Saturday, December 8, 2012
"Strange Bedfellows" [R] - Part 4
PRESENT DAY . . . Despair threatened to overwhelm Idril, as she poured herself another drink. For thirty-four years, she had managed to forget that disastrous night at that party in Berkeley Square, in London. Nothing really terrible had occurred. Not really. But that night had hinted plenty of signs of the disaster that eventually enfolded for her. Looking back, she realized that after that night, she should have packed her bags, bid Belthazor good-bye and find another sucker willing to act as a beard for her and Raynor. But feelings toward the good-looking half-daemon had taken hold of her . . . and like the idiot she was that summer, she had to see matters through the end.
JUNE 21, 1969; LONDON, ENGLAND . . . Sebastian Crowe, Idril soon discovered, turned out to be a 46 year-old warlock who presently owned a Georgian-style townhouse in London's exclusive Berkeley Square that had been owned by his family for over two centuries. She also learned that Mr. Crowe's family has practiced magic for hundreds of years. But a developing fascination with the darker aspect of magic during his years at Oxford University had led him and two cousins to kill a fellow witch for a powerful sorcerer's staff. This act led them to become warlocks and according to Belthazor, Mr. Crowe has remained devoted to magic for darker purposes, ever since.
Idril found the warlock's townhouse a veritable masterpiece in 18th and early 19th centuries luxury. Hollywood could not have done it better. Furnishings that harked back to the elegant eras of both the Georgian and Regency eras filled each room. Idril has grown used to great wealth during her 48 years as a daemon. But she felt more comfortable with the flashy wealth of Hollywood, Las Vegas and the jet setting noveau riche. This aristocratic setting made her feel out of place. And gauche.
To make matters worse, Idril discovered that both Tarkin and Christine were among tonight's guests. Although she failed to spot the daemon, she saw the blond witch conversing . . . quite happily with Belthazor's mother. Great. She needed this like an encounter with the Source, himself.
The townhouse's owner approached the demoness, after Belthazor detached himself to converse with other guests. He happened to be a slim, elegant man with a sensuous, yet equinnine countenance and thick blond hair. Despite his decadent appearance, a ruthless intelligence gleamed from his gray-blue eyes. Eyes that Idril found very unsettling. They seemed to look right through her and unlock any secrets she might be harboring. In fact, Idril began to wonder if he might be a telepath.
"So, you're Colerid . . . uh, Belthazor's companion for the evening," he drawled in an English, upper-class accent. His eyes swept over Idril's figure with sharp precision. "Very lovely. Belthazor always had such . . . interesting tastes. I understand that you're a . . ." he leaned forward and whispered, ". . . daemon, as well?"
Idril straightened her posture in order to emphasize her superiority over the mortal. "Yes. I am. I'm with the Thorn Brotherhood."
Crowe took a sip from his martini glass. "You know, I never could understand why your order is called the 'Brotherhood'. Especially since there are females amongst its members." He gave her a direct stare. "Do you?"
The warlock's question took Idril offguard. She had never questioned the order's name or anything else about it, in her life. She had always been a loyal member. "Huh? I mean . . . uh, well . . . I guess . . . I guess I uh, never really thought about it."
The warlock seemed unimpressed - almost disappointed by her response. "Hmmm. Well . . ." Nimue appeared before the pair and Crowe nearly sighed with relief. "Elizabeth! Darling!" Idril realized that Nimue must have been using the name Elizabeth amongst the mortals. Crowe pecked the older female's cheek. "I was just getting to know Coleridge's young lady. Um . . . what's your name, dear?"
"Idril," Nimue said, giving the younger female a tart smile. "Although I do believe that she sometimes uses the name, Diane Hayward."
An insincere smile curved Crowe's thin lips. "How charming." He glanced over his shoulder. "Ah, Miles is here. At last. Pardon me, ladies." He quickly left the two daemons alone to greet another guest. Idril suspected that she had just witnessed an escape - from her.
