Content warning: Nudity and sexual innuendo
… “and the long lost daughter reached out for her father, but he turned away and…”
Hmmm… It makes me think of… of… Granny puts away her book and reaches for her mug with steaming hot Earl Grey tea. The two old sisters are having afternoon tea in the den. Outside, the wind is howling and a mixture of snow and rain is falling, making the temperature dive. But indoors the atmosphere is warm and peaceful, the only sound is the logs burning in the fireplace and the shuffle of pages turning. Missy mutters to herself from time to time, and Granny thinks she will never get used to her mumbling when she reads. She warms her hands around the mug and sips at the aromatic beverage, trying to concentrate and catch the thought that escapes her like a faint perfume.
Last Christmas, when Taïga painted… What was it now? A big City… Ah, the City – Falls Harbor! She is so talented, she made me think of someone… Can’t remember who, though…
‘I got it! Finally!’ Granny jumps out of her armchair. ‘Her paintings are just like his! And her eyes too.’
‘Whose eyes?’ Missy looks up from her favorite passage in her favorite book, “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë, where Cathy has finally grown up to be a beautiful, spirited girl, ready for romance. Just like herself.
Granny ignores her sister’s remark and hurries to the study where she can make a long distance call in private. Muttering to herself excitedly, she forces herself to calm down and take a seat before she with trembling fingers turns the old rotary dial.
‘Oh my! How come I didn’t see it? Her eyes…’
The phone is an ancient item with a rotary dial and a curly wire that forces her to pull up a chair next to it. Eagerly she dials the many numbers from memory, but she has to start over twice as her hands are shaking too much.
‘Please be there…’
She ends up standing, pacing as far as the curly wire allows. The unfamiliar foreign ringtone echoes in her ear. Did she miss a number? She knows her daughter carries her cell at all times, so why doesn’t she pick up?
‘Shasta… answer… Shasta… Shasta are you there? ANSWER!!!’ she shouts into the phone hurling it back into the cradle.
She stands immobile for a few seconds, then she picks the receiver up again, more calmly, and dials the Di Grisogno’s home number. At least she can leave a message with James.
Shasta found a USB memory stick in Leonardo’s coat pocket when she prepared his suits for the dry cleaner’s, and is too curious to just put it on his nightstand. James is usually cooking at this time of the day and Rowan is at school, so now is the perfect time. Quickly she makes sure the butler isn’t around before she sneaks out of her room and into the study.
Thank the goddess Leonardo won’t be back until late this evening… She pulls up the leather armchair and tugs at her red sweater that looks more like a crop top than something chic with a four figured number on the price tag. The size of her boobs has tripled during the last weeks, and even if she kind of likes them like this, she hates the fact that nothing fits her anymore. Soon her belly will stop her from wearing her favorite skirts and dresses, too. She bends over and looks for the hub on Leonardo’s laptop when the telephone on the desk rings, making her almost pee herself with fright. She quickly answers before it also rings downstairs and alerts James. Her mother’s voice reaches her crystal clear as if she was standing below the window.
‘Yes, I’m here, Mother. Don’t get all excited like that – it’s not good for your heart. So, what’s the urgency?’
‘Don’t you have something to tell me?’
‘Tell you? Why?’ Oh My God. She knows I’m pregnant. A flood of dread washes over Shasta.
‘About Taïga,’ Granny insists.
‘… about her skills in painting…’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about…’
‘… and her eyes…’
‘What about her eyes? Her eyes are perfectly normal!’
‘Not exactly… They are unusual for our family and you must have known I would try to figure out why.’
‘I already told you that her father-’ she stops short, suddenly aware of where her mother’s reasoning is heading.Shasta doesn’t say anything, thinking feverishly.
‘I knew it! It’s been right before my eyes all the time! How come I didn’t guess sooner?’ Granny says excitedly.
‘What does Missy say?’ Shasta enquires, trying to steer the conversation out of Granny’s comfort zone.
‘She will throw a fit when you tell her!’
