The Vampire Narcise

Chapter 18

Giordan hardly made it around the corner before his belly rebelled.

By God, he hadn't even fed on her, but it didn't seem to matter. His body was reacting to the unfamiliar and fierce show of violence and hatred he'd just lived. As he sagged against a brick wall, emptying his stomach, he prayed that Narcise wouldn't see or hear him.

When he finally finished, still trembling with the force of it all, he swiped the back of a hand over his mouth as he walked off into the night.

Wrung out from more than simply the evacuation of the contents of his stomach, aware that Narcise hadn't finished off the bite on the side of his neck so that it still oozed a bit of blood, Giordan found himself back at Rubey's, where he'd been going when he first saw Narcise leaving. He'd been briefly at Rubey's private residence earlier, where he'd been keeping his own rooms for the last few months. She'd told him the news from Woodmore about Scotland, and Giordan was on his way to meet her at the pleasure house when he spied Narcise. He had no choice but to follow her.

"Giordan, bless the Virgin, what has happened?" Rubey said when she came rushing into the private chamber he'd taken over, ordering one of the girls out. As the current favorite of the mistress, and soon to be investor, he had that power. "Are you ill?" she asked.

Even here, in this place, he could scent Narcise...and the very aroma made his insides unsteady. "Not anymore."

Rubey came over and brushed the hair from his temples, which clung to the warm, damp skin. She tsked when she yanked at his shirt collar to reveal the bitemarks. "And you're about lying to me, Giordan Cale." She smelled of rose and gardenia-sweet and floral, without being too cloying.

He closed his eyes at her touch, trying to subdue the sharp, sudden yearning for something else. Something more.

Something he'd once had.

He'd betrayed his own heart and soul by fairly attacking Narcise. He'd wanted to hurt her-with words and deed-even as he desired her. Craved her.

How shameful and ironic that he'd resorted to such a frenzy. He would have sunk his fangs into her, taken and seized what she'd offered...but somehow sanity had at last reigned.

The destructiveness had come not only from mere thoughts, but from his body. He'd been in control of such fury for so long...what had happened tonight?

"What's gone on, Giordan? Will you not tell me?" Rubey, who should have been very busy attending to her girls and clients, sat next to him, giving him her full attention.

"There is nothing to tell," he said, suddenly wondering why he'd come here. He should have gone back to his rooms and sent for Kritanu.

It was the elderly Indian man who'd helped him understand what was happening to him after that pivotal, sunny day in the alley when his Mark had burned. Drishni, one of the vintages at Chateau Riche, had done her best to help him when he came back and kept vomiting every time he fed...but it wasn't until Giordan spoke with Kritanu that he'd begun to understand how he'd changed.

His body weakened and abused, he'd spiraled so far down into darkness and despair, violence and devastation...hopelessness...Kritanu had told him, that his mind had opened to moksha. Enlightenment.

That some strong bit of that powerful serenity and peace had found its way past the darkness of the Devil.

"And you're after lying to me, Giordan Cale, but I can see you won't change your mind." Rubey offered him her wrist as she eased herself back onto the bed next to him, propping up on the other elbow. "I can also see that you're in need of me in another way."

Giordan swallowed and hesitated...but she was right. His body felt so battered and tormented that he knew he needed sustenance. And although it wasn't what he craved, it was what he needed. And so he took her arm and slid his fangs in to drink.

Back when he was still recovering from the event in the alley, it was only by accident that Giordan had discovered he could still feed...if he were careful. This after three weeks of violently expelling the contents of his stomach after any attempt to gain sustenance. He could keep nothing down-and the lifeblood he ingested spewed forth with debilitating force, leaving his belly sore and his throat and mouth raw and parched.

His body was rejecting anything related to violence.

But at last, the tiny, dark Drishni came to him and offered herself. And when he felt the rush of her lifeblood in his mouth, pure and clean and sweet, Giordan nearly wept at the relief...because he knew. He knew she was the answer. It wasn't until later that he learned why: because she ate only vegetation, nuts and grains.

She ate nothing that had been acquired through death or violence-and it was that addiction to death and violence that his body was fighting, now that the white light of peace had found him.

During the anguish of the aftermath, Giordan could close his eyes and find the light. The same light that had flashed into his mind when he succumbed to the burning sun in the alley. "Choose."

