The Vampire Narcise

Chapter 3

Narcise swung around, saber high above her head, and slammed the flat of its blade against her much taller opponent's skull.

He staggered, his red eyes springing wide-open, and his arms flailed awkwardly.

Her teeth gritted in a feral smile, she followed through on the stroke, spinning on the balls of her bare feet, and then nearly gasped, and definitely slowed, when she saw Giordan Cale sitting next to her brother.

He hadn't been there a moment ago.

The angry roar of tonight's opponent dragged her attention back to the battle, and Narcise tightened her suddenly sweaty fingers over the sword's grip just as he lunged at her. She couldn't lose focus; she couldn't let her guard down.

She'd been ready to finish this off, and would have ended with the blade against his throat if the sight of Cale hadn't distracted her.

He was sitting slightly behind her brother, as if a chair had been pulled up for the late arrival at the table, which boasted several other spectators. Though they were in shadow, she could tell that his eyes were fastened on her, and even from here, she felt the heat in them.

I would have intervened.

Damn him to hell, he might have to intervene tonight if she couldn't get her concentration back. Not that Cezar would let him.

Narcise's thoughts had thus been divided as she vaulted over a low table, giving herself space to think and distance from her adversary. Now, she had her back to the dais where the onlookers sat, and though she could feel Cale's gaze boring into her shoulders, she was in no danger of locking eyes with him.

A burst of anger flooded her, fueled by uncertainty, and that gave her the rush of speed and strength to duck beneath the other sword's blade, spin around and take a slice out of her assailant's arm.

He cried out again in fury, but she was faster than his tall, lanky body allowed him to be-and than his lust-fogged mind could follow-and she snagged a chair, whipping it back at him. The crash of wood into flesh and bone, then its clatter onto the floor, told her she'd hit her mark even blindly. She followed through by pivoting on her toes, spinning back to face him. And then she was there, lunging, and used her blade to pin the man through his shirt and arm to the table before he could recover.

The stake was in her hand a breath later, and she positioned it over his heaving chest. "Surrender," she demanded.

He surrendered and she stepped back, removing her weapons carefully as she always did, and watched as he mopped his face with a sleeve. "Big-pussied bitch," he said, his expression ugly. All lust had faded from his eyes.

"Cock-sucker," she replied with calm and disdain to a common reaction. "No entertainment for you tonight."

She watched as he limped toward the door, which had been opened by Cezar's guards, and slammed the saber into her sheath. Then she drew in a deep breath and turned to wait for her own guards to take her to the solitude of her own chamber.

Hot, heavy eyes bored into her back, and she knew without any doubt that it was Giordan Cale who stared at her. She swallowed and realized her fingers were trembling, and that her body had begun to waver between hot and cold.

Three weeks ago, it had been. Three weeks, and not only had Cezar not punished her for feeding on Cale, but he hadn't remarked on it at all. Very odd, and certainly disconcerting.

And though Cezar hadn't seen fit to mention the incident that night, Narcise couldn't banish it from her thoughts and dreams. Even now, she felt her veins pulsing and surging with desire and unfinished need.

She became dimly aware of voices behind her, voices from the dais, and the low rumble that she recognized as Cale's...followed by a short laugh and then affirmation from Cezar.

"Narcise," her brother said peremptorily.

She had no choice but to turn and face the audience. A quick scan identified three pairs of male eyes, filled with lust and determination-likely future opponents-and her brother's bemused expression. Cale... He had stood and was moving toward her.

"What do you wish to say?" she replied just as shortly. Don't look at him.

"Monsieur Cale has expressed disappointment that he missed most of this evening's entertainment. And he has made a special request."

All at once, her body went cold, her stomach plummeting. Cale had a sword in his hand and he was examining the blade.

"He wishes to participate in a bout of entertainment himself."

A flash of light clouded her vision, then receded. Two battles in one evening? Despite the fact that she'd been over-matched for her previous opponent didn't mean that she could win against a second one in the same night.

Particularly against the broad-shouldered man stripping off his coat in front of her.

Cale didn't spare her a glance as he tossed it to the table, and commenced with unbuttoning his waistcoat. He flung that aside as well, then unfastened his cuffs and rolled his sleeves up to the elbows.