‘IF I tell her…’ Granny points out. ‘It is not her business anyway. So what happened? Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘OK, I get it… This cannot be discussed like this, we have to meet.’ Shasta mumbles into the phone, throwing a worried glance over her shoulder. Was that the downstairs door banging shut?
‘Yes, Shasta. You must come here immediately.’
‘But Mother, I can’t-’ There’s no way I can tell her I’m held prisoner in my own home… ‘-leave Rowan!’
‘Of course, I had expected as much. Well, then-’ Granny draws in her breath. ‘-I’m on the next plane to Italy. I’m flying out tomorrow morning. I’ll call you with the details.’
Shasta swallows. They can’t meet at the house. What if James overhears them? And he will, as he’s always in the vicinity.
‘Err… Don’t call, Mother. I think it would be better if we kept this from Leonardo, and err… James. I’ll meet you somewhere…’ She quickly recites an address that Granny scribbles down on the notebook next to the phone. ‘I have to run. Ciao!’
The receiver goes dead in Granny’s hands.
Shasta breaks down. Well, it was just a matter of time anyway… Revealing who Taïga’s father is, is overshadowed by her new, more acute problem. Her mother will interpret the nightmares and she will surely know what to do about the baby…
Two days later it is time to meet up with her mother. Shasta sneaks out during the afternoon sonnellino and arrives early to the small sports café. She parks and rapidly crosses the street in the pouring rain, cursing herself for forgetting to bring an umbrella. The café is half full and the TV is set to a sports channel broadcasting a match between AC Milan and FC Roma. It is not at all the kind of place she usually spends time in, and that was partly why she decided on meeting with Granny in such an unglamorous place. There are some men at the bar and two women busy discussing at a table along the wall right under the TV. They quickly glance her way when she enters in a gust of cold wind and humidity, but quickly returns to more important matters. Shasta checks the other tables, but she is certain she won’t see anyone she knows. Satisfied, she closes the door behind her before anyone starts complaining about the draft.
She doesn’t wait for anyone to seat her, but resolutely sits at a table for two in the corner, flanked by two big windows. She turns her back to the room, concentrating on what she will tell her mother. When the waiter finally turns up, she orders a hot chocolate with cinnamon for herself, hoping she will succeed in keeping it down, and a pot of Earl Grey for her mother. She opens the box of French chocolate eclairs Leonardo had brought with him from France yesterday, knowing Granny has a sweet tooth and might need being won over.
Granny arrives right on time, well dressed in a new black and white Chanel suit, her impeccable chignon protected under a big black umbrella. She can see her daughter through the rain spattered window and she hastens her path, avoiding the puddles.
The café is warm and cozy after her walk through the meandering village streets. She sits down facing her daughter and after pouring a welcome cup of steaming tea, she immediately gets down to business.
‘Why didn’t you tell me Taïga is Magnus’s daughter!?!’ She pulls at her white calfskin gloves, but they have shrunk in the rain so she gives up. ‘Don’t you understand how dangerous this is, me not knowing?’
‘He doesn’t know about her, Mother. As long as it stays that way there should be no problem.’
‘You say it yourself, dear. As long as he doesn’t know. But I have to take his sole existence as a potential threat.’
‘Honestly, I don’t think he would care anyway.’
Granny stares at Shasta, willing her to understand the danger Taïga is in. She decides to tackle the problem from a different angle, and maybe get rid of her jealous curiousness at the same time.
‘How did you two meet?’
‘How did you know his name is Magnus?’ They both burst out.
There is a moment of silence and Granny raises an inquiring eyebrow. Shasta knows the expression on her mother’s face and quickly outlines her first encounter with the infamous Magnus Darkling. Granny listens, trying to figure out if Shasta knows who, and what, he really is.
Shasta is also having a struggle with being truthful. Should she tell her mother everything about her devilishly handsome lover? She decides she’d better mention that he is a vampire as her mother probably knows everything about him anyway. Wretched Magnus is so far away and Taïga is safely tucked away in boarding school, and the real danger is, after all, menacing herself, Shasta.
