His eyes reflected his anticipation as he lingered from the shadows of the veranda, silently awaiting her arrival, their blueness deepening to midnight black.
Adrianna stepped onto the lengthy veranda. It was an unseasonably warm evening in Venice this February, and she hoped to catch the breeze coming off the water. Even though she had not yet danced, her face behind the mask she wore was finely misted with perspiration. She could feel small rivulets of the same running down between her breasts beneath the heavy eighteenth century costume that she’d also worn this evening to the long-awaited masquerade ball.
In honor of Carnival and Shrove or Fat Tuesday, her eccentric but very dear friend, Francesca, was hosting tonight’s masquerade ball. As a result of the annual celebration, Adrianna knew the party would continue well into the wee hours of the morning, leaving many a drunken and weary soul in its wake. At the moment, however, she was happy to content herself by escaping both the heat and the drunken revelry housed inside by enjoying the seclusion of the veranda along with the quiet, crisp coolness of the water’s breeze floating across its length.
Francesca had insisted upon arranging a blind date for Adrianna at tonight’s ball with someone whom she had not yet seen named Jean-Luc. In her eccentric and playful way, and since everyone would be wearing a mask, Francesca had insisted that Jean-Luc must seek Adrianna out amidst the crowd. Vases of vibrant, golden orchids filled the rooms of Francesca’s large home, and the tables of each room were laden with the same, large vases of orchids adorning their centers. Thus, once Jean-Luc found her, he would need to offer her a single orchid as a way to both reveal himself and to validate her identity. It was a playful ploy and offered Adrianna a bit of a choice in the matter – or the man - as she would not have to reveal her identity unless she chose to do so. She sighed in the breeze of the night. Chances were slim that Jean-Luc would find her as there were many people in attendance at the ball this evening. Her opportunities at love had been dismal of late, and one more such failed attempt would make little difference, she mused to herself.
Of a sudden, Adrianna shivered as the hairs on the nape of her neck rose, and she quickly realized she was no longer alone. Turning sharply and glancing about the semi-darkened veranda, she stifled a surprised gasp as a tall, lone figure emerged from the shadows.
“Excuse me. I did not mean to frighten you,” a deep voice issued forth across the night air. The stranger wore a mask, but Adrianna could see the semblance of a smile at play upon the firm lips beneath it; it was a smile of irony if she was not mistaken. How strange, she thought. What could this man - or this stranger - possibly find ironic at this moment?
“No, it is fine,” she said, her voice displaying a bit of nervousness despite her assurances to the contrary. “You just caught me off guard. I was enjoying the breeze off the water.” And also avoiding the crowd of drunken people inside, she mentally added.
The stranger casually drew nearer, choosing to stand only steps away along the wrought iron fencing that ran the length of the veranda. “Yes, me, as well. The air is much cooler out here, is it not?” he asked and watched her uneasy nod of agreement. He smiled before adding, “But alas, I must confess that I was also seeking to escape the many unfortunate, drunken souls inside.”
She nodded again, aware that this man’s presence seemed to permeate the entire length of the veranda. Moreover, had he just read her mind? It would be impossible for him to do that, would it not? A room of drunken souls was an easy observation to make on this night of celebratory endeavors during Carnival.
Taking a large sip from her glass of wine, Adrianna inadvertently took note of the fact that the stranger had also worn the requested costume attire of the eighteenth century to tonight’s masquerade ball. However, his had surely cost a small fortune it was so splendid and genuine. Nervously, she tugged at the skirt of her own dress, very self-conscious that what she wore was not nearly as authentic as the garments he wore.
“You look enchanting,” he said, as if sensing her unease. “It’s as though you stepped from the pages of an eighteenth century novel,” he commented, his voice deeply melodic and lyrical as he spoke.
She glanced up, quizzical surprise etching her brow. Surely, he must be teasing. Interestingly enough, that was twice now he had commented on that about which she had just been thinking. Perhaps he could read her mind after all - or was the wine she was drinking this evening wreaking havoc with her thought processes?
“You cannot be serious,” she said adamantly while giving him her best eye roll " Well, at least not while you look as though you’ve just stepped out of an Anne Rice novel.” Adrianna laughed and then quickly added, “That’s a very handsome costume you wear. You most certainly are the epitome of the eighteenth century French nobleman in it.”
Surprise lit the stranger's face even though the semblance of a smile tugged at his lips. “I assure you, I do not jest. You look divinely French in your attire this evening, I, on the other hand, am only wearing a piece of dusty fabric I pulled from an old box in my attic.”
Adrianna eyed him with curiosity before being distracted by a rowdy group of young people in the street in front of the home. When she turned back to him, however, she noticed that, even though it was minimal, he had drawn nearer in the darkness. She could now see intense blue eyes behind the mask along with strands of thick, dark hair that were tied neatly back from his face in a queue with a single black ribbon at the nape of his neck. He held a glass of what looked to be Merlot. So close, it was easy to see that he was undeniably handsome. She wondered briefly what he would look like without the mask. Thus far, he had been interesting enough, though somewhat mysterious, and she would very much like to see him without the guise of the mask.
“Are you originally from Venice?” he asked casually while taking another sip of the Merlot, its red seeming to momentarily stain his lips. His eyes were penetrating and observant, making her a bit anxious in their intensity.
“Yes, I’ve lived here all of my life. What about you?” she asked.
“I am originally from Paris.”
“Paris? But you have no accent,” Adrianna observed.
“I have lived abroad for many years,” he responded while peering into his drink. He shrugged. “As a result, I fear I have lost my accent.”
Adrianna eyed him with skepticism but decided he did very much embody a French nobleman despite having no accent, so in this, she would give him the benefit of the doubt.
