The plan was to have Anastassia and Lecter out in the public eye as much as possible. Will and Jack wanted them to be affectionate with each other. Both balked at the idea. Yes, they had a physical relationship and yes they saw each other socially. Yet, their relationship was not about that.
The sex was a release for both of them. Anastassia used it to relax and Lecter had other reasons. It kept his instinct to covet and kill at bay for long moments of time. While they were affectionate at times, they were lovers – not in love. Their friendship was long standing. If anyone were to delve into the psyche of the relationship, it was more paternal than anything.
Lecter felt strongly about the younger woman. She was his protégée. He hoped that one day she would become even more so. It was just introducing her into his private life – the life of a killer – that he was unsure of. He did not know how to go about it. Anastassia had strong morals. She was cool and often cold, yet kind.
The Inquisition Killer had given him an idea. If he would be able to capture Rohan Hammerli with Anastassia at his side, then perhaps something could be done to bring her deeper into the fold of his life. Either that or he would have to kill her. Killing her was something Lecter loathed to do. He enjoyed the younger woman’s companionship. But, he knew that it was not out of the realm of possibility.
Lecter decided he was to host a dinner party. It would be larger than his normal dinner parties, but with only twenty people it was still small by most standards. There was one of two women that would be in attendance. It was believed that one of the women had been sharing information about Lecter and Anastassia to Hammerli. The woman was oft times near one or both of them, socially. The FBI was unsure of which woman it was. This might be a way to find out.
Dinner was simple fare, for him at least. He was doing just a mere three courses. The first would start with a seared scallop salad. It would be served with haricots verts and truffle oil. The wine for that course would be a medium bodied white. He was calling the main course veal rib chops with caramelized fennel and figs. A small addition of roasted fingerling potatoes was added for Anastassia’s pleasure. The wine pairing would be something a little different. He had chosen a rich Hermitage. Dessert was a favorite of Anastassia’s and truly it was for her that he had decided to make white chocolate-blackberry crème brûlée tartlets. The final course was to be served with a good port. The dinner would be preceded and finalized with cocktails within the large and luxurious home of Hannibal Lecter.
It was known in advanced that Anastassia would be arriving late. She was working that day and had already scheduled a surgery for later in the afternoon. She was not willing to reschedule. The surgery was more important than the dinner in her eyes. The late arrival would not be overly late, just fashionably so.
Unfortunately, as with all good plans made you should expect just the opposite.
Anastassia let herself in to the Lecter home. She had a personal set of keys and did her damnedest to enter quietly. No one noticed the arrival except Lecter himself. He heard the key hit the lock and the brief scent of perfume that was uniquely Stassi. A glance at his watch, she was just a hair over an hour late. The dinner party had just sat down to dine.
She moved quickly to the upstairs of his lavish home. Rare was it that they shared a bed overnight, but Anastassia did have her own bedroom there. It was just for these occasions. A fresh application of makeup and a change of clothes later she was nearly ready. Her hair was another story. Frowning slightly, a simple twist it was. Fingers moved quickly as she twisted her wild curls into something a bit more presentable. Two strands on either side of her cheeks curled down to lick delicately at her flesh. The adornments were simple. A pair of diamond solitaire earrings and that was it. Anastassia was dressed simply in a black cocktail dress and a pair of heels. A brushing of fingertips at pulse points added the favored perfume and she was done. Hurrying downstairs, she winced visibly. Everyone apparently had retired to the dining room. Lecter rose from his seat when she entered the room. A couple of the other men did too, following his lead of politeness.
“My apologies for this extreme lateness everyone, the last case ran much later than expected.” She had been in surgery.
“Ma Stassi, it is so good of you to finally join us.” Lecter spoke softly, smoothly, to the younger woman.
Anastassia winced inwardly. No one else would notice the tone; she knew it all too well. Hannibal Lecter was displeased. There was a curve to her lips, a semblance of a smile appearing.
“I am truly sorry Hannibal. I apologize deeply and profusely. It was not my intention to be this late.”
