Cressida flipped through the diary pages until she found the other passage she had come here for. Excellent. Using her laptop, she took notes, typing the information in every minute detail. Once she had everything she needed, she closed the diary and her computer. Pushing back from the table, she stood up again and took the diary with her, walking over to a safety deposit box in the wall. Using her key held on a chain around her neck, she unlocked it, opened it, and gingerly put the diary back inside. Then she carefully locked the box after herself and proceeded to clean up her items from the table.
Stuffing her laptop in her briefcase, she straightened out her navy blue pantsuit and headed for the door. Before she exited, she put her hand on the doorframe, steadying herself and reclaiming her assertiveness. Memories of Amelia always seemed to put her at odds with herself, and she needed to have a cool and collected head. Once she was in the right frame of mind, she opened the door.
Stepping through the doorway, she reached back and flicked off the overhead fluorescent light. Turning her attention back to the dank, gray hallway in front of her, she began walking down to the end, passing several black doors. At the end, the hallway split in two, and she took a right, focusing on her footsteps as the echo of dead screams lingered in the air. Poorly-wired fluorescent sconces flickered and whined as she passed them. Reaching the end of the second hall, she entered a stairwell and took the steps down to the first floor.
The stairs opened to a lobby with dark gray marble flooring. Several pale gray leather benches lined the black walls of the room, illuminated only by the bright daylight spilling through the glass front door. A tall, Latin male vampire stood guard, wearing an earpiece and a cheap black suit. He heard the sharp clack of her heels on the floor and opened the door, turning towards her and nodding in respect. Cressida nodded back as he held the door open for her to walk through.
Outside the door, her heels were quieted on the entryway carpet. She stopped as she was forced to squint in the sunlight, pulling a pair of sunglasses from her pantsuit jacket pocket. Putting them on, the dark lenses allowed her to search for her vehicle. There at the curb stood Francois Varden, and as she made eye contact with him, he immediately opened the backdoor to her SUV. She approached him, heels clacking again on the concrete, and he also nodded at her, holding the door open as she climbed inside. Once the door was closed behind her, she looked up and saw Dimitri Akilov seated upfront. He glanced at her in the rearview mirror and nodded.
Respect for Cressida Hawkins knew no bounds.
Francois climbed into the driver’s seat and started the SUV. The engine roared to life and then settled into a purr. The sound of Du Hast by Rammstein flowed through the speakers, and Dmitri immediately turned the volume down to a whisper. Rhythmic sounds emanated from the speakers behind Cressida’s head, and she smiled; she definitely didn’t mind this song. She tapped the shoulder of Dimitri’s seat, and he increased the volume to something tolerable.
Francois shifted gears and, seeing an opening, pulled the SUV out into traffic. Cressida barked some directions to him and then leaned back in her seat. Now that they were on their way, she could relax.
Cressida couldn’t remember the last time she had relaxed. Truly relaxed. Her life had been strategy and planning, risk-taking and deviousness all this time, and she was ready for something new. She was ready to pursue the things she had been working on with Amelia those many, many years ago.
Michael Hawkins was going to be the means to an end. His death would act as a second rebirth for her. Not only would she be able to avenge her love, but she would be released from this mission. She could only hope her sire would be proud of her once she saw it through.
Leaning against the backseat, she pulled out her cellphone and scanned through the apps until she found the photos. There was only one photograph she was interested in, only one that she ever kept on her phone. Opening the app, she stared into her lover’s eyes.
When she was still living and traveling abroad in Paris, Amelia had commemorated a portrait by Francois Boucher. Famous for his portraits and pastoral landscapes, they bonded over their mutual love of eroticism and mythology. All those years ago, he had captured her spirit in his art, and now Cressida held it on her hands on her phone. She stared lovingly at her sire, stroking her painted hair, and wishing she could hold her one more time.
Feeling suddenly overwhelmed, she pressed the phone’s off button and slammed it face down on the seat next to her. Overcome by emotion, tears pressed at her eyelids, desperate for release, but she willed them away. One thing she had vowed was to never let anyone see her tears. She was strong, resilient, and unwavering in her ambitions. No one would ever know about her dreams, so they could never hurt her with her nightmares.
Cressida looked up to see if either vampire had noticed, but they were staring straight ahead as if nothing was wrong. Good. The longer this mission of vengeance went on, the longer she would have to continue hiding these things, and she was so exhausted of it all.
From upfront, Francois started in his seat and glanced at the rearview mirror towards his mistress. “Yes, sire?”
“Has a meal been prepared for me?”
Beside him, Dimitri spoke up. “I have taken care of that for you, sire. Yes.”
“Ah, very good. Thank you, Dmitri.”
“Tell me: is it spicy? I love a good spicy dish.”
“Excellent. And do I have something to wash it down with?”
“A Zinfandel has been uncorked and left to breathe, sire.”