“How long have you been in Venice?” she questioned.
“Long enough to lose my accent, chère” he said with a smile. “And what do you do when you’re not looking like you leapt from the pages of a French classic?”
Was it just her or was he evading her questions with more questions posed for her? This man was proving to be mysterious in many ways.
As if an afterthought or perhaps from yet reading her thoughts again, he added, “As for me, I deal in antiquities.”
Adrianna laughed lightly. “I write - or rather, I attempt to write.”
“I am sure that what you’d write would be well worth reading,” he replied, his tone sincere.
Adrianna scoffed at his words and was about to retort that she would not be so sure, but the look in his steady, blue gaze stopped her. He was completely serious. The intensity in his look left little doubt as to his belief that what he said was factual. Embarrassed for some unknown reason, she looked down to momentarily gather her thoughts. This stranger was making her more self-aware than any man had in a long while. Despite the heat of the night and for reasons unknown, she shivered.
Beneath the mask, he watched as the stain of a blush crept across her cheeks, and he felt the shiver that ran through her body as if it ran through his. She was lovely, thoroughly enchanting. Francesca could have paired him this evening with any of her silly, vapid female acquaintances, but she had obviously known that this one was quite special. Already Jean-Luc was anxious to learn much more about her. However, it had yet to be determined if she would be someone with whom he could share his darkest secrets - secrets derived from living many centuries as a vampire, created along the dark streets of Paris during the eighteenth century. He was certainly ready for a new beginning of sorts, and the woman who stood before him now was no mindless female, but an astute, intelligent, and attractive one beyond even her own awareness. She might very well be the new beginning he sought.
Despite the shiver that ran through her, Adrianna nervously fanned her face with the porcelain fan adorned with tiny painted violets that had accompanied her rental costume. She lifted the wine glass and nearly drained it of its contents as the man who had emerged from the shadows stood close and watched every move she made. She could feel the heat and warmth of the wine sensuously move through her to ease a bit of her apprehension as she felt as the stranger continue to peruse her much as he would a book. She knew she should be more alarmed, but strangely enough, she was not. Instead, she was intrigued and drawn to him much as a moth to a flame. Maybe the wine was adding to his allure as he was different from her usual type. Still she was interested in learning more about this man's differences, and she instinctively knew he had stories that would keep her interested for years.
“Are you all right? May I get you something? Perhaps another glass of wine?” he asked, smiling seductively while knowing exactly why she shivered so.
“No, I am fine, thank you,” she said. Was it her imagination or had he drawn even closer than only moments ago? His nearness was akin to some unfathomable attraction that beckoned her in the darkness.
“I just want to be sure you’re all right,” he said, lightly touching her forearm. His touch was eerily cool though the warm heat of the night was invasive. Adrianna's response was instantaneous, moving through her like quick-fire electricity. Without a doubt, she could tell that he felt it, too.
Suddenly, she realized that he had done it yet again. How utterly strange that it appeared he could actually read her thoughts. She drew back slightly. “Am I so very easy to read?” she asked quietly, eyeing him with skepticism and a playful, questioning smile.
He cocked his left brow. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said, feigning ignorance.
She reached up and touched his left temple very lightly, feeling the thickness of his hair beneath her slender fingers. His hair and skin, like his touch, were decidedly cool despite the heat of the night and the heavy costume he wore. How the bloody hell did he manage to appear so cool, calm, and collected while dressed as he was amidst all the revelry on an unusually warm night? Indeed, how did he manage to exude such confidence and appeal while he also seemed to read her thoughts?
If Jean-Luc could have shivered, he would have done so at her light touch. Instead, his eyes turned so deep a blue that they were nearly black. There was no denying the voracity created by this woman's thoughts and touch. She was undeniably easy to read despite his ability to easily ascertain thoughts. It was strange, but it was as though he had known her all the many years he had walked on this earth.
“You seem to be able to pull my thoughts from my head and into that handsome head of yours. How is that so? Are you real or some creature drawn from the depths of this night?” Adrianna questioned, her voice a light whisper in the darkness.
Jean-Luc watched her closely, keenly aware of her nearness and the irony in her choice of words. He was sorely tempted to make known to her what precise kind of creature of the night he was, mayhap tossing caution aside and by tasting of the sweet nectar of her rich blood. He was sure of its sweetness before even tasting of it.
Of a sudden, a voice from across the length of the veranda interrupted their thoughts.
“Oh, Adrianna, dear, there you are. I’ve been looking for you,” Francesca’s voice rippled forth from the doorway. “How wonderful! I see you have met Jean-Luc. You two look as lovely together as I always knew you would.” And with a look of smug satisfaction, Francesca turned on her heel and disappeared once again into the crowded ballroom.
Stunned, Adrianna turned to Jean-Luc, who simply stared back at her with, if possible, more confident interest in his darkened eyes than he had only moments ago.
“Jean-Luc?” she whispered, nearly afraid that he would reply in the negative. Could the world suddenly have aligned itself to come full circle, bringing this man to her? She didn't want to think too much on the matter at hand or to admit how much she wanted it to be him.
Jean-Luc watched Adrianna as he reached to his side to pluck a single golden orchid tinged with crimson red from a vase on a nearby table; he offered it to her with an intensity in his eyes to which she was already becoming accustomed. How appropriate and yet ironic that the beautiful yellow of the flower looked as though someone had splattered it with blood. Surely, this flower was a foreshadowing of their predestined meeting.
Jean-Luc's lips formed a smile at the surprise reflected in Adrianna’s green eyes as he handed her the lovely flower. “Yes, the night is young, my dear. Might I offer you a beautiful orchid?”