by Frances Tate
Richard tapped on the windowpane and waited.
It was earlier than his visit the previous evening when he’d made the acquaintance of the second most interesting creature in his long life and left her unconscious on her bedchamber floor.
He rolled his apology between his fingers and thumb. The single rose he’d scoured the private gardens of London for, thorns carefully snapped from their guard posts, pirouetted across his scrubbed skin.
This evening he had fed without drama and now presented himself, immaculate, for her approval.
He looked up to find Mercy appraising him. Eye to eye, or as close as her lesser height permitted across the level floor of the bedroom and balcony.
“May I enter, My Lady?” He offered the rose. One deep red flower in full bloom, the heady fragrance beating against his reason. One bud in waiting. “Your reputation will be assassinated if I am seen on your balcony, bearing flowers, no less.”
“And because of that notoriety, my reputation may well out-live me.” She made no move. Showed no decision.
He held his ground and his pose, awaiting her verdict. Unsure what he would do if it ruled against him.
“Very well,” she acquiesced, turning lightly on bare feet and displaying dark tresses that hung like crooked bunting in the general vicinity of her shoulders. Silver blades glinted in her hand.
“What have you done!” Swatting the muslin to one side, he bent beneath the raised window, and cleared the windowsill. Overtaking her in a burst of the vampire’s speed, he cut off her retreat; his animation disturbing her defiled hair further. As it settled, and she stilled, her progress blocked, he circled her. “Is this because of me?” His fingers closed around uneven lengths several feet shorter than his last sighting of her. The caress of her silken hair entwining around his naked body reduced to an unfulfillable fancy.
“Would no disappoint you?” She pulled away. Laid down the scissors and busied herself with a slender-necked vase and the water jug from the washstand.
“Yes,” he admitted, craving the relevance that such a confession bestowed.
“What do you want of me?” She filled the vase without hesitation or spillage. “One moment your behaviour supports my theory of dream companion… and then you become a nightmare, taking casual delight in terrifying me.”
“You find me terrifying?” He couldn’t help the mocking smile as her angry but fearless eyes glared into his.
“Found terrifying. Briefly. You abandoned a lady in a dead faint. Sprawled like a rug across the floorboards. But am I prostrate now?”
She had him there. On both counts.
Silent and repentant, he surrendered the rose to her reaching hand, his head bowed.
“So?” Expectant and demanding, Mercy let the rose stem fall through her fingers into the vase.
“My abject apologies-”
“I am not courting your sympathy.” Exasperation notched her volume upwards. She pulled in a breath and held it. “I require answers.”
“I am neither dream nor waking world,” he hedged, avoiding ‘nightmare’ at all costs.
“Which sounds like something tilting for my sanity would say.” She held his gaze.
There was too much weight. Too much emotion in her observation to ignore.
“I am real,” he assured her. “Just very much like yourself; rare and unusual.”
“’Rare’ is a heartbeat from extinct.”
“’Rare’ is wondrous and misunderstood.” He smiled. She didn’t return it. “What do you want most in this life?”
“I want to be free.”
“Free to do what?”
“Pursue whatever impulse presents itself.”
“Why did you cut your hair?”
“Because it is mine. Locked in here, there is little-”
“Locked?” The doorknob rotated aimlessly beneath his touch. He walked back across the room at human speed.
“I may have misrepresented the perceived status of my sanity. My mother tells me I am not imprisoned; I am protected. But I do not believe my cage understands the difference.”
Her confession hurt him. Its honesty railed against his memory of her from last night. The girl who’d faced a vampire with such natural ease.
“It seems that not all doctors agree. My imagination, my dreams have become a battleground for their theories, their fledgling disciplines, and their reputations. And now, with your appearance, a battleground for me too, it seems.”
“Allow me to show you something, please.” He sat down on the windowsill and patted the space next to him. “It’s probably better if you sit.”
“Than fall?” She approached him wearing a wry expression. “Again.”
“Why fall when you can jump?”
She stopped abruptly; her gaze drawn through the window glass behind him and the cobbled square below.
“Figuratively speaking.” He offered his hand. “In terms of physics, we shall not leave this spot.”
“And in other terms?” Her brow ruffled.
“Let me in.”
Her heartbeat altered pace. Fabric, muscles and skeleton tensed.
“Into your dreams, My Lady. Upon my honour I swear I will push no advantage.”
“This is a dre-”
“No. This, despite our presence, is the real world. Just a very small and dowdy part of it. Let me in, please. You demonstrated considerable defences last night. Conflict between us would be damaging; I have no wish to harm you. Allow me to show you the power of dreams.”
“I do not know how to keep you out or let you in.” Her heart thumping in agitation, she alighted on the windowsill, misgiving and curiosity warring across her features.
“Invite me.” Richard offered his hand. Mercy took it.
And instantly, everything changed.
What is this dream world that they retreat to and how is it different from the real world? Be sure to join us again for Chapter 4, coming September 9th, 2022.