The Vampire Narcise

Chapter 6

Giordan closed the door behind him and walked only a few steps down the narrow, torch-lit corridor before stopping to collect himself. His hands were bloody damned shaking and his gums were sore from thrusting their fangs uselessly. Lucifer's Mark screamed with rage, radiating pain sharply through his body in affront for his sacrifice.

It had taken a good deal of control and prudence to turn and walk out of that room, and if he weren't certain his every movement was being accounted for, he'd stand here longer.

That was, in fact, the only reason he hadn't dragged her out with him to freedom.

He looked around, sharpening his thoughts to take in the details of his surroundings. Of course he'd passed through this same area some hours earlier, when he was following Narcise...but understandably, his mind had been elsewhere and he'd been in no state to absorb all the details. Unlike The Chamber he'd just quit, this space was roughly hewn stone walls and an uneven floor. Very different from the dining room that doubled as a fencing arena.

But of course he was already considering how to get Narcise out of this place. It wasn't something he could rush into, much as he wanted to-needed to-get her free. He must plan his steps carefully, he must be patient.

For surely Cezar wouldn't even allow him free access after his "winnings"-and, ah, yes, there it was. The sound of approaching footsteps. Someone had heard the door opening from some nearby vantage point, or there was some other notification that he'd left. Perhaps a bell that rang in an above-stairs chamber.

"Leaving so soon, monsieur?"

Giordan was more than mildly surprised to see the host himself striding toward him, bringing that patchouli and cedar scent into the narrow corridor. "Yes, indeed."

"I trust that there were no problems, no concerns?" Moldavi asked, his eyes bright and his voice placating. "All was to your...liking?"

"If one considers a woman terrified at the mere thought of being touched by a man no little problem, then, no, I had no problems." It was only with great difficulty that Giordan was able to keep the great loathing from his voice and expression.

"She did not give you difficulty?" Those eyes looked closely at him, then slipped away to scan over his torso as if to look for signs of wounds or injury. An unnaturally slender brow lifted at the sight of the bite marks on his bicep.

"But of course not." Giordan was fairly certain there had been no witnesses-either visual or aural-during the events of the evening, for he surely would have scented the presence of anyone near enough to see or hear. But, yes, he had been a bit distracted, so he couldn't be completely certain. "I had all that I wanted, and now I have finished."

"Very good. Very good. It's just that I find it unusual for a man to leave my delightful sister any earlier than he must, hmm?"

Giordan gave a meaningless shrug and said nothing more as they walked along the corridor.

Moldavi continued smoothly, "Would you care to join me for a drink, then? I have just received a most delightful vintage from Barcelona. They are calling it a champagne, but of course that is impossible if it is grown in Spain, is it not?"

Giordan hesitated for a moment. He wanted more than anything to get away from this abhorrent man, out of this dark, close place and back to his own...but the more time spent in his presence, here in the highly secure, subterranean locale, the more he could learn about its layout and his host's habits...and the sooner he could find a way to relieve Cezar Moldavi of his favorite plaything.

His fingers curled into each other as he thought of having to leave Narcise here...but he forced them to smooth out. Patience.

Thus, although he truly wanted to be alone-with his thoughts, his memories, his fears-his concern and care for Narcise's future easily prevailed. "Perhaps...perhaps, yes, for a brief time. I would be delighted to sample your offering. It sounds most intriguing." He kept his voice mellow and even enthusiastic with effort.

Moldavi's face changed, a brief contortion, and his eyes widened a fraction...then it was gone. "Please, then, with me," said his host in his imperfect French. "And, if you like, Cale, I would be happy to provide you with new attire. I suspect you don't wish to be traveling back to your home in nothing but breeches. I have retrieved your coat from our dining area, of course, but perhaps you would accept my gift of a shirt and shoes as well."

Giordan realized that his host was correct, and that he hadn't given his bare feet, legs and chest any thought at all. Ah, Narcise. You've already destroyed me. "I would be very grateful."

As he walked along with Moldavi, Giordan considered the option of killing the man right here, right now. It was an efficient way to resolve things; one he'd employed far too many times, if the priests had anything to say about it. Which, of course, they didn't. It was a plain truth: Giordan had grown up with violence and poverty all around him, and was more likely to kill a man who crossed him than he was to waste time trying to find other resolutions.

That was yet another reason, he was certain, that Lucifer had found him an appropriate addition to the Draculia.

Killing Moldavi would end the man's domination over Narcise, and they would find their way out of this labyrinthine lair beneath the rues of Paris.

