„Kisses honeyed by oblivion."
Christian Nevell Boove
Friday came swiftly and met the people of the United States' east coast with a gust of warm wind that blew away the lingering clouds from the day before. The temperature rose again and, although the heat thankfully stayed elsewhere, one could remain outside without fearing to freeze.
A balmy draft made its way into an enormous study and, after dancing with the curtains, ruffled the hair of the man sitting at the desk. Richard Graham however did not pay heed to the breeze that made the papers on the mahogany surface whisper. His mind was elsewhere.
The usually sharp eyes of the magnate were staring into space while he turned the current situation over in his brain again and again. A situation like this was rare which had mostly to do with the involvement of his oldest daughter. Cassandra. The one who generally was the one to solve problems, not create them. The responsible offspring who had everything under control and made his life comfortable. Now she was the reason for his headache.
Graham wasn't a man who kept business and private life strictly separated. Even if he'd wanted it just wasn't possible, not with Damien and his friends being junior partners and up until now the combination of everything had worked smoothly. But when Cordelia had gleefully told him the news of his oldest daughter and his wealthiest costumer going on a date that very evening he couldn't help but entertain the idea of playing the father-card and forbid Cassandra to go. His wife must have known what went on in his thoughts because a warning glance was thrown in his direction when she closed the door to leave him to his business. He hadn't done a stitch since then.
A weary hand was drawn over his forehead and he stretched a bit. Deciding that he was at liberty to feel old, after all his daughter was going out with his costumer, he came to a conclusion.
The noises behind the door were indubitably female chatter which fell silent the instant his fist knocked on the light wood.
"Cassie? Are you decent?"
The fathers' question roused a round of high-pitched giggles from the inside before the calm voice of his oldest called out to him.
"Yes father. Do come in."
Leaving the door open behind him, Richard entered the room under the shine of four grins. Nefer, Raphie, Grace and Tess all beamed at him in various states of delight from barely suppressed sniggers in Theresa's case, to a shy curl of Gracie's lips. Only Cassandra's smile was as respectful and polished as always.
To his surprise Stephanie was nowhere to be seen which told him that a) the meeting had most probably not been planned and b) that the topics discussed had not been deemed fit for the ears of a twelve-year old girl.
"Cassie I need to talk to you. Alone." That was hint enough for the younger sisters whose smirks vanished within the split of a second. They got up from the cream-coloured couches and began to leave the room immediately afterwards, not without sending their sibling looks that ranged from worried to pitying.
Only after the door had closed behind Tess and the footsteps of the girls had vanished down the corridor did Richard start to speak again.
His long slender fingers were closing the golden cufflinks when he heard his mobile phone ring in the other room. Not a minute later it was presented to him by Mikhail who handed it over with a blank expression. The name on the screen made him raise his brows.
"Duchovny. Good that you call. How far have you come with the planning?" When the voice at the other end started to talk rapidly his forehead creased.
"Wait. You are WHERE?"
A small single drop of perfumed liquid was gently dabbed behind a bejewelled ear. Then, after a last checking gaze in the vanity's mirror, the woman straightened up to turn to the other females. Four pairs of brown eyes and one pair of grey regarded her as she stood there.
"You look beautiful Cassie. The Count won't be able to take his eyes off of you." Gracie's sighed declaration held every romantic hope that a girl of seventeen kept in her head.
"Well I sincerely hope that he will also watch the piece otherwise I have no idea what to talk about over dinner."
"Oh please." Tess shook her head that her brown curls went flying. "It's not as if the two of you have anything in common. Of course not. Who ever got the idea that you could talk about similar likes and dislikes at dinner? Honestly!" The last word was uttered with a huff.
"Well, you would know Queeny. After all you are his little informant." The taunt from Raphaela made the younger sister scowl. Before she could retort however the oldest stepped in.
"What are the plans of you ladies tonight? Will you be home?" The casual statement had the tension dissolve a bit and when Cassandra picked up her white purse and wrap she noted with satisfaction that the apprehension from seconds ago was receding again.
Nefer shrugged nonchalantly.
"I think we will. At least nothing has been planned for now." Shrewd looks and grimaces were thrown in Amelia's direction by her siblings, except Stephanie who had been very quiet throughout the day in general.
Cass however wouldn't notice the silent exchange for she was in the process of placing the satin-and-fur wrap around her shoulders and when her eyes turned back towards the others they had schooled their expressions again into casualness.
The blonde woman smiled.
"Very well. But please don't wait up for me ladies. It can get late." After pressing a kiss to each of their cheeks and a last stroke of over the head of the youngest she left the room, the heels of her silver sandals clicking on the parquet.
It was in moments like this that Mikhail admired his Master more than ever. Not two hours ago the plans of the Count had to undergo a violent change due to a single phone call. A lesser man would have thrown the mobile against a wall after hearing the news but not Dracula. When the conversation had been over he had calmly told his valet to book the next flight leaving to the US West coast before resuming getting ready for the date he had with the daughter of his business partner. Now the blue eyes of the king of vampires were studying the programme of the evening while his valet steered the limousine through the iron-wrought gates and onto the premises of Graham Manor.
What the servant would never know was that behind the composed exterior Dracula was seething. He just had a better check on his temper than in former times. Resisting the urge of pinching the bridge of his nose he inwardly cursed his event manager who had to be so stupid as to try to steal from the state and get himself caught. He should make the man pay for his terrible timing alone because now he definitely wouldn't be able to go too far with Cassandra tonight.
