He enjoys it, I can tell by the way his body pushes into me, a low purr escaping into my mouth as he crushes me between his chest and the wall.

I can’t keep from manifesting my delight, arching and sighing and moaning as he covers me with kisses.

“Do you ever miss Jeremy Simmons’ body, Saphira?”

“I only want you,” I reply immediatly, unable to keep back the pure truth.

His eyes burn like coal. I cry out as he enters me, reaching deep, the pain mixing with pleasure.

“And you’ll have me.” He groans as he grinds powerfully into me, making my feet lift off the ground and my toes curl. “You turn me on so bad, Saphira, it’s insane.”

I fight myself, trying to keep the reply on the inside of my mouth, but I lose the battle. “You’re divine!”

The Marquis takes me vigorously, thrusting hard, groaning and kissing me wildly as he finds release. I climax at the same time, my legs flexing, my hands gripping to the chains. As soon as his mouth frees mine I can’t hold back and say his name like a prayer. Kieran.

When I look into his eyes they’re serpent slits.

“Where did you hear that name?”

I’m so, so, so busted, and yet the first thing that takes clear shape in my mind as my breath evens out is whether his passion has been for me or for the memory of Catherine Lancaster.

***

Enjoyed this? Check out episodes of the prequel, Saphira, here, or the whole prequel in the Christmas Story Book for Adults, available here. Stay tuned for a further episode on Friday and, until then, enjoy all the quizzes, stories and goodies available here especially for you.

NEXT EPISODEA Dark Love – Ep. 5 of The Marquis

PREQUELSaphira in the Christmas Story Book for Adults

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