But Giordan was forced to reject the fantasy nearly as soon as it presented itself, for a variety of reasons, the simplest being, he didn't have a weapon. It wasn't as if he could choke the man to death or pummel him into the ether like one could do on the streets. Either a wooden stake or a sword that would take the man's head off were the only ways, and aside of the wooden sconces, there was nothing else that would work. And to tear down a sconce, break it into a ragged point and then attack Moldavi...even Giordan wasn't confident it could be done quickly and without mishap.

Aside of that, to do anything that would make the man suspicious would ruin any chance he might have of further access to Narcise.


"So you have lived in Paris since you were a child?" Moldavi asked as they approached a heavy wooden door.

"Yes. Although the place I lived while a boy was much different than Le Marais," Giordan said with a sidewise, wry smile.

"I have come to prefer Paris myself," Moldavi said. "Romania is rough and wild with its own beauty, but also dark and sharp and difficult to navigate...and I find the City of Light a much welcome change." He had the key on a ring at his waist, but there was a guard stationed there to provide additional security.

"Although I travel much now for business purposes, I always return to Paris, for it's my home," Giordan replied.

It appeared even the guard didn't have access to the door, for it was his master who used the key to unlock the door. From what Giordan had observed on his journey to and from, the single purpose of this corridor was to provide access to The Chamber where he and Narcise had been. There was no other entrance or exit along here, no other rooms, and certainly no other way in or out of the room in which they'd been.

He wondered, suddenly, and with a painful shaft of horror, whether Narcise was kept in that place of torture all the time, or if she had some other sort of living space.

They walked through the door and Giordan took in the details of what he'd only vaguely noted the first time through. This underground tunnel had been in Paris much longer than Moldavi had.

"How did you come to choose the catacombs as a place to live?" Giordan asked as they passed along the corridor. What he really meant was how had Moldavi taken over control of these underground tunnels where varlets and vagrants had lived for centuries. "I would have thought you'd prefer a chateau or some other mansion."

The walls of this hallway were lined with neat rows of skulls, their empty eyes and toothy upper jaws an eerie and morbid decor. Above each row of skulls were lined several layers of large bones-femurs, he guessed by the size of them, with the joint ends facing out. They made for bumpy texture, and the hollows provided homes for spiders and other insects.

Giordan made no attempt to hide his surprise that a man as refined as Moldavi-at least in attire and his selection of food and drink-would choose to live in such base surroundings. But then again...this was a vampire who bled children to death and who imprisoned his sister for the pleasure of others. He tightened his jaw to control the rage. Perhaps he would kill the man now.

"It is a bit gauche, isn't it?" his companion replied, brushing a hand lovingly over one of the skulls. "But I find it such an interesting topic of conversation. At the least," he said with his faint lisp, "they are long dead and gone and we don't have the rot and smell of the decomposing bodies in the...the place where they are moving all of them now...what is it called?"

"The Ossuary," Giordan replied, having regained control of his temper. He noted that the skull-lined corridor had branched off into two different directions and that they'd taken the eastern route. "In the old stone quarries."

He recognized that the tunnels they now traversed were old quarries as well, but that these bones must be the original ones from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The placement of these bones decades ago were the inspiration for the disposal of the bodies from the overcrowded church cemeteries, the newest wave which had begun thirty years earlier from parishes like Holy Innocents.

Giordan had traversed many of these underground tunnels even before he was turned Dracule, and now he was redrawing a map in his head. Combining his memory of the network and the actual route they took, he was attempting to connect the two areas. That would come in handy if-when-he helped Narcise make her escape.

They came to another door at a T-intersection of the corridor. When they passed through the entrance into a hallway that looked exactly like one in his own home, Giordan realized that Moldavi must simply use the skull-lined quarry as a conduit between his torture chamber and his real living space.

This suspicion was confirmed as they strode through, chatting amiably about a variety of things, and Giordan smelled Narcise, among other aromas. She obviously spent much time here, as did Moldavi and others.

That was an optimistic sign. If she were kept here, in this furnished, plastered and painted area, Giordan would have a much better chance of freeing her from it. And perhaps not quite as many nightmares about her cloistered in the torture chamber.

"Please, sit," Moldavi offered as a steward opened a tall, white door at the end of a gently ascending hallway. Inside there were many comfortable chairs and a roaring fireplace. "I hope you do not mind," his host said, gesturing to the flames. "But I tend to easily take a chill and I prefer a blaze in every chamber."

"I find it rather chill and damp beneath the ground, so I welcome the heat," Giordan told him.

Glasses clinked and Moldavi offered him a small ornate vessel shaped like an upside-down bell. They talked for some time about the spice ship, and all the while Giordan kept his ears and nose attuned for the presence of Narcise.

