The sun was shining bright outside, but Sangue’s parlor was shut off from it. Priceless antiques that would fade in the sunlight were stored in here. There was the vase that had once belonged to Louis the XVI. It was rare in that it had escaped the revolution unscathed. Sangue was particularly proud of it, but even it wasn’t the ultimate piece in his collection.
Esmerelda Alvarez was coming to tea. Sangue asked his cook to prepare something particularly tasty for the occasion. He was hoping to show off his collection. This was one of the rare occasions that he entertained during the day. Mostly, he threw extravagant balls. This room was always locked tight away from prying eyes and clumsy hands during those events. Sangue didn’t trust many people, especially not around his collection. Señora Alvarez was different. From the moment they’d first met, he’d been drawn to the stately widow.
He walked around the room one last time, making sure everything was just right. The candlelight was soft and gave his collection an eerie glow. Sangue didn’t mind the antiques coming into contact with moonlight, so he opened the drapes sometimes and admired them in the light of the full moon. He’d be sure to show Señora Alvarez that sometime. That time would come. Outwardly, Sangue was calm and collected, his exterior showed nothing of the turmoil within. Everything had to be perfect. His eyes surveyed the room and rested on the pinnacle of his collection, those boots. For the use they’d seen before being shelved, they were in surprisingly good condition. The craftmanship was exquisite. He hoped Sra. Alvarez would like them. The cutlass above them had been polished recently, so it glinted in the candlelight. Sangue thought for a moment about how the cutlass had been used once upon a time. He smiled. Sra. Alvarez might like to hear those stories as he showed off his collection.
Vincent knocked lightly at the door. “Come in.”
“Sig. Gustare, Sra. Alvarez is here. Should I show her in?”
“Yes, Vincent. Please do.”
Sangue took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Sra. Alvarez was just as enchanting now as she had been dancing. Her dark curls cascaded down her shoulders, past her bare neck and almost reaching the part of her bosom which her garments took care to display just enough of. He took her hand and noticed her pulse quicken as he did so. He smiled and gave the hand a gentle kiss. “Welcome to my parlor Sra. Alvarez.”
“Please. Call me Essie.” When Sangue lowered his eyes, Essie threw back her head and laughed. “No need to be embarrassed. What should I call you?”
“My given name is Sangue.”
“Don’t you have a nickname?”
“I’m afraid not.” Sangue’s posture was perfect, apart from that glance downward his demeanor did not betray anything. Essie was having a really difficult time reading him. She thought he had feelings for her. I mean, he invited her to his parlor. This was the one place everyone knew was off limits to the general public. She glanced about the room. It was oddly decorated. Certain items seemed to have significance, a vase here, a cutlass there, but it was the boots that really threw her. In a glass case, polished to perfection, was an exquisite pair of hand-crafted Italian leather boots. She couldn’t tell how old they were, they looked like new, but the style was something she’d only seen in paintings. She put it at the late 1600’s. She wondered if there were stories to go with each of these items. Perhaps the boots were an old family heirloom, maybe they all were. She resolved to get Sangue to talk about them.
“I see you’re admiring my collection.”
“Yes. It is quite… unique.”
Sangue nodded. Just then, Vincent entered with tea and two servings of blackberry cobbler. “But that can wait until after tea.”
“Cobbler? How did you know that was one of my favorite desserts?”
“Is it? I’m quite fond of cobbler as well. It is a special delicacy I don’t enjoy often enough.” Sangue’s eyes drifted to the boots. “Do you like the tea?”
“It is delicious.”
“Tea isn’t my favorite warm beverage. But it will suffice.” Sangue smiled. There was something about his smile. It wasn’t especially warm or friendly, but it was oddly calming. Essie felt at ease with him. The two chatted about mundane things until they’d finished tea. “Now then, shall I show you my collection?”
The moment Essie had been waiting for. She glanced from item to item, curiosity abounding. Sangue stopped in front of the vase. “As you may have heard, a lot of the valuables from the estate of Louis the XVI didn’t survive the revolution. That makes this vase one of the rarest collectibles in existence.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I have my channels. Sorry, I don’t want to divulge too much. Suffice it to say, I’ve had it for a while. Now this…” Sangue moved about the room talking about each of the items on display. Finally, he stopped in front of the boots. “I’m especially proud of these. They were handcrafted in 1698 for Bartholomew Roberts, also known as Black Bart. He was a pirate.” Sangue left out that the boots had never actually made it into Black Bart’s hands as the craftsman had mysteriously died the night after finishing them. They had been worn, just not by Black Bart. Sangue thought it was enough that the boots had been intended for a famous pirate in the first place. His mind drifted to the taste of cobbler. “And there you have it. What do you think?”
“I must say, it’s an impressive collection. What made you want to show it to me?”
“You’re special Señora… I mean Essie.” Sangue took her hand. He noticed her pulse quicken again. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but I’d love to have you for dinner sometime.”
Essie smiled. Sangue certainly was eccentric. “I’d love that too.” But Essie was hesitant to leave. “I could stay now, if that’s okay.”
Sangue ran his fingers up her arm and brushed the hair away from her neck. “I was hoping you’d say that.” Essie felt butterflies as he wrapped one arm around her waist, and she felt his breath hot on her neck. For someone who was as shy as he was typically, he certainly was being forward. Not that she minded. This was what she’d had in mind, she just didn’t expect it from him.
Afterward, Sangue looked at Essie’s limp form. How beautiful she was. He took her pearl necklace off and added it to his collection. The cobbler really had been delicious, but he might have a new favorite. He smiled. His one regret was that, thanks to Sra. Alvarez's impatience, he'd never gotten to show her the collectibles in the moonlight. Vincent collected Sra. Alvarez so Sangue could be alone. He always liked to rest after a good meal.