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Months passed, the spring of my rebirth turning into fall. Just when I was beginning to doubt Mariska’s words, they came. The general with a half smoked, well chewed cigar in the corner of his mouth, looked me over like I was his prize bull. I didn’t like it, not one little bit.
His attaché was a young feller with a high opinion of his self. He doffed his hat, ran a hand through his long yellow hair before removing a white glove which he used to dust off his chair before sitting. He held it delicately afterward, as if it had been dipped in hog shit, although even my eyes couldn’t detect any soil. Mariska was a fiend about keeping a tidy house.
I noted the worry lines etched around her eyes and lips. What did she fear? I’d be on my best behavior. She needn’t be concerned I’d show myself the fool. My nature made me a natural mimic and my uncouth speech and mannerisms no longer marked me as the illiterate son of Irish immigrants…unless I wanted them too. I would watch and listen before I decided who I would be this night.
“Is he in complete control of his faculties?” The general asked Mariska, as if I wasn’t standing at her back. He watched her warily as he sipped his tea. His man sat holding his cup, but I had yet to see the liquid approach the well trimmed mustache which almost hid his sneer.
Something was definitely amiss. Mariska never failed to proclaim my slightest achievement, yet she had answered in a word. Curious.
“What do you have to say for yourself boy?” The question was clipped round the cigar. His eyes intent on mine as he waited, watching, like a hunter stalking his prey.
I couldn’t help but smile. He thought of me as prey? A mistake he might not live to repeat. It peeved me to see Mariska upset, so I bit my tongue and spoke politely, “What would you have me say, sir?”
He yanked the cigar out of his mouth and tossed at the fireplace. “Don’t pussyfoot with me, son. Are you up to the job or not?”
His rudeness rankled. “How am I to answer when I have no idea of what job you speak?”
He turned a hard glare at his attaché. “Captain?”
The nonplussed blond merely waived his glove in an affected manner. “I sent my second lieutenant—they must have eaten him. They are animals.” He stood hurriedly, tripped over his chair, landing in an untidy heap against the far wall as we descended upon him.
“I have a mind to furnish their dessert, but fear you might upset their stomachs. Wait outside,” the general growled.
“But sir, it is past midnight and there are others –” His face shone with perspiration.
I hid my fangs behind closed lips as the smell of his fear coursed through me. I had fed, luckily for him, but the rich scent of terror in his blood made him oh, so tempting. The others, ruled by their lusts, did not share my restraint. Smiling out of spite, I enjoyed his gasp before turning to his superior. “Are good assistants easy to come by? I fear you will need another if he sets foot outside before dawn.”
Retrieving a fresh cigar from his pocket, the general stubbed it between his teeth and nipped off the end. Mariska fetched a burning twig from the fire to light it. “Brave woman,” he commented as he accepted her gesture, ignoring the captain who righted himself, then the chair and after a moment’s hesitation, offered it to the lady. “So, have you taught him as well?”
Mariska dipped her head to acknowledge his compliment. Few things could kill a vampire, fire, foremost among them. “Thomas required little training. He is very quick. I would ask a boon. This job you speak of will be his first. May I be permitted to accompany him?”
“Far too dangerous– for a lovely lady like yourself.” The general’s smile was gentle, but his eyes cold and calculating.
Mariska’s lips were a firm line and fear shone from beneath her hooded eyes. Did she think they planned to hold her hostage to insure I completed this untold mission and returned to the fold?
“And if I refuse to go without her?”
He chewed at the cigar and raised a brow in question. “You are still a soldier, boy-o. You will follow orders and do as you’re told.”
Anger seethed through me. “Or what, you’ll kill me—again?”
He snorted a laugh, eyes and smile now equally hard and frozen, “No, sonny. We’ll kill her. Set her ablaze then cast the ashes into running waters.”
My jaw clenched so hard my fully extended fangs punctured my lower lip. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he met my stare. Was he so sure of his victory? He rolled the cigar to the opposite corner of his mouth.
“Now let’s get down to business, shall we?” He motioned to the captain who cautiously stepped forward and produced a roll of papers from his blouse. “A fortnight from now will find you on the high sea headed for Istanbul. You’re on a steamer not a schooner so you’ll make it in half the time, still, I’d go easy on the rats.”
Rats? Mariska’s face was a careful blank. What else had my lovely maker not shared with me, and why?
The general rattled on about my mission, explaining in great detail who my contacts would be and where to meet them at a specific time on a given day. Mariska, when not refilling the tea cups, sat studying her hands folded in her lap. Knowing I would remember everything the brass was saying when I reflected on it, I chose to study my lady. Delicate lines ran between her brows and nested at the corners of her eyes and mouth. What wasn’t she saying that she wished so badly to scream to the heavens? Why the determined silence?
“Be at the docks by midnight on the eleventh. Plan your own means of getting there. It will be good practice for later on. You’ll soon learn where to find shelter from the day or we will have to find another pupil for our lovely little schoolmarm here.”
Mariska raised her eyes at last, the fury in them unmistakable. “I shall never –”
“You will do as you are ordered, madam.” The captain had found his voice at last, and my hand, his throat. “Gah!”
“Will you keep a civil tongue in your head or shall I remove it for you?”
The general’s chuckle sent shivers down my spine. “He’ll do.”
A short while later we watched them ride away in the blackness before dawn. The captain rode a skittish palomino that matched his coloring and temperament, his hand held high bearing a torch to light the night and, hopefully, not set the forest afire. The general sat on a stoic gray stallion, whose purposeful stride said he feared nothing and would brave the devil himself. I hoped it wouldn’t come to that…for the horse.
“Mariska, we…” I watched her shoulders slump and her eyes close, as if weary to the bone, and caught the red tear as it fell from beneath her lashes. At the brush of my thumb, her lids fluttered open, and her hand reached out to me.
“Tomorrow, Thomas. Tomorrow we will talk and I will answer whatever questions you have. The dawn comes on swift wings and for now, I want only for you to hold me.” Her hand slipped away as she moved toward the chiffonier and withdrew a nightgown.
I raised the bed with the floor panel attached, then, shucked my clothes down to my drawers. We had not been together as man and woman since her revelations about her past. I had grown strong enough to control my lust, thank God, as I was never one to force my attentions on the unwilling.
I waited with my back to her as she changed, until her tiny hand came to rest on my shoulder. Taking it, I handed her down into the depths of the root cellar, climbed in after, and pulled the lever which lowered both door and bed back into their proper positions, sliding the bolt for good measure.
She curled into my side, her hand on my still heart and her cheek on my shoulder. After a moment I felt the brush of her lips on mine and heard her whisper. “You are my best accomplishment Thomas and my worst regret.”
I would have said something, or given her words deeper thought, but the sun rose.
Don’t miss Chapter Five of Tom’s story coming December 13!