Act 1

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chapter 4

A week after the engagement party Henri found himself standing before the lavish manor purchased by Xavior. The colossal home rested upon a large estate with rolling green hills and dying wildflowers.

The silver knocker lay substantial in his grasp as he thumped it against the oak entryway. Two thumps later a seriously dressed monster of a steward pulled the overwhelming entryway door open. The man towered over Henri's 6'1 stature by four more crawls. The dark circles underneath his bruised eyes and the engraved lines close to his mouth gave him the appearance of a character from a horror novel.

"Good morning, Sir Maxwell. Count Romier is expecting you, please enter." His voice resembled the sound of a door with rusty hinges being pulled open.

The tall steward ventured back and permitted Henri to enter the all-around enriched family unit. The rich furniture complemented the splendid wood floors to perfection. Under Xavior's watchful eye the estate had gone through refurbishment in a matter of days.

Henri was so drenched in his considerations he neglected to see the head servant holding up persistently behind him subsequent to closing the front entryway, until the man made a sound as if to speak.

Henri, brought back to the present, smiled sheepishly at him.

The grim butler placed his hands behind his back.

"Please sir follow me."

Henri stared at the butler's large hands as they walked down the dimly lit corridor. The worked-worn hands looked large enough to crush a human skull with barely any effort at all.

The butler stopped before an open door and knocked gently on the frame. "Sir Maxwell has arrived Count Romier."

"Thank you, Jeffery that will be all. Do come in Henri."

Jeffery the titan left with a gesture of his head as Henri entered the extensive study with a look of immaculate surprise etched upon his elements. His eyes ravenously took in the vast floor-to-ceiling windows and various books flooding the bookshelves. The perspective the windows gave of the rotting wild blooms gave the room a chilling, but unusually comfortable air.

Xavior set down his book and vacated his seat to welcome him.

"The manor is stunning, Xavior."

Xavior grinned. "Thank you. Please sit." He motioned towards the free seat opposite the one he had recently been perched on.

"May I offer you a drink? Perhaps some wine?"

Xavior stood in front of a bar area where many decanters shone brightly, tempting anyone within reach with their potent liquid.

"Wine will do."

Xavior filled two glasses three-quarters full with a dim red wine. Henri acknowledged the glass Xavior handed him before both men took a seat. They sat in brief silence before trading assessments on ordinary occasions which had occurred. Before long Henri raised the genuine motivation behind his visit.

"There is a path Bedelia frequents through the fields surrounding her estate. Should we play our cards remarkably well, this would be an opportune location to engage her one on one."

Xavior swirled the wine in his glass and inhaled the soothing aroma.

"Or the lady may find my sudden appearance quite rude and non-coincidental."

Henri sipped at his wine, trying not to make a face at the strong taste. He never had enjoyed the taste of wine.

"My informant tells me she has a habit of following the main road, which lies on the outskirts of her property. The good lady would then have no reason to suspect your presence on a public road."

Xavior raised his glass to Henri, "Do you know where I may attain a buggy for tomorrow's spontaneous event?"

XXXXX

The proprietor of Gustave's Buggies had awoken that day with a feeling of premonition so great he chose to stay in bed for the day. He would send word to the stable boy to assume control over the shop for him. The young fellow was problematic on occasion, but the boy had an obligation to pay off.

XXXXX

The impolite aide heaved, frosty hands surrounded his throat, removing his air supply. Starbursts blasted before his eyes as he attempted to claw at the gloved hands of his assailant. Prior to the world going dim and his life was no more, he felt the sweet breath of life enter his wilted lungs.

Xavior hurled the impolite young fellow on the floor. The ill-bred fool had set out to make a mockery of him. His little companions had all but run off with their tails between their legs when he had snatched the boy by his neck. He ought to turn them in for endeavoring to steal from him and the proprietor of the foundation, however, he had somewhere to be at the moment.

He was sure the young man would serve society better as fertilizer and food for the worms, but he couldn't risk killing the boy when his presence in town was still the main topic of conversation amongst the circles he frequented.

"The appropriate amount of money for the rental of this buggy is on the counter, boy." The young man lay curled in a ball, gasping loudly for air. "Fortune favors you today for I would have remained longer had I not had more important business to attend."

Xavior grabbed the reins of the tall horse strapped to the buggy and settled comfortably upon the cushioned seat. With a snap of the reins, the buggy began to move out of the empty establishment. He only hoped the little diversion hadn't made him late.

The road was relatively peaceful as he meandered down the grass and dirt path. The surrounding trees and secluded meadows lessened the tension and anger from earlier. He was on the trail only a short time when he saw a black horse, at least seventeen hands high, trotting along the path with the Lady he had planned to meet.

Xavior urged his horse forward to catch up with her; the cart rambled along the bumpy path as it picked up the pace, disturbing the serene air.

Bedelia slowed her horse as the sound of an approaching buggy reached her ears. She prayed it wasn't another well-wisher with noisy intentions.

"Good morning Bedelia, it's a lovely day for a ride. Isn't it?" he steadied the pace of the horse to match her own beastly animal.

She didn't dare feign shock when his deep thundering voice reached her ears. In fact she was surprised she had not heard from him sooner. Not bothering to look at him, Bedelia replied.

"Good morning, Xavior. I'd say fancy meeting you here, but I doubt your presence was a mere coincidence."

Xavior smiled again. He was doing that a lot more recently. The woman was no fool. "I will not insult your intelligence. No, my presence here is far from a coincidence."

"I thought as much. Now tell me, Count Romier, why are you here?"

"I wanted to see you again in a more private location."

