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Authors: Freda Warrington

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BOOK: A Dance in Blood Velvet
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“Do you still miss them?”

“Less than I used to,” he said, but she saw pain flicker in his eyes. “And it’s no use to keep asking myself why I couldn’t save them. They belong to the past, beloved.”

“And so does Kristian,” Charlotte murmured. “Thank God... or whatever gave us the power to destroy him.”

In a cavern of crimson velvet, they waited for the overture to begin.

Charlotte’s deepest pleasure lay in the pure joy of being at Karl’s side. Horrible, the things she’d done to stay with him, not least the heartbreak she’d caused her family and her dearest friend, Anne. But given a second chance, she would do the same again because, if she’d remained human, Karl would either have left or destroyed her with his blood thirst. She’d commit any crime to keep him... And now she too was a crime against nature, a bearer of madness and death.

Incalculably expensive, their love.

Her personality hadn’t changed, but continued to deepen in strange ways. As a mortal, she’d wanted to hide from the world. Now she was entirely detached from it, but the wounds of isolation she’d suffered as a girl lingered. In time she would rise above them; for the present, she had years of painful shyness to exorcise. Irresistible, to walk among people and think,
I’m not afraid of you any longer. Your judgment of me means nothing.
To know that with a look she could inspire fear or desire; or let them see she was not the demure young woman she appeared but something
other
. To turn their safe world upside down!

A sweet revenge; harmless, if self-indulgent. As a mortal, she’d craved affection, even while she hid from it. As a vampire, rather to her shock, she found the craving even more intense.

When strangers noticed them, she sensed their curiosity as strongly as she scented their blood-heat. Often she and Karl would strike up a conversation, forming superficial friendships that could never become intimate. That was how they’d met John Milner. Sometimes it happened that another couple would fasten onto them for the evening. The wife would flirt shamelessly with Karl - her poise torn to shreds by his allure - while Charlotte would brave her dagger-glances and charm the husband. This had led to many entertaining evenings. But here was a difference between them: Charlotte would sometimes feed on the husband, if she could get him alone. Karl, though, never touched the wife. Charlotte didn’t fully understand why, yet - in a prosaically human way - she was glad.

Taking a victim was not infidelity. The notion was irrational, though it could seem perilously close, for blood was more than nourishment. Passion, conflict, excitement, pleasure and pain... everything. Never could blood be mere food. Never.

Charlotte remembered John Milner with mixed feelings.

Leaning close to Karl, she said, “I ought to feel guilty.”

“Why?”

“It was that man, Milner, who suggested we see Ballet Janacek.”

Karl’s eyebrows lifted. “You are not still thinking about him, are you?”

“I’m only concerned that he might not forget. He could still return to David and tell him... something. Or if he doesn’t go back, David may think the worst. Will he send someone else? Must we vanish from human eyes completely?”

“No,” Karl answered firmly. “No one has the power to make us live as fugitives, not even the people we loved. The human world can’t touch us.”

He was right, and he was wrong, but it didn’t matter. Calmness flowed into her from his amber eyes, and for the thousandth time his beauty struck her as if she’d never seen him before. Red and honey lights in his hair; rain beating against a window in another time, while the touch of his fingers soothed her into believing that her fall from grace would be divine.

“I know,” she said. “But I don’t want David to keep torturing himself.”

“Then write to him yourself,” said Karl.

“What’s the point?” Charlotte said, resigned. “As you once told me, it’s not fair to hope they’ll forgive me. What we did can never be forgiven.”

“No,” he said. “It can’t.”

His fingers were twined with hers, and the murmur of the audience electrified her. At this moment she was so blissfully happy that she could forget what she was, forget the thirst. She was no longer outside the crystal world she’d first glimpsed in Karl’s eyes; she was inside, wrapped in velvet and golden light.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“That I’m perfectly happy.”

He smiled. “And so am I, beloved,” he said, kissing her hand. “These moments are worth any pain. They are what we live for.”

He spoke her thoughts.

As the house lights dimmed, suspending them in crimson darkness, Karl looked at the programme. It was easy to forget that their ability to read in the dark looked strange to humans. “A small company, based in Salzburg,” he said softly, “with dancers from all over Europe. Director and choreographer, Roman Janacek. The prima ballerina, Violette Lenoir, comes from Anna Pavlova’s school in England. The critics are calling her the ‘new Pavlova’.”

