I pull out the thick envelope one last time. It was left at my doorstep. The corners wrinkled and bent now. Instructions and a picture included. Lacking the usual seal from my clients, I opened it anyway to find enough cash to afford my current lifestyle for several months as well as this limo now driving me to the location.
That’s my objective. Sneak into this party as the woman in the picture and then take the heart of Cassias Laur. A picture of him was included as well. Intense eyes, blue hair and a tightly set jaw. It should be easy enough to find him.
I don’t bother to take out a mirror to check my disguise. It’s perfect. With the provided picture laid out on the edge of my desk, I put my powers as a Phoenix to good use. The fire is warm. It bleeds out from my bones and chews at my flesh, reshaping my body to match the woman in the picture. Where I once had full curves and an olive complexion, I am fine and pale. From the view of an onlooker, I am blonde and as delicate as a porcelain doll. They’d have to get real close to realize I’m far more dangerous than the woman I’m pretending to be in order to get into this party.
A dress was sent along with the rest of the package. Red. The sleeves drape over my upper arms to leave my shoulders bare as the edges float to the floor in an odd sort of cape. Every man has a kink. This isn’t my favorite outfit and it’s clearly not conducive for my task, but my client wants to see me in it, so here I am. There was no signature on the envelope, no secondary letter to tell me who my current boss is, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll know I’m here and, once I’ve completed this job, he’ll pay far more than what was already delivered.
Of course, there’s a danger to these deals. A phoenix can slip through this world in any bodily image, a shapeshifter with a tendency towards flames. There’s infinite power locked in our modified cells. It’s a power that comes at a cost. My current deal is printed over my skin in a red splotch, the single inconsistency to my otherwise perfect disguise. An anatomical heart with a dagger through it. The magical tattoo is on my left wrist, hidden now by an array of bangles, but otherwise a clear sign to the rest of the supernatural world that I’m not merely a woman nor a shifter.
I’m a mercenary on a job. I’m the kind of bitch they don’t want to get in the way of or interrupt lest they want their name added to my list of cleared targets.
This party, though, should be fine. I don’t need to flaunt my powers or my reputation. I’m already disguised as a rich woman with the clearance needed to walk into this fine establishment.
My driver starts to slow. We’re here. I felt the buzz of a magical boundary line zip over my skin about a mile back. No obvious cameras so far. No other clear security.
Vampires are usually much more careful.
No matter. I’m not trying to sneak past cameras or avoid eyesight. My client wants me to make a grand entrance and be seen. Otherwise, he would have allowed me to wear a less revealing outfit.
“Here is fine,” I tell the driver, slipping him an extra hundred for his service before gathering my things. The poor man has taken me two hours out from the nearest city into the middle of nowhere, the grand estate of Cassias Laur rising from the brown hills like a castle straight from the dirt to glare down at the rest of the world. It’s the least I can do.
I let myself out of the car. He pulls away in a plume of dirt as I stare up at the massive estate. No birds linger around the rooftop. Some potted spruce decorate the entry way, but that’s all the greenery to be seen out here under the fading colors of the sunset and the final rise of evening. There’s no noise. No crickets or frogs or cicadas announcing to the world that they survived the hot day in order to sing for their nighttime audience.
It’s an odd place. Immaculately clean white, brick walls and red shutters for the windows. Ornate pillars wrap around the porch to give it an ostentatious feel that belongs somewhere in Rome rather than out here in the hills of California. The entire image is odd enough to make a creature absolutely homesick for a place full of noise and humid air. I’m not staying, though. Just one mission and I can take that trip I’ve been planning to head back to the south to remininsce about a time long gone.
About a woman who no longer exists.
I climb the shallow steps, my heels clicking across the porcelain material as I sweep my skirt up into one hand. There’s a crisp ding the moment that I set foot on the wooden planks of the porch. The double doors swing inward and a man dressed in a tuxedo emerges to welcome me inside.
I don’t think twice about wrapping my fingers around the curve of his arm. He is all smiles and dark skin, gently leading me into the house with a well-practiced script. I’m sure he’s been doing this all night for the rest of the guests. If things were planned correctly by my current boss, I should be the last to arrive.
My thoughts on my mission, I hardly pay attention as the man leads me down a hall filled with art, the personal gallery a host of pieces lost to time as well as several canvases depicting the house we’re currently walking through. We walk further, the man pleased with my gentle smiles. It isn’t until we’re at another double door entrance that his words give me pause.
“It’s wonderful to have you home, Mistress.”
Perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions when I took this job. It seemed straight forward. I didn’t ask any questions. As much as the feeling of confusion is washing through me, I don’t let it touch my features, smiling wider at the helpful man with a rather orthodox appearance.
“It’s great to be here.”
Dipping into a slight bow, he gestures to the door. “Should I introduce you, Mistress?”
It would be a good idea to know the name for my current disguise. I nod. He doesn’t need any other permission.
Bursting through the doors, his voice booming, he announces my arrival just as my client asked in his letter. “Ladies and gentleman, please stand and greet the lady of the house. Mistress Alyssiana Laur!”
