The Native American woman was lying on the sacred earth, where many of her people had fallen before her. Her dark eyes were staring at the sky, following the dance of the black crow. Her lips were dry and she had no strength to wet them. She knew she was going to die. She had been taught as a child to never fear death ... but, it was so hard. She closed her eyes, thanked the Creator and started humming the song of deliverance. She did not even have a chance to say good-bye to her love. She focused on the emerald eyes of her lover and felt herself slowly drifting.
LE HE'HAYE - YE'YE
le heyahe - Ye'ye
Kanghi-ye Oya'te-ye chaya-ya waon we lo
Kanghi-ye ... Oya'te ... ye cha ...
The reservation policeman was holding the jade-eyed woman so tightly he was hurting her. She was out of control, screaming in despair. His heart ached for her. He had seen murders before, but this time, it tore at his insides. He wanted to keep this woman against him and steal the pain from her, take it all in ... just to deliver her from her suffering.
She lost consciousness when she saw the black body-bag on the stretcher. Jason Brave Blackhawk picked her up in his arms and walked to his car. An old Indian man followed him, his wrinkled hands shaking. His eyes could not hide the agony of losing a loved one. He kept staring at the ground in disbelief. His magnificent daughter was gone ... his only one. What was he going to do now that his soul had died with her?
New York City, 2000
Krista Petrovna stood on her terrace overlooking Central Park South and gazed at the amazing tapestry surrounding her. The trees in the park gently swayed in perfect unison like musical notes. She observed the crowd on the asphalt path, mainly composed of joggers, people on roller blades and cyclists. She had always been fascinated by the City's paradox, an unnerving metropolis ... yet so intoxicating at times.
She loved the anonymity of things and felt free of all the constraints of her disciplined life. As the wind gently caressed her long hair, she shivered from the chill and went back in. She had just arrived from Vienna the previous night to seal a business transaction with an art dealer she had met at a dinner party in London. The woman, a countess from Italy, was one of the most influential and respected people in the field of ancient Art. Her talent for diplomacy was such a rare commodity that she could even negotiate business in the most hostile countries, which always put her ahead of her competition.
Krista sat on her sofa and stared at the violin case next to her. She opened it and gently ran her fingers over the strings of her Stradivarius. She sighed and closed the case. She was in no mood to rehearse today as she could not bear the emptiness engulfing her.
The intercom's buzzer startled her and she looked at her watch. The countess was very punctual. She walked to the hallway and picked up the phone. It was her doorman announcing the visitor.
Krista recognized Countess Arianna Di Montalvi immediately. An attractive woman in her mid-forties with dark eyes and shoulder-length straight black hair pulled back in a low pony tail, she was impeccably dressed in a black pants suit, the jacket buttoned as she wore nothing under it. Her composure revealed her aristocratic upbringing and sophistication. She was the head of Artiques International, an art dealing company, which also specialized in funding various archeological ventures in the Middle-East, South America and Asia.
Krista, it is a pleasure to see you again, Arianna hugged her. You look splendid.
Thank you, so do you. It is good to be in New York again. I love living in Europe, but I miss being here once in a while, Krista replied with an distinct British accent I was very excited when you phoned me and told me that you had found the Tang Dynasty horse I was looking for.
You will not be disappointed Cara. It is a completely intact fifth century beauty and let me tell you, that Chinese official gave me the most atrocious time. Arianna chuckled.
She observed Krista and could not help admiring the tall elegant woman facing her. She had chiseled features with long chestnut curls falling down her back and her almond shaped hazel eyes looked almost Asian.
They sat down on a black leather sofa. Would you like a drink? Krista inquired.
Sparkling water would be nice.
Arianna scanned the room. It was decorated in impeccable taste, Oriental antiques among modern furniture. She particularly admired an old Korean chest and a seventeenth century Edo Period gold leafed Musashino screen depicting the rising sun.
Odd mixture, she thought to herself, But it works well.
Arianna found herself wishing that Alessandra could have been there. She could have enticed Ms. Petrovna to see various other pieces. The young archeologist's passion for her craft was contagious, and Arianna missed her so much since their separation. Krista returned with two glasses and sat next to her.
I am having a reception Saturday and I would love you to come. It will be a formal occasion and I invited various dignitaries who are great admirers of yours. Black eyes lingered on the younger woman's gaze.
I will be delighted Countess.
Please call me Arianna A limousine will pick you up at 8:30pm. The countess looked at her watch.
