Truth Or Dare

Truth Or Dare

Chapter 8

He hadn't been looking anywhere in particular, just casting random glances at the faces in the crowd; but suddenly he realized that he'd been staring at the same face for almost five minutes.

And the face was staring back.

He touched his hat to the young girl—for that was who the face belonged to—and bowed. "Good evening, Mademoiselle," he said, brushing cold lips against the hand she offered.

"Monsieur," she replied with a nod in an almost haughty tone.

Though she could not have been more than sixteen or seventeen, and was probably younger, she was strikingly beautiful. Features that would have been delicate on any other girl were strong with character in this one. Her long curly hair was blacker than ebony wood and fine dark eyebrows curved over surprisingly pale blue eyes, eyes that revealed a watchful and calculating intellect. She was no airhead, not this one. She wore a low-cut dress, which she filled admirably, made of black velvet and trimmed with white lace. A large ruby sparkled at her throat, and the ring that glittered on her left hand indicated that she was betrothed. Pity; no man in this town could possibly give her the kind of lifestyle she was suited for.

"Ricard!" cried a jovial voice, and the man turned to see Jules Saint-Claire approaching him. "Fabulous party, isn't it?" Mr. Saint-Claire asked, grinning widely. "I think I've outdone myself." He chuckled and took another swig from the glass of wine in his hand.

Suddenly he seemed to see the girl for the first time. "Oh, Khalika! How long have you been there? You must forgive my manners—Ricard, this is my daughter, Khalika Saint-Claire."

Ricard bowed again and said to the girl, "My name is Ricard de Poligny, Mademoiselle. I am the duke of Guerny."

"Where is that?" she asked flatly, looking thoroughly unimpressed. Ricard had to work to suppress a smile and pretend to look mildly offended. There'll be no fooling this one, he thought. She's not like the others in this town. I wonder who her mother was? Certainly not Jules' wife; the two couldn't be less alike. And I see nothing of her father in her. Fascinating…

Shane blinked. The flashback had taken only an instant, but it was long enough for Khalika and her friends to vanish. Oh, the memories her face could evoke! He was startled to find himself breathing faster, his pulse higher. Even after three hundred years, she was still able to charm him. Unusual, though by no means unheard of. There had been a precious few in the past who had been able to keep their places in his heart—unfortunately, all but Khalika were dead now. He wondered where she lived, how long she'd been in New York City; he imagined the reaction he'd get if he showed up on her doorstep.

He chuckled softly as he pictured that scene, knowing he'd likely get himself shot. Not that that would do any permanent damage, certainly, but they had not parted on the best of terms. Lost in a whirlwind of memories, Shane continued back to his apartment.

* * * * * * * *

Takéda was irritated. She had been able to find no trace of "Harold," though she'd questioned everyone at the hotel—and in the process discovered that she could suddenly sense if someone was lying. However, knowing where he wasn't did not help her figure out where he was. She'd ended the night by procuring herself a small apartment; nothing fancy, but not in the bad part of town either.

She had also made an urgent order for a coffin, putting her formidable acting skills to work to convince the vendor that, "Dearest Aunt Mary only just passed away, and she was such a kind, God-fearing woman. I simply know she'll never rest properly until she's given a good burial!"

Now, alone in her empty living room, Takéda grinned mischievously as she recalled that scene. The poor man had been so eager to help her… Too bad the boy who'd delivered the thing had had to die. But it was all part of her plan.

Takéda had barely even dented the sum in her bank account with the purchase of the apartment, but she did not have any money to spare, and she knew it. So she'd devised a way to get her coffin without paying a dime.

She had not paid the vendor; the logo of his business was, "Payment on satisfaction!" which basically meant 'payment on delivery.' He would wait for a week, maybe a bit more, but when he did not receive her payment he would call and ask where it was. Takéda would tell him that she'd given it to the delivery boy. When he went to question the boy, he would discover that the boy had been missing. He would then go to the police, who would report to him that yes, a Jack Norse had been found—but found dead. They would discover him on the other side of town—nothing to connect Takéda with the crime—and then the vendor would call her back to apologize for ever doubting her about the payment. It was obvious, the man would say, that Norse had tried to run off with the money and was killed when someone else tried to relieve him of it.

Still, it was really too bad the kid had to die. Takéda had become used to the idea of killing for a living much too easily as far as she was concerned; but she didn't stop to wonder why that was, because she had the distinct feeling that if she thought about what she'd done, it was likely to drive her insane.

* * * * * * * *

Michael woke in a much better mood than he'd gone to sleep in.

He lay in his coffin for a few moments, debating whether or not he really wanted to move, but he knew he owed Jonathan an apology so he shoved aside his coffin lid and sat up.

Jonathan and Khalika must have gone to bed only a few seconds before dawn; Michael hadn't heard his brother come in. But when he raised the lid of the younger boy's coffin, his jaw dropped in shock. It was empty! Now, with anyone else Michael would have assumed that they had simply risen before he himself did—but this was Jonathan. Jonathan didn't get up before anybody.

"Hey, Raoul, got any idea where Jonathan is?" he asked when he found Raoul in the living room. An odd expression passed fleetingly over Raoul's face, and Michael got the distinct impression the silver-haired boy was laughing at him.

"Why don't you go ask Katie?" Raoul told him, trying to look innocent. He watched, careful to make sure he didn't burst out laughing, as Michael cast him a questioning look and then knocked politely on the girls' door.

Katie opened it almost immediately, slipped out, and shut it behind her. When Michael asked about Jonathan, a look similar to Raoul's, but touched with sadness, flitted across her features, and she said, "You'll find out in a sec." With that, ignoring the startled looks Raoul and Michael gave her, she grabbed her coat and vanished out the front door.

"What's with her?" Michael asked, and Raoul shook his head.

However, they were abruptly distracted when the bedroom door opened again and both Jonathan and Khalika appeared in the doorway. The only sound in the room was Raoul's furtive snickering as Michael stared at the pair, mouth agape—Jonathan wore nothing but boxers and Khalika was holding a bedsheet around herself.

"What?" she asked in her most deceitful what's-with-the-looks-I'm-completely-innocent voice (which, of course, didn't fool any of them for a second). "You really ought to know by now," she went on, speaking to Michael, "that I never back down from a dare."

With that she smiled sweetly and disappeared back into her room.

Jonathan avoided the other boys' eyes as he headed for his own bedroom; he re-emerged ten minutes later, fully dressed. He simply shrugged when Michael asked him what had happened; "You dared us," was all he would say about it.

"So what, are you two, like, a couple now?" Raoul asked him incredulously.

Jonathan blushed. "Yeah."

Raoul shook his head, wide-eyed, and Michael had a feeling he was remembering his own affair with Khalika, over a hundred years ago now. Michael had only ever heard him talk about it once—from what he could gather, their personalities had not meshed well. But, it had been the beginning of the gang. He and Raoul watched in amazement as Jonathan muttered something inaudible and walked out the door.