Behind His Mask

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Chapter 18 - White Room, Black Room

I grabbed my sheets. Had I made a mistake? I was sure I’d gone to sleep in a bed with white linen and a feather duvet. My hands were clutching fur. The light from the fire was dim, but as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw an animal skin on my bed. It was huge. Was it a bearskin? Maybe I wasn’t in the same room.

I put my feet on the floor, and I instantly realized the bedding wasn’t the only thing that was different. I was wearing a black silk nightgown with an equally flimsy housecoat over it. Had someone pulled me out of bed, changed my clothes while I was unconscious, and moved me to another room?

I had the shivers, but the more I explored the room and felt the heat of the fire, the more confident I became that it was the same room I had gone to sleep in. Size and symmetry were the same even if color and texture had changed. Was that what happened when the room was taken over by shadow?

Looking around, I saw the two doors Loring had cautioned me about. There was the door I came in and then there was the door that supposedly led to shadow. Was that door locked like the other doors had been?

I tried it. The knob turned easily.

I caught my breath. Wasn’t it what I was searching for? Didn’t I want to find a way into the dark side of the mansion? Didn’t I want to find out if the mansion was really haunted like Loring said? I let the handle turn back to its original position. For a moment, I was frozen by indecision. I couldn’t stop thinking about my unusable leg and my burnt feet. Was I entering the underworld? I asked myself again. Could I die in real life if I died in the story?

I was terrified. How could I get control of myself? I knew—I’d just open the door a crack and take a peek. If I didn’t like what I saw, I could slam the door shut and run to the other door that led into the light, couldn’t I?

My teeth were chattering. I was so stiff and scared I couldn’t make up my mind.

I grabbed the handle and opted to take a little look. Fighting my fear, I turned the handle and opened the door an inch.

“What are you doing back there?” came a voice from the other side.

I stiffened. I knew that voice. I opened the door all the way before thinking another thought.

There he was, sitting in a brown leather armchair by the fire, his ankle resting on his knee. He was smoking a cigarette and whacking the heel of his boot with a riding whip. His hair was dark brown—tangled—and hung in loose tendrils past his shoulders. His vest and shirt were those of impeccable taste, the top buttons undone. His expression was different. The curve of his smile was completely foreign to me. Honestly, he looked possessed. If his voice hadn’t been a perfect match I would have doubted whether he was even the same person, but at that point in the game, I knew I couldn’t make mistakes. It was Evander, and for the first time, I saw how much he could resemble his father.

“Get in here and close the door.” He threw his head back and blew a stream of smoke over his head.

What was he smoking? It didn’t smell like tobacco. In fact, it didn’t smell like anything. Then I realized I couldn’t smell the tiniest whiff of smoke from the fireplace either.

I clenched my jaw and obeyed him. I walked right up to him, contemplating what my first question ought to be, when he suddenly threw his cigarette into the fire, grabbed my hand, and pulled me onto his lap.

“Ack!” I screamed.

“Settle down,” he said, putting his arms around me so tightly that even though I fought him, it made no difference. His arms were as unyielding as steel.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

He didn’t answer me, but instead, let go of me with one of his hands and touched my chin with his fore and middle fingers. Lightly, he pushed my chin, making my whole head move for his viewing pleasure.

“That’s a funny way to introduce yourself. Instead of lashing out at me, you should be explaining. How did you get into that room?”

“I’m Mr. Fallwin’s guest,” I said stubbornly, wondering why I was still in his lap.

“Nonsense,” he quipped. “That guy never has guests. Better tell me who you are, what you were doing there, and why you’re dressed like this.”

I looked away angrily. “And if I do, will you answer my questions?”

“I’ll answer a question for a question.”

“I’m Serena Madelle.”

“I’m Darach Craven.”

“I’m a journalist who’s doing a story on the constant construction of his house.”

“Huh,” he huffed. “I’m a ghost hunter who’s trying to rid this house of ghosts.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I said stiffly.

“Really. I must be wasting my time then and so must Mr. Fallwin. Did he tell you why he keeps the construction going?”

“Because of the ghosts?”

“That’s not the half of it. If he stops building extensions onto this house, do you know what will happen?”

“What?” I snorted. I didn’t believe Darach had any new information whatsoever. He was just baiting me to keep me talking.

“He’ll die.”

I stopped breathing. I looked into Darach’s dark eyes to see if he was lying or teasing me. For such a whorish guy, he seemed sincere. “For real?”