When will it be possible for me to see the artifact?
I will make an appointment for you to meet with my assistant Monday afternoon. She will give you the horse, and will handle the contract. Her knowledge of eastern Archeology is priceless and I am quite sure that her expertise will be of immense help to you regarding future purchases. Krista noticed the sadness briefly flashing though the dark eyes.
The eyes... it must have been the eyes. Krista Petrovna could not keep her stare away from the exotic stranger who had joined the party. Her short hair was the color of the night, her eyes of a rain forest. An older Asian accompanied her. Krista felt a certain feeling of jealousy towards him, such an awkward feeling as she did not even know the striking creature who had just entered her heart.
Alessandra Akhtar noticed the stare and attempted to stay inconspicuous about it. She knew of the great violinist Krista Petrovna, a descendant of the White Russian aristocracy, a world she was brought up to despise since childhood by her Italian mother and Iranian father, both devoted Communists. That world became her destiny - the ironic circle of existence. She nonchalantly followed Krista's path as she walked away, covertly observing her height, long curls and the curves of her exquisite feminine figure which was covered in a silk ivory evening gown. Countess Di Montalvi signaled Alessandra who reluctantly followed her into the library. Arianna opened a cabinet, grabbed a crystal decanter, and poured cognac into two snifters. She was resplendent in her strapless black evening gown. Alessandra leaned against the mahogany paneling as her gaze followed her every move.
To us, Amore Mio. I feel that I have been away from you for so long. I wish you would have come with me. Buzios was so beautiful. The Italian woman approached her and gently stroked her shoulder. We have to talk.
I need time Love, please understand! Alessandra brushed Arianna's cheek, but moved away as her lover reached for her lips.
Cara Mia, It has been over three months, how much more time do you need? I can't stand it any longer. The dark eyes were on fire. But don't ever forget, you still belong to Artiques, Arianna ran her fingers through Alessandra's raven hair and brushed her lips against her neck. I can't let you go. You knew when I hired you that you would be with me always. Artiques is my life. I need the best and you are it.
Alessandra walked to the window and gazed at the night. Her heart was pounding so hard, she wanted to scream. She clenched her fists, her green eyes turning to gold. She had to control herself. Arianna Di Montalvi would never own her, never again, not like that.
Answer me...God damn you! Arianna stood behind her. She breathed in the seductive scent of her skin, her hands caressing the small swell of her lover's stomach. Alessandra pulled away from her. Arianna's hand struck her across the face. The younger woman grabbed her by the wrists and pushed her against the wall as the countess released a surprised gasp.
DON'T you EVER touch me again! Alessandra released her and left the room, slamming the door. Angrily, Arianna reached for her gold cigarette case. Pazza ragazza She mumbled with annoyance.
Alessandra passed a number of guests and left the townhouse. She walked to the garage down the block, signaled the parking attendant who brought down her night blue Porsche Carrera cabriolet a few minutes later. Her escort, Kenji Sakuma, approached the car as she was leaving the garage. She sighed in frustration and stopped.
Alechan, where are you going? He inquired, getting into the car.
Kenjisan, I can't bear to be in her presence anymore. Alessandra replied, her hands visibly shaking.
She hit the dashboard with her fist, shook her head and drove away at an alarming speed. Kenji touched her fingers.
Let's go back Anata. We have many important guests tonight. I know the two of you have to deal with each other privately. You still work for her and you must be there. Don't let her lose face. Their eyes locked.
I can't. she replied. But her mind knew she had to return to the reception. She made a U-turn and drove back to the garage.
Alessandra entered the salon and sat by the door. Krista was entertaining Arianna's guests with a Paganini piece. The quartet the Countess hired managed to follow her superior musicianship. Alessandra's eyes remained riveted on Krista Petrovna as the skilled musician allowed her fervor to reign through her performance. Like an ardent lover, the bow held delicately in her grasp gently caressed the strings of the violin. With eyes closed, her body moved in a gentle cadence as the musician and violin became one with the music. Idly, Alessandra wondered if the woman was as passionate with a lover as she was with her violin, and smiled at the image.
Arianna entered the room and stood behind her. Alessandra rubbed her forehead nervously. Lips lowered to her ear. I am sorry, my love. I never meant to hurt you. the Countess whispered.
Alessandra felt her anger slowly melt away. She still loved Arianna and yet hated her with the same passion. The scent of her perfume ... so alluring ... Alessandra closed her eyes.
