Théâtre de Passion PHANTOM OF THE NIGHT By Michelle M Pillow © copyright October 2005, Michelle M. Pillow Cover art by E...
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Théâtre de Passion PHANTOM OF THE NIGHT By Michelle M Pillow © copyright October 2005, Michelle M. Pillow Cover art by Eliza Black, © copyright October 2005 ISBN 1-58608-756-8 New Concepts Publishing Lake Park, GA 31636 www.newconceptspublishing.com This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence. Dedication: To My Husband. May our lives together be an interesting adventure. Note from Author Having grown up fascinated with tortured lovers and dark characters, I can ’t help but draw upon those wonderful tales when writing my own. Christine and the two men in her life are a favorite. Which brings me to Phantom of the Night…. In a reality much like our own, the theaters and opera houses of old have evolved into a community of actors, actresses, singers and dancers. In this secretive, private world of the Pavilion, the members of the International Acting Troop live and work. The theater is their life and the stage is their children’s playground. This is a magical place, where fantasy is everyday and today’s fashions have no meaning. It’s not uncommon to see a man in a toga next to a Victorian lady. Much like the turn of the century operas and theaters, this world is revered and wondered at by those living outside its gilded doors. It is into this world I take you. Enjoy, Michelle Prologue The Graye Family’s Home “M’lady Sparrow,” Jude said, hands boldly on hips. His dark eyes sparkled with mischief as they always did, contradicting his arrogant pose. Lily Graye covered her mouth with her hand, giggling at the nickname he’d given her when she was a baby. He said it was because she cheeped like a hungry baby sparrow. Smiling, she nodded enthusiastically. She’d known Jude the whole eleven years of her life. When he returned the look with a grin of his own, dimples appeared on the sides of his cheeks. Jude was much older than her, but that didn ’t seem to matter in their
friendship. A college student by trade, he had the life and vitality that came from such an occupation. Her brother, Jude ’s best friend, went to the same school. “This performance is for you,” Jude said. “Are you paying attention?” “Yes, Lord Livingston,” Lily answered. How she wished they did live in a time of lords and ladies! Everyday life was just so boring compared to the things she read of in her father’s books. “Please continue.” Jude nodded. “Very well.” Lily listened to Jude’s performance with awe, as he paced back and forth in her living room. His dark hair whipped about his head as he recited words memorized from her favorite Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. He had an attentive audience in the Graye family. There were only three of them--Lily, her older brother Sethan who was currently lying on the floor with his head propped up on a pillow, and her father Professor Gregory Graye who sat in his favorite blue chair with a doily on the back that her late mother had made. Lily didn’t remember her mother, but loved hearing stories of her. The Grayes were close and Jude was around so much over the years that he felt like a member of their family. Only to the eleven year old Lily, he wasn ’t exactly a brother. Jude was the whole reason she woke up in the morning. Sethan teased her that it was just a girlhood crush, but Lily knew it was more. She was in love with Jude and someday she would marry him. Then he would really be a member of her family. That day would be the happiest day in her life. Her family would be complete--for real. Mrs. Lily Livingston. Mr. and Mrs. Jude Livingston, she thought, hiding a smile. Lady Lily Livingston. Lord and Lady Livingston. Jude understood her. His head was always off in the clouds, just like hers. He felt things --passionately, deeply--and he saw life through the eyes of one who understood the meaning of it. It ’s why he was such a great actor. He actually felt the character’s emotions as if they were his own. Though, with Jude there was a lot of stiff competition when it came to females in his life. He was one of the most popular guys at the local college and was never without a date. Lily didn’t care. She knew in her heart that he’d someday be hers. The television was turned off, which wasn’t unusual for the Graye household. Her father watched the news and Sethan watched sports. That was about it. Who needed television when they had books and plays? Her father was a writer, preferring the written word to movies and her mother had been a ballerina, a wonderful dancer who gave up her career at the Pavilion to marry her father. It was terribly romantic and Lily knew that someday she’d have a romantic story of her own to tell her children. Her mother’s sister, Lily’s only relative outside her immediate family circle, belonged to the International Acting Troop--a group of actors, dancers and singers who performed in the largest acting complex in the world. The Pavilion was where her mother had grown up and was a magical place where everyone wore costumes and lived for the theater. Aunt Isabelle visited twice a year and the stories she told stirred Lily’s blood--almost as much as Jude did. Unfortunately, her father’s job didn’t allow for them to live at the Pavilion and she was left to dream of someday running away and joining the troop. Though, she had a feeling it would always be a dream. She loved her family and would never run out on them. “You forgot two words!” Lily said, laughing as Jude arched a brow at her interruption. He stopped, frowned and then nodded. “You’re right, M’lady Sparrow. I did.” “Jude, we have to get going,” Sethan said, rolling up from the floor. “Oh? Where you going?” Gregory asked his son. “College party,” Sethan said. Lily smiled at his honesty. There was never a reason to lie in her household. Her father was a good man who didn’t judge his children, only tried to guide them the best he could. “Oh, you don’t really have to go, do you?” Lily asked, pouting her lower lip. She smoothed down her knit dress as she stood up
from the couch, getting a little sick to her stomach at the thought of them leaving. “Please don’t go tonight. Won’t you stay home?” “Why?” Sethan asked. He wiggled his brows so Jude couldn’t see. “You going to miss us?” Lily wrinkled her nose. She might be in love with Jude, but she wasn’t ready for him to find out about it. The only reason Sethan knew was because he’d walked in on her when she was writing in her diary about it. “I’m worried something might happen tonight. I’ve got a strange feeling. I don’t think you should go out. Please, stay in and let’s watch a movie.” “A movie? Are you sure you’re feeling well, Lily?” her father asked. “You never want to watch movies.” Lily ignored him. “Please, Seth.” “Don’t worry, Miss Lily,” Sethan continued with a wickedly mischievous grin. It was the kind of grin only a brother about to torment his little sister could give. Lily tensed. “If anything happens to me tonight, Jude here will promise to always look after you. Won’t you, Jude?” Lily felt her cheeks heat in embarrassment. Oh, how she wanted to strangle her brother! “Huh?” Jude asked, pulling on his jacket. “Oh yeah, sure kid. I’ll take care of you. Promise.” “Swear it on your life!” Sethan demanded with flair, pointing his arm out as if he carried a sword. Jude dutifully swept down on one knee and put his fist to his heart. “I swear to forever protect Lily with my life’s blood.” “Then I shall dub you,” Sethan said, moving his pretend sword to each of Jude’s shoulders, “Sir Jude, Protector of Lily Graye.” Lily wrinkled her nose. “You’re such a dork, Seth!” “So are you,” he quipped. Lily laughed. Yeah, it was true. They were all dorks when it came to their imaginary worlds. Luckily, none of them cared. “But, what if something happens to you, as well?” Lily persisted, raising a brow to mimic a look she’d seen Jude do often. “What am I? Chopped liver?” her father asked. Jude laughed. “Sorry, sir, but it would appear so.” “Oh, all right then,” Gregory stood, pulling a notepad full of writing notes off the end table. He winked at his daughter. “I’ll just go to work.” “If anything happens to me, M’lady Sparrow,” Jude said, coming up to her. He looked down from his impressive height and tapped her on the end of her nose. “I promise to come down from heaven as a spirit. You’ll never be rid of me, though you may beg and plead with me to leave you alone--especially when you’re out on dates and I keep slapping their hands away.” “Heaven, eh?” Sethan teased. He, too, had his jacket on and was heading for the door. “I’m not sure you’re qualified.” Jude laughed. He pushed past her to tackle her brother. The two men play fought their way out the door, not giving her a backwards glance. Lily sighed and went to watch them as they got into Sethan’s old, beat-up car. “Someday,” she whispered, touching the cool pane of glass leading out into the fall night. “Someday I’ll be Lady Lily Livingston. And it will be the most perfect of days.” Chapter One The Pavilion
Twelve years later... Lily gasped as she sat up in bed, shaking from the voices in her dreams. That night in her family living room had been ages ago, but the memory of it was etched on her brain with the finest of detail. Every tone of every voice could still be heard. It was the last time she ever saw her family, including Jude, alive. “Lily?” Arianna whispered. Her dark red curls shook around her shoulders as she sat next to Lily on the bed. Her friend wore a conservative Victorian lady’s nightdress, but then again so did half the women living at the Pavilion. The Victorian era was a popular style. “What is it? You’re shivering. Are you sick? Are you nervous?” “Nervous?” Lily repeated, dazed as her brain slowly let the fog of the past lift from her thoughts. She glanced around the room, feeling as if someone was watching her. She shook the sensation off. After her family ’s death, she had come to live with her Aunt Isabelle at the Pavilion and since that time, she often got the feeling of being watched. Isabelle had been with the theater since she was a girl and starred in her fair share of productions. Now her aunt mainly oversaw the costuming. Her aunt’s popularity was why Lily had been given such nice quarters--that and because she was willing to share the room with Arianna, another child orphaned around the same time. They’d hit it off instantly. From that first night, they’d built their own secret world--a world that fit nicely into the surreal life of the Pavilion. “Yes, nervous about tonight, silly,” Arianna said, touching Lily’s shoulder. The woman had become her best friend and sharing the room had never been a problem. “Tonight is opening night and you have a new part--a speaking part--and on the grand stage no less!” “Oh, that,” Lily laughed, toying with the dark green silk of her robe. It was Chinese influenced in style and had black dragons embroidered on it. The matching silk nightdress underneath hugged her curves to the point that she often wore the robe with it, even in private. “No, Ari, I’m not nervous.” Her friend sighed, obviously not believing the statement. The light was dim in their shared bedroom, lit only by the fireplace. The Pavilion made a lot of money and the room looked rich, though nowhere near as nice as the divas’ rooms. Divas were the stars of the show and took top billing with everything. Whatever they wanted, they got. No questions asked. Though, the two women could hardly complain about their accommodations. Gold encrusted the ceiling, offsetting the red velvet drapes hanging on the posters of the two matching beds. The antique frame around the full length mirror was worn, but it was still a beautiful piece. There was a dresser and a vanity filled with trinkets and perfume bottles. Most of the bottles were Lily’s, a gift from her secret benefactor. Arianna called him her secret admirer, but the items never came with love notes and Lily was hard-pressed to think that he had any feelings for her beyond friendship. Besides, she didn ’t even know who ‘he’ was, only that he’d been giving her gifts since she first came to live at the Pavilion. Each year on her birthday and Christmas he’d leave her a gift wrapped in blood red satin and black lace. Considering her fanciful childhood in the Graye home, she didn’t think twice about the weird occurrence, but took it in stride. Besides, it gave her a sense of not being alone now that her family was gone. Many speculated that the gifts came from one of the older actors who felt sorry for her, though none had claimed such a position of generosity. “What’s wrong then?” Arianna asked. “Lily?” Arianna persisted when she didn’t answer right away. “It’s strange. I dreamt I was eleven and was watching my brother’s friend do a scene from The Taming of the Shrew.” “That’s your favorite play,” Arianna said. “It always makes you cry. Everyone else is laughing and you cry.” Lily took a deep breath, still shaking and a little cold despite the warm fire. It felt like ages since that night and she didn ’t like to think about it. “It was the night that....” Lily looked helplessly at her friend and knew she didn’t have to say another word.
Arianna patted the back of Lily’s hair, smoothing her tangled curls. “It’s all right. It’s all in the past. You’re here now and there’s nothing strange about dreaming of things that happened, especially those things. Now, what ’s strange is your mysterious benefactor.” Arianna touched the silk nightgown. “Are you sure you have nothing to tell me? Perhaps a boyfriend you ’ve been keeping secret? Everyone in the Pavilion is bubbling over with curiosity to know--especially since something as luxurious and rich as a silk nightgown was the latest present. You know how we all love intrigue and unsolved mysteries.” Lily laughed. “No. I told you it was just another birthday gift and the card simply said, ‘Some birds are merely birds, others grow to be dragons.’” “Some call your man the phantom and some are sure it’s the Baron himself in love with you.” “Ew!” Lily shook her head furiously. “The Baron is an old man, not to mention a sleazy one. I’d much prefer the ghost.” The women giggled. “Or even the devil himself,” Lily added. “Any idea who it may be? One of the actors? A dancer? There are only so many men within the troop who could afford such lavish gifts each year and it’s been going on for way too many years to be an actual fan.” “I don’t know. For all I do know, it’s you doing it. You’re my rich benefactor who remembers me on my birthday.” Lily laughed, reaching over to tickle Arianna’s stomach. The woman squealed, slapping Lily’s hands away. “Seriously, Lily!” Arianna gasped for breath, grinning. “You have to suspect someone. A man whose eyes linger on yours a little longer than most?” “Well, there is...” Lily took a deep breath. “Never mind. It’s crazy.” “What?” Arianna insisted. “It’s...” Lily hesitated, shaking her head. “I think I might have a vague idea, actually. There ’s this man, well, he’s my protector really.” “Your protector?” Arianna sounded doubtful. “Yes, it’s true. I’ve always felt him watching me, since I first came to live here. Once, when I was fifteen, Tomas got drunk and he trapped me in a corner. I was about to scream when this figure in a mask came swooping in. It was dark and I couldn’t see all that well, but Tomas went flying into the wall. I was so scared, I actually fainted. When I woke up, I was in here, in bed. Perfectly safe.” “You’ve never told me that.” “Well, it’s silly, isn’t it? A ghostly protector?” Lily gave a nervous laugh. She didn’t know why she was admitting this to Arianna now when she’d never told her about it before. However, they could talk about anything and she knew her secret would be safe with her friend. No matter what, Arianna wouldn’t judge her. “I’ve thought to have gotten glimpses of him at other times as well, just small peeks of him hidden in the shadows as I walk by myself through the corridors at night coming back from the library vault, or when I used to stay late to rehearse different parts on the grand stage when no one else was around. I was sure he was listening to me from the balcony.” “You haven’t done those late night rehearsals for years now, Lily.” “I know. I used to pretend he was my audience. Then one night, it was like he stopped coming and I didn’t have the heart to keep going back there alone. Without his presence, I became frightened.” Lily giggled, still nervous. “I haven’t seen him for a long time and I don’t feel him as much. I used to think it was my father or brother looking down on me. Or maybe even Jude. But then when I saw him, the masked figure... Anyway, it’s crazy, right? People don’t come back from the dead and I saw their bodies the night they were murdered.”
“Have you looked around?” Arianna asked softly. “What’s crazy is our lives. It was probably just one of the actors in costume who saved you. There are so many plays in production, being rehearsed, and the costumers are always working ahead. It’s hard to say what’s going to be walking around the Pavilion halls on any given day.” “Yeah, maybe.” Lily took a deep breath. She wasn’t so sure. “In fact, I saw an alien having lunch with a dog this afternoon. They actually kissed. Now that was weird, ” Arianna continued, her tone reasonable and sure. “And in the theater and corridors it was just your imagination running wild. The night can sometimes play tricks on the mind. There was no ghost, Lily. I think you know that.” Arianna lay down on the thick mattress and pulled Lily next to her, not going back to her own bed. Their heads snuggled together on the pillow. “Do you remember when we first arrived? I was a half starved little thing and your eyes were so red and puffy.” “I wouldn’t talk to you and you couldn’t seem to shut up.” Lily laughed, keeping her voice soft in accordance with the early morning hour. “And then Baron Von Hughes told us,” Arianna cleared her throat and mimicked the Baron’s Dutch accent, “Here every strange whim is normal, every odd behavior accepted.” Lily lowered her voice, doing her own impersonation, “We only have three rules at the Pavilion. One. Don’t hurt anyone else, unless it’s only their feelings. This is the theater and feelings have no place in the theater. Two. Everyone works. If you can ’t act, you’ll have to do something. I recommend figuring out what that is soon. If you don’t help, you don’t eat. And three.” Arianna’s voice joined Lily’s as they said in unison, “The most sacred rule of the stage.” The women fell into a fit of laughter. “You can curse God himself,” Arianna said. “But never curse Shakespeare.” Lily finished in a whisper, shaking her head. “Poor Baron. He really is off his rocker, isn’t he?” “I heard he’s casting A Midsummer Night’s Dream again.” Arianna grinned secretly. “I suppose it would be too much to ask for him to direct something other than the ‘god himself.’ There are so many talented playwrights out there and he can’t seem to find a single one beyond William Shakespeare.” “He’s recasting it again? Who’d he fire now? One of the wood sprites for facing stage left when he would ’ve preferred stage right?” Arianna’s smile widened and she slowly shook her head in denial. “No, not a wood sprite.” “No!” Lily gasped. Arianna nodded. “Yep.” “No! He didn’t!” “Yes, he very much did.” “You’re telling me that the Baron fired Diva Giselle!” Lily shook her head. “But she’s played Titania for five years now. She has like thirty costumes fitted for the part just to satisfy her whims for each night the play is open. Diva Giselle is Titania. She ’s on the posters, the tickets, the programs.” “I know. It’s quite the wicked scandal! He’s ordered the print runs stopped on everything until he finds his new star. Some of the girls think that it’s because she refused to sleep with him.” Arianna wrinkled her nose in disgust of the very idea. “He’s so creepy, I wouldn’t doubt if it were true.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Lily couldn’t believe it. There was a part open for a leading role. She bit her lip, wanting nothing more than to someday play a lead on the grand stage to a packed house. “You were asleep when I came to bed and there was no time earlier. Madame had us doing pas de bourrée for hours today and then we had costume fittings.” Arianna scrunched up her nose. “You should try for that part. You’d make a perfect queen.” “What?” Lily gasped, every ounce of her wanted to do just that. She loved being on stage. “No, no, I couldn’t. Besides, he’ll probably just give it to one of the other divas, or it’s like you said--just a ploy to get Giselle to sleep with him.” “No, all the other divas are in production and can’t learn the lines in time. You know how they are, none will work two shows at once and they’ll refuse out of loyalty to Giselle.” “Still, the Baron probably already has a girl in mind for the part. He wouldn’t make such a bold move without a plan. Either that, or he’s stopping the play completely. Besides, I’m not the right height for the part and my coloring is all wrong for a fairy. I ’m too dark.” “But, Lil--” “No, I said I can’t. I’m not ready for such a big part.” It made sense now. That was why she dreamed of their deaths. It was a reminder not to get too comfortable in her new role. She’d taken a bigger speaking part--her first speaking part--on short notice to bail the troop out. Lisa had come down with a mysterious flu and couldn’t go on. Lily was the only one who knew the lines, but that was only because she knew almost everyone’s lines. Having worked first in the library vault and then as a prompter for the grand stage, she’d been exposed to the many scripts. For some reason, everything just stuck in her head and she couldn’t forget it--not that she wanted to. Even though she lost her heart long ago on that fateful night her family was killed, Lily had found her soul at the Pavilion. She was born to be an actress. The only problem was that guilt overwhelmed her every time she tried to audition for a bigger role. It was as if part of her felt it was wrong to have found her soul at such a cost of her heart. As if being a star on stage would somehow betray her father, Sethan and Jude’s memory. “No, I can’t,” she repeated at Arianna’s insistent look. “I’ve heard you speak the part here in this very room a thousand times. You know the lines by heart. You know it better than Giselle ever did. You--” “I’m not ready, Ari.” Lily said, turning her back on her friend. She studied her dark brown hair. “I don’t look like a queen.” “That’s nonsense and you know it.” Arianna grumbled more under her breath, but Lily couldn’t make it out. By her friend’s tone, she figured it was better she didn’t hear what was said. “With makeup and costuming you can look like anything.” Slipping her hand under her pillow, Lily felt the familiar comfort of the old pocket watch she kept there. It was her father ’s and he was to someday give it to Sethan. Now it was all she had to remember them by--besides a faded photograph she kept taped to her vanity mirror. Jude’s face had to be committed to memory as she had no photograph of him. Everything else had been left behind, most of it taken by bankers. “Now go to sleep,” Lily said. “Madame won’t like it if you have bags under your eyes during the ballet tomorrow. Anyway, the divas will have my head if I tried out for the part of the fairy queen.” Arianna didn’t move for a long time. Then, slowly, the bed shifted as she stood. Lily heard her walking across the room to her own bed. Closing her eyes, Lily saw the three bloodied bodies in her childhood living room. It had been so long ago, but she could still picture their white faces and dead eyes. Their bodies had been drained dry in some sick ritualistic killing --at least that’s what the police said in later reports. The killer or killers were never found.