Now, as Rubey's warm, clean blood flushed into his mouth, Giordan thought again how thankful he was that she could help him. And that she was willing to do so, and was intelligent and pragmatic about it all.

It would have been a great deal easier if he could have loved her.

He drank without greed, easily dismissing the little tingle of awareness and arousal that began reflexively during the process. Although her breathing shifted, and he felt her body begin to respond to him, Rubey made no attempt to touch him as she might normally do. It was as if she realized he couldn't.

"Corvindale is here," she said after a short time, perhaps after judging that the color had seeped back into his cheeks. "He has news."

Giordan withdrew immediately and looked at her in surprise. "Why did you not tell me at once?" he said, swallowing the last bit.

"I could see you were in no good mood for it. You must be attended to first."

"I'm no fragile flower," he snapped, sitting up.

Rubey offered her arm for him to finish off and patted his cheek with the opposite hand. "If you could have seen yourself, Giordan, my darling, you wouldn't say such foolish things." She ended the little pat with a tender caress over his jaw.

He frowned, but attended to her wound with his lips and tongue. She tremored a bit beneath his mouth now, and her eyes sank half-closed. He could scent the heightened musk wafting from her body and his own gave a little shiver in response.

"By the Virgin, if you weren't ruined for any other, I'd be tossing my glove into the ring for you, Giordan, rich and handsome and kind as you are," she said, her voice dusky and filled with the Irish. "But you are ruined," she said, sitting up and sliding her legs off the bed. "And so I'll tell you the bad part. That Corvindale's news is about Narcise."

"Where have you been?" Chas demanded as he burst into the chamber where Narcise was sitting.

He'd been frantic, looking for her first throughout the pleasure house, and then trying to find her by searching the streets nearby, interviewing servants and pedestrians to see if they'd noticed her. No one had, and he'd begun to be certain that somehow, Cezar had managed to take her from beneath his very nose.

Narcise leveled a calm stare at him. "I went for a walk."

There was something in her eyes, something different.

"You went for a walk without telling anyone where you were going? Did you not think I might be worried that something had happened to you?"

"What can happen to me in London? I'm a Dracule, and use a sword better than any man I've ever met," she replied, still calm and unemotional. "No one can harm me. Nor do I answer to anyone any longer."

"What if Cezar were here? What if he'd sent his makes after you?" Chas continued, uncaring that he sounded almost as shrill and controlling as his bossy sister Maia.

Narcise-God in heaven, how could anyone be so utterly breathtaking?-fixed him with those blue-violet, black-ringed irises. Her hair hung in a long, single braid over her shoulder. He knew that it would still be smooth and straight as a bolt of silk, shimmering like a blue-black waterfall, when the plait was undone. His heart thumped and swelled, thinking about the moment they might share later, when he did just that.

Her cheeks were flushed a bit more pink than usual, and the hem of her gown was dirty and damp. The filthy, worn toe of a slipper peeped from beneath and her face had a smudge of dirt-and...blood?-on it. On her lips, too. As if she'd been cut.

"What did Sonia tell you?" she asked.

Rubey. Damn and blast. Chas sat in a chair next to the sofa on which Narcise was sitting. He'd known he had to tell her...he just hadn't been ready to so soon. He'd needed time to think about it all.

And as he sat here now, looking at her, he knew things were about to change.

"When you gave her the button from Cezar's coat, what did Sonia say?" Narcise asked again. "You told me she didn't have a clear vision."

Again he sensed that there was something different about her...something perhaps more confident, even peaceful...and yet something dark and unsettled lurked in her eyes. As if she were in some great pain.

Had he done that to her?

He bowed his head, then looked straight at her. "She did see something...I didn't want to tell you, Narcise. I didn't know what it meant, and I didn't know how you'd feel. Or react."

"What did she see?" Her voice was tight and angry.

"She always sees what it is that the person fears the most. And what she saw when she held Cezar's button was you, Narcise."

"Me?" Narcise's eyes had turned from flat and furious to shocked and wide. "She saw me?"

Chas nodded. Sonia had described the vision as Narcise, whom she'd met previously in the carriage, peering out from behind a fan. The ivory spindles were half-spread, covering the bottom of her chin and part of one cheek. Was the fact that her face was partially hidden somehow meaningful?