The Countess sat next to her younger lover as they savored the music in silence. She wanted her so badly and wished the evening was over, but she also knew that Alessandra would walk away from her. At this melancholy thought, she lit a cigarette and inhaled so hard her lungs started to hurt.
As the music grew to its climatic conclusion, Krista's intensity increased as the bow struck the final notes right before the musician released a satisfied sigh. As she lowered her violin, her disheveled hair hung loosely in her face as her lungs seemed to gasp for air. At the silence in the room, Krista raised her head a glow lighting her features, the slight beads of perspiration clung to her upper lip as a satiated smile broke free.
Arianna touched Alessandra's arm who leaned forward and brushed her lips against her lover's cheek. From the other side of the room Kenji observed them with great intensity and thought How such a gentle soul can love someone so damn cold and cruel is beyond me. He bit his lower lip and looked away.
While Arianna stood up and walked toward Krista to compliment her, Alessandra joined Kenji. She stared at the two women, admiring how striking they looked together. A feeling of uncertainty ripped at her stomach. Kenji noticed her uneasiness and put his arm around her waist. She briefly rested her head on his shoulder, and then distanced herself from the embrace.
Alessandra noticed that although Krista was politely listening to Arianna, her eyes remained glued to where Alessandra stood with her Asian friend. Like a lightning bolt in the middle of cold dark night, they eyes locked and the intensity of their gaze seemed almost unbearable. After a few moments, Krista severed the contact as she mumbled something to the countess before the two walked away. At this abrupt conclusion, Alessandra visibly frowned as she turned away from the scene.
A short balding middle-aged man with a thin pencil mustache and an enormous stomach smiled in her direction and approached her. With each step he took, his belly seemed to jiggle as his breath came in deep pants. She recognized the Ambassador of Jordan.
Ms. Akhtar, it is such a pleasure to see you again He started. I wanted to personally thank you for your recent delivery. Inch'Allah! It is so good to have those irreplaceable treasures back in my country.
I believe that every historic relic should be returned to their point of origin, your Excellency, Alessandra replied warmly. I am glad to have been of assistance in the negotiations and also hope to be of more help in future developments.
You will my dear, you will. The Countess has the highest respect and praise for you. He assured her How did you like Ms. Petrovna's performance?
She is a just like a butterfly on a orchid. She makes your heart wonder about the real beauty of life, she replied and her thoughts drifted to her childhood for a split second. She caught herself and smiled. I always wanted to play an instrument. she added. But it was not one of my talents. Surprisingly my mother was an excellent pianist and tried to teach me at a young age. But I would not hear any of it. I guess she became tired of my stubbornness and never brought it up again. Alessandra shook her head and grinned. I wish she would have been more persistent.
Allah gave you equal talents in other areas my dear. the Ambassador's voice was softly reassuring as he held a warm smile.
As another guest approached them, Alessandra took advantage of the situation and extracted herself from the burly man's company. When she reached the bar, she ordered a cognac. Once the short stemmed goblet was in hand, she glanced in Krista's direction, her wrist absently twirled the brown liquid before walking out of the room. In slow, precise steps, she made her way up the staircase, letting her hand graze the bronze handrail.
She entered one of the guest rooms, put her glass down on the night table and unzipped her evening gown, letting it fall to the floor. She lay down on the bed and gazed at the elaborate plaster ornamentation on the ceiling, chasing every thought from her mind. Arianna's parties bored her. She hated all the small talk and preferred to stay on the side to observe the crowd. Human behavior could be so fascinating, yet so revolting. The cognac slowly relaxed every part of her body and she soon drifted into a tormented dream.
The townhouse was quiet. Arianna, clad in a red and gold silk kimono, was lying next to her sleeping lover. She had been watching her for hours, while stroking her hair. Her stomach was in a knot, she could not believe she was slowly losing the only person she had ever loved. The hurt was unbearable. What had gone wrong?
Alessandra walked into Arianna's office. The administrative assistant fended off the young archeologist in her usual tone, and said she would have to wait for a while as the countess was tied up in traffic. While she waited, she moved to the window, her thoughts wandering, and admired the skyline of the city from the 57th floor. She turned away and sat in Arianna's sleek black leather chair facing the modern black granite desk. The computer was on, Artiques' logo danced across the screen like a mad ballerina. A silver framed picture of Arianna's son, Carlo was facing her. He was a handsome young man in his late teens with blond curls and light brown eyes, his smile complimented by two dimples inherited from his mother.
