by KT Pinto
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
…She twists my heart.
…She torments me.
I hate her.
The Lady Celeste is the most beautiful, the most exciting, and the most evil person that I know. I love her more than I have ever loved anyone, ever.
It’s a shame that I have to kill her.
You would think that, after 2000 years, the fact that I am to forever be her bodyguard wouldn’t chaff so much, but as the years pass, the torture that I know I will endure at the hands of my own family has become insignificant compared to the angst that she is causing me. And it all started with us returning to America.
I had thought that after the horrible drug-induced visions that she had experienced at Woodstock, we would never come back to this insane place… and technically, we didn’t. She had sunk her teeth into some bleached-blonde singer back in the eighties, leaving me to chase them all over Europe and Asia, and then eventually back to the USA.
By the time I finally caught up with them, my lady had grown tired of the wealthy humans and their wonton ways (Celeste bores easily when she can’t shock people). On top of that, the bimbo that she had hooked up with had turned away from the sex and drugs scene, becoming the image of the Earth Mother, and giving Celeste that extra push that she needed to leave the humans behind and establish her place amongst the monsters again.
While back in the States, I had made quite a life for myself in the Northeast. I had my own club in Boston, and it had become the most popular nightspot for supernaturals. Although my heritage usually gave me more grief than not, being half fae and half werecat actually paid off this time—it made me the link between all of the various beings that were patrons of my place. Fae bumped shoulders with weres of all breeds. Among them walked the vamps, who were there in the hopes of seeing (and most probably killing) the powerful vampyres that have crossed my path since I started guarding Celeste and, of course, there were the humans—drawn in by the pull of the supernatural, and wearing the standard gothic dress in the hopes of blending in…
I had spoken with Celeste a week before to invite her to come to my club in order to discuss our situation. After many hours of her telling me what I can do with and to myself, she agreed that she would arrive ‘as soon as the mood moved her’. As is her norm, she only gave me a half-hour’s notice of her arrival, making it impossible for me to have the security I knew I needed to be there when she arrived. My club, as usual, had a crowd at the front door, which meant my lady was going to have to come in through the back, and she was not going to be pleased.
My appearance was also going to displease her—a minor problem with most people, but Celeste wasn’t like most people. The first time she saw me, I was wearing a kilt. Granted, I was saving her life at that time, so I could see how the outfit would be sentimental to her. The problem was that, every time we had been reunited since then, I had worn a kilt… unless I was disguising myself from her… Would she take one look at me and in her warped mind decide that I was out to deceive her, or would she just take it in stride? I looked at myself in the mirror and said screw it. She was about to arrive, and a kilt takes a long time to put on. Besides, I was a respectable businessman; I had to dress appropriately. So my lady was going to have to deal with the leather pants and fishnet shirt.
She arrived, as usual, with an entourage of over twenty people: some were bodyguards, some were assistants, some lovers, and I was betting that there were one or two who served absolutely no purpose whatsoever.
She walked into my office alone, almost glowing with the power that was in her. She was dressed in a pleated mini-skirt, and her baby doll shirt had a sinister Cheshire cat on it with the infamous words ‘We’re all mad here’ emblazoned across her chest. The shirt worried me slightly, because she has called me her Cheshire cat on numerous occasions. It made me wonder what in the world I was in for…
I shouldn’t have been worried about my outfit, if her tongue down my throat was any indication. Her hands also couldn’t seem to stop running up and down my legs… yes, I’d have to say that she liked the leather.
“Oh, Vanny!” she purred in my ear, “You grew your hair long! I love it!”
I cringed slightly. I have had various names over the centuries, but she insists on calling me Vanity, a name I had for almost a thousand years, a thousand years ago. I still believe she calls me by that name as a partial insult, saying I was vanity personified.
But I have been told that I read too much into things.
“Celeste,” I whispered, trying to regain my composure, “you know I am no longer called that.”
She sighed, running her fingers through my hair and nuzzling my neck. “I still call you that.”
Her hand had moved slowly up my thigh and, amazing as she felt, I knew she wanted something. I grabbed her chin and lifted her head to look at me. “What do you want, Celeste?”
