“He is downstairs awaiting your ‘visit’.”
“Good. Thank you, Dmitri.”
Dmitri bowed subtly, then stood up straight and backed out of the doorway, leaving her alone in her private room.
Cressida sat before her vanity, staring at her own reflection. The vanity itself was black and covered in all manner of makeup palettes, brushes, perfume oils, jewelry boxes, and a hand mirror or two. A skinny cracked silver vase with nightshade blossoms sat on her left, while a tiny portraiture of Amelia sat on her right. The trifold mirror set directly in front of her was tall, reaching almost to the ceiling, and was outlined also in black.
Cressida wanted to smash it.
Anger had been building within her since she was informed that Michael’s lover got away. The sheer outrage pushed her to the brink. She wanted them both, to punish them both and see them cower before her. Michael would not be the only one to suffer. No, his lover would also know what it was like to have her fate held in Cressida Hawkins’ hands.
Yet again, that imbecile Francois had failed his mission. Only this time, he had returned empty-handed – literally – and failing to retrieve the one thing he had been tasked with bringing back. He was beginning to outlive his usefulness.
Once he had been a beautiful vampire, a gorgeous lover and confidante, someone she could take into high society and be the envy of every other woman in the room. He was breathtaking at first: a tall, stunning specimen of what French men could be. She had lavished him with clothes and gifts, and he seemed to be as fond of her as she was enamored with him.
Seemed to be…
She had learned of his dalliances with others, and it had cut her to the quick. She had no interest in him now. He could have whomever he wanted, as long as it wasn’t one of her trusted guards. No one would interfere with her line of protection, least of all a former lover.
Cressida picked up a makeup brush and swirled it in a pocket of pressed powder. She tapped the brush to remove any excess and gently brushed along her cheeks and the top of her forehead. Once she was done, she set it down and examined herself once more.
Yes, just a little more, and she would be perfect.
Another stroke of her blush, and she was ready. Already knowing what she would be wearing, she put on a delicate pair of diamond and pearl earring studs. Then she stood up and picked up her bottle of Black Opium perfume. Spraying it in the air, she walked forward through it, applying it delicately. She turned around and gave herself a final glance in the mirror.
Le perfectionnement (perfection).
Cressida undid her white silk robe and let it drop to the floor, her attributes in full display. From her svelte waist and creamy thighs to her full bosom and ample derriere, she was to die for. Her only competition would have been the likes of Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot. She tossed her luscious brunette locks over her shoulder and walked toward her closet. There she put on a set of black and pink-striped lacy lingerie, with little bows tied at the top of the panties and at the middle of the bralette.
Next she selected a sleek black dress with a draping boat neck and no sleeves. She skipped the stockings and stepped into the dress, pulling it seductively up her legs and over her hips. She slipped her hands through the arm holes and reached behind herself to easily zip up the dress, which barely came up above her bra. Lastly, she slid on a pair of simple, black Louboutin heels to finish her look.
She was a dish, a doll, a pin-up magazine girl come off the pages. Men couldn’t resist her and women wanted to be her. She was everything and more, a heavenly fantasy come to life.
And she was going to seek revenge for the death of her lover.
* * *
In the darkness, Francois cradled his stump of an arm and wallowed.
That bitch had ruined him. He would never again put another piece of jewelry together. Never again would he caress his lover with both hands. Never again would he be able to fight. She had ripped his left hand from his arm, severed it with her teeth, and left him partly a man. Now he was useless, a wasted life. She had left him battered and broken. What kind of vampire could he be now?
A knock at the door. His lover had come to visit him. The door began to open, and instead of a welcoming greeting, Francois snarled at him.
“Sortez!” (Get out!)
Hesitating slightly, Dmitri lowered his gaze and backed out, slowly closing the door.
He couldn’t bear the thought of Dmitri’s pitying him any moment longer. Dmitri was always the strong one, but now Francois was even less than before. He sniffled and angrily wiped the unshed tears from his eyes.
Already, the stump had healed over, but the hand would never grow back. His body had healed but his mind wouldn’t, his heart wouldn’t… He had lost something that his abilities would never give him back. In his mind, he cried out. Physically, Francois gritted his teeth and growled into a pillow.
Standing up, he went over to the window and looked down over the gardens. Rain pelted the window panes and drenched the landscape. Green leaves and brilliant grasses were now gloomy and black. The clouds were angry and dark, wildly contrasting each other and shading the grounds in a dark veil.