Nimue took the younger demoness by the arm and guided the latter toward the long refreshment tables. "You look quite famished, my dear."
"Well, it has been a while since I ate," Idril admitted. She picked up a plate - along with a napkin - and began to fill it.
The older female did the same. "I must say that I am curious. About you and Belthazor. How did you two meet?" She instructed a servant to place some smoked herring on her plate.
Hesitating, Idril selected a stuffed artichoke. "At a nightclub in London, earlier this month. At some place called . . . um, the Triple Six."
"Oh yes! The club owned by Miss Bloome." Nimue continued to select more food. "She's quite the entertainment entrepreneur here in London. I'm rather surprised by Tarkin. His taste in women usually do not include women of Miss Bloome's caliber. He has always preferred the sub-standard kind. If you know what I mean."
Idril wondered if the other woman regarded her as the 'sub-standard kind'. "I, um . . . I guess. As for Christine, well she is pretty cool." Memories of that first night in the witch's apartment flashed in Idril's mind. "Tarkin seems to think so."
Nimue added, "And Belthazor." Idril stared at her. "Well, he seemed impressed by her business acumen. At least according to Miss Bloome." Idril decided that Christine may have been lying. Bitch!
A uniformed servant placed a serving of Lobster Thermidor - sauce included - on Nimue's plate. "I must admit that I am rather surprised that you and my son have . . . well, become so interested in each other, lately."
The older daemon's words infuriated Idril. "Meaning what?" she snarled. "That I'm not good enough for him? What are you supposed to be? A character out of a bad soap opera? The clinging mother?"
Blue eyes regarded Idril with a chillness that nearly frozen the younger daemon's soul. "Really, my dear. Don't you think you're being rather rude? And childish? I never said such a thing."
Idril shot back, "But that's what you're thinking, isn't it? I'm not good enough for your precious half-breed!"
"I think you really need to do something about that inferiority complex of yours," Nimue quietly replied. "Before you do or say something that you'll regret." She paused and held out her plate to a servant who was serving canapés. "You know, I never realized that you were so insecure. No wonder Raynor had decided to marry Avara. Must have been a blow for you."
Further angered by Nimue's spiteful words, Idril retorted, "Raynor's marriage to Avara is nothing more than a convenient one. It's a political marriage for the Brotherhood and the Realm. He's still wants me and . . ." She broke off in mid-sentence, aware of what had just slipped out of her mouth.
A spiteful smile slowly curved Nimue's mouth. "Thank you, my dear. You've cleared up everything for me. However, I suggest that you end your relationship with Belthazor before he finds out."
"Find out . . . what?" Idril demanded. "That Raynor and Avara's marriage was one of convenience? He knows that. Everyone does!"
"Yes, my dear. But does he know that you were Raynor's mistress? And that you still might be?" Panic filled Idril's mind, as Nimue continued, "I can only assume that this sudden interest in Belthazor is due to some twisted plan of yours and Raynor's to use my son to hide your tawdry affair from Avara. She's not exactly the type to share."
The younger demoness struggled to keep her anxiety in check. If Nimue ever decide to tell Belthazor about her relationship with Raynor, her plans would be ruined. Even worse, she would lose the half-daemon. And to her surprise, she could not fathom such a thing. Perhaps if she . . .
"Don't!" The word came out of Nimue's mouth like a gunshot. "Don't even think about it."
Idril stared at the older demoness. "I don't know what you're . . ."
Nimue leaned forward - almost in a threatening manner. "You want to kill me, don't you? Perhaps hire an assassin to kill me, before I can tell Belthazor about you and Raynor?" Her voice grew soft . . . and frightening. "I wouldn't contemplate it, if I were you. Belthazor might not take kindly to you arranging his mother's death."
At first, Idril felt an urge to flee from Nimue's eyes - until she remembered something. With a derisive snort, she shot back, "I doubt very much that Belthazor would care. He had no qualms about killing his uncle, as everyone knows. And he doesn't like you very much."