She quickly blurts it out, rapidly changing the subject. ‘So as he’s a vampire and supposedly sterile anyway, he’ll never suspect he has fathered a child. Mother, listen… There’s something else I have to tell you.’
‘I don’t think now is the right moment to-’
The words fall like a stone in a pond, creating circles that eventually reach Granny.
‘-change the subject! You must see that this is exactly why Taïga is in danger and… Pregnant?’
Shasta nods, taking a hasty gulp of hot chocolate and almost choking.
‘But? But that’s horrible news.’ Granny doesn’t even try to be positive. ‘A third child? After a son? That’s never heard of before.’
‘I know. It was an accident.’
‘Nonsense. There is no such thing as an accident nowadays. Maybe fifty years ago, but not today and certainly not at your age.’ Granny snorts.
Shasta squirms under the elder witch’s piercing glance.
‘And I who thought you had had surgery.’ Granny exclaims.
Granny nods towards Shasta’s opulent bosom, and her daughter pulls self-consciously at her jacket.
‘I would never have surgery, Mother. My boobs are perfect!’
Granny is shocked to see her daughter lean forward on the round table, hiding her face in her hands. Violent sobs shake her shoulders.
‘Calm down, it’s only the hormones.’ She fumbles for a Kleenex in her bag. ‘They will get back to normal again. Maybe a little deflated but it will all work out…’
Shasta accepts the Kleenex and blows her nose. ‘No, it won’t work out! I’ve been… I’ve been… violated!’
The words seem to stick in her throat, but somehow she manages to whispering tell her mother about the Black Sabbath, the demon, being held hostage at home and her strange cravings.
Granny listens with growing annoyance, handing out Kleenex after Kleenex and trying to piece together her daughter’s terrifying story. Shasta has always been one for exaggerating, but this is taking it a step too far. Shasta knows she is truly risking her life with this third pregnancy, and Granny knows it, too.
No need to invent an incredible story about rape and demons. Hormones and a taste for drama must have gone to her head and the Demon cocktail was born…
She nods, patting her daughter’s hand, getting impatient. ‘I don’t need any more details, dear,’ she interrupts.
Shasta stares into space, the horrible details of the demon etched on her retina.
Granny is alarmed, there is only one way to save both Shasta and the unborn child, fantasy about an Incubus or not, and that would be to strip her daughter of her powers. Like that she would be free of the witches’ curse of an only child, and if the tales are true, they would find what is needed to kill an incubus child in the mother’s womb. Or at least the spirit of the Incubus. The child would probably survive as the pregnancy is so recent… The only problem is to get to this very special and magical place.
‘May I?’ she nods towards her daughter’s slightly bulging belly.
Shasta blows her nose once more and nods. Granny closes her eyes and reaches out, putting the palm flat on the belly and spreading her fingers wide.
She recoils like Rowan did, trying to hold back the reaction of disgust at the sensation of evil radiating from within. So the fantastic story must have some truth to it.
Shasta looks at her with her best “I told you so” expression. Granny swallows. ‘How come Leonardo hasn’t noticed?’
‘Mother? Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said?’
Oh, yes. The conspiracy theory about her husband being behind all this. The High Priest. She really can’t believe Leonardo could have anything to do with this. Everyone knows how an Incubus works, slipping close to its prey while they are asleep, and then violating them, sowing a child, or just contaminating an existing fetus, as in Shasta’s case. She clears her throat.
‘We’ll have to work faster than I thought.’
She lowers her voice and explains what they must do to save both Shasta and the child.
‘There is only one place strong enough to withhold a demon, but it is several hours from here by plane. Slightly faster on a broom, but I guess that is out of the question.’
‘I can’t be gone for several hours, Mother. Leonardo will be home for supper.’
‘But I can’t teleport.’
‘I know. We’ll need some help. That’s why we need to conjure the Sacred Totem. Remember?’
‘Yes.’ Shasta wrings her hands. ‘Do you actually mean we shall do it today?’
‘The sooner the better. Do you have a car?’
