Phoenix stood, looking down from the balcony to the street below. The party would start in a few hours; people coming from miles away, filling the streets with costumed revelers in their masks and cloaks. She smirked at the theme of this year's Carnival: Virgins and Vampires. Little did they know!
She turned and walked back into her studio, closing the stained glass doors behind her to shut out the noise. The heels of her boots clicked on the tile floors as she crossed the room to the large antique wardrobe. Opening the intricately carved doors she smiled as she pulled out the tabarro she would wear over her bautta. She held it up to her throat as she looked in the mirror. Her choice was a traditional look. The black cloak would give her an appearance of being larger and possibly manly. Once she had her bautta or hooded part of her costume on she would doff the plain white mask and three-cornered hat. Her dark hair would be hidden under her hood; she didn't want to stand out in the crowd, except to one person.
Jovanna bolted upright from her dream. She gasped for breath. Her hair was plastered against her skin with beads of sweat running from her forehead, and her heart felt as though it was trying to escape from her chest. She'd had the same dream for almost a week now. The only outstanding feature was that of two clear blues eyes. They seemed to bore into her very soul.
What did it mean? Who could it be? she thought as she looked around her darkened bedroom. No one was there. She picked up her watch from the nightstand and squinted at the glowing hands: 5:23 a. m. It felt as if she had just gone to bed. She flopped back on the pillows, her fingers entwining into her golden curls. She draped an arm over her forehead and stared at the ceiling.
"Oh, God..." she whispered into the empty room. "How can I have an orgasm in my dreams that is so powerful it wakes me? I must have a lot of sexual repression." She paused for a moment, still feeling the effects of her dream. Her mind wandered: I have to find out who this is I've been dreaming of, and meet them. If they can do this in a dream what would they be like in person?
Her fingers began to trace the path that she had felt the cold hands in her dream, caress. She gasped as her fingers brushed her hardened nipples. She remembered them being held in between teeth, while a hungry mouth enveloped them. A tongue... she remembered a tongue rubbing and tasting. Closing her eyes, she moved a hand down between her thighs, and into her panties.
She dipped into wetness, as her fingers glided up and inside of her. She needed to feel that fullness again. Bringing herself to orgasm, she was reasonably sated, yet empty. She closed her eyes and tried to remember something more of the dream. The chirping of the birds waking up to start their day lulled her back into a dreamless sleep.
Phoenix closed her eyes as Jovanna fell asleep. Dream invasion was exhausting work, but it would soon pay off. Perhaps tonight she would be able to wrap her arms around her lover for real. She thought back to the dream. It had been as if Jovanna was waiting for her. She thought about the way her pale hands looked in contrast to Jovanna's olive skin. She could feel the hardness of Jovanna's nipples beneath the palms of her hands, warm and supple in her mouth, yielding to her teeth and greeting her tongue. Phoenix could still smell the light trace of perfume between Jovanna's breasts. She licked her lips.
She adored the way Jovanna would writhe beneath her as her tongue trailed down the lithe body, pausing to nip her hip bone and circling her navel with her tongue. She would feel Jovanna's hips beginning to rise and her gasps of air would become sharper.
She shivered as she remembered her first taste. Jovanna would be open wide to her as her tongue slipped its pointed tip onto her clit. She could feel Jovanna's hands tugging at her hair, guiding her to where she felt the most pleasure. Jovanna would claw at the sheets after she turned her over on to her stomach and entered her from behind. Her knuckles would be as white as the sheets and her groans would heighten with each introduction of another finger. Yet, the real beauty was in bringing her lover back down with gentle words and kisses. She ached to fall asleep in Jovanna's arms, the one place she knew she would always be safe.
Too much time had passed. She had searched all these years for her, and here she was - right under her nose. So many wrong leads she had followed, visions she had misinterpreted. She knew it wasn't luck that she had crossed paths with Juno. It was destiny.
