It was more than three weeks after Narcise seduced him that Giordan received word from Cezar Moldavi.
At first, he had no concerns about the silence. Playing the game he and Narcise had agreed upon, he waited for two days before contacting Moldavi again, under the guise this time of formalizing the details of the spice ship. When there was no response to that dangling carrot of business investment and money, Giordan was concerned, but not terribly so.
Perhaps Moldavi had been called out of town again.
He attempted to visit as Monsieur David again for Narcise's painting lesson, at least in order to see her, and ensure himself that she was well. When he was turned away from the door with the explanation that mademoiselle was no longer interested in lessons, Giordan had that awful sinking feeling again.
What did that mean?
Another attempt to deliver fabric as an elderly merchant as he'd done once before was also foiled when he was advised that no one was in residence to see him.
Thus Giordan spent the next two weeks in varying stages of fear, fury and loathing. The helplessness was the worst. Was she alive? Was she dead? Was she here in Paris? Had she been fencing? Winning or losing?
He made personal calls three times after that, and each time he was turned away with vague explanations that the master was gone.
He began to plot with Eddersley how he might gain entrance to Moldavi's lair through the catacombs, sneaking in through the rear.
He paid Mingo handsomely to debase himself and attempt to seduce any or all of Moldavi's servants regardless of how homely they were when they visited the market, providing his own steward with enough funds to pay for an entire ship in order to incent tongues to wagging. The only information he was able to glean was that the mademoiselle was cloistered in her private apartments and had hardly been seen for more than a week. However, she had had no visitors at all.
"But she is well?" he demanded, his fangs flashing, his hand pressing his valet and steward's chest against the wall.
Mingo's eyes widened and he nodded. "So far as I can ascertain, she is well, sir."
Giordan remembered himself and released his servant, turning away with trembling hands and a stomach that gnawed with emptiness. I should have forced her to stay with me. I shouldn't have let her leave.
At last, he received a response to the five messages he'd sent, and the three he'd left in person. It was absurdly mundane: I would be honored by your presence this evening. Moldavi.
He had four stakes secreted on him when he entered Moldavi's stronghold, and was determined to use at least one of them before he left. As he'd anticipated, three of them were discovered by the butler when he was offered entrance at the street level. But the fourth one remained tucked in the underside of his loose shirtsleeve.
Whatever he'd expected, Giordan had not anticipated the beaming, cordial host who greeted him as he entered the spacious, well-appointed parlor they'd used previously.
"I'm so terribly sorry for the confusion," Moldavi said, gesturing to a pair of chairs pulled up cozily next to a piecrust table.
As always, he was dressed formally in well-tailored clothing: a snowy-white shirt, brocade waistcoat, knee breeches and stockings. Instead of the wigs currently in fashion, Moldavi wore his hair combed neatly over his face and ears, and his wide-jawed face was clean-shaven. Several rings winked on his fingers as he gestured with his speech. "I understand you've been attempting to reach me. It was terribly rude of me not to provide an explanation for my sudden departure, and that of my sister, from your engagement a few weeks ago. I was called away on an emergency, and quite frankly, I was too distracted to even think to send you an explanation or apology."
Giordan accepted the speech in silence, eyeing the man thoughtfully, but he did not take one of the offered seats. He's lying as easily as the Seine in its bed. And there was a different air about him tonight, one of anticipation, perhaps, or nervous energy.
"And Narcise-I'm afraid the servants didn't quite understand. I would certainly have allowed you to call on her in my absence...but apparently, that was not made clear to them." Moldavi, also still standing, opened a small cupboard, peered at the cluster of bottles within and selected one. He examined the label, then returned it with a tsk, clinking around until he chose a second one. "Ah. Perfect," he said in satisfaction. "I do hope you like it," he added, glancing at Giordan.
"I wasn't offended that you left my gathering as much as I was concerned," Giordan offered as his host poured two glasses at the sideboard. The titillating scent of fresh blood mingled with liquor filled the room. He wondered uncomfortably from where the blood had come. "After all, that night I had been the recipient of an unexpected gift," he said. "I hadn't had the opportunity to thank you."
"Indeed. I do hope you enjoyed it," Moldavi said, handing his guest one of the glasses, brushing his fingers as he did so. "In all honesty, I wasn't certain if it would be to your liking. In fact, I'd rather hoped it wouldn't." The other man's eyes fastened meaningfully on his and for the first time, Giordan saw something there besides cunning and intelligence.
