Phoenix narrowed her eyes and spoke very slowly and distinctly, "You should think very long and hard before making any assumptions. You know nothing of me and who I really am." She then took Jovanna by the arm and led her away from the café.
They walked in silence for a while as Jovanna tried to hold back angry tears. Phoenix sensed her emotions and put her arm around the blonde's shoulders. She spoke gently and reassured her that things would be okay, but she was also aware that they were being followed. The sound of their heels echoed off the cobblestone of the alley way that lead to where Phoenix had her studio. She had found the space in an older section of town where warehouses lay empty. It wasn't the safest part of town but Phoenix feared nothing.
The lights of a car swinging quickly into the alley startled them, blinding them for a moment. In the next moment, Phoenix heard the sound of a struggle and the muffled cries of Jovanna. Suddenly she was knocked to the ground. She knew right away it was Angelo, she could tell his scent.
"Fucking bitch. I'm going to hurt you real bad."
Phoenix caught the man's wrist in midair as he tried to bring his fist down on her. The sound of his anguished cries followed the snapping of his bones as they were twisted and torn from their sockets. The clink of a knife hitting the ground irked Phoenix. The bastard was trying to kill her. Her powers allowed her to grab the man by the throat, crushing his windpipe and toss him down the alley behind the dumpsters like a rag doll.
The other man in the car was unaware that his companion was now dead. He was too busy struggling with Jovanna. He pinned her against the back seat, pressing his face to hers as he tried to kiss her. His breath came hard as he began to squeeze her breasts. One hand covered her mouth to stifle her screams as he began to slide the other up her skirt to pull down her panties.
"You are going to be mine, whether you like it or not."
Pietro didn't hear the sound of Phoenix leaping onto the hood of the car. He felt a hand reach through the sunroof of the car and pull him out by his jacket collar. She threw him into a darkened stairwell of a nearby basement entrance. Picking him up by his collar she pinned him against the wall so she could look directly into his face.
"I will not lose her again. I've waited too long"
Pietro struggled to release himself from her formidable grip, his legs kicking in the air as he hung suspended, inches above the ground. He spat in her face. She released her grip, letting him fall against the wall as she wiped her face on her jacket sleeve.
"What the fuck are you? A man? Is that it? You think you're a man?"
Phoenix glanced down, taking in his lowered pants and flaccid member, and she smirked, "Apparently I'm more man than you can ever be."
He hurriedly tucked himself in and zipped his fly. "You fucking bitch. Stay out of my business and away from my woman." He lunged forward to strike her.
"She belongs to ME!" Yelled Phoenix as she shoved him roughly back against the wall.
He rested with his hands on his knees to catch his breath.
"What the hell do you mean by that? You have nothing between your legs to claim her. I'll fuck you too."
Within seconds he was pinned back on the ground as Phoenix moved on top of him. Her knees pressed painfully into his thighs, one hand was squeezing his neck and the other squeezed at his genitals. "I have waited centuries to find her again. I was reduced to no more than an animal having to feed off of parasites like you to survive, existing as a shadow while you were allowed to live in the light – just so I could have my Lucia back, and now that I have found her again I will not lose her. Not to you or to anyone else. Do you want to know how I will claim her?"
Pietro was frozen in fear and pain. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his long mustache stuck leechlike to his cheeks. He wet himself in terror as he saw her fangs. She lunged forward, ripping his neck open in one powerful bite. She wiped her mouth and chin carefully on his shirt and stood up. "You'll bleed slowly. Pray that death finds you before the rats do."
Jovanna pushed herself into the corner of the seat as the car door swung open. Her fright turned to relief as she saw Phoenix bending down and offering her a hand. "It's okay now, it's just me. No one can hurt you now."
Jovanna took the other woman's hand and exited the car quickly. She wrapped her arms around Phoenix's neck. Phoenix held the trembling woman in her arms and stroked her hair to soothe her. "We are at my studio; it's just up the steps. Let us go inside and I'll get you some wine."
She guided the woman up the stairway to an obscure doorway. Before they entered, she looked down to a figure standing near the car. She nodded in his direction and he nodded back, affirming the silent message sent to him. Her faithful servant Bastien would take care of the mess below.
