THEY WENT for a walk in the gardens. Vivienne didn’t even know there were rose gardens behind the Tower. She still couldn’t believe it was really happening. The tall, dark man standing beside her was Blake. He was alive. He took her hand in his as they entered the garden, far from prying eyes. He felt solid to her - real. He truly wasn’t a ghost. But as they were in her dream, his hands were cold.
“I looked for you everywhere,” Blake said. “You changed your name.”
“After you died my father couldn’t find anyone willing to hire him,” Vivienne answered. “So he changed our name from Ornelias to Salome to start a new life in Ignias.”
“I’m sorry,” Blake whispered. He pulled her into his arms and rested his chin on top of her head. “Now that I found you, I’m never letting you go. You’re mine, forever.” He paused and tilted her chin up. “Is that all right by you?”
Vivienne chuckled. “I have no complaints.” She buried her face in his chest. It felt wonderful beyond words to finally feel his strong muscular body in her arms. She laid her cheek against his chest, searching for the beat of his heart. Before she was able to wrap her arms around him fully, Blake gently nudged her chin back up again. His eyes studied her inquisitively. His pupils seem to glow in the moonlight.
“Did they make you wear contacts too?” Vivienne asked. “No wonder I didn’t recognize you.” As soon as the question left her mouth, she started to realize no contact lens could produce the demonic light in his eyes.
Blake laughed softly. “And the red-hair threw you off too, right?” He ran a hand through his crimson curls. “I hate it. If you agree, I’ll change it back.”
“Your leg,” Vivienne suddenly interjected. “Did they fix that too?”
Blake shook his head. A glimpse of sadness flashed across his face. “Vivienne,” Blake said. “There’s so much I need to tell you.” In the distance, the clock struck twelve. The last dance had ended. Blake slowly wrapped his hands around hers and urged her to follow him. “Come away from this place with me. My car is waiting.”
“Oh, Blake,” Vivienne whispered and shook her head. She felt tears forming in her eyes as she suddenly remembered Calbert. She lifted her lace sleeve and revealed the gold chain. “I can’t go with you. I have to stay here. I already formed a bond.”
Blake’s brow suddenly furrowed. He squeezed her fingers desperately in his. “With who?”
“Calbert Henton, Lord Henton’s nephew.”
“I’ve never heard of him,” Blake replied. “Good lord, Vivienne, what did they do to you?” He asked with barely restrained anger. He saw the tears forming in her eyes, and he immediately turned gentle again. “Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter; a bond can be broken. Let me take care of it. I’m sorry I wasn’t here earlier. We’ll free you from this Henton fellow.”
“Can you?” Vivienne asked. “Madame Jyger says a bond can’t be broken. But Blake, what does it matter? We can still be together. A bond with another can’t stop me from being with you.” Vivienne approached him and wrapped her arms around him. It was so strange to think the fragile boy she knew had grown up into this magnificent man. He still had the curly locks of hair that easily fell into his eyes. Since she had last seen him, he had grown, standing a full head above her. His features had matured as well. His eyes were smaller, still green-blue, they would have looked predator-like, had she not once seen the kindness behind them. His features were more masculine now with age. His jaw was stronger, cheekbones more angular. The softness of childhood was gone from his face. His shoulders were broader now, fortress-like, as though he could easily take her into his arms and protect her from every threat in the world.
Vivienne couldn’t stop staring admiring his beauty. She took his hands in hers and admired the shape of his fingers. They were calloused and hard to the touch; he stood before her a man who had seen his share of trials. She explored the whole of him seeing him for the first time, and yet rediscovering a man she had always known in her dreams and in her heart.
He wrapped his powerful hand around her neck and caressed her cheek with his thumb. He angled her face upwards to stare into her eyes. Perhaps, he was taking her in with as much ferocious hunger as she had him. A helpless smile appeared on Vivienne’s lips. She wanted to kiss his lips. She couldn’t believe she was having such salacious thoughts about him so quickly. This was no ghost that was standing before her but a sturdy, robust man. She felt something stir deep inside her that she felt embarrassed to admit. Vivienne tilted her face upward toward his lips. Normally, she would never make such a bold move but the way he was holding her, so gently and yet so passionately in his arms, she felt as though she could take every liberty with him.
