Die for Her
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“VINCE, LOOKS LIKE THAT ZOMBIE HIT YOU AS hard as you hit him,” I say, pointing to the fist-sized purple patch under his ribs. Vincent looks down, pressing on the bruise, and recoils in pain. “Holy crap, that hurts,” he says, sucking air sharply between his teeth. “That’s weird: I don’t remember him touching me at all. I must have run into something when we came back up the stairs from the sewers.”
After two weeks of numa slaying, Vincent is looking considerably worse for the wear. Violette confirms everything is on track, though. She says things have to get bad before they get better.
So I nod, and hold my tongue. I’m encouraged when Vincent reanimates looking like his old self. Although I have a bad feeling about this whole Dark Way thing, who am I to go up against Gaspard and Violette’s brainiac dream team?
But I’m beginning to lose my willingness to help him reach his goal. The more Kate’s in our lives, the more I find myself falling for her. The more I see her, the more I want her around. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s making me crazy. I’ve begun staying away from La Maison and spending more time in my studio, just to avoid our paths crossing any more than necessary.
I shower and slip into some old jeans and a T-shirt. “Where are you off to?” Vincent asks, rubbing a towel across his wet hair.
“Studio,” I say.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time there,” he comments, throwing his wet towel over a chair. “You planning an exhibition or something?”
“No,” I say, and follow him upstairs to the back hallway. “Just a special project I’m working on.”
“You’ll have to tell me when it’s ready for the viewing public,” he says, and clapping me on the shoulder, disappears into his bedroom.
Throwing my coat on, I head out the door, through the gate, and toward the river. This is one project that will never be ready for the viewing public. Or for any of my kindred, for that matter.
Twenty minutes later, I walk into my studio and flip the light switch on. The room brightens as the track lighting warms up, illuminating dozens of female forms. Their poses are all different but the face is the same. Painted from memory in scene after scene is the fresh-faced beauty. Kate.
It’s the bargain I’ve made with myself. If I can’t caress her body with my hands, I paint it with my brushes. Use my fingers to trace her lines.
I shuck off my coat and go directly to the canvas on my easel. Squeeze out the paints onto my palette. And carefully . . . tenderly . . . taking my time with every brushstroke, I sketch the curve of her neck, apply the crimson of her lips, form her face into a two-dimensional tribute to her beauty. Mix my oils to the exact shade of her skin, and spread it on the canvas with my trowel.
She is my inspiration. My muse. My obsession.
A WEEK LATER, GEORGIA ROPES US ALL INTO going to her boyfriend’s concert. Since Arthur and Violette are along for the ride, I consider myself off duty and bring a date. Giulianna. Italian. Bellissima. Feline eyes and feline attitude. She’s a girl who’s used to being spoiled. And she is there for one reason. To keep my mind off of Kate.
We start out at Le Meurice, where with the champagne and vintage wine, I drop enough euros to pay the rent for her studio apartment for a month. So when we wander into the bohemian chic of the concert location, her smile turns downward. “What is this dive?” she asks, peering around at the red walls and leopard-skin stage curtains.
“We’re meeting friends here, staying for a concert, and then we’ll be off,” I assure her, and then choke on my drink as I see Kate cross the room toward us. She’s wearing boots, skinny black jeans, and a wine-colored silk top. And she’s stunning in a way that Giulianna will never be; her natural smile lights her face more effectively than the luxury-brand makeup and expensive facials my date splurges on with her father’s money.
I introduce the two girls. Kate leans over and whispers, “She’s gorgeous!” And I respond with the truth: “She has nothing on you, of course, Kates. It’s just that you’re so very . . . taken.” She gives me that what-a-flirt look, and I shrug. I speak the truth and nothing but the truth. And yet . . .
The band is good, but I don’t even notice. My eyes are trained on Kate all night. As she dances with her sister in front of the stage, I feel like I could do this—watch Kate move, spin, throw her hands up in the air, and bounce around—for the rest of eternity. When she stops to throw her arms around Vincent and kiss his lips, my stomach plunges. She will never love you, I berate myself, and turn toward the bar so I don’t have to see.