A future heartbreaker, Alessandra thought as her lover entered the office, perfectly coordinated in her pinstripe business suit.
Upon entering the room, Arianna noticed her lover leaning back in the oversized executive chair. As her eyes glanced over her lover's exquisite beauty, she threw her tan leather briefcase on a chair, bent and kissed Alessandra lightly on the lips, and then sat down on the black leather sofa. Filled with apprehension, the countess removed her sunglasses and lit a cigarette nervously as she stared at her lover Or should I be thinking of her as an ex-lover? Arianna thought, then quickly dismissed the idea
The reason I called this meeting, Cara, she allowed her voice to trail off as she exhaled a thin wisp of smoke, the small gray cloud swirled upward toward the air vents as her gaze narrowed on her lover, is that I need you to meet with Ms. Petrovna this afternoon at 3:00 and give her the Tang horse I just acquired from the Chinese. I want you to take care of the transaction personally. she left no room for discussion.
But Arianna Alessandra replied angrily, This transaction can be handled by any of your staff. Why me? She felt quite insulted for a short instant. Was the Countess trying to punish her? Was she playing a game? Alessandra stared back, her face void of any emotion. Like a cat playing with a mouse, Arianna smiled in amusement.
Amore, the Countess purred innocently. I don't want to undermine your talent, but I think Ms. Petrovna could become a valuable customer of ours. She is extremely wealthy and I heard her collection of artifacts is incredible. She is an avid collector, and I am certain that you could entice her to acquire more. Arianna waited a few seconds and watched as Alessandra rubbed her forehead. A tired sigh escaped her lover's control, before Arianna continued.
I also have great news regarding our digs in the Province of Sichuan. The Chinese have postponed the completion of the Three George Dam until 2009. Arianna saw the excitement flashing through the green eyes.
Those are wonderful news, love. It will buy us time to complete our excavations before they are submerged. I still can't believe the Chinese are so willing to sacrifice such an important part of their history.
Their survival takes precedence over their past, my love. I feel for the millions of people whose families have lived on those lands for centuries and will have to be relocated in the name of modernization. But unfortunately the wheel of progress can never be stopped, Alessandra nonchalantly stated as she got up. Do you need me for anything else? I have some deadlines to meet. She became suddenly withdrawn.
What I need you for ... you don't want anymore, Arianna's voice broke. She walked to the window and stared at the sky. No you can go now ... call me later.
For that instant, Alessandra wanted to reach for her, feel the soft lips she still yearned for. But she could not allow herself to be engulfed in this moment of desire. She left the room and did not see the tears slowly sliding down Arianna's cheeks. The intercom came on.
Mrs. Di Montalvi, Mr. Tarek Ben Youb is on the phone. Would you like me to take a message or will you take the call? Arianna always enjoyed the deep voice of her secretary.
I will take the call Maria, thank you. She lifted the receiver and smiled.
Salaam Alikoum, Tarek. Did you receive the merchandise?
Oh yes Countess, in its entirety. It is always a pleasure to do business with you. After all we have been friends for such a long time. despite his charming voice, she heard a tinge of condescension.
Arianna smiled at his words as she knew perfectly that he was a Muslim and in his world women had no voices. But he had no other choice as she was the crème de la crème in her field.
You took care of my messenger, I hope. just as she stanched one cigarette butt, she took another one and lit it as she stood up in a fluid motion.
Of course, he was treated quite perfectly, she could hear the sarcasm in his voice as he continued, I will need more of those artifacts. You do know my taste.
There will not be any problem. I will have my associates contact you shortly. Ciao. She hung up the phone, let out a long breath of satisfaction, briefly forgetting Alessandra and the pain. She walked to a mirror to refresh her lipstick and admired what she saw. She took great pride in her physical appearance and went to great lengths to keep her body close to perfection. She smiled in approval and walked out of the office.
Krista Petrovna walked into Alessandra's office, a look of surprise in her eyes when she saw the dazzling woman from the party. Suddenly apprehensive, she glanced around the room, half expecting to see Arianna in the office. When the countess could not be found, she released a slight smile, pleased to be alone with the mysterious beauty.
