Die for Her
Page 7

 Amy Plum

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What Lucien doesn’t plan on is Kate. Kate, who overcomes her fear and horror to fight him. Kate, who lets Vincent possess her in order to combine his strength with hers, and kill the numa chief. By the time Ambrose and I get there, Lucien is headless and about to be charbroiled in Vincent’s own fireplace.
Kate is adopted into the house. She has finally won not only JB’s full approval, but his welcome, and what I both hope and dread most comes true. My fear that Kate will be harmed by the numa is replaced by the fear of how I will react seeing Kate practically every day.
“SHE’S A NATURAL,” GASPARD SAYS AS WE WATCH Kate float through the double doors into the ballroom wearing a floor-length, pewter-colored gown that makes her look like a princess from JB’s time. And man, does the eighteenth century suit her well.
“A natural what?” I ask him, unable to tear my eyes from her.
“Fighting,” he replies. “She started training with me just weeks ago, and she’s already got all of the basics down. I show her a move twice, and she has it mastered. The rhythm of the fight is in her blood.”
“Doesn’t surprise me one bit,” I say, and set out across the ballroom toward her, drawn to her like a bee to a flower in full bloom. Ambrose is playing Louis Armstrong, and couples flood to the middle of the room to take advantage of the danceable beat.
Kate is so lost in the scene, she doesn’t even see me approach. I’ve attended Jean-Baptiste’s balls for years, and I still find them breathtaking. This year he’s done the room up in silver and white, and the entire space is illuminated by candles—candelabras gleaming on the side tables and the chandelier prisms glowing like diamonds.
I stand just behind her without her noticing, and our proximity makes my pulse work overtime. “How’s your dance card look?” I murmur from just behind her.
She jumps, and seeing me, breaks into a wide grin. “Double-check your century, Jules. No dance cards.”
I sweep her out onto the floor and, folding her in my arms under the glow of the chandeliers, I allow myself complete freedom. I hold nothing back, knowing that she won’t take me seriously. “Kate, my dear, the candlelight does suit you so.” She blushes and I savor my reward, brushing her cheek with my fingertip. Her skin is petal soft, and shock waves from the illicit touch course through my body. She glances up at me, questioning, but I give her an overblown wink and she just laughs.
I take her hand in mine and place my other hand on her back, and pull her to me until our bodies touch. I feel more alive than I ever have—like myself times ten. With Kate in my arms I feel like a better person. Capable of anything.
She is close enough that I feel her breath on my neck, and closing my eyes, I let my lips brush the crown of her head. Her hair smells like coconut, and suddenly that’s my favorite scent. I squeeze her and she laughs and looks up at me. “Jules, you incorrigible rake,” she scolds, and then gives me a smile that makes me feel we’re in zero gravity. Floating inches above the floor. Weightless and timeless, and I wish this song would last forever.
I know how ineffectual my actions are, but I do them on purpose—to punish myself. I deserve the pain that closeness to her brings. I want to hold her like this every day. I want to be the focus of her radiant smile. I let myself pretend for the duration of the song, and when it is over I touch her face again and imagine that we are together.
My ploy—speaking only the truth—works so well that even after pressing her to me, holding her close, whispering flattery in her ear, Vincent only smiles at me and Geneviève makes an off-the-cuff remark to Kate that I’m harmless.
It’s with a feeling of despair that I return her to his arms. I want him to be angry. I want him to challenge me. Because then the truth will be out and I won’t have to hide my feelings. But he trusts me too much to suspect me. And I love him too much to hurt him.
Jean-Baptiste calls a house meeting in the library a few days later. Charles and Charlotte departed on New Year’s Day for the south of France, and Violette and Arthur have already arrived to replace them. But they have gone to comfort Geneviève after the death of her husband, so we are only five: Gaspard sits fidgeting by JB’s side, and Vincent, Ambrose, and I warm ourselves by the fire.
Jean-Baptiste takes a sip of wine, sets his glass on an end table, and addresses us. “As I have already mentioned, I am convinced that the numa have a new leader. Violette has sources among her contacts who will try to discover his identity. But in the meantime, I want to address a plan that Gaspard and Vincent have devised, which may allow Vincent to resist dying.