Giulianna’s ready to go the second the concert’s over. We take our time, walking arm in arm through the lamplit streets until we reach her building on the rue Saint-Honoré. She invites me in, and I accept.
The air in her studio is heavy with perfume. Giulianna drapes her coat over a chair and turns to face me. I lift her chin with my fingertips and touch my lips to hers. She’s soft and warm. I pull her closer, feeling my pulse accelerate as she presses her chest against mine. She runs one hand through my hair and traces circles behind my ear with her fingertips. Our kiss deepens.
Giulianna starts fumbling with the buttons on my shirt, and in seconds I’ve torn it off and am holding her in my bare arms and we’re stumbling toward her bed, unable to stop kissing even while we’re pulling each other down to lie atop the scattered pillows.
I know what’s coming next. I look at Giulianna’s expertly made-up face, sink into her catlike beauty, and then close my eyes and I’m kissing Kate. I don’t even try to stop it anymore—this happens every time. With every girl.
In the beginning I fought it. It felt wrong. Now I just let it come, let Kate take the place of Evelynn, Olivia, Quintana, Giulianna. And although each of these girls has something special about her that draws me in initially—something that makes me laugh or smile or lust after—none of them even comes close to her. With Kate in my life, seeing her on an almost daily basis, no other woman will ever measure up.
My phone rings in my jacket pocket. I ignore it for a second, and then, rolling over to lie beside Giulianna, I answer. “Your timing sucks, Vince,” I say, unable to disguise my heavy breathing.
Vincent’s tone is urgent. “Jules, we were just attacked by three numa outside the club. Killed them all, but Arthur’s injured, and I just stuck Kate and Georgia in a taxi. Can you meet them at their house? Make sure they get safely inside?”
I’m standing up and throwing my shirt back on within a split second. With Kate’s safety in question, I have no choice. I move quickly toward the door. “I’m sorry, I have to go,” I say to Giulianna.
“No, don’t,” she says, pacing across the studio floor toward me. The disappointed pout on her lips almost makes me regret my hasty departure. I pull her with me to the doorway and let myself out, pausing on the doorstep.
“Sorry. Emergency,” I say, and lean down to give her one last kiss. “I’ll call you tomorrow, Kate.”
She crosses her arms and shoots me a pissed-off frown. “It’s Giulianna,” she says, and slams the door in my face.
VINCENT’S “EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES” continue, with Arthur, Gaspard, Ambrose, and me taking turns as his numa-slaying wingmen. And finally, after reducing their numbers by more than a dozen, the numa react. But not in the way we expect.
One afternoon Geneviève calls, saying that while she was out, someone broke the lock, forced her door, and turned the place upside down. Gen can’t find anything missing, but JB and Vincent are going to check it out.
The first thing Vincent worries about is Kate. “If this is the beginning of the numa’s defensive strike, they could go after her. Since Lucien went out with Georgia, they’re all aware Kate’s my girlfriend.”
“Why would they be targeting you?” I ask. “No one knows you’re doing the killings. You never leave a survivor.”
“I’m numa enemy number two, after JB, and his beloved is immortal. Trust me: Kate’s an easy target. Could you please pick her up at school and stay with her until I’m back?”
I can’t argue with him on that. And I don’t really want to. He’s asking, and I’m not going to say no to spending time with Kate. An idea strikes me, and as I pull the BMW out of La Maison’s drive, I make a pit stop first and pass by my studio to do a little rearranging.
It takes a bit of cajoling before Kate agrees to sit for a portrait, but in the end she says yes. We park the car and climb the stairs to my studio, where an hour earlier I stowed all of the Kate pictures in the ancient bathtub, pulling the shower curtain closed to hide all evidence. I have replaced the blank spots on the walls with other canvases, and smile to myself as I see the bliss on Kate’s face as she walks into a room full of painted form and color.
I close the door behind her and turn on the spotlighting. “These landscapes are going to be in a group exhibition next month,” I start saying, when a crash comes from the adjoining room. I grab a sword from the umbrella stand by the door and charge toward the noise.