“We can still be together, Blake,” Vivienne whispered. “I’ve never stopped dreaming of you, of being with you again.”
“No, Vivienne. You don’t understand. I’m not. . . ” he trailed off.
“Not what?” she asked.
“I’m not who you think I am,” Blake finally blurted out. He took a step back and then guided her to a bench. Sitting down beside her, he rubbed his hands together - nervously - as though he was trying to find the right words. “Vivienne, if I could, I would live a human life with you.”
“Why can’t you?” Vivienne demanded. She stared at him and wished she could take back those words. She had a feeling she already knew. Blake finally took her hand and placed it over his heart. There was barely a heartbeat.
Calbert’s words came back to her. They won’t stop drinking the Nectar. It makes them do horrible things.
“You told me never to forget what the vampires did to you,” Vivienne whispered as she traced the imprint of the moon on the cameo. “You said that this was proof they were real. I believed you.”
“I’m so sorry, Viv,” Blake replied. He drew back his upper lip so that she could see the vampire fang in the moonlight. “I carry that proof with me now.”
They stared at each in the moonlight. Vivienne tried to absorb the revelation of what he had become. He tried to touch her again, but she recoiled. The sadness in his eyes was palpable.
“How could you let them turn you? You were supposed to be good,” Vivienne said, in overflowing anger. “You can’t be one of them. You were always the strong one. I never gave up hope that I would find you, but I never imagined it would be like this. What do you want with me now? Do you want to drink my blood?”
As she felt her eyes growing warm with overflowing tears, he once again tried to wrap his arm around her waist and to lead her away. “Let’s go away from here,” he pleaded. “I can explain.” He tried to bring his other arm around her, but she shoved him away. She wanted to slap him in his beautiful face and yell at him.
“No, I’m not going anywhere with you, vampire,” Vivienne hissed and turned to run away. Blake caught her wrist as she tried to flee.
“Vivienne, please.” He said, his unnaturally strong fingers digging into her flesh. ’You’re not safe here. They’ll kill you if they knew.”
“You’re hurting me,” Vivienne snapped back glaring at him through her tears. Blake looked down and immediately let go. He flexed his hand with an embarrassed look as though he was unaware of his own strength. She was starting to wonder if he touched humans very frequently at all. “Why did you do it? Become one of them? For power? Revenge? What?”
He didn’t answer, and Vivienne sighed in exasperation. “I thought so. Just leave me alone, Blake. I already have a bond. I don’t want anything to do with you.”
The day before Blake died, Vivienne found him in his bedroom. He wasn’t showing up for his lessons with her father. Lady Thorne said that he was sick and was lying in bed. He wasn’t showing up to meals either. Vivienne waited for him at their usual place in the garden by the willows, but he never came. She had found a bird’s nest she wanted to show him. There was a bird with a long shimmering green tail who could change its colors to blend in with the tree. Her father told her it was called the Paramour Nightjar because it was usually found in pairs. Vivienne had only found one. She needed Blake to help her look for the other one.
Vivienne found Blake sitting in a dark corner of his room. He had his arms wrapped around his legs as though he was trying to make himself as small as possible. He lifted his head when he saw her, and a quick smile played on his lips. Then it faded, and he continued staring out the window.
“You promised to meet me by the willow trees today,” she said with her hands on her hips. She sighed and sat down on the dusty old armchair beside him. His hair was messy and tangled as though he hadn’t brushed it in days. “Come outside with me. I’ll protect you. Promise.”
Blake didn’t respond to her words. It was as though he didn’t hear them at all. Finally, he slowly reached out with one hand and stroked her palm. Where his thumb passed over her skin, she felt a twinge of intense sweetness. She drew her hand back.
“What was that?”
“Something evil,” Blake replied. He replaced his hand on the armrest and continued staring into the darkness. “I’ll sooner die than to become one of them.”
“A vampire?” Vivienne asked, sarcastically.
“No, a monster,” Blake replied. His voice turned bitter. “You think you can save me from that?”
“What’s wrong, Blake?” Vivienne asked. “Something happened to you after we came back from the vampire graveyard. You’re not like this.”
“They’re going to come for you, one day,” Blake whispered. “You’re special, Vivienne. One day, you’ll see how remarkable you truly are. They’re going to try to use you.”