Her eyes were glazed, as if just the smell of me had sent her over the edge. “We’ve been apart a long time, my love.”
Warning bells started going off in my head. I pushed her away, anger bristling over my body. “What trouble have you gotten into now, Celeste?”
“I?” she replied, “I am not the one in trouble—this time, at least—Ali is after your head, not mine.”
Ali and I, compatriots at one time, severed ties because of something long ago, and that something was standing right in front of me. I, because of my family, had to protect Celeste at all costs. Ali wanted to use her as a weapon of mass destruction. You could see where our opinions clashed. The problem was that it would have been very easy to manipulate her the way Ali wanted… it was very tempting. Unfortunately, the fae believed she had a higher purpose, and I was to protect her until that purpose was fulfilled. Ali didn’t want to wait that long.
“What do you know of Ali?” I snarled.
Celeste’s face had gone from wonton seductress to petulant child. “Your suspicions hurt me, Vanity. I have come to help you, protect you. And this is the thanks I get?”
“Protect me?” I said before I could help myself, “Exactly how are you going to do that?”
“I’m going to be your bodyguard.”
I had to laugh at that. “So, what? You get to be vigilant all day, and I get to do stupid shit that puts us both in danger?”
She frowned, and I had the sinking feeling that I had gone too far. “That’s not the way it works. If that’s the way you’ve been handling things, then it’s a wonder that I’m still alive.”
She was damn lucky we were in my office; otherwise I would have had to hurt her. “Then what,” I said through clenched teeth, “do you plan to do?”
She walked over to me and wrapped her arms around my neck, pressing her body to mine. “I plan on not leaving your side until the danger has been taken care of.”
I felt my body react to her even though I didn’t want it to. She knew just what to do to set my heart racing, and if I didn’t focus, I would be useless to myself and everyone around me. I inhaled deeply, breathing out my mouth as her hands slid under my shirt.
“How do I know Ali didn’t send you here?”
Her warm lips brushed my stomach as she laughed. “No one sends me anywhere.”
I grabbed the hair at the crown of her head and forced her to look up at me. Her nails dug painfully into me in a flash of anger as her blank eyes stared into mine. “Celeste, if I just showed up at your door one day and offered my services, would you trust me?”
“Are you seriously asking me that question?” she finally answered, pulling away from me, “Need I remind you of Greece? Germany? Scotland? Rome? America? Constantinople? Egypt? Shall I go on?”
“No,” I replied, “You’ve made your point.”
“So now I’m here to return the favor,” she continued, “Ali is out to get you, and I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
I stared at her for a few moments, but her face was an unemotional mask. “You and Ali are friends, aren’t you? Why turn against him for me?”
“Because you don’t want to use me to destroy the world.”
I hadn’t known she knew of his plans. I thought I had sufficiently kept that information from her. I must have had an expression on my face, because she had switched back to the seductress. She walked towards me, and I felt my breath get shallow. Her hands slid across my waist and she pulled me to her, rubbing her hips against mine. I felt myself grow hard as she moaned against my chest.
“So, shall we celebrate my return?”
I couldn’t help it. My hands went instinctively to her tight, perfect ass, and just the feel of it inflamed me with a desire I hadn’t felt in ages. She arched her back and I slid my hands under her skirt, feeling her warm flesh against my fingers. I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw her on my sofa and mounted her, ripping her skirt off in one quick motion. The rest of her clothes were on the floor before we ever made it to the couch, and her nakedness surrounded by leather made me almost burst out of my pants. I just had to taste every part of her…
I put my head between my lady’s breasts and sighed. I had to remember to start locking the door, especially when Celeste was involved. I felt Celeste breathe my most recent name incredulously as I turned my head to see my betrothed standing over us.
“Good evening, Nastasja. Back from your trip early, I see.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Would you at least get off of the whore so she can put on some clothes before I kick her ass?”
I sat up, but Celeste didn’t reach for her clothing. She just lifted her knee, and rested her elbow on it, propping her head in her hand. “And you are…?”
Nastasja scowled and grabbed my arm. “I am Rhys’ bride-to-be.”