But it was when Moldavi, after a long moment of silence, said, "I find that I will need to be absent from Paris for a week or more to attend to a business interest in Marseilles," that Giordan's body came to full awareness.

Something prickled over the back of his shoulders and he sipped the very fine sparkling wine that had come from Barcelona. "Do you travel by coach or horse?" he asked just to keep the conversation going, even as his mind worked madly. He kept his eyes heavily-lidded and his attention purposely jumping about the chamber. "I cannot help but admire your selection of artwork," he said. "Perhaps you've noticed I am a patron of Monsieur David."

"I did notice," Moldavi replied. "He has given my sister painting lessons, and in fact, that is one of her works." He gestured to a small square painting, surrounded by an ornate frame as wide as the image it embraced.

Giordan had already taken note of the dark, stark image of a city beneath the moonlight. The rows of buildings appeared like angry gray teeth thrusting up into a dark sky. Out of politeness, he looked again, and then, because he couldn't appear too interested, he drew his attention away almost immediately.

"I see little resemblance between her work and that of David," he commented, thinking of not only the lack of hue but also the subject matter. Monsieur David generally concentrated on portraits rather than landscapes, and even his stark portrait of the murder of his friend Marat wasn't as angry and undulating as Narcise's world.

How does she live?

Cezar gave a short laugh. "I certainly concur, but the painting keeps Narcise occupied." He spoke as if she were some young girl who tended to be around underfoot.

Giordan had to raise the drink to keep from speaking his mind...and from lunging for the repugnant being next to him...and found that his fangs threatened to clink against the edge of the delicate glass. He drew in a slow breath and sipped, willing his teeth to resheath themselves, his eyes to keep from burning with an angry glow. Calm. "I suppose she cannot practice her fencing all day," he managed to say.

Aside of his surprise that the painting was Narcise's, Giordan was also taken aback that Cezar obviously allowed his sister to interact with people-men-other than when she fought for her own body. Through general conversation with Moldavi and others of those who moved in their circles, he was aware that Narcise often helped her brother entertain, and of course, very occasionally accompanied him on social engagements. He also realized why Narcise had seemed to be so familiar with, and interested in, the David painting in his own parlor.

"No, indeed not," Moldavi agreed. "But a thought has just occurred to me."

Giordan raised an eyebrow in question and tried not to look back at that dark, hopeless painting.

"I must be gone for a week perhaps, as I mentioned. I have no desire to bring Narcise and the entire household with me. Perhaps since you both are so appreciative of Monsieur David-although for different reasons, I venture-perhaps you might be willing to see to Narcise in my absence?"

Giordan went cold for a moment but recovered immediately as he saw the trap. Clever, Moldavi. Very clever. It wasn't difficult to force a grimace of distaste. "I hope you won't think me rude if I decline," he said with a self-deprecating laugh. "I expect to be very busy in the next fortnight, and might even need to travel outside the city myself." He watched the other man closely and was rewarded when he noticed the slightest release of tension in his fingers.

Giordan had obviously made the right move in such a blatant denial of interest.

But whatever it was that Moldavi intended, Giordan had also learned one other thing: without a doubt, the man was exceedingly cunning.

He would have to be very careful in how he proceeded. To give a man like Cezar Moldavi any sort of knowledge was also to give him the greatest of power.

And to make a move in haste or desperation could be a fatal mistake.

Trust me, Narcise.

I pray you are safe until we meet again.

Narcise woke suddenly, those words echoing in her mind. Remnants of dreams. As she stared into the soft candlelight, a bitter laugh formed in the back of her throat, startling her with its ferocity, and she pressed her lips together.

Trust me, Narcise.

Her fingers shook as she skimmed them over her naked belly, then curled them between her breasts, where her heart beat roughly, and held her hand there. Oh, yes, she had a heart, and though it had become enclosed by stone, she still felt its soft core.

What had Cale meant by saying such things? Particularly the absurd I pray you are safe until we meet again.

Dracule didn't pray.

And how would they ever meet again? Did she even want to meet him again?

A little twinge deep inside told her that, yes, she did. She would. He had touched her without actually touching her.

Climbing out of her bed, Narcise let the covers fall. It was always damp and cool here, below the ground where Cezar insisted on living. Even here in her private chamber, which was comfortably appointed with an attached parlor furnished with upholstered chairs, a mirror and dressing table, a wardrobe, and even a place for her easel and paints, the chill was never fully banished. There were no windows, of course, and the only indicator of time was a clock which she kept wound.