Jovanna shivered as she waited for Phoenix to unlock the grey, steel door. Inside, they stood in a sterile looking vestibule. Phoenix guided her to another set of doors which opened into a larger room. This room was divided into smaller areas, which broke up the large open space. From all appearances the old warehouse floor was converted into an almost palatial living space. The blonde tried to get her bearings as she was steered toward a larger but more private room - the studio.
Inside, the room was warm with rich woodwork and candlelight. A fire burned in the fireplace making her feel more relaxed. Phoenix sat her down on a large black, leather sofa and then walked across the room to get Jovanna a glass of wine. Unable to speak, Jovanna, took in her surroundings. She studied the way the light filled the room and gave a feeling of warmth. It shimmered off the deep jewel tone colors of the silks and velvets that were draped over the windows and furniture. It had a romantic quality that made Jovanna smile.
She was curious as to why there were so many windows which were obscured by heavy draping. There were candles everywhere, hundreds of them. She hadn't noticed that when she first walked in but now she could see the entire room was illuminated by candlelight. Some were placed in wall sconces, some were in torchieres that filled the corners of the room and others were clustered in groups on tables or shelves. Jovanna bit her lower lip as she frowned at the candles.
"I only paint at night. I find the daytime distracting," Phoenix said as she looked past Jovanna at the darkness which was now approaching.
"It's a different world at night," Jovanna echoed as she studied the walls. They were covered with paintings of various sizes, along with decorations that looked as if they had come from around the globe. There were very few photographs, none which were of Phoenix. That was one thing she remembered - Phoenix was adamant about not having her picture taken.
The dark-haired woman came over and sat beside her, and handed the shivering blonde a glass of wine before putting her arm around her shoulders. She then brushed a few strands of hair away from the woman's face and kissed her forehead.
"You are safe now. I promise. Drink some wine, you'll feel better."
"Thank you. Everything seems like such a blur. I don't want to think about it."
"Then don't think. What happened is in the past. Sit with me in the present."
Jovanna leaned back into Phoenix and sipped her wine. She felt it warm her and diminish her fears. This room enchanted her. A huge, wooden easel stood across from her, but she was unable to see what was on it. Alongside that was a tiered table loaded with paints and brushes and pencils. Leaning against the walls were canvases and paintings in different stages of progression. She found it odd that there were many pictures and symbols relating to various religious beliefs, she didn't see Phoenix as a very religious person.
"You find my studio interesting, don't you? I rarely have guests in this room. It's my sanctuary."
"It very eclectic; I like it." Jovanna sipped her wine. "Aren't you going to join me?"
"My choice of beverage is very limited. I have a 'condition' of sorts, but please drink as much as you like. I'll have something a little later."
"I have to admit, I am a little thrown by some of the spiritual decoratives you have. They seem out of place with the traditional and more contemporary pieces."
"Ah, but that is where you are mistaken. Everything has its place. This is what I choose to surround myself with; it represents Beauty, Life and Death. My choice of ornamentation is no different from the person whom hangs a picture of Jesus Christ alongside a black velvet painting of Elvis."
"I don't understand, Jesus and velvet Elvis?"
"Jesus is the King of Kings and Elvis is the king of Rock and Roll. Both represent a belief in something bigger than what the worshippers perceive in themselves. They represent mortal men who have gone on to serve a bigger purpose. One need not step inside a church to find their spirituality, because when you believe in something, there is always a chance for redemption and immortality."
Phoenix rose from the couch and walked over to a few artifacts on the wall. She took down two statues and brought them to Jovanna. "Anubis, jackal-headed god and gate keeper of the underworld and Bast, the lioness, goddess of ointments; together they help the dead into the afterlife. Redemption, immortality and beauty joined with life and death. I adore the Egyptians. You'll see the Eye of Horus frequents my artworks in subtle ways."
She then put them back and walked over to the fireplace where an intricately carved crucifix hung. Lighting a few more candles to add to the many already burning, she turned and smiled at Jovanna. "Here we have the Christ after his death; I found this one in a little town near Budapest. The hair is the artist's actual hair and the crown of thorns is real - hand woven; the nails are real as well. What caught my attention the most was the expression on his face. This Christ is looking up to heaven, his eyes imploring, yet, the knowledge that this is his fate, is apparent."