Celeste smirked. “Of course you are.”
I didn’t like the look in Celeste’s eyes. There wasn’t any specific emotion in them, and I think that’s what made her even scarier than normal. “Celeste,” I said warily, “this is Nastasja.”
“Are you planning on getting dressed any time soon?” Nastasja asked.
Celeste stretched languidly. “Actually, I was hoping you would get the hint and leave since… Rhys… and I were in the middle of something.”
“I’m not leaving, you are.”
I looked from one female to the other, knowing Nastasja was outmatched by Celeste—as were most beings on the planet—but it was proven when Celeste just made eye contact with her, said the word ‘leave’, and Nastasja left.
Celeste closed the door behind her and leaned against it, sliding the lock into place. “Now, where were we?”
I stared at her for a few moments, trying in vain to figure out what was going on in her head. “What was that?” I finally asked.
She smiled. “That’s what I was going to ask you. What was that? She’s a shape shifter, but she’s no cat… or a wolf, or any other form of predator. Is she a horse or something?”
I have no idea how she guessed it.
“She is a horse!” She folded her arms across her chest. “You do know your kind eats her kind, right? And I don’t mean in a good way.”
I looked at her for a moment, confused. There was no anger or jealousy in her voice, just idle curiosity. Usually Celeste is more emotional than this—cold and calculating aren’t adjectives to describe her, at least when the situation involves me. The warning bells started tolling again.
There seemed to be only one way to handle this: telling her the truth. Nastasja’s family was powerful among the were society, even thought their animal was… well… prey. My family was trying to legitimize themselves in this country by marrying me off to her. It would give them a foothold in the Americas, without giving up anything they considered important. No, I am not held in high regard by my family, in case you haven’t realized it by now.
Celeste had listened to my explanation in silence, standing by the door, still naked, reminding me of the Amazon warriors that you see in comic books and B-movies. If it hadn’t been for the guarded expression on her face, we would have been back on the couch.
She stared at me for a few moments more before commenting. “So, you don’t love her?”
“Tell me you’ve never heard of an arranged marriage?”
“Having lived at court for years, I’ve seen my share.”
“So you know the answer already.”
She nodded, an odd expression crossing her face. “Good to know…” She then walked over to me and ripped my shirt off. “Now where were we…?”
By the time we left my office, my club was packed, and by the scent of them, many were unfamiliar beings. Celeste stood in front of me, looking down at the crowd. “Is this place always this busy on a Tuesday?” she asked.
“It’s busy, but never this busy.”
She turned and gave me a slight smile. “Well then. It’s a good thing I’m here.”
She looked down again and made eye contact with a large man in a muscle shirt. He signaled to another man, who nodded to another. Throughout the crowd the signal went up, and then the first guy nodded back at us.
“Are you ready to greet your guests?” she asked me.
I held out my arm to her, but she shook her head.
“I am your bodyguard, Milord, not your date.” She looked through her hair at me. “Besides, what would your horse lady think?”
Again, there was no jealousy in her voice. “I ask that you not call her that, Celeste.”
“I didn’t mean it as an insult,” she replied, starting down the stairs, “By the way, you may want to let your betrothed know of the danger and have her escorted home.”
I followed behind her, interested in her logic, as well as the view. “And she would be in danger because…?”
“Because even though there’s no emotional attachment for you, she is still politically important. An easy pawn for Ali to use against you.”
I stared at her back in amazement, and she paused, sensing that I had stopped moving.
“Is something wrong… Rhys?”
“No,” I answered, turning away from her, “I’m just trying to find Nastasja in the crowd.”
“My people will handle that,” she said, stopping at the bottom of the stairs. I noticed that the men she had nodded to had cleared a path to a baroque throne that hadn’t been part of my décor before.
I stood next to her on the bottom step and turned to her. I noticed that her lids were half closed—she was communicating with someone telepathically. “Won’t me sitting on that chair be akin to wearing a target on my chest?”
She smiled slightly. “You just being you is like having a target on your chest.” She turned to me, eyes fully opened. “Can you name any other half fae, half werecat in this country? No, my love, your best bet is to be where I can see you at all times.”