As she watched with rising trepidation, he glanced toward her bare feet and then pulled off his own buckled, heeled shoes...and then the stockings that went up to his knee breeches. Narcise glanced at his bare, muscular calves, then tore her eyes away.

She was to fight him?

And if he won, he would drag her off to The Chamber.

A knot in the pit of her stomach grew tighter and heavier. I cannot let him win.

"I wish to change weapons," she announced. A double-sided broadsword would be heavier, but it would give her that much more of an advantage.

"I was just about to suggest the same," Cale said, speaking to her for the first time.

She couldn't help but look at him, and to her dismay, the heat was gone from his eyes to be replaced by cool determination. Her belly pitched sharply, for she would have preferred to see an emotion she could use against him. Like lust or desire.

"I propose a stake only for each of us, mademoiselle. You might remove the one from your hair, and also from the sleeve of your tunic, and choose only one of them."

Narcise hid her consternation at the prospect of fighting in such close quarters, hand to hand. She was lighter, she told herself. Lithe and quick.

But then again...this was a man who'd somersaulted from a rooftop four stories down, merely for the entertainment of his friends. Or so she'd heard.

"If you suggest stakes, that implies a conflict to the death," she said, keeping her eyes cool. "You are a brave man, Monsieur Cale, for you are no stranger to my abilities."

The room was so quiet the only sound was the heartbeat in her ears and the crackle and snap in the fireplace on the dais.

"If that is what you wish, mademoiselle, by all means I am agreeable." There was a flicker in his eyes, something almost soft, and then it was gone. "You," he said, commanding one of Cezar's servants as if he were his own. "A handkerchief or scarf."

"What, will you fight blindfolded?" crowed one of the audience. "What a sight that will be."

"No, I do not think that is what Cale has in his mind," lisped Cezar, delight in his voice. "He means for their hands to be bound together. Narcise."

This last was his order, and at first she simply couldn't make herself move. They meant to tie their wrists together so that neither could retreat. Or leap or lunge.

She had no breath. Her mind turned blank and fear took over. Already, she could feel his body on top of hers, his hands tearing at her clothes, his mouth and fangs on her.

How badly she'd misjudged him.

That interlude at his place, when he'd been more than a gentleman, more kind and unassuming than she'd ever experienced...had been a lie.

He really was like the others: blinded by lust, fueled by bravado.

Narcise moved numbly toward Cale, raising her right arm-for she was left-handed in battle. They faced each other, and his strong, bare fingers curled around her hand as if they meant to arm wrestle. The feel of his hand cupping hers reminded Narcise of the intimate moment when their fingers had intertwined so that she could feed on his open wrist. The servant wrapped the scarf around their hands, binding them firmly, and she noted with apprehension that his arm was nearly twice as wide as hers.

Warmth flowed from his skin into hers, and she felt the slamming of a pulse where the delicate skin of their wrists met. Whether the beating was hers or his, she wasn't certain. But she was fully aware of his smoky, rich scent, and the size of his long, bare feet only inches from her own.

She couldn't look at him, instead focusing her eyes over his shoulder as they prepared to face each other.

"Begin," cried Cezar, and so it was.

At first, they minced in a maudlin circle, as far apart as their bonds would allow, delicate and arrhythmic as one attempted to read the other's strengths, strategy and steps. After one quick glance, she avoided his eyes, instead watching the rest of his body. Then Cale lunged, and she danced out of the way with ease.

But Narcise wasn't fooled; she knew he hadn't moved as quickly or sharply as he was capable. He was testing her, to see how tired she was from her first contest.

She concentrated on watching the signals: his eyes, the change of breath, the balance and shift of his feet and center, and she was ready when he lunged again. Their free hands clashed as she raised hers to block his blow, and a slam of pain reverberated down her arm.

Narcise swallowed a cry and attacked him before he could fully recover his stance, glancing a blow off his arm this time. Then without hesitation, she ducked beneath their twined arms and curled around behind him, but Cale was too fast, and he spun under and around at the same time, keeping her from getting to his back. She was tired, not moving as quickly as she normally would.

But she must.

Fury burned in her. She would kill him if she had the chance. There was no reason to hesitate, for if she didn't, he would have her.

And she couldn't bear that. Not after these last weeks of dreaming, fantasizing, hoping.

Bitterness galvanized her, and she whipped the stake, slamming it into the top of his shoulder with all of her force. He gave a surprised grunt, and she swore she saw a flash of humor in his eyes-but then she was dancing backward.