“As you all know, we have a cease-fire with the numa that prevents us from attacking each other unless provoked. However, Gaspard and Vincent’s proposal would necessitate the unprovoked killing of numa. I am strongly considering calling off the cease-fire since Lucien already broke it by personally attacking us within our own walls.”
“Yee-haw,” whoops Ambrose, who jumps to his feet in anticipation. “Are you taking volunteers?”
“Calm, please, Ambrose,” JB says. “I haven’t yet made a definitive decision. But I would ask Vincent to tell you what is involved.”
Vincent pulls his chair in front of the fire and leans toward us, elbows on his knees, and hands clasped tightly together.
“The plan we’ve come up with could prove dangerous, and I want to ask you for your help,” he says. “A few weeks ago, Gaspard and I found the information we were looking for, about something called ‘the Dark Way.’ It involves killing numa to absorb their power.”
“That’s nothing new,” Ambrose says. “The power rush when you whack one of those bastards is half the fun of doing it.”
“That is correct,” interjects Gaspard, “but the Dark Way is a systemized killing of our enemies. It will potentially give Vincent the strength necessary to resist death so that he may fulfill a promise he made to Kate. It wasn’t even a possibility before, what with the cease-fire.”
I have a bad feeling about this. I understand that Vincent will go to any length to allay Kate’s fears. I would too if I were him, I think, and feeling a pinprick of jealousy, push that thought aside. Vincent’s asking for my help, but this seems dangerous on so many levels. “If you only have a few old examples, how do you know it’s going to work?” I ask. “I mean, if it doesn’t, it means we’ve infuriated the numa and risked precipitating a retaliatory attack.”
“Violette has verified the authenticity of the Dark Way stories,” Gaspard says. “She’s convinced it can work. In addition, her sources warned her last night about possible increased numa activity in Paris starting today. Even though Vincent will be staging an offensive strike on our enemies, we will need to consider a defensive strategy to protect those coming to and going from La Maison—not only us, but Jeanne, Kate, and any delivery people.”
“I’m ready to start,” Vincent says, and his decisive tone leaves no question about his determination to make this Dark Way work. “Can I depend on the three of you to help me?”
“You know you can count me in if it has anything to do with zombie slaying,” Ambrose says, rubbing his hands together expectantly.
“Your wish is my command,” I say.
“Great. Thanks. But please don’t breathe a word of it to Kate. I want to make sure it works before I tell her what I’m doing.”
“You mean she would freak out if she knew what you were doing,” I state. Vincent runs his hand over his head worriedly, and nods.
“My lips are sealed,” promises Ambrose.
Vincent thanks us and proceeds directly to strategy. “Okay, Violette’s source is aware of a group of numa operating out of the Quartier de l’Horloge. Ambrose can come with me. We’re going to scope it out and find out if we can provoke a confrontation without alerting humans.
“Gaspard, Kate is scheduled for fight training with you this morning. Can you proceed with that as if nothing has changed?” Gaspard nods. “And Jules, JB asked one of us to accompany Jeanne to and from her apartment today. Could you do the same for Kate?”
I nod. Vincent leans forward and clasps my arm. “I’m trusting you with her life, Jules,” he says in a low voice. “You know how much she means to me.”
Ditto, I think, but all I do is nod.
The first day out with Ambrose, Vincent kills two numa. The next night Vincent gets home around midnight from taking Kate to the opera, and changes from tuxedo into fighting gear within minutes. We’re bending the rules a bit, the three of us walking without a volant spirit. But Vincent wants to keep the “experiment” as secretive as possible until he knows it’s going to work, and will only involve members of La Maison.
We head straight for Pigalle, where a number of bars and strip clubs are owned by numa or their underlings. Usually—unless we’re saving a human—we avoid numa hangouts. As Ambrose says, it’s too tempting to put some steel through them, and up until now, ridding Paris of numa has not been our goal. Just as we don’t expect to see numa ringing our doorbell at La Maison, they won’t anticipate a tag team of bardia invading their territory. Which makes them easy targets.