Lecter curled an arm around her waist and pulled her near. His hand splayed against the flat plane of her belly in a gesture that made it very clear she belonged to him. It was all for show. He wanted the ladies to see them together. His lips brushed close to her ear and he spoke softly once more, although it was perfectly audible to the rest of the room.
“You are fine ma Stassi. I was merely concerned.”
Biting back the laughter of the charade that they were playing, it took quite a great deal of willpower not to smile at the absurdity of this.
Taking a seat to Lecter’s left, Anastassia made herself comfortable. The wait staff that Lecter had hired brought out the first course. Lecter whispered quietly to the man that was attending to Anastassia and a different plate was brought out for her. One of the guests questioned what had happened.
“I am allergic to most animal proteins Craig. I tend to stick to a mostly vegan diet.” She looked more than slightly embarrassed.
Craig O’Connor nodded. “Rare allergy? I haven’t heard of anyone being allergic to meat before.”
Lecter stepped into the conversation. “She can tolerate small amounts, but I prefer not to make my dinner guests ill Craig.”
It was true. Anastassia was allergic to most animal proteins. She could tolerate small amounts of some, but not many. It was something that annoyed and amused Lecter at the same time. She could not eat most of his – creations. It was also another way that made her very special to Lecter. He could not trick her into eating something that was not as he said it was.
Anastassia looked a bit uncomfortable. Reaching over, Lecter took her hand and gave it a squeeze. His thumb caressed gently across her knuckles. She looked over. Those large eyes of hers drank in the reason she was so uncomfortable. Lecter was actually fairly affectionate to Anastassia under most circumstances. It was not in the romantic sense, but more like the way a father would be to a favored child. This, of course, did not stand true in the bedroom. To have him being attentive and romantic was unnerving to her, even knowing it was just an act to get people talking.
The two women that the party was actually to draw out leaned in and whispered to each other.
“Sharon, I think our favorite doctor has found himself a little girlfriend.”
“Little is right. Someone needs to stuff a few pizzas down that girl’s throat.” Sharon made a derisive remark and sneered ever so slightly.
Hannibal Lecter was one of the most sought after bachelors in the upper echelon of Baltimore society. His dalliances were known, but rarely spoken of. Typically in any sort of public gathering it was Anastassia Serdste on his arm. It had been that way for twenty years. No one thought, until recently, that anything was going on between the pair save for a deep friendship.
The conversations around the dinner table were mostly idle chit chat during the three courses. Will Graham and Jack Crawford took note of everything from the far end of the table. Bella Crawford stayed mostly silent, she had no desire to engage with the people there. When the feast was finished, the wait staff cleared the table with ease. Lecter stood and turned to all of his guests.
“Shall we retire back to the sitting room?”
Nods were given and people rose from their seats, everyone went back into the sitting room. People began to mingle and talk. Drinks were served and the conversation stayed warm and light. Abruptly, Lecter turned to put on music. It played discreetly in the background. Anastassia knew exactly what he put on and shot her once mentor a murderous glance. It was Anastassia’s iPod. This was the very same iPod with her personal music. With the tightening of her jaw, she managed to smile sweetly at Lecter.
“Margie, I think there is trouble in paradise.” Sharon whispered to her friend.
“What? What do you mean?” Margie replied.
“Check it out, Anastassia looks pissed at Hannibal.”
“How can you tell?”
“I just can.” The answer was smug.
When the Flower Duet came on over the sound system, there was a look around the room. Most everyone there was a patron of the arts if not directly a fan of opera. None of them had ever heard the voice before. Finally, Sharon Tarsa walked over to Hannibal, who was conversing with Jack Crawford. Her hand brushed his shoulder while she cooed in his ear.
“Oh Hannibal, this is lovely. Who is singing?”
Lecter smiled patiently at the woman. Anastassia caught the whole encounter out of the corner of her eye. Having to school herself from smiling, she was certain that he had to count to ten before answering.
“It is my own little secret, Sharon.” He smiled indulgently. He beckoned to Anastassia.
Excusing herself from the conversation that she was involved in, Anastassia dutifully came over. “Yes Hannibal?”
Lecter curled his arm around her waist. His fingers splaying against the soft curve of her hip, so when he leaned in to kiss her temple he was able to pull the younger woman closer to him.