Their skin had been so cold, so pale they were almost blue. Sitting on the floor, shaking as she touched each one of them again and again, she’d been forced to wait for help surrounded by the corpses of her family. It seemed like an eternity before the authorities came. In truth, it could’ve been ten minutes or ten hours. She didn’t know. A tear slipped over her cheek as she lay awake through the early morning hours, unable to fall back asleep for fear of reliving the past. **** Lily closed her eyes, listening to the crowd. Heat warmed her cheeks and her heart beat just a little faster in her excitement. It was almost time for her cue. The audience laughed at those on the grand stage and applause soon followed. Peeking out the side curtain at the crowd, she saw gentlemen in fine black suits and ladies in an array of beautiful dresses. It was almost odd to see the sleek, modern designs of the twenty-first century. At the Pavilion, they were always in some costume of the past--like the pink and white striped silk, Southern Belle costume she wore. The hoop skirt was so wide, she actually felt like a ringing bell when she walked. Frilled and ruched decoration made the gown a lavish affair. The tight bodice was comfortable, pulling her chest flat even as it pushed her cleavage up. She ’d practically grown up in corsets and dresses and was used to the binding fit. The play was about the American Civil War and she was one of the young ladies at a soirée. It wasn’t by any means a spectacular roll, but it was a speaking one. Behind the curtains of the grand stage was a long hall of wooden steps and overhead walkways. Workers manned the curtain ropes and other special effects from above. Below, it wasn’t unusual to see any number of characters milling about the halls. On any given night there would be those in Roman togas, women in Victorian dresses and men in knightly armor. Sugar plum fairies danced by, running to the blue stage around the corner from the grand. On any given night there could be three performances going on at once, but the grand stage was always the most prestigious. The grand stage was where the feature performances were held. Its theater was set up like an old-fashioned opera house, with box seating and rows of cheaper seats along the walls and the more expensive seats behind the orchestra. The orchestra pit wasn’t as huge as it had once been in days past, but with modern technology things like lights and music could easily be prerecorded. However, the directors like Baron liked employing musicians whenever a play or musical called for it, even if a whole orchestra section wasn’t put to use. They even did an occasional opera, though those were rare since Diva Fontaine, their prima donna, died nearly ten years earlier. Most times prerecorded music was used along with the live. The audience didn’t even notice. It was one of the Pavilion’s many secrets. The plush red and gold of the seating area matched Lily’s bedroom in its ornate style. A crystal chandelier hung from the center arch and long sweeping rows of golden yellow drapes covered large sections of the walls. Great care had been taken to hide the spotlights within the ceilings’ carved designs. Everything was meant to look like the past and every detail was attended to in keeping with this appearance. There were four smaller stages at the Pavilion as well. Two were for rehearsals and two were for lesser productions. The complex was set up in a giant oval, several stories high, with the stages on the outside rim. Each stage area led to the outside world with the grand stage considered the front entrance. Its entryway was guarded with intricate Corinthian columns sixty feet high and a long front drive and manicured walking garden. Many from within the Pavilion’s walls didn’t venture far beyond the walking gardens, except for the cooks, the buyers and the directors. After living inside the Pavilions walls, the outside world seemed a strange and dull place. The troop was a community all in itself. There was even a private dining area where the divas entertained high paying guests so the fine ladies didn’t have to leave. The next ring inside the oval was an eating area for the thousands who lived and worked at the pavilion. In the center of the complex were the living quarters, stacked three stories high. Divas were on top and everyone else was just arranged according to convenience on the floors below. Lily’s room was on the bottom floor, not far from the grand stage. In between the living quarters were an array of work rooms, quick change rooms, fitting rooms, set and prop rooms and the library vault where they kept all the music scores and scripts. The basement area was a maze-like crypt, sealed off long ago and rarely used. The rooms that were utilized were merely for storing extra props and costumes. Some said it was because the basement was haunted. Others said it was because too many actresses
had ventured down and gotten lost, only to die of starvation before they were found. And still others claimed that it was because the Baron had lost the key to the thick iron door and didn’t wish to admit it. Music sounded from the orchestra below, drawing Lily’s nervous attention. She took a deep breath as she was swept into a flurry of movement. Straightening her posture, she drew her gloved hand to her face. As she stepped out onto the stage, she forgot everything as she became Miss Dorthea, Southern Belle. **** After the play was always an exciting time, as the crush of the audience mingled with the actors and actresses who walked about in costume. In many ways, things had not changed in the theater since the olden days when nineteenth century royalty and nobles would come to rub elbows with the young and beautiful stars of the stage. Gentlemen still bought gifts for their favorite divas, showering them with gold and jewels, silks and furs. Flowers were prevalent, especially on opening night. Their exquisite perfume wafted on the air, so vibrant and sweet. Diva Rosaline, a dark-haired goddess with a bad temper and a penchant for too much rouge, entered the top of the greeting area stairs. Her small cap had a long veil down the back, matching the blue of her luxurious gown. Thick velvet ribbons held the overskirt up, showing off the cream-colored underskirt with its light blue embroidery. Fringing was everywhere--hanging from the skirt, the off-the-shoulder sleeves. The diva was met with applause as she smiled and lorded over the room. Lily shot Arianna a mischievous look. Arianna was supposed to be in the other greeting area, as her performance had been on stage four, called the blue stage because of its dark blue décor. “So it went well?” Arianna asked, her eyes scanning the crowd. Her hands stayed at her sides, holding down her white tulle skirt. The long tutu was made from layers of tarlatan. She didn’t dare walk much further into the room. They knew it wouldn’t be good if the Baron caught her ‘on the wrong side.’ “Very well,” Lily nodded. She knew her cheeks were flushed, but she couldn’t help it. She had drunk a glass of fine champagne in celebration, which was very unlike her. “Perfect.” “I knew you’d be great.” “And you?” Lily asked, also glancing about. Her smile faded as she caught a familiar glimpse in the crowd. The dark eyes were unmistakable, as was that polite smile. No, it can’t be.... “Fine, but I’ve done the ballet so many times that it’s second nature.” Arianna sighed. “I wish Diva Malvina would trip and twist her ankle so I could get a better part. Sometimes I think Madame is so scared of hurting Malvina’s feelings that she refuses to make any changes. At this rate, I’ll be an old maid before I make my first onstage solo.” Lily barely heard her friend as she stood on her toes. The tight corset of her gown suddenly felt very restrictive. Gasping for breath as her heart fluttered in her chest, she stared over the sea of heads. Then she saw him again. “Jude,” she whispered. Glancing around, part of her hoped to see her father and brother as well. She didn’t. “What?” Arianna asked, taking her elbow. “Who do you see?” “Jude,” Lily repeated, pulling away from her best friend. She walked into the crowd where Arianna wouldn’t dare follow, intent on finding him. If it was really Jude, she couldn’t let him get away. Almost desperate, she swept through the crush of people, searching amongst the Southern Belles and Civil War soldiers, the rich modern gentlemen and their sleek young dates. It didn’t take long before she spotted him again. His handsome face was just as she remembered, except that his eyes were harder than the boy he had been so many years ago, and his hair was longer than she recalled. It fell to his chin in thick waves and was
brown streaked with blond instead of black. Hair color could easily account for the hair and time could have added that look to his eyes. Jude. How can it be? I was only a girl when it happened. Was I mistaken in your death? Has heaven returned you to me now? Jude...? He wore a tuxedo. She shook her head. That was all wrong. Her Jude never wore such fancy clothes unless he was on stage. He hated fancy clothes, preferring blue jeans and T-shirts. When she imagined him, it was never in a tuxedo. That only proved she wasn’t imagining him. How could this be? She’d seen his body, seen all the blood. It had been his blood as well as her family’s, hadn’t it? She’d felt his cold, corpse-like hands. He’d been dead. His heart hadn’t been beating. She’d checked all three of the men again and again. A chill washed over her. The wounds they carried had been fatal. Hadn’t they? How can this be? Was she too young to know that they could survive? She didn’t take her eyes off him. He couldn’t get away--not until she knew the truth. Not until she touched him, felt that he was real. She’d been so young, in such shock. Thoughts rushed madly in her brain. Did he live? Was it possible no one told her he lived? Did they not want to hurt her feelings when her family had died? Maybe they didn’t know to tell her about Jude. He wasn’t technically related after all. Despite her best efforts to remain calm, hope welled within her. In her wildest dreams, this was one of the very things she wished for. Unmindful that Jude spoke to Baron Von Hughes, she went directly to him. “Jude? How...?” The man smiled, looking stunned as she spoke. “Excuse me, miss? Are you speaking to me?” Why was he looking at her like that? Didn’t he recognize her? Had she changed so much from the girl she’d been? “Lily, my dear,” the Baron said, his loud voice breaking into her thoughts. She blinked, looking at the director. He never referred to her affectionately. In fact, he barely even talked to her unless it was to yell some dictatorial order in her direction. The Baron dressed and acted just as his title implicated, though none really knew if he was titled in real life. It didn’t matter. The man had been titled by the Pavilion and would die a nobleman. His handlebar mustache went well with the mid-eighteen hundred suits he favored. The dark black, double-breasted jacket with large collar and stark white waistcoats with high fastenings were of the highest quality. Often he would wear a top hat over his balding brown curls, as he did this night. “We were just discussing your debut speaking performance,” the Baron continued. “Adequate job for your first time.” Lily paused, surprised that he remembered tonight was her first speaking part. She had to hand it to the Baron, his mind was like a trap. He remembered every detail when it came to the Pavilion. She was sure the only thing the man feared was the outside world trying to come in and take what was theirs. Adequate? That wasn’t exactly a compliment, but she supposed coming from the Baron it was the best she was going to get since she wasn’t a precious diva. “May I introduce Mr. Verona,” the Baron said, motioning to his side. The gentleman who looked like Jude offered his hand. She blinked, confused. “But...? I...” No, you can’t be Mr. Verona. Jude? Tell him he’s mistaken! Lily held her breath, waiting for a miracle.
“Lily,” the Baron warned. “Mr. Verona is looking to be a patron and was very impressed by your performance tonight.” Lily blinked, instantly coming out of her stupor at the man ’s words. A patron? “I’m sorry, sir, please forgive my rudeness. You looked familiar to me. I thought... Well, you couldn’t be who I thought. He’s dead.” The man quirked a brow and she realized she was babbling. Snapping her mouth shut, she gave the two men a weak smile. What had she been thinking? Charging up to the Baron and a rich patron like she did? Of course this man wasn’t Jude. Mr. Verona’s hand was still out in the air for her to take. Lily trembled, taking note of the gesture too late as he awkwardly withdrew his fingers from her before she could take his hand. Glancing at the Baron, she saw that the man was irritated. What was she doing? This was a patron interested in her performance. These things rarely happened, especially to girls with such small parts-even if they were speaking roles. Be coy. Be pretty, Lily. And for goodness’ sake, start batting your eyelashes a little. Lily struck a pose and blinked prettily for the man. Play the part for him, Lily. Get the role. Get yourself a patron. All great divas start with patrons. “Mr. Verona,” Lily said, affecting a coy smile and a Southern accent that went well with her clothing. “Peter, please.” His low, rich voice stirred her as the words washed over her. She shivered, completely aware of him as a man. There was something to the way he was looking at her--an interest in his eyes, a masculine interest that was unmistakably sexual, primitive, raw. He might be acting refined, but she could feel a beast just under the surface waiting to be unleashed. The idea of it thrilled and frightened her. There was more to this Mr. Verona than he was letting on with his polished manner. “Well,” Lily grinned, keeping the cute little drawl. “I do declare, Mr. Verona, yours is a popular name around here.” “Miss?” “Petruchio of Verona,” Lily said, smiling brighter. “Ah, yes.” The Baron nodded, in instant understanding. “I had thought that myself.” Lily tried not to roll her eyes at the director. “Ah, The Taming of the Shrew,” Peter said. “You know it.” Lily was impressed. “Yes, I know much about the theater.” The man smiled, the same look in his sinfully dark eyes. At the moments when he spoke, his tone was so familiar she could hear Jude in her head as clear as if it had been yesterday. “That’s one of my favorites.” “Mine, too,” Lily said. Peter Verona. That was too big of a coincidence. Possibility renewed itself inside her. Could this be Jude? Was he in disguise? Did God send him down from heaven to patron her? She studied his face, hope bubbling inside her, even as she knew how crazy her thoughts were. Men did not come back from the grave. She’d seen the body. She’d touched it. Don’t wish for what cannot be. Don’t do that to yourself. “Sir, can I ask? Did you have a cousin who died several years back? ” Lily dropped the accent, still shaken to her toes at the uncanniness of Peter’s close resemblance to Jude. “Only child,” Peter answered, his look quizzical. “I take it you’re thinking of this man of whom I reminded you?” Lily nodded, unable to look away from his eyes. Her body heated, centering between her thighs.
“Mr. Verona has shown an interest in your receiving a larger part,” said the Baron, his tone holding a small warning in it. Lily tensed at the reminder. She really needed to concentrate. She barely heard the director’s words as he continued to speak, “Naturally, we usually don’t let patrons cast our plays and all the large roles have been taken.” Lily hid her frown. That wasn’t true. He’d just fired Diva Giselle. “However, I’d be willing to let her keep the part of Miss Dorthea,” the Baron said in a slightly condescending, yet benevolent tone. Peter frowned slightly and nodded once. “Ah, come,” the Baron said, sweeping his arm to the side to block Lily from his view. Peter glanced back at her, his eyes dipping quickly over her form before succumbing to the Baron ’s pull. “There is our Diva Rosaline, star of tonight’s performance. I’ll introduce you. She is an eternal rose amongst us mortal thorns.” Lily watched the Baron lead Peter away. The gentleman was a handsome fellow, to be sure, but Jude had been handsome as well. Confused and feeling a little faint, she worked her way through the crowd to the back area. When she could, she lifted up her skirts and ran through the long hall to her bedroom. Shutting the thick door behind her, Lily took a deep breath. Her pale reflection stared back at her from the full length mirror. Usually her skin was tan blending well with her dark wavy hair. With her locks pulled to the top of her head, she really did look the part of a Southern Belle. Her wide skirts only made her cinched waist look smaller and the tight bodice pressed her breasts high, showing a fair amount of cleavage. She watched her breasts heave as she took deep breaths. The man stirred her in a way she’d never been stirred. First the dream after so long and now Jude ... or was it Peter? “Jude is dead, Lily. They’re all dead,” she told herself, a tear slipping over her cheek. She closed her eyes, turning from her reflection. “You saw the bodies and the dead do not come back to life. Peter just looks like him, that is all. Your family is never coming back to you. Jude is never coming back.” Chapter Two Jude took a deep breath, never having dreamt that Lily would recognize him if she were to see him again. He ’d done so well, staying out of her sight for all these years. But when he saw her performance--of which he never missed a one--he knew he had to interfere. She might have had a minor part, but her sultry voice stole the show. He wondered why she’d never spoken on stage before, why she stayed with the small parts. Was she shy? He wasn’t sure, as he’d never looked at her since she was a child, not really. Whenever he watched her in a play, he stood far back, unable to make out her face from the distance of the cheaper seats. Sometimes he merely listened, not looking but knowing when she would walk across stage. Seeing her face had been too painful in the past. It only reminded him of all he ’d lost. And until this night he’d never heard her speak with her woman’s voice. In his head she’d been a child until that moment. She’s not a child any longer. No, she’s grown into a lovely woman. Over the years, all he could do was make sure she was safe and now act as her patron. The Baron was a fool not to see her talent for what it was. Her voice had mesmerized the audience. He saw the men stiffen and the women sigh. His own body had responded in a way he’d never imagined possible. His shaft was hard, thick with need and desire. It felt odd that he should feel such a reaction to his ‘ward,’ but it was there no matter how he tried to suppress it. Then, when she approached, saying his name in that low, husky voice--Jude--he’d seen the extent of her beauty for what it was. It had been a long time since anyone called him by his given name. Lily was no longer the young, bright-eyed child sitting in her father’s living room indulging his mediocre acting talent. No, Lily had become a gorgeous woman with big round eyes and a sparkling smile. She would steal hearts as easily as she stole the stage and Jude knew he had his work cut out for him.
He was her guardian, her protector and being such, he would protect her from even himself and his new desire for her. She would stay pure, innocent. He would see to it. The lecherous men who came to the Pavilion would never touch her. No one would ever touch her. Lily was his soul purpose for living--such as his life was. All those years ago, on that fateful night, he ’d promised Sethan he’d always look after her and that’s what he’d done. It’s what he’d continue to do until the day she died. But he couldn’t reveal himself to her. The man she knew was dead. He was now Peter Verona, her patron. That is all he could ever be. **** Hands skimmed over her ankles, slowly moving up her calves, caressing her though the silk of her nightgown. Lily moaned softly. It felt good to be touched. Her body awoke to those warm, strong hands and her thighs naturally parted. It was as if she couldn ’t control her own body as it responded to the caress. Jude, the thought whispered in her head, Peter. The hands came higher, gliding around her hip. As the man’s face came into view, she gasped. It was neither Jude nor Peter. It was him. Her benefactor. The man in the mask. She couldn’t move. The black mask molded to his face, hiding half of his features from view. It covered his eyes, dipping low over the nose until only his lips showed--and those were partly hidden by the way the mask cast a shadow over them. He wore a black suit, cut into the style of the 1850s gentleman. The small white bow tie matched the undershirt with the upturned collar. The black waistcoat and tight trousers matched the thick material of the longer frock coat. He made a fine figure of a man-his body tight in all the right places. Through the mask, black eyes stared at her, flecked strangely with green and red. It was an odd contrast, one that made her heart beat all the faster. “Lily,” he whispered, his voice low and soft, just like the hand on her hip. His fingers moved, massaging her through the silk. Her body burned as if he touched her flesh with fire. She glanced to the side. Arianna was gone and she was alone with the strange man. Fingers glanced over her neck, hovering along her pulse before pulling away. She gasped, wanting him to continue, wanting him to touch every inch of her. “Who are you?” she asked. “You did well tonight. I am very pleased.” She shivered. The hand on her hip lightened as the man drew back into the shadows. He slowly stood, backing away. “I am proud of you,” he said. “You’re the one who sent me this nightgown, aren’t you?” Lily sat up, pulling her legs up to her chest. “Yes, I did.” “I never got a chance to thank you for it.” A low, sultry moan followed her statement and she perceived his eyes to close briefly. “Seeing you wear it is thanks enough.” “And for saving me when I was younger. That was you, wasn’t it?” Lily wanted to stand, but her legs were shaking. Was this a dream? Was this man really here in her room? Where was Arianna? It was the middle of the night and her friend should be sleeping right now. Her stomach knotted with a myriad of emotions, but she didn’t feel as if she was in harm’s way. “Yes, it was. But do not thank me for that. My protecting you is selfish in purpose. I’m saving you.”
“From what?” Lily asked. She could no longer see him. “Not from what, dear Lily,” the man said, “but for what.” “For what, then?” “For me.” Lily gasped, instinctively knowing that the man left her with those low words. For me. The door to her room didn’t open. She listened to the shadows, but he was gone. “Phantom,” she whispered. “It’s true.” The man in her room had been a ghost. The rumors about him were correct. There was no other way of explaining it. Her leg still tingled from where he touched her. His hand had been real, making her skin yearn for him to continue with his slow seduction. She knew what the feelings were, even though she had never let a man get too close to her. Sex was a big part of the Pavilion, at least behind the scenes. Lily had stumbled onto her fair share of trysting couples. But when the phantom touched her there was more inside her than just the pleasures of the flesh, there was a stirring, a longing to follow him. Was this the real Jude, come down from heaven like he promised? Or was she just dreaming again? “Phantom? Are you still there?” Lily shivered, unable to throw her feet over the side of the bed to go after him as she huddled under the covers. “Please, wait. Come back. I want to talk to you. Please. Jude? Is that you? Please don’t leave me again. Please.” The door to the room opened. Lily gasped, nearly screaming at the sound as her whole body jerked on the bed. Arianna stood in the doorway. “Lily?” Arianna asked, staring at her. Lily glanced around the room for her phantom, but he wasn’t there. The room was empty. Even now her hip tingled, attesting to his existence. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Arianna said, shutting the door. “What are you doing in bed? The party is still going on out there and rumors are circulating that you might have a new patron, some Mr. Verona. He saw you tonight and is insistent you get a bigger part. Diva Rosaline is furious and actually yelled at him for daring to mention your name in her presence--at least that’s what I heard for I didn’t see it happen. Anyway, she’s gone to the tower and is refusing to come out of her room. The Baron’s very upset and her gentlemen lovers are all lining up to give her presents. At least, that’s what everyone’s saying.” “Ari,” Lily said, stopping her friend. “Did you see any man outside our door when you came in? He was wearing a mask.” “Lily?” Arianna paused, stepping into the room. Only the orange glow of the fire gave them enough light to see by. “You’re pale. What’s wrong? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost?” “Ari, please!” Lily insisted. “Did you see a man in a mask outside our door?” “No, sweetie, there was no one outside our door. Were you dreaming again? Was it another nightmare?” Lily’s heart fell in disappointment. She glanced around the room. Quietly, she said, “He was here, Ari. The phantom was here.” “Oh, no,” Arianna shook her head, sitting next to Lily on the bed. “He wasn’t. It was just a nightmare.” “But it felt real,” Lily insisted, taking Arianna’s hand. “You have to believe me.”
