Upon hearing this man’s implied claim of knowing her true nature, Claire immediately turned back to Marta, “yes, I’ll go to a back room with him” she agreed, Marta looking equal parts shocked and overjoyed as she grinned over at the man as he tossed a heavy bag of coin onto the table in front of the older woman and followed the now even more quickly moving beauty to the nearest private room.
The moment the door closed behind them, Claire quickly whirled around on him, and all her previous modesty was forgotten as she easily lifted him by the collar and held him fast against the wall “who are you and what is it that you think you know?” she forcefully demanded her answer.
“I think you just proved what I know” he returned, barely managing to keep his voice as even as possible despite how easily he knew she could have ended him right then and there.
“Speak!” she commanded, still not moving from where she held him in place.
“It might be ever so slightly easier to explain myself if your hand wasn’t so tightly against my throat” he attempted to hold onto his charm as he made the request.
Refusing to soften the hardness of her gaze, Claire nevertheless allowed herself to drop him back to his feet, where he only just managed to keep his balance at the unexpectedness of her releasing her grasp on him. Though she did remain standing so closely to him that he would know better than to make any attempt to flee.
“There, I feel better now, don’t you?” he managed as he adjusted his shirt collar and rubbed lightly at his throat.
“Speak” she repeated with a near growl.
He swallowed a bit before continuing his attempt to regain his suave demeanor, “might we take a seat?” he asked as he gestured toward the couch that had probably been the scene of many lurid encounters just that evening alone.
Claire’s only response was raising a brow at the suggestion while still holding him in that unwavering gaze. Though she did finally remember to at least cover her breasts with her long locks so as to keep his eyes on her face, while also keeping her arms free if he did make any escape attempt.
“Oh pardon my manners” he spoke again as he slowly moved to slide his long coat down his arms and offer it to her, though he was still not completely able to stop himself from stealing one last glance at her body before it was to be hidden away from his sight.
Though her glare deepened once more, she did take the offered coat, pulling it on much more quickly than he had removed it a moment earlier “if you take any longer to explain yourself, Marta may need to charge you even more for my company” she spat out angrily.
He allowed a small smile at her statement but did deign to give Claire her answers “I was a mere lad of twenty-seven when I first saw the exquisite creature that now stands before me” he began.
Claire couldn’t help scoffing, a thousand times more able to keep her own wits about her now that the vulnerability of her previous state of undress was no longer an added stressor to this strange encounter “and how old are you now? Twenty-eight?”
“Thank you my lovely one, but I am much older than I look” he returned with that same charm easily returning now that his own distraction as well as fear had been lessened ever so slightly.
That statement then put her on alert once more as she immediately switched her vision to allow her to see his aura. A moment later, her expression only softened by a minor degree as she spoke again “you’re a ghoul.”
He narrowed those lovely blue eyes only a moment in response to her easily gained knowledge of his nature as well, “I thought that term wasn’t used often in polite company.”
“We’re in a whorehouse” she couldn’t stop reminding him.
“Touché” he smiled again before moving onward through his explanations “As I was saying, the year was 1660, a new king had been crowned and a new beauty had finally been allowed to shine, at last.”
“That’s when I saw you take that stage as Desdemona and I, still being a reasonably young man, I was so very easily smitten” he confessed.
“So you’ve waited thirteen years to ask me for an autograph then?” she scoffed, “and what does that have to do with you becoming what you are, and learning about what I am?” she couldn’t help pressing.
“My adoration for your appearance on the stage that night is the exact thing that led to me discovering this entire world of yours” he stated simply.
“How do you mean?” she asked with a bit of worry at that statement.
“I needed to know who you were, so I looked into who ran and owned the theatre, only to discover some, shall we say, oddities about the paperwork that gave you and your husband claim to the place.”
Claire swallowed a bit at not just the mention of her husband and her old life, but also the possibility that they could have overlooked some detail that could have cost them greatly even before Sean found a way to end their lives in the theatre anyway.
“But you didn’t go to the king when you found those oddities?” she asked warily.
“The king’s a bore” he stated in a surprisingly flippant manner before continuing, “but someone else came to me when they found out I was looking into the ownership of the theatre. Apparently there were other parties who were unhappy with my discovery of the anomalies in the documents, and those were the authorities I was taken before.”
“Griffyn?” she asked with more wariness.
“See, you don’t even need my explanations, do you clever girl?” he smiled again.
“So he made you into a ghoul instead of killing you? He must be getting soft in his old age” she added, though quietly, as the man was still her Prince, unfortunate as that fact was.
