The next morning, Charles felt wonderful, revitalized, strong and whole. As Elena predicted, he had traded his revulsion for desire, a yearning now for blood. And he had let go of his self-loathing, his vanity and greed no longer permitting it.
Last night he helped Elena dispose of Anatole’s body. Taking the boat, they rowed to the deepest part of the lake and threw Anatole overboard, his corpse weighted down with stones tied with ropes. Elena already told the others who lingered about the villa that Anatole had returned to Serbia upon hearing that his mother was very ill. His friend, Sergei, seemed to accept the explanation for his comrade’s sudden disappearance.
Tonight they would feast again... and Elena suggested that Sergei serve as their supper. She also broached Charles with another suggestion, that they include Marianne. “I want a family,” she explained when Charles balked at first. “And Marianne wouldn’t want to be left alone when we leave here. She depends on you, my darling. What better way to keep her always with you—with us—than to introduce her to our blissful union of immortality. You can persuade her, Charles. She listens to you and does what you say. And how happy we will be, just the three of us!”
The thought of Marianne feasting on blood made Charles’ own blood run cold. His sister was so delicate, so refined and so ladylike that the idea of making her stoop to his level of barbarism seemed impossible, incredible. But as Elena pointed out, Marianne could be with them always. She wouldn’t have to give up anything in her life, just extend it forever. The blood feast would be just a minor side effect when compared to the many wonderful benefits immortality provided. But most important of all, they would be a family.
Charles sought out Marianne to slowly and cleverly introduce the idea to her. He found his sister sitting at the bank of the lake, her small body wrapped in a coarse blue blanket. Her gaze seemed vacant, opaque, as if her mind had wandered to another plane of thought, somewhere a long, long way from here.
“Marianne, darling!” Charles cried out when he noticed her wan face. “Is there something the matter?”
Marianne shook her head slowly. “No, Charles.”
“Yes, there is something wrong. Tell me, please.” As he tried to scoop her up in a brotherly embrace, she extracted a bare arm from inside the blanket and motioned for him to stay away. As she did so, the blanket opened to a small pucker and revealed the fact she wore nothing beneath.
Charles frowned, his concern for his sister growing when he noticed how red and blotchy her flesh appeared from the shoulders on down. “How long have you been sitting here?”
Marianne continued to stare across the lake. “Since early morning. I could not sleep. I gave up trying and came down here where it is cool and fresh...and pure...and where I can wash away my sins.”
He hunkered down beside her and drew up his knees. “Darling, you haven’t a sin in the world.”
Marianne let out a small wistful sigh and then lowered her head. “Yes, I have, since last night. I have committed the worse of sins, something that I could have prevented but chose not to.”
“What is it?” Grasping her by the shoulders, Charles forced her to turn to him. He cupped and lifted her face between his hands, and found tears welling in her eyes. A tremor of fear ran through him. In these past few weeks, he had left her so alone, did nothing to act on his suggestion that he find her a suitable companion, someone to watch over her. Marianne was so vulnerable, so naïve and innocent. Now anything could have happened to her and he would have to blame himself for his unforgiveable neglect.
“Tell me,” he ordered in a low, steady voice. “You must tell me what happened.”
Marianne pulled away and then emerged from the blanket to reveal her nude body. Turning around, she showed her brother the outcome of her shame.
With disbelief, Charles glared at the long red welts across her back, as if someone or something had used claws to slash her across the soft, pink flesh. He counted ten ugly welts from her shoulder blades to the small of her back. In addition, she had purple-black bruises on her arms, legs, stomach and breasts.
“My God, my God! Who did this to you?” He struggled to stand and then grabbed the blanket to rewrap it around her shoulders. “Who did this to you?” he repeated, now as a demand.
Marianne looked up at her brother with tears streaming down her cheeks. “Your friends, Charles, the ones you drink with and have fun at the parties. They are Elena’s friends as well.” She lowered her voice to a bare whisper “Tell me, Charles, did Elena send them to me?”
Her expression was so pitiable that he wanted to cry, even as anger and shock boiled within him and threatened to erupt in physical backlash. Whoever did this to her would pay dearly. “Do you know their names? Tell me who they are, Marianne!”
“They are the ones who come from Serbia, Anatole and Sergei, I believe.”
Charles remembered seeing the two Serbs mount the stairs at the same time he took Elena to her bedchamber last night but thought nothing of it. He never would have entertained the thought that Anatole and Sergei had gone to his sister’s private quarters with the intention of molesting her so violently. Worse, was the thought that Elena had sent them to Marianne. Yet Charles refused to believe that his lover would do something so vile. And if she did? What did Elena hope to accomplish, to initiate poor, innocent Marianne into the dark rites of immortality? But she didn’t have to do anything so drastic. As she suggested earlier, Charles could persuade his sister more readily than by any violent means of coercion.
Kneeling now, he gently grasped Marianne’s shoulders. “What did they do to you? Did they...rape you?”
She nodded weakly. “Yes, they took me that way, first one and then the other. They...did things to me.” Burying her head in the blanket, she began to sob quietly.
He thought about what Marianne had said, about not preventing this travesty. But how could she possibly defend herself against two strong men who seethed with the lust to take her by force? She never had a chance.
Rising again, Charles stared across the lake. Anatole’s death had not been an act of vengeance, but now he felt extremely glad that the man had died with his throat cut, now forever buried at the bottom of the cold, dark waters. As for Sergei...Charles would eagerly and gladly sacrifice the man tonight in a feast fit for the gods. Perhaps he would allow Marianne to join them. Elena could transform his sister in the same manner as she had him, allowing Marianne not only to gain immortality but also to participate in the man’s bloody demise as she exacted her own revenge.
Now helping his sister to her feet, he placed a tight, protective arm around her waist and led her back to the villa. He would discreetly enlist Allegra to help him in his nursing efforts to treat Marianne’s raw back and any other body part that had been ravished and hurt. Unfortunately, Charles had nothing in his power—newly acquired or otherwise—to heal her damaged soul. Marianne would have to do that for herself with time, faith and self-forgiveness.
Adept at nursing, Allegra soon soothed Marianne’s wounds with a special herbal salve, while Elena infused the young woman’s mind with the thought of immortality. Marianne seemed to embrace the idea, not particularly for vengeance’s sake, but because it meant she could be with Charles forever, to live freely and happily in a world of their making.