Leyla was sat by her vanity, staring at her own image for a while now. She was deep in her thoughts, the events of that day and what was expecting then as the evening proceeded, made her extremely nervous. Her day started with her newly discovered sentiment when she opened her eyes, something that she had been experiencing for a few days now. It was a confusion that stayed with her for a short time while she remembered her delicious dream from last night. Then at the breakfast table, she was given Henry's letter. Never before had she received a letter from a gentleman, thus under curious and watchful eyes of her mother and sister, she opened the envelope carefully, all the while trying to calm her fast beating heart.
His hand writing was neat and yet strong. Henry had started by addressing her "Dear Miss Wilmer" and continued by wishing a merry Christmas to Leyla and her noble family and expressing his gratification from her companionship in Alwin's Party. Leyla felt uneasy as she reached this point in the letter. She slowly brought up her eyes and froze by her mother's questioning gaze. She had not told the Duchess about Henry, and frankly she never thought there was anything to say, but it seemed like things were turning more serious than she initially had anticipated.
She returned her eyes to the paper. Henry had mentioned the church as well, indicating his intention to enjoy her company even more when she abruptly disappeared. A wave of hotness was released inside Leyla's body as she remembered the graveyard and the mysterious man who had caused her to forget about Henry twice so far. The letter came to end with Henry's wish to see her very soon, something that engaged Leyla's mind, was that what he really wanted, or some pleasantries that gentleman would put at the end of their letters?
It did not take long however, for Duchess to demand to know the identity of writer, hence Leyla explained briefly about Henry and they encounter at the party. The duchess listened with a surprising interest and then said:
"Why do not you invite General for dinner tonight? I would certainly like to get to know him before our party, which I assume you have invited him to?"
Leyla shook her head and without looking at her mother's eyes, answered:
"No, unfortunately I did not. I was not aware that.."
The Duchess got up from her seat and cut her impatiently.
"Write to him, then. Ask him to join us for this evening, the Duke is feeling better today and I shall make sure he is attending the dinner. It is great that you are rightfully catching some attentions my dear, I know that your sister seems like a social butterfly because of her distinguished beauty, but that does not mean you are not just as eligible to have suitable men to choose from."
Leyla reddened from her mother's remark. She was well aware that her sister was more attractive than her, but never before her own mother had expressed this point . She felt anger rising up from her inside and looked at Annie, but she seemed oblivious about all the conversation. She had seemed strangely quiet this morning, sitting on her seat in her dress and scarf which seemed slightly out of place for a breakfast at home and playing with her food. Still, Leyla could not take the atmosphere of the room, so she left to return to her room to do what her mother had asked.
She wrote a simple letter and gave it to her maid and decided to stay in her room for the rest of the morning. It was nearly noon when her maid came back with another note from Henry, confirming his attendance for the dinner. As the servant left, she sighed and turned to her bed and moved her pillow to take out what was underneath. The silky white handkerchief was painted with her blood from that night in cemetery, but even now after two days, she could still smell a sedative aroma from it. A scent that had been her companion for the last two nights.
A knock on the door startled her. She quickly put back the hand kerchief and stood.
"Leyla, are you not coming to see father?"
It was Annie, everyday, depending on their father health, they would visit him in his room. Leyla loved his father dearly, although she had never been allowed to express her feeling as she liked to. The old man was kind hearted and compassionate towards his daughters and unlike his wife, he had never shown the slightest disappointment in his children's gender. It was unavoidable that in the occasion of his death, most of his grand estate along with his title would go to his nephew, but that did not mean he would not leave his daughters with a generous dowry and his wife with a substantial allowance to live on. At least, that was what the Duchess had made sure of, that they would never face any difficulty financially once her husband was gone, something that doctors had predicted to be soon.
Leyla hurried out to join her sister. Again, Annie's eccentric behaviour seemed odd but she did not say anything. As they stepped inside the master bedroom, she saw the Duke sitting in his bed. His meagre body seemed even more feeble under the layers of bed sheets and blanket and although he looked slightly better, his rosy cheeks indicated a fever that was burning him inside. He smiled to his daughters who politely rushed to kiss their father's hand.
They usually would seat by their father and read to him or just exchange small talks, but today was different. Leyla could tell by the look on Duchess face who was standing right beside the bed. The old man coughed and asked his daughters to approach. They complied.
"My dears, there is an important issue that I need to discuss with you both. You are old enough to know that you are soon to be married and do your duties as the lady of a manor somewhere. I have been told about various suitors that Annie has had and soon, Leyla would also entice eligible bachelors to our house. I do not have much time and I need to see you settled and happy before I am gone."
Annie opened her mouth to protest but was silenced by Duchess sharp look.
