The chilly air nipped at his skin as he stood on the balcony with a glass of wine in his hand. The starless and moonless sky didn't allow him to see much, but the glow from the sparse street lamps permitted him a glimpse of the dirty streets and the well-built homes of aristocrats.
A grin, an expression he saved for his most private of moments, pulled at his lips. He had an inclination he would meet a companion here. Somebody to stay with him, to accept him against all odds.
The next morning found Xavior consuming a conventional meal in a restaurant only fools would consider high class. The fork in his hand paused halfway to his mouth when he spotted an attractive dark-haired man conversing in a harsh manner with an aggravated waiter.
"Forgive me, sir, but there are no tables available at the moment. Perhaps-''
The dark-haired man curled his hands into fists. "Don't you understand, dear man? There is someone here I must see."
Ever gracious, Xavior rose from his seat and called over to the dark-haired man. "Dear sir, you may join me if your need be so great."
The man nodded his head and joined him at the table.
"My name is Xavior Romier. It is a pleasure..."
"Henri Maxwell. It's an honor to meet you. May I call you Xavior?"
" You may, if I may call you Henri. Forgive my inquiry, but do you plan on burning holes into the door of the tearoom or are you going to order?"
The man cleared his throat. "I am not here to dine. It is of utmost importance I speak with the red-haired maiden in that room."
"Why, if I may ask, is your desire to speak with this woman so dire?"
The doors to the tearoom opened as he responded.
"She's the key to my obtaining an invitation to a ball."
Xavior raised an eyebrow at him. "An invitation? I don't figure you for the dancing type."
Henri removed his spectacles. "I am a consultant for the police department. I've been following a string of murders. The person I believe responsible for the deaths will be in attendance."
Curious, Xavior rose from his seat as three women exited the tearoom. Ignoring Henri's complaints, he dragged him towards the women. It was now or never.
"Good morning, dear ladies. My name is Count Xavior Romier. This my friend-"
Henri interrupted with a bow, "Sir Henri Maxwell."
The short redhead blushed. "It's a pleasure to meet you Count Romier, Sir Maxwell. My name is Rose and these are my friends Sarah and Mary. Forgive me, but I don't recall meeting you beforehand. Have you just arrived, Xavior? "
Churning up his natural charm, he smiled kindly at her. "Yes, I have and I'm afraid I don't have the acquaintance of anyone here beyond this gentlemen here."
Rose smiled. "Well I can help you. Please accept this invitation to my engagement party tonight."
He accepted the invitation, then passed it to Henri. "We would delighted. Thank you, dear lady."
Xavior lead Henri back to his table as the women departed. "So, what manner of time do you wish to arrive at this ball?"
Xavior placed the gift on the oak table as they entered the large house. After signing their names, he handed it to the waiting butler. He and Henri proceeded down the grand staircase once the elderly butler announced their presence. The pair observed the lavish decorations while they took their seats. The crystal chandelier glimmered above the glittery and dainty guests. The soft lighting, along with the hired violinist, added to the serene tone of the room.
"I'm quite curious to see the identity of this murderer you seek with such eagerness," Xavior said.
"I seek not a murderer, but a murderess. Speak of the Devil, there she is now setting traps for new potential suitors."
Xavior glanced up the grand staircase as a vision in blue and gold descended.
"Lady Bedelia Bathory. Great, great granddaughter of Countess Bathory. The woman who is said to bathe in the blood of her victims."
The beast within the man raised its head to watch her decent. The silk dress hugged her body like a second skin, displaying her curves. The dress was brazen for a woman her age, yet she wore it magnificently. Her shoulders lay bare, revealing ivory skin and ample cleavage. Golden curls placed behind her head revealed the elegant curve of her neck.
His eyes followed her as she strolled through the room, not unlike a lioness in the Savanna.
"Why do you believe her to be guilty?"
Henri grabbed two drinks from a passing tray. Handing one to Xavior, he responded in a low whisper.
"She has wed four times. Each of her husbands died within two years of the marriage. Her last husband died only six months after their wedding."
"You believe she is responsible?"
Henri nodded. "I don't believe in coincidences, my dear friend. Of all the criminals I've helped put away she has been my biggest challenge. I can usually see into their thoughts and emotions, it comes easy, like looking through a glass door. She is something else…I haven't been able to get near her. This the first time she has left the confines of her home since the man was put into the ground. Every move she makes is calculated and impeccably executed."
Xavior swore he could hear the gears turning in Henri's head.
Did his newfound friend — this dark-haired man — see through the facade of his finely-tailored suit of false humanity?