Apparently the word hasn’t gotten around numa circles about the two guys Vincent finished off yesterday, because we walk into Le Boudoir Nightclub around closing time and there’s a numa standing right in the entranceway. He’s huge enough to be a bouncer at one of Paris’s trendiest clubs, but the bespoke suit gives him away as the club’s owner. Our hands all touch the sword hilts under our coats—as if we need the introduction. He knows what we are. Gaping at the three of us like we’re the risen ghosts of humans he’s killed, he turns and runs to the back of the bar, locking himself in the office.
“Excuse us, ladies,” Ambrose says to the two scantily clad dancers who sit on barstools, smoking. It smells like cigarettes and spiced rum, and the lights are so dim that it takes a few seconds for me to realize that the bar is empty.
“You’re not likely to have much more business at this time on a Sunday night,” I say and hand them each a hundred-euro bill. “Is that enough to make you get your coats and go home?” They grin widely, disappear into a back room, and in under a minute are scampering, fully clothed, out the front door. I lock it behind them.
“You wanna come out or should we come in?” Ambrose yells at the office door. He looks around at Vince and me and shrugs.
“Kick it in,” says Vincent as we draw our swords. But before Ambrose can move, the numa comes out, swinging a battle-ax the size of a headstone.
Ambrose whistles as he jumps aside. “Now that is an ax!” he says, leaning back to avoid the swinging blade.
Vincent doesn’t need my help, but I advance and let the giant take a swipe at me. His asset is his bulk, and the commensurate power he can put behind his swings. Luckily I’m a lot faster than he is, or I would have lost an arm.
I swing my sword, and he howls as my blade slices through his torso. He lifts his ax in both hands, ready to strike, when Vincent lunges forward and stabs him through the chest.
The numa looks surprised as the steel penetrates his rib cage, and when it meets his heart, he drops his weapon and falls to his knees. Grabbing the blade with both hands, he attempts to pull it out, but suddenly slumps sideways, lying prone in the growing pool of blood.
“Nice form, guys,” calls Ambrose from where he’s retrieving the battle-ax. He runs his finger along its edge, testing its sharpness. “Good thing he didn’t get you first; this thing’s a Grade A killing machine,” he says. “And now it’s mine, all mine,” he coos, like it’s a baby instead of a deadly weapon.
Vincent drops his sword, and his hands ball into fists as he absorbs the energy of the numa. He glances at me, and I can see the effect it’s having on him—the dark gleam of the eyes and the evil-looking scowl as the power hits him and sinks into his being. After a second he looks like a normal bardia again, but one who’s downed a few crates of Red Bull. “Ha!” he laughs, and grabs my arm a little too firmly. “This is going to work, Jules. I can just feel it.”
“Ah, okay,” I say, wondering if this Dark Way plan is really the best idea. It’s not like Vincent’s going to go all raving-numa on us, but the immediate effects of absorbing the dark power a few days in a row are a bit frightening, to say the least. “How many of these guys do you have to kill?” I ask, extricating myself from his grasp.
“Just have to keep it up for a few months, one every few days,” he responds. “At least, that’s what Violette and Gaspard calculated.”
He claps his hands together expectantly, and then pulls out his phone. “Yeah, Gaspard. Ambulance needed at Le Boudoir, boulevard de Clichy. One-way trip to the crematorium.” He hangs up and looks at Ambrose and me with a wild look in his eyes. Based on my numa-killing experience, it’ll take an hour or so for the buzz to die. “Montmartre’s just a few blocks away,” he says. “Who feels like running some stairs?”
THE NEXT WEEK WHEN I AWAKE FROM DORMANCY, Kate is the first thing on my mind. The regular bodyguard duty that Vincent has asked me to do while he numa-slays has made it impossible for me to achieve my goal of forgetting my feelings for her. I have the overwhelming urge to see her. To go to her house. To follow her as she goes about her daily activities.
I actually did it once. I sat in her room, watching her lie on her bed doing homework. Chewing on the end of the pencil as she considered what she read. Wrote notes in a messy script that was completely illegible, at least to me. At one point she lay on her back and watched the ceiling, and an expression of pure happiness crossed her features. Like she had a beautiful secret. And I knew that she was thinking of him. I felt dirty and sullied for spying on this intimate moment and left immediately. I never visited her volant after that.