"I talked to the Duchess and I think it is best if both of you are betrothed by the end of season. we are having two visitors tonight and even though I have not met them they could be suitable candidates for both of you."
"Two guest?" Leyla said before she could stop herself. Duchess gave her a charging look:
"I have invited a man, a royalty from East whose servant had helped Mrs Thomas today. His name is prince Sami, and according to his servant, he is here to visit a business associate as well as enjoying our festive season. Annie said you have already met him in the church the other day, did not you?"
Leyla shook visibly. She was too numb by the new information to respond.
"General Balman also is joining us, so it is going to be a perfect evening. We shall study both young men and see if they are appropriate for you. I expect both of you to be dressed properly and .."
Her words were lost in Duke's violent cough attack. The duchess rushed to her husband side and tried to help him with a bottle of syrup. The girls were lucky that their mother did not look at their direction, otherwise what she saw would make her very curious, as one girl looked extremely pale and the other had turned a sharp shade of red, both imagining the evening ahead with the man who had occupied their soul.
Leyla was being watched by two pairs of eyes, both filled with different emotions. The guests had arrived one by one, first Henry had shown, handsome in his army suit like the other night, and straight away rushed to Leyla's side who had been waiting to welcome him, as her mother's request, and gave her an enchanting bouquet of Hellebores and Irises. Leila's heart flattered at the sight of the beautiful flowers, and his seductive smile took her breath away. He gently took her hand and planted a light kiss on it.
"My Dear Miss Wilmer, Thank you for inviting me this evening. It is such a pleasure to see you again."
Leyla smiled and for a moment forgot all about the second guest that had made her feel nervous all the afternoon. She showed Henry to the dining room, where he was greeted by Duchess and before she offered a glass of wine to her guest, the second visitor arrived. Leyla's heart twitched at the sight of her gorgeous sister, rushing to welcome their guest. It was an unspoken agreement, Henry was coming for her and the prince would be served by Annie, but the thorn of jealousy had injured her heart. Annie looked like an angel in her light blue dress that matched her eyes brilliantly, her flattering curls were fallen on her shoulders and a blue silky scarf made her delightful neck look even more subtle. However, despite her look and usual confidence she showed on her encounters with men, her eyes looked nervous, or even terrified this time.
The prince entered and was greeted warmly by Annie, although his eyes never landed on the beautiful girl who was politely welcoming him. His bright eyes searched the room and fell on Leyla, who was handing Henry his first glass of wine and then, they darkened. He was obviously livid.
It takes more than a man to control animal's instinct. wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony, seven deadly sins, are all elements that shape human's nature and for someone to stand between these mortals, a man needs to control his urges, to know how to mask his feelings in order to get what he wants. Alas, that is another skill these people lack.
Standing here in this room, all I am feeling is an explosion of anger towards the feeble existence who has dared to approach my mate. In my mind and in less than a second, I break his weak neck and throw his worthless body in fire, but then I am able to smile graciously and wait to be formally introduced to him and the respectable lady in the room, whom I assume is Leila's mother.
Annie guides me to where her mother is standing. She is not that hard to read: middle aged, strong character, highly religious and very firm with her daughters. I can tell that she had once been a beauty in her old days but the time has rubbed her look away, thus flattery is the best weapon. I take her hand and bow slightly to kiss it.
"Duchess, Thank you for having me this evening. It is a great honour to meet such a noble family here in England."
I give her a charming smile.
"It is our pleasure Sir to have a royalty from an Eastern country, here in our castle. How are you finding England?"
I exchange small talks with her while all my senses have been drawn to Leyla and the man who is trying to seduce her.
"Dinner shall be ready soon and the Duke will join us. As you see, general Balman has also honoured us by accepting our invitation."
A military man, I smile politely at him and he nods in response and goes back to his conversation with Leyla. The Duchess has left to bring the Duke down I assume, and it is Annie's turn to chirp as a happy bird and insists to show me the library, but I refuse. As tempting as it is to be somewhere alone with this alluring creature and teach her another lesson, I need to concentrate on my task. The naughty girl does not seem to learn even though her shameful mark has needed to be covered by a scarf.
We are called to dinner and I find my seat next to Annie and a chair that is going to be taken by Duke. Leyla is sitting in front of me beside the army man and I opportunely get to look intensely into those bewitching hazel eyes which she had been withholding from me. As I am taking my seat, the Duke enters the room and shakily makes his way to his seat. He greets us generously and as I shake his hand, I see the shadow of death all over him. Poor fellow does not have long to live.
The dinner is spent mostly in silence. The Duke has asked me some questions about my country "Persia", and I responded knowledgably. After ten years of living in that land, I know their customs and history by heart. Annie tries to engage me in conversation but I coldly reply, signalling her to back off. I thought she would remember my message from last night, but I was wrong.