Xavior's eyes trailed over the woman's body, clothed in form-fitting male trousers and a white shirt. Golden tendrils slipped from underneath her Panama hat, framing her regal features. Bedelia Bathory was a gorgeous and brilliant woman. A lethal combination if any.

The beast within the man growled in approval, he wanted her. Whether entangled between the sheets of his bed for one night of passion or to keep him company when he found the darkness too imprisoning, he knew not. Each idea was appealing in their own right.

She was tempted to invite him to her home, the man was far too exciting for his own good. Which is why she refused to look at him. She knew what awaited her. Brown penetrating eyes framed by dark lashes, well-groomed ebony hair begging to be mussed by her hands, and beckoning, kissable lips.

How long had it been since she had found someone who intrigued her as he did? No good would come from associating with the man. She gripped the leather reins fiercely.

"Why would you seek to meet in such a way? What do you wish to achieve by associating yourself with me?"

Xavior pursed his lips, throughout their short conversation she hadn't once turned to look at him. Why? He could only imagine the blue color of her eyes had changed to a darker to a darker tone, conveying the aggravation and annoyance he garnered from her modulated voice.

"There are many opportunities to make friends, but I find the chances of knowing you better are few. You and I were friendly at the ball…"

A cruel chuckle escaped her and a sad smile caressed her lush lips. "We may dance in the same social circles and share similar thoughts, but I am by no means your friend. Good day, Count Romier."

The large black horse kicked up the dirt as it galloped into the trees. Xavior watched her depart till he could no longer see her, a grin on his face. He loved a good challenge…

XXXXX

"I had come to hope your charms would have persuaded her to accept your company."

Henri paced the sitting room from corner to corner. An errand boy had arrived at his home earlier with a note from Xavior stating his failed attempt. Henri had not wasted any time in rushing over to Xavior's manor.

"Henri, you are going to ruin my carpet with your constant pacing. You should calm down."

Henri huffed as he plopped into a vacant seat near the windows of the study. "How can I possibly calm down? That blasted woman must be brought to justice." He rubbed the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "We will have to find another way to lure her…."

Henri stared pensively out the window; his eyes unseeing.

"Did you see anything odd at the buggy place?"

Xavior composed his face into one of worry and curiosity. "No I can't say that I did…. Why?"

Henri rubbed his temples. "The young man in charge of the establishment had large bruises on his neck. The police and the owner of the business think he did them himself to get out of work as he's done in the past, but I don't believe he did."

"What do you think happened?"

Henri sighed, "I haven't an idea in the slightest. He's purposely injured himself before, but there is something different about this time. The boy seemed quite frightened when I questioned him.''

"Perhaps he had a friend do it to him. There was nothing wrong with him when I was on the premises earlier, but he did seem rather nervous. I didn't bother to question him since I had never met the boy before. I couldn't be sure if it just his personality." Xavior had seen the purple marks marring the boy's neck when he returned the buggy. The boy had practically pissed himself when he saw him.

"Perhaps I'm just reading way too much into this incident."

"You need to relax, Henri. I'm throwing a dinner party in two days' time, I would like for you to attend."

"Of course, Xavior, I will be most happy to attend."

XXXXX

Xavior began preparations for the grand dinner as soon as Henri departed. What a marvelous mind Henri Maxwell possessed… he would make a perfect companion.

Invitations printed on shimmering gold paper arrived at the door of the wealthiest patrons England had to offer. The invited couples and singles rapidly accepted his invitation. Many of them had previous engagements for another event, but this one in particular would be far more worth their time.

The ladies of high society eligible for marriage ran to their dressing rooms to find their finest gowns. Others poured into the boutiques to find better ones. All of them had the similar idea in mind, each wanted to impress the mysterious Count Romier. Even the young men who preferred certain companies to others had their finest suits pressed for the occasion, desperate to make an impact on the mysterious man.

Xavior adjusted his fine ebony suit in the mirror and smoothed back his hair, everyone had accepted his invitation save one. He had been waiting for her response patiently while letters of acceptance arrived. It was now the eve of his grand dinner and she had yet to respond. Her behavior was bordering on rude.

An hour before the guests were to arrive a soft knock brought his attention from his dining room where he was instructing a flurry of servants. The maids and butlers continued to prepare the dinner plates and glasses while he went to answer the door.

The beast purred in delight as he saw the vision in red standing at the entrance of his home. The velvet red dress clung to her like a second skin. Black lace hugged her waist and the ends of her flared sleeves, the ivory skin of her chest lay hidden beneath the black lace. Golden curls cascaded down her back in a river of light, ice blue eyes watched him as he met her eyes.

"I'm glad your attendance was possible, Bedelia." He stepped back to allow her entrance, but she made no effort to move from her spot. "I can't stay. The reason I came personally was because I didn't see your invitation until just recently."

"Why is it that you cannot attend my dinner party?" Xavior felt anger and disappointment course through him.

"I have a prior engagement, it would be very rude of me to cancel last minute. Don't you agree?"

"Yes I do." He admitted grudgingly.

"I hope your dinner party goes well. Have a marvelous time, Count Romier.''

"You as well, Bedelia."

He walked her to her waiting carriage, trying in vain to hide his displeasure. He opened the door and offered her his hand.

His eyes traced her backside as he helped her into her carriage. Their eyes met for brief second as he kissed her bare hand, the warmth of her skin tingled pleasantly against his lips. He discreetly inhaled the aroma of her intoxicating perfume mixed with her natural scent. Her face offered him no smile as she pulled her hand away.

"Goodbye, Count Romier."

He closed the door with a soft click and watched as her carriage departed.

He smiled to himself, he would see her again.



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