“I do,” Arianna said. “Oh, look, you’re shaking terribly. I’ve had dreams that have felt so real I was sure they were true.” Lily sighed. That’s not what she had meant, but maybe her friend was right. Ghosts didn ’t exist, did they? And if they did, they didn’t materialize and touch people. “You’re right. It was a dream.” “There,” Arianna said, smoothing back Lily’s hair. “Now, did you hear me about Mr. Verona? Rumor has it he wants to patron you.” Lily smiled shyly at the excitement in her friend’s voice. “Yes, I met him. He does want me to have a bigger part but the Baron said there weren’t any.” Arianna frowned as she lay next to Lily on the bed. Lifting up a leg straight into the air, she unlaced her slipper. “Oh, yeah, right. What about the part of Titania?” “I thought the same thing.” “Ah-ha!” Arianna grinned in girlish excitement and tossed off her shoe, only to set to work on the other one. “So you do want the part. I knew it!” “Ari, please, I can’t betray them.” Lily knew she didn’t have to explain further. They’d known each other too long for that. “How is finding happiness a betrayal?” Tossing the second shoe aside, she sighed and flexed her toes before bringing her legs to the mattress once more. “If you ask me, the true betrayal of your family is hiding your gifts. They’d want you to be happy.” Lily didn’t answer. She again glanced around the room, hoping to get a glimpse of her ghost. Maybe he had some answers for her. “So,” Arianna’s tone lightened, “tell me about Mr. Verona.” “Peter?” Lily blinked, trying to hide her blush when she thought of him. How did she answer that? He was handsome. He was rich, or was probably rich if the Baron was hanging on his every word. He had a great smile, a wonderful voice, sexy eyes and he reminded her of her dead first love. “Peter, is it?” Arianna giggled. “What do you want to know?” Lily grabbed Arianna’s hands in her own, holding them tight. Excitement flooded her as she thought of the man. Jude aside, the man wanted to support her as an actress. Such were the things of dreams. “Is he cute?” “Mm, very. And he knows about the theater. Not like these pretentious snobs who come here, but really seems to know. I said the name--” “Petruchio?” Arianna interrupted, finishing her sentence for her. “Yes, and he knew who it was.” Lily laughed. “Ah, think of it!” Arianna rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. “You may someday be a diva and you’ll live up there on the top floor. And, you’ll probably not have time for us little people anymore.” “Hey!” Lily poked her friend in the ribs lightly. “I’ll always have time for the little people. Who do you think will be my servant if I move up?” “Ah!” “I might even demand you come live with me. We ’ll drink the finest wines every night and complain about everyone and
everything.” Both women giggled in excitement. “I’ll never get back to sleep now,” Lily said. “Can you imagine it? Me with a patron? And I know you’ll have one soon, Ari. I can feel it. Big things are about to happen for us.” “Do you want to go back to the party?” Arianna picked up a loose red curl and began absently playing with it. Lily watched, jealous of the fiery color of her friend’s locks. “You can parade before Diva Rosaline and see if she gets mad.” “No, I’ve already changed from my costume and everyone’s drunk by now. The men start touching when they’re drunk. I know, let’s sneak up to the library vault.” “Or down to the basement? I don’t feel like reading plays tonight.” Arianna laughed, poking Lily playfully in the ribs. “We could hunt for your ghost.” She trembled. “No thanks.” “You’re so serious,” Arianna scolded. “That’s because the dream was so real.” “I’ve got it!” Arianna sat up, pulling Lily behind her as she jumped off the bed. “We’re going to spy on the party and then the divas. If you’re going to be one, you’ll need to know how to act.” Lily giggled as she was pulled to the door. Arianna peeked out into the hall to make sure the way was clear before dragging Lily out of the room in her nightgown. Running barefoot through the corridors, they made their way to the empty planks above the backstage hall to secretly watch the crowds below. **** “Come here, child.” Lily stopped on her way past the fitting room at her aunt’s call. She was tired from her sleepless night. They’d spied on the divas, but nothing of interest happened. Mostly Diva Rosaline complained that she was unappreciated as a star and Diva Giselle declared that she’d been right all along--that none of the divas were appreciated as they should be. Ironically, their complaining took place in silk and fur gowns, decked in large diamonds, surrounded by expensive furniture and paintings. Yeah, really neglected, Lily thought sarcastically. “Lily?” her aunt called again. Backing up, Lily went inside the fitting room where her aunt was working. The room was large, but felt small as costumes were crammed into every inch. Each piece was labeled and split into categories, then cataloged with photos. It was her aunt ’s job to keep them all in order. “Yes, Aunt Isabelle?” “I heard you had a visitor last night,” the woman said. Her tight black slacks and burgundy turtleneck was oddly out of place in the room filled with grand finery. Lily tensed. How could Isabelle know about the ghost in her room? “Don’t look so worried, child. A patron isn’t a bad thing,” her aunt teased. “Oh,” Lily took a deep breath. “You mean Mr. Verona.” Isabelle looked over a long Victorian gown and frowned. Picking up the hem, she examined it only to mutter under her breath,
“Another one that needs to be mended. I must talk to the fitters about this. They’re leaving the hemlines too long and they’re being trampled.” “Did you need something?” “Actually, yes,” Isabelle smiled. “I told the Baron that you will be auditioning for the part of the fairy queen. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not Shakespeare’s best written comedy, but it is a very notable role and popular with the masses.” “Why would you do that?” Lily gasped. “Because he told me to,” Isabelle said. “Didn’t he visit you last night?” “Who? Peter Verona?” “Who is this Verona? I’m talking about your benefactor.” Lily felt the color draining from her cheeks. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Don’t be daft, child,” Isabelle scolded. “The man in the mask, your benefactor. Surely you know who’s been giving you all those gifts. He’s taken quite the interest in you over the years.” “You mean the phantom?” “I suppose you could call him that. Yes, he is rather ghostlike isn ’t he? Coming and going without a sound.” Isabelle sighed thoughtfully. Lily was used to her aunt being an odd character, just like everyone else at the Pavilion, but this was even beyond her normal absentmindedness. “He came to me when you were a child. You’d been here for about a year. At first I was frightened, but he merely handed me some gold coins and bid me to make sure you got a fine education. Then the presents started. I just assumed you knew. You never asked from where they came and he bid me not to discuss him or else he ’d stop helping us. Really, Lily, I thought you knew all this.” “Who is he?” Lily asked, shaking. “I don’t know.” Isabelle shrugged. “He just showed up when you were a child. I hadn’t seen him before then, though there have always been rumors of spirits living amongst these old walls--especially in the mazes below. I don’t think he’s a ghost, leastways his coins were real enough to pay for your tutors over the years. I even believe it was he who convinced the Baron to let you and Arianna keep that nice room, though I don’t know that for sure.” Lily couldn’t move. All these years she never said anything for fear of being ridiculed, or worse, thought of as crazy. Now it turned out her aunt knew about it all along. “Now, who’s this Peter Verona?” “He wishes to be my patron as well, or so he told the Baron.” Isabelle’s eyes narrowed and she dropped the hem she was studying. “Do you know this Mr. Verona?” “No, not really. I was introduced last night.” “Good,” Isabelle said. Crossing to her niece, she placed a hand on her cheek. “These men who come to watch us, they speak very pretty words but they don’t mean them. As soon as he has his way with you, which I assure you is his intent, he’ll be gone before the next curtain falls.” “But--” “No, child, no,” her aunt insisted. “You had one small part in one big play. Men do not throw fortunes about at such things. They’ll
tell you pretty lies and act very possessive, but you’re just a piece of property to them, paid for by what little money they do spend on you--and trust me, to them it is a little amount and in the long run it becomes little to us as well. Besides, your phantom’s orders were very explicit. You are not to date at all and I quite agree. You’re much too young.” “I’m twenty three,” Lily put in dryly. “I daresay I’m an old maid by any standards.” “Too innocent, then,” her aunt said, smiling to herself. “Despite the men in cravats, this isn’t the eighteen hundreds, Aunt Isabelle.” Lily didn’t feel like fighting over her innocence with the woman. In fact, it was a conversation she’d rather avoid altogether. Part of the problem with living in a fairytale world where make believe was everyday, was that eventually reality and make believe became one and it was too hard to decipher between what was real and what was imagined. Her aunt wanted her to be the innocent little girl and so to Isabelle, Lily was the innocent girl. She may not have had boyfriends, but she was aware of more than her aunt knew. “Auditions for Titania are in a week,” Isabelle said, turning to a pair of padded breeches with slashed decoration worn during the reign of Kind Edward the sixth. “I expect you to be ready before then. It’s my intention to get you an audition before anyone else can try for the role.” Lily nodded, her stomach in knots. Her heart beat really fast. This was all so surreal. Isabelle knew her phantom, had seen him. That meant he wasn’t a dream. Peter wanted to be her patron. The phantom was her patron--of sorts. She was trying out for a lead role! She thought of her family. What did she do? How could she say no to this chance? Were her dreams of them somehow telling her to go for it? Or not to? “I’ll think about it,” Lily said. “What’s to think about?” Isabelle demanded. “You’ll do it. Opportunities like this are not to be thrown away.” “Yes,” Lily nodded, though her tone wasn’t nearly as excited as it should be. “Good,” Isabelle said. “Now, I need you to take these gowns to the basement storage for me. They’re too ruined to bother with now.” Lily took the two gowns her aunt handed her and folded them over her arms. “Wait, this one isn’t a gown. Are you sure you mean for me to take it?” Isabelle didn’t look at the black frock with silver trim Lily tried to hold up, as she answered, “Just put it down there, please. I know what I’m doing.” Lily smiled halfheartedly and made her way down the Pavilion’s center stairwell toward the basement. Stopping on the bottom step, she looked around the dank, gray brick room. It was so quiet beneath the complex, except for the sound of water dripping on stone. Seeing a rack with costumes on it, Lily hurried forward to hang the clothing up. Her limbs shook nervously as she glanced around the quiet room and the task took longer than it should have. Just as she was turning from the rack, she heard a noise. It sounded like metal scraping on stone. “Hello?” Lily whispered. “Is anyone down here?” There was no answer. “Hello?” Bravely, she walked around a column in the center of the room that protected the stairwell. “Is anyone here? Hello?” A soft light flickered in the darkness and she saw that the thick iron door was opened just a crack. Biting her lip, she walked toward the firelight. Her hands shook, but she forced herself to peek. How could she not? The door to the maze was never open.
Torches lit up a long, barren hall within, which looked as if it went on for miles. Suddenly, blackness flashed through the torchlight. A cape fluttered before her face and then he was there--her masked stranger. His cool hand crushed into her throat, pushing her back against the hard stone of the wall. He didn’t hurt her as he held her captive before him. His body loomed over hers, as his dark, sinfully erotic eyes looked over her face. It was impossible to tell his age by those eyes. Long, black hair spilled over his shoulders to mid chest. She could see him better in the torchlight than when he stood in her bedroom. The mask covered his strong, proud nose, hiding the exact shape of it. His cheeks were sunken, his skin pale. Then, his lips parted slowly and she froze in terror. Two very lethal canine teeth grew from his gums, pointed and sharp compared to the others. Fangs. Lily screamed in terror at the sight. She struggled to be free, but the hands on her neck refused to let her go. He didn’t hurt her, just held firm as he kept her from running. “What are you doing down here?” he demanded, the words dark, cryptic. “You don’t belong down here.” “I ... gowns,” was all she managed to get out. “You shouldn’t have come down here.” His eyes swirled, the whites filling in with red like a demon. “Not you. She should’ve sent someone else.” “Please,” Lily pleaded, not knowing what she begged for. The danger in him excited her even as it terrified her. Her heart pounded, calling out for him, wanting him, needing him. “Too late,” he growled. His lips widened and the fangs only grew longer. With lightening speed, he struck, biting into her neck. White, fiery heat blazed from the wound as his lips worked along her throat. He sucked her blood, drinking it down. Even as she struggled to be free, a euphoric sensation coursed over her body from the bite. It was seductive, erotic, sinfully pleasurable. Lily stopped fighting his hold only to grab his arms and pull him closer. His long hair brushed over her hands. She moaned lightly and tilted her head to better offer her neck, liking the lightheaded arousal that fanned in her body from his touch. His hard body pressed into hers, his arousal rubbing along her stomach, showing her just how much he wanted her. Her thighs were hot and she spread them slightly in acceptance. A hand cupped her breast, squeezing it until she thought her nipple would explode from the pleasure. The phantom didn’t stop drinking and blackness invaded her mind. Lily welcomed it as it overcame her senses, casting her into a cocoon of bliss. The last thing she remembered was the mysterious, pleasured chuckle against her neck as the creature continued to drink. Chapter Three “Mr. Verona, please,” the Baron’s voice broke into the darkness. “I already told you, Miss Lily cannot be disturbed. She’s rehearsing for a bigger role.” Lily frowned. She was rehearsing? Blinking, she opened her eyes only to find she was staring at her bedroom ceiling. A light moan filtered past her lips, but she was too weak to move. Arianna’s face came into view as the woman leaned over her to motion for silence. “What part?” Peter’s voice demanded, muffled as if he stood on the other side of her door. Lily blinked, trying to focus her thoughts. “Ah ... ah,” the Baron’s voice faltered. “A lead part, like you suggested, sir.” “Let me by,” Peter demanded on the other side of the door. He sounded angry, desperate. “I don’t believe you. Why would she miss a performance to rehearse another play?”
“Quickly,” Arianna whispered frantically. “Can you stand?” What was going on? Seeing Arianna’s panicked expression, Lily nodded. Her friend helped her out of her bed. “Say some lines,” Arianna rushed. “Anything!” “The war may be over, sir,” Lily said, her voice shaky. Her limbs were weak and when she moved something pulled at her neck. She touched her throat. It was covered with a bandage. Arianna motioned for her to continue. “But the battles have just begun in your home.” The door burst open as she spoke. Lily gasped to see Peter standing in the doorway. He blinked, looking at her in stunned surprise. “Excuse me, sir,” Arianna insisted. “We’re rehearsing right now and there are to be no interruptions during rehearsals.” “Ari?” Lily asked, not following what was happening. She swayed on her feet, feeling dizzy and weak. It was all she could do to maintain her composure. Peter was devilishly handsome, his dress much more relaxed than the tuxedo she’d seen him in last time. The black knit shirt pulled across his tight muscles and his gray slacks hugged his slender hips. There was no mistaking that the man took great care of himself. “My apologies,” Peter said after some time to Arianna. Lily blinked, realizing she’d been staring overlong at his hips. So familiar.... His eyes filtered back to her, stopping on her neck. “Miss ... are you?” “The play is about a war,” Lily said, seeing the Baron’s hurried motions behind Peter. She touched the bandage. “It’s a prop.” “Ah, there, you see, nothing to worry about,” the Baron’s voice boomed, his Dutch accent clipped. “Just rehearsing, like I said.” “You’re sure you’re not hurt?” Peter insisted, staring at her as he ignored the Baron. His eyes bored into her, probing. Was this what Isabelle had meant? The overbearing jealousy of a would-be patron? He did indeed look possessive of her. Though, instead of putting her off, it excited her. The director looked panicked behind his back. Just like the first time they met, she got the feeling there was much more to this Mr. Verona. Lily’s heart picked up a notch as she stared at him. He looked so familiar, except for the lighter hair, but she knew it was only her memories of Jude that made him so. In truth he was a stranger. “I’m perfectly fine, sir.” Slowly, Peter nodded. “There, you see,” the Baron said, smoothing down his jacket. “Nothing to worry about.” “What’s the play?” Peter asked, flashing an overconfident grin. Was that challenge in his face. Instantly, Lily could see he didn ’t believe their ruse. She didn’t understand it herself. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the Baron said. “She’s to be our Titania if she can learn her lines on time.” Lily felt pleasure at the Baron’s words, but noticed how he left a big ‘if’ in his declaration. “I thought you said a war piece?” Peter’s eyes stayed on hers. “I’m afraid you caught me playing,” Lily said. “My apologies, Baron. I promise to get right back to my lines.” “See that you do.” The Baron took Peter by the arm and insistently pulled him out of the room. The door closed. Lily ’s knees
weakened and Arianna was at her side, catching her. “What’s happening?” Lily asked as Arianna took her to the bed once more. “Brent found you unconscious by the stairs to the basement. There are wounds on your neck,” Arianna said. “The Baron ordered us not to tell anyone that you were ill so he’s been saying you’re in rehearsal with me going over lines. You’ve been asleep all day.” “Wounds?” Lily again touched the bandage around her throat. Pushing up, she stumbled to the mirror. Unwrapping her neck, she delicately pried the bandage off to see the injury. “Why would it matter if people thought I was sick?” Lily fingered the wounds, pressing delicately at them. “The Pavilion is losing money. Isabelle admitted that the Baron needs more patrons like Mr. Verona if we ’re to keep living here. Expenses have just gotten too high. When Mr. Verona saw that you weren’t on stage he threatened to withdraw his offer unless he spoke to you--” “And let me guess,” Lily broke in with a sigh. “The Baron lied to prevent him from speaking to me by saying I was rehearsing and then Peter demanded to see me rehearsing in person.” “Something like that.” Arianna nodded. “What happened to you, Lily? I’ve been worried sick. They had to give your part back to Lisa. The witch only agreed if she got to keep it.” Lily froze as she removed the gauze. Two puncture wounds were surrounded by a bruise on her neck. Closing her eyes, desire whipped through her as she remembered the white hot feel of lips drinking against her flesh. “He bit me. The phantom bit me.” “It looks more like a...” Arianna took a deep breath, her voice softening as she finished, “a vampire bite.” “That’s impossible.” Lily gave a nervous laugh. “Vampires don’t exist.” “Neither do phantoms.” Arianna touched her shoulder and they both stared at the two perfect wounds reflected in the mirror. **** Lily sat up in bed. It was late, but she couldn’t sleep. Her body was on fire, like someone turned the temperature up in the room. Glancing at Arianna in the dim orange glow from the fireplace, she saw her friend was huddled under the covers. The room wasn’t hot, it was just her. Opening her green robe, she fanned herself as she began pacing the floor. Her body was restless with energy. She felt it coursing in her blood--a wantonness. Strange, new urges and dark desires washed over her, heating her all the more. She wanted to run, to leap, to fly. Part of her felt as if she could fly, high above the Pavilion. Luckily, she was too sane to jump off the roof. But more to the point, she wanted to find her phantom and demand he kiss her, that he make love to her, that he touch every inch of her body. Then she wanted him to drink from her neck so she could feel the rush of connection to him once more. Lily fanned herself, her body quivering as she thought about the phantom ’s warm lips pressed to her neck. A small inner voice called out to her. Find him. Go to him. Go to the roof. Lily took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling, as if she could see all the way to the night sky. The roof? Dare she follow her instinct and go? Go. Deciding the roof would be a lot cooler than her room, she snuck out into the hall, winding through the narrow passageways and ducking from sight as she went to the center stairwell. It was a long climb to the top of the Pavilion, but well worth it once she saw the view. She’d been to the top several times, but it was risky coming up since all the divas considered the rooftop their personal
playground. Once, Lily had gotten stuck when Diva Rosaline and some suitor decided to have a midnight tryst. The sounds the woman made were well worth the new mink coat Lily saw her parading around in the next day. It was no secret that most of the divas were, and always had been, whores. Lily, like every girl growing up in the Pavilion, dreamed of being a diva, but she didn ’t like the idea of compromising her body for the position like many in the past had. Diva Fontaine, the previous opera star, was the only one Lily had ever heard of that had managed to avoid trading sex for power, but it was because she had such a marvelous natural talent. It was rumored that the star died a virgin at the age of forty eight. Diva Fontaine was superstitious and believed if she lost her maidenhead, she’d lose her angelic voice as well. A cooling night breeze hit her skin as she stood on the stone roof of the Pavilion. Gargoyles surrounded her, their misshapen faces turned out toward the city lights beyond. The city of Elegan was a beautifully artistic place. The stone walkways, buildings and statues were reminiscent of ancient Rome. But inside the buildings were great paintings and mosaics suggestive of the Renaissance period. In the distance a castle was high up on a hill, built by an old recluse who never came down from his home. The city was designed with the idea that everything beautiful from human history would be represented within its gilded walls and the Pavilion was the center of the city. Fireworks popped in the night. They went off every weekend in the summer, their flashy colors filling up the starry sky. The pinks, oranges and greens set an eerie glow to the gargoyles, making them appear as if they came to life for the brief seconds they lit the darkness. Lily walked to the edge and threw out her arms to let the breeze caress her through the thin silk of her green nightgown. Her neck was sore where the phantom had bit her, but she didn’t mind it. She wanted him to do it again, to come to her. Her body stung with the need to be touched by him. Where are you? The wind picked up and she closed her eyes. The sound of fluttering material startled her as it came from behind, but cool arms wrapped around her waist before she could turn. “You called to me.” It was him. He’d come. The phantom’s hard body pressed along her back as he held her. His fingers spread over her stomach, unmoving. “Why?” he insisted, whispering the word along her neck where he’d bitten her. Lily didn’t answer. He lightly kissed the wound he’d given her and an electric shock of pleasure went through her at the brief touch. He did it again, and the caress sent chills over her, making her nipples hard and her sex damp. She moaned weakly. “Aren’t you frightened by me? Of what I could do to you? Of what I did?” he asked, keeping his tone soft. It sent chills over her skin. The backs of his hands glided over her arms. Lily shook her head once in denial. She wasn’t scared, not of him anyway. Music started, sounding muffled as if it came from below their feet in the divas ’ quarters. The melody was soft, sad, yet achingly sweet. The phantom’s body swayed behind hers and he grabbed her hand twirling her around. He maneuvered her arm around his neck in one fluid movement, before lifting her free hand in his. His lips parted as he pulled her into a slow, graceful waltz. Lily stared at his fangs, automatically knowing he did it in an effort to scare her away from him. But she also knew that he could no more stop what was happening between them than she could. Fireworks burst, illuminating his masked face, as he watched her intently. He smiled when she didn’t pull away. It was an achingly seductive look as he slid an arm about her waist to pull her closer. Their bodies molded together once more --hard to soft. Her breasts strained, swelling against his heat. His mouth angled toward hers, so close, yet not touching as he continued to swirl her around the rooftop.
Running her hand up his muscled arm, she touched his neck and cheek. Sanity and reason faded away and the stars became nothing more than blurs framing his head. Wisps of black hair blew around them, mingling with her dark brown locks. A low growl sounded in the back of his throat and he pulled her body tighter. His thick arousal hit her stomach, hard and unmistakable. He moved in time with the music, whirling her around the rooftop as the rhythm picked up. The dance was a deliberate seduction of her senses, until every nerve was focused on him. Every nuance of his rigid form rubbed along hers --his thighs, his trim waist, his strong chest. Orange lit up the sky, followed by a shower of sparkling white. She stared at his chiseled features in the flashing light. Curiosity bubbled inside her until she wanted to tear the mask from his face, but she didn’t dare. He wore the mask for a reason and she was too scared to defy that reason. Lily held tighter as he turned her faster. The silk of her nightgown made a weak barrier and she felt naked in his arms. The world around them continued to blur and she had to close her eyes. She felt her feet come off the ground as he lifted her up. Acting on pure instinct, Lily lifted her mouth and pressed it to his, unable to hold back. He gasped in surprise as she slowly kissed him, sucking his bottom lip between hers only to let go. The spinning of their bodies stopped, but the spinning in her head kept her going. She was suspended in the moment, held captive by his embrace. The smell of him engulfed her, making her tremble violently. Even as he didn’t pull away, she sensed the reserve in him. He was holding himself back, waiting for the miracle that would pry them apart. She understood this as clearly as she understood her own thoughts. Maybe it was his mind melding with hers and maybe it was more than that--maybe it was because she was waiting for the same thing. She heard his heart beating in her ears, felt her blood rushing in his veins. Insanity. Passion. Desire. The words echoed in her brain. It was all there inside them. They were one, souls merging, bodies drawn together. He couldn’t pull away. She needed him too badly. Her body was on fire, her thighs hot, her pussy wet and aching to be filled. So long she’d waited for a man to make her feel such passion as wrote about in plays. Silk glided under his hands as he gripped her hips. Please. Don’t pull away from me. I want you. I need this. Don’t deny me. Touch me. Kiss me. Love me. The phantom groaned, deepening the kiss as he delved his tongue into her mouth. He took over, aggressively staking claim to her lips only to pull her tongue between his teeth and suck gently. Fangs pressed against her mouth, dangerously sharp. Lily couldn ’t reason, couldn’t think beyond the pleasure of the moment. A hand pulled the gown at her waist, lifting it to the night breeze and a leg pressed up into her thighs, prying her legs apart. Her naked sex was accosted by air, cooling it even as she ached more. Moaning, she tried to pull him closer. His erection pressed against her and she wanted nothing more than to feel claimed by him. Mindless, she pulled at the black linen of his shirt. The style was old, but that only added to his appeal. Another firework popped and she saw the fine silver embroidery beneath her fingers as she searched for a way to pull the material off him completely. The more they touched, the more his body seemed to heat until he was practically on fire. The phantom whirled her again and she was pressed to a hard, coarse surface. His shirt remained on. Looking up, she saw a gargoyle’s ugly stone head right above hers. The city spread out before them, the lights a beautiful contrast to the night sky. Fires burned below in old streetlamps. The fireworks continued overhead, their intensity of color seeming to grow with each second he touched her. He worked his thighs between hers, spreading her legs, even as his hands ripped through the delicate silk covering her breasts. She shared his urgency and didn’t care about the ripped garment. The phantom kissed his way down her throat, his fangs skimming her flesh as he took a breast deep into his mouth. Sucking the nipple, he pulled at it hard. Lily gasped, arching against the gargoyle ’s
base. “Mm,” she moaned, “yes.” At the sound of her voice, his movements became all the more aggressive. His lips devoured her breasts as his hands skimmed over silk and flesh. Instinctively, she parted her thighs wider until his clothed arousal was rubbing frantically along her wet slit. Lily had touched herself, but it had never felt anything like this--the hot, needy intensity, the mindless agony and pleasure mixed into one. “Order me to go,” he whispered, as he pulled away from her chest. “Tell me you never want to see me again.” No. Don’t go. Touch me. Make love to me. I need you. Lily refused. Whatever it was between them had gone too far to stop now. If he left her like this, she’d surely die. “Tell me,” he insisted. “No. I can’t.” The phantom groaned and his hand slipped between her thighs, touching her intimately. Lily held onto the stone leg behind her head. A thick finger pushed up, stretching her open as his thumb worked along her clit. She felt as if she were in a play, a strangely erotic play where she was the human sacrifice set before the demon on a stone alter. He continued to stroke her body even as he unlaced his pants. “Look into my eyes,” he ordered. Lily obeyed. From the dark pits of the mask, green flashed in his depths, glowing eerily. “You will feel no pain.” Instantly, a euphoric numbness came over her. The slightly irritating press of hard stone to her backside lessened until it went away altogether. She was about to speak when he brought his arousal to her body. The hard tip rubbed against her, so hot she was afraid he might sear her with it. Lily continued to stare into his eyes, held captive by the supernatural gaze. If ever she doubted he was inhuman, now she knew he was for sure. His shaft pried her open as he pushed slowly into her, stretching her even wider with his hard length. Lily moaned, arching before him on her stone alter as she gripped the gargoyle ’s legs for support. The creature stared down at them, bearing witness as the phantom thrust harder, embedding himself deep even as he pushed through her virginity. All she felt was the pleasure of his touch, the pressure of being claimed so deep and sure. It was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. He moved inside her, not pausing as he began to pump his hips. His own pleasure invaded her, adding to her own. Lily panted, opening her mouth wide as he gripped her thighs. He held on to her tight as he took her on the rooftop. His hands seemed to glide everywhere, caressing both silk and flesh. He worshiped her with his body and demanded she worship him in return. Seeing his black mask, tinted with the light from above only added to the fantastic feel of it. She yearned to see his face, but reveled in the not knowing. Her nipples ached, wanting more attention, but she couldn’t let go. The sound of her thundering heart echoed in her ears as the pleasure built. Suddenly, the phantom leaned over, his fangs bared as he bit into her breast, right above her heart. He kissed her deeply, drinking her blood even as his thrusting pushed her over the edge into an abyss of pure ecstasy. Lily’s body clamped down on him, her sex quivering as a hard climax racked through her. She tensed, caught up in the web of his pleasure. “Ah, phantom,” she cried, not caring who heard her. “My sweet phantom.” He grunted, his body tense as he released himself deep inside her. Her body jerked in continued release before she finally calmed. He unlatched his mouth from her breast and she felt two warm trails winding down from the wounds he’d made with his teeth. “Phantom?” he repeated lightly before chuckling and withdrawing his body from hers completely.