"How can that be? What does that mean?" Narcise said, but even as she spoke, he watched her face change into one of contemplation and consideration...which was just what he'd feared.

It would be just like his beautiful, brave Narcise to rush off to Paris and use herself to get back in to see Cezar. He'd intended to get her settled safely somewhere and then go back to France himself and put an end to Cezar Moldavi.

And then he'd come back to Narcise and they'd find a way to be together.

For, now that Chas had gotten the news about Dimitri's great change, even more hope stirred inside him. Just three days ago, while he and Narcise were still traveling back from Scotland, Dimitri had gone through some great ordeal to save Maia's life...and now he, too, had miraculously broken Lucifer's hold on him. Whether it was because he'd finally learned how to do it through his studies, or for some other reason, Chas wasn't certain. But the truth was, Dimitri had become mortal once again-his Mark from Lucifer had disappeared.

And the angry, austere earl had actually been seen to be smiling.

Just then, the door flew open to emit Rubey, who had no qualms about bursting into any chamber of her establishment without knocking. "Aye, I thought I heard you return. Dimitri is here," she said to Chas. "He insists upon speaking with you immediately, Chas. Voss is here as well."

He rose, at once concerned and relieved by the interruption.

"With your permission, Narcise." He glanced at her and was rewarded with a cool look that told him she wasn't finished with her pique. Ah, well, women were always annoyed about something. At least his sisters always were. He gave a proper bow and followed Rubey from the chamber.

One thing was certain. Chas wasn't going to tell Narcise-or anyone, especially Rubey-what else Sonia had seen...when he gave her a handkerchief belonging to Giordan Cale.

According to Sonia, Cale's greatest fear was Narcise. Dead.

Narcise stared after them as the door closed, suddenly furious and bereft at the same time.

The moment Rubey rushed in, she'd smelled him: smart, masculine, familiar. Giordan. On her.

Her throat seized up, tight and scratchy, and she'd hardly heard the ensuing conversation, for her entire body was swimming in disbelief and anger. Narcise's vision darkened with shadowy, red edges. By Fate, Giordan must have fairly run to have made his way back here to Rubey first, and without Narcise seeing him.

And then he'd gone directly from Narcise to Rubey.

From kissing Narcise, devouring her, filling his hands with Rubey. The whoremistress.

Rage flushed through her, and for the first time in weeks, her Mark eased into painlessness. Narcise closed her eyes and fed it, submerged herself in the darkness of anger.

And then, just as quickly as it had come, the fury eased into something more devastating. Pain.

I loved you.

Had he really? She scoffed to herself, tried to push away the memory of his face...tonight and on that horrible day when he'd come to her afterward. Smelling of Cezar.

The starkness in his eyes had been the same then as it had tonight: deep and complete. Raw.

Narcise rose abruptly and began to pace the chamber, propelled by fear and hurt. If he'd loved her, why, why, had he done what he'd done? How could he?

How could he have imagined she'd accept him after he'd betrayed her? Any betrayal would have killed her, after what she'd experienced...but for it to be with a man...and her How could he have thought she'd forget that?

Was it just his Draculean nature? To seek pleasure wherever it was offered? To focus on self, and only self?

Of course it was.

She was precisely the same way. The way Lucifer had turned them.

She couldn't stay here any longer. She had to have air-clean air, not breaths tainted by his scent. She wanted to be back out beneath the open sky, the stars and clouded moon. She wanted to feel that power again, that confidence and worth of self from earlier tonight, before Giordan had ruined it.

Dismissing her disheveled and dirty clothing, she strode quickly and silently to the chamber door and peered out into the corridor. It was empty, and she slipped out for the second time that night, closing the door behind her and walking down the hall toward what she recalled was the front entrance. Giordan's essence lingered, along with that of Chas and Dimitri and even Voss, she thought, but she ignored it and kept walking.

Chas would worry, but he'd have to learn that she could take care of herself. And she was furious with him as well, for lying to her. Keeping information from her. Trying to protect her.

She was Cezar's greatest fear? How had she never known that?

What could that mean?

Sonia Woodmore had to be mistaken. Her Sight had to be wrong.

How could Cezar fear her when he'd had her under his control all of the time?

Narcise was just passing the door to some parlor or chamber when she heard Chas's voice. "Of course we're not going to tell Narcise. She might agree to it." She froze.