The upcoming flight at six in the morning was certainly not fitting into the picture of the woman's "education". Yet he had to fly if he didn't want to become the laughing stock of vampire society. A society he himself had created and which was as spoiled at its' Master when it came to entertainments.
Sun started to set when the dark car stopped in front of the entrance and the Count shoved all thoughts of business away. He'd be damned again if he wouldn't enjoy the night and the company.
His black evening coat swishing around his legs, Dracula ascended the steps to where Jenkins already held the front door open for him and soon he entered the grand foyer. Black wing tips on marble stopped though, the moment he got aware of the woman waiting for him at the base of the staircase.
The evening lights from outside set Cassandra's white dress on fire. He was only able to see parts of it as she wore a stole around her shoulders but he knew she had chosen well. Creamy pearls, just a shade lighter than the skin of their owner adorned her earlobes as well as the combs in her hair which was gathered in an updo of tiny curls at the back of her head. As far as he could see she wore no other jewellery, her neck and throat being bare and the sudden need to mar the perfect with two puncture marks arose in him. Before it consumed his rational mind however he stepped towards her and bowed, bestowing the back of her hand with a gentle kiss when she curtseyed. The burn that had spoiled the spot where now his lips brushed, was gone, result of his goodbye the other evening where he had literally "kissed the pain away" without her noticing.
"Miss Graham. Beautiful as always."
"Thank you Sir."
She bowed her head in gratitude.
"I'm afraid my parents are not able to greet you, they accepted the invitation of one of our neighbours. They asked me however to forward their most heartfelt regards."
The following small talk was kept short and not before long she took his offered arm out of the house towards the car so they could be on their way to the performance.
It wasn't an opera per se that they would watch though it was housed in the Metropolitan. It was a ballet and Cassandra wasn't able to hide her delight when the Count handed her a colourful programme and she finally got to know where he was whisking her off to. "The Beauty and the Beast."
His piercing eyes observed her as she quickly leaved through the little booklet he had presented her with and he silently thanked Theresa who had provided him with the information that this particular ballet was one of those few Miss Graham had not seen yet.
Feeling a sense of pride well up, he responded to her pleased smile with one of his own when she looked back at him. Her dusty pupils that sometimes were rather hard to read shone with delight and inwardly he congratulated himself on a successful start of the evening.
The entrance hall of the Met was packed with people dressed up to the nines and Cassandra was familiar with many of them. Faces turned towards her when she entered on the Count's arm and if it hadn't been for many years she had already spent in the midst of society she would have felt self-conscious. But today the stares of others dripped off like water from a feather and her attention centred on the tall man walking next to her.
It seemed that this was one of those premiere nights that only the very well-off would be able to grace with their presence. The extra helps that were employed this evening to take care of the esteemed guests confirmed her suspicion.
At occasions like this the staff of the opera changed the layout of the usual seating and with the help of plant pots and nicely painted partitions separated the bigger boxes to give the rich occupants a bit of intimacy. A bit of nervousness started to creep up her stomach when she thought about being "alone" with her father's business partner in a dark opera house. It had no chance to linger however. An employee of the Met moved towards them to help with their coats but her escort stopped the man with a regal gesture when he wanted to assist Cassandra with her wrap.
"I'll do that myself."
She could feel his breath on her neck as the Count took her fur away from her shoulders his gloved fingers grazing her collarbone in the progress. While she repressed a shudder he passed her stole together with his evening cloak and gloves to the waiting employee.
A small smirk played around the vampire's lips as he looked away from the woman to give the servant something to do. Naturally he had noticed her being affected by his light touch and filed the information away for further use. After taking on a more sedate expression he turned back to the blonde woman next to him finally being able to take in all of her dress.
The white gown was held together by a pearl adornment at Cassandra's right shoulder leaving the other one bare. A similar embellishment sat on her left hip and together with the split reaching to mid calf at the front of the skirt, the dress was draped in a way that was showing off the figure of his companion in a becoming but not blatant way. Not too much but exactly enough and once more he had to notice that Miss Graham seemed to be quite well versed in the matters of regal understatement.
Placing a hand on the small of her back, Dracula guided her to their seats. The silk was smooth under his fingers and he suspected that the skin beneath would show a similar texture. Anything else would not have suited the woman who stiffened when she felt his palm gently leading her to "their" booth and he bent down to whisper into her ear.
"If I may compliment you on your choice of attire Miss Graham…white looks very fetching on you." His thumb softly stroked over the cloth, closing in to his hand, and this time she wasn't able to suppress a shiver.
"Thank you Sir. I'm glad you like the dress."
It sounded a tad shaky and Cassandra was glad when she was allowed to sit down on a plush chair. The opera house was buzzing with noise and she overlooked the crowd with interest. Even though she was used to this kind of hullabaloo it was exciting each and every time anew. The anxiety and vibrations that hung over an audience before the start of a piece were always unique and she soaked them in like a familiar wine that tasted good no matter how often one sampled it.
Dracula watched her as she viewed the throng of people, her eyes half-lidded and restless as they jumped from piece to piece of the big picture, her nostrils blown as if she wanted to get a sense of every fragrance hanging about the room, from the perfumes of the women over the scent of the flowers to the wood of the stage.
Her sudden elated chuckle made him move behind her chair.
"May I ask what is so amusing?" Bowing down to her level to hear her response Dracula followed the direction of her nod and he got aware of a couple seated in the box directly opposite theirs.