‘Are we going to the Etruscan dig site? As last time?’ Shasta asks, starting the car. She fiddles with the gear shift and the brand new Renault Zoe shoots silently out into the traffic.
‘I don’t know,’ Granny answers, her eyes darting at the surrounding cars. She has never liked the Italian traffic.
‘You don’t?’ Shasta looks at her mother who suddenly shouts out. Shasta breaks hard and honks her horn, making a face at the driver of the car she almost rear-ended.
‘All I can say is it is not in town. I can feel it. It must be in a secluded place, run through by magic. Let’s just get out of this infernal traffic, and I’ll guide you.’ She fumbles in her bag and pulls out her pendulum. ‘Better than a GPS!’ She beams at her daughter who just shakes her head and concentrates on driving.
A few minutes later they have passed through one of the gates in the medieval wall circling the picturesque city and are winding their way up into the mountains on a road bordered by tall Tuscan cypresses. After a sharp left turn, they end up slowly driving onto the crunching gravel of a semicircular driveway in front of a castle. There is light flickering in one of the upstairs windows, but otherwise the place seems unkempt and abandoned.
The car has hardly come to a stop before Granny gets out and opens her umbrella.
‘Mother! We can’t get out here!’
‘We’re trespassing, and what if they see us?’
‘They won’t,’ Granny says, not feeling very sure of herself. But this is where her pendulum has led them, so here is where they are going to take care of their business. At least the first part.
Holding up her pendulum, she dashes away towards the far part of the castle, without waiting for her daughter, and disappears around the corner. She can hear a car door slam shut behind her, and pushes on through the mud. The path leads to a little clearing sheltered from view by huge rocks and thorny bushes. On the other side is the castle’s northern wall, the stones slippery with humidity and wines clinging to the stones, reaching for the high lead roof. She doesn’t turn around when Shasta comes tripping on her high heels, unsuccessfully trying to avoid ruining her expensive shoes. She stops next to her mother on a tiny patch of dead, brown winter grass.
‘Here it is,’ Granny states flatly.
‘What about the people in the castle?’ Shasta hollers over the din of rain smattering on the umbrella.
Granny gestures to the balcony above, obstructing the view from inside.
‘I doubt anyone will venture outside in this weather… Come over here, I need to draw on you or I won’t be strong enough to summon the Sacred Totem.’
She pulls out a little pouch from her handbag and proceeds to draw a circle on the ground, big enough to contain them both – and something bigger. Shasta joins in the chanting in Latin and with a low rumbling identical to the approaching thunderstorm, the totem raises out of the earth.
Granny is working fast. Connecting them both to the Sacred Totem she uses the energy liberated to teleport. Shasta automatically closes her eyes and throws up her arms in defense as a sizzling sensation passes through her body.
When she opens her eyes again, the rain has transformed into wet snow and the surroundings have changed from the castle’s neglected backyard to some kind of cemetery. A very old and also very unkempt last resting place.
‘Where are we?’
‘Off the coast of Scotland it would seem,’ Granny answers breezily, looking around her. ‘Help me find it before we freeze to death.’
‘Help you find what?’
‘A stone with engravings, dear. You’ll know when you see it.’
‘We’re in a cemetery, Mother. All the stones have engravings,’ she mutters, brushing snow from what seems to be a small Celtic cross.
Shasta is already regretting coming here. Her black Kashmir sweater is not warm enough, especially as she is only wearing a jacket thin enough to wear indoors and which is now getting seriously wet. She watches Granny head towards a huge Celtic cross in the center of a ring of stones. She can’t imagine how cold her mother must be in her light Chanel suit. But then again, she’s always bugging everyone about wearing a scarf or a hat or gloves so it suits her well being wrongly dressed for once.
‘Shasta!’ Her mother is calling from somewhere behind the circle of stones. Hugging herself, she hurries towards where the urgent voice seems to come from.
Her mother is pacing up a makeshift rectangle under a dead tree. She holds up her hand to stop her daughter from advancing further.