I tilted my head slightly; she was speaking in that playful tone again. “And where, exactly, do you plan to be?”
She gave me a wicked look, but didn’t respond. Instead, she grabbed me by the elbow and led me to the chair. It wasn’t until after I was seated that I realized that no one had seen us as we crossed the room. I was getting sloppy. I had thought the tingle I had felt at her touch had been sentimental, but it had been her power. I kept forgetting how powerful she was… and how dangerous.
Once I was seated, Celeste slid down the chair and sat at my feet, her head in my lap, her arms draped across my legs.
“Is this how you’re going to protect me?” I asked.
“I’m not the only one here, love,” she replied lazily, “I’m to protect you from personal attacks. Others will do the rest.”
I looked down at her, and felt a stirring in my loins at the seductive way she was sprawled. I had to swallow a couple of times before asking, “Do you trust them?”
“As much as a goddess can trust her devotees.”
She wasn’t speaking in comparisons. She had survived all of these centuries by convincing others she was a deity, and the more powerful she became, the easier it was to convince others that she was immortal.
I played with a lock of her hair. “And they are protecting me because…?”
“Because I desire it.”
“Can you tell me why I have to leave here?” asked my betrothed, suddenly standing in front of me with two men behind her.
Celeste lifted her head slightly. “Because, Nasty…”
“Because your man’s life is in danger, and I don’t have enough resources to protect both him and you.”
Her eyes narrowed, and I began to wonder how much her family would mind me having a mistress.
“I don’t need you to protect me.”
Celeste shrugged and put her head back in my lap, deliberately closer to my crotch, I noticed. “Okay,” she finally replied, waving the men away, “No one can say I didn’t try.”
Nastasja didn’t move, her small eyes throwing daggers at the vampyress. “Can you please take your hands off of him?”
Celeste slowly shook her head, purposefully rubbing her head against my growing erection. “Sorry Nasty…”
“Whatever,” Celeste drawled, lifting her head, her hair covering the growing bulge between my legs. “Look, I need to touch him so my power flows over him, keeping him safe.”
“So, why can’t you do the same for me?”
She put her head back down and sighed. “Because, Nasty, I just don’t give a damn about you.”
My betrothed snarled and stormed away.
I watched Nastasja leave and, surprisingly, I didn’t feel any remorse at her departure. I was slightly worried that she was going to complain to her father about me, but if I lived through this evening, I would worry about that later.
Celeste stood and put a hand on my shoulder. “So, did I get you into a lot of trouble there?”
“I’m sure that I’ll hear about it.”
“Ah, the joys of pre-marital bliss,” she replied with a smile, “one of the many reasons why I always seem to find myself widowed very shortly after the marriage vows…” Her grip suddenly became painful, but her smile stayed fixed. “Ali just came in the building.”
I slowly surveyed the room, my face neutral. “Are you sure?”
She didn’t respond, but she had someone announce that I was eager to meet my patrons. A line quickly started to form like I was a shopping mall Santa Claus… I noticed that Celeste’s people were herding the stragglers into the line as well.
With each one I met, Celeste ‘read’ them, her face never changing expression or showing any interest in the proceedings. I noticed that a couple of people, after speaking with me, were escorted out of the building. I decided it was best not to ask any questions.
What surprised me most was when Ali stepped forward. He was cordial, greeted me by my modern name, and spoke of times past and things to come. What struck me as odd was that Ali never acknowledged Celeste, nor she him. When he bowed and walked away, I looked up at my bodyguard and noticed bloody droplets of sweat shining on her skin, although her face remained passive.
“He had many shields up,” she replied, not looking at me, “I couldn’t read him. But he is planning on killing you.”
“How do you…”
Celeste pushed me to the floor and in a blur of speed, caught the four knives that had been flying towards my chest. She then stood statue-like in front of me, the club buzzing around us as if nothing had happened.
“Okay,” she said quietly, “It’s safe, for now.”
“That’s it,” I growled, my power flowing over me, “I’m going to kill him.”
She shivered slightly, but didn’t move. “Someone has done their homework,” she murmured, then turned to me, “Oh, you’re not turning all monstrous and hirsute are you?”