A stone and brick hearth held the fire that never ceased blazing, and it was only when she drew near it that Narcise was able to completely stop the little shivers of cold and dread. She stood there now, staring into the tongues of flame, feeling its warmth seep into her skin, heating the sheer lace gown she wore.

The orange and yellow fire mesmerized her, and Narcise felt her eyes begin to burn from the heat and lack of moisture from not blinking. But deep in the hot glow, she saw Giordan Cale, in her mind, strung up on iron manacles, his dark, intense eyes boring into her.

Trust me, Narcise.

He'd certainly proven his trust that night. She shivered, but not from the chill. No, thoughts of Giordan Cale invariably brought heat, not cold, to her body.

Yet, it had been more than a week since he'd left The Chamber, closing the door behind him and leaving her to her thoughts and confusion-not to mention a warm, sated body. Since then, she'd drawn and dreamed of him, even as she tried to keep herself from hoping...for something.

A log shifted in the fire, loud and sudden, sending sparks scattering on the hearth. The noise brought Narcise from her musings back to the reality that she was still Cezar Moldavi's sister, still his toy and bargaining chip, and still unwilling to trust anyone.

Unwilling was the wrong word. She was unable to trust.

With a sudden burst of frustration, Narcise turned from the fire and rang for Monique, her maid. Monsieur David would arrive soon for their weekly lesson, and he did not like to be kept waiting. And since the murder of his friend David Marat, he'd become even more ill-tempered and fanatical. Narcise had mused privately more than once that her brother either paid the artist exceedingly well for his continued lessons, or that he had some other hold over Monsieur David that required the man's presence on a weekly basis, despite his complete immersion in Robespierre's movement.

It was ironic: despite the fact that Narcise was Cezar's prisoner, in many ways he treated her as a beloved sister. She had lovely, fashionable clothing, comfortable accommodations, activities to keep her mind occupied and her body in good form, and servants at her beck and call. She was invited to participate in her brother's social appointments, which most often occurred safely in his own residence, and was treated as respectfully as he was.

The one thing she had no control over was her body.

But that was something she would change. She must. And nary a day went by that she wasn't considering some plan or possibility, gathering some information and tucking it into the recesses of her brain. After decades of captivity, most prisoners might have long given up hope of escaping or changing their situation, but Narcise would not. After all, she had immortality. She had forever.

She watched and listened, honed her fighting skills, made friends with some of the lesser servants and slowly, but surely, built a refuge within her prison.

Perhaps it was Monsieur David's fiery rhetoric, fueled by the Revolution happening beyond the walls of her home-like prison. Perhaps the artist's determination and belief that one should rule oneself, that no royal family or clique had the right to impose control over another, had given Narcise hope. After all, if an entire city, no, a country, could overthrow its reigning family and weaken the grip of an entire privileged class, why could one woman not overthrow her own personal dictator?

By the time the maid Monique had helped Narcise with a simple day dress and covered it with a painting smock, she had hardly enough time to plait her mistress's hair in a fat black braid.

The knock on the door to her adjoining parlor heralded Monsieur David's arrival and Narcise followed her maid into the next room. Monique answered the door to the artist as Narcise began to sort through her canvases, but when she turned to greet her teacher, she faltered.

Confused, but recovering, she turned to her maid. "Monique," she said in a brusque tone, "you may go. Bonjour, monsieur." Something was not right, and awareness teased her consciousness along with an odd mixture of scents lingering in her nose. She swallowed, tasting and smelling a familiar presence.

The artist, wearing a low-brimmed hat that showed his dark brown curls, strode into the chamber with his familiar satchel of paints, brushes and palette. He appeared to have had his hair trimmed since she'd last seen him, a week earlier. His long coat, perhaps one too long for the summer, swirled about his powerful, breech-covered legs as he placed the bag on a table.

"Bonjour, mademoiselle," he said. His words were thick and oddly pronounced due to a tumor that deformed his cheek and mouth, but were perhaps a bit deeper in tone today. "Shall we begin? But no, you are not yet ready for me." His disgust at the delay was clearly apparent in his voice and stance, and Monique, intelligent girl that she was, beat a hasty retreat.

David was not known for his patience nor his tact.

By now, Narcise's palms were damp and her stomach had filled with swirling, fluttering emotions. Was it possible? "Of course, Monsieur David. I am nearly ready. I was only looking for the camel hair paintbrush that you insisted my brother have made for me."

All of her brushes had handles made of bamboo or light metal, for Cezar would not allow anything resembling a wooden stake into her chambers. Her rooms were regularly searched for such contraband as well.

The door had closed behind Monique, and for the first time, the man's eyes, still shadowed by the wide brim of his hat, met Narcise's. The irises were brown, flecked with blue and ringed with black, and the last time she'd seen them, they'd been hot with desire.