Jovanna stood up and joined her in touching the delicately carved pieced. The wood seemed smooth as skin as her fingers traced the nail embedded in the figure's feet.
"The eyes...are they glass?"
"Yes. Kind of creepy aren't they? That's what sold me on it." She took Jovanna by the hand and showed her more of the room, "Here are some carved pieces from Bali and Africa; they help keep the evil spirits away. I have many Asian carvings as well but most are in my bedroom. Over here is the Americas, both North and South, from American Indian to Inca, Maya, Aztec... well, all the natives really."
"And this?" Jovanna held up a pointed piece of wood carved with an image of a crucifix and foreign words she could not make out. "It looks very interesting."
A small smile tugged at the corner of her mouth as she held the dowel in her hand. Phoenix found herself embarrassed by her own sentiment.
"This, believe it or not, was a stake used to kill vampires. Anyone who lived in Bassano del Grappa decades ago and acted a little different was believed to be one of the undead."
"In fact..." Phoenix reached down the front of her shirt and pulled the chain of her necklace to show Jovanna. "... this picture is said to be of a woman named Francesca, who was known for being a vampire."
Jovanna watched as Phoenix showed her the hidden picture behind the tear shaped ruby.
Jovanna held the gem in her hand and felt a surge go through her body. "Oh my God!" Jovanna snapped her hand back immediately. Touching the necklace gave her a vision of that very necklace being placed around her neck. How could that be? She had never seen it before.
"Nothing. It just seemed very familiar all of a sudden."
Phoenix placed her hand on Jovanna's cheek and looked into her eyes. "You've had a difficult night; perhaps we should do this another time?" Something in the woman's eyes made Jovanna want to stay. It was as if she needed to be with her.
"I'm okay, really. I would love to stay, if that's okay. I'd like to see how you work."
"I normally don't let people watch me while I work, but I did agree to give you an interview, so this is only fair," Phoenix smiled.
"Thank you," Jovanna smiled back. "You go about your routine and I'll ask a few questions and observe. Will that be okay?"
Jovanna wandered around the room, looking and touching. She was amazed to see so many books, either on shelves or opened up on tables or on the floor near the easel.
"You have quite the collection of books. Have you read them all?"
Phoenix placed a CD in the stereo. The gentle, piano melody filled the studio as Jewel started singing: Inside my skin... there is this space... it twists and turns... it bleeds and aches...
"Most of them. Books are another one of my great loves. Music, Art and Literature are as important to me as blood is to most. It's my lifeline and my passion. Passion is life."
The music continued: I am wanting...I am needing you here... inside the absence of fear... Phoenix brushed her fingertips down Jovanna's arm as she passed, pausing as her fingertips reached the woman's wrist. Looking up at her, she blinked her eyes, staring seductively. "You understand all about passion, don't you?" She pressed a finger to the blonde's lips. "Wait. Don't answer that right now."
There is this hunger.... This restlessness inside of me... And it knows that you're no stranger... You're my gravity... Phoenix's touch brought back memories of the night before, when the stranger touched her arm the same way. She felt a small shiver of excitement run through her. The interview - she would focus on that and not on her desire.
"Phoenix... Is that your real name?"
"More of a description really."
"That means you're going to be abstruse. Just so you know, I'm not into mysteries, but I do like a challenge."
"I think you'll find you know more about me than you realize," Phoenix said with a smile as she walked over to the easel and began to sketch. She watched as Jovanna walked around the studio, her hand gliding along the spines of books or picking up small objects. Lucia did the same thing in Francesca's apartment. She needed to concentrate on the sketch so she could capture the emotion of the moment and not give in to the urge to sweep Jovanna up into her arms. Her desire was too strong now, and if she gave in she might lose her Love again. She would know when the time was right. It was just a matter of patience and discipline.
She muttered a curse under her breath and looked over the top of her glasses while she sketched. Jovanna watched from the shadows, as she moved around Phoenix's studio, unaware that the naked figure taking shape on the sketching pad was her. Phoenix sketched from memory. She was intimately familiar with every detail of Jovanna's body, and recalled it as if it were sacrosanct, deftly shaping the curve of her hips and the contour of her collarbone.
