Dmitri Akilov stood guard at the entrance to his sire’s mansion. The heavy black iron wrought door to his back was large and strong, just like him. Save for the occasional goose or sparrow, the evening air was quiet and calm. A gentle breeze blew across the gardens, rustling the bushes and leaves on the trees, and blowing some of his black hair down and across his forehead. He swept it back with his left hand, then immediately put it back down, his right hand laying overtop his left directly in front of his belly.
This was how Dmitri guarded his mistress. Present, ready, and at attention. A guard who wasn’t these things could miss the smallest of details that could lead to disaster. His history had given him ample years of experience in this arena, and he was adamant that would never happen on his watch. Dmitri would always be attentive and alert, prepared for anything and everything in order to avoid it or tackle it head-on.
The sound of crunching gravel drew his attention to the right. Without hesitating, he put his hand on his holster and looked in the direction of the sound, recognizing Francois Varden’s tall, lean frame as he came around the corner. He had just finished parking the SUV and was returning to the house. Dmitri let out the breath he was holding.
“Bon soir.” (Good evening.)
“Dobryy vecher.” (Good evening.)
“Is she inside?” Francois gestured towards the house with a nod of his head.
“Bon.” Francois ran up the last few steps up to where Dmitri stood and kissed him. Dmitri kissed him back, briefly relinquishing his guard duties to touch his lover’s face with his right hand. It only lasted a second, but he couldn’t help himself. Breaking the kiss, he cleared his throat and resumed his stoic expression.
Francois chuckled and gave Dmitri a playful smack on his cheek. “Always the soldier.”
“I can’t let her see us together.”
“I know. I am playing with you.” Francois’ smiled and Dmitri felt his heart skip a beat. Francois was a beautiful man, pale with blonde hair and shining hazel eyes, one more green, and the other more amber. His prominent cheekbones, sleek jaw, and sultry lips lent him a seductive quality that Dmitri had a hard time resisting.
“Will you be out here for very long?”
“Only until Jonas returns from dinner.”
Francois pouted. “He always takes forever.”
“He swore he would be quick this time.”
“Excellent. Then we can meet again for a late-night café.” Francois leaned in close until his breath was against Dmitri’s ear. “Just the two of us.”
Dmitri stiffened, in places both visible and not.
Francois smiled again and gave him another light smack on the cheek, then disappeared into the house. The door shut abruptly behind him, leaving Dmitri standing out front in the cool breeze, hoping no one would notice his flag at full mast.
* * *
In the house, Francois lost his confidence. Despite his upfront and ‘fresh’ way with Dmitri, being around his mistress was something entirely different. She always left him feeling uneasy and afraid. She expected great things from him, and he was fully aware that he was a disappointment. It was easy to be so cognizant of her feelings; afterall, she chose to remind him. Every. Single. Day.
He smoothly crept across the main hall and, reaching the bottom of the staircase, dashed up the stairs as quickly as his feet could carry him. Breathing easier now that he was on the second floor, Francois made his way down the left side hallway to the third door on the left – his room. Opening the door, he turned to close it and flicked on the light switch. When he turned back around, he jumped cleanly out of his own skin.
Cressida was waiting for him.
“Bon soir.” She spoke his language as if she was born and raised in Paris. “Comment allez-vous?” (How are you feeling?) Her voice was husky, sensual.
Francois hesitated before responding. “Très bien.” (Fine.)
“Bon, bon.” She didn’t look at him. Instead, she played with the black tassels at the end of a velvet lampshade. They dangled from an antique table lamp he had acquired in France in 1947. The lamp held a special place in his heart after having fought in the War of Nations.
She let the tassels slide across her fingers and fall, then turned her attention toward Francois, raising a hand and pointing a finger at him. “You think you’re clever, don’t you.”
“Whatever do you mean, sire?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
“I’m afraid I don’t.”
Letting her arm down to rest at her side, Cressida took a few steps toward him. She stopped just a hair’s breadth away from him, their noses not quite touching. He felt her breath mingle with his own and remembered what it was like to have her as a lover. His limbs quaked, and he felt weak-kneed. He closed his eyes and licked his lips as he felt his breath quicken.
“You do know, Francois.” She murmured his name against his lips, and he trembled. “You refuse to tell me about your exploits and think I won’t find out? Hmm?”
“I’m sorry, sire… I–”
“Hush.” She put a finger to his lips and kissed him over top of it. “I know it was you who acquired my meal this evening. Your classic taste was written all over it.” She looked deep into his eyes. “It was delicious.”
Confusion and relief warring within him, Francois simply blinked. He was already overwhelmed by her mere presence that the surprise accusation had almost sent him spiraling out of control. Mon Dieu, she knew exactly how to make him feel crazy. Thankfully Dmitri had his well-being in mind when he selected dinner. It must have been a model.
Fluttering her eyelashes at him, Cressida stepped back and walked around him, letting her right hand trace a path from one shoulder to another across his chest. Francois didn’t even breathe, he kept so still. She exited the room, and he waited to exhale until he could hear her footsteps down the hall. Once they had faded, he closed the door and bent over, putting his head between his legs.
If only every word from her was so positive. If only every time he saw her wasn’t fright-filled and bordering on insanity. She could crush him between her fingers if she wanted to, and it had always been a threat of hers. Well, it was a threat when she wasn’t attempting to seduce him.
Years and years ago, after the war, she had discovered him in New York City. There he had been a jeweler and craftsman, and he had made her a gold and sapphire necklace she adored. She had taken him under her wing, siring him and freeing him from his human confines. At the time, he hadn’t realized what it meant to be sired by Cressida Hawkins. Francois had thought he was reaching new heights and would become a key member of high society. Now he was aware of all the trappings, and traps they were indeed.
Cressida was a proficient game player, well-skilled in strategy and cunning plays against her opponents. Francois had learned fast that it was a bad move to be on the wrong side of his mistress. She had once ripped the head off one of her progeny because they failed to deliver on a promise. She was ruthless and clever, ambitious and aggressive, all supposedly in the name of her own sire.
To that end, no one talked about Amelia. It was against the rules, and in Cressida’s home, no one broke the rules. Not if you wanted to stay alive, that is.
Francois stood up and walked over to his settee. Sitting down on the edge of the cushion, he leaned forward and picked up a crystal decanter of blood from the delicate glass table positioned in front of it. He picked up a small crystal glass and poured a little drink for himself: a small pick me up to steady his nerves. Sliding back into the seat, he sipped from the glass and let the cool liquid trickle down his throat into his stomach. He sighed.
At least he would be able to relax with Dmitri.