“I guess he thought I would be more useful alive” he stated with only a tad bit of arrogance. “And since it was your original question, my name is James by the way” he stated, watching to see if she had any reaction, before simply shaking his head once more, looking only slightly deflated by her lack of any sign of recognition.
Though, Claire simply moved forward through the conversation “surprising as it is that Griffyn would find any human useful, this all still hasn’t explained to me why you’re here now.”
James sighed a bit before answering, “as you just stated, Griffyn is getting older and less patient with the demands of his position. Did you know he’s going to be 400 years old next year?”
Claire just shook her head “I’m sure I heard that at some point.”
“Well, the word among your kind is that he plans to make his childe the new Prince upon his 400th birthday.”
She narrowed her eyes a bit at that, but moved on “and what of it?”
“As with all new regimes, human or Kindred, there will be thinning of the ranks” James attempted to explain, seeming to have more than a fair bit of familiarity with both human and Kindred rule.
“And you’re worried you’ll lose your value to the new Prince?” she stated, easily following his train of thought, as it was so similar to Aidan’s position some seventy years earlier.
“Well, the new Prince would be mad to not see my value, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to put certain safeguards in place” James acknowledged.
“Safeguards?” she asked with another raise of her brow.
“I have no interest in aging another thirteen years all at once if Griffyn takes it upon himself to deprive me of what power he’s given me. Hence, my need to take some precautions before he installs his childe as the new Prince.”
“So, you’re here to ask me for my blood instead?” she easily came to the conclusion.
“See? Clever girl” he smiled at her again.
Claire just shook her head up at him once more, “And you think I’ll just give you my blood because you liked my acting, and happened to ask politely?” another look of disbelief.
“Oh, I think I can offer you much, much more than that” he told her with another knowing smile.
“Really? And what might you be able to offer me, considering you won’t have any power at all if you lose that bond to Griffyn.”
James was the one who looked at her with even more confidence this time “I’m not referring to the power I have in the Kindred world.”
Claire only took pause a moment before returning to her distrusting tone “so let me guess, you’re some high and mighty noble who thinks there’s something you actually could offer to… someone like me” she decided on.
“I think I know all about the troubles you are currently enduring because of the current Kindred Prince” he gestured to their very location as proof of the fact, “but I’m referring to the solutions I could offer you due to my ties to the human world. Bags and bags of solutions” he added pointedly.
“You’re actually offering to pay me? Pay me to give you my blood?”
“You can’t tell me that that sounds like a worse fate than the one you are currently suffering. Considering you already willingly give that part of you to your servants, so why not give it to one who can truly give you something back; Something other than just the blind devotion that will never truly be any currency you can actually pay off your debts with. Doesn’t that sound a lot less soul crushing to you than spending another night in this horrible place does?”
When Claire awoke at the next evening’s sunset, it was with a lightness to her soul that hadn’t existed since the days before Awsha came into their lives over a year ago. Pushing those thoughts just as quickly away, she rolled back towards where Sean was also waking with the moon that night.
“Evening” Sean greeted her with a bit of surprise at seeing her grace him with a smile that he hadn’t seen touch her lips in what now seemed like forever to him.
“Evening” she smiled back as she startled him further by moving closer still and laying her head upon his chest.
“Claire?” he couldn’t help asking after a few more silent moments of just staring down at her in awe.
“Sean?” she smiled against his chest as her fingers even dared to lightly trace his ribcage.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but did you happen to feed off of anyone who might have been returning from an opium den last night?” he had to ask, not believing the possibility, but not able to find any other explanation for her much improved mood either.
Claire let out a giggle in response to the question, and the sound nearly melted his heart so much he barely grasped her words “no, but I did find a new source of income, and one much more palatable than my previous one” she admitted, still smiling as her fingers continued lightly tracing his cool skin.
Sean took a moment to process the words “That’s wonderful Claire, but I honestly always thought you loved dancing” he stated innocently.
Only a momentary darkness touched her face before she found an answer “I do, but the place just really wasn’t the right fit for me” she then quickly moved on “but that’s all in the past now, and things will get so much better now” she smiled back up at him hopefully.
But before they could discuss her new source of income any further, the sound of multiple horses approaching their home caught both of them enough to cause them to disentangle as they each moved from the bed to head for the dark curtains that had blocked out the daytime sun.
As they looked outside, they were both just a bit taken aback by the sight of Claire’s new employer, of sorts, riding up to their home with a large contingent of guards surrounding him, all bearing the royal crest of House Stuart, which just happened to belong to their current human sovereign, King Charles II.