He recognized it and nearly stepped back, his stomach twisting unpleasantly, shock and comprehension rendering him silent. All at once, the dark memories rushed to the fore-front of his mind-the grasping hands in the alleys, the smell of men, the humiliation and pain.
Giordan shook the images away and speared Moldavi with his own flat gaze. "As a matter of fact, that evening was very much to my liking," he replied so that his position couldn't be misunderstood. "Where is she?"
All pretense had dropped; they were man to man, staring at each other, no longer hiding anything.
"She's gone," Moldavi said.
"I want to see her."
Moldavi shrugged. "She has no desire to see you."
"You're lying," Giordan replied with confidence. "She's in love with me." He knew it for a fact; he never doubted it, for though she hadn't said the words, she had proven it when she kissed him.
She'd kissed him more than once, more than in the heat of passion, more than when he'd asked it of her. She'd kissed him with love and tenderness, and freely. He had no doubt of her feelings for him, and every bit of confidence in her brother's attempt to manipulate.
"And, to my dismay, you're in love with her," Moldavi said. He pulled something from his pocket. "You hid it very well. I wasn't certain at all, for you seemed immune. I had hoped-" He shook his head, pressing his lips together in dismay as he cut off his own words. "This is what confirmed it for me."
He held a long, slender gold chain with a single feather dangling from it. The one Giordan had removed from Narcise and tossed to the floor of his parlor the night she'd seduced him.
Moldavi's smile was a bit crooked. "If you didn't love her, you wouldn't have noticed or cared. Nor," he added, "would you have visited her disguised as Monsieur David."
Giordan couldn't keep his eyes from flickering in surprise. "You knew of that?"
His host's lips twisted in reluctant admiration. "Not at first. You fooled everyone. Not until after I found this-" he gestured with the feather "-and began to suspect. But when I went into her chamber and scented you in there..." His voice trailed off, his eyes settling heavily on him. "I've become quite familiar with your scent."
Giordan kept his face blank despite the increasingly uncomfortable churning in his belly. He was emotionless, feeling not even the animosity or affront he should. He tried to picture how Dimitri would respond in this situation: cold and lethal. But Dimitri had not lived through what Giordan had.
"I suppose I could consider myself flattered, but I do not," he replied coldly. "You understand, I have interest in only one member of the Moldavi family."
"I was afraid of that, Giordan-ah, forgive my informality. I've long thought of you that way. These last few weeks have been rather difficult for me, not knowing for certain. Particularly the time we spent in here after you fought with my sister that night." His dark gaze settled meaningfully on him.
Giordan realized with a start that that night, he'd been sitting in this very chamber dressed only in breeches, and likely smelling of arousal and maleness after the session with Narcise. His mouth dried and he realized now what he'd scented beneath Moldavi's cologne of cedar and patchouli. It was the essence of desperate desire that he'd found unpleasant.
Moldavi continued. "I had held out hope that you might be of the same mind as Eddersley-albeit much more subtle and reserved about it. After all, no man could resist Narcise and you appeared to do so."
"A man who doesn't force himself onto a woman isn't necessarily a molly," Giordan said with disdain. "He's a gentleman."
"Despite your protestations to the contrary," Moldavi said as he moved away from the sideboard and closer to Giordan, "I happen to know you're no stranger to buggery, particularly from your teen years." His eyes burned red and hot.
Giordan went cold, and for a moment he couldn't breathe. "The correct term would be rape," he said from between numb lips. He tried to summon the dark rage that he knew simmered deep inside, but somehow Moldavi's words and knowledge had catapulted him back to those dark days and evil memories. They'd grabbed hold of him and smothered his instinctive response, setting him off balance and out of sorts. He felt as if he were swimming deep in a very murky pond: half-blind, sluggish, breathless.
Moldavi seemed to realize this, and he was now standing very close to him. His scent rolled off in heavy waves, thick with lust. "Why are you here, Giordan?" he asked, the sibilant hiss very pronounced in his voice. A fang flashed, the gold chip in it winking coyly as he looked up at him.
"You know why I'm here. I want Narcise."
"Hmm. Yes. I wonder what you're willing to do to have her." Moldavi reached up as if to touch him, and Giordan knocked the man's hand away with a sharp, controlled movement.
"You overstep," he said with a calm he didn't realize he currently possessed. The anger simmered faster and harder now, nearer to the boiling point. He stepped back and took a large sip of his drink. When he raised his arm, the weight of the stake shifted in his sleeve, reminding him that he did have a chance to end this now.