She had met Juno at an underground club in Venice three years ago. It was a haven for dark souls who had a taste for the decadent. He invited her to his palazzo for a party and there she met his sister, Jovanna. She knew instantly that she had found the one she had been searching for. Her blue eyes met Jovanna's and when she took her hand in salutation a shock of familiarity and repressed memory flooded her brain. It was her Lucia, come back to her.
Bassano del Grappo, 1791
Lucia hurried along the Ponte degli Alpines. The bridge was the connection between her and Francesca - a sort of neutral zone. She had to tell her the news, even if the risk was great. In her heart she knew Francesca would be devastated, but the news had to come from her and not through gossip.
Thankfully the narrow streets that led to the apartments were deserted. She did not want to be seen. Her hooded cloak would serve as a disguise. She did not want to test fate. Slipping into a small courtyard, she climbed the stairs that led to Francesca's apartment. She paused and took a small breath before tapping on the door.
"Who is there?" asked the woman inside.
"It's Lucia." She whispered.
Francesca quickly undid the lock and opened the door, surprised to see Lucia at such an odd hour.
"Love, what are you doing here? Are you alright?" asked Francesca as she pulled the other woman into the room. She hugged Lucia and kissed her cheek tenderly.
"I had to come and talk to you, Francesca."
The worried look on Lucia's face concerned Francesca. A chill ran up her spine. Something was wrong. "Come, sit down and tell me what the problem is."
Lucia took off her cloak, and then took a seat on the chaise and waited for Francesca to join her. She watched as the tall brunette hung her cloak and then poured some wine. Francesca was wearing a loosely tied robe and the milky skin of her breasts showed from behind the black silk. Taking the glass, Lucia took a large gulp, letting the wine relax her. She set the glass on a small table beside her and took Francesca's hands in hers.
"I fear what I have to say will bring you despair, but I must tell you. I just can't find the words that will make it bearable for you to hear..." She put her hands to her face and started to weep.
Francesca took Lucia in her arms and held her, "My Love, there is nothing you can tell me that will upset me." Lucia pushed her away and stood up.
"I'm getting married."
Present day Venice
Phoenix thought back to that day so many years back. She was a different woman then. Francesca became Daniella, then Gabriella and finally Phoenix. Being a vampire meant she would not age and to hide her secret she changed her name and moved frequently. She eventually returned to her beloved Venice. She thought Italy would be less painful by now. And then she met Jovanna. Phoenix knew Jovanna was her lost love - Lucia. She could still remember the last time she held her in her arms – the night Lucia told Francesca she was to marry.
She remembered how frightened Lucia had been. The marriage was an arranged one between Lucia's family and the family of a government official. She knew Lucia did not love the man and the thought of her beautiful lover being touched by that swine was unbearable. Phoenix would give Lucia the gift and they would be together always.
Lucia did not know about Francesca's other life. She never questioned why they only met at night. She assumed it was for discretion. Not that it mattered, because Lucia loved Francesca and nothing was inconvenient when it came to being with her.
Francesca devised a plan to meet in a fortnight. By then Francesca would have secured passage out of the city, and they would flee to Venice where they could hide until they would be able to leave for Rome. Once in Venice Francesca would give her lover immortality and no one would be able to keep them apart.
Meeting time arrived and Francesca has secured transport. She paid the driver handsomely for his discretion. An hour passed and Lucia had not arrived, yet Francesca did not worry. Lucia was usually late; they had in fact missed the opera twice on account of her truancy. When three hours had passed, Francesca became quite upset, something had to be wrong; Even Lucia was never this late.
Francesca was forced to go home as daylight approached. She would have to wait to find out what had gone wrong. She paid the driver extra to find out what had happened to Lucia and then report back after sundown.
She would never see Lucia again.
Bassano del Grappo, 1791
Lucia was only halfway home when a hand clasped over her mouth and she was shoved into a waiting carriage. It was her father's henchman Giovanni. She hated this man and knew he was up to no good.
When they arrived at the villa she was immediately ushered upstairs to her father's sitting room. He was standing at the balcony in his robe and smoking a cigar.
"I found her Signor, right where I said she would be."