“Of course.”

“So, were you hired by him? It sounded like he never visits this portion of the house.”

“He doesn’t, but I have answered enough of your questions. It’s time for you to answer a few of mine. Why are you dressed like that?” He licked his lips.

Even though I liked Evander, I did not like the side he was showing me. Where was the Evander who had never held a girl’s hand? Darach was angling his head so he could look down my neckline.

I covered myself up to my collarbone and answered. “I woke up like this.”

“Well, this house is full of surprises. Frankly, it’s nice to see anything that isn’t dead.”

“Did Mr. Fallwin hire you?” I asked, persisting with my earlier question.

Darach rolled his eyes. “No.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because I hunt ghosts and this place is full of them. Seriously, woman, you’re not playing by the rules. Wait for me to ask you a question before you launch another question at me. Why didn’t you stay in the light part of the house if you’re a guest?”

“I wanted to see for myself what Loring was afraid of.”

“It’s ‘Loring’ now, is it? You’re that close with him?”

“What?” I stammered.

“Tell me, which of us do you think is better looking? Him or me?”

I rolled my eyes. “This is unbelievable. I’m not answering that. It’s my turn to ask you a question.”

“Shoot.”

“Is there any food here?” My stomach cramped with hunger.

“Sure, but it’s old.”

“As long as it’s edible.”

He shook his head and pushed me off his lap, getting ready to stand up. “It might not be. Wait here. I’ll see if I can scrounge something up.”

He left the room and he came back bearing a plate. He was holding it so high above my head on his fingertips that I couldn’t see what was on it. “Sorry,” he said as he brought the contents into view. “I couldn’t find anything else.”

The food on it was half-eaten and it had obviously been sitting out for half a day if not longer. There were two slices of mutilated tomato and some wilted lettuce shavings. “I can’t eat that,” I said frostily.

“Of course you can’t, but I’m afraid there’s nothing else.” He looked truly apologetic.

“So, what do you eat?”

He shrugged his shoulders and scraped the plate off into the burning fire. “It looks like you’re going to have to wait until morning.”

I got up. I couldn’t stand it. I had to find something to eat. The kitchen couldn’t be far. I was going to die of hunger if I didn’t get something. I brushed past Darach and opened the door that led even further into the shadow.

The passage led me into another great hall. It was a lot like the one I had first found myself in, except that it had two staircases going up and it was decorated with carpet and wallpaper.

I went to the front door. “Where does this lead?”

“Out, I suppose,” Darach said, leaning nonchalantly against the door frame of the room I’d just vacated.

“Can I go out there?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried that door.”

“This isn’t how you came in?” I persisted.

He laughed. “You sure ask a lot of strange questions. I already told you. This place is haunted. Aren’t you afraid of what could jump out at you if you open a strange door?”

He had a point. I had been shaking with fear outside the door that led into Darach’s study. But something about the mansion suggested symmetry. Since I opened the entryway door on the white side of the house and found darkness, wouldn’t it make sense if I opened the door on the dark side I would find light? I tugged on it, and it gave way.

Outside, it was snowing. It was night. The wind blew my housecoat open and caught my hair. I stepped onto the door frame. I couldn’t see any houses or anything to indicate civilization, or a world beyond, except the orange sky. I caught my breath. I loved the light pollution in Edmonton. It made the sky pinkish-orange on cold winter nights. The snow fell in huge clusters and the wind swirled it in tiny tornadoes on the front step. The weather was like Edmonton in November.

When I closed the door, Darach sauntered over and blew a puff of air at me to blow the snowflakes out of my hair.

“Question,” I suddenly said.

“You never stop asking them.”

“What do I look like? I haven’t seen a mirror since I got here.”

He looked slightly ruffled. “What’s that supposed to mean? Don’t you know what you look like?”

“Is there a mirror I could borrow?”

“No.”

“There are no mirrors in the bathrooms?” I exclaimed.

He looked at me sideways. “There aren’t any bathrooms.”

“Why not?”

He didn’t answer and started walking away.

I ran after him and put myself directly in front of him. “Can’t you just tell me what I look like?”

His eyes suddenly sparkled, like he had caught hold of a devilish idea. Then it occurred to me. Was Darach the demon that Loring said never left the house? Was that possible?

“Well,” he began. His tongue was visible on just the other side of his bottom lip as he began walking toward me at a leisurely pace. “Your eyes are green. Rather, they seem gray with hints of green in them. It really comes out when the yellow of the firelight flickers across them.”