"These are Sebastian and Anna Taylor. Have you met?" Cassandra turned her head only to look directly into his face. The unexpected nearness of him had her blood run a bit faster through her veins and if she hadn't known better she would have said that he was aware of the fact that she felt a bit breathless. He held her gaze just a tad too long for her to be comfortable before he answered her question.
"I can't say I've had the pleasure. What of them?"
"They are the parents of the young lady I introduced you to at the charity bazaar. Melanie."
Dracula nodded in recognition.
"Ah yes I remember. Anybody else you are acquainted with?" He motioned to the rest of the audience.
Indeed there was. Gesturing inconspicuously towards certain people she visually introduced him to half of the upper class of the area. Or, to be more precise, the half he hadn't known already.
Meanwhile they were observed too. The image they gave to the onlookers spoke of an intimacy both were not aware of. The Count had grasped the back of Cassandra's seat supporting his weight as he bent down, his eyes flickering between the female and the people she pointed out. His mean was that of an attentive listener and his smile here and there developed into a light chuckle when she would tell him a short anecdote. The woman's cheek was next to his and the general closeness of their stance would give gossipers material for days to come.
Eventually they noticed the stares that more or less obvious were directed towards them and Dracula straightened up to take his own place on the female's left.
Cassandra's eyes locked with those of Anna Taylor who smirked at her friend. Then the lights darkened and the performance began.
"How wonderful." One hand safely tucked in the Count's elbow a glass of champagne in the other Cassandra wandered alongside him through the halls of the opera.
Intermission had started a few minutes ago and would end a bit later than usual to give the upper crust enough time to mingle. It was just like the old days when the rustling of gowns and jewellery reflecting the lights of heavy chandeliers were common occurrences.
"And that was only the first part." Out of the corner of his eyes the vampire glanced down at her feeling her raised brow more than really seeing it.
"Are you teasing me Sir?" Her voice was a mixture of amused irritation and curiosity and when he looked fully at the female next to him; her eyes glittered with an unspoken challenge.
"I would never dare Miss Graham."
"Of course not." Was it him or had he heard a mocking undertone?
"Are you doubting me?" Tilting his head he regarded her, waiting for the well-known blush to arrive.
"I would never dare Sir."
Cassandra smile was bright, showing a row of teeth as light as her pearls. The tranquil way in which she threw his own retort back at him, like a well-placed match ball, had him stare at her for a moment. Then he started to laugh.
"Well done my dear." He raised his glass in a tribute before they were interrupted by the calling of his companion's name and they could make out the Taylor's walking towards them.
Anna and Sebastian were the definition of "happy, rich, young couple enjoying a night out". The suit of the husband was most definitely tailor made and the woman's lime green dress and diamonds were screaming money. In the casual self-assured way that comes with being bred into households that are neither lacking funds nor the means to invest them, they strolled towards their friend and her escort. Both holding dainty champagne flutes of their own, the two of them made a very handsome couple. Anna's almost black curls and olive complexion contrasted vividly with Sebastian's strawberry blonde hair and his very light skin and they would often joke that they were made for each other like cream cheese and pumpernickel.
"Cassie. How good to see you."
Introductions were made, kisses between the women exchanged and then they found themselves engulfed in the topics of the performance, the weather in general, little Melanie and…golf.
"So, Count Dragulia do you play?" Sebastian was a passionate golf player who, to the chagrin of his wife, could spend whole days on the greens. This time however Anna didn't abruptly changed the topic as she was known to do whenever her significant other started to natter about his most favourite hobby. Before Dracula could remind the other man, who was happily going into the subjects of clubs and handicaps, that there were ladies present, the wife seized the opportunity.
"We'll be back in a second we need to powder our noses." Cassandra had just enough time to set her glass aside before her arm was grasped and she was half-dragged away towards the direction of the powder rooms.
The moment the door had closed behind them a cloud of different perfumes surrounded the women, hanging with an almost suffocating thickness below the ceiling. Anna looked at Cass with a devious grin.
"You lucky lucky lucky woman you. What a catch. Have you noticed how handsome he is? Of course you have after all you showed up with him here today. If I wasn't married…. Wow. Just wow. You have my blessing to do whatever you want with him."
The blonde female waited patiently until Anna was finished with her exclamation.
"I have no idea what you are talking about. He is a costumer of my father's and a friend of both my parents it was only polite to accompany him when he asked me. There is nothing behind it." Checking her hair in one of the mirrors she tried to appear indifferent.
A very unladylike scoff escaped her friend's lips before she followed the other woman's example and readjusted her necklace.
"Oh please Cassie are you listening to yourself? Maybe you'd like to remember that I was watching you earlier. The way you talked to each other didn't exactly look like "nothing". What are your plans for the rest of the evening? Is he getting you home after the performance?" Making sure her earrings were secured she glimpsed at her friend.
The oldest Miss Graham could feel a soft blush rising on her cheeks when she confessed that she would be taken out for dinner, a statement that only supported Anna in her claims.
"AHA. See he wants more than just a bit of talk with his architect's daughter. This night might last longer than you have planned. Oh I'm so envious."
The last bit was meant jokingly and Cassandra took it as at that. It was the sentence before that struck a cord. Her sisters had said similar things to her trying their hands at advice before her father had interrupted the impromptu meeting and suddenly all the little moments when the Count had touched her or even only talked to her came back to her mind. What did he expect from her? And how much was she ready to give?