‘Wait – stay where you are, or you might fall into it.’
‘Fall into what?’ Shasta mutters to herself, but she obeys and withdraws a few steps. Her mother pulls out her wand and takes a stance, getting ready to throw a sort.
‘Mother, I’ve been thinking, and it might not be such a good idea to strip me of my powers-’
‘-we can’t talk about this outside. Wait until I’ve opened the secret door.’
‘A secret door?’ Shasta thinks her mother is maybe losing her mind. There aren’t even any walls to hold a door, secret or not.
Dubious she watches her mother recite something in Latin, waving her want and drawing a rectangle of sparks in the air in front of her. The mirrored outlines of the rectangle at her feet start to glow.
The ground trembles slightly as the earth gives way, revealing a dark staircase leading down into blackness. She hates when her mother is right, but any shelter from the cold sleet is welcome, be it a secret underground den.
Granny doesn’t show her satisfaction. She just takes a few steps down and lights a torch on the wall before putting away her wand. She holds the torch up high and gestures for Shasta to follow her.
‘… so I wanted to show you this.’
Shasta looks around the small room, empty apart from some old wine barrels and the torches on the humid stone walls. They ignite, one after the other, as Granny passes and touches them with her own torch. There is also a manmade hole in the wall and another, identical on the floor. Just the size for a hand, she thinks and shudders at the prospect of the crawling things hiding within.
Her mother doesn’t have any such scruples though. She puts her gloved hand into the hole in the floor, reaching farther until her whole forearm is in there.
‘It should be here somewhere… Aahh.’ She withdraws something looking like a rusty key.
Shasta helps her to her feet, but the old witch shudders her helping hand off and walks over to the wall where she immediately reaches with the key into the gaping hole. Her face lights up in a half smile, then she frowns and wriggles around with her forearm, trying to find the keyhole.
‘Tada!’ Granny takes a step back and makes a wide gesture with her arms, embracing the whole room.
Shasta looks at the objects materializing one after the other until the room is cluttered with urns and various boxes.
‘What is this place?’
‘Let’s call it an underground storage facility,’ Granny answers. ‘For dead vampires.’
Shasta nods to herself. ‘And as they are already dead and immortal?’
‘This is where the ones witches have killed for the last millennia are taken. There are more rooms like this one, but only one key. Decidedly, the place is a mess. If you want to have a look around? There is something – or someone – I need to show you…’ She lets the sentence trail, searching the urns with her piercing eyes.
Shasta shakes her head. So many urns. She wonders if the vampires have a storage facility like this one for witches they have killed over the years. She shudders.
‘Are you sure we have the time for this? Leonardo is usually staying late at the office but what if I’m not back when he gets home?’
Granny is already on her knees, reaching for a simple grey urn. She makes room for it on a barrel and reverently poses it on the dusty surface.
‘What about the urn?’ Shasta asks, peering at the inscriptions.
‘It contains the remains of Yggve Darkling, Magnus’s maker. Your great-great-great grandmother and her cove took him out in 1779. Magnus was hurt in the process, he got severely burnt and was disfigured for half a century. He swore to revenge Yggve and has hated us ever since.’
‘It’s protected by magic, like all the other urns, and the spirits of the witches in our ancestor’s cove will forever see to it Yggve’s soul stays inside. No vampire knows about this place, and even if they did, no immortal can pass the threshold.’
‘I see… But Magnus, he didn’t seem to hate me.’
‘He’s a master of deception, dear. You are not the first woman he has conned. You are lucky you didn’t end up being yet another appetizer.’
Shasta is not very interested in hearing negative things about Magnus. If anybody should be back talking him, it’s she, Shasta, who should do it. Not her mother who has not even met him.
‘He was the most fantastic lover I’ve ever had!’ she blurts out, glaring petulantly at her mother. She is satisfied of the effect her words have on the old Grey witch, who for once seems at a loss for words.
Granny opens and closes her mouth, pointing her finger in the air to underline something but not able to say it. If only she knew… Should I tell her? No. Maybe later. Much later… She clears her throat. ‘Are you sure he doesn’t know about Taïga?’