“What are you doing here?” I yell to a sandy-haired numa who is crouching beside my desk. As he flings himself upon me, I plunge my steel into his torso. I’ve aimed too low for his heart, unfortunately. But before I have the chance to strike again, he makes a break for it and takes a running leap, shattering my window as he crashes through.
Kate runs to the jagged opening and looks down.
“Did he . . .” I begin, trying to catch my breath.
“He landed on his feet and ran off,” she says. “He was holding his side, where you stabbed him, when he ran away.”
“What was a numa doing in my studio?” I wonder aloud, and then see that my desk has been gone through, and books and papers are strewn across the floor. Kate bends down and picks up a set of lock-picking tools from among the glass shards. Whatever the numa were searching for at Geneviève’s, they didn’t find. And my studio was the next place they thought they’d look.
I call Vincent and tell him what happened. As I hand Kate the phone and hear his frantic voice, I suddenly realize: Just one strike by the numa and she could be dead. If he had had time to pull his own weapon, that might have been the end of Kate. I could have lost her. Permanently.
She hangs up the phone, and I’m across the room in a second, grabbing her by the shoulders. “Kate, you’re fine? You didn’t get cut anywhere?” I ask, squeezing her to me in my relief.
We stand in the middle of the pile of shattered glass. Kate is in my arms, and her heartbeat patters rapidly against my chest. And things, for once, feel right. This is where I’m supposed to be. With this girl in my arms. I don’t want to let go, but I loosen my grip and she pulls back from me. “Jules?” she says, a question in her voice. Has she read my thoughts?
I drop my arms, but don’t move. We are inches apart. I breathe in her scent—she smells like almonds and lemongrass—and feel her warm breath on my lips as she looks up at me. And I realize that one second more and my secret will be exposed. I will kiss her.
I turn abruptly, stride out of my studio and down the stairs, and step into the cold February air to wait for Vincent to arrive.
THE NEXT DAY VINCENT LEAVES FOR BERLIN TO track down Charles, and I am once again tapped to guard Kate. But instead of letting me drop her off at school, she talks me into taking her to Saint-Ouen, to this crazy relic shop that looks like it’s been open since the saints themselves were walking the earth.
Kate insists on going in alone. I tell her she’s got fifteen minutes, so after almost a half hour of no Kate, I’m alarmed enough to barge in, sword drawn. The only person I see is a scarecrow of a man, who cowers and pleads innocence.
Kate bursts through a back door, yelling for me to stop, and then proceeds to introduce me to a mother-and-son team of healers who claim to have links to revenants. As in, all revenants—we’re talking both numa and bardia.
I’m so mad at Kate that I can barely speak. Not only has she put herself in harm’s way by getting into contact with these dodgy people, but she made me break my pledge to Vincent to keep her out of danger. She could have been hurt—could still be hurt—because of this. Who knows what these healers’ ties are to the numa?
After having a yelling match with her in the car, she still doesn’t understand why I’m so upset. And I almost say it. I could blame it on heightened emotion, but the truth is I’m tired of hiding my feelings.
“Kate, I care about you. You don’t even know how—”
There’s a look in her eye that stops me. It’s a scared look, like she’s afraid I’m going to tip the scales and throw this whole carefully balanced equilibrium out of kilter. She knows, I think.
I put my hand on hers. The look disappears off her face, and suddenly she’s back to good-buddy mode. And if she does know what I was going to say, she’s stuffed the knowledge back down so far that everything’s safe again.
I make her swear she won’t put herself in danger again, and then I drive away, only a shell of a man. An empty husk.
THE NEXT WEEK ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. I GO dormant, only to awake volant to find La Maison in chaos.
Vincent got a tip in Berlin that someone among our ranks is working with the numa, and a surprise visit by some numa to Kate’s grandfather’s gallery confirms there is a leak. As soon as I’m volant, Jean-Baptiste and Vincent have me accompany them. We question Paris’s bardia all night long, but by morning we’ve gotten no further in discovering the leak. JB finally calls the inquisition off and tells everyone to regroup at home.