Jovanna explored Phoenix's paints in a desultory manner, rubbing the blue substance between her fingertips. The distinctively antiquated smell of linseed made her shiver from deep inside. She frowned as she attempted to recall the complete memory of dipping her fingers into warmth... wetness? It was in absolute contrast with the coolness of the cobalt blue paint. She looked up at Phoenix.
Phoenix lit a cigarette and stood back, eyes squinted and brow furrowed, studying the sketch pad in front of her. She tore the page from the pad and let it fall to the floor. She seized a new pencil. Any range would do for now. On the paper, Jovanna's face took shape, like a developing photograph absorbing light for the first time.
Jovanna's need for physical touch became overwhelming as she watched Phoenix caress the pencil loosely between her thumb and forefinger. I'm going to seduce her... It came as a revelation, more than a decision. It was a conscious choice; yet, her need was so overwhelming, that it felt almost obsessive.
"Finish your cigarette," Jovanna breathed, somewhere in the darkness.
"I just lit it. Could you change that music or turn it off please?" Phoenix said, oblivious to Jovanna's desires. Phoenix stared at the sketch in front of her and recognized the soft curves of Jovanna's mouth as she heard her voice again:
"Finish your cigarette, please," the voice was gentle, yet urgent.
"I will," Phoenix managed to say as she kept drawing outlines.
Jovanna walked over to the stereo and put the music off. The silence only emphasized her need. She was nervous and excited, and she was sure Phoenix could sense her slow, deliberate breathing from the other side of the room.
I'm going to seduce her, Jovanna thought again as she moved her hands to the back of her black skirt and determinedly pulled down the zipper. It slid off her body and fell to the floor. I have to feel those hands on my skin. I have to have those blue eyes possess me... Own me. I want her to own me, she thought as she stepped out of the skirt.
She started unbuttoning her shirt from the top down as she walked towards Phoenix, her heart beating out the matching symbolism of every adjective with every surge of lust: Want... Need... Desire... Fear...
She walked over to Phoenix, her heels resonating on the marble floor. Her golden curls trailed down her back, and she bit her bottom lip as her thumbs hooked into her panties. She removed them, astounded by the evidence of her arousal.
Out of the corner of her eye, Phoenix saw the silhouette moving towards her. She could hear footsteps walking towards her as she became increasingly aware of Jovanna's presence. Phoenix tried to shrug it off, as it was a distraction to her art. Yet, the thought of Jovanna's presence moved her back into that world of longing. She closed her eyes for a few moments, and when she opened them, Jovanna stood in front of her, naked.
"Paint me," Jovanna whispered.
Phoenix was spellbound. She could not move. She could not breathe. Jovanna reached out, took her hands and brought them to her naked breasts. The sound of the sketching pencil, dropping to the floor went unnoticed. With Phoenix's hands in her own, Jovanna trailed over her own skin.
"Paint me," Jovanna said again, more self assured this time.
Phoenix swallowed hard as she took in Jovanna's beauty. The contrast between the warm womanly breasts, and hard nipples against the palms of her hands, was intoxicating. Jovanna moved her own hands away, as Phoenix increased her hold on Jovanna's breasts.
Jovanna was aware of Phoenix's intense eyes on her body, as she cupped her breasts in her hands. Her stare was passionate and wanting, yet gentle. If she had doubted the sexual energy between them was mutual, that doubt was erased by the primal way Phoenix caressed her breasts.
They held eye contact, as they both wondered who would make the next move. Phoenix moved both her hands slowly from Jovanna's breasts to her arms, trailing her thumbs over her hardened nipples, which made Jovanna shiver and her knees buckle.
Phoenix gripped her arms, and stared from Jovanna's face to the sketch on the easel behind her. It was unmistakably her. She turned the naked beauty in front of her around, and let her face the sketch. She wished she could see her eyes in that moment. She wondered if there was any recognition... any recollection at all of their past together.
Phoenix stood so close behind her, but not touching. If either one of them moved an inch, they would have been molded into each other. Jovanna found it difficult to breathe normally. She could feel Phoenix's breath on her neck. She yearned for arms to move to her sides, around her and to caress her. Phoenix felt that need too, but she did not move. Not yet.