I felt the subtle shifting of my body as I tried to rein myself in. “Why not?”
“Because you are the respectable businessman here,” she smiled wickedly, “I’m the monster.” She then held out the knives to me. “You smell that?”
I had smelled it when the knives first appeared. Two of them were cold iron—deadly to any fae, myself included. And, just in case those failed, the other two were pure silver—the bane of the were. Someone had meant business.
Unfortunately, they meant business in the wrong club. The problem with clubs like mine is that the clientele is young, in many ways. So, instead of wolves and cats, fae and vampyres, you’re dealing with puppies and kittens, faelings and baby vamps, all trying to curry favor, and none having any experience with the subtleties of civilized assassination. It’s like playing chess, and the game doesn’t go so well when the pawns keep telling the black king what the white king is up to, and that’s essentially what happened that evening. The young ones, trying to curry favor with the mighty fairy werecat, relayed any information they thought that I would deem important, whether it was Ali’s plans to murder me, or how many onions the bartender put in a gimlet. After a few hours, it got extremely tedious.
“Can’t we just call him out and get it over with?” I asked.
Celeste’s lip twitched slightly. “Sure, why not?”
It didn’t turn out the way I had pictured it. Although I did get to bare my fangs once or twice, and my claws ripped through some well-deserved flesh, Ali’s death was not worthy of a man such as he. As young as my patrons were, you put enough vamps, weres, and fae together, and you’ve got a formidable killing machine.
The vampyre that used to be Ali was reduced to gobs of flesh sliding down the walls in a trail of thickness, innards spraying blood and worse like a sprinkler and grey matter with pieces of skull splattering across the bar and splashing into drinks. The last time I actually saw him, he was a faceless husk, the remains of his eyes oozing down his cheeks in milky rivulets, before he disintegrated into a pile of dust.
I stared forlornly at what was once my friend and sighed. How in the world did things get this far? I turned to my lady, my emotions all in an uproar. “Celeste, I…”
“Rhys! What the hell…”
It happened so quickly. Before I could stop her, Celeste threw a knife into Nastasja’s chest and, from the blood that poured out of her mouth, I knew it had to be one of the silver ones. My betrothed fell to her knees, her hands on the knife handle and her eyes full of hatred. Then, with a wet gurgle, she fell to the ground and moved no more.
Not that I had any love for Nastasja, but she had represented my way out. Once married to her, I had planned to have one of her kin take over my bodyguard responsibilities so I could begin producing heirs. Then, when my children got old enough, they would take over my burden, and I would finally be free! Free from the stress and danger. Free from the insanity. Free from… her.
“Oops,” she purred.
“Oops?” I seethed, “Oops! Do you know what you have done?”
“I’m sorry,” she replied with no sorrow in her voice, “but hey! At least now you’re free!”
Irony is an amazing thing. “Free? No, I am not free. I’m forever stuck with you!”
Yep, I had done it. I had stepped over the line between what you can and can’t say to Celeste. I felt the stillness fall over us like a velvet curtain as my words hung in the air, and I waited for her to explode. Instead, her face became passive.
“No,” she whispered, her body turning transparent, “You’re not.”
“Celeste,” I growled, grabbing for her arm. But my hand went right through her, and she disappeared, her wicked smile staying a moment longer than the rest of her.
I was back to square one: Celeste was missing, and if she gets harmed in any way, my ass was in the fire. And so I began tracking her down… again.
While my business fell by the wayside in Boston, Celeste’s wealth and popularity grew in Albany, the Meadowlands, Columbus, Stony Brook, and Seattle.
While my betrothed’s body rotted in a grave, Celeste shared her bed with humans, vampyres, fae, weres, and a specter or two.
While I lurked in shadows and hid in alleys, Celeste went to lavish parties and slept on satin sheets.
And when I tried to approach her, Celeste brushed me aside like I was so much flotsam.
…She twists my heart.
…She torments me.
I hate her.
The Lady Celeste is the most beautiful, the most exciting, and the most evil person that I know. I love her more than I have ever loved anyone, ever.
It’s a shame that I have to kill her.