The nervousness from ago crept up again as well as a startling wariness regarding the rest of the night. Anna though did not notice and chatted happily away as they walked back to where they had left the men. The bell rang. It was time for the second part of the ballet.
Unseeing grey eyes stared at the stage where the dancers performed while Cassandra's mind ran rampant. Her friend's words had stirred memories both recent and old ones and her apprehension increased within the minute, making it impossible for her to concentrate on the show.
The fingers of her right hand found her other arm and there, in tense anxiety, an outlet. The scar was pricked mercilessly, the manicured nails pulling at the skin while the woman's imagination occupied her to the extent of not being aware of her general surroundings anymore.
She jumped when suddenly a hand enclosed her left wrist and pulled. Gently but surely the Count drew her arm towards him and into his lap. His eyes never left the stage but when she tried to tug his hold got a tad stronger.
Left hand enclosing hers to keep it where it was, his right started to stroke the angry skin of her arm soothingly. Up and down his fingertips smoothed over the heated flesh and she could feel the pain she had brought on herself subsiding.
However the whole gesture did nothing for her composure in general and when his fingers dug into her palm in a soft rubbing motion her breath came in short gasps. She knew she should draw her arm back but even if he would have let her, she couldn't. Her whole universe was reduced to her hand and she shuddered when his thumb ran over her Venus mount.
The rest of the performance raced by in a blur though now of entirely different reasons than before. He did not let go of her until the curtain was closed and the lights went on again. They had not even clapped for those who had presented the ballet.
Around them the people started to move. Cassandra's left hand was raised from its position and cool, dry lips pressed against the palm directly where the scar ended. At long last the Count's eyes met hers before breaking the kiss. His hand gently closed hers before he helped her to stand on quivering knees.
"Come. Let's eat."
It was near Central Park that the dark limousine stopped and the doors were opened by the bowing chauffeur. Once more offering his arm Dracula guided Cassie to a downwards leading staircase.
"Allow me to show you the dingy parts of the city Miss Graham."
He preceded her down the steps like every gentleman would do in case the lady tethered and fell. His statement couldn't have been more correct for the area seemed indeed to be quite questionable and there was a bit of hesitation in the woman's pace as she followed him. As they turned a corner into a small opening the sudden light was almost blinding. Lamps on each of the surrounding walls lit up the place and when Cassandra looked up she could make out surveillance cameras.
At the opposite wall potted rose bushes flanked a double-glass door which was opened by two liveried doormen to the approaching couple.
Cassie's heels sank into the lush red carpet and she didn't even have time to read the name of the restaurant before she was inside and her escort assisted her with her stole once more. This time his caress was more than discernable but somehow she didn't find the will to tell him to stop. On the contrary, each small touch of his made her both more comfortable with him but also more nervous of what would become of the night. A mixture of feelings swirled through her blood making her dizzy with anticipation and heady with long suppressed need and when a uniformed waiter showed them the way to their table she followed him unfocused. It was only when the Count, who had pulled out her chair for her, asked her if she liked the place he had chosen that she snapped out of her daze, silently berating herself that she had let her manners slip. After quickly scanning the room she was able to answer him in the affirmative though.
The restaurant he had brought her to was small and intimate but undoubtedly expensive. Round tables made out of Brazilian Rosewood were positioned in a way that gave each costumer the impression of being alone. The surrounding potted rose bushes, similar to the ones she had seen outside, separated the different parties and gave off a gentle but unobtrusive scent that spun through the air around them. Dim lights added to the scenery of a rose garden by night and somehow the setting finally helped Cassandra to unwind a bit and calm her taught nerves.
"This is really beautiful Sir. I never knew such a place existed."
Dracula smiled at the apparent delight of the woman seated opposite him.
"I'm pleased that you like it. It's an insider's tip and has only been open for a few months now."
A waiter appeared next to the table, not the one who had led them to their seats first, but a young man who couldn't be much older than Cassandra. He didn't seem to be very comfortable and when he started to speak it was clear why he was so edgy. The French accent was unmistakeable.
"Bonsoir Madame, Monsieur. I'm Èmile votre waiter for the evening…." He stopped, obviously trying to search for an English word. His fingers clutched the menus in desperation when he couldn't seem to find it and Cassie's heart went out to him. Forgetting that just moments ago she had been as uneasy as this employee before her, she addressed him in the language she had grown up with.
"Good evening. Have you been long in the States Èmile?"
The waiter couldn't have been more shocked if she had stood up and danced on the table. Dracula had to suppress his mirth when he saw the mortified mean of the attendant before the young man shook his head…most probably in both an attempt to clear his thoughts and an answer to the woman's question.
"No Madame. I arrived only three weeks ago. I apologize; usually my English is a lot better."
"Don't worry. Personally I prefer French to English…"
Closely observing the woman, who was focussed entirely on setting the waiter at ease, Dracula had to perceive how much of a difference the language made.
Cassandra's French was perfect, the accent flawless and it flowed like water tingling in his ears resembling the sweetest music. Her tone of voice, already soft in English, had adopted a silky texture and it was as if a different person sat there, conversing with the server, than the woman he had gotten to know during the last few weeks. Somehow she had suddenly become less serene as if together with the language her accustomed lifestyle had been substituted.
His ponderings were interrupted when the young man remembered his profession and, in French of course, told them about the daily specials and handed them the menu's. When he left them to their choosing his posture had unmistakeably straightened.
