Venice Vampyr #4
Early 1800s – Venice, Italy
When vampire Nico purchases a house to further his fellow vampires’ goal of creating a secure compound within Venice, he doesn’t expect to get a headstrong wife in the bargain. He plans to send her to the mainland after their wedding night so he can continue his debauched bachelor life.
But when he meets the unexpectedly beautiful Oriana for the first time, his plans are forgotten. However, Oriana would rather pursue her scientific research than play the submissive wife to her new husband.
When Nico finds out that his wife has secrets that could endanger not only him, but the entire vampire population of Venice, he has to make a choice: get rid of her, or seduce her to join his side. Luckily, seduction is what Nico does best …
Venice, Italy – early 1800s
Nico hit the heavy knocker against the massive oak door and waited, his eyes darting down the dark alley. While it was not polite to call upon a virtual stranger after dark, particularly when such a visit was possibly not welcome, he didn’t exactly have a choice about the time of day he could venture out. Unfortunately, a mid-afternoon appointment was foolish and potentially deadly—for a vampire.
On occasion, he’d braved a few seconds in daylight, but only in emergencies, and then only covered in a heavy black cloak and running as fast as if the devil were chasing him, always hugging the shadows of the buildings and avoiding direct sunlight. But even then, he’d sustained burns. He wasn’t desperate enough for a repeat any time soon.
Nico heard the sound of a creaking staircase as footsteps approached the entrance door. A moment later, the lock slid back and the door opened a fraction. The first thing he noticed was a long, straight nose before the rest of the footman’s face appeared. He was dressed in livery, his white gloves gleaming in the dark.
The man looked down his nose, crinkling it slightly. Nico, instantly reminded of the story of Pinocchio, wondered whose breathing apparatus was longer: this servant’s or the wooden boy’s. He would bet a few Lira on the snooty servant for sure.
“Yes?” The man’s drawn out inquiry conveyed his displeasure more than any rude remark could have.
Nico casually pulled off one dark glove. “I’m here to see Signore Lombardi.”
A raised eyebrow was followed by a quick glance up and down Nico’s person. Luckily, he didn’t give a fig about what a lowly servant thought of his late arrival. But if the man displeased him, Nico didn’t have any scruples about using his powers of suggestion on him to gain access to the house. Either way, he’d see Signore Lombardi tonight.
“And who may I say is calling?”
“Nicholas Angelotti,” he answered and pulled off his second glove.
“One moment, signore.” The servant nodded and made a motion to close the door, but Nico inserted his boot between door and frame, then nudged it forward.
“Ah, excuse me.” He pushed the door open farther and entered the foyer, much to the obvious consternation of the unpleasant footman. “Terribly damp outside tonight.”
With a glare, the man turned on his heels. “If you’ll be so kind as to wait here.” As he disappeared into the parlor to his right, Nico allowed his superior hearing to listen in on the announcement the servant made to his employer. Luckily, Signore Lombardi was a curious man as it seemed and could not be dissuaded from receiving his late night visitor.
When the door opened a few moments later, the footman motioned to it. “Signore Lombardi will see you now.” With a barely perceivable nod, he stepped aside and let Nico pass into the room, closing the door behind him with a loud thud.
Nico took a short bow and studied the elderly gentleman who stood in front of the fireplace dressed in dark breeches and a burgundy house vest with matching coat, its belt tied to one side. His hair had grayed at the temples and was thinning on the top—a fact very easily observed since Nico was half a foot taller than his host. The spectacles Lombardi wore gave him the air of a confused professore, yet the intelligent mousy-brown eyes behind them belied that notion: the man was as alert as they came. And most likely a shrewd negotiator.
“Signore Lombardi, I’m grateful to be received despite the unusual hour.”
“I don’t believe we know each other, Signore Angelotti, or is my mind betraying me?”
“Indeed, it is not.” Nico took a few steps closer.
