The servant leading her took her to a comfortable chair close to another set of doors. As she sat, he leaned over and spoke softly into her ear. “You do not stand when the master enters. Wait until he comes to you and extends his hand.” He looked into her eyes to see if she understood.
“Yes,” she whispered, nodding.
People chatted, and the hum of it soon overpowered the soft music. No one stepped near her, but she was the center of attention. She heard scattered words, but the atmosphere made it impossible to hear any one in particular. The door at the other end of the room opened. Raina didn’t admire the books lining the wall or the huge desk, all she saw was her captor. He wore a black tuxedo and the superior smirk she had come to expect.
Everyone stood. The women curtsied and the men bowed slightly.
“Welcome,” he boomed, “on this especially grand occasion.” He then greeted each of the guests by taking their hands and speaking to each one. They seemed nervous, but excited by the individual attention. The women flushed as he leaned and kissed their cheeks, telling them how beautiful they were, and they were. There wasn’t an unattractive person in the entire group. Raina was confused and nervous as she watched the faces around her.
Her attention was abruptly pulled away, as he glided toward her. He was a striking man. He carried himself in such an assured manner.
Everyone hushed and stared. His hand extended toward her, so she stood; yet hesitating to take the offered hand. She didn’t want to touch this man. She feared him too much, but her hand automatically reached out as his eyes commanded. He engulfed her hand with both of his as he pulled her to him and held her. Raina felt a flood of weakness engulf her. His arm then moved around her back and he stood a moment looking down on her before he spoke. He was tall, she knew, because she was tall and she fit in his arms.
The anticipation was palpable, everyone giving their undivided attention to him. “You all are, I’m sure, consumed with curiosity; who has Michael included in our most private of dinner parties? Well, he wishes to present to you Raina Devear, his fiancée.”
Raina jerked violently in his embrace and turned herself toward him with a shocked expression on her face. She moved her mouth to speak but the man next to her turned back into the fierce man she’d seen earlier. She felt her heart had stopped at the overwhelming fear he caused. She looked down in mutinous surrender.
“You may congratulate us with a toast, friends,” each glass was raised. Michael took a glass from a servant and handed it to Raina, making sure she was holding it before he let go. He lifted his glass toward the crowd, “Drink to our health.” He turned toward her and lifted her chin with an extended finger. “Don’t resist,” he whispered in the silky voice he’d used earlier to tell the story in the dark room. He then leaned forward and lightly touched her lips with his.
Raina felt like a fool as a cloud engulfed her. All she could think as she fainted, was, “A fit of vapors.”
Michael was the first face she saw as she resurfaced from the mist. “You mustn’t forget to eat again, darling. You’ve fainted from hunger.” He held a glass to her lips, “Drink.” She tried to push it away as he lifted her with one arm and placed the drink to her lips, but again when her eyes met his firm gaze she succumbed. “All of it.” Raina sputtered as the brown liquid exploded inside her throat. At Michael’s insistence she finished the last drop. He helped her to her feet, again leaning forward to kiss her gently. She felt his lips warm and firm as his mustache grazed her face. “Now friends, let us eat.”
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