I backed away from him and found myself getting closer and closer to the wall. What would happen if I let him go on?

“Your shadow is purple,” he continued.

My shadow? What? I turned around and looked at the floor. There was a shadow there, and, strangely enough, against the warm red carpet, it was purple.

His fingers encircled my wrist. He used the moment when I twisted myself around to catch me off-guard. With his other hand, he took a lock of my hair in his hand so I could see it. To my surprise, it was the same length, color, and texture as my real hair, but that wasn’t how he described it. “So soft,” he said, taking it to his lips and kissing it.

Normally in a romance novel, the girl being seduced would be practically hypnotized by that point. He was so sexually suggestive from the look in his eye down to the way he slightly turned his hips that I wanted to push him away.

I tried to pull my wrist out of his grasp, but he pulled it back even harder. His expression was serious. “I haven’t finished describing you yet,” he insisted.

“Fine, finish, but then let me go.”

“Calm down,” he said, putting his hand on my head like I had suddenly become a puppy he was trying to pet. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“It’s hard to trust you,” I gasped.

“Why? I’m trying to do what you wanted.”

“This doesn’t feel like the real you.”

“What should I be like?”

“Aloof. Detached. I have had to fight so hard just for you to say ‘hello’ to me. It feels entirely wrong to have you breathing down my neck, pulling me onto your lap, forcing me against the wall, or...” I ran out of breath and he completed my sentence.

“Or telling you how beautiful you are?” he said evenly, making his brown eyes so warm you could practically wrap yourself up in them.

“Yeah,” I muttered.

“You’re going to need to get over that.”

I felt my back up against the wall. I squirmed.

“Stop that,” he said, clearly noticing my discomfort. “I just have a couple more things to tell you.”

“Then say them! And stop cornering me. You’re freaking me out!”

He laughed. “You’re much more like a frightened rabbit than when I first saw you standing at my door. Wearing black silk and you were trembling? Those things don’t match. You need space. I get it, but please, calm down and let me finish. This,” he said as he tapped a spot on my head just above my hairline.

“What about it?” I asked, tucking my hair behind my ear.

“It’s a little blonder there than the rest of your head. Did you know?” He exclaimed it like he had just uncovered a great mystery about me and was extremely proud of himself.

I was a bit shaken. “No. I didn’t.”

“It’s very cute, but there’s something else. You’re letting color ruin form. It’s not your colors that make you beautiful. It’s your shape. Your nose tilts up slightly and the point of your chin aligns with it perfectly. The corners of your eyes slant slightly upwards. It makes you look mysterious, like a cat.”

I was choking on something. The words he used, though flattering, actually did describe me—the me that really existed outside the book. “I didn’t know you could talk like that,” I said, as though I were speaking to Evander.

His eyes were inches from mine as he suddenly said something that was almost impossible for a character in the book to say, as in it resembled reality. “You’ve got some strange ideas about me. We only met tonight, but you said something that troubles me. You said I ought to be aloof. Why? Because that makes you feel safer? If I’m not saying I desire you, I must not desire you? Is that what you think? That a man who stays silent has no mind to ravish you in the dark?”

I was flushed and so hot I felt like a furnace. “Yeah, maybe,” I huffed, turning my head and trying unsuccessfully to get away.

“Don’t be a fool. It’s not only me who wants you. Don’t be tricked by the man who’s not saying what he wants. If he’s standing beside you instead of by someone else, it’s you he wants.” He let go of my wrist and gave me the space he said I needed. Then he turned his back to me and said, “It’s very late. Get back to bed. I’m sure I’ll see you in the morning… if it ever comes.” Then he disappeared into a different part of the house.

I was rattled, but I made my way back to the room Loring had given me. When I got there, I recognized I wouldn’t be able to sleep unless I locked both doors. Darach was saying there was no proof Loring was honorable just because he acted like it during our brief meeting. It didn’t matter whether the doors led into the light or the shadow. Perhaps I wasn’t safe either way.

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Author's Notes: Thanks for reading! It isn't for this story, but I've had so much love here for my book 'Whenever You Want'. It has made me so grateful! I'd also like to say that if you're hesitating reading 'Kiss of Tragedy' because you're worried it will be a downer... it isn't. It's awesome! If you have some spare reading time, please consider giving it a try. Have a great week!

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