A streak of lightning fell and illuminated his healed wound. Glancing down, Francois stared at it for a moment, then put his left hand over top of it. He turned his attention back to the rain drops on the glass and watched them fall.
What would he do now…?
* * *
Dmitri took the back stairs down into the kitchen. Entering the space, he saw Jonas sitting at the long wooden table that sat on the left side of the room. Jonas was a singular soldier: tall, broad shouldered, muscular, and fully capable of hitting a target with a knife from thirty paces. His dark brown hair was close-cropped in a crew cut, and he was running his hand over the top of it. Dmitri walked over to him and gave him a pat on the back.
“Dmitri! Oof, quit startlin’ me.” Jonas’ southern drawl was drizzled over every word.
“Moi izveneniya.”(My apologies.)
“No, no, it’s fine.” Jonas put a hand on the table and gestured for Dmitri to have a seat with the other. He gladly accepted.
“What are you doing here at this hour?”
“Just enjoyin’ a cup of joe. It’s been a whole lotta days.” Dmitri nodded. Vampires hardly slept, so when the time came, it was after days – sometimes weeks – rather than hours. “What’re you doin’ down here, skulkin’ in the kitchen?”
“I am not skulking. Vampires do not skulk.”
“I’m kidding, Dmitri.”
“Oh. Ha ha. Da.”
“Seriously. You alright, brother?” Jonas’ hazel eyes were touched with concern for his comrade.
“I am fine. I am just…neustroyennyy. Unsettled.”
“Is it our prisoner?”
“The man in the basement?”
“Yeah. I’ve been curious about him myself…”
“No, and yes. I am worried about Francois…and what that vampire’s woman did to him.”
“Ah, right. The hand. That’s a damn shame.” Jonas slapped a hand on the table and pointed at him. “But that Francois – he’s a fighter, ya know. He won’t let that keep him down.”
“I am not sure, friend.”
“Hmm…” Jonas rubbed his chin. “Maybe we can give Francois some other tasks to do, things to keep him busy?”
“You know, they say the busier you are, the more likely you are to not focus on the pain. Maybe that’d work for him?”
“Is there… Is there something else you wanted to talk about…?”
Dmitri shook his head. “No, no.” He stood up and walked up behind Jonas. Clapping him on the shoulder, he said, “Thank you for listening.”
With that, Dmitri left the kitchen and went to stand watch at the back of the house. Anything would be better than his own thoughts right now.
* * *
Cressida slowly took the steps down to the basement. Each step felt like a nail in the coffin, but not her coffin – his. She was smiling, but it was maniacal, evil, and self-satisfied. She finally had him in her grasp, and she was going to ensure he suffered repeatedly before his demise.
Nothing was too good to avenge her beloved.
She approached the door to his room and unlocked it. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and was immediately gratified to see him in a cage. His hands were bound, and he held his hands up to block out the light from the stairwell. Her smile widened in a Joker-esque fashion as soon as she had him in her sights.
He still looked the same as she remembered: same chestnut hair, steel gray eyes, impressive jaw, and strong nose. She was sure his voice would be the same, too. His broad shoulders were hunched in defeat as he sat alone in the dark.
Her child, her baby boy, was a strong vampire now.
As soon as he saw her, he visibly froze. His eyes widened into the size of dinner plates, and he stopped breathing. She could hear his heartbeat grow fast and erratic. He scooted to the front of the cage and grasped the iron bars, his knuckles turning white. With every passing second, she grew more confident that this was going to be the best thing she had ever done in her life. The sinister and small smile on her face grew into a psychotic grin that seemed to envelop her features.
“It…it can’t be…”
“Oh it is, my son. Take a good look.”
“No. It’s… It’s not possible…”
Cressida twirled around in front of him. “Don’t I look wonderful? Becoming a vampire certainly did my body good.”
“How… How are you here?”
Cressida stopped mid-swirl and stared him down. “Amelia. That’s how I came to be. And that’s why you’re here, you ungrateful brat.”
“You killed her. You killed her!” Cressida couldn’t help the angry tears that came spilling down her cheeks.
“Oh my god… It’s you… You’re her progeny?” His voice was a whisper.
“Yes! I am her progeny. I was more than that, too. We were in love!” As she spoke, Michael’s eyes widened even more. “We were in love, and you ripped that apart when you murdered her in cold-blood. Your own sire!”
Michael’s voice returned, heavy and dark. “She was a demon, a plague. I had to destroy her.”