“Pray, sit then.” Lombardi slunk back into his armchair and pointed toward the sofa opposite. Nico obliged him even though he would have preferred to stand. He always liked to conduct business while standing.
“I’m assuming this is not a social visit,” Lombardi said with a glance at the large Biedermeier clock that adorned one wall.
Nico inclined his head a fraction and allowed a gentle smile to play around his lips. “Let me be straightforward with you, signore, and not waste your time.”
“I’d appreciate it, given the hour.”
“I have come for some business.”
“Which involves . . . ?” Lombardi fished.
“The rumors that you’re interested in retiring to the mainland and leaving Venice.”
The man visibly relaxed and leaned back in his armchair, allowing his arms to rest on his lap as he crossed his ankles. “Ah, those rumors.” He chuckled to himself. “About time somebody listened to them. Took me long enough to spread them.”
With a start, Nico sat forward on the sofa. Had he come on a fool’s errand? “Are you telling me that they aren’t true?”
“They could be.”
“They could be what, signore?”
“Either true or not true.”
Frustration spread in Nico’s gut. “Which one then?”
The old man smiled. “That depends entirely on you and your offer.”
Nico relaxed. His immediate instinct about the man had been right: he was an excellent negotiator. However, how he knew why Nico was here was anybody’s guess. “I see.”
“Indeed. It appears properties in this area have increased in value. Several homes have changed hands in the last few weeks, and from what I hear, at considerable prices. Shall we say at more than what the bricks and mortar seem to be worth?”
Nico smiled. “I think you and I will get on splendidly during our negotiations.”
“I shall hope so.” He pointed toward the sideboard where a decanter beckoned. “Grappa?”
In order not to appear impolite, Nico nodded. He’d only recently fed on the rich blood of a tavern wench, so some alcohol on a full stomach wouldn’t harm him. As a vampire he could imbibe liquids without any adverse effects. Alcohol was a little more difficult and on an empty stomach could easily impair his senses. They would still be sharper than a human’s but with alcohol he would have nowhere near his normal fighting capabilities and perceptive skills.
“Three fingers,” Lombardi indicated and motioned toward the decanter. “If you don’t mind, young man, but my bones.” He pointed toward the outside. “The damp, you know. It’s much warmer and drier on the mainland.”
Nico poured two glasses and handed one to his host before he took his assigned seat on the sofa. He raised his glass. “To your health, signore.”
His host brought the glass to his lips and sipped. Nico did likewise, allowing the burning liquid to coat his throat. It was nothing like the smooth texture of the blood he’d so recently consumed. This liquid was harsh and unpleasant, yet by the look on Lombardi’s face and the contented sigh he released, it seemed the grappa was of the highest quality. Feeling he had no choice to do otherwise, Nico allowed a fake sigh of enjoyment to pass his lips.
“Ah, I see you’re a man who appreciates his spirits,” Lombardi commented, looking pleased. “I would hate to do business with anybody who doesn’t enjoy a good glass of grappa.”
Nico smiled, still recovering from the burn of the alcohol. He would have to go for a second feeding tonight just to get the awful taste out of his mouth. “An exceptional vintage.” Did they call grappa a vintage? He hoped so.
“Yes, yes.” Lombardi set his glass on the little mahogany side table next to his armchair and glanced back at the clock once more. “May I ask the reason why you’re interested in acquiring this residence?”
Nico cleared his throat, trying to buy himself some time. He hadn’t expected Lombardi to ask such a personal question. Nico’s hackles instantly rose. No reasons were ever given for business transactions such as these.
“Maybe your wife is in need of a larger home?” the old man suggested.
“I’m a bachelor.”
Instantly, his host’s face lit up, and he sat forward on his chair. “A man of your obvious breeding is still unmarried?”
Nico nodded curtly, neither wanting to alienate the curious man, nor willing to give away any of his personal circumstances. “Entirely so. But to get back to this house. I understand that you have direct access to the canal via a covered entrance?”