Narcise's stomach did a quick flip, leaving her unsteady and weak. It was him. She'd scented Giordan Cale beneath the cloak, hat and satchel that also smelled of Jacques-Louis David, but until their gazes locked, she wasn't certain.

She gave a little warning shake of her head even as she turned to gather up her painting accoutrements, trying to keep her suddenly nerveless fingers from dropping the brushes and palette. "Ah, here it is," she said, producing the brush in question. She could see, now that she actually looked at him, the way his right cheek bulged-just as Monsieur David's did. It changed the shape of his face, and along with the heavy brim of the hat, there was little to see unless one looked very closely.

"So now you are at last ready for me?" he asked, still in that thick voice of disguise, still managing to make it sound annoyed. "But you will not need that brush today."

You are at last ready for me.... His words held the most subtle of underlying meanings that made her cheeks warm like that of a schoolgirl's.

"But of course, monsieur. I believe that our last lesson was in relation to perspective." As she spoke the words, Narcise wasn't certain whether Giordan Cale was at all familiar with the particulars of drawing and sketching, and she hoped she wouldn't inadvertently expose his masquerade.

For, although at least in her chamber she had privacy from prying eyes and ears-she knew this because she examined every inch of wall, floor and ceiling every month to ensure it-Narcise also knew that at any moment...

Ah. There it was. The knock on the door.

"Come in," she called, trying not to sound breathless as she dug through her paints. Cale removed his coat to lay it over one of the chairs, but he still wore his hat, and she was suddenly nervous that it would cause comment, or that he would need to remove it.

Cezar's trusted steward, Belial, entered the chamber. "Bonjour, Monsieur David," he said with a bow. "What is your desire today?" His sharp eyes scanned the room, and Narcise held her breath, praying that Cezar's sired vampire wouldn't notice that this David was several inches taller and with broader shoulders than the previous one had been, and that there was another scent mingling in the room with them.

Cale didn't pause in his action of moving a stool to the center of the room, and perhaps his half-bent, facing-away position helped to camouflage his physical appearance.

"I shall have the usual, of course," he said in that clumsy voice, and with the same peremptory tone David always used. He fussed with the stool as if needing to position it just perfectly in the light. "Mademoiselle, I shall act as your model today to continue your lesson on perspective. The very brim and angle of this hat, which I have borrowed for such a purpose, will be an excellent study in the aspects of perspective. You will need a charcoal and several soft lead pencils. Put away the paints, mademoiselle. I have already told you you won't need the brush today. How many times have I said that you must start with the drawings and sketches before you can think to paint?"

Narcise forced herself to relax slightly. He sounded just as Monsieur David would have. Cale had obviously planned this well-but what was he planning? "I am sorry, monsieur. It is just that I ordered new paints and hoped to be able to use them today."

"Always so impatient, the women, no?" Cale said to no one in particular, but Belial gave a soft knowing chuckle.

"I will shortly return with your refreshments, monsieur," the steward said.

He left the room as Cale ordered, "Mademoiselle, please. You are wasting my time."

The door closed behind Belial, and Narcise turned to face Cale. "What are you doing here?" she demanded in a low voice.

"Can we be heard or seen?" he replied in matching tones, looking around the room. It was clear he had something in his mouth that caused the deformity of voice and face, but now his tones at least sounded familiar.

"No, but Belial will return shortly. How did this come about?" Narcise's hands were shaking, trembling furiously, and she could not understand her reaction to this. What did it mean? Why was he here? And why did she suddenly feel such warmth and light inside her?

"I told you you could trust me, Narcise," he said, sitting on the stool. "Get your papers ready and begin to draw, or I fear Belial will be suspicious. Once he is gone again, I will tell you more."

She did as he bid, feeling his eyes on her as she pulled out the rough papers that curled from being rolled for storage. A hunk of burned coal and her Italian pencils-too slender and short to be used as wooden stakes-joined the parchment on her drawing table, a few stones anchored the paper from rolling up, and then Narcise got to work.

She noticed that Cale had arranged his position on the stool so that he wasn't directly facing the door, nor the table where Belial would place the tray of coffee and sweet breads when he returned. And once she acknowledged that added attention to detail, along with the deliberate tilt of his head to shadow his face even further, she concentrated on her own work.

Despite his disguise, what a pleasure it was to draw the man she'd previously had to sketch from memory. She saw, too, that he'd affixed some sort of false, papier-mache nose to his elegant one, widening it slightly, and as she looked even closer, she noticed faint markings on his face, smudges to emphasize lines and nonexistent dimples.