The sound was darker than she would’ve expected at such a fulfilling moment and it pulled her from her stupor. Her legs fell to the ground and she stumbled to right herself. Suddenly, the wounds on her breasts throbbed and her butt ached from being rubbed against the stone. “That is what you are, isn’t it?” she whispered, staring at him, her eyes wide. “Do not call for me again,” he ordered, his voice hoarse, the words so light she barely heard them. “You only tempt the beast and if I drink from you once more it could be too late for you. I won’t stop until one of us dies.” Lily gasped as he whipped away from her, dissolving into the night. By his tone, she knew that it would be her life that ended should he drink from her again, not his. It took a moment before her legs were strong enough to move. She’d never felt such pleasure, only to have it followed by the phantom’s cold rejection. She pulled her torn nightgown over her chest, hugging it close. Seeing the damage done to it, she wanted to cry. It was ruined beyond repair. Reason slowly continued to dawn on her and she bit back a sob. “Oh, no. What have I done?” “Hey! Who’s out here?” Diva Rosaline’s voice rang over the rooftop. “It’s my night to have privacy.” Lily glanced around in fright. If the divas caught her up here, wearing a torn gown, they ’d have a fit. Not to mention the whole Pavilion would hear about it by morning. “Who’s here?” Diva Rosaline’s voice was muffled and Lily heard her walking in the opposite direction. Running, Lily went to the center stairwell and didn ’t look back. Agony, regret and the aftermath of pleasure warred within her, tormenting her. How could she have acted so wantonly? Who was her masked stranger? Vampire? Ghost? A man in costume? Her body twinged deep inside where he’d penetrated her, but she kept moving, spurred onward to the safety of her bed. But her bed wasn’t safe. He could find her there, had found her there. What have I done? What have I done? **** The vampire ran to his home in the Pavilion’s basement, letting the air carry his body down. His crypt was hidden through the maze behind the iron door. Torches lit by his mere will as he passed, lighting the hall with an eerie orange glow. The fire had become his sunlight, just as night had become his day. Phantom. That’s what Lily had called him. He smiled at that, though he was hardly a ghost. Years ago, on that fateful night, he ’d been killed by a vampire, only to rise from the grave--turned into the very thing that had made him. Materializing from mist, he walked across his stone floor. His smile faded as quickly as it came. He was cursed to an eternity of blood and night. The stone was rough, covered with thick red and gold Oriental rugs. Candelabras lit all around him, though he didn’t really need the light to see. Old backdrops lined the walls, props stolen from the prop room of the theater above. Everything he owned was stolen from the Pavilion--chairs, figurines, material. Even his clothes were gifts from Isabelle--left for him over the years. Closing his eyes, he smelled her on his body. Lily. His Lily. His? She shouldn’t be his, couldn’t be. He’d tried to stay away from her, but when he found her in the basement and she followed him with more curiosity than fear stirring in her blood, he couldn’t resist biting her. By biting her in passion like he had, he’d marked her.
The next night, when he could finally come from his dark home, he’d been worried when she didn’t come out on stage. He had to see her for himself. Her pale face and bandaged neck were testament enough to how close to death he’d brought her. Then, tonight on the roof, he’d been looking for a willing meal, a weak mind--like the divas’--he could enthrall to him. He’d been drinking from Diva Rosaline when he heard Lily’s voice in his head, beckoning him. He’d felt Lily’s body calling out for his, stirring his passions, begging for him, needing him, demanding he come and fulfill her desires. How could he refuse such a strong plea? She was his marked one after all. Just as he would always know where she was, he would be cursed to feel what she felt. He could call her to him, could be called to her side in return--though he actually had a choice as to whether or not he answered her. He’d know when she desired him, know when she desired someone else. What was he to do? The vampire tore the mask from his face, moving to stand before the mirror. He found it funny to think that vampires could actually see their reflections, when myth had taught him otherwise. So much of what he thought was a myth--not that he’d given vampirism much thought. Movies portrayed his kind like fallen angels, creatures just on the verge of sainthood but for their dark gift. His kind was romanticized to the point of being ridiculous. There was nothing glamorous about what he ’d become. There was nothing romantic about being bitten by a monster. His was a pale beauty, one he hated to see. How could he go to her like this? How could he let her eyes look upon his demon face, beautiful as it was to behold? How could he let her see the real him with those innocent eyes? Already he’d tainted that innocence with his passion. He could still feel the pressure of her tight virginity breaking under the violent push of his cock. The treacherous organ filled at the memory, aroused to the point of throbbing explosion. The beast in him would never let his cock rest, just as it would never let the hunger for blood be completely sated. He was a base creature, driven by primal needs and desires. It didn’t matter if he fought, in the end, the demon would always have his way. Even as he found pleasure in having been Lily’s only lover, he knew he had also cursed her--for he would forever be her only lover. There was no going back for them now, and no going forward. They were stuck in the present, in the impossibleness of her dreams and the dire fate of his situation. Death would be the only cure for what ailed them and the vampire was terrified that it would be her death, not his, that would finally put an end to their tragic story. “Why didn’t you let me die that night?” he yelled, staring up at the giant silver cross hanging above his mantel. It was a gothic piece, a morbid fit inside a vampire’s lair. Two large black marble angels grew on each side of the fireplace, staring at him like guards to the cross. He stared back, hating them as well. “What did I do to deserve this torment? I want her and I cannot stop myself.” He watched, but the angels didn’t answer. The vampire fell to his knees. “Tell me how to end it. Give me the willpower to end it all.” A vampire who prays? he thought with a dark chuckle. The twisted irony of it wasn’t lost on him--tortured and hateful as those prayers were. Maybe they weren’t prayers to a god he once knew, but a plea to the hell he now lived. How could he have marked his sweet, innocent Lily to his life of hell? He was supposed to be her protector, but instead he’d given her a part of his curse--the dark gift thrust upon him the night he died. “Lily,” he whispered, touching his face as he again caught his hard reflection staring back at him. She was so pure, so innocent. He’d taken that innocence. Yet as he cursed himself for doing it, he couldn’t stop from feeling a sense of pride in having done so. Even now he could feel her tight body wrapped around him, hear her moans of pleasure. She hadn’t been frightened of the beast he was and he didn’t even have to calm her with his power. She’d accepted him freely, gave herself freely. She’d wanted him. And he could never go to her again. The look of the demon swirled in his eyes, making them glow in extraordinary shades of red and green. They didn’t frighten him as they once had. The vampire parted his lips, looking at the sharp fangs as they retracted into his gums. His skin was so pale, reminding him how lifeless he was--a walking corpse, doomed to linger an eternity in darkness, living on the blood of others. “She deserves more than a monster,” he whispered, staring at his reflection so hard he broke the glass mirror into shards. They fell
to the ground like snowflakes. His feelings consumed him until all he felt was the pain. And yet the monster is all I will let her have, all I can offer her. She will never belong to me and she will never belong to another. I will see to that. Lily is mine to protect. And I will protect her. I have to. Chapter Four “Sonja has fallen ill,” a Victorian noblewoman whispered, glancing around the narrow hall at her captive audience. Her dark green dress pulled tight to her cleavage, the hem tattered and in need of repairs. She waited by the door to the fitting room. “Which one is Sonja?” asked a man in a short tunic and snug-fitting tights. “The whore who’s slept with almost every man here,” the Victorian lady laughed. It was a bitter sound. “You know, the redhead in makeup.” “Oh, yeah,” the man answered, getting a small smile. “Her.” “Lisa is sick again, too,” another woman added. She wore blue jeans and a short gray T-shirt that showed off her midriff. “Again?” one of the set painters answered. He was covered in splatters of red paint from the set drying on the grand stage. He waited for the Baron to decide whether or not he liked the design. Slipping a flask from his front pocket, he took a quick drink and passed it to a ballerina dressed like a swan. “Is it serious?” “Is it contagious?” the Victorian lady asked pointedly. Lily shared a worried look with Arianna, but said nothing. “I ’eard they’re deathly pale,” an old actress dressed as a Cockney peasant inserted, nodding. She reeked of liquor. “Aye,” said a Scotsman in a kilt. His eyes strayed to Arianna ’s breasts. Lily frowned at him. Everyone knew Derk was a womanizing jerk who thought with the head in his pants more than the one on his buff shoulders. Unfortunately, he had the hot body and cute smile to warrant the lifestyle and many foolish women had succumbed to his charm. “I heard the same thing, meself. I dinna understand it. Baron won’t let anyone in to see them.” Arianna blushed when the actor winked at her and Lily nudged her back to reality. Her friend coughed and looked away. “What about you, Lily?” a French nobleman asked. “Weren’t you sick?” “Yea, child. You’re looking a little pale,” Queen Elizabeth said, eyeing her. She covered her mouth and nose with a handkerchief and took a cautious step back. “I heard you had a run in with the ghost,” a man called from above. He was adjusting the curtain ropes. “It isn’t a ghost,” an American Revolution soldier hollered, pointing up at the man. “It’s a demon.” The Victorian noblewoman eyed Lily’s covered neck. She giggled. “I heard he’s a vampire. Is that what he is Lily? Is that why your neck is covered? Did the demon sample your innocent little charms?” The questions were taunts and Lily frowned at the woman’s condescending tone. Just because she wasn’t promiscuous like the rest of them, didn’t mean the teasing was justified. “For your information, Lily has been rehearsing for a lead roll!” Arianna told the woman. “And the only loose skirts I see around here are yours, my lady.” Lily covered her mouth as everyone laughed.
“Well!” the Victorian lady huffed. Her mouth opened to say more, but she never got a chance. “What’s this?” the Baron cried. “Why are you all standing about? Work people! Get to work! Have you forgotten? We have a job to do!” Lily glanced at Arianna. Her friend leaned over and kissed her cheek, whispering, “You’ll be wonderful.” Lily quickly brushed down the glistening white skirt. It sparkled in the dim light, an odd contrast to the drab brown of the wood making up the back area of the stage. “The set is all wrong,” the Baron announced with a fling of his hand. “Do it over and this time read the notes I gave you!” A long string of Dutch curses followed this declaration and the Baron shooed the set painter away. The man didn’t argue as he did as he was told. It wasn’t the first time the Baron had made such demands. Once he’d even had a set rebuilt fifteen times until he was satisfied with the outcome. When only the two of them were left in the hall, the Baron turned to her and demanded, “Well? What are you waiting for?” “Here?” Lily cleared her throat, glancing around. “Here, what?” the Baron asked, frowning. He tapped his foot impatiently. “Don’t be daft child, out with it. I haven’t got all day to play guess what the simple girl is thinking. What do you want?” “I’m...” Lily glanced around the hall. There was no one to help her. “I’m here to audition for Titania. I was told by Isabelle that you were ready for me.” “Titania?” he looked her over, lingering on her breasts before nodding. “Yes, yes. Miss Lily, our young flower that steals the hearts of patrons and thinks she has what it takes to play the part of gods. Well, don’t just stand there. Come, come. Theater waits for no man and I wait for no woman.” Does the man actually think he is clever? Even though she didn’t appreciate the man’s humor, she did as he ordered, moving out onto the grand stage as he gestured for her to do. Climbing down the stairs along the side, he moved into the crowd. “Shall I begin?” she asked when he didn’t speak. “Pro-ject!” the man bellowed, raising his hand to the side as he projected his voice. Lily closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Images flashed in her head --images of Sethan and her father. But, instead of a youthful Jude, she saw Peter. “Any day now, Miss Lily,” the Baron called, laughing. Others joined his merriment in her distress, but she ignored them. “Lest we find Mr. Verona’s faith in you is sorely misplaced!” Lily forced his words from his head. Before opening her eyes, she began to speak. The words flowed out of her mouth smooth and sure and in her mind she was speaking to Peter. Peter. Her patron. The man who could make her dreams come true if she played the part right. It was a lie to say that it was only her career she thought about when she thought of the handsome man. She thought about him as well --of the secrets whispered about what transpired between a patron and his actress. While being someone’s ‘property’ should’ve been objectionable, Lily found she didn’t mind it as much as she should--especially if she belonged to Peter. Maybe it was a fool’s fantasy, but the idea of being Peter’s made her body hot. As her passion built on stage, so did the strength of her voice.
“Act!” The Baron yelled. “Play the part. Be the queen of the fairies! Oh, I do think I’m wasting my time. It takes so much more than to just say the words like a drone. You must be, Miss Lily, not simply do.” Lily opened her eyes speaking louder as she moved. No one said the other parts back to her, but she paused as she heard the words spoken in her head, only to continue when it should be her turn. The endless rows of chairs faded from her vision, replaced by trees and fog. Nature hummed in her imagination and little balls of light danced around her --her fairy subjects. Flowers grew over the wooden planks of the grand stage and vines curled over the balcony seats. “I said that’s enough!” Lily had no idea how long she spoke before the Baron’s shout stopped her. She blinked, coming out of her daze. The theater was silent and the people all stared in her direction. Was I that horrible? Licking her lips, she nodded nervously and made a move to leave the stage. “You missed a word or two,” the Baron said, his tone displeased. Lily frowned. She had not! She never missed a line! “And your tone leaves much to be desired,” he continued. “Your acting is rough, your movements that of a peasant and not a queen. You lack a dancer’s grace and a diva’s talent.” A lump formed in her throat. She nodded, blinking back the tears his criticisms tried to pull from her. Lifting her chin, she stayed strong, not letting him see her hurt. “But,” the Baron quipped with a heavy sigh, “we are in need and Mr. Verona is quite enamored of you.” Lily’s gut clenched. She was going to be sick. “We open in two weeks. See Isabelle for your fittings immediately and be back on this stage in exactly three hours. If you fail, I will personally turn you out of the Pavilion.” The Baron waved his hand. “That is all!” A loud murmur exploded in the theater as Lily curtseyed and hurried from the stage. After the critique, the announcement was unexpected, as was evident by the look on everyone’s face as they stared at her. Once hidden from view, she took a deep breath and then another. Me? The fairy queen? She couldn’t believe it. I got it! “Congrats, love!” a man called from overhead. “Looks like we’ll soon have a new diva in our midst.” She waved weakly, unable to see him through her racing thoughts. Mindless, she walked toward the fitting room. Me? A real actress with a real part in a really big production on the grand stage? Lily walked faster, tripping on her feet. She had to see her aunt, needed to say the words out loud so they’d be true. “A gem, Miss Lily, a true gem!” someone else called. She did her best to smile, but wasn’t sure if the look made it to her features. Inside her heart beat so fast she felt faint.
Me. An actress. “Lily?” Isabelle stood from her desk as she entered. “Oh, darling, I’m sorry. You didn’t get it. Here, take a seat. He won’t be pleased to hear that. Ah, you’re trembling and--” “I got it,” Lily whispered, barely hearing her aunt’s words. “Baron wants you to fit me for gowns immediately. I got it.” “What?” Isabelle asked. “Oh, Lily!” Arianna cried, running into the room. “Don’t be mad, but I watched from the balcony. You should ’ve seen her, Isabelle! She was magnificent. She stopped my heartbeat when she spoke the words.” “I got it,” Lily repeated, too stunned to say anything else. “I got it.” Arianna nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, you got it!” Suddenly, Isabelle and Arianna started screaming, jumping up and down. Lily couldn’t stay quiet. She joined them, hugging them to her as she yelled her excitement. “I got it. I got the lead. I’m the new queen!” **** Lily couldn’t wipe the smile off her face, as she was thrust into a whirlwind of fittings and rehearsals. Everyone at the Pavilion remembered her name and, suddenly, she was being treated like a star. No. Like a diva. Diva Lily. Her grin widened as she made her way back to her room. She wasn’t a diva yet, but the future had never looked brighter and with Mr. Verona as her patron anything was possible. She didn’t see the man, as he hadn’t been back, but whenever she messed up the Baron had made a few offhanded remarks about not knowing what the man saw in her. Lily practically skipped with each step. Everyone she passed stared at her and gestured in greeting--some going as far as to say hello. Before she was Lily the star, they wouldn’t have been so eager to pay attention to her. Sure, she was well-known, as was everyone who grew up in the secretive artistic world, but now she was popular. Her gown was simple—cream-colored silk decorated with blue and green jewels. The Baron had hated it though and demanded another gown sewn. The makeup artist had pasted sparkly transparent leaves to her arms and neck. The Baron threatened to fire the woman if she ever did it again. Luckily, Lily had gotten through the day without disappointing him too terribly bad. Coming to her room, she shut the door behind her and rested her back against the hard wood. It was late and the Baron had worked her nonstop for three days. Lily loved every minute of it and that excitement kept her going. She sighed dreamily. “I can’t believe it. Me on stage, starring in a Shakespeare play. Me, Lily Graye, an actress on the grand stage.” The smell of roses broke through her daydreaming and she giggled with happiness to see a white bouquet on her vanity. Spinning in a circle, she threw her arms out and danced across the room. As she stopped, her body still swayed dizzily. She plucked the card from the bouquet and read the two small cursive letters in the middle of the all white card, ‘PV’. “Peter Verona,” she said aloud, biting her lip as she leaned over to smell the roses. Her handsome patron had sent her flowers. Giggling, she spun her way to the bed holding the card in front of her face only to throw her body down on the bed. She bounced on the mattress. “Mm, PV. Peter Verona, my patron.” Rolling on her side, she stopped smiling. There, on her pillow, was a red silk bundle tied with black lace. Peter’s card slipped from her fingers.
“My phantom,” she whispered, hands shaking. He hadn’t come for her after their time together on the rooftop. In fact, she’d just begun to convince herself that the whole affair was a dream. How could he touch her like he had, connect to her, and then send her away? She forgot all about Peter as she reached for the silk. Sitting on the bed, she pulled at the lace, freeing it. A gold chain with a diamond pendant fell on her lap and from inside the silk she pulled out a black card with red writing. “For my diamond, who has finally come out of the rough,” she read. Like always, there was no name. Falling back on the bed, she threaded her fingers through the chain and held it up. The diamond teardrop-shaped pendant picked up the firelight and she watched it glitter and shine. Reaching over she laid the necklace on her pillow and picked up both cards she’d received and studied them. Just like their cards, both men were very different. On one hand she had her patron, Peter. He was generous, kind to her and reminded her of her beloved Jude. On the other she had her phantom lover--dark, mysterious, tortured. Both men called to her, both men intrigued a different part of her. Peter and the phantom. Two very different men inspiring two very similar sensations inside my body. Only, which did she chose? Which feelings did she pursue? Logic told her Peter. He was her patron. He was helping her career and she was attracted to him on a level she now was only beginning to understand thanks to her phantom lover. He was respected, rich. Or did she choose the phantom, the creature who had taken possession of her body? The phantom was dark, mysterious. Was he vampire? Man? Actor? Ghost? By the necklace, he too was rich, but he’d also sent her away. It was possible the phantom didn’t even want her. Then why send the necklace? Both men stirred her, both made her feel such stark desire she could barely concentrate when they were near. When she was with them, it felt as if she had waited her whole life for them. How could that be with two separate men? “Which path do I choose?” she whispered, pulling the cards to her breast and rolling on her side. Not bothering to change, she fell asleep dressed as a fairy queen. **** “She’s dead,” Arianna whispered. A crowd gathered on the main stage, surrounding the corpse of one of the actresses. Lily pushed through to see. It was Lisa, the girl who she’d filled in for in the roll of Miss Dorthea, Southern Belle. Her throat was slashed and her naked body filled with tiny cuts and scrapes. It looked as if she’d been tortured. Gagging, Lily turned away. “What happened?” “No one knows,” a woman dressed as one of Titania’s fairies answered. Her translucent green wings fluttered behind her as she moved and her skin shown with silver flecks of glitter. “She’s been tortured,” another said, causing a rush of fear and excitement within the gathered throng. “Who would do such a thing?” “Wasn’t she sick?”
“She wasn’t sick. She was possessed by a spirit.” “No, that wasn’t it at all.” A worker from above shouted down from the rafters. The crowd looked up. Lily shivered as the man looked right at her. “She was attacked by a demon. I heard her say it. A demon visited her in the night and took her blood--just like those old superstitions.” The crowd gasped. Lily paled. A demon? Her phantom? “Vampire,” someone whispered. “Vampires drink blood.” “Werewolves,” another supplied. “Incubus!” still another added. “Back away!” the Baron yelled followed by two policemen in uniform. He pushed his way through the throng. “Let us pass.” Instantly Lily could tell the police were from the outside world. The crowd slowly backed away from Lisa’s body, eyeing the outsiders more warily than they had the dead actress. Lily shivered, seeing the woman’s eyes on her--lifelessly staring out from her blue face. It reminded her of the night her family died. They’d looked the same way, drained of blood and so very pale. “She had an accident,” the Baron said, his look daring any to argue his words. No one did. “Now everyone get back to work. Let the police do their job. The theater waits for no man. Come on, people, move!” Lily backed away. The Baron’s eyes caught her and he frowned. “Get to your fittings, Miss Lily. We might as well get something accomplished today if the stage is not to be in use.” She nodded once and turned. Arianna was at her side, holding her arm to guide her away. “Lily, do you think...?” Arianna stopped talking as they passed a worker. When they were relatively alone, she started over. “Do you think that you were attacked by the same man?” “I...” Lily didn’t want to think about it, but there was no other explanation. Lisa had been sick and no one knew the details of it, only that she was quarantined in her room. Did the Baron know what was going on? Was he hiding something? “What about Sonja? Didn’t someone say she was ill as well? Have you heard anything?” “The Baron won’t let anyone in to see her,” Arianna said. “You don’t think ... the Baron?” Lily stopped, glancing behind her back. “No, he’s eccentric, but I don’t see him killing anyone.” Hearing someone approach, both woman glanced back at a bald man in a long tunic and then hurried on their way to the fitting room. “I don’t know, Ari, maybe Aunt Isabelle will know something more.” **** Aunt Isabelle had nothing to say about the murder and was unusually quiet during the fitting. She refused to speak of the phantom and Lily was forced back into the hectic routine of fittings and rehearsals. The policemen came and went; only saying Lisa’s death was under investigation. Lisa’s part was given to another young actress as the world of the Pavilion marched on. A tension washed over them all, but the Baron only kept insisting, “It’s a terrible thing, but the theater waits for no man.” Flowers were left for Lily every day in her room from Peter, but there were no more notes from her phantom and he did not visit her again. She missed him, even as she feared him. Her eyes strayed to each darkened corner, each peak in the ceiling, hoping to see a glimpse of him. She never did.