A long pause followed as Nimue stared at the younger female. Idril squirmed with discomfort under the other demoness' gaze. Then the former sighed. "You might be right. Then again . . . you might not be." Another sly smile curved Nimue's lips. "There's something you should know about Belthazor, my dear. He's not a predictable person. In fact, he possesses a great talent for taking others by surprise." She quietly thanked the servant and walked away from the speechless Idril.
Bitch! Hatred and fear raged within Idril, as she stared at Nimue's retreating figure. That interfering, know-it-all bitch! The younger demoness had a good mind to go ahead and hire an assassin to kill that mortal-loving bitch. Unfortunately, Idril had no idea how Belthazor would react. Nimue had been right about one thing - Belthazor was notoriously unpredictable. He may not have harbored any qualms about killing his uncle, but he may not take the death of his mother that kindly - despite the estranged relationship between mother and son.
Carrying the plate of food, Idril sauntered into another room to find an empty seat and stopped short at an unpleasant sight. Beyond the double French doors, Belthazor and Christine stood on a terrace, deep in conversation and obviously enjoying each other company. Even worse, Tarkin was no where to be seen. An ugly feeling gripped Idril that her allure to the handsome half-daemon was beginning to fade.
"We really need to stop meeting like this," Christine said with a wicked smile stamped on her face. "Or people would start to talk. I believe I saw your mother hanging around, when we were getting our food, not long ago."
Cole handed her a glass of champagne. "About what? We're just talking." He turned to face the view that overlooked Buckingham Palace in the far distance. "As for my mother, she can think what she wants."
Christine took a sip of her champagne. "And what about Tarkin and Idril? They seemed to be conveniently no where to be found. Rather odd, don't you think?" Blue eyes glittered mischievously. "If I didn't know better, Belthazor, I would swear that you were trying to get me alone."
"As much as I enjoy your company, I believe you might have a inflated sense of yourself."
The witch's smile widened. "If you say so."
"By the way, about that business proposition of yours . . ." Cole began.
Christine's smile disappeared. "You like it?"
"Why haven't you approached Tarkin about this plan?"
A sigh left Christine's mouth. "Because this is a plan that requires a legal touch. And from what I've heard, you've got a bit of a legal background. What's the matter? Afraid that we might end up spending too much time, together?"
A wide grin stretched the half-daemon's lips. "Trust me. The idea of you and I to . . ." His grin disappeared at the sight of his mother approaching the terrace. "Oh shit."
"Belthazor, Miss Bloome." Nimue greeted the pair with a polite smile. "Enjoying yourselves?"
Cole replied sardonically, "I was. Is there anything I can help you with, Mother?"
Nimue's smile grew cooler. "Not particularly. Just making sure that all the guests are enjoying themselves."
Christine swallowed the last of her champagne and smiled at Cole's mother. "Oh don't worry, I am. This place is super." She turned to Cole. "Do you mind, love? I believe I see an old friend. Excuse me." Flashing one last smile, she turned on her heels and re-entered the townhouse.
"Nice going, Mother," Cole retorted. "I think you just scared her away."
Nimue rolled her eyes. "Nonsense! I doubt very much that I can scare the likes of her. She seems like a very resourceful young woman. She probably thought we might want to be alone."
"Well, she guessed wrong," Cole shot back. He started to turn away.
Before he could escape from his mother, her voice called him back. "Belthazor," she said, stopping him in his tracks, "why don't you stay for a few minutes. We haven't had a decent conversation since . . . last year." She referred to the incident in which mother and son had helped his uncle Marbus escaped the attentions of the Source's bounty hunters.
A sigh left Cole's mouth. "What do you want to talk about, Mother? About how you disapprove of Christine?"
"What makes you think I dislike her?" Nimue protested. "I know nothing about her. On the other hand," she hesitated, "I do know a great deal about Idril. And I cannot help but wonder what you see in her."