"Leave us." said Lucia's father, not turning around, until he heard the click of the door behind him as Giovanni left him alone with his daughter.
"Father, I..."was all Lucia got out before she felt the sting of her father's hand across her cheek.
"Do you think I don't know what you've been doing? Or whom you were with? You embarrass me before you are to wed by cavorting with that rich whore?"
"It's not like that father! I love Francesca."
"You're an abomination! If your mother were still alive this would kill her. You need to be cleansed. Get to your knees and beg God to forgive you."
"I'll do no such thing! There is nothing to ask forgiveness for, I love her and we are going to leave this horrid city and your prison once and for all."
Lucia turned to leave, but her father grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. He then grabbed her hair in the back of her head and forced her down to her knees.
"You will not be insolent with me and you will beg forgiveness. I will not send you to your husband as a perversion of nature and God. You will be chaste and obedient." he said.
"I would rather die, than marry that man to promote your position in society and be a brood mare for some rich ugly family."
Her father raised his hand to slap, her but instead stared at her for a moment and then yelled for Giovanni. He ordered his henchman to take her and lock her in her room until the day of her wedding. She was to have no contact with anyone. This wedding was going to take place regardless of what his daughter wanted.
Lucia languished in her room, her thoughts only of Francesca and how she must feel. She did not love this man and hated his family. The women were treated as less than servants and were not allowed to speak freely. Lucia was used to speaking her mind. There would be no books to read, that privilege was only for the men. She would learn to sew and be trained in the social graces befitting such a family. She would address her husband as "Master" and bear as many children as possible.
The thought of this man touching her made her shudder. He was not handsome by any means. Carlos di Crenza was a stocky, balding, middle-aged man that no woman could desire, except for his money. She would rather be poor and eat garbage in the streets, than be with this man.
If only her brother were here he would help her. Michael was her protector. Their father had made sure that Michael was conveniently out of town on family business. She knew her brother did not approve of the marriage and had made several attempts to stop the marriage.
She lay on her bed fingering the necklace Francesca had given her as a token of their love. A solid gold chain supported a tear-shaped ruby surrounded by diamond chips. Hidden behind the stone itself was a miniature portrait of Francesca painted by a very clever artist friend. Lucia slipped her nail behind the stone, released the clasp and looked at her lover's face. She began to cry thinking they would never see one another again. Life without Francesca was not worth living.
Francesca picked up the piece of paper that had been slipped underneath her doorway. Her messenger must have left it earlier in the day. She went to her bedchamber and lit a candle. Even though her eyes naturally adjusted to the darkness she wanted to make sure she could read it clearly.
I fear the news I am to give you will cause you much distress. I cannot find the words to give you comfort, so you must forgive me for being forthright. Your mistress could not meet you at the appointed time, not because of a lack of desire but because of interference by her father. The night she left your residence she was accosted by her father's servants and confined to her room. She was to be imprisoned there until the time of her nuptials and could not get word to you.
I am filled with distress to tell you what must be written next but there is no way to do so with the gentleness you so deserve. Your mistress has taken her own life. The night before her wedding she shattered a wine glass and cut into her fair wrists. Her handmaiden found her in the morning already cold and gone from this world.
I cannot express the regret I am consumed with in having to deliver such unpleasant news. I will always be at your service if the need arrives.
Your devoted servant,
Francesca crumbled the note and tossed it into the fireplace. Pink tears fell from her cheeks. She was filled with sadness and anger. She would find her love again, one day.
Present day Vienna
Bastien slipped into his mistress's room with a dinner tray. The huge four poster bed appeared unslept in but he knew better. Reaching for the latch concealed within the ornate carvings he released the panel that allowed the compartment to open.
"Rise and shine. I have your meal ready," he said, as he placed the tray upon a small table before the chaise.
"I want to hear all about the party last night."