Narcise had become so engrossed in her work, drawing the angled guiding lines for the hat that would give the sketch depth and an accurate sense of space, that she was startled when the door opened and Belial strode in.

But she felt his sharp eyes scan the room, and her drawing, and was pleased that she'd accomplished as much as she had. The steward set the tray on the table then approached her as if he were master of the place, looking over Narcise's shoulder-something that he occasionally did, but never in the presence of Cezar. She heard, and felt, him test the air about her in a soft, long intake of breath. The fine hairs at the back of her neck lifted and prickled, but she didn't move except to continue her work.

"You are very talented," he said, low and much too close to her ear and Narcise tensed. "Perhaps you will give me some private lessons?"

She resisted the urge to spin and shove the dog away for his boldness. Cezar had left three days ago, and had named Belial head of the household during his absence. Apparently this expression of trust had given the man an unwarranted sense of entitlement.

"Perhaps you will leave me to my work," she replied from between tight jaws. "Your smell is disturbing me."

She felt him stiffen behind her then relax slightly. "Is that so?" he said, obviously attempting to force amusement into his voice. "But I cannot say the same for you, Narcise." He drew in another long breath near her ear. "Your scent is as enticing as you are."

"Cezar doesn't value you that much, Belial," she warned. "You are replaceable and I am not." Rather than fear, it was anger that made her hand unsteady. As if her brother would allow a servant to touch her. Even he was not so base.

The steward made a sound filled with arrogance, but Narcise had no concerns about anything he might attempt. And despite the annoyance, she was glad his attention was focused on her and not Cale.

She dared a glance at the model sitting on his stool, and caught a flash of fiery eyes beneath the brim of his hat. Firming her lips she sent a silent warning back at him and resumed her drawing. She didn't need Cale's anger, nor his meddling in this.

"You've completed your task, Belial," she said, replacing her pencil that drew light, thin lines with the heavier charcoal. Broad strokes emerged, dark and bold, filling in the shadows beneath the curve of the hat brim. She itched to work on those lips: so full on the bottom and with a soft line along the top one that would require delicate shading. "You may leave."

"So I am distracting you?"

"No," she said, putting the charcoal down and fixing him with fury in her eyes. "You are tempting me to introduce you to my saber. Intimately."

Belial's eyes flashed red, but he drew himself up and away. "Do not be so certain of yourself, Narcise." And with that comment, which she assumed he meant to sound ominous, but which nearly made her laugh, he turned and stalked from the chamber.

"Cock-licking snake," she muttered. Belial was a fool who'd become too important for himself. She took out her annoyance on the charcoal, crumbling a corner of it and creating an unnecessary smudge when she raked it too hard across the page.

"Does your brother allow all of his servants such freedom?" Cale asked quietly.

"He won't come back until the lesson is finished," she told him. "We are private. And, no, Cezar would not allow such effrontery if he saw it. Everything must be well under his control, and a servant-no matter how trusted-who over-steps his boundaries will find himself turned out or otherwise disposed of."

"Good." Cale moved, sliding off the stool. He raised a hand to his face, and the lump in his cheek moved, then disappeared as he caught whatever it was in the palm of his hand. "Peach pits," he told her with a sidewise grin. "Two of them, in fact." He placed them in a handkerchief on the stool. When he took off his hat, then tousled his curls from where they plastered to his skull, she found herself wanting to assist him.

But Narcise remained in her place, a distance away. "Are you going to tell me what you're doing here?" She noticed a fat black spider making its way along the edge of one of the wood planks on the floor.

"Since I doubt your brother would allow me to court you in a normal fashion, I decided I had better take matters into my own hands." A glint of humor that she'd come to realize was part of his personality shone in his eyes, and then it disappeared.

"Court me? Are you mad?" No man courted the sister of Cezar Moldavi. They merely took-or, at least attempted to.

"I would have come sooner, but the arrangements took some time. But in the end, Monsieur David was grateful for my large donation to his cause, and the extra time with which to spend it. Are you well?"

She realized her brows had drawn together in a frown. He spoke to her with such familiarity; as if they'd known each other forever, as if they were friends and intimates. "We've only met twice," she blurted out, hardly realizing what she was about to say. "But I feel rather as if I've come to know you even more than that."

He still wore the false nose; perhaps that wasn't so easily removed and replaced as the other elements of his disguise. Nevertheless, it was clearly Cale, with his steady eyes and the full lips that had traced the oozing blood on her palm so tenderly. "I couldn't be more pleased to hear that, for I feel as if I've known you forever...even though I hardly do, in all the ways that matter. I must know, Narcise...have there been any other fencing matches since our last? How have you fared in them?"