Cassie's eyes met those of the Count who had leaned back, a peculiar smile curling the corners of his mouth. For a moment neither of them said anything.
"Pity Miss Graham?"
"I know from my own experience how he must be feeling, that's all." His dark eyebrows rose in an unspoken query and she gave further information, her hands locking together on the table.
"I was fourteen when came to the USA. The adjustment to a different language taking over my daily life needed a bit of time." Her expression grew wistful, remembering events that had occurred in what felt like another existence.
"I thought you were brought up bilingual."
Straightening up he opened the velvet cover of his menu, his gaze flicking back and forth between her and the meals of French cuisine, written down in both languages on thick creamy paper. The female followed his example and soon they held their conversation over the sound of pages being turned.
"Oh I did. But I was mostly with my grandmother and she only spoke French with me so I was much more used to this language than to English." The Count looked up from a description of a basil salmon terrine to regard her with furrowed brows.
"Wasn't she born in Britain? At least that's what your father told me."
"Oh he was right, grand-mère was British and therefore my mother grew up in a bilingual household, too. When she was sixteen however my grandmother's father died and the disinheritance he had threatened her with when she had run away with grand-père became legal and official. Grand-mère refused to speak English from that day on and I learned the language from my parents."
The fact that her parents hadn't been the ones to raise her was left unspoken but from what he had heard by now it was easy for him to put two and two together. She must have been brought to the USA after her grandmother had died and had naturally been much better versed in French than in English; a problem that seemed to have been remedied by now except for certain circumstances.
Remembering that just a day before she had slipped into her first language when she had been more than distressed meant that the French words must linger directly beneath the surface and would take over instinctively the moment her brain wasn't able to digest English anymore. It was just the same with him and Romanian. In the centuries of his life Dracula had learned to be fluent in more than a few languages but his mother tongue would always sojourn at the back of his head.
"In which language are you thinking in?" The query was a bold one but she didn't reprimand him. Tilting her head she contemplated the question.
"It depends on the situation I think and on the location. When I'm at my grandfather's house I think in French. Here I think in English most of the time."
The Count nodded in understanding before turning towards the waiter who had just arrived again to take their orders.
Dracula had to admit that he hadn't often had such an agreeable dinner companion. After their initial "language-talk" the two of them had switched between various topics somehow arriving at his own childhood. With apt attention she had listened to his anecdotes pleasing him with her laughter and her interest and with each passing second the woman from the letters emerged more and more. Her smile started to deepen when light banter alternated with serious conversation, the words flying over their respective dishes of lamb in his case and pigeon in hers, a choice that had surprised him. None of them however touched the issue of the previous day, quietly agreeing that there was no room tonight for both the scene he had witnessed and his comforting her in the conservatory.
"Lully or Rameau Miss Graham?" They had arrived at the desert course and, consequently, at the subject of music which had developed into an unannounced game of twenty questions regarding personal preferences.
"Oh that's hard. Can I say both?"
"I'm afraid not. You have to decide for one of them."
An expression of comical despair flittered over the blonde woman's face and he had to hide his grin behind his hand. Chewing on a small piece of chocolate tarte she appeared to be pondering the two given options quite hard.
"This wasn't meant to be a mental exercise session Miss Graham." Unable to keep the amusement out of his voice the Count was on the receiving end of a playful glower, shot at him from beneath full lashes.
"You laugh about a very grave matter here milord. I like them equally." The teasing lilt of hers told Dracula that she wasn't seriously scolding him.
"Not counting Miss Graham. Come on, you must have a preference." Watching her slim fingers play with the stem of her wine glass he took a sip out of his own, the Red Burgundy dancing over his palate similar to the way her French had spun in his ears.
"Very well, I choose Rameau. Lully can be a bit stuffy at times."
"Stuffy? How eloquent."
Daintily but with gusto she finished her piece of tarte.
"You don't agree with me Sir?"
"I agree that Lully has a tendency to drift into the altisonant but I'd hardly call him stuffy." Dabbing his mouth with his cloth napkin he waited for her answer.
"I concur that my word choice could have been better. But there are parts in some of his pieces where he overdoes the majestic worshipping of his king and then it becomes oppressive."
"So you are of the opinion that a person can only be worshipped so much before it starts to be burdensome?"
His sharp look made her startle but then she thought she had seen a fleeting twinkle in those blue eyes of his. Deciding to take the risk of displeasing him she raised her chin.
"If I wouldn't know better milord, I'd say you are twisting my words."
The smirk he bestowed her with was the epitome of crafty. Reaching forward he caught her hand in his before she could draw it back and had his thumb caress her knuckles.
"And do you know better?"
SHE swallowed, her pulse beating in her ears and Cassandra prayed that he wouldn't feel it pounding while he held her hand in his.
"I'm not sure," She admitted and both of them knew that they weren't talking about music or words anymore.
"Why the uncertainty? Maybe I can help you to set you at ease."
Within a moment the conversation had taken on a whole different quality. It was further enhanced when he lifted her hand to press his mouth to where seconds before his thumb had been and the Count could feel the tremor running over her arm as his cool, dry lips met her skin. Observing her from beneath his lids he turned her hand to repeat the action with the palm just as he had done with her left at the opera.
Cassandra's breath caught as his kiss burned her skin and she gave into the urge to pull at her hand. He would have none of it. Placing it back on the table he still held fast and started his stroking motion again, never letting her out of his sight.