Every evening, Peter came to watch rehearsals. He was charming and seductive at the same time. When he looked at her with his dark eyes, there was no doubting that he was attracted to her. Though at night, when Lily lay in bed, it wasn’t Peter she dreamed of. It was her phantom. The dreams were so real, so vivid, she couldn’t help but think they were truly happening on another plane of reality--a plane reached only through her mind. His body was hidden by shadows and his face was hidden by his dark mask, but she could feel him touching her. Each night was the same. He’d come for her and urge her from the bed surrounded by the fog of her dream. Time stood still when she was with him. With a gentle hand, he’d guided her through the mist until they were in his lair. The stone walls were ominous, yet seductive in their dark beauty. Before she knew what was happening, red silk enveloped her as he danced with her before a large fireplace. Candles would light, leading them toward the bed like a path. There was a cross in her dreams--a big, gothic piece and black angels looked down on her with eerie light cast over their harsh features. Everything blurred in that moment until it was just them--his cool hands on her body, his tongue thrust into her mouth stealing her breath in a kiss so deep she felt it in her toes. His flesh was a contradiction, like silk and stone mixed together. And when his body entered her, his hard cock claiming her to her soul, she knew she’d never felt more complete. Her body would sting with longing until she awoke well into the desperate throws of passion. Strangely, these bizarre sexual encounters only happened when Arianna was out of the room--which was often as of late since Madame had the ballerinas practicing in the early morning hours when the stage was free. During those times, she was urged by an outside force to touch herself, stroking her wet pussy until she climaxed against her hand. The phantom definitely monopolized her nights. However, Peter ruled her days and she waited until evening when she knew he would come to her rehearsals. The first few evenings, he merely smiled at her, watching her from a distance with eyes so intense and strangely knowing that she couldn’t help but shiver at the attention. She found herself waiting for his arrivals and trying extra hard to please the Baron when he was there. The third evening he spoke for a short time. On the fourth visit, Peter invited her to dine with him. The Baron was insistent she go and even let her out of the evening rehearsal early. Lily’s heart always beat faster to see him and she didn’t think of the phantom during that time. In fact, she would convince herself in the clarity of morning that the phantom’s visits were only a dream and she’d remind herself that he didn’t want her. Taking a deep breath, Lily looked in the long mirror. Now was not the time to think about death or the phantom or passionate dreams. Peter was coming to pick her up and she had to get ready. Glancing over her shoulder at Arianna, she managed a smile. “Can you help me, Ari? I can’t get the buttons in back.” Arianna stood and moved to fasten the long white gown Lily wore, as Lily slipped on short white gloves. Isabelle had reluctantly let her borrow the dress from the costume room, scolding the whole time about actresses and their no-good patrons. Lily took a deep breath, feeling like a princess. The gown was something from a fairytale. The wide skirt was made from a delicate, embroidered fabric and fell just above the ankles in the style of a 1950’s formal gown. The strapless, boned bodice shaped her cleavage to perfection. “Should I put my hair up?” Lily asked. “No,” Arianna smoothed down Lily’s dark locks, pushing them over her shoulders. “It looks beautiful down. You look just like a queen. Well, almost...” Arianna leaned over and picked up the diamond necklace on the vanity. “This will make you look like a true queen.” Bringing it to Lily’s throat, she waited while Lily lifted her hair. When her friend took her hands away, Lily dropped her arms and touched the pendant the phantom had given her. Was it wrong to wear it when she went out with Peter? “What is it?”
“The phantom gave this to me,” Lily answered. “Do you think I should wear it?” “It was a gift. I’d wear it.” Arianna nodded. “Why wouldn’t you?” “Because I made love to him, Ari,” Lily whispered. “A few days ago on the rooftop.” Arianna’s jaw dropped for several long seconds until finally she giggled. “How was it? Did it hurt? Was it nice? Did you ... you know, finish?” “Mm-hmm,” Lily sighed, knowing her look of wonder said more than she ever could. Arianna hit her arm lightly before hugging her from behind. Resting her chin on her shoulder, she crushed the stole under her chin as she demanded, “How could you not tell me?” “There was no time. The Baron has been running me ragged and Madame has you always at rehearsal. I never see you.” “Still, for that you should’ve demanded my attention. No wonder you blush every time you see him. Peter is so handsome!” “Peter?” “You are talking about making love to Peter Verona aren’t you?” Her friend’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “No,” Lily shook her head, “the phantom. I called to him and he came to me. Diva Rosaline almost caught me afterwards.” Arianna’s jaw dropped in amazement. “There’s more, Ari. I let him bite me,” Lily touched her breast and her face fell, “here. He’s bitten me twice.” “Oh, don’t frown, Lily.” Arianna kissed her cheek, as if coming out of her shock. “It was just one time, right?” Lily nodded. “But, what of Lisa’s death? Do you think...?” “You don’t know that he’s the killer.” Arianna picked up the organza stole that went with the gown and wrapped it around Lily’s shoulders. “He may just be your benefactor, your protector. Why would he start killing now? Who knows what Lisa was up to? Maybe she had a jealous lover. You shouldn’t listen to rumors.” “Perhaps...” Lily smiled sadly. And perhaps we’ll never know for sure. “Well, I always say that life’s an adventure. I would’ve probably done the same had the opportunity arrived.” Her friend winked. “A mysterious man in a cape and mask? One who showers me with gifts?” Arianna lowered her voice and took on a mobster accent, “Forget about it. I would’ve jumped him years ago.” “Really?” Arianna nodded. “Yes, really. Don’t hate yourself for living, Lily. It’s not wrong to feel pleasure. It’s not wrong to use your gifts on stage. Your family would want happiness for you, whether it’s with your phantom--which I’m not unconvinced is an actor--or whether it’s with Peter or neither of them. Everything is going so right for you. You have a handsome patron, a leading roll, a mysterious lover, a beautiful best friend.” Arianna winked. Lily saw the audacious look in the mirror and turned around, giggling. “Enjoy what you have and don’t dwell on what you can’t change and don’t know. So what if you took a lover? And, so what if you take another in Peter Verona? I think he’s dreamy.” Lily blushed. “Do you think Isabelle is right about Peter?” Arianna chuckled. “I think Isabelle loves you very much and is worried about her niece. She’ll do anything to protect you. Besides, it’s not marriage. It’s just dinner.”
“And after?” Lily felt her cheek flame and she had to look down. “After,” Arianna giggled. “After you just do what feels right.” “You’re one to talk.” Lily arched a brow. “The virgin telling me to be a whore.” Arianna put a playful look on her face and whispered mischievous, “I’m a wannabe whore telling the recent virgin to do what she feels. Life it too short to spend worrying. Who are we saving ourselves for anyway? Sometimes I just feel like grabbing the nearest man and getting the first time over with.” Lily couldn’t help it, she started laughing, gasping for breath. “You want to be a whore?” “A girl has to have dreams, doesn’t she?” Arianna’s laughter joined hers and Lily knew she was only teasing. “But, is it my fault I can’t find a man who makes my heart beat faster? The last offer I had was Derk and, well, ew! It’s Derk.” “You’ll find the man who makes you feel the way you want to feel, Ari. I know you will. Just promise me that man won’t be Derk.” “Mm, promise. And until I do find that man, you must live for the both of us.” Arianna pushed Lily toward the door. “Go to Peter. He’s waiting for you. And I’ll be here when you get back to hear every detail.” Chapter Five The sound of horses’ hooves clopped over the brick streets of Elegan. Peter had arrived for their date in a black covered carriage edged with silver and drawn by four white horses with decorative red plumes. The driver sat on the outside, giving them privacy, as he drove through town. When Peter didn’t speak, merely watched her from across the interior, Lily pushed the curtain aside and gazed out over the beautiful city. Gas lamps lined the streets. In the center square there wasn’t much by way of nature, but if the carriage was to roll down any of the side streets they’d find massive Victorian gardens and walking parks. Cars drove past, most of the vehicles were from the 1920s to the 1950s, completely remodeled to classic perfection. Magicians, mimes, gymnasts and musicians performed under their soft light. Crowds gathered, cheering and clapping. The stars above were a perfect backdrop to the marble buildings and tall statutes lining the sidewalks. A few clouds gathered over the distant, their dark outlines edged with moonlight. The tall castle overlooking the city only appeared all the more ominous. Lily stared at its gate, wondering briefly who lived there. Naturally, there were whispers of the recluse, but Lily didn’t pay them much mind. Arianna, on the other hand, was obsessed about meeting the man who lived within the solemn walls. “What are you thinking about?” Peter asked, his voice soft. Lily blinked, turning from the carriage window. Peter sat across from her, his eyes narrowed as he studied her. There was something different about him, something she hadn’t noticed on their first meeting. It was a seductive pull that was stronger than before. She glanced back at the castle before answering, “Of my friend Ari’s obsession with that castle and of how different Elegan is from the rest of the world.” “Have you seen much of the world beyond these walls?” “I haven’t been at Elegan my whole life if that’s what you’re asking.” Lily gave him a sly grin. Peter said nothing for some time. With a slow smile, he changed the subject. “I thought you’d be thinking about your leading debut.” The light was dim in the carriage, but the streetlights streaked across his features as they passed by them. Lounging comfortably in the expansive leather seat, she studied Peter. His black suit was immaculate, setting off the dark blue of his high waistcoat and gray linen shirt. The shirt was unbuttoned at his neck and he didn’t have a cravat or tie.
“That, too,” Lily chuckled, feeling almost intoxicated with desire. Her head spun and she was giddy. What was it about him? Was it that he looked like Jude? Was it wrong to have feelings for Peter, feelings as pulling and strong as she did for the phantom? Or was it that the phantom awakened her body? It didn’t matter. The truth was she wanted him with a desperate hunger she couldn’t ignore. Now that they were alone, she wondered how she’d ever held back from him. He seemed so familiar to her. She wanted him, needed him and she was going to have him. “I don’t think I’ve ever properly thanked you for your faith in my talent.” “It’s nothing so grand on my behalf. It’s like having faith that the sun will rise with the dawn. It just is what it is.” Lily blushed, sure she’d never been given such a great compliment. She thought of her phantom and felt a moment’s guilt. But he’d told her to stay away from him. He didn’t want her. That’s surely what he had meant. And though he sent the gift, it didn’t change the fact. She was free to pursue her feelings for her patron, wasn’t she? “You’re so beautiful,” Peter whispered, as if awed by the fact. “You say that as if you expected me to be something else.” “Maybe I did. I tried to stay away from you, but I couldn’t.” His eyes didn’t move from her face. Lily was the first to look away. “There. That look. What are you thinking?” “Of a man.” She suppressed a smile. “The man whom I remind you of? This Jude?” His eyes narrowed and he studied her intently. “Who was he to you?” “He was my brother’s best friend growing up. I had a monstrous crush on him.” Lily arched a brow, shooting Peter a coy look. A strange expression crossed his features, one she wasn’t sure how to interpret. “Actually, it was more than a girlish crush. I was convinced I would some day marry him. I loved Jude.” “But you were merely a girl.” Peter said in surprise. “Mm, it didn’t matter. I knew.” Lily laughed. “Are you jealous?” “Extremely,” Peter said wryly. “And now? Is there anyone now?” “Well, there is this...” Lily stopped. What was she doing? Peter wouldn’t want to hear about the phantom. She could tell no one but Arianna about the phantom. How could she admit to being the lover of a potential murderer? You don’t know that for sure. “No. There’s no one.” “What were you going to say?” Peter slipped to her side of the carriage. Lily looked up at him, liking his familiar dark eyes as his gaze pierced into her. He smelled familiar--a light dusting of cologne and musk. M’lady Sparrow, are you paying attention? A sound from the past echoed in her head. Lily shivered, hearing it as if it were said right there by the man before her. He isn’t Jude. He isn’t Jude. Don’t mistake him for Jude. “Well, perhaps there is this man,” she whispered, not knowing what compelled her to be so outspoken and bold. Pushing all thoughts of the phantom from her mind, she lightly touched his shoulder. She took a deep breath and then another. Did she follow Arianna’s advice and just go for it? Every nerve screamed, ‘yes!’ “He’s very generous,” Lily continued.
“Mm. Is he?” “And very kind.” “Oh, yeah?” The sound was a low rumble in his throat, causing her to shiver in anticipation. Her body ached to be closer and she ran a gloved hand up the side of his face. “And,” Lily cast down her eyes, “very handsome.” “Do I know him?” “Perhaps.” She glanced back up at his mouth. His lips were parted. An invitation? Should she play coy and refuse? “Coyness is overrated,” Peter whispered, as if reading her thoughts. “I’d much prefer you to be yourself.” “Maybe I am coy by nature.” “No,” he said with certainty. “You can pretend coy, but you’re not. No one who acts with such passion and conviction is coy in real life. Your eyes tell too much of you.” “Who are you, Peter?” she whispered. “Why do I feel like I know you?” “I can’t answer that. All I can do is tell you to stay away from me. I’m not right for you, Lily. You shouldn’t be here with me. I know I invited you. I know that you feel you have to be here because I’m your patron, but I don’t want you feeling obligated to be with me because of money. I’ll support you either way. It’s just that I--” Lily kissed him and a mindless shock went through her at the first touch. There was something to the way he talked. It was almost an insecurity, a glimpse inside the real Peter and she couldn’t resist it. At first she took a small taste, flicking her tongue across the seam of his lips in gentle invitation. She couldn’t think as she acted on pure instinct. Peter’s mouth felt so right, she gladly offered her tongue to him. He took it without hesitance, sucking it between his lips. She knew his taste and recognized his scent. It stirred her blood, called to her on a base level. Thoughts and memories twirled in her head. She heard Jude’s voice mingling with the phantom’s warning to stay back, combined with the softer resonance of Peter. The men were so alike and so different, but she felt as if she cared for them all. Jude was dead and there was no use in dwelling, but could she really care so deeply for two men? For her phantom and her Peter? Her Peter? What was happening to her? She couldn’t think, couldn’t reason. Lily knew she should push him back, preserve some sort of moral virtue. How could she hop from one man to another? She could no longer stop kissing Peter, than she could her phantom. It was what it was--and it was hot, passionate, driving need. “Peter, I--” “Shhh,” he hushed her, with is mouth, softening the kiss. “I know. You can’t do this.” “Mm, no I can, but....” At that he drew back, a quizzical look on his face. “You can do this?” “I’m not taken,” she whispered. “I’m a grown woman and am free to make my own decisions. Of course I can do this.” She took a deep breath, lowering her voice to admit, “I want to do this.”
He looked at her a long moment, as if taking in every nuance of her face. Without warning, he pulled her tight to his body and moved his lips harder against hers. Lily gasped only to feel his tongue thrusting into her mouth. She hadn’t expected so much passion from the refined Peter. Every time she was near him, he seemed to be holding himself in tight control. She didn’t mind his fiery passion, for it matched her own. Pulling her mouth away, she bit at her gloves to take them off only to toss them aside. Peter’s hands glided over her arms, as he pushed the stole off of her shoulders. Laughter from outside sounded over them and lamp light flashed over his features. Phantom? Lily shivered, drawing back. Her thoughts flooded with images from her dream, combining with the look of Peter in the carriage. Feelings rushed inside her. She tried to feel guilt over what she was doing, but she couldn’t. It felt too right. “I’ll get the windows,” Peter said, moving to draw the curtains. He paused, yelling to the driver to keep going. No, Lily thought, it can’t be. I’m just feeling guilty when there is no reason to feel guilty. The phantom didn’t want me to be with him. He used me and let me go. I’m free to be with Peter. He isn’t here. I can’t feel him here. I can’t.... Lily tried not to think about it, unable to fight the passion building in her chest as Peter came back to her. He stroked her hair from her face and stared deep into her eyes. Without breaking that intimate contact, he stared into her as he leaned forward. Not resuming the kiss, he reached around her back and slowly unbuttoned her gown. “Ah,” Lily panted. He didn’t seem to breathe as he freed button after button, stripping her down. Before long, her gown was freed from behind and the front fell forward. Since there were no straps to hold the bodice up, her breasts were left naked and exposed to his whims. Keeping his eyes on hers for as long as he could, he leaned over and flicked his tongue over her collarbone. Lily gasped in pleasure. Her thighs tightened, warming even more. She squirmed on the seat and braced her arms--one on the seat behind and one on the back of the seat, near the wall. His teasing kisses continued down the valley of her breasts and he nuzzled his face in between them as he massaged a rounded globe in each palm. Peter’s sound of pleasure joined hers as he smothered himself. Fingers skimmed each nipple, running across them until they were hard peaks. Peter’s warm mouth soon followed and she fell back as the carriage rocked over a bump. The sound of hooves grew louder as the sound of the city faded altogether. Lily didn’t know where they were going and didn’t care. All she knew is that she never wanted the ride to stop. Another rough bump in the road slid her down the seat. She braced her weight on her elbows, unable to touch him back in the precarious position. Peter didn’t appear to mind as he continued to fondle and suck her breasts, taking turns on the aching buds. He’d bite lightly, sending pleasure straight down to her pussy, only to sooth the little ache with a firm lick of his tongue. With a low animalistic sound he pulled at her hips, working her body up until she sat once more on the seat. The carriage seemed to go faster, taking them on a rough ride. Lily gasped as Peter grabbed her skirt and jerked it up, only to toss it over his head. “Peter,” she began. His hands ran up her bare thighs, stopping her. Soon her panties were ripped from her hips and Peter was kissing along her inner leg. She tensed as he drew along her knee, stopping to playfully lick a long trail higher. Lily worried about smothering him with her skirts, but he only kept going, dragging his lips higher until he was close to her sex. A loud groan was muffled by her skirt as he flicked a tongue over her clit. “Ahhh!” Lily cried in surprise. His movements only grew bolder with each of her moans. “Mm, yes.” Peter grabbed her hips, pulling her down in the seat. The carriage rocked faster as it picked up speed. His face bumped into her as
his tongue delved into her slit to intimately stroke as he drank her cream. When he moaned, the sound vibrated against her sex. Grabbing her own breasts, Lily arched against his mouth. Self-pleasuring had never felt this good and she couldn’t believe that Peter could make her feel every bit as wild as her phantom. He thrust his tongue to up into her in a rhythmic motion as his thumb found hold on her tight, swollen bud, rubbing it in tight circles. “Ah, ah, yes!” Lily’s body neared climax. She tensed, somewhat frightened by the depth of sensation his mouth caused. Peter gripped her tighter, following her up the seat as she tried to wiggle away from the intensity of the pleasure. With a weak cry, she came, jerking along his mouth. He pulled his lips around her clit and thrust a finger up inside her quivering passage to ride her to completion. When the pleasure began to subside, she dropped weakly. Peter came out from underneath her skirts with a very masculine grin of domination and approval upon his face. Her cream wetted his mouth, but he didn’t seem to care. She watched him lick his lips, closing his dark eyes briefly as he savored her taste. He moved his hands to his waist, unfastening the pants. There was a strange look in his eyes. They glowed like she’d seen the phantom’s do. Lily was too excited by the intent in his movements, to pay the thought much mind. “Sit on my lap,” Peter growled, his usually soft voice hard and gritty. He sat down, reaching for her. His arousal thrust up from his hips, his pants trapped around his thighs. The thick mass of his erection stood tall, a testament to his desire for her. Lily did as he said, excited by the forcefulness of his command. Lifting her skirt, she straddled his legs. This was insanity, but she didn’t care. Instinct took over her every movement and there was no time for turning back. Somehow, she just knew what to do. “Ah, that’s it,” Peter whispered in approval. Groaning, he touched her hips. His fingers were oddly cool along her flesh. “You’re so soft.” Lily kissed him, taking his face in her hands. The caress became more urgent with each passing second as the motion of the carriage rocked their bodies together. He pulled her tight against his hips and Lily gasped to feel his hard shaft pressing along her. The kiss became more desperate. Breaking free, she gasped for breath. Peter kept his gaze on Lily, as he lifted her up, urging her over his ready cock. Again, he didn’t breathe hard and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. The first probe spread her wide, as he inched up into her with a groan of pleasure. Her body was tight, but it felt good. “I can’t help myself,” Lily said, not knowing why she felt compelled to be so honest. “I can’t seem to stay away from you.” “You’re drawn to me, as I am to you,” Peter answered, his lips brushing lightly along hers as he slowly brought her up and down in an easy rhythm. “I tried to stay away, but I couldn’t.” The pressure of their bodies coming together, combined with the movements of the carriage threw Lily’s body over the edge and she was unable to answer. She clutched Peter’s shoulders as he continued to lift her up and down over him, letting his body slide in her cream. Lily climaxed, her body quivering over his shaft. Instantly, he joined her, releasing his seed deep inside. She had a moment of fear at what she’d done--coupling with Peter without thought of the consequences. The fear was soon replaced with a sense of calm, as if the emotion were thrust at her from an outside force. What you fear cannot be. “What’s happening? Everything seems so surreal lately. I hear a voice in my head, calling to me. Sometimes it’s yours. Sometimes it’s Jude. And sometimes it’s...” Lily’s voice trailed off. “Your phantom?”