She knew what he was asking-whether there had been any other men since him, and whether she had been forced or not. "There are not so many now who are brave enough to face my saber," she said by way of answer. "Few men are willing to expose themselves to the possibility of the humiliation of being bested by a woman."

"Which is precisely why I took measures to make certain I would win," Cale replied. His roguish smile was infectious enough, even from a distance, that she couldn't keep her own in check.

A ridiculous thought: that he was here to court her. Yet, deep in the softest part of her stony heart, she felt a twinge of lightness. A girlish leap inside the hard heart of an old crone.

"But you did not answer my question," he pressed. He was leaning against the table where Belial had set the tray-still some distance from her. She noticed absently that the spider had made its way into the center of the room and was heading toward the opposite side with eight-legged efficiency.

"Other than ours, I haven't lost a fencing match for more than five years," she told him. "And before that, after the first five years in Romania, before I had my lessons, it was a rare night that I lost. Perhaps two or three times a year."

Cale's eyes were somber now. "I'm sorry it was that many times."

"So am I. But I've become stronger for it," she said, in a reminder to herself as well as to him. "And no one has touched me-against my will," she added with a quick glance at him, "for many years."

"Will Belial bother you? Cezar is gone, is he not?"

Narcise waved the steward away with a charcoal-smudged hand. "If he acts inappropriately, I know how to handle him."

"I have no doubt of that."

He didn't speak after that, but his eyes scanned her. The hunger therein was bold and obvious, but again, he made no move toward her. Narcise wondered about that, and felt herself tensing in readiness. And, if she must be honest, anticipation.

"Are you and David lovers?" Cale asked abruptly.

She couldn't control a shocked expression, nor a shiver of distaste. "No, of course not."

"Good." He nodded once. With a deliberate movement, he smashed the spider under his foot, as if to emphasize his response.

Narcise blinked then redirected her thoughts. "Once again, I must ask, Monsieur Cale, why you have gone through so much trouble to come here."

"I wanted to see you, of course, but I didn't want your brother to know it," he explained.

"Because he wouldn't like it?" Narcise frowned. "I am not so certain of that. He was mightily impressed that you won our sword parley, and I believe he finds it amusing that you're very well-matched in skill with me. He wants to forge a business relationship with you."

Cale was looking thoughtful. "I'm not certain whether he would or wouldn't like it, but either way, I'm not inclined to give him the benefit of the knowledge that you belong with me."

She drew herself back in affront. "I don't belong to anyone." A blast of rage shuttled through her, but when he lifted a hand she allowed him to speak.

"I said you belong with me, Narcise. Not to me. We belong together. I can feel it, and you will, someday, as well."

She looked away. "You're mad." But even she knew her words sounded weak and unconvincing. The truth was something tugged deep inside her, throughout her whole being, when he was near. This was so different from any of the other men who'd claimed to love her, to want her, to own her.

It was different because, damn the Fates, she felt it, too.

"He knows that I could take you away from him, from here," said Cale. "He knows that I'm the one."

Narcise raised her eyebrows skeptically.

"When you trust me." He smiled, but this time there was a bit of an edge to it. "And since I cannot come near you today or that low-crawling rodent will smell us, you'll see once again that I mean to take nothing from you that you aren't willing to give."

The flash of disappointment took her by surprise, and yet at the same time, Narcise felt a tide of relief sweep over her. "That's why you asked if David and I were lovers," she said wryly, a twinge of annoyance replacing her relief.

"No," he said.

She waited for him to elaborate, but he did not. A heavy silence descended, one in which the drumming of her heart seemed to grow louder, filling the chamber, and his as well, and she swore she could hear them beating in tandem. Warmth and softness flooded her, and if she didn't know that it was impossible for a Dracule to enthrall another Dracule, she would believe it was happening.

"And so," he said after a long moment, breaking the connection, "these are your private apartments-where you sleep? Where you paint, and entertain?"

"I do very little entertaining, as you can imagine," she replied, picking up the charcoal, then choosing one of the heavy pencils instead. There was a place that needed a darker shadow, but it was at the outside corner of his eye and required a delicate touch. "But I paint and draw here. There is another larger room where I practice with my sword."

"Does Cezar allow you any freedoms? Do you ride, or shop, or visit the cafes and museums?"

"I do not leave this premises without him," she replied. "I haven't been on a horse in years. He brings entertainment here, and the seamstresses and cloth merchants. He's afraid to go above ground very often."

"It must be related to his Asthenia. Despite my generous bribes, no one has even a suspicion of what it is," Cale said. "Do you?"