"There is no need to be so tense, my dear; you have nothing to fear from me. I won't do anything you don't want me to. All you have to do is to say stop and I will."
As he had anticipated his words helped to have the stiffness of her posture ebb away a bit, at the same time however telling her that he would proceed if she let him. The vampire knew the double meaning wasn't lost on her when she inhaled deeply and nodded.
"Thank you Sir."
Once more silence reigned between them but this time it was a comfortable one with Cassie allowing herself to enjoy the man's administrations to her hand. The sudden notion occurred to her if her father had courted her mother this way, with touches and reassurement, a thought that stroke a chord.
"Oh I almost failed to remember…"
Taking her hand away she grasped her purse, the loss of his touch more than evident.
"Father gave me this for you. He said you'd know what to do with it."
A ring with five keys became visible and she handed them over. Richard had given them to his oldest daughter that very morning, when he had interrupted her talk with the girls, with the assignment to transfer them to his costumer.
Studying the gleaming keys Dracula couldn't help but wonder about the other man's point and Cassandra seemed to be as bewildered as he was.
"Did he mention anything else?"
"Only that he forgot them the other day."
"Ah. Of course."
Every light bulb of New York switched on in the Count's head when he eventually understood what kind of keys these were and he explained.
"Your father and I have some kind of deal, one could say. When I'm still interested in a property after he has shown me around the premises, he hands over the keys to me for a day or two, so I can take a look on my own again during that time. I often need more than one walk around a house to discern if I'm able or not to feel at home in there."
"But if father has showed you the house already why didn't he give you the keys directly afterwards?"
"This one is a special case Miss Graham. I only know the property from pictures yet I'm very interested in buying it. Your father forgot the keys yesterday; therefore he seems to have used you as a messenger to deliver them to me."
The ring vanished into the pocket of his trousers.
"Please thank him from me for the consideration."
"I will Sir. You are intending to buy property in the area then?"
"To be honest I haven't fully decided yet." Fiddling with the gold hoop in his right earlobe he inwardly viewed the pictures he had received of the house.
"It depends on my opinion after I have seen it. The photographs are very promising however." Her interested expression made him describe the images that had been sent to him when she unexpectedly started to laugh.
"And one of the parlours is laid out with black marble am I right?"
"You know the place?"
"Indeed I do. I had my debut there when I was sixteen and the house still belonged to the old Mrs Milton."
Now it was his turn to be engrossed.
"Could you tell me a few things about the house?"
While emptying her wine she mused over things that would be of use for him before declaring defeat.
"Well Sir; it's been a while since I have been there. I always thought it to be very beautiful, from what I remember the layout is very pleasant and airy. It's also quite central just a few blocks from here though very quiet on the inside. The only other thing that comes to my mind is how very slippery that marble was during dancing."
She smiled at him in an apologetic fashion and the Count made a decision. Opportunities should be seized as they occurred.
"Let's take a look at it."
Obviously she hadn't expected that kind of idea.
"I beg your pardon?"
"If the property is just around the corner why not put the keys to use? You could show me around…that is, if you are not too tired." Silkily he threw the bait towards her waiting for her to take it or declare him insane. After a few seconds of her studying him, clearly trying to perceive his intentions, Cassandra nodded.
It was late in the night when the car stopped in front of the dark house. The couple that swiftly made its way to the entrance however didn't seem to mind the hour, their steps showing no sign of exhaustion besides the long day that already lay behind both the man and the woman.
After unlocking with the keys Dracula preceded Cassandra into the house for none of them knew if there wouldn't be unforeseen problems behind the big oak door with its stained glass windows. Everything stayed silent the only noise being the sound of their breaths followed by a sharp "click" as the Count operated the light switch. Only one of the lamps in the foyer lit up, with the others the light bulbs were missing. But even the dim shine of that single lamp proved that his escort had remembered correctly - the setting was very spacey. A door on his right most probably led to the representative rooms and a spiral staircase was winding up in front of them towards the second and third floor.
Somehow the empty house made Cassandra uneasy. The white sheets that were undoubtedly covering furniture seemed to be alive with the shadows playing over them and the barely-there light certainly didn't help matters. Unconsciously she stepped closer towards the Count, a movement that wasn't lost on him.
"Shall we take a short tour?"
A comforting hand was put on her back, directly between her shoulder blades and commanding herself to cease being a coward the woman nodded.
"Yes. The room I told you about should be on the second floor." Even though both of them were whispering their voices were thrown back at them by the walls of the hall in a way that gave Cass goose-bumps. The sound of her heels resonated around them as they ascended the stairs.
On the upper floor it got better though. Carpets swallowed a lot of the noise and the two of them took a look at the various rooms discovering a study with an adjoining library as well as sitting rooms of various sizes, including the parlour with the black marble. Everywhere they were presented with the same picture of only one lamp functioning and with sheets enveloping furniture.
The third level housed the bedrooms which were in the same condition as the other's before them with one exception. The last chamber they encountered was a very small room and when the Count tried the switch on the wall nothing happened. The only remarkable item was a wide seat in front of the big window which overlooked the backyard and provided the sole light source for them.
Cassandra moved towards the glass and peered at the yard the subdued light from the city outside catching in her hair and illuminating her features. There was not much to be seen but the dim outlines of bushes and she already wanted to step away when she felt the Counts presence at her back. He stood close but not yet touching her and his breath played with the small curls at her neck that were short enough to escape the confinement of her updo.