Lily swallowed nervously. “How did you know?” “I know everything that happens at the Pavilion,” Peter said. “I make it my business to know.” Had he been checking up on her? The way he said it was so cold, so practical. Was it as Isabelle said? Did he see her as his property? Lily tried to pull back. Peter’s body was still embedded deep within her. “And Lisa’s murder?” Lily whispered. Did he think the phantom...? “What do you know about that?” “Unsolved by the police. Actually, it will forever remain unsolved.” Lily shivered at the practical way he said the words. What did he mean ‘forever remain unsolved’? “I want you to stay within your room unless I am with you,” Peter said. “Promise me.” This time Lily managed to push off his lap. Her gown was disheveled, as was her hair. Taking a deep breath, she weakly pulled at her bodice to cover her breasts the best she could. The skirt was trapped beneath her at an odd angle, but she didn’t care. “You don’t own me,” she whispered, not liking his possessive tone. “You can’t tell me what to do.” Peter’s eyes narrowed. She barely saw him in the dim light. “Feel your neck.” Lily’s hands trembled, but she did as he ordered. The phantom’s bite had gone away, but now as she touched it she felt warm, sticky wetness beneath her fingers. It was dark and she slowly reached for the curtain over the carriage window. Pulling it aside, she saw her fingers were smudged with blood--her blood. Peter had bit her. Recoiling in fear, she saw the shadows once more cross over his sinister face. He didn’t look like Peter, but a beast. “What are you?” she whispered. “Who are you?” “Don’t you recognize your lover?” “Peter, stop this.” “M’lady Sparrow. This performance is for you. Are you paying attention?” Peter said softly, though his low voice didn’t sound youthful or pleasant. “Yes, Lord Livingston,” Lily whispered, trembling violently as she remembered all too well what Jude had said to her that night in the living room--the night he died. She’d been so idealistic, so in love with him, so lost in daydreams. Still mimicking the past, she said, “Please continue.” “Ah, so you do remember,” he said. “Jude?” Lily whispered. “How? I saw you. You were dead. I felt you.” “Not so dead as you believed.” “I never forgot that night. I’ve relived it in detail.” Lily took a shaky breath. Whatever had been Jude’s fate, he wasn’t the same boy he’d been. He wasn’t even really the Peter she’d come to know. She knew that now. Things were slowly becoming clearer within her, as if a haze was taken from her eyes and a cloud from her brain. “What have I done?” Peter didn’t answer. “What have we done?” Lily touched her neck. The blood was tacky, but still there. “You bit me. I didn’t feel it. You were in my head. Both of you are always in my head, aren’t you?”
“Ah, how your mind clears in this moment,” Peter said. “Don’t mock me!” Lily cried, pushing back into the seat as if it could save her. “I never would’ve....” She motioned weakly to the seat, mortified beyond words by what she had done. First the phantom and now Peter ... or was it Jude? Jude?! How? I don’t understand. “I...” She couldn’t get the words out now that her mind was completely her own. Glancing around, she tried to reason. She’d been fine until that moment she walked into the basement of the Pavilion. That’s when the phantom bit her and she woke up in her bed with Peter pounding at the door to get in. Had he known she’d been attacked? “You’re a vampire.” “I am.” “You bit me.” “I did.” His voice was too calm, too emotionless. “This can’t be.” Shaking, Lily recoiled from him. He didn’t move. “You seduced me against my will!” “Ah, no. Not against your will.” There was laughter in his voice as he said the words. “Trust me. The way your body responded, you were most willing. Besides, wasn’t it you who said you were destined to be my bride?” “I was just a girl. You were ... family.” Lily wanted to shout at him that it wasn’t true, but couldn’t. It was true. She’d wanted him, wanted the phantom. The only difference was that her inhibitions had been completely removed since that bite. She’d been able to audition for the Baron. She’d taken two lovers. Both were of her deepest, darkest desires. Her head dropped down. “I’m a whore.” “Hardly,” Jude said. “Whores get paid.” “I don’t remember you being so cruel.” “I don’t remember you sleeping with two men so--” “So that’s what this is about?” Lily demanded. “You’re upset that I wasn’t a virgin.” Her tone dripped with sarcasm, as she said, “I’m so sorry, m’lord. Had I known you expected a virgin bride....” Something struck her as odd, causing her words to trail off. There was something to his voice. The tone, the way it dipped just slightly at the end of his sentences. “You’re him, aren’t you?” Lily whispered, frightened as the truth of the situation hit her. Reason dawned on her as she tasted him on her lips. It was the phantom’s taste. His body had felt the same in hers. And there were other things as well. The way his lips arched when he talked, the dimple in his cheek, the texture and pressure of his tongue when he kissed her. Jude was the phantom. “You’re the phantom.” Lily shook her head, not wanting to believe it. “I promised to protect you that night,” Jude said. “Do you remember?” Lisa. Lily shook her head. He meant Lisa. They’d given her back her part and he’d killed her for it. This wasn’t Jude. Not anymore.
Hastily, she went to the window and jerked the curtain back. Every nerve stretched out, still wanting him, but she denied her body his touch. She knew she should be elated that both her lovers were one man, but that man was a killer. He didn’t move. To the driver, she yelled in a panic, “Stop the carriage!” The carriage jerked to a rough stop. “What do you think you are doing?” Jude growled, reaching for her even as he tumbled over. “I’m getting out,” she reached for the handle before the driver could come to open the door. Her naked back gaped open, but she didn’t care. This wasn’t her Jude. The man she loved couldn’t be in this monster he’d become. This creature was something else, but he wasn’t her Jude. He just looked like him. Jude grabbed her arm. “Stay.” “You killed her.” Lily pulled hard, forcing him to free her. She didn’t know why, but he let her go and pulled back. Tears slipped over her cheeks and she didn’t want him to see them. The driver pulled open the door. Lily darted past him, running down the dirt road. The moon was full in the night sky and the city lights were behind her. She glanced back. They’d been on their way to the castle. Jude lived in the castle? Stumbling, she backed away from both Jude and the sight of the castle. “No,” Lily whispered. You’re not Jude. You’re not him. You can’t be. Fear gripped her to the core. What had happened to the nice, charming Peter who had become her patron? Jude’s strong figure was outlined by moonlight and she vaguely saw his driver standing next to him. The driver made a move as if to chase her. Jude put out his hand and stopped him. Lily, she heard his voice in her head. This time there was no mistaking it. It wasn’t a memory from the past or a hazy, random thought. It was him, commanding her with his mind. You’re to stay hidden in your room or in rehearsals. I must know where you are at all times. Listen to me or all that has been given to you can be taken away. No, Lily thought, you don’t own me. If you don’t obey, you’ll be dead. Chapter Six If you don’t obey, you’ll be dead. The words echoed in her head, haunting her. They had to be a threat. How else could she take them? Days passed since her bittersweet night with Jude. Lily had run back toward the lights of town, only to stop and fix her gown before making the long walk through the side streets to the Pavilion. Each evening since that night, Jude would arrive and stand at the back of the theater to watch her. It was then she noticed that he only arrived with the dusk. Before, she didn’t find it odd, but now she knew the reason. The moment he walked in, she felt his eyes on her. As soon as the Baron said it was all right to go, she would run back to her room and toss herself into bed. He never came for her, though part of her longed for him to do so. Arianna was worried and made a point to leave rehearsal early. Madame was not happy with her, but her friend didn’t care. Lily appreciated the company, not wanting to be left alone lest Jude come for her. Lily thought it strange to think that Jude was alive and that she was cast into some dark world filled with creatures more bizarre than
found at the Pavilion. Vampires? Phantoms? Dead men come back from the grave? “Jude is alive,” she whispered repeatedly to herself, only to add, “No. He’s not the Jude I knew. He’s different--cold, mean.” The fog that encompassed her since Jude’s bite continued to lift with each passing day. What had changed? Three bites and she was free of him? She’d been foolish not to know it was Jude from the beginning. Well, she had known him, but she didn’t believe it possible. How could she? No, not Jude, a vampire. “Lily!” Lily blinked in surprise, jerked from her thoughts. “Ugh,” the Baron continued in a loud mumble that everyone in the theater could hear, “I knew it was a mistake to hire an amateur for such a great role! Luckily there are more leads to distract from your incompetence.” Lily didn’t move as she stood on the grand stage. Diva Rosaline and Diva Elsa shared a superior look. For the first time since rehearsals began, the divas deemed to be on stage with her. They had the rolls of Hermia and Helena, but they’d been doing them for so long they didn’t think they needed the practice. The Baron was inclined to agree with them, but then he always agreed with them. Diva Rosaline eyed her rudely from head to toe. Lily automatically looked down. A billowy dress of white satin encompassed her. The baron had hated this costume as well, claiming it washed out her face. Unfortunately, Lily knew it was just that she was paler since her carriage ride with Jude. Her complexion wasn’t the only thing that changed since then. Her body was also sensitive and she had a hard time with the bright spot lights shining in her eyes for long periods. They gave her a killer headache. A chill swept over her and she looked toward the theater door expecting to see Jude. Instead, a blond man was there. Small dark sunglasses covered his eyes, contrasting his pale skin. His long hair parted down the center, falling gracefully over his dark suit. He carried a walking stick and idly swung it back and forth, stopping mid-swing to tap the end of his boot. He was far back, but Lily sensed details, as if her vision zoomed in on him. A ruby ring glinted on his fingers. “Lily!” the Baron scolded right before the sound of tapping invaded her thoughts. She blinked. The blond man was gone. Was it Jude in another of his disguises? Somehow, she didn’t feel that it was. “I’m sorry, Baron,” Lily said, her voice so soft she had to clear her throat and repeat the words more forcefully. “I’m sorry, Baron.” “Hmphrm,” the Baron cleared his throat. He opened his mouth to speak, but a scream pierced the air from behind the curtain. “Baron!” The attention turned toward the back of the stage. Movement started all around her, but Lily held still, feeling like a rock in the middle of a rushing stream. As her fellow actors went to the curtain to see what the commotion was about, Lily stared at the front entry where the blond man had been. No, not a man. Vampire. Another vampire. She wasn’t sure how she knew what the man was, but she did. It would seem the Pavilion was crawling with the undead. “Another one,” she heard a man say, the words muffled by the thick velvet curtain. She realized she was alone on stage and made her way slowly back to where the crowd gathered. When she pulled the curtain aside, she saw everyone look up. Sonya was being lowered from above, her mutilated body the thing of horror films. Lily squinted, but she couldn’t look away.
“Drained completely,” a seamstress whispered, “just like the last.” “Poor soul,” her companion agreed, making the sign of the cross over her chest. “May God take her into his fold.” “Ach! She’s the demon’s bride now,” Derk asserted. “There isna hope for her soul.” “Quiet!” the Baron ordered, though his voice cracked and didn’t sound as confident as usual. For once he didn’t yell at everyone to get back to work. “Johanne, call the police.” Lily stared from the corpse to the Baron. The man wiped his brow nervously. He knew something. “Sasha, have Madame take a head count of all her dancers to make sure none are missing. They should be warned that there is a killer amongst us,” the Baron ordered a nearby ballerina. Sasha nodded and ran to do as she was asked. At her scared look, a young man went with her. “Millie,” the Baron said, “ask Isabelle and Rosemary to do the same. Everyone must be accounted for.” When Millie didn’t run off as fast as Sasha, he clapped his hands to get her attention. “Quickly, please. We must be organized or the outside world will try to come in and police us. Trust me, we don’t want that. The Pavilion is ours. Now, go. Make haste!” The Baron continued to look around the group, searching frantically. Lily couldn’t take her eyes off him. Finally, his eyes stopped on hers. He couldn’t hold her look as he turned to where Sonja’s body was being laid on the floor. Her eyes and mouth gaped open in her blue-white face in a fixed state of horror. “Jon, please escort Diva Rosaline and Diva Elsa to their chambers,” the Baron motioned from the beefy electrician to the two overly dressed women who stood appalled in the back of the crowd. By his expression, there was no doubt that Jon would try and see to the ‘complete comfort’ of the divas. By the look they returned him, they were up for the idea. Lily hid her frown of disgust at their disregard for Sonja’s life. How could they think of sex at a time like this? Of course, their boyfriends weren’t the possible killer. “Brent,” the Baron continued to order, “take Lily back to her--” “No.” Lily shivered, as Jude’s voice interrupted the Baron’s. She slowly turned. His dark eyes bored into hers, daring her to speak out. She didn’t dare. Questions filled her, but she couldn’t speak. Jude’s dark charcoal suit draped his tight body well. A red vest covered the charcoal linen shirt and he wore no tie. He was damned sexy. Lily tried to take her eyes off him, but couldn’t. Her body recognized him on a primal level and it wanted to again feel the pleasure he could bring. It wasn’t lost on her that she was feeling exactly the same thing she’d condemned the divas for moments before. “I’ll take her,” Jude finished. His short brown hair was different than the phantom’s dark locks. However, this was the theater and wigs were easy enough to find. “Fine, fine, Mr. Verona,” the Baron said. “Get her out of here. She doesn’t need this distraction before a performance night.” If you don’t obey, you’ll be dead. The sound of his voice was clear in her head. She backed away from him, shaking her head in fear. Jude frowned, striking out to grab her arm before she could run. Pulling her roughly beside him, he stormed through the halls of the Pavilion. “Jude,” Lily whispered, struggling to be free. He wouldn’t let go.
When they neared her door, he kicked it open and tossed her inside, closing them in. Lily stumbled before finding her footing. A fire burst in the barren fireplace, lighting the room with an intense heat before dying down. “You will stay in here until I tell you it’s safe to come out,” he ordered. Whirling around, she glared at Jude. “How dare y--ah?” Jude strode to her and pulled her into his arms. Her words were cut off on his forceful kiss. Lily groaned, enjoying his rough embrace even as she wiggled to be free of his hands gripping her shoulders. “Let me go!” she cried, jerking her mouth to the side. It was hard not to continue when he tasted so good. “Fine,” Jude growled. His gaze flashed with an inner red fire. When he let go, her legs crumpled and she fell to the floor. Lily turned away, closing her eyes tight. His voice softened, becoming a seductive call. She felt him draw near, each nerve knowing exactly where he was. Lily studied his shorter hair. He smiled slightly, reaching up to pull off his wig. Long black hair spilled over his shoulders. She liked it better. “What do you want?” she asked, daring to look up. He stood before her, his hard cock pushing against his slacks. His feet were planted at hips’ width. His dangerous eyes begged, demanded, asked and ordered all at the same time. Lily couldn’t stop from touching him. He mesmerized her--not with his power, but with his soul. She saw his soul in his eyes, felt it when they were together. Jude had become a monster, but she saw glimpses of the man within him. Running her hand up his thigh, her body tightened. Her pussy was wet for him, always wet and ready to the point of aching need. Just the sight of him could cause her heart to skip. Lily came up on her knees, kneeling before him. His body didn’t move, not even to breathe. She stared at her hands, watching her fingers unbuckle his belt and then unfasten his pants. He didn’t wear underwear and his large cock was freed as the material glided from his hips to the floor. “Lily,” he whispered and she wasn’t sure if he spoke aloud or just in her head. The intimate smell of him drew her forward to taste. She flicked her tongue along the tip of his arousal, rolling it in circles along the firm shaft. Jude’s body tensed. Moaning, she sucked the ruddy tip into her mouth, biting it gently with her teeth. Jude jerked and began rocking his hips forward, thrusting his thick cock into her mouth. Touch my balls ... squeeze them ... harder ... faster ... take me deeper.... She heard his whispers in her head, leading her, showing her how to pleasure him. The sound of his voice caused cream to gather between her thighs. Her clit stung, begging for his touch, his kiss. Her pussy ached for the feel of his cock prying her open, making her his again and again. She cupped his balls, massaging them as she thrust a finger behind the soft globes. Instantly, she was rewarded with his approval. There was something intimate and strange in knowing this man was Jude. She’d loved Jude her whole life and, even in light of the murders, now was no different. He continued to talk, thrusting harder and faster as she sucked him to the back of her throat. Groaning, he grabbed the sides of her face. The action wasn’t necessary; it wasn’t like she wanted to stop. Lily wanted to taste him. She became more aggressive, demanding without words that he come for her. Jude did, grunting as his body let loose his heavy release. Without thought, she drank him in, reveling in the taste of his salty essence. Jude’s hands pressed into her shoulders, lifting her from the floor as he carted her backward to her bed. His weight trapped her down. Without giving her time to protest the new position, he kissed her neck. Fangs glided over her flesh but she didn’t care. The
dangerous thrill only added to her arousal. “Jude,” she whispered. “I promise to protect you, Lily,” Jude answered. His body lay over hers, nestling between her thighs as he pulled at her skirt. “Even if it’s against me.” “Did you kill those women?” “No.” “Have you ever killed anyone?” “Yes.” Lily took a deep breath and nodded. What had she expected him to say? He was the undead after all. She didn’t want to think about it. Leaning up, she kissed him passionately. His hands seemed to glide everywhere at once, searing her. The clothes seemed to melt off her skin, as she didn’t remember him taking them off. Jude kissed her everywhere, worshiping her with his mouth and body. His fangs skimmed over her breasts, nicking her slightly. The pain added to the sensual pleasure as he licked a drop of blood from the soft globe. Lily clawed at his chest, ripping his shirt open. Jude chuckled, obviously enjoying her aggressive behavior. Pushing him, she urged him on his back. He rolled over, letting her take the lead. She kissed him through the rip in his shirt, touching everywhere she could reach. Jude lifted her up, grasping her hips tightly as he lifted her body over his. Lily pushed down, taking him in with one firm stroke. She threw back her head, feeling the long locks of her hair tickling her butt. Warm hands cupped her breasts, kneading as she rode him. Lily held onto his thigh as she took him deeper, moving faster and faster. She thrust a hand between her thighs, feeling the erotic glide of his body entering hers as she stimulated her clit. Tension and fire built in her stomach. Jude’s fingers glided down to guide her hips. Under his hands, she took smaller thrusts, keeping him deep. It was too much. Lily gasped, tensing as she climaxed. It was so intense, she felt as if the whole world shook with her. As her body clamped and tightened around him, Jude groaned his release, filling her with his seed. Breathing wildly, she lowered her face to stare at him. She felt their connection. Each time they came together it grew stronger. “You didn’t bite me,” she said in awe, touching her neck. Why was she disappointed by the fact? Jude looked at her face. His expression of pleasure faded into a blank, icy mask. Tightening his grip, he tossed her aside on the bed, not hurting her but getting her off him. “Jude?” Lily blinked, stunned. “We shouldn’t do this.” “Why?” Lily gasped, hope welling in her chest. “Is it because of Seth? My father? Tell me, are they alive as well? Can I see them? Where--?” His hard look cut her off. “No. They didn’t survive the transformation.”
Jude’s body blurred with movement as he dissolved into mist. She watched him slide from her bed, leaving her naked and alone without a word. “Why do you haunt me, then? Why do you run from me?” Lily asked. “I love you, Jude. I’ve always loved you, even now. Please, stop running. I want to be with you.” She waited for an answer, but none came. Jude was really gone. Throwing herself down on the bed, she wept. **** Jude strode through the secret passages of the Pavilion as he made his way down to his home beyond the maze. He shouldn’t have taken her, but he couldn’t stop himself. Her sweet lips around his shaft had been the closest he would ever get to heaven. The monster inside him made him crazy with emotions. Lily accepted him, wanted his bite. He felt that she did. To save her from himself, he should leave the Pavilion and never come back. Now, with a madman on the loose killing actresses, he knew he couldn’t leave her. He’d seen these kind of killings before. They were vampire killings. And, if his suspicions were right, it was possible Lily was in grave danger. Chapter Seven Opening night. The very words always sent a wave of excitement so intense it was like electric energy could be felt throughout the Pavilion. Actors and actresses frantically dressed amongst the seamstresses doing last minute repairs. None of the performers seemed to notice that they stood half naked in front of the opposite sex. Workers crowded the halls, some manning the lights and curtains, others checking the sets to make sure they were perfect. The theater was packed full with gentlemen in fine suits and ladies wearing gorgeous formal gowns. Lily wasn’t allowed to leave her room, but Arianna had run out to peek for her. Lily’s final costume was a tight gown of shimmering white. It fell to the floor with a long slit up the side to her hip. Over the slit translucent material hung like a thick belt from her hips to the floor, held in place by a large silver brooch. The strapless bodice was tight, showcasing her breasts to perfection. A smaller brooch was on her shoulder, holding a lightweight scarf in place which she draped over one shoulder. It fluttered behind her when she moved. The hairdresser pulled her locks onto the crown of her head, letting curls fall along her nape in a cascade. A diamond studded tiara held the curls in place. For jewelry, she wore the diamond teardrop necklace Jude had given her. Touching the necklace, she whispered, “God help me, I love him.” “Who’s that?” Nicole, the makeup artist said. “What?” Lily blinked, closing her eyes as the woman dotted glitter over her eyelids, drawing it out to the side. “You said you loved him,” Nicole giggled. “Who’s that?” Lily didn’t really like Nicole. She was a busybody and was always in everyone else’s business. Knowing the woman was prone to gossip, Lily shook her head. “I was rehearsing lines.” She looked at Arianna’s reflection in the mirror. Her friend rolled her eyes. “Hmm.” Nicole applied the rest of the makeup in silence. Lily had noticed that the woman had put extensions in her hair. It was kind of creepy, but Lily was sure Nicole was trying to look like her. When she finished, she put the glitter back into the makeup kit and took a step back. “I’m pretty damn good at this.” Lily took a deep breath.
“You look like a star,” Arianna said. Nicole didn’t leave right away. Lily turned to watch her as she strolled over to her bed. She picked up one of the many costumes Lily had to change into between scenes. The silk chiffon overlay with the shirred empire waist looked amazing when the fans were turned on. The delicate material blew out around her like she imagined a true fairy’s would. Seeing Nicole lift the dress up against her frame, she frowned. “Hey, Nic,” Arianna said. “Give us a minute.” “I love this dress,” Nicole sighed, setting it back down. Arianna again rolled her eyes behind the woman’s back. Lily suppressed a laugh. “You’re so lucky to get to wear such beautiful things. Can I try it on?” Nicole looked hopeful. Lily frowned. Arianna saved her from having to tell the woman no. “Sorry, Nic, but the Baron said that if he found out anyone so much as touched one of Lily’s dresses he’d have that person turned out of the Pavilion and blackballed from the artistic community forever.” Arianna gave so innocent a grin that she looked like an actual angel. Nicole gasped and let go of the dress. “Now, how about giving me a second to go over lines?” Lily asked the woman. She nodded and left, leaving her case behind. Unfortunately, when she changed costumes, she’d also have to change makeup and she was in for a full night of Nicole. When the woman was gone, Arianna said, “Ugh, she’s so annoying. And did you see her hair?” “Yeah, creepy.” “Hey, something wrong with you?” “You mean besides the fact that my opening night is overshadowed by a murderer on the loose, that half the people here want to see the vampire killer and not my debut, or is it that I’m hopelessly in love with a dead man?” “Lily, you’re being too hard on yourself.” “Am I?” A knock sounded on the door causing them both to jump. A man yelled, “Curtain! Fifteen!” “Thank you!” Arianna yelled back. She turned once more to Lily. “You’ve been locked up in here every spare minute like a prisoner and when you’re not here, you’re working. After tonight you’ll be able to relax, you’ll see.” “I am a prisoner. His prisoner,” Lily whispered. “He doesn’t want me out.” “Lily, you can’t live like--” “Can we just get through tonight?” Lily asked, crossing to the door. She held the knob. “You’re right. After tonight, I’ll be able to think clearly.” Lily opened the door and glanced around the crowed hall before hiding once more in her bedroom with Arianna. She took a deep breath and then another. This was it, her chance to prove herself worthy of the stage. She should be nervous, excited, focused. Instead, all she could think about was Jude and the murders. “Lily?” Arianna asked. “You know you can do this. You’re going to do great. You were born to be a lead.” Lily shook her head, nodded and then shook her head again. “You can do this,” Arianna enunciated. “Tonight there is nothing else. Just you, the stage and the chance of a lifetime. Tonight there is no Jude, no phantom, no past or future. You are a fairy queen.”