That cannot be my name.
There’s clapping in the room beyond and the man who announced me waves me forward. No time to contemplate it now. Time to don a sweet smile and walk gracefully down the stairs.
I’m halfway down when I feel the gaze of my target. At the head of the table, his expression stoic, his dark eyes bore into my form. Perhaps he didn’t intend for his wife to arrive.
I didn’t mean to show up as his wife, if we’re being honest here. It could be easier to get him alone, though. I’ll use this to my advantage as much as I can.
Gliding down the stairs, I accept the arm of another able-bodied man in the same attire as the last and allow him to lead me to the only empty chair at the obnoxiously long table. Vampires will never get over themselves. They have to have the biggest houses, the longest tables, the most servants or they’re nothing in the world of pompous showboating that they all seem to live within.
One night. If I can get this over quickly, it won’t even have to be a whole night and then I can leave, collect my earnings, and figure out the details of that vacation.
The only chair is next to the host of this ornate house. His gaze follows me all the way from the stairs, past the row of men and women in their best finery, and to the seat on his right. I don’t let it bother me. Men spend their lives looking at women like me.
His life will end looking at me, too.
The man pulls out my chair and seats me next to Cassias Laur. Those dark eyes bore into the side of my face. He doesn’t say anything, though. At least, not to me.
Pushing back from his spot, he stands and holds a champagne flute out to the gathered party. “You have such a way with timing, darling,” Laur begins, the pet name thrown at me like a dagger. “I was just finished telling our guests that you would be unable to make it. However, we’ll be all the more happy to have you here with us. Please, let’s continue our meal.”
Chatter breaks out along the table. Most people spend several moments glancing between their salad and me. I keep my hands folded in my lap and my chin held high. In a room of creatures with heightened senses, it’s important not to bring too much attention to myself. A prick of my finger on a sharp edge of one of these glistening utensils would be enough to alert the entire room to the sheer fact that I, myself, am no vampire.
All the magic in the world can’t possibly cover up the fact that I am fire and wrath.
A waiter brings me a glass of champagne. Laur watches me grab the glass. I take the smallest sip, feeling his eyes on my throat as I swallow.
The first course is cleared moments later. The main dish is delivered. A spicy soup with chunks of meat and vegetables. I pick at it, avoiding any of the meat bits in case they aren’t merely chicken and pork. Most of the guests cough and sputter at the soup, thier heightened senses attacked by the meal they can’t refuse without being deemed impolite. Whoever was in charge of the menu made sure to pick things that would be difficult for the guests to eat.
That is, the guests are struggling, but Cassias Laur is eating without a problem. Perhaps the host is impervious to the spice and did this to pick on those brave enough to step through the doors of his house.
I don’t have much time to think about that before the partially eaten dishes are removed and an array of desserts are set out down the middle of the table. Interspersed by red roses in ornate vases, the trays of desserts carry everything from classic sugar cookies cut into intricate stars, pudding combined with blood oranges, and macarons in every shade of maroon. A gothic menu for the vampires. If this was Laur’s doing, he has an odd sense of humor.
Too bad he won’t get to use that funny sense when I come for his heart.
Our host waves for the guests to serve themselves as he grabs the small plate in front of me. “What can I interest you in, darling?”
This must be a test. A man has to know there’s a reason his wife didn’t show up to a party on time, right?
What do I know about Alyssiana Laur?
She’s married to a vampire and presumably one herself. In my reference photo, she stood with her back to a white wall, her imperial figure a contrast to the plain setting. Head high, her ears and neck dripping with jewels, she looked down her nose at the cameraman. Alyssiana Laur liked to be in control of her surroundings.
Could this be my chance to get him separated from the rest of the room?
“I’m not very hungry, dear,” I reply, hoping she wouldn’t simply call her husband by his name. “Perhaps now would be a good time to speak. Privately.”
A wicked smile cuts across his face as he spoons out a large helping of pudding onto the plate. “It’s been a decade since you wanted to be anywhere near me, but I won’t protest much to your request.”
Fuck. He knows. My appearance is perfect, but I didn’t have time to learn enough about this woman.
As soon as we’re alone, I’ll have to incapacitate him.
Standing, the pudding and spoon in one hand, he holds out his other to me. I can’t refuse. Not in front of all of these people.
I slip my fingers into his warm hold, my fate sealed long before this moment.
It’s Cassias Laur or I. One of us will not be leaving this party.
I don’t dare look back on the guests. Without another moment’s hesitation, I follow him from the room. It’s time to retrieve my heart.
For this week’s prompt, I stepped outside of my normal circle of characters. There’s still vampires and tension between the different people, but I wanted to introduce a new supernatural character. Currently unnamed in this story, my phoenix is a possible candidate for a new Kindle Vella romance. Let me know in the comment section if you’re interested to hear more from her!
As always, thank you for reading to the end of this post and please make sure to check out Bridgette’s story as well!
Next week’s prompt: An interrupted journey
Check in next Saturday to see what we come up with! 🙂