"Close your eyes."
His voice, although silent and gentle, broke no argument and she did as she had been told. The rustle of his cloak had her ears strain to distinguish anything that would tell her the meaning of this when the air shifted, closely to her cheek. Just as she thought she couldn't take it anymore he gave the delivering directive.
"You may look again."
The sight that met her made her turn around to him in surprise. Directly in front of her face his hand held up a box, wrapped in dark purple paper finished off by a golden ribbon.
"Sir…" Cassandra realized that she was gaping and she quickly closed her mouth again.
"Open it." Dracula still held the present up on eye level of the woman who could only shake her head in astonishment and denial.
"Milord that's too much. You are spoiling me."
"And what did I tell you before about the spoiling of females?"
"You also sent me out into a room full of vultures a few hours afterwards."
The objection was dismissed immediately by curt shake of his head.
"If I had thought for one minute that you would have been unable to face them I'd have intervened. Make no mistake Miss Graham, pushing you beyond your limits is not my intention. I do not tolerate cowardice though. But back to the matter at hand…are you saying that you are refusing my gift?" The manner in which the question was delivered made her quiver.
"It's too much, I can't take it. Really Sir…I can't".
"You can and you will Miss Graham! I will not take no for an answer!" His blue eyes were piercing her and the smirk around his lips was positively conniving. "Come on my dear, open it! You know you want to."
There was no way out and so she slowly took the offered present from his hands. Despite its size it was quite heavy and when the Count carefully pulled the dust-sheet away from the window seat so she could sit down, Cassandra bestowed him with a grateful smile. Curiosity merged with anxiety as she pulled at the ribbon and opened the box, her slim fingers teasing away the underlying tissue paper.
Dracula knew exactly when she had seen what was inside. Her gasp filled the air and her wide eyes were a rare triumph. Taking a seat next to her he watched her cautiously holding the porcelain figurine in he hands, the same one she had admired two days ago in a little antiquities shop. The one, whose sibling had belonged to her grandmother and had been broken a long time ago.
Soft fingertips ran lovingly over the china ruffles of the dress, the dance card and the exquisite features of the little rococo belle. Then the little statuette was thoroughly repacked and the box set aside before Cassandra turned towards the man at her side.
"Thank you Sir. I have no idea how…" She interrupted herself to take a deep breath and regain her composure. Her face laid open for him and her eyes shone brighter than usual.
"You are welcome Miss Graham. I knew she was for you the moment I saw her."
"Thank you again milord." Her gaze wandered where she had put the box. "She is so beautiful."
"That she is."
The indefinable undertone of the statement made her look back at him to discover that his eyes had never seemed to have gone after hers to the gift but had stayed on her the whole time. His hand came up to cup her cheek, the thumb stroking the cheekbone tenderly before tracing a path down to her mouth, following the line of her under lip. Blue pupils locked with grey ones before he leaned in, stopping just inches before her face. Their breaths mingled and in the end Cassandra wouldn't know which one of them had closed the final distance between them. All she knew was that he was kissing her, slowly and leisurely his cool lips brushing against hers, once, twice, applying gentle pressure.
The Count had felt her stiffen the instant their mouths had met. The muscles of her neck had gone taut beneath his hand and when she didn't respond at first he silently berated himself for overdoing it.
Just when he decided to break away again he could feel a subtle movement beneath his lips and he realized that she had started to kiss him back.
His fingers began to rub over her neck trying to encourage her further. It seemed to work, Cassandra's lips encountering his with rising vehemence and when his left arm came up around her waist to pull her closer the last resistance broke. With a small whimper she opened her mouth beneath him and his tongue swept in tasting her deeply for the very first time, meeting hers for a heady dance that had her strength seep away.
The kiss was broken so she could catch her breath, and from the way her chest heaved against his it was sorely needed. He never gave her a chance to think too deeply about what had just happened though. Shifting his weight he leaned back against the window with his right thigh resting on the seat before he swiftly pulled her towards him, situating her comfortably between his legs. His right arm curled around her shoulders and when his head dipped down to her neck there was no way for her to escape. Not that Cassandra had wanted to. Her whole world at this moment consisted of his mouth on her skin, the familiar scent of his cologne and the silk of his hair beneath her hands. A ragged moan escaped her when he nipped at the sensitive spot below her ear. It brought his attention back to her lips and all she could do was respond to his demands when he once more placed his mouth over hers. The white wrap slid away but the woman didn't mind. Her fingers had managed to open the clasp of his cloak slipping beneath the evening jacket to find the muscles of his chest.
The touch was burning through the cloth of his shirt and Dracula wouldn't have been surprised if the heat that waved around them would have scorched the walls. When his brain started to calculate the distance between their current location and the next five start hotel however, he knew he had to do something. Squashing the roaring beast that demanded to take her now, if necessary on one of the dust-sheet-covered beds in this house, he tore his lips away from her.
"We need to stop."
The woman in his arms slowly regained a hold of her senses and with this the inevitable humiliation rose high in her cheeks. His hand found her chin before she could hide from him. Cassandra's eyes, which moments ago had been glazed over, were now filled with confusion and tried very hard not to meet his. In vain. The Count's gaze drew her in, forcing her to put her attention to his words.