**** The play was going beautifully. Lily hit every line, made every mark. It was as Arianna always told her. She was born to be on stage. Running toward her room to change between scenes, she half fought, half helped the numerous hands that tugged on her clothes to undress her. Her mind was lost in a sea of compliments as she walked into the room. Her gown was pulled over her head and she was at last freed. Arianna was with her. Madame had let her out of the ballet for the night. The Baron insisted she stay to aide Lily. “Splendid!” Arianna said. “The crowd is captivated.” “Really?” Lily took a deep breath. “Truly,” Arianna answered with a gush of excitement as she went over to the bed. “Did you move your white gown?” “No,” Lily said, pulling down her hair to rearrange it around her shoulders so it fell in waves down her back. “Why?” “The chiffon dress is missing.” Arianna walked around the bed. “What?” “Don’t panic,” Arianna held up her hands. Lily looked around, the gown was gone. “It has to be here somewhere.” “Where’s Nicole? She should be here to touch up my makeup,” Lily insisted. How could she go on without her costume? If she wore the same dress the Baron would be livid. Besides, the women who’d helped undress her had taken the thing with them. “What am I going to do? I don’t have anything to wear but this chemise.” “That whore!” Arianna swore. “I knew I should’ve stayed in here to keep an eye on her. I can’t believe she borrowed your dress! I wonder what else she took” “Ari!” Lily gasped for breath, panicking. She couldn’t go out in her underwear. If she did, she would never live it down. The critics would massacre her in the papers. She’d be ruined before she really had a chance to begin. “Calm down. Wait right here. I’ll be back.” “Where are you going?” “Isabelle will have something,” Arianna assured her. “Just take a deep breath. It will be fine. I promise. Leave everything to me. I’ll find something perfect.” Lily watched her friend leave. Needlessly she ran to a drawer and opened it, digging through the mess of her and Arianna’s clothing looking for anything that would work for her last segment on stage. There was nothing befitting a fairy queen. Please let me find something. Oh, please, please, please.... “Here.” Lily stopped moving. It was Jude. Slowly she turned, glancing around. She would’ve heard if the door was opened. It wasn’t. “How...?” she began. “There’s not time for that. Here, take this.” Jude held out a white gown with delicate pink flowers embroidered down the skirt. It wasn’t anything like the missing gown, but it was beautiful. Lily belatedly covered her chest. Jude lifted a slightly amused brow at the gesture. His dark eyes gave her chills.
“Where have you been?” Lily asked, taking the gown. “Miss me?” She trembled, struggling to get the tight bodice over her head. She had missed him. Several times she’d searched the crowd hoping to see him. She hadn’t. “Were you watching?” “Of course,” he said. “I always watch you.” “How was I?” Lily asked in a rush, needing to know what he thought. “Did it look like I--?” “Shh, you’re perfect and I think you know it.” Jude helped her and she couldn’t help thinking that she’d much rather have him undressing her instead. “Mm,” he chuckled. “Later. I promise.” “Later, what?” she feigned innocence. “I thought we decided coyness didn’t fit you. You forget, M’lady Sparrow, I can read most of your dirty little thoughts.” “That’s a little unnerving,” Lily said, blushing. “Did you have to tell me that?” Jude only laughed. She liked the sound of it. Lily finally managed to see as she pulled the dress down. Freeing her hair, she turned her head to the side. She stopped with a gasp, seeing a part of the wall slightly askew. Without fastening the gown, she marched over to it. “You’ve been spying on me!” She flung open the door. It led to a dusty secret tunnel decorated with spider webs. “I have.” The tone showed no remorse, only mild pleasure. “You mean you ... watch me?” “I do.” “How dare you?!” “How dare I not? You’re quite beautiful naked, especially when you’re alone on your bed, stroking--” “Ahh!” Lily screamed, covering her ears so she didn’t have to hear anymore. She would just have to die of mortification later. “Then you saw Nicole take my dress? That’s how you knew to--” “Not exactly.” Jude glanced at the door. Lily followed his look but didn’t see or hear anything unusual. “But I wouldn’t expect to get the gown back anytime soon.” There was something ominous to his tone. “What do you mean?” Lily turned back to him, but he was gone. The secret door was closed. She grimaced and said loudly, “I really hate when you do that! It’s rude, you know!” He didn’t answer. The door swung open and Arianna entered with Isabelle carrying a dress. Isabelle stopped cold, gaping at the gown she wore. “Where did you get that?” Arianna asked.
There was no time to answer. A man with a clipboard ran past yelling, “Curtain now!” “Fasten her gown,” Isabelle ordered, snapping out of her daze. “Quickly.” “Aunt Isabelle?” Lily asked, as Arianna did up her dress. Her aunt grabbed her hand and smiled. “You look lovely. Don’t worry about a thing.” Lily had a feeling Isabelle wasn’t telling her something, but she didn’t have time to ask about it as she was whisked away to perform. **** “Both dead ... together... four total.” Lily paused as she heard the whisper. Turning in the crowd, she searched for who spoke. There were too many people. Her heart still beat from her standing ovation and her arms were full of flowers. Isabelle grabbed her arm and dragged her toward her dressing room. “Come, Lily,” Isabelle insisted. “What’s wrong?” Isabelle didn’t answer as she pulled her faster through the throng. “Miss Lily!” several people cried. “Brava!” Lily tried to wave, but Isabelle’s hand on her arm was insistent. Finally, they made it through the backstage area to her room. “Isabelle, please!” Lily forced her aunt to look at her. “What are you not telling me? I saw the look on your face when you saw this dress. What is it?” “Nicole and Jody were found dead tonight.” Lily shook her head in horror. “Nicole was wearing your dress from the last act. That gown you wear now was taken from Jody’s room.” Lily looked down. She felt her face draining of blood as she became lightheaded. The room spun slightly. “There’s nothing to worry about,” Isabelle insisted, her tone grave. “I’ve already moved the listing of this gown from her room to yours. No one will ever know where it came from.” Lily couldn’t speak. Her aunt kept a picture log of all the costumes. “What do you know, Lily?” Lily blinked. Appalled, she whispered, “You think that I...? That I could possibly...?” “Lily,” Isabelle crossed to her, grabbing her arms. “I don’t think you, but someone you know. What do you know about your phantom?” Jude? It made sense. Jude gave her the dress. Jude was a vampire. Jude deceived her, lied, killed by his own admittance.
And I love him. She didn’t want to believe it. Not Jude. Anyone but Jude. Hating herself even as she said it, Lily said, “I know nothing.” “Surly you have a name? A man comes to you all your life. Give you gifts. Buys--” Lily’s face hardened. “And what of you? Do you know who he is? He came to you when I was a girl. I daresay you’ve known about him longer. He gave you money to raise me. He--” “He left money. I didn’t see him after that first night except on rare occasions when he needed to speak to me and then he always stuck to the shadows.” Isabelle backed away, her features not as accusing as before. “He dwells in darkness, Lily. I fear for you. I fear for us all.” “Why would he start killing now? It doesn’t make sense.” “These aren’t the first,” Isabelle whispered. “Years ago....” Her aunt stopped, visibly shivering. “Isabelle, please,” Lily begged. “I have to know.” “There have been more killings over the years. Most of them were in town, outside the Pavilion walls. Bodies would wash up in the East River, drained of blood, mutilated and tortured.” “Why haven’t I heard of this?” “Do you honestly think the authorities would want such a thing out? This is Elegan, city of perfection and beauty. Murders don’t happen in perfect places. It would discredit the whole artistic community. The Pavilion would be ruined if the town was to fall.” “But, still, there would be rumors. You can’t hide such things from everyone.” “The Baron also goes to great pains to keep the secret hidden.” “But, why? People have a right to know if there is a killer on the loose. Lives could be spared.” Lily shook in amazement. “And we would lose our livelihood,” Isabelle said quietly. “How long...?” The woman didn’t answer. The sound of the crowd rose and fell outside the door. “How long has it been going on?” Lily insisted. “Years, decades. I only found out about it after my sister married your father. I overheard the Baron speaking to the police. How do you think I’ve secured my position here?” Isabelle stared at the floor in shame. “You should have said something, Isabelle.” “To who? The Baron practically owns the police.” “Then to someone outside Elegan.”
“Who would listen? Besides, I’ve seen the outside world. I saw what it did to your mother. She hated the normal life, but she loved your father enough to live it. I have no one to love. These walls are my home, the theater is my love. I have nothing else. And so help me I want it protected. If the outside world comes in, they’ll tear us apart. The theater has lasted for centuries and it will last for centuries more--if we protect it at all costs. I wouldn’t kill to protect it, but I... Those women can’t be saved.” “But isn’t standing aside and doing nothing just as bad?” “Such is the sacrifice one must sometimes make in the name of art.” The Baron’s voice washed over them, hard with disdain. “What are a few deaths when compared to the temple we have built?” Lily turned to the door. Neither one of them had heard the Baron open it. His cold eyes glared at Isabelle. “Isabelle,” the Baron ordered, “see to the costumes. I have a few notes to go over with Lily about the party tonight. This is her debut and I need her on perfect behavior.” “Baron, please, she’s a good girl. She’ll not tell,” Isabelle said. “Don’t overact, Isabelle,” the Baron said in irritation. “I wish to discuss her career. She was quite good tonight, much to my surprise. If she can keep it up, she’ll be a star yet. Now, go to the party. We’ll be down shortly.” Isabelle nodded and left, giving one last look to the both of them. The Baron shut the door behind her. Lily shivered, not liking the smarmy way the man looked at her. She took an involuntary step back. “I meant what I said. You were lovely tonight, Lily. A true flower of the stage.” She didn’t like his tone. Unable to help it, she glanced over him as he was doing to her. She saw the bulge of his cock straining his trousers. “Thank you,” she managed, praying the man would turn and find another to slake his desires on. “He is very pleased with you,” the Baron said. “Who?” “With time and my guidance you could’ve been a diva.” “Baron?” The back of her legs hit the bed and she automatically changed direction, not wanting to be by the bed. Could’ve been a diva? His eyes raked over her, only to stop at her breasts. “It will be a shame to lose you.” “What do you mean ‘lose me’?” Lily didn’t like the lecherous gleam in the man’s eyes. She backed away from him, ready to run for the door. “He wants you, Lily, and I can’t deny him. He protects us. He keeps us running and all I have to do is turn a blind eye to his indiscretions.” “The murders! You’re talking about the murderer, aren’t you?” “They’ve only begun since I denied him you,” the Baron said, swiping his brow. He was sweating profusely. “He says they’ll stop if you go with him. He’s going to take you away with him. He wants you, Lily. You’ll perform only for him, his own personal doll on display.” Jude?
“Tell me who he is, Baron. We can stop him. We--” “But my dear, dear girl, I don’t want to stop him. Why stop the biggest patron the Pavilion has? With him protecting us, this place will last forever. We’re man’s testament to all that humans can achieve.” The Baron’s eyes roamed over her body. “Ah, but first he’s promised me a taste of you. You think you’re so superior to everyone--you with your precious virgin cunt.” His intent was clear as he began to unfasten his pants. “I’m going to enjoy breaking it in. He promised me I could have you if I got you a lead.” Lily shook from the stunned shock that had seized her at the Baron’s confession and started to scream for help. The sound never escaped her as a black force spun through the room, throwing her back. She fell on the floor. The Baron’s eyes opened in shock as the black mist began to form in front of him. Lily watched from the ground as a pale hand developed over the Baron’s chest. Before solidifying completely, the mist shoved its hand into the Baron, ripping out his heart. The director barely had time to gurgle before falling dead to the floor. Terrified and unable to push a sound through her tight throat, Lily watched as the mist became a man. The arm grew into a shoulder and neck, spreading to a chest and finally a face and body. Dizzy, Lily shook her head in denial. No. It can’t be. No. How? “Seth?” she whispered, before falling into a dead faint. **** Jude stared down at the body of the Baron in horror. Lily was gone. He was too late. Isabelle was near him, having discovered the body moments before he had. When Lily hadn’t come down for her opening night party, they’d both been worried. The woman kept staring at him. He knew it was the first time she’d seen him without the mask. Jude would’ve come back to Lily’s room sooner, but he’d been busy. Earlier, he had stumbled upon Jody and Nicole’s bodies. By the looks of it, Nicole had been tortured and Jody, her roommate, had been unfortunate enough to happen upon the scene for her death was quicker. At first, he’d thought it was Lily lying on the floor. The woman had her hair and her dress. Just the idea of Lily dying tore his heart from his chest, killing him in ways the vampire who took his life never could. He’d told himself that he couldn’t love, that the beast he was would never be able to feel such a pure emotion. But he did. He saw that now. He loved her, as purely as a creature of the night could. If she would have him, he would make her his for eternity. And if she wouldn’t let him have forever, he’d beg her to keep him for the rest of her mortal life. After he found the dead actresses, he knew he had to keep Lily safe. He grabbed the nearest dress to give her for her last act to replace the one the makeup artist stole. It wouldn’t have been smart to draw attention to the bodies too soon, otherwise the killer might have been alerted and scared back into hiding. And, while he searched for the killer, the safest place for Lily had been on stage in front of a large crowd who couldn’t take their eyes off her. But, like always, the killer was elusive and now, seeing the dead Baron Von Hughes, Jude feared he wouldn’t be strong enough to save the woman he loved from suffering a horrible fate. “I left him alone with her,” Isabelle said, almost guiltily. Her quiet words broke into his thoughts. “He said he wanted to discuss her career.” “You know as well as I do, Isabelle, what that means,” Jude growled. “He wanted to blackmail her into feeling obligated to him if she wanted to further her career. It’s the oldest trick at the Pavilion. This creep makes promises to all the girls in exchange for carnal favors.”
“No, you don’t understand. The Baron is scared of you. He would never touch her. He says Lily’s protected. He would never force himself on her. I was more worried about him and Arianna.” “Wait, you say the Baron was scared of me?” Jude frowned, confused. “Yes, he was terrified of your visits to him. He said you demanded,” Isabelle turned away. “He said you demanded he sign his life to you in blood. I know you carry the deed to the Pavilion.” “Not I. The Baron doesn’t know me as anything but Peter Verona, a young heir to a fortune and her patron. I never told him who or what I really was.” “What?” Isabelle looked confused. Jude was hard pressed not to strangle her for leaving Lily alone with the Baron. The way that the man’s pants were undone made his plans very clear. By the gruesome death, he could deduce that Lily hadn’t killed him herself. The wound was too deep, having cut through the rib cage. No, a supernatural had made that hole. That meant a supernatural now had Lily. “But the Baron told me the vampire visits him. Isn’t that you?” Isabelle insisted. “No,” Jude quipped. “Then there are more of you here?” Isabelle’s face paled dramatically and she started to shake. Jude didn’t have time to comfort her. He grabbed a blanket off of Lily’s bed and wrapped the Baron’s body in it. “Give me three hours before inquiring about the Baron’s absence and clean up this blood. I’ll dump him in the river. If Lily survives, I don’t want her linked to this mess.” Isabelle nodded in agreement. Jude knew the woman loved her niece very much, even if her actions sometimes said otherwise. Isabelle was a product of the odd artistic world in which she was raised and in many ways couldn’t be blamed or hated for her loyalty to the only life she knew. When Jude was around her, he detected her broken heart. It was an old wound, but one that still bled upon occasion. In many ways, besides her niece, work was all she had. Closing his eyes, Jude concentrated on Lily as he carted the Baron’s dead body out of the Pavilion. He was connected to her, in more ways than he’d like to admit. That’s because I love her. It had been hard for him to admit that the love of a protector had turned into the love of a man, but there it was. He was madly, deeply, forever in love with Lily Graye. “Answer me, Lily,” he whispered, desperate to find her. All he got was silence and he knew it was possible she was already dead. Chapter Eight Lily moaned, grabbing her head as she sat up in bed. The world was spinning and she was lightheaded--a feeling that was becoming all too frequent. She knew if she opened her eyes too fast it would only make her dizzy. She took several deep breaths. “Ari? What happened? I feel sick.” There was no answer. Lily finally pried opened her eyes. She wasn’t in her room. Gray brick walls surrounded her. A fire burned brightly in a stone hearth, punctuated by the sound of popping wood. It wasn’t a gas stove like at the Pavilion but a real wood burning stove. Dark blue banners hung next to the mantle, decorated with the black emblem of lions and edged with crimson trim. The bed she was on was wide and long, bigger than any she’d ever seen. By the style, it was straight out of the middle ages. Seeing a narrow slit-like window, she threw the thick red covers off her legs and crossed over to it. The stone beneath her feet was
cool despite the warm fire. At the end of the bed were a fur rug and a trunk with a big iron padlock. Outside the castle, Elegan was laid out before her. The gas lamps of the city lights sparkled like stars in the valley below. She could just make out the center fountain of the town square, though she couldn’t see the intricately carved details of it. Lily gasped. This was the recluse’s castle on the hill. “Seth,” she whispered, remembering what had happened. Sethan was the recluse. Her brother was alive and he’d killed the Baron. Lily didn’t like the man, but she didn’t think he deserved to die. And why didn’t Jude tell her Sethan was alive? Was it possible Jude and Sethan lived here together? She remembered thinking that the castle belonged to Jude when he’d taken her for the carriage ride. Shivering, she glanced down. Her feet were bare as they’d been on stage and she still wore the dress from the last act--the gown stolen from Jody’s room. “What’s happening?” “How are you, Lily?” Lily spun to face her brother, instantly knowing the sound of his voice. It called to her like a faraway dream, only the dream was real and he was standing right in front of her. Sethan’s face was pale, but he hadn’t aged a day. His cold dark eyes watched her, so different from the man she knew. It didn’t matter what he looked like. He was there, in front of her. “Father?” she asked, having to know if her father was undead as well. Was it possible she’d get her family back? Longing welled within her, despite how she tried not to get her hopes up. “He didn’t make it.” Sethan’s eyes fell to the floor. For a moment, the pain rolling through her was as bad as the night she found them dead. Lily closed her eyes, trying to stop the tears. It didn’t work. Her heart leapt to see Sethan standing before her. She longed for the days of old, the days when they were a family--alive, happy. Lily pushed the thought of seeing his dead body from her mind and studied him. When they were younger, everyone said they looked alike, but she was hard pressed to see the similarities now. Time had turned his youthful face into one of anger, if not a little resentment. He was broader than she remembered and his hair was longer, falling to his shoulders. His red silk smoking jacket and black pants were a far cry from the baggy athletic wear he used to wear. “It’s been so long, Seth,” she whispered. “Why now? Why didn’t you come for me earlier? I could’ve used you.” Sethan laughed, a cruel, hard sound. “A cursed vampire? No, Lily, you could’ve used the brother you once had, not me. The Seth you knew is dead. I am the monster he has become.” “Please, I can’t believe that.” She tried to go to him, but his look held her back. “You saved me from the Baron’s intentions.” “I saved you from nothing,” Sethan said. “The Baron had a debt to pay.” “You killed him for money?” “Not all debts are in coin,” he chuckled. “Seth, please,” Lily pleaded, chills racking her body at the sound of his dark, cold laughter. “I can help you. I can....” “What? Save me, Lily? Nothing can save my accursed soul.” He parted his lips, showing the tips of his fangs. His dark brown eyes swirled with red and his nose wrinkled ever so unnaturally. “No, you don’t want to believe it. But it’s the truth. Your brother is dead.” “Then why did you save me? Why bring me here?” “Who said I saved you? Maybe you were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was there for the Baron.”
“Seth, don’t!” Lily wept, hugging her arms to her chest. “You wouldn’t have brought me here if you only wanted to....” Lily couldn’t say it. “To kill?” Sethan supplied. “That’s what we vampires do, Lily. We kill.” “Isn’t there another way? Do you have to kill? Can’t you drink and leave the person alive?” Lily thought of Jude. He’d drunk from her and she lived. Just the memory of how erotic and naughty his bite made her feel curled her toes. She looked at Sethan, waiting for him to answer. “Not when the demon comes out to play.” “Seth, please....” Please don’t be like this. “What? Don’t want to hear how your bother is a murderer?” “I won’t believe you and Jude are responsible for the murders! I can’t!” “Jude?” At that, Sethan looked surprised. Some of his cold demeanor faded, giving an impression of the man he’d been before his death. Lily nodded, automatically knowing he didn’t know about Jude. “He’s like you. I’ve seen him at the Pavilion. I’ve....” Lily blushed, unable to finish. She couldn’t tell her brother that. It turned out she didn’t have to. Sethan’s look and small laugh told her that he knew. “So, M’lady Sparrow’s dream has finally come true.” His tone had softened. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you.” Lily needed to go to him, to touch him, to prove that he was real. Shaking, she took a hesitant step in his direction and stopped. “I’ve missed you, Seth. I’ve missed you terribly. What happened that night? You were all dead. I felt you.” “We were killed by a vampire we met at a party,” he said simply. Closing his eyes, he laughed, “How young and foolish we all were back then.” “Seth, I have to know,” Lily gulped, finding her nerve to continue, “Did you kill the women at the Pavilion?” “No,” Sethan answered. Lily sighed with relief, needing to believe him. She ran to him, trying to wrap her arms around him in a hug. He caught her wrists and stopped her. Tears streamed down her face, but she didn’t care. Sethan’s eyes bored into her as he held her arms out to the side, denying her the embrace. “My sins are much worse than the murders of a few actresses.” “I love you so much. Let’s just leave here. We can go away and be a family again. We can--” His dark laugh cut her off and he let go of her, whisking away with the silent grace of a shadow. From across the room by the door, he said, “Get some rest, Lily. We’ll talk more later.” “But--?” “Rest,” he ordered, his eyes swirling. Lily yawned, feeling tired. Slowly she obeyed, walking to the bed and laying down. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow.