“Well, they would,” said Charlotte. “They always make such claims.”

“And they’re always wrong,” said Karl.

As he spoke, Charlotte experienced a flash of anxiety. She was too new a vampire to have left her insecurity behind.
What if Karl is captivated by another mortal, as he once was by me? One of the dancers we’re about to see. What would I do?

Music was flowing around them, the curtains sweeping open onto a faked yet vividly real otherworld. Charlotte relaxed and let the story take her.

And found herself completely unprepared for her reaction.

She was spellbound. This
Giselle
was the most moving interpretation she’d ever seen. Janacek took liberties, imbuing the traditional choreography with breathtakingly fluid emotion. His risks paid off; the result was timeless, ethereal, raw.

Pain threaded through every joy; Giselle’s fragile happiness, then her collapse into grief as her lover deceived and betrayed her. Every nuance seemed to have deeper significance that struck right to Charlotte’s soul. And the heart of the enchantment was Giselle herself.

Violette Lenoir’s dancing was transcendent. As she moved from innocence into passion, despair and death, Charlotte travelled with her. When Giselle died, Charlotte wept.

At the interval, it was all Charlotte could do force herself back to reality.

Karl smiled at her and said, “I wonder why it is so delicious to be made unhappy?”

In the second act, through darkness and moon-white mists, Giselle came back from the tomb.

Luminous in white and silver, she rose and whirled across the sweep of the stage, spinning, spinning. She seemed weightless, lost, as vulnerable as a dry leaf; an unbearable fusion of anguish and unearthly beauty. Charlotte watched with her hands tightening on the arms of her seat. The poignant story worked a sombre curse on her; death, resurrection, the undead haunting the living into their own graves... And Karl was right. There was terrible pleasure in the pain she felt.

Charlotte grew increasingly curious about the ballerina who inspired such powerful emotions. It was far more than technical skill or sheer beauty. She had that indefinable quality:
presence.

With keen vampire sight, Charlotte watched every detail. Violette Lenoir’s face was a pale oval, her eyes kohl-smudged and lips darkened to compensate for the bleaching effect of stage lights. Her black hair, flowing loose and lily-twined over her shoulders, had a blue sheen that enhanced the colour of her irises. Large, intensely violet-blue lakes - Lenoir’s eyes were irresistible.

Humans are not meant to mesmerise vampires,
Charlotte thought with irony.
It should be the other way round... but no, that’s not true. Didn’t Karl see something extraordinary in me, however well he hid his feelings? And don’t I feel perpetually drawn to humans - if only for their blood?

Oh God, I can’t want to - no, she’s an artist. Artists are perfect and untouchable, like us. But... I wonder if I could make her look at me?

Occasionally it happened that a performer would stare at Karl and Charlotte from the stage, as if, with heightened perceptions of their own, they sensed something amiss. But Violette Lenoir, although Charlotte willed her fiercely, would not look.

The ballerina was wrapped up in the story; nothing else existed. One of a band of souls betrayed, a victim whose only power was to haunt... and yet, in the end, what an insidious, lethal power that was.

The tragedy wound to its conclusion. The audience rose in wild applause and Charlotte rose with them, tears blurring her eyes. The stage was all light and colour again, the ghosts returning to vibrant life. Only a story.

As Violette Lenoir took her curtain calls and accepted bouquets, it seemed to Charlotte that her dramatic passion had switched off like a light. She smiled, but her eyes were glaciers. Her sudden aloofness only enhanced her aura; her darkness and paleness. The pain that had burned radiant while she danced was now locked away inside her.

And Charlotte went on staring, with a simple, burning wish to know what this mysterious creature was really like.

“Bravo!” shouted the man beside Karl. His accent was American. “Oh, marvellous!” He leaned towards Karl, raising his voice over the roar of applause. “Isn’t she the most wonderful thing ever?”

“Perfect,” Karl answered. “That was the most enchanting performance of
Giselle
I have ever seen.”