"If we continue like this I can't guarantee you that we won't treat ourselves to a second desert. I have a flight in a few hours. Some things shouldn't be rushed, second deserts included." Satisfied he saw a small smile dart over her lips, which were red and slightly swollen and at the sight of them he couldn't resist kissing her yet again. Before it got out of hand he pulled back once more and pressed his mouth to her forehead and her hairline.
"I apologize for the bad timing. I'll make it up to you. Let' see…" Placing her head on his shoulder he held her close, his fingers stroking the blonde tresses just as he had done the evening before, tenderly and comforting.
"I'll come back on Monday evening and have a business appointment on Tuesday….Dine with me on Wednesday."
Cassie didn't respond immediately, visibly turning the proposal over in her mind. If today was any indication then it was more than evident what would happen the next time she'd be alone with him. Yet…was it so bad? To deny that her body hungered for him would have been a lie and she had to admit that she wouldn't have been able to stop when he had. Too long was the time since she had last been touched in a sensual fashion, since somebody had kissed her and held her close.
"Wednesday?" Her voice was raspy but he'd understood her.
"Wednesday. I'll have my driver pick you up around seven."
"Yes." One single word but it made him feel instantly victorious.
"We should get you home." He helped her stand before straightening up himself. After having adjusted his cloak within seconds he took the stole out of her hands.
"Let me do that."
Trustingly she turned her back on him, displaying her bare neck and shoulder and he swore that he would make Duchovny very sorry for imposing on his time. Resisting the creamy skin of the woman in front of him proved to be impossible though and the two quick nips above her collarbone and at the base of her neck made her gasp in that delectable way before he covered up temptation with the wrap.
"Don't forget what I said at the restaurant." Just as the vampire had intended the murmur at her ear reminded her of her right to stop anytime and helped her to look forward to the next Wednesday more calmly. Never mind that he would make sure that she wouldn't get an opportunity to even consider stopping.
Graham Manor lay in silence behind them when the Count showed Cassandra to the door. Mikhail who was waiting in the limousine had left the engine running to tell his Master that time was precious.
The box with the statuette had been momentarily set aside as the man's gloved hand held the slim fingers of the woman, a nightly breeze ruffling both blonde and black hair.
"I can't thank you enough for this wonderful evening Sir."
"It is I who has to thank you Miss Graham…"
The rest of the phrase drowned in the sound of another car coming up the driveway. A small and expensive sports car pulled up next to the limousine and when the passengers' door opened the lights inside the car went on. The couple that saw each other off with a short but passionate kiss was more than recognizable.
Matthew Cameron had brought Amelia home.
Cassandra's whole deportment changed immediately and her hands stiffened in the Count's while she watched as Nefer got out of the car waving a goodbye. The Lotus sped off again and when the backlights had vanished down the driveway the teenager approached them. Her usual temper seemed to have evaporated as she slipped by, mumbling a short goodnight to the couple on the stairs in the process before stealing into the house.
Dracula had no idea what had just happened but he presumed that the oldest sister did not approve of the younger one's choice in boyfriends. Pressing two soft kisses on her palms he brought her focus back to him.
"Goodnight my dear, sleep well. I will see you on Wednesday."
Another final bow and then he was back in the limousine his mind already starting to be occupied with the impending business.
The door closed behind Cassandra with a gentle thud and she allowed herself the liberty of a sigh. It had been a long day and she would need a while to digest the events, especially those of the last few hours; including the scene that had just occurred in front of her eyes.
Her heels clicked as she walked towards the staircase when suddenly they were joined by another pair, their owner moving out of the shadows of the coat room. Her sister.
"Amelia." The younger woman's face fell when she wasn't addressed by her nickname. The cool gaze and tight posture of her older sister hurt her more than any scolding and yelling could have ever done. In an effort to ease the tension she tried a joke.
"How dead am I?" Her pitiful attempt at laughter died when she saw the unmoving face of the other female.
"You should go to bed, it is late. Goodnight Amelia." Without another word Cassandra turned on her heel and ascended the staircase leaving Nefer to stand alone in the silent foyer.
Yes I updated. Contrary to popular belief the world is still turning on its axis and I think the Vatican would have sounded the alarm if hell had frozen over.
So here it is…the 11th chapter. Over 1 ½ year after the last one. Hey, better late than never. To be honest though I fretted quite a bit over my inability to get this chapter done. Remember and The Brat Princess are only two examples of the people who can approve to that.
Great many thanks to all of you, to each one who has reviewed, put me on alert or has just read the story. You were the reason why I didn't delete Last Waltz and gave up entirely on it. You know who you are.
A special thank you goes to The Brat Princess who looked over this chapter for me. Please note that Nr. 11 has been edited but not betaed as usual for Nienna is a very very very very very busy person. I still uploaded it because I was of the opinion that we all have waited long enough. The fully betaed version will be up as soon as I have it.
The links for Cassies dress, the statuette and a scene of the ballet can be found at my profile again. I sincerely hope that I won't need another 20 months for the next update. My life likes to take detours though, so please bear with me if I'm going to need a bit longer. I plan to finish this story and even though the amount of chapters that are still lying ahead scares me a bit. But I fully intend to not abandon Last Waltz and if I have to post the epilogue when I'm 80.
Of course I'd love to hear your opinion about this chapter. Did you like it? Did you expect something else? Did you hate it? Please tell me so I'll know what to change/do better in the future. Constructive criticism is always welcome.
Hugs and kisses all around!
Preview chapter 12:
"How about you make yourself useful while I read these?"
Grasping her hand he guided it where he needed it most, groaning when she followed the hint …