**** Jude stopped gliding, letting his body solidify on the edge of Elegan, near a statue of a mermaid. The brief feeling he had of Lily being awake disappeared. It didn’t matter. Jude had connected to her long enough to know where she was and to know that she was alive. He looked up the hill toward the old recluse’s castle. Though brief, the pull had been strong. Lily was unharmed as of yet but she was frightened. He couldn’t blame her. If the killer had her, she should be scared. Speeding faster, he urged the wind to carry his body up toward the castle. Failure was not an option, not in this. “Hold on, Lily,” he urged. “I’m coming, darling.” **** Lily.... “Jude?” Lily opened her eyes, not moving from the bed. She glanced around. Sethan was gone and it was still dark out. Mm, sweet little Lily, I’m so glad I waited to see you fully grown. The ominous voice wasn’t Jude or her brother. “Excuse me?” Lily glanced around the castle room before sitting up. I have to admit, I was curious about the child they tried to hide from me--the child they protected with their lives, not that they would’ve lived otherwise. Lily trembled violently as she edged off of the bed. She couldn’t see anyone, but she heard the words clearly in her head. Trying not to make a sound, she reached for the door. How loved you were.... She was getting close. Just one more step.... “How protected.” As the words were said aloud, her hand hit a hard stomach. Lily froze, holding her breath as she turned to see the blond-haired vampire from the theater standing in front of her only escape. He smiled, a cruel, heartless look as she jerked her hand away. Jude! Seth! Help me! As she thought it, the vampire quirked a brow. Strangely, it was as if she could feel the evil oozing off of him. He wasn’t excitingly dangerous like Jude, but powerfully dangerous, deadly dangerous. Maybe it was the look on his face, or perhaps the coldness she felt radiating off of him. The vampire was dressed in tight black pants and a velvet blue jacket. A stiff cravat hid his neck, falling over his stark white shirt. Blue lens sunglasses hid his eyes from her, so dark she couldn’t see where he was looking. He was handsome, breathtakingly so, but she felt the threat in him. With Jude, she was aroused by his beastly side. There was nothing arousing about this man. Every fiber of her being told her to run, to escape. Only, with him blocking her exit, there was nowhere to go. She cried silently for help, not caring if he heard her. Seth! Jude! “My sons can’t help you, child,” the vampire said. “But, please, call them. I wish for them to come. It is time.”
Sons? “What do you want?” Lily eyed his hand as he lifted it to her. She tried to move, but an unseen force held her captive. He touched her face and she winced at the cold chill of his fingers to her warmer flesh. “Mm, I thought that would be obvious,” the vampire said. He lifted his sunglasses from his eyes. They were black, empty pits. “I want the treasure they’ve sought so hard to protect from me over the years. I always knew of you, sweet Lily. You slept peacefully in your bed, dreaming of being an actress on stage. How innocent and sweet you looked that night. Over the years I knew exactly how to find you, I knew where they were, knew they thought they could protect you by staying away.” Gregor’s mouth opened wide, baring his fangs as he leaned toward her. She tried to pull back, but his power over her was strong. She felt as if fifty men held her in place and it was only his mind forcing her to his will. “Lily!” Sethan’s voice yelled from the other side of the door. She turned her eyes to the wooden barrier, unable to move to go to him. “Gregor, please! Not her! You’ve taken everything from me. Not her! I beseech you, not Lily!” “Seth! Help me, please!” “Yes, Sethan, help her,” Gregor mocked, his face contorting with the look of a demon. “Help her, help her. Save your poor little sister from the bogeyman.” “Lily!” Seth screamed, over and over again as he pounded at the door. The wood shook, but he didn’t break through the barrier. “Lily!” Just then a white mist flooded in the narrow slit of the window. Lily smelled Jude before she saw him. Her heart beat faster as her lover materialized out of air, looking gloriously beautiful as his eyes bored into her. “Jude!” She’d never been so glad to see him in her life. Gregor’s hold tightened on her arm, painfully squeezing. “Lily,” Jude whispered, before turning to Gregor. “Release her at once. You’ve had your fun, Gregor, now let her go.” “Ah, here we all are,” Gregor said, apparently unconcerned with Jude’s intrusion. “One big happy family at last. I’m so glad you could join the little game, my son. Tell me. Do you still want her? Do you want this little flower of the stage? Is your cock hard for her, my benighted son?” “Gregor, she is nothing to you. Let her be,” Jude demanded. Lily cried big, hot tears. They streamed down her cheeks as she tried to keep her eyes on Jude and Gregor at the same time. The crude vampire holding her laughed. “Ah, such nobility! Still you seek to protect her from my coarse tongue.” Gregor tipped his head to the side. His eyes becoming dark pools of crimson, he asked, “Will you share her with me, my son?” Lily whimpered and tried to pull from his grasp. “You’ll not touch her, you fiend!” Jude growled, surging forward. Gregor lifted his hand. Sethan continued to pound on the door. The sound of her brother screaming distracted Jude. Gregor’s power slammed into him, throwing him back and up against the wall. He dangled like a man caught in an invisible spider web. His arms were thrown wide and she could see him straining against his invisible binds. He looked like he wanted to speak, but his lips didn’t move. “You call me a fiend, when you are the same as I?” Gregor shook his head. “Do you think you honor her purity of spirit by tainting her body with your demon seed?” “Gregor, you’ll pay for your sins. I promise you.” Jude was breathing hard and his eyes darkened to the color of blood, his expression bending and contorting until he too looked like Gregor.
“You always did like the sound of your own voice, Jude,” Gregor taunted. “But now is the time for silence.” The old vampire took a step forward, guiding Lily across the room away from the door. He lifted his hand. The door burst open and Sethan fell to his knees. “Just in time to join the party, my son.” Gregor flicked his fingers and as her brother tried to surge forward, he was again thrown to the floor, forced to bow low. It was clear Gregor had complete control over them. “Is that anyway to greet your father?” Gregor scolded Sethan. “Seth!” Lily cried. She tried to fight the vampire’s hold, but he was too strong. To Gregor, she pleaded, “Please, don’t hurt them. Let them go. What do you want?” “My sweet lady, calm yourself. I would never hurt my sons unless they tried to betray me. Now, don’t you worry about a thing. Death only hurts for an instant,” Gregor soothed. “You’re going to kill me,” she stated, horrified. “Like you did the others, aren’t you?” “No, not quite like the others,” Gregor assured her. “You’re special. You’re the last piece in my perfect collection. And the death I bring you is only temporary. Soon you will have life again, a better life, an immortal life.” Collection? He killed her family and called it a collection? “You look appalled with me,” Gregor clicked his tongue, “but I assure you it’s not as bad as all that. You see, you are my new family. I knew it the moment I first saw Jude and Sethan. They were so kind to me, so full of the life and vitality I’d been missing for so long. I knew I had to possess them and I did. Your father was an unfortunate accident, but you see, he couldn’t be left to live with us. The good professor would’ve only been in the way and I cannot have your loyalties torn. It was hard enough hiding them from each other, as they both fought to understand the gift I had given them. It wouldn’t do for them to conspire against me, would it?” “You’re insane,” Lily spat. “You know, I’ve heard that before.” Gregor laughed at his own thoughts. “I am your new father now, Lily. I knew I would be when I watched you dreaming. There you were, your family dead as you slept so sweet and innocent in your bed, completely unaware of what was happening in your own home.” He tenderly stroked her cheek. “I wanted you, too, Lily, but you were too young. You needed to grow for I have no desire to tend to a child for eternity. So I left you alone, serving as a patron to your precious Pavilion so you could flourish and learn. It was fun to watch you struggling to find yourself, your talent. I would watch you, late at night, speaking the parts of your beautiful plays for me in the grand theater. Your little voice would call out to me, so calm and trusting.” “Let her go, Gregor, so she can still play her parts for you,” Seth tried to reason. “Look at her,” Gregor demanded, turning Lily so they could better see her. She met her brother’s eyes before glancing at Jude. “She’s in her prime, on the start of a budding career. She has it all--youth, talent, the key to fame. I give her a gift. The gift of never aging, of never losing her talent or her mind to age. She’ll always have a stage, a part, a beautiful face with which to enchant. Lily will be my gift to the world, my gift to you my sons.” “No,” Lily denied. “I won’t act again. I’ll--ugh.” She couldn’t get anymore words out as the vampire’s hand seized her throat. The tortured gazes of Jude and Sethan pierced into her. They didn’t speak, didn’t move, but their eyes told her they tried with all their hearts to do just that. “Quiet!” Gregor demanded, though with his powerful hold on her neck, she could not speak again if she wanted to. It was like she was paralyzed by his will. “You will act for me on my stage. You will do as I say. Heed me, sweet Lily, I have ways of making you do my bidding.”
In unison, Jude and Sethan growled. “They fight their gift still, and I think I know why.” Gregor loosened his hold. “It’s you, Lily. They see you and are reminded of the pathetic life they left behind. They fight the gift I give them. They refuse to kill, to give in to their very natures.” Lily tried to look away. Gregor’s fangs grew longer, the razor sharp points glinting in the firelight. He slowly forced her head to turn to the side. “Enough of this weary talk. It’s time, Lily, time for you to join your family.” Gregor’s cold breath hit her neck as he drew closer. His hard body pressed along hers. She felt his semi-erect shaft along her stomach as he brushed his lips across her cheek. Another whimper escaped her. Lily’s eyes locked with Jude’s. His beautiful body strained to be free, but he didn’t budge. Please, please, please.... Lily didn’t know who she pleaded with, as coherent thought escaped her as she was overwhelmed with fear. Seconds drew out and she detected each of Gregor’s movements. His cock hardened slightly and his legs shifted. His fangs brushed over her rapid pulse. She was dizzy, but the blessed darkness that would save her from the awareness of what was about to happen never came. The sharp pain of Gregor’s bite sliced into her neck, an excruciating white heat that jolted every nerve in her body with hellish fire. His hold over her mind slipped ever so slightly, but not enough to allow her escape. Jude and Sethan growled in unison. She silently begged them to free her, to find a way. Lily! Oh, Lily! I’m sorry.... She heard them in her head, calling out to her, apologizing for what they could not do. Freedom never came. The vampire sucked hungrily at her neck, taking her life as he filled his own. She felt herself unwillingly connecting to the murderous vampire and she tired to fight it. The creature had no soul, no feelings left save hatred and despair. She knew why he took her. He liked the array of emotions she portrayed on stage, wanted secretly for her to teach him how to feel. Gregor continued to drink, greedily stealing her life’s blood. His bite felt nothing like the times Jude had drank from her. It wasn’t intimate or seductive. His embrace was cold and deadly and selfish. The full course of her life passed before her eyes and Lily knew she was dying. Her vision began to fade and she clung to the image of Jude, trapped above her until he looked almost like an angel waiting for her to cross over. The image brought her some peace. She wanted to smile at him, but couldn’t move her lips. Her body lost all feeling. Suddenly, she was let go. Her body dropped to the floor, dying before she landed on the ground. **** Jude felt as if his heart was being ripped out as Lily’s corpse fell on the ground. He hated himself for not being able to move. Then, turning, he saw Sethan staring at him. It had been a long time since he’d seen his friend. His gut wrenched. He thought he was the only one to survive their deaths. Sethan’s eyes turned back to his sister. Jude followed his gaze. Gregor bit his wrist, chanting in an ancient language all vampires learned upon their rebirth. He anointed her in his blood. Lily didn’t move. It was too soon to tell if she’d survive her death. Gregor’s wound healed and he turned his back on her to eye the two men he had trapped with his mere will. “My sons,” Gregor said, sounding very affectionate. “Are you not pleased? I’ve brought you the one thing you both desire to protect. Now you can have her for all eternity at your side.” “You monster!” Sethan yelled. “Don’t do this to her! Just let her die. Let her die.”
“Tsk, tsk,” Gregor said. He swung his hand through the hair. Sethan flew backward, hitting a wall. Blood squirted out of his mouth, but Jude knew Sethan would survive the small beating. “Gregor, how could you?” Jude mourned. Lily’s face was so pale, so devoid of life. “You’re one to talk,” Gregor laughed. “You were going to do the same thing. Oh, I heard your thoughts.” Stopping, he threw his voice in a mocking whine. “Oh, Lily, if you will have me for an eternity I will forever be you slave. Oh, Lily, I love you. Oh, Lily, I’m a whiny little hypocrite who gets pissed when my father kills you because I wished to do it myself.” He snorted and sarcastically added, “Please.” “I would have given her a choice,” Jude whispered, unable to meet Sethan’s eyes. It was true. He’d selfishly thought of turning Lily so she could be with him always. “Still you defy me? Both of you? After I give you this?” Gregor’s face shifted into complete outrage. “I gave you life!” “You took our lives!” Jude yelled. “We had everything and now, thanks to you, we have nothing!” “Immortality is nothing?” Sethan asked, looking at him. His dark eyes swirled but his voice was calm. “Think of all we will see, Jude.” Jude wasn’t sure what to make of his old friend. So much time had passed and the years could do much to a vampire. Had Sethan changed for the worse? It was hard to tell, but Jude knew he couldn’t be deceived by a familiar face. Until he knew Sethan again, he’d have to watch him. Gregor’s angry expression faded at Sethan’s words. Jude’s gut clenched as Sethan slowly stood to his feet. The old vampire had freed him. “Sethan, what are you saying?” Jude pulled hard at his arm. He still couldn’t move from his place high on the wall. “I’m saying, he’s right, Jude,” Sethan said. “Now Lily is to be one of us, it is time to embrace that which we have been given.” “You don’t know that she’ll even survive the transformation,” Jude growled. “Ah, such is the way of things,” Sethan said callously, with a dark chuckle. “Seth?” Jude whispered in horror. Was it possible Sethan was part of this plan? Is that why he never knew his friend was the recluse on the castle? All three of their minds were connected because of their curse, but Jude couldn’t make out all of Sethan’s thoughts and before tonight he hadn’t picked them up at all. Gregor was an open book--a diabolical open book. He wanted a family he lost centuries ago and something about them had sparked a memory in the old vampire. “It’s because I didn’t let you know of each other,” Gregor said, as if answering Jude’s silent question. “Like I said before, there was no need to worry about you two plotting against me behind my back.” “I don’t believe he will ever accept the gift, father,” Sethan said. “Let me end him. Lily and I will be your family.” “Sethan, think of what you’re saying. Look at your sister. She might not make it. Just like your father didn’t make--” “I never transformed him,” Gregor said with a shrug in Seth’s direction. “I lied about trying. Don’t worry. Lily will be just fine.” Jude watched Seth’s reaction. He gave nothing away. It was as if he truly didn’t care anymore. Gregor smiled, eyeing Jude for a moment in contemplation, “Have you anything to say, my son?” “I will never accept you,” Jude swore. “I curse you both!” Sethan laughed coldly. “See what I mean. Let me kill him. The world is large. If you want another son, we can replace him easily
enough.” “Ah, you’re right. This one has always fought me.” Gregor waved his hand. Jude fell to the ground. “Rip his heart out for me, son. Prove you love me.” “With pleasure,” Sethan sneered. Gregor turned his back on them and made a move to kneel by Lily. Jude looked up, still weak from the energy Gregor was draining from him. No matter how hard he fought, he would never be able to overtake the ancient blood flowing in Gregor’s veins. “Seth, don’t do this,” Jude pleaded. “Remember what you once were.” “Don’t you see, Jude? I have to do this. It’s the only way to be free.” Sethan growled. With supernatural speed, he spun on his heels and struck. His fist slammed through undead flesh, ripping through Gregor’s back to his heart. With a hard jerk, he pulled the organ out. Black blood drained over his hand. Jude watched in awe as Gregor ached back, screaming in agony as death came for him, turning his body to grave dust. A strange wind blew, taking the ash out the narrow slit window. “I have repaid my debt to you, brother, the only way I know how. I have killed the thing I brought into our lives,” Sethan said. “I’ve avenged my father.” Jude pushed to his feet, feeling the dark hold of his undead father slipping from him. “Sethan, it wasn’t your fault. You do know that, don’t you? Gregor would’ve come for us either way. He--” “Take Lily and go. I am done with you both. I don’t deserve a family. You promised me once that you would take care of her for me. I will hold you to that.” Sethan didn’t look at him as he glided from the room in a black mist. Jude watched him for a moment, wanting to say so much but not knowing where to start. He could tell Sethan’s mind was made up and there would be no changing it tonight. He hurried to Lily’s side, gathering her into his arms. She didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. For all he knew, Gregor had lied and she never would again. Holding her close, he hurried out of the castle room and down a long row of stone stairs. He felt Sethan nearby, but knew the man would not come out to watch them go. Gliding out into the night, he whisked her away with him, carrying her home. Come back to me, Lily. I love you. **** I love you. Lily groaned. The words echoed in her head like a sweet song, made all the more pleasant by the voice in which they were spoken. It was Jude’s voice calling her from the darkness, promising that everything was all right, would always be all right. He was going to take care of her. He was going to give her everything. Right now, she’d settle for her head to stop throbbing in time with her heart. She groaned again, never having felt so thirsty in her life. Only, she wasn’t exactly craving water. “Lily? Thank goodness you’re safe. I was so worried about you, darling.” When she tired to open her eyes to the sound of Jude’s voice, a bright light invaded the darkness of her mind and she moaned in pain. “I forgot, let me get the light,” Jude said. Did he sound excited?
When she tired to open her eyes again, the light was dimmed. She was no longer in the castle room, but for all she knew she was in its dungeon. The crypt-like room was huge, with arched ceilings. An eerie cross stared down at her from the wall. Its gothic lines were familiar. Then she realized it was the cross from her dreams. She’d been here before. The erotic dreams had been real. “Where am I?” she croaked. Her neck ached and she tried to touch it. A bandage was wrapped around her throat. Her eyes came in and out of focus as she glanced around. It was a strange, fairytale like world surrounding her. Old set props lined one wall, giving a sunset to the dismal gray stone. The rug she was on was soft, decorated with old Oriental patterns of red and gold. The light came from candelabras, the glow contrasting the figurines standing like an audience around her. “My home below the Pavilion,” Jude said softly at her side. “I hope it can be our home.” “Ours?” She looked at him, feeling his love for her before he even spoke. “I love you, Lily. I want you to be with me. I know I was cruel before when I sent you away from me, but I was scared you couldn’t love the monster inside me. You’re like me now, Lily.” Lily sat up, remembering Gregor. “No, he--” “Gregor’s dead, darling. Don’t worry about him. You’re safe. Everyone is safe.” “But--” “Shhh, Seth is alive. He’s...” Jude hesitated. “What?” “He’s tortured. He blames himself for what happened. In time, he will come around. All we have now is time. One day he will come back to us. We’ll all be together again. A family, like you said you wanted.” Jude’s face looked so hopeful, she couldn’t help but lean into him. He caught her up in his strong arms and she drew strength from them. “I don’t feel right. Everything is so bright and my ears pound as if you’re screaming at me. I’m so thirsty.” “You will adjust, Lily. I promise.” He held her close and she loved the feel of his arms wrapped around her. “I’ll teach you how to feed. I’ll help you. Please, say you’ll stay with me.” “Yes, Jude, I’ll stay.” She let him hold her, closing her eyes. “I love you, Lily. I’ll do all in my power to make sure you’re happy.” “I’ve always loved you,” Lily whispered, snuggling closer. She was so cold. “You’re all I’ve ever wanted since I was a young girl.” He didn’t answer, just pulled her tighter. She felt her heart so full of love. It poured into her from him. He clung to her and she knew that he was lonelier that she’d ever been living at the Pavilion. At least she’d had Arianna and Isabelle over the years. “Oh, no, Ari,” Lily whispered, too tired to move. “I have to tell her I’m all right. She’s my best friend. I’m all she has in the world. I can’t abandon her--” “Shh,” Jude soothed. “Don’t worry about all that right now. If you think she can handle it, we’ll tell her when the time is right. I’ve already spoken to Isabelle to let her know you are safe. She’ll reassure Arianna. All will be well until tomorrow night. Get some rest, my love.” Lily couldn’t move. Her body was tired as was her mind, but she felt secure in Jude’s arms. For now, that’s all that mattered.
Epilogue Six Months Later... The small theater was packed full as music from the sound system played beautiful classical music. The melody was both sad and bittersweet at the same time. The audience sat in stunned silence, their eyes focused forward as they took in every one of the ballerina’s perfect movements. Her body was like water flowing through air as she wove a magical trance. Lily smiled up at Jude as they watched Arianna’s first solo performance. Her friend had been nervous about the ballet, but she was dancing beautifully now that she was on stage. Lily’s eyes focused forward as she watched. Jude insisted that it was best if they stayed toward the back, hidden from most of the crowd. Part of her longed to be on stage again, to feel the way she did the night of her debut, but after the Baron’s death it wasn’t wise for her to show herself to the Pavilion. Aside from Isabelle and Arianna, she was believed to be dead. And so she was. Undead. A vampire. A creature of the night. But she was also the phantom’s wife. Jude had proposed the very first night she awoke to her new world. He taught her how to feed without malice. Her first ‘victim’ had been Diva Rosaline. She thought it fitting to prey upon the woman who verbally preyed upon so many others. The diva’s blood was as bitter as she was. Lily swore never to drink of her again. Arianna swirled and her enhanced hearing heard the audience’s breath catch in one collective pause. She smiled, wondering if her acting had ever caused that. As a human, the sound would’ve been too hard to hear. Jude pulled her closer, holding her tight. He kissed her temple. As if reading her thoughts, he said, “Perhaps someday you will perform on stage again. Who knows, the next director might accept our kind without thought. He could make allowances for your, uh, special nocturnal needs. You could be a diva yet.” “And I already told you. I have no wish to be a diva. The light coming through the tower would kill me.” “Liar,” he teased, “you were just thinking about it. Admit it.” Lily blushed. “I still have to get used to you reading my mind.” “Mm, and such a dirty mind it is.” “No, Lord Livingston, I’m afraid it’s our thoughts that are dirty, not mine.” “M’lady Sparrow,” Jude said, “are you paying attention? Arianna dances this part for you.” Lily turned back to her friend, watching her twirl around on stage. Arianna was graceful, beautiful, but Lily could also feel her loneliness. She knew her friend missed having her around. Luckily, the secret passageway leading to Arianna’s room let them meet in private. Though lately, with her solo ballet, she was often training and too tired to stay up all night talking. Sethan stayed in his castle, refusing to let them past the front gate. They could feel him inside, held prisoner by his own demons. There was nothing they could do but wait and see if he would someday come down. Lily had brought her father’s old pocket watch and laid it at his door. It just felt like the right thing to do. It was to be his heirloom anyway. The next night the watch was gone and she could only assume that he’d taken it. Arianna lifted her leg behind her, bending at the knee as she spun beautifully with her arms gracefully extended. Lily held her breath. With her new vision, she could see every detail of movement perfectly. Jude kissed her neck. “You’re so lovely. I can’t keep my hands off you.” Lily smiled, reaching for him. She could feel that he desired her. Touching his cheek, she kept her eyes on her friend. “After Arianna’s ballet we can go.”
Arianna leapt, landing perfectly. The crowd cheered. Lily smiled, happy for her friend. “Mm, promise? I can’t get enough of you.” His hand slipped around the front of her bodice, his fingers curling around the bottom curve of her breast through her clothing, skimming her nipple. “Let’s make love right here.” Lily moaned, melting from the tone of his voice. The man certainly knew how to give her chills. “Sounds like a good idea to me.” The End To learn more about Michelle M Pillow’s other titles or the Théâtre de Passion series, please visit her website (www.michellepillow.com). COMING SOON! Théâtre de Passion Book 2 Look for these other paranormal titles by Michelle M Pillow
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TRIBES OF THE VAMPIRE Series
Redeemer of Shadows
The Jaded Hunter