A reluctant ‘yes’ escapes Shasta’s lips. ‘I mean, no, he doesn’t. I already said so.’
‘Good. Ahem. He must never find out, or he might come after her…’ Granny admonishes. Then she takes a deep breath, turning away from her dubious daughter.
‘There’s supposed to be a passage here somewhere…’ Granny’s hands touch searchingly the cold, wet walls. ‘Ah… Here it is. Follow me!’
She steps through an almost invisible crack in the stone, into a room looking more like a cave than the previous storage rooms. There is a rudimentary stone altar along the wall, covered in candles, cobwebs and supernatural things. There are skulls and a single black bottle with some kind of potion, a medium sized kettle and a worn spell book.
Granny lights the multitude of candles with a magic word. Shasta watches her draw a pentagram on the dirt floor with what is left of the powder after summoning the Sacred Totem. She appears a little strained, but straightens up and looks her daughter over. She hands her the black flask.
‘It is a very powerful poison – for demons. There is always a bottle tucked away on the earth altar.’ She motions towards the pentagram that is now glowing blood red. ‘Take place in the middle and drink. I shall just memorize the spell.’
Shasta follows her mother’s instructions and takes place in the middle of the pentacle, holding the bottle with both hands. It is remarkably heavy. She watches Granny pick up the spell book and blow away the dust from its cover. After humming and frowning and closing her eyes a little moment with her mouth forming words, the old witch slams the book shut and returns, facing her daughter.
‘Are you ready?’
Shasta is not very sure, but she nods nevertheless. She lifts the black flask to her lips and takes a tiny, tentative sip.
‘Yuk!’ She grimaces and spits, almost letting go of the flask in the process. ‘There is no way I can drink this foul beverage, it both smells and tastes like sulfur.’
Granny nods eagerly. ‘Straight form Hell, it is.’
Shasta stares at her mother. ‘Are you serious about me drinking this thick black goo? Maybe it’s just a scam? Liquid Chinese century eggs?’
Granny gets impatient. She motions towards the bottle, encouraging Shasta to drink. ‘Take a hearty swig, don’t be shy.’
Shasta holds the bottle to her mouth, faking drinking. She dries her mouth with the back of her hand, then she squares her shoulders and lifts her chin, trying hard not to retch.
‘It’s too late now. Let’s finish it,’ she says dramatically.
Granny takes the bottle and puts it back among the candles and skulls on the rock. Then she raises her wand and singsongs the first words of the spell. Violet sparks start glowing at the tip of the wand and Shasta panics.
‘Wait-wait-wait! Is it the only way? I mean losing all my powers is rather drastic.’
Granny lets her arms fall back along her sides.
‘Drastic? We’ve discussed this, although briefly. Your child will be born a demon – or worse – if we can’t kill the evil spirit in it with the potion and the spell. And you, you will most certainly die giving birth to this child – demon or not. The only chance to save you, as well as the child, is to give birth as a human. Now get back into the middle.’
Shasta looks down at her feet and quickly takes her foot off the red line. She closes her eyes hard and nods to her mother to start.
‘Will it hurt?’
‘How would I know?’ Granny answers tartly, swaying her wand and starting on the incantation with a strong voice.
Shasta opens her mouth to say something, but starts gagging, her hands clawing at her throat. Her eyes turn backwards into her head, gleaming ghostly white. Foam is forming at the corners of her mouth, dripping down her chin. Guttural sounds escape her mouth as her body twists and jerks. Granny is seized by fright, but doesn’t stop. She watches how her daughter faints but before she hits the floor, she is suddenly lifted by a strong, invisible hand. She is held like a ragdoll for a few moments, falling in a heap to the floor in a burst of energy at the last word of the spell.
Granny titubates as a black veil descend over her eyes. Emptied by the powerful spell she loses consciousness.
She doesn’t know for how long she has been out when groggily she regains her spirits. She crawls over to her daughter and sits by her side, waiting for her to awaken. After what seems like an eternity, Shasta stirs and sits up.
