"You aren't truly going," Chas said, stopping her in the corridor at Rubey's several hours after the discussion in the parlor. "Narcise." He wore a tight, strained expression.
"Of course I'm going," she replied, echoing his own response to her same question from months ago. Unlike him, she hadn't even needed to pack a bag. "He's my brother." Again, she repeated his response.
"Narcise, I- Forgive me for not wanting to tell you about...this. I was afraid that exactly this would happen. That you would go back to him...put yourself at risk." He reached for her hand, drawing her closer. "But I shouldn't have lied to you. I was wrong to-"
"You were wrong twice," she reminded him, but didn't pull her hand away. She needed the comfort of touch right now. "You don't trust me, and you don't believe I can take care of myself. You want to control me, just as Cezar did."
"No, damn it, Narcise...I have three sisters...it's hard for me to comprehend that a woman can be so...strong. I'm trying, Narcise."
"I don't know if I can trust you anymore," she told him. "I have a sense that you'd do it again-"
"Devil take it, yes, I would. I don't want anything to happen to you, for God's sake. I'm in love with you, Lord help me...I'm in love with a vampir."
He tugged her into his arms and found her mouth, bringing her body up along his tall one as he pulled her close. She sensed the desperation behind his kiss, the uncertainty in his touch...and despite the beginning flutters of pleasure, this time she couldn't forget what loomed between them. Her anger toward him for his controlling protectiveness...and Chas's own internal battle that, try as he might to overcome, was still a wide chasm.
Narcise was familiar with the anguish that played out in his face when they were together. The guilt and revulsion still warred with his desire as he begged her to bite him.
You could have been one of us. She wondered what would have happened if he had accepted Lucifer's offer. Would she and Chas have found each other, been happy together? Impossible for a Dracule.
At last he eased away, his arms still loosely around her waist, and one hand lifted to brush a strand of hair from her face. "So beautiful," he murmured, shaking his head. He looked at her, his eyes hot and heavy-lidded, his mouth swollen from the kiss.
"I'm coming with you," he told her, and she was aware of a flash of relief...then the twitch of panic. What if something happened to Chas this time? She was still angry with him, furious...but she still cared about him.
"Dimitri and Voss...they need to stay with my sisters," he added.
And they aren't Dracule any longer. Now mortals, though stronger and as powerful as men could be, the others no longer had Astheniae, nor the vulnerability to sunlight...but instead, they had many other weaknesses. They would be better served remaining with the women they loved than risking their mortal lives.
"Chas," Narcise said, pulling out of his embrace. She had to be honest. "I'm not going to change like them. I know you believe a miracle can happen...but I don't see how it can. Dimitri tried for a century-"
His eyes shone with a determined light. "But how do you know? Even Cale-"
"Woodmore." The deep, mellow voice cut in, startling Narcise as it swept over her from behind. How had she not scented him? The back of her shoulders prickled with awareness and her recently kissed lips throbbed as if filled with guilt.
"I'll be going as well," he informed them.
Her heart racing, she turned to face Giordan. "That's not necessary," she replied. Traveling with him? By the Fates, no.
She felt dizzy; he stood right before her, so close she felt his presence seeping into her. His expression had eased slightly since the conversation in the parlor, but there were still deep lines around his lips and eyes. The place she'd nipped him on his lip had dried into a slender dark line, helping to make him look uncharacteristically rugged and rough. His wound still leaked a bit and her attention was captured by the sight of the bit of blood pooling in the elegant, golden curve of skin between shoulder and neck.
Lust and pleasure zipped through her, down deep inside.
Where had her anger gone?
Giordan's expression didn't change. "I'm going. I'll be ready to leave in a quarter of an hour. Wait for me." And he walked off down the hall, his broad shoulders seeming to fill the space, his strides easy and smooth.
When she turned back to Chas, he was watching her with an unfathomable expression.
"What is it?" she asked, aware that her fingers were trembling.
"It's him." His mouth had flattened into a white line and misery touched his hazel eyes. He slid a hand into his hair and raked it viciously through the dark waves. "It'll always be Cale, won't it?"
It's only you, Narcise. She pushed away the echo of Giordan's words from years ago. "I don't know what you mean."
"You still love him, and until that changes, you can't see anyone else. You can't love anyone else. Including me."
"I don't-I might have thought I loved him once, but not any longer. I could never... You have no idea how his betrayal destroyed me." She made her voice hard and filled with loathing, reminding herself of his sins.
And now they were going back to Cezar again. She felt light-headed and faint. Both of them. Maybe she couldn't do this after all.
Chas was looking at her, shaking his head. Intensity and anger vibrated off him. "He loves you. How can you not see it? At first I thought it was simply your disinterest. And you...you want him so badly you-"
Her mouth was trembling, but she had to stop him from talking. "Don't be a fool. He loves only himself, his own pleasure. There's no space for anyone else. And we Dracule...we live for pleasure. I do."
"Jesus, Narcise." He drew in a deep breath, covering his eyes with his hand, then sliding it down his face. When he was finished, he looked at her. "God help me, I cannot believe I'm about to say this." She waited.
"If nothing else, at least you'll know I've learned from my mistakes...." He shook his head, his dark hand falling away. He wasn't looking at her now; he was looking down the hall, away from her. "I gave Sonia one of Cale's handkerchiefs."
Narcise's heart stopped. She already knew Giordan's Asthenia was cats, so it would be no surprise...but why would Chas be hesitant to tell her- "She saw you in the vision. Dead. His greatest fear is you dying. Why do you think he's insisting on going back to Cezar with us?"