Phoenix slid out the hidden drawer beneath the bed and sat up to stretch. She had always hated the idea of sleeping in a coffin and had the bed designed to make her feel more 'normal'. It had served its purpose for many a year when those who tried to eliminate her kind tried to hunt her down. The bed would be made to appear slept in from above giving the illusion that she had just escaped her tormentors, while below she was safely hidden in the velvet lined drawer that covered the soil from her native land. Only Bastien knew her secrets and he would never tell. She had given him the gift and he remained her devoted immortal servant.
"You enjoy gossip more than any woman, Bastien," she yawned. "What time is it?"
"It's just after sundown, you still have time before your meeting." He sat down on the couch waiting for her to join him. Phoenix slid her legs out to the floor and stood up to stretch again. She walked to the couch and sat next to Bastien and looked at him quizzically.
"You shaved your mustache."
"Yes. It makes me look younger, doesn't it?"
"Decades..." She rolled her eyes and then picked up a goblet filled with crimson liquid, sniffing it for a moment before tasting it. "What are we having tonight?
"That horrid little rat dog from the floor below."
She took a sip and made a face. "Ugh, what was she feeding him? No wonder he was such a little bastard!"
"Okay enough already!" Bastien was getting excited with impatience. "Tell me... is it her?"
Phoenix sat back against the couch and looked at him smiling.
"It is! You don't even have to tell me, I can see it in your eyes. You've found her!"
"I found her."
The pallazo of Carlos Pontenella: evening - present day
Carlos Pontenella looked over the evening paper while his son Juno idly pressed buttons on his PDA. "Do you have to do that at the table Juno?"
"I have a new band coming into the club tonight and I want to make sure they have everything in order."
Carlos stroked his mustache never taking his eyes off the paper. "You should be overseeing such matters in person."
"Dad, I can do things from here. It's a new age, new technology and I have a good staff. Profits are up and the club is a success. I'm not worried."
Carlos gave a small grunt. "I always made a point of being visible in my business. I went to the docks, the airport, and the warehouses, everyone saw me. I gained respect. I had no time for the playboy life."
Juno sighed. "Dad, in my business, going to parties and clubs generates business. It's how I meet people, exchange ideas; I'm not a shipping magnate like you. I'm a club owner."
Carlos casually turned the page of his paper and sipped his aperitif. "Your sister needs to find more to do with her life. She needs to start acting like the wife of a business man. Your mother knew her place. Do you remember the dinners and the parties she used to hostess? Such grace and charm, you sensed it when she walked into a room. Your mother knew how to make people feel at home - and look at all the charities and functions she was involved with... people knew she was the wife of Carlos Pontenella."
Juno downed his drink and poured another. "Christ Dad, will you lay off it already? Jovanna is the envy of so many people out there. She took that pathetic magazine and brought it up from the gutter. You have no idea how successful she is, do you?"
Jovanna walked into the dining room with a bouquet of orchids in her arms. She set them down on the table and kissed her father on the cheek. "Are you two talking about me again?"
"Of course we are," said Juno as he handed her a drink and kissed her cheek after she sat down. "Nice flowers. Anyone we know?"
"I don't know yet myself. Maria handed them to me as I walked in the door."
She sniffed at the full blooms, touched the delicate petals and reached for the card. It read: "I'll find you." There was no signature or name of a florist. She pressed the card to her lips to hide her smile. The card had a familiar smell to it; a smell she recognized from the ball the night before, when the stranger danced with her.
Closing her eyes she was transported back to the ball. So many people there all decked out in costume. Some she recognized but many were mere caricatures of fantasy, jokers and demons, flora and fauna, colors and designs.
She had worn one of her mother's old formal dresses, working a simple brocade mask of burgundy and colored plumes that matched the deep jewel tones in her gown. The journalist in her kept her from being in a party mood until she felt the hand on her shoulder. The soft velvet glove slipped down her bare arm, and took her hand leading her to the dance floor. The figure was dressed in a very traditional carnival costume and nothing was revealed to give away the person's identity. At first she resisted, not being in a mood to dance but the stranger held her hands firmly in her grip. It was then she noticed the scent, not masculine or feminine, but exotic and slightly musky. Almost like patchouli. She let the stranger lead her to the dance floor.