"You want Narcise, but so do so many other men, Giordan. It's really quite a quandary for me. She's very valuable in a variety of ways-you understand why I cannot give her up. Because, of course, if you fancy yourself in love with her, you'll want her with you-at least for a time. Decades perhaps. And then what would I do?"
"You can have the ship," Giordan said. "All of it. Two ships if you want."
"Shall we make it three?" Moldavi asked with an intimate chuckle. "No, no, I don't want that. Although from what I understand, you can afford it." He clicked his tongue, his eyes dancing with pleasure. "Forget about the stake you have hidden on you, Giordan. You can't murder me. Do you think I'm that much of a fool? What do you think will happen to Narcise the minute you attempt it?"
"Why should I believe you?"
Moldavi sighed. "For an intelligent man, you're being tiresome. Have you not learned that I don't make mistakes, nor do I make empty threats?"
Giordan could hardly disagree. All along, he thought he'd been clever, but it appeared that Moldavi was a step ahead of him. "What do you want? My house in Paris? Four ships? Access to my bank accounts? You can have it all."
The other man continued as if he hadn't spoken. "She's perfectly content here, Giordan, truly. We've come to an arrangement after so many years and I rarely have to discipline her anymore. She's kept in comfort, like a princess, dressed in the most fashionable of clothing. She has everything she could want. And she hasn't lost a fencing match for years-except to you." His voice dropped and his eyes heated again. "I did particularly enjoy watching that."
"She's a prisoner."
"I prefer to think of it as house arrest," he replied with a smile that showed a tip of fang. "I have something else I'd like to show you. Something special I've had made for Narcise."
He walked over to a table. On top of it was a box, and Moldavi turned to lift the lid.
With a sharp jerk of his arm, Giordan had the stake through the loose cuff and into his hand. He launched himself across the room, and in a half breath he had Moldavi against the wall, slamming the slighter man there with his hand, the stake poised.
"By the Devil, you are magnificent," said Moldavi in a rough, breathless voice. His eyes burned with an orange glow.
"I want Narcise," Giordan said from between tight jaws.
"She isn't here," replied Moldavi, his gaze growing hotter. "I took the precaution of removing her from the premises." He looked up into Giordan's eyes, his lips parted slightly in a provocative show of fangs. "There's only one way for you to have her."
Revulsion and fury took hold, and Giordan slammed the stake down into Moldavi's chest, propelling himself closer with the effort. The man jolted, grunted against him but something stopped the pike from penetrating fully. Armor.
His adversary looked up at him, his pale, beringed hand suddenly fisted in Giordan's shirt, holding him still, leaning into him with his own vampiric strength. His fangs were fully visible, his breathing rough.
Luce's black soul.
Giordan pulled free and spun away. His heart was pounding, his stomach roiling, the stake useless in his hand. "What do you want?"
"Don't be a fool. You know what I want." Moldavi's voice was hard, and yet sensual at the same time. The words hung there for a moment.
He stepped away from the wall where he'd remained after the attack, and adjusted his waistcoat. "Perhaps you'd like a bit of incentive, Giordan? I wanted to show you what I've had made for Narcise. What she'll wear when I give her to Belial if you and I don't come to an agreement."
He turned back to the table and finished removing the top to the box. As Giordan watched, his host removed a lacy, filigree object that looked like the same black lace of Narcise's gown. It was a cloak or cape, and it shivered and flowed as Moldavi shook it out, holding it by the collars.
Then he turned it around so that Giordan could see the other side.
It was lined with brown feathers. Rows and rows of them.
"No," he whispered, turning to Moldavi in shock. "No, by hell."
"Now, then," he said. "Are you ready to negotiate?"
"Negotiate?" Giordan said. The numbness had eased away to cold fear and impotent anger. "You seem to hold all the cards."
Moldavi liked that, and he laughed with delight. "I do hold most of them, that's true. I spend much of my time arranging things."
"I want Narcise," Giordan said, his lungs aching, his knees watery. "Name your price. Whatever it takes to get her out of here."
Moldavi showed his fangs, a light dancing in his malevolent eyes. "I want you."
Even though he'd expected it, Giordan couldn't control the sharp, dark twist in his middle. "Be more specific," he managed to say.
"Three days and three nights. Naked. Willing." Moldavi's smile couldn't even be described as maniacal; it was too calm and controlled. Satisfied. "Is that specific enough?"