"Do you think that's wise?" replied a mellow voice that she was certain belonged to Voss. "Perhaps she-"

"You aren't going to tell me what?" she demanded, flinging the door open. "Did you not learn anything?" she added, her voice cold as she stared at Chas.

Of the five people in the room, four faces had turned to her, and she realized with a horrid start that the fifth person was not staring at her at all because it was Giordan. He was looking down, even as the rest of the occupants of the room stared in chagrin.

And she dared not look at him, not when she knew where he'd been and what he'd been doing...not when his bloodscent lingered in the air. Not when her mouth watered at the aroma of it, and when she remembered the feel of his body against hers...only hours ago.

Instead she focused on Chas, whose countenance had gone tight with dismay. He rose from his seat. "Come in, Narcise. Apparently you are going to be told the news."

Aside of Chas and Giordan, Dimitri was in the chamber, of course, as well as Voss. And, to Narcise's mild surprise, Maia Woodmore was there as well, sitting next to Dimitri on a sofa. Much closer than was proper for a ward to be sitting next to her guardian.

Unlike her younger sister Angelica's had been when they met in Dimitri's study some months ago, Maia's expression when she looked at Narcise was not one of accusation nor of distaste. It was only mildly curious and laced with concern.

"And so all of you are discussing me, and I'm not invited to the conversation?" Narcise said, looking for a safe place to sit. Chas gestured to the chair he'd just vacated, but she ignored him.

Giordan was in a different seat off to the right, and Voss was in a chair next to Dimitri. There was a space on the sofa next to Maia, and that was where Narcise went. She sat, her back rigid as she tried to keep her thoughts from colliding with each other and her mind clear.

"We've received a message from your brother," said Dimitri. "I thought it best if we informed Chas immediately."

"I said you should be told," Maia said to Narcise. "I would want to know if my brother was doing something like this." She slanted a sidewise glance at Chas and gave a little sniff.

"Maia," Dimitri said, giving her a mildly exasperated look-mild for him, anyway-and said to Narcise, "The message arrived at Blackmont Hall earlier today via blood pigeon."

Taking care not to glance at Giordan, who sat just beyond Dimitri, Narcise turned her full attention to the formidable earl. But out of the corner of her eye, she saw the blood staining Giordan's white shirt, and the elegant shape of his wrist, settled casually on the arm of his chair. "Are you going to tell me what the message contained?"

"Napoleon Bonaparte is going to invade England in three days," he replied with characteristic bluntness. "And your brother promises to send his own army of made vampires with the emperor's mortal soldiers, to wreak havoc on this country."

"He said they'd find the children," Maia Woodmore added, her delicate face grave. "And take them."

"Maia," Dimitri snapped. "Blast it, I should have left you home."

"Then I would have just found the way on my own, Gavril," she replied. "At least we only needed one carriage this way."

"You promised you wouldn't interfere," Dimitri said from between clenched teeth.

"I did nothing of the sort. You demanded I promise that, but I certainly didn't. If I weren't here, none of you would tell Narcise the whole of it," the woman returned. "How can she make a decision without knowing all of it?"

"A decision?" said Narcise. "What sort of decision?" Her heart was pounding now and she felt an unpleasant twisting in her middle.

"About whether you'll go back to him," said Giordan, breaking his silence.

Quiet descended over the chamber.

"Narcise," Chas said after a moment. "You can understand why we thought not to tell you."

"No," she replied through stiff lips. Giordan had shifted in his chair, and now he was looking at Chas. "No, I do not. What did you intend to do about it, since you didn't plan to tell me?"

"That's what we were discussing when you made that most dramatic entrance," replied Voss with a lazy smile. "I know Cezar well enough, but since you know him best of all, perhaps you might have a suggestion. He promises to call off the emperor's invasion if you return to him."

Narcise shook her head, her thoughts whirling. Go back? Go back to Cezar? Never. But her heart was pounding and her stomach twisted nauseatingly. France's invasion didn't really matter to her-or to any Dracule-insofar as power was concerned.

But there were vampirs involved, and Cezar would ensure that there would be children as well as others. Children. If she agreed to go back, they'd be saved. She did believe Cezar would keep his word about that. He'd done so in the past, for he knew therein lay his power over her.

But to go back... She shuddered. No.