He tripped her with his next movement, and her balance stuttered. She caught herself with her right foot, but not before he twisted suddenly. The next thing she knew, their bound arms wrapped her back up against his torso like the movement in a dance, and he had his stake, poised over her chest. Her own tied hand was pressed against her belly with his, and her body acted as a shield from any blow she might attempt.

"Checkmate," he murmured into her ear, and damn him if the low timbre sent tingles shooting through her.

She tried to stomp on his foot to give her a target for her own stake, but he was ready for it and easily shifted, causing her to tip off balance again.

"Are you certain you still wish to fight to the death?" Cale added, again close to her ear. "I had a different ending in mind."

Revulsion and hatred shot through her, and Narcise jerked hard at their tied hands, yanking his down with a savage twist.

He gave a huff of pain and for a moment she thought she'd taken him by surprise...but his bicep tightened immediately and he whipped her back against his torso hard enough to knock the breath out of her.

His stake came closer to her throat and poised there as one of his powerful legs shifted, curving in front of hers so that he tipped her forward but kept her feet immobile. Now she was slightly tilted toward the floor, her stake hanging from her left hand with no viable target.

"So now you must slay me," she said, grinding her teeth. "For it was agreed."

Cezar had been watching avidly, and now he began to clap his hands loudly and sharply. "Well done, Cale," he said, standing. "You are the first to best Narcise in years."

She threw her brother a dark look and said, "And that's only because he waited until I was weary. He could not have won if I were fresh."

Cale's arms tightened around her a fraction, and she felt the vibration in his chest as he spoke, "But the woman is correct...she was already spent. Therefore, I will deny my right to take her life-as she offered-and instead accept the customary spoils. If you agree, Cezar." He spoke lightly, but there was an edge to his voice that indicated he would accept no argument.

"Oh, indeed," Moldavi replied immediately. Narcise, who could interpret her brother's slightest inflection, heard the hint of displeasure there, but she wasn't certain whether it was because he'd wanted her dead, or because she'd lost.

Despite the fact that he forced her into such combative situations, Moldavi had a warped sense of pride about her; thus a flaw or loss in her performance was a reflection on him.

"Very well then," Cale said, and he released Narcise so that she was able to stand on her own. "Drop your weapon, cher. I have the only stake we'll need." He flashed a quick smile toward the dais, and the other spectators rumbled with soft chuckles.

The servant moved as if to untie them, but Cale stopped him with a raised hand. "No need for that. I will attend to it shortly." He looked at Narcise again. "Drop the stake," he repeated, a bit of steel in his voice. "I don't wish to have to fend you off."

Narcise realized that her knees were shaking so badly she could hardly stand. Her stomach felt as if it were going to erupt at any moment, and she was certain her pulse was pounding so hard he could hear it. She could scarcely force herself to uncurl her fingers to allow the stake to drop, but at last it fell to the stone floor with a clatter.

Cale glanced at her, a little frown between his brows, but she would not meet his eyes. Narcise drew in her breath and straightened her shoulders to stand proudly as he drew her toward the chamber door.

Why was she so terrified? She had outgrown the terror and paralyzing fear long ago. She'd learned to submit, to get through the demands of her own body's bloodlust, the reflexive response to fresh blood and penetration. There was nothing she hadn't lived through before. There was nothing he could do to her that hadn't already been done.

But she knew what the problem was. Not only had Cale betrayed her fantasy of him, but there was still that lingering need. The desire for his blood and the memory of his taste and touch still hummed deep inside her.

Narcise was aware of herself being directed out of the room and down the brief corridor to The Chamber, but she felt as if she were outside of her own body, watching this event.

Cale said nothing to her, nor to Cezar's servant, who led the way to the room of hell. It wasn't until they reached the heavy wooden door that her captor turned and offered their tied wrists to the servant. He obliged, using a dagger to cut through the handkerchief, and Narcise was free just as the door opened before them.

With a rebelling stomach and weak knees, she forced herself to walk into The Chamber.

She heard the sound of the door closing behind her, and of the metal bolt being shoved into place with its familiar, ominous snick.

Gathering all of her courage, Narcise turned to face Cale and said, "How do you want me? Shall I fight you and make it rough, or shall I lie there and let it be easy?"

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