Granny looks her over with a worried frown, feeling herself almost faint with exhaustion.
‘How do you feel?’
‘I don’t know… Empty…’
‘Try to conjure up an apple.’
Granny watches attentively as Shasta holds her palm out and does all the right movements and says all the right words, but no apple appears in her hand.
‘It doesn’t work!’
They look at each other, the old witch in triumph and the younger one in despair.
‘Does it mean I can’t throw any spells? I can’t conjure up anything?’
‘Well. It’s not as if you had progressed past simple apple magic, dear. You cannot miss what you never had, can you?’
Shasta glares at her mother, then she touches the small bump and a smile lights up her face. ‘The baby seems to be all right, I can actually feel it moving – for the first time! Let’s go home before Leonardo does, I can’t let him notice my absence.’ Something else, just as important comes to her mind. ‘Will he remark that I’m no longer a witch?’
‘I don’t think he will. I don’t think you conjured up apples that often.’
‘That’s not fair!’
‘And it was to save your life, he will surely be grateful for that.’ Granny can’t believe charming Leonardo could be involved in Shasta carrying – having carried – a demon baby. No, it must have been some kind of Incubus sneaking in during the night…’
‘I guess I should thank you then, Mother…’
‘Err… Yes. You’re welcome. I only have one daughter, after all. Time to leave, chop-chop!’
Together they stand in the middle of the Pentagram, holding hands while Granny musters the little energy she has left to get them back safely.
Leonardo is back from work a little earlier than usual. He decides to check on Shasta first, but the bedroom is empty. Hungry, he decides to see if James has prepared something edible he can have between meals. He finds his son with a succulent brioche, dripping with jam and fresh raspberries – wherever the Butler gets his hands on such fruit in this season is a mystery. But then again his wife is probably having strange, pregnant woman cravings, so James probably has a whole stock of exotic items waiting for her whims. Which gets his mind back to more urgent matters than a snack.
‘Where’s your mother? She’s not in the bedroom.’
‘I don’t know. I just got home from school,’ Rowan answers, popping a raspberry into his mouth. ‘Mom asked James to get these – there is dragon fruit, too if you want some. James is preparing chicken tajine for dinner and I’m helping him.’
Leonardo looks demanding at James who stammers, ‘Madam la Contessa asked me not to disturb her – she was taking an afternoon nap-’
Leonardo swears under his breath and hurries back upstairs.
He sweeps the bedroom with his eagle eyes, his mouth set in a thin line. Where is she? He takes a step towards the bathroom when it opens wide on his wife fresh out from the shower only dressed in a towel.
‘Leonardo! You scared me!’ she gasps. ‘I didn’t know you were already home.’
‘Where were you?’ he asks pointedly.
‘In the bathroom, darling.’ She forces herself to look astonished at his question. What if he knows she just arrived? She bats her eyelashes innocently. ‘Why?’
‘Oh, nothing…’ He has the decency to look sheepish. ‘Just… Don’t go out without telling me first.’
Leonardo walks out of the bedroom and she listens to his footsteps fade, before she lets out her breath. She had just had the time to throw her soaked clothes in the hamper and get a towel around her wet hair and body. Her glowing cheeks are still red from the cold and not from a hot shower. But Leonardo bought it. She glances heavenward in a thank you gesture.
‘I did it!’
She lets herself fall into the heap of pillows on the floor, and with a smile on her face she caresses her little bump. She had had to park the car at the cemetery, and take the meandering path down the mountainside slipping and sliding in the rain, to get home without James noticing. He was probably picking up Rowan, so he wouldn’t have heard the car arrive anyway, but you never know.
Wait a minute. It really must have worked, disgusting potion or not.
He said I can go out!
Part I – End of Chapter 54
A thousand thanks to Jessesue for her new “Emotion” poses, that I have indulged in using in this chapter! ShakespearesSunshyne at Secrets of the Sixkillers is also a creator I frequently use, especially her “Let’s Talk” poses!