“Liar! She was a gift! She was going to bring about a new renaissance for vampires!”
“She was going to kill anyone that stood in her way.”
“You stood in her way.”
“So did you.” Michael narrowed his eyes on her. “When she came to see father, to convince him to side with her, she killed you. I saw you dead in our parlor.”
“You foolish child. She killed father, but she turned me. That was the night I was sired.”
“Impossible! She came to sire me!”
Cressida laughed. “All of you men are alike, thinking the world revolves around you. She told you that to seduce you, and clearly it worked. Look at you now, a vampire sired by one of the most powerful vampires in all of creation. You should feel proud.”
Michael sat back in his cage, dumbfounded, confused, and in shock at this revelation. His mother was a vampire. More than that, she was one of Amelia’s progeny – the progeny that was desperately seeking his demise. He looked back up at her and ground out the only question left lurking in his mind.
“Why, mother? Why do you want to kill me, your only living son?”
Cressida sneered at him. “I want to kill you because of what you stole from me. Because you killed the only person I have ever and will ever love. You ruined my life, dear boy.”
“But I am your son!”
“Does that mean nothing to you?”
“You ceased meaning anything to me the moment I died.”
Just like that, her strike hit true. Michael felt a part of himself die in that moment. No amount of blood or vampire healing could ever fix what she had broken within him.
Cressida smiled in triumph. She was thrilled that her words could have such an effect on him. As she thought of what would come next, her smile disappeared and was replaced with rage.
“Now that you know it’s me, the real punishment begins.”
She stepped inside and closed the door behind herself, shutting them in together.
* * *
From downstairs came the cries of agony, and Dmitri cringed. He wasn’t fond of the vnebrachnyy (bastard) below, but he knew better than to be in the crosshairs of Cressida. She was formidable, ruthless, and diabolical. He had seen her torture a man before, many years ago. That man had barely survived her evil ways, and it was someone she had simply disliked.
The man in the basement was someone she hated.
Another cry of horror reached Dmitri’s ears, and he flinched. Reaching into his pockets, he pulled out a pair of wireless earbuds and put them in his ears. Using his cell phone, he found a song by In Flames and pressed play. The sounds of a Swedish metal guitar enveloped his senses and drowned out the sounds of torture.
* * *
Hours had passed since Cressida began her assault, and Michael still held strong.
Cressida didn’t want this to end quickly. She was hoping to capture his lover before this was all over. Nothing would be better than torturing and killing her in front of him. She’d make her squeal, make her beg, make her scream: anything to make his life a living hell before he died.
“Enough of this. I grow tired.”
Cressida stood up straight from where she had been leaning over Michael’s currently broken body. She had beaten him to within an inch of death, knowing full well that the pain would last longer than the injuries. Brushing her hair back over her right shoulder, she chuckled.
“You’ve held up nicely, Michael. Well done.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Heal up so we can do it again tomorrow.”
She spun around and opened the basement door. As she pulled it closed behind her, she turned back around and wiggled her fingers at him just before shutting the door. Her laughter bounced around the stairwell and under the door to assail his ears. She walked up the stairs and immediately called out for her butler.
Holden had been her personal butler for nearly a century, having come from London during the Great Depression. He was short and stocky, with curly muddy brown hair and brown eyes, horse-like teeth, and a face scarred from years of acne. His large family had counted on him to help them (monetarily speaking) by becoming a butler or, with luck, a steward for a wealthy family. Upon arrival in New York City, he realized that wasn’t going to happen, and he wound up living day to day, working hard for mere pennies in order to simply eat.
When Cressida found him, he had just secured a valet position in high society at the newly opened Waldorf Astoria. It wasn’t long before he learned that Cressida was the more wealthy option, and he succumbed to her wishes that he work for her. For five years after having sired him, she sent money to his family in England to help them survive. Then, one day, she cut them off with a letter that he had died.
Holden was more than appreciative of Cressida’s efforts and the security she provided him. As a vampire, he was more than capable of securing her whatever she desired, from delicacies to rare antiquities. He prided himself on his resourcefulness and dedication to his mistress, regularly putting aside his own needs to satisfy hers. Truth be told, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. She was his sire, his maker, and his savior. He would sacrifice his own life if it meant keeping her happy.
Holden came into view at the end of the hallway. “Holden, be a doll and fetch me my lunch.”
She began heading towards the dining room and called over her shoulder. “I prefer something savory. Perhaps an Italian?” Her striking form swayed seductively as she walked, disappearing around the next corner.