Leyla is visibly silent, she does not talk to Henry who is being conversed to mostly by Duchess,and steals her gaze from me and I know why. She is scared of looking into my eyes in fear of the vision she might get, a sinful image that could reveal her desires to everyone. The duchess's eyes carefully watch over all of us, observing every little detail of men she has obviously nominated for her two daughters in her mind. She has no idea that the only intention I have towards dazzling Annie is to wither her succulent existence.
The meal is over and the Duke politely excuses himself to return to his bedroom. With his health, I am surprised he had managed to come down even for this short time. As we retire into the library for drinks, the duchess leaves to help her husband settle. The girls sit and make themselves occupied with a book and sewing kit, leaving me alone with my mortal rival.
"I have always loved to see your country. I have served in India before and feel deeply fascinated by Eastern culture. Is it true that you believe in bigamy?" he asks slightly louder that necessary. I know that the girl's attention is fully on us.
It only takes a moment for me to search his dark eyes and mind. I beam as I see his wickedness.
"We believe in soulmates general, but not the western definition of it. It is true that there is only one complete woman in the world for each man, but not everyone is lucky enough to find her. That is why, our men seek a custom to marry different women in order to gain evolution."
"Then are you going to do the same? To seek completion by committing polygamy?" said leyla in a somewhat trembling voice.
I turned and for the first time that evening I am drawn in her deep hazel eyes.
"No, my lady, luckily I am one of the exceptions who has found his soul mate." She is shocked by my answer. Everyone is. For a few moments she stares back into my eyes and slowly a delightful pink colour spread on her cheeks. The sewing needle she is holding is tightly squeezed between her fingers and as she tries to flee my piercing eyes, her skin breaks. I get tranced on the smell of her blood.
I feel Annie and Henry's eyes staring at us in different emotions, curiosity, jealousy and rage. Annie browbeat bitterly at her
"Careful, you are bleeding. It is gonna smear your embroidery work."
Leyla gets up and apologises under her breath, rushing outside to take care of her small wound. There is an awkward silence before I decide not to wait any longer. Without saying anything, I follow her out.
She is on her way to run upstairs when I take her hand. She seems startled at first but then slowly tries to take away her hand, her warm skin is giving me a burning sensation. I do not let go, and instead look directly into her eyes.I need to feed off her innocence once more.
It is her who tries to break the bond this time.
"I have brought something for you." I offer her the enchanting flower.
She looks at me in confusion, not knowing where I got the flower from.
"Will you accept this rose from me Leyla?"
Her eyes turn to the flower and she is surprised by its appearance.
"This rose... It is black... But how?"
I smile and say nothing.
"Is it the kind of rose you have in your country?"
She asks as she touches the velvety petals, but the flower is still in my hand. I continue my silence and she takes it as a positive reply, so she finally take the rose.
"But why me? Did not you bring this for my sister?"
Before I respond, I see Annie's angry shadow approaching.
"I brought this only for you, that is why I came here tonight." I respectfully bow and take her wounded hand to kiss, and before she knows it, turn her palm and kiss the injured finger. She does not know, but I taste the tranquilising liquid on my tongue.
"Leyla, general is waiting for you."
Annie is standing there with wickedness in her eyes, as she waits for her sister to apologise and return to the library. I stand there and watch my beloved disappear in another room and then turn to the beautiful but vengeful girl.
"I had a pleasant evening miss Wilmer, but I am afraid it ends here for me. Please apologise to Duchess from me. I shall see you soon in New Year Eve's party."
I feel her wrath and it actually amuses me. She tries to say something, to protest, but she does not know what to say. Finally she opens her lips.
"It must be an Eastern custom for men to settle for anything other than the best and most beautiful."
I grin in her response, as I pass her to get my hat and stick from the coatroom.
"It is our custom to realise something's price by elements other than its physical features, although beauty still plays a very important part."
I see her beautiful jaw bones, getting more firm than usual. Wow, she really is angry. I turn back before the butler opens the door and give her one last grin.
"By the way, is it a western custom for women, not to listen to what they are warned about in their nightly wicked dreams?"
I feel her shock before stepping out.
I welcome the cold breeze on my skin and a deep happiness embraces me. Emil is waiting for me and as I make my way to the coach, I think of the first black rose that I gave to my bride. We are not going to be apart for long, there is just one more thing I need to do to guarantee my success. I sign Emil and he stops the horses just outside the Castle grounds. I get off, leaving my stick, precious hat and coat in the carriage and tell him to go back to cottage. I shall wait here for my rival to come out, we have a little business to settle. Suddenly I feel extremely hungry.
Hooray, one rose down, two to go