“Ma Stassi, you have been introduced to Sharon Tarsa have you not?”
The strange displays of affection made Anastassia want to scream, but she smiled beautifully instead. A gentle tip of the head sent the errant curls to brush against her cheeks. Extending a hand to the other woman, she spoke softly.
“Sharon, I believe we have seen each other at many functions, but have never been formally introduced. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Sharon looked at the other woman’s hand for a brief moment. The smile that touched her lips was cruel. “A pleasure Stassi.” The words came out in a near sneer.
Anastassia could feel Hannibal tighten next to her. Stassi was his pet name for her. It annoyed him deeply when anyone else dared to use it. She gave the other woman another smile. “Please, Anastassia is fine. Hannibal is the only person that gets away with calling me by a diminutive name.” She turned to Hannibal with a flutter of lashes, laying it on thick. The smile she gave her mentor was loving and rich. The look in her eyes was murderous and for him alone.
It was there. There was a certain fury in Sharon Tarsa’s eyes from Anastassia’s correction. She smiled again. The anger rose from her skin with a tangible heat. “Beautiful music. Do you know who is singing Anastassia?”
“Actually, yes I do.” There was no elaboration.
“It is my own little secret, Sharon.” Anastassia gave a sly smile. This woman was irritating her to no end. Anastassia gave thanks when the woman departed.
Whispering in Lecter’s ear, she tried not to laugh. “Remember Hannibal, revenge is a dish best served cold.”
He laughed warmly. It was a rare sound to be heard. “And you should remember my dear that revenge is often sweet. I for one know that you taste divine.” Lecter laughed again upon seeing the discomfort that was writ clearly across her lovely features.
A shake of her head, she spoke again. “What on earth am I going to do with you?”
“After this, it could be interesting.”
“After wha- “ She was cut off by Hannibal.
“Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you that inquired of the music, it should be known that every single piece was courtesy of my lovely companion. Dr. Serdste is a gifted musician as well as a phenomenal physician.”
Anger burned in her dark eyes. She was outed. A soft curse was uttered under her breath, making it inaudible. When the applause started, Anastassia merely took a graceful bow and uttered an embarrassed thank you to everyone.
She didn’t notice Sharon Tarsa staring at her.
The hour grew late and the small crowd thinned out until there were just four people – Anastassia, Lecter, Will and Jack. Jack’s wife had left the group earlier to head for home.
The four of them moved from the sitting room into the den deep within Lecter’s home. It was more relaxed and less formal than the sitting room. Anastassia was curled up in a large chair. A pair of heels was resting on the floor before her. Lecter took an opposite chair and the two FBI agents took a large couch.
It was Anastassia that spoke first. “That was painful.”
“You were uncomfortable?” Will asked.
“Extremely so. I loathe being the center of attention. Even it is it Hannibal’s attentions.”
Lecter smiled at her. “I make you uncomfortable my dear? That is good to know.”
“Only when you treat me like a girlfriend.” She chuckled softly.
Lecter laughed at her. Will and Jack were somewhat surprised by the laugh. When he was not with Anastassia it was a rare sound.
“Was that truly your music Anastassia?” Jack inquired.
She nodded. “Yes. Some pieces I am playing the cello and others it was my voice. I did not realize that Hannibal had appropriated the iPod from my home.” She gave him another look that followed by a wink. In truth, she was not angry. Surprised yes, but angry no.
“You are truly gifted.”
Raising her wine glass, Anastassia smiled. “Thank you Jack.”
“So what did you all think?” Jack asked.
Lecter spoke first. “I believe that Sharon Tarsa is the one feeding Rohan Hammerli the information about ma Stassi. She had a hatred for Anastassia that was tangible.”
“I have to agree with Dr. Lecter.” Will said. “Tarsa watched Dr. Serdste like a hawk the entire time. Prior to the arrival of Dr. Serdste, Tarsa was relaxed and even pleasantly chatty. Afterwards, the woman’s demeanor changed completely.”
“So what do we do now?” Anastassia wanted to know.
“We follow Sharon Tarsa. She will lead us to Hammerli. Then we wait.” Jack replied.