"I'll go to Paris," Chas said flatly. "I can get in to see him-"

"No, Chas," Maia interrupted. "It's too dangerous."

"Be still, Maia," her brother snapped, and received a warning glare from Dimitri.

"And you attempting to kill Moldavi wouldn't necessarily stop Napoleon," Voss added. "Although-"

"Attempting to kill him?" Chas echoed. His voice was sharp. "A poor choice of word-"

"Cezar could stop him if he wanted," Narcise said slowly. "He's got the new emperor under his thrall."

"It does seem more than a bit convenient that Bonaparte has been sitting for months with his army ready to cross the Channel at any moment...and now Moldavi claims he will invade at last," Dimitri mused. "I'm inclined to believe that your brother," he said, looking at Narcise, "is indeed behind all of this."

"And if he's influencing Bonaparte to invade, then he can stop him as well," Narcise said. And her Mark panged sharply...because she was thinking about what it would be like to return to Cezar. To put herself back under his control.

A little shiver caught her by surprise-a ripple of fear and trepidation-but then she remembered Sonia's vision. I'm his greatest fear. How can that be? And how could I use that?

It made her stronger. She could go to Cezar knowing that. And if he feared her, then it gave her the chance to destroy him.

If it were on her terms...

Narcise's heart began to pound harder. Could she actually go back there? She remembered the comforting feel of the saber...the way Cezar's eyes lit on her, with both delight and hate.

Another shiver started in her belly. It could be true. She could be his greatest fear.

"You aren't considering going," Chas said, breaking the silence. "Narcise." His voice was strung tightly and she saw the fear in his eyes.

But it was the weight of Giordan's stare that she felt the most. Heavy, silent, dark...resting on her like a boulder.

"He fears me," she said, thinking aloud. "He fears me more than anything in the world."

The twinge that had begun to inflame her shoulder eased a bit more. She had power.

"But how will that help you?" Chas said, his voice low, as if he were fighting to keep it so. "Once you're back there with him, you're under his control. In that place. He's got damned feathers everywhere, Narcise."

"There's something else," Maia Woodmore said quietly. "Maia, no," Dimitri said, his voice like a whip. "I forbid you."

She looked up at him, a steely but determined expression on her face, and lifted her chin. "You would want to know."

He glared at her with his mortal eyes, the burning no longer an actual glow, but no less furious. "Maia. You don't understand."

"Allow me," Giordan spoke again. He shifted in his chair, dragging Narcise's gaze toward him. His movements were so studied and casual that their easiness seemed forced. "I suspect Narcise isn't the only one Moldavi wants returned."

Dimitri made a soft, sharp curse under his breath and turned to look at his friend. "Naturally," he admitted.

"Just to clarify," Maia broke in with her imperious voice, "Moldavi promises to stop the invasion if Narcise or Mr. Cale returns to him. He doesn't specifically require both-"

"I'll go."

Narcise's breath caught at the blank expression that had settled over Giordan's face as he spoke. Like a mask. Empty, emotionless. She recognized him...and yet it wasn't truly him. His eyes...they appeared dead. And they were looking at her.

Her heart was thudding in her chest, but she wasn't certain why. The image of Cezar and Giordan rose once again in her mind and even the memory of the stew of smells around him came with it. Her belly lurched and she bit her lip, thrusting the thoughts away.

Dimitri started to say something, but Giordan's voice slashed out. "Don't be a fool. You haven't the means to stop me."

"Cale, certainly, there are other ways," Voss interjected. "Moldavi surely doesn't know about the change that's occurred with Dimitri and myself. We could accompany Woodmore and attend to Moldavi permanently."

"No," Narcise said softly. "No, I will have to go." Her Mark pulsed with anger and sharp pain, but she ignored it. "But you'll come after me. When it's safe. When I'm certain he's called off the invasion. You can-"

"Narcise," Chas began.

"Stop," she ordered, holding up her hand. "Have you forgotten? I'm a Dracule. I think only of myself. And in the end, this will serve me well. Knowing what I know about my brother now, I have more power than he realizes."

"But once you're inside there," Chas started again. "Narcise, you don't have any idea what will happen."

She fixed her gaze on him. "He won't kill me. And I can live through anything else." But at least the children will be saved. And the war would be stopped.

And maybe it wasn't only about her anymore.

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