“Them? The vampires?” Vivienne asked, exasperated. “Really? I’ll never help them.”
Blake smiled. He playfully tapped her temple. “You’re useful to them, up here. You have a rare gift, Vivienne. Whoever wins you will rule the world.”
“You seem to see a part of me that no one else can,” Vivienne joked. “I’m not very good at anything.” She sighed and laid her head down on his chest. Vivienne felt at peace there, lying on top of him. She could hear his breathing smoothly traveling in and out of his chest. Blake wasn’t paying any attention to her. He was distracted by something that he wasn’t sharing with her. There was a peculiar sadness in his eyes; she would have almost preferred anger. Finally, Blake took her hand and kissed it. She would have been touched by such a romantic gesture if not for the solemn way he did it, as though it was a kiss goodbye.
“Will you promise me something?”
She nodded absently. Vivienne wondered if he was upset that a couple of Lady Thorne’s lapdogs had recently gone missing. She couldn’t think of anything else.
“If one of them ever comes for you, promise me you’ll run.”
Vivienne laughed. “Oh Blake, I’ll do more than that. I’ll fight.”
Blake nodded as though that was an acceptable answer. “I have to go back to the ruins. The answer lies there. I need to find it.” Blake smiled sadly at her. “I’m not the type of person to hide.”
“I’ll go with you.”
Blake shook his head sharply. “No, you won’t.” He wrapped one of his arms around her shoulders and nodded at the window. “We’ll go look for that bird tomorrow after I get back.”
“You better come back early and help me,” Vivienne threatened. “The Nightjars normally die when they’re abandoned. The poor thing will die of a broken heart.”
“She’s going to be fine,” Blake insisted. “I’m sure that’s not what really happens.”
“He,” Vivienne corrected. “It’s a boy. They’re the only ones with the long tails. Also, they mate for life. So he might never find anyone else.”
“I stand corrected.” Blake gave her an amused smile. He stood up and motioned to the door. “Until tomorrow. We’ll find out.”
Vivienne never did find that bird’s partner. When she eventually went back after Blake’s death, the nest was empty. She liked to believe that the Nightjar had found his partner and they had flown off together. But sometimes, when she was honest with herself, she suspected the beautiful winged boy had met the same fate as Lady Thorne’s dogs.
Calbert came the next day to eat lunch with her. He brought her a sandwich. Up until then, everyone thought that Vivienne’s gold chain was the result of a bond with Prince Mars. The fact that she had left the ball with the red-headed prince was the gossip on everyone’s lips that morning. It even eclipsed the news that Panther had successfully acquired the very sought after Prince Mercury.
She felt guilty about eating Calbert’s sandwiches. It tasted like sand in her mouth. She wanted to tell poor Calbert why everyone seemed to think that her Anemoi was a prince, but she couldn’t bring herself to start.
“You’re starting to regret it, aren’t you?” Calbert finally ventured to ask. “No one in their right mind would want to be my Orlin.”
He looked so dejected that Vivienne had to reach out and pat him on the knee.
“No, that’s not true,” she assured him. “No one in their right mind would want you but who is to say I’m completely sane?”
Calbert chuckled. “You’re so beautiful and perfect, Miss Vivienne. How can you say that about yourself?”
“Calbert,” Vivienne finally started. “Now that we’re bonded we can’t keep any secrets from each other. Tell me, what happens to the princes who drink too much nectar?”
“It turns them into monsters,” Calbert said, gravely. “That’s all I know.”
“Is it, really?” Vivienne asked. “Why is it that a prince absolutely needs and Orlin but a high lord doesn’t?”
Calbert shook his head and stuffed an entire sandwich into his mouth. Pieces of cheese, ham and white sauce dribbled down his chin. Vivienne guessed that he did that so that she couldn’t force an answer out of him. Angrily, she grabbed his elephant-sized wrist and squeezed it. Then, it happened.
A vision appeared before her eyes of a colosseum underground, a dark watery gorge at midnight. Lord Henton was standing beside her. He held a gun in his hand and pointed it at a figure shrouded in darkness that was crawling towards him. As he pulled the trigger, a bullet that glowed gold-green erupted into the shadowy figure.
The vision dissolved as suddenly as it formed. Vivienne struggled to see, but suddenly she was still in the courtyard.