The American was in his fifties, grey-haired, his neck webbed with lines like snakeskin. Charlotte tried not to notice the pulse jumping under his jaw.

He said, “Wonderful actress, too. Better than you think.”

“In what way?” asked Karl

“They say she’s an absolute bitch in real life.”

A nervous thrill went through Charlotte. She asked, “Have you met her?”

The man glanced at her and huffed, embarrassed that she’d heard his off-colour remark. “Once or twice; I organised the publicity for their tour of the States last year. She makes the proverbial Snow Queen look as hot as Jean Harlow.” He cleared his throat. “She’s... chilly.”

“Perhaps you got on the wrong side of her,” said Charlotte. Karl’s attention switched subtly to her. “I should like to make up my own mind.”

“So would a lot of folk, but it’s impossible to break through her entourage. She may love dancing but she sure hates people; so how does she pour out all that emotion?”

“She’s a genius,” said Karl. “Pavlova truly has a rival.”

Charlotte was trying to gauge whether Karl found the ballerina equally fascinating. Unless he hid it well, she was sure he hadn’t. His appreciation was sincere but detached.

“I’d like to see this again,” she said.

“I got connections. I can get all the tickets you -” the American began, but Karl turned to Charlotte, cutting him off.

“If you wish,” Karl said softly. “Now, shall we go?”

Charlotte and Karl walked slowly from the theatre, through the cool starry darkness outside; past posters announcing the ballet, away from the knot of hopeful worshippers waiting at the stage door.

The streets grew quiet and narrow. Charlotte couldn’t banish the dancer’s face from her thoughts.

Karl drew her hand through his arm and said, “When we saw the Ballets Russes, you were on air afterwards. We talked for hours, don’t you remember?”

“I feel like being quiet now.” She leaned her head on his shoulder.

“You needn’t keep your thoughts from me. I have told you many times that there is nothing you can say that could shock me.”

She looked sideways at him, startled. “Why would I be thinking anything that might shock you?”

“Liebchen,
I saw the way you watched Violette Lenoir.”

Charlotte stopped abruptly. She glared at him, defensive. “How can you always know -” Her lips softened and she looked away. “You always do this to me. I don’t know why I fight you.”

“You don’t have to fight me.”

She had to explain, not leave him with the wrong idea. “Anna Pavlova was magical but she seemed a universe away from us. She’s part of a vibrant, energetic, real world that never touches the dusk we live in.”

“And Violette?”

“Different. She projected anguish, pure shimmering pain. I’d like to ask her, ‘What is it? Where does it come from, how do you turn agony into such magic?’”

“She may not have an answer.”

Charlotte tried to sound off-hand. “You mean that what I
see
isn’t who she really is. I know. I should like to ask her, that’s all.”

“If you want to meet Violette, do so,” Karl said reasonably. “What’s to stop you? In the Crystal Ring you can walk through walls, straight into her dressing room. Then what?”

“I wouldn’t do that. It would be unfair and I’d hate to frighten her.”

“Then, if the American gentleman is to be believed, you are unlikely to meet her.” Charlotte was silent. He continued, “Any immortal might have the power to step into the room of Pavlova or Lenoir and destroy a great and shining talent, but none do; not even those who claim to have no conscience, like Ilona or Pierre. There’s an unspoken law, an instinct. We still respect the human world. Why destroy the culture that gives us so much pleasure? Or ravage a world without which we could not exist?”

“I agree completely. I never said I wanted -”

“But understand, Charlotte! That is the very root of your fascination: your desire for her blood! So very like sexual attraction; the more enticing the human, the more you long to satisfy your thirst. Only for her it would be fatal. Do you wish to fulfil that need and stop her dancing?”

“Of course not!” Charlotte raised her chin in anger. “Was I merely a source of blood to you?”

“As I said, it is so like sex.” Karl held her gaze. “You don’t have to ask that, beloved. The more captivating the human, the more their blood means. That’s the danger.”

She looked away. “I couldn’t bear to harm her. I’d simply like to reassure myself that she’s real... to discover how a mortal can seem supernatural. But I never shall; it would destroy the magic. Karl, I wish I you couldn’t see straight through me like glass!”

“I can’t. I never could.”

BOOK: A Dance in Blood Velvet
2.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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