She shook her head. "Do you not think I would have found a way to use it by now if I did? It is an immensely well-guarded secret. I do not believe there is anyone beyond Cezar and Lucifer himself who knows."

"But what of his makes?" Cale asked. "Would it not be clear from them?"

It was a logical question, for when a Dracule sired, or made, a new vampire, his or her Asthenia was passed on to the new immortal. In addition, the immortal gained a unique Asthenia of his or her own. Thus, the further down the evolution from Lucifer's personally invited vampires, the weaker and more vulnerable the makes were, for the more Asthenias they acquired.

But Cezar was much too smart to make such a mistake. "Contrary to what my brother implies and wishes for people to believe, he has not made any vampirs himself. At least, of which I'm aware."

That surprised Cale, for his brows rose in shock. "How can that be true? He is known for his clan of loyal servants-most of them makes-and for his influence over even the mortal world in Paris."

"But it is true. For many years, he held three Dracule captive and forced them to sire vampirs for his use. Early on, he used me in the same manner." She spoke matter-of-factly as she reshaped the line at the lower part of his ear.

Cale seemed to digest this for a moment. "Very clever. And if the sires of the vampires are under Moldavi's control, then so are the makes themselves. But you are his sister, and you cannot guess what his Asthenia is, even now?"

"All I can suspect is that it is something so common that it keeps him away from the mortal world unless the environment is very much controlled."

"Then I must count myself flattered that he accepted the invitation to visit my club."

"He admires you-your business acumen, and your wealth."

Cale nodded. "Many do," he said with that sudden smile. "I am gifted in that way. But I think your brother is more interested in my Chinese contacts, and the partnerships for the opium I can help him get."

"Cezar won't allow himself to be weak enough to become an opium eater," she told him. Then she added, "Perhaps you could sit again, monsieur. I cannot seem to get this particular..." She squinted, forgetting what she was about to say as she tried to imagine the shape that the now-absent hat had made above his right ear.

Cale sat, an amused smile softening his mouth. "So he does not want the opium for himself?"

"Oh, he does, but he doesn't indulge very often. He avoids anything that lessens his control of himself or a situation."

"I have come to that conclusion."

"Now, if you could cease from speaking for a moment, monsieur," she commanded. "I must get your mouth."

"I will if you will continue talking to me."

"Very well. Cezar wants the opium for his own occasional use, but also so he can use it to influence and control not only his allies, but also the powerful people in Paris. Mortals and otherwise. They'll buy it from him, or he'll gift them with it in order to get what he wants done."

Silence descended again as she concentrated on making the shape of his mouth perfect. With an artist's detachment, she drew the lips and shaded them, the top lip always darker than the bottom because of the way it was formed and the way it slanted out and curved into the seam of one's lips...but as she finished, her femaleness began to take over. Remembering how those lips had molded to her palm, the slip of his tongue over the sensitive skin there, and the delicate brush of his mouth, hot and tender...she had to close her eyes for a moment to steady herself.

"When you trust me enough, you'll kiss me," he said, reading her thoughts with uncanny ability. Her eyes shot open and were captured by his. "And," he added, "you'll tell me what was in the little lead box in the other chamber."

Narcise licked her own lips nervously, and felt his eyes slip to her mouth. If nothing else, the man owned his control. His desire, his taste, for her was palpable, undulating through the chamber. Her own want made her fingers shake so that she couldn't finish the stroke.

"Feathers. Brown sparrow feathers," she said softly, ignoring the sharp slice of pain from Lucifer's Mark. Even though it was no great secret-many of her rivals obviously knew what was in the lead box, and Cale could easily find out himself. But he asked, and she wanted to give him the information freely. She wanted to give him something of herself. "The first thing I saw when I woke the morning after...the morning after Luce visited me...was a sparrow, singing in the tree outside my bedroom window."

He nodded in acknowledgment. "Thank you, Narcise. That's a beginning. And that's all I need from you now."

He looked as if he were about to say something more, but then his body tensed. At the same time, Narcise turned to look toward the door. She heard the footfalls, too. By the time Belial and Monique entered the chamber, Cale had stuffed the peach pits back into his mouth and replaced the hat. He was holding a cup of the coffee, and a piece of the sweet bread David enjoyed in the other hand.

Narcise positioned herself closer to Belial in order to distract him from Cale as the latter packed up his satchel and prepared to leave. She was favored with one covert glance, warm and intense, from beneath the hat brim, and then her false tutor was walking out the door.

She wondered when and how she'd see him again, and realized all at once how badly she wanted to.

Was she falling in love again?

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