“What happened?” Vivienne asked.
“You were inside my head!” Calbert exclaimed. He jumped up and backed away as though she might bite him. “Don’t do that without asking permission!”
“Inside your head?” Vivienne asked. “What was that? Did that really happen?”
Calbert slowly nodded. “We were as one. Uncle Henton says that is what happens when the bond is strong. You must be a good match for me, Vivienne. You’re so smart and beautiful, and I’m . . . not.”
“You’re strong,” Vivienne insisted. “And you have a good heart.” She placed her hand over his chest and felt his heart beating underneath. He was warm to the touch, sweaty yes, but alive and warm.
Calbert’s large features erupted in a smile. But just as she was about to smile back, suddenly a group of inductees burst into the courtyard. Panther was leading the group. She still had a red feather tucked behind her ear, a mark of her victory at the Midnight Masquerade.
“Well, what is this?” Panther asked, her eyes on the gold chain around Calbert’s neck. “It looks like Cyclops here found himself an Orlin.”
“Did Lady Kruther finally pick herself a match?” Tiger asked. He mockingly placed his hands around Panther’s and blew out his cheeks to imitate the hefty Kruther.
“Stop it,” Vivienne insisted. “He’s not Sallen’s Anemoi. He’s mine! So there!” She showed Panther the gold chain she had used to bond with Calbert that she was wearing around her wrist. It glittered in the sunlight, almost as beautifully as the cameo necklace around her neck.
“Yours?” Panther asked, suddenly very serious. Her eyes were glittering with mischief. “Then whatever happened with Prince Bloody Charming?” Panther gave Crane a side glance and snickered as though she suspected this all along.
“He didn’t find you so alluring after you passed out drunk?” Crane asked. “We all saw him help you back to your room. He had a look on his face like he was ready to commit murder when he left.”
“I bet he took off her mask and didn’t like what he saw,” Tiger offered, helpfully. “It happens all the time.”
“I chose Calbert before I even danced with the prince,” Vivienne stated defensively. She placed her arm around Calbert and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Calbert is a marvelous Anemoi. He was my first choice.”
Panther rolled her eyes. “Well, in that case, why don’t the two of you come join us in the Grand Hall? The photographers are here. Unfortunately, my Prince won’t be here until nightfall. But you’re lucky; your boy has all the time in the world.”
Vivienne struggled to conceal the dread from showing on her face. By now everyone has probably figured out who the mysterious girl dancing with Prince Mars was.
“Let’s go,” she said to Calbert and grabbed his hand. “I don’t have anything to hide.”
As soon as she stood up, Simon appeared in the courtyard.
“You’re not going anywhere, kid,” he said.
“What’s wrong?” Vivienne asked.
“You and Lord Henton are needed in the meeting room,” Simon said and motioned for her to follow by wagging one finger. As she approached him, he leaned in and whispered: “So, the prince didn’t suit your tastes?”
“You told me to find the one with the big muscles,” Vivienne whispered back. “I don’t have the arm strength for knife throwing.”
Simon chuckled. “I think you should keep this one,” Simon whispered back. “Madame Jyger doesn’t think so but that Prince Mars, he has crazy-eyes.”
Vivienne laughed at that. Everyone thought that about Blake, even when he was a child. Her father used to complain that Blake could make him break a sweat just by staring him down. Poor Blake, he could pile on the fine costumes with impeccable attention to the details of being a gentleman, but he couldn’t erase his deadly cold-blooded ambition from his calm, calculating stare. Especially when he wanted something, as she knew that he did now.
Simon brought her into the meeting room where Madame Jyger and a man in a dark suit were awaiting her. Vivienne took a seat across from them and motioned for Calbert to sit down beside her.
“We don’t normally allow this,” Madame Jyger said, patiently, “but we’re willing to allow you to break your bond with Lord Henton if that is what you truly desire.”
Vivienne glanced at Calbert. He looked like a kicked dog. He shook his head, faintly.
“The Prince has been very insistent,” Madame Jyger said. “He wants you to have a chance to rethink your decision.”
“I need some time to consider,” Vivienne replied.
“Do what feels right, Vivienne,” Madame Jyger said, sincerely. “You know in your heart what the answer is.”
Vivienne swallowed. Madame Jyger was right. She knew all along.