"You must be mistaken," she whispered, frowning, fighting the shivers that attempted to take her over. "He has other reasons for seeing my brother again," she said, forcing bitterness into a voice that shook. But it was difficult. All at once, she felt off balance and confused. Weak. Even nauseated.
Chas didn't respond right away. He was looking down the corridor in the direction Giordan had gone, his face still and harsh, his lips curled into each other. White edged his mouth and around his nose.
"Are you that blind, Narcise? His only reason for going back again is for you. Don't you understand what happened?" But still, he didn't look at her. "Your brother blackmailed him into it. All of it. He was only with him in order to protect you...in exchange for getting you away from Cezar. But you wouldn't go."
Narcise put her hand out against the wall. "You're mistaken," she breathed again, trying to draw air into her suddenly frozen lungs.
But Chas was still looking away, his body rigid. "I wish to hell I was."
Giordan had no compunction about leaving Rubey's while Narcise and Woodmore were finishing their tender little tete-a-tete in the corridor.
He hoped they took their time and fucked while they were there, so he could get that much more of a head start. Never mind the way the thought made his insides roll sickeningly and darkness hover at the edges of his vision.
The sun that had burned his Mark no longer bothered him, so he was able to travel during the day. This gave him an advantage: horseback to Dover instead of the closed carriage Narcise would have to take, then across the Channel. If he could get to Cezar first...
A shudder took him by surprise and he quickly submerged it. Yes, he'd go back there. Yes, he'd do what he had to do-to save the lives of countless children and English citizens. To keep Narcise from having to.
He'd even kill Cezar if he had to...although it would probably kill Giordan as well, to do it. The remnants from his interlude with Narcise in the alley still made his insides pitch and his knees wobble.
Now, clear-minded, he understood why he'd reacted so strongly: his body and soul had been protecting him from the pain and anguish that would come from trusting his heart to Narcise again. The violent illness had been his reaction to hate and violence he'd eschewed for a decade, the reaction to a long-submerged addiction that had suddenly come rushing back: the need to hurt, to wound, to have.
"Ah, sister. I've been expecting you. I see that you could no more stay away from me than I could stay away from you." Cezar looked up as Narcise walked in. "And Wood-more as well. You didn't mention in your message that he would be joining us. To what do I owe this great pleasure?"
They had entered Cezar's private chambers, escorted by Belial, who stood too close to Narcise for her comfort. Her brother sat across the room at a desk. As they entered, his face changed from one of bald delight, to contemptuous welcome...to a startled, blank expression, as if he were trying to hide his true feelings.
Narcise found that both disconcerting and optimistic.
"Belial," Cezar said sharply. "Escort my sister to the dining area. I'd like her to entertain my guests this evening."
"I'm not here to entertain your guests," Narcise told him, evading Belial's reach. "I'm here to stop Bonaparte from invading England."
Lifting her nose, she breathed, trying to scent Giordan's presence. Was he here or not? When he hadn't come back at the promised time to find them at Rubey's, she'd figured out that he meant to beat them here.
They'd sent word by pigeon to Cezar to stop the invasion, for they would not have reached Paris within the three-day timeline, promising that she was on her way back to him. So far, no news of invasion had come and she believed he'd kept his word.
Of course, he knew if the invasion went forward, she wouldn't come back to him.
Narcise didn't spare a look at Chas, though she felt him tensing next to her. On the back of her shoulder, the Mark was inflamed with fury-so much that she could hardly move her arm. Even breathing was difficult. But it had been that way for two days, and she had learned to accept it.
"Ah, my darling sister," Cezar said, his voice carrying more of a lisp than usual, "the emperor will be here later this night. And if you provide enough entertainment, I am certain you can convince him to change his mind. Belial, take her." Now he seemed breathless with excitement.
But Narcise wasn't about to go quietly. For some reason, Cezar feared her, more than anything in the world, according to Sonia. The thought gave her confidence she'd never had before. She started toward her brother as Belial made a move to stop her. She flung his hand off her arm, her eyes glowing red and hot. "Don't touch me or I'll kill you."
Chas had moved at the same time, producing the short but lethal stake he'd hidden in the sole of his boot.
"Cezar, you promised me if she returned..." Belial whined, stepping back. "She owes me."
"I did indeed," Cezar mused slowly. "Perhaps I could accommodate your request tonight."
Narcise felt Chas tense behind her, but he remained still and silent as planned. She'd prepared him for her brother's malevolence. Stepping away from Belial, her heart thumping hard, she started across the chamber. The made vampire didn't worry her. It was the children in England she was concerned about. And where was Giordan? "I've returned to you, brother. You agreed to call off the invasion if I returned. Did you not miss me?"
Cezar's eyes were pinned on her, and she saw both fear and admiration therein. His throat convulsed as he swallowed, his attention avid and palpable. She halted halfway across the chamber, unwilling to get close enough for him to grab her.
"I thought you wouldn't return," he said, his voice thready. "I thought I'd lost you forever. Narcise."
"I've returned willingly," she told him, watching him closely. "I trust that you'll do as you promised." She didn't look at Chas.
He nodded slowly. "Yes. Belial, take them to the dining room. Go with him," he told Narcise, his eyes now intent. The craftiness there unsettled her...but she knew the risks.
She knew she wouldn't leave here soon, but she would someday. She was armed with knowledge and intent, and she had friends outside of this subterranean hole who would come for her.
Thus, for now, despite the constant throbbing and burning of her Mark, reminding her that she was doing something selfless, she would be Cezar's pet for just a little longer.