Detecting shades of snobbery and criticism in the demoness' voice, Cole became angry. "And what exactly is wrong with Idril? Not good enough for me?"
Nimue rolled her eyes. "Oh dear. There goes that unfortunate phrase, again. I really am beginning to suspect that today's society pays too much attention to soap operas and other melodrama."
The demoness continued, "There is nothing wrong with Idril. I just . . . I never really imagined her as the kind of woman you would become interested in. Females with a need to cling to a strong, protective male have never been your type, before. You have always preferred your women to be a lot less insecure. What led to you to become interested in Idril, I wonder?"
"Perhaps she seemed like someone new," Cole retorted. "And could it be that she's also very attractive?"
"Hmmm. I suppose. If you prefer beauty of the cheap variety."
Annoyed by his mother's innuendos, Cole decided that he had enough. "Excuse me. I think I'll go back inside . . . where the air is fresher."
"Back to Idril?" Nimue shrugged her shoulders. "Perhaps she won't be in the mood to enjoy your company. Especially after tonight."
He should just walk away. Just leave and forget about the acid words that seemed bent upon pouring out of his mother's mouth. Unfortunately for Cole, his curiosity got the best of him. "Meaning . . . what?"
A knowing smile curved Nimue's lips. "Meaning . . . just a minute or two before I had interrupted you and Miss Bloome, I saw dear Idril standing in the room's doorway . . . watching the two of you enjoy each other's company. She did not look very happy." The demoness' smile widened. "Pardon me." Then she brushed past her only son and disappeared into the house.
PRESENT DAY . . . "Hmmm, you liked her, didn't you?"
Cole glanced up from his plate of Chicken Parmagian and stared at Olivia. "Liked who? Idril?"
Olivia rolled her eyes with contempt. "Give me a break. I'm talking about Christine Bloome. You liked her."
"Of course I did," Cole said with a shrug. "Who didn't? Tarkin certainly did. She was a likeable woman."
A wall of silence surrounded the couple's booth. "Cole . . ." Olivia's voice became sharp. "Cole, look at me." The half-daemon stared into a pair of green eyes that now resembled polished stones. "Do I look like an idiot to you? You liked her, didn't you? A lot."
Cole now realized why his fiancee's voice seemed so sharp. "You're not jealous, are you? I can't believe it. I've just spent nearly a half-hour talking about my relationship with Idril, and the moment I bring up talking with Christine at Sebastian Crowe's party, you're suddenly jealous."
"You liked her . . . didn't you?"
Cole sighed. He realized that he would not be able to avoid answering this particular question. "What makes you think that?"
"Because of the look in your eyes, whenever you mentioned her," Olivia replied. "Christine Bloome, I mean." She paused. "You liked her. Right?"
Realizing that Olivia would never abandon her question, he decided to tell the truth. "Okay, yeah. I liked Christine. A lot."
"If you must know," Cole continued, "you remind me a lot of her. Both of you seemed to have a joie de voire that I find very attractive. And you're both ruthless as hell. Ruthless, yet . . . I don't know . . . very compassionate, I guess." Olivia's eyes widened. "I know. Christine is supposed to be this evil witch. But she could be compassionate. One could always talk to her. It's the same with you."
Olivia's face turned pink with embarrassment and she glanced in another direction. "Oh," she murmured. "Thanks. I guess." Then she took a sip of her iced tea. "I guess Tarkin must have been crazy about her, as well."
"At first," Cole replied. Olivia stared at him. "But I think he eventually became tired of her. Or . . . wary of her." He hesitated. "I think Christine began to intimidate him. And I don't think he cared for the idea of some witch being so intimidating. So, he began to fool around with other women."
Olivia asked, "And how did Christine feel about that?"
After taking another sip of iced tea, Cole replied, "I don't think she really cared, in the end. She had other fish to fry."
"Namely you?" Olivia's eyes bored into his.
Cole merely remained silent and took another sip of tea.
End of Part 4