It was one thing Nico had noticed instantly when he’d scoured the houses on this block for one he wanted to make a bid on. On the side facing the canal, an archway had been built into the house, making it possible for a gondola to move into the interior of the house and out of the rays of the sun. If using a closed gondola, it would afford a vampire the ability to enter and exit without exposing himself to the rays of the sun. Nico couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
While there were many homes in Venice that possessed this feature, on the block that he and his fellow vampires had decided to buy up all homes in order to establish a stronghold only two houses possessed such a covered entry: this and the one Dante and Raphael lived in with their wives. It would be a boon to snatch this house up before anybody else did.
“Yes, yes, it has a covered space for our gondola.” He made a dismissive hand movement as if he didn’t care about the feature. “But let me ask you something. Are you in need of a house because you’ve recently become engaged?”
Nico narrowed his eyes. Why was the blasted man so interested in his personal life? If there were another house like this available, he would leave Lombardi right now. His questions were getting downright rude. “No.”
Another smile crossed the man’s face. “Ah, excellent, excellent. Well, in this case, shall we discuss the purchase price? I assume that you’re in possession of liquid funds?”
Nico sighed with relief. “My funds are liquid and can be dispensed at the shortest notice.”
Lombardi nodded. “That’s what I thought. As for the price, are you aware of the amount Signore Greco’s home fetched only recently?”
“I’m indeed intimately aware of it.” Lorenzo, one of his friends had purchased the house.
“Good. I would like twenty-five percent more.”
Nico’s jaw dropped. “Signore, you can’t possibly be serious. This house isn’t any larger than Signore Greco’s.”
Lombardi took another sip from his grappa. “Signore Greco’s home is drafty and in need of repair. This house isn’t.”
“Ten percent more,” Nico conceded.
“This home comes with its entire contents.”
Surprised, Nico almost spilled his grappa. “You’re selling the furniture with the house?”
“Not just the furniture, everything.”
A terrible thought settled in Nico’s gut. “Not the footman!” He wouldn’t tolerate that insolent man.
“Of course not. Adolfo, the footman you met, will come with me to the countryside. Everything else stays, including the other servants: a second footman, a maid, and the cook.”
Even though Nico would hire his own servants later, he nodded and looked around, assessing the furnishings. They were in good condition and of good quality. “Is the rest of the house furnished comparably?”
“It is. You may assure yourself of it personally in a short while.” Lombardi took a deep breath. “Do we agree? Twenty-five percent more.”
Nico didn’t have to think about it. While the price was a little high, knowing he didn’t have to deal with furnishing the house, plus the knowledge that it had a covered entry for a gondola more than made up for the outrageous sum Lombardi demanded.
He rose and offered his outstretched hand to Lombardi. He took it with a surprisingly firm grip.
“Now to the arrangements for the ceremony,” Lombardi added.
Nico’s stomach lurched as instant panic filled his body. “Ceremony?”
“Yes, the marriage shall be performed with utmost haste. And as soon—”
“Marriage?” Nico croaked.
Lombardi’s beaded eyes looked at him as if Nico was dimwitted. “Yes, the marriage to my daughter of course.”
“I’m sorry, signore, but there seems to be a misunderstanding.” Was the man senile? “We discussed the purchase of your house.”
“Which we agreed on for a fair price. And this price includes a marriage to my daughter. I thought you knew.”
“Knew what?” Nico felt like tearing his hair out. How many glasses of grappa had the man had tonight?
“Everybody in Venice knows that I’d never part with the house unless my daughter gets a husband in the bargain. I’ve been waiting for a long time to make a match for her. I must say, I never figured that she would get such a dashing, young man as her betrothed. I would have settled for somebody much older and less handsome than yourself.”
Lombardi’s words told him everything he needed to know: his daughter was ugly and without any skills or graces to recommend her. And Nico would be the last man to accept a woman like her as his wife.