Alessandra saw the musician's reaction and smiled calmly. The pleasant look of surprise from the tall woman caused a smile to tug at Alessandra's lips as she marveled at the woman's reaction. Why would I seem surprised? After all I've had a few hours to prepare myself for this encounter. she mused silently as she watched Krista take a tentative step towards her. Rising from her desk, determined to meet her halfway, she walked towards Krista and shook her hand. At the trembling of the tall woman's hands, Alessandra gazed at her for a moment, a reassuring smile crossing her lips.
Ms. Petrovna, it is such a privilege to meet you. I am a great admirer of yours. I am sorry I missed the opportunity to introduce myself at the reception. I am Alessandra Akhtar, Countess Di Montalvi's personal assistant. she kept her tone soft, yet confident as she greeted the tall beauty.
I heard remarkable comments about your expertise on eastern art. Krista finally responded after recovering her composure.
The statuesque woman sat in one of the Chinese Huang Hua Li horseshoe armchairs facing the desk and smiled. The smile sent an uncontrollable shiver down Alessandra's spine. At the intensity of her gaze, Alessandra looked away for a split second as the attraction was too strong.
Thank you. Would you like a cup of coffee or tea? She offered as a way of covering up her momentary lapse of control.
Tea, Darjeeling would be splendid, Krista replied in her striking British accent. It is my favorite.
Excusing herself, Alessandra stepped outside the door of her office, and asked one of the administrators to bring two cups of tea. Once assured the brand of tea which Krista requested would be brought, she returned to the room. With an apologetic smile, as she returned to her guest.
Well Ms. Petrovna, I do not want to take up anymore of your time. Let me show you your acquisition. I will be right back.
As she waited, Krista observed the room. It was quite unconventional. A black laptop, an open fountain pen and numerous papers rested on the desk, a long rosewood table with raised flanges and sides adorned with Ming dragon patterns. A bronze vase with various images depicting the life of Shakyamuni Buddha sat on an old lute table adjacent to a tan sofa. On the opposite side, Krista noticed the nude torso of an ancient female deity. She rose and lightly brushed the sandstone with her long fingers. Alessandra returned with a wooden chest in her arms and rested it on her desk. Taken off guard, Krista smiled at her sheepishly and removed her fingers from the statue.
Lovely isn't she? She grinned.
Is it Indian art? Krista inquired.
No actually Khmer from the Angkor Wat Period. It was a gift from Mrs. Di Montalvi.
Quite a generous gift. Krista thought as Alessandra took out a box covered in red and green silk from the chest. Curious, Krista approached her as she opened it.
Unbelievably splendid. Krista exclaimed in a half-whisper, then lowered her eyes and smiled. Alessandra briefly put her hand on the tall woman's forearm. They both admired the artifact in silence. It was in perfect condition. The horse's body was made out of light brown ceramic; its mane had been elegantly cut and shaped. The saddle was cobalt blue and ornate, the girth green and yellow.
The horse was the most important animal in the Tang Dynasty. It was often represented on murals and as funerary figurines. The animal assured military glory and power of the dynasty, Alessandra started. Its strength was portrayed by the artists. The musculature was often exaggerated to a point that the horse's head always appeared too small. However, I believe that it did lose the dynamism and vigor of the horses from the Han Dynasty, probably because white clay was used instead of bronze.
It is stunning ... just magnificent. Krista whispered as their eyes met again.
Breathtaking, Alessandra lost herself in the hazel gaze for an instant. This artifact comes from an imperial tomb discovered in Qianxian. It is flawless.
She carefully closed the box and handed it to Krista. Their fingers lightly touched and they both felt an electrifying jolt. Alessandra's assistant entered the room, carrying a Limoges® porcelaine tea pot and two cups.
I will take care of it, thank you Amanda. She poured the tea and handed a cup to Krista.
Thank you. Krista could not help herself from admiring the grace in Alessandra's movements. Would you like to join me for dinner tonight? Krista amazed herself at her boldness.
Momentarily taken back, Alessandra gazed up at the woman, a slight smile crossing her lips as her eyes grew soft, Certainly, Ms. Petrovna, I would love to.
Deep within the familiar dream, the black crow was perched on an armchair facing the canopy bed. Alessandra turned towards it. The window was wide open and the sheer drapes were gliding in the air. Snow was drifting in. The bird's piercing dark eyes were full of tenderness.
Iwan'ka! She murmured and closed her eyes.
She suddenly felt a soft body upon hers. The creature had transformed itself into a ravishing woman. Alessandra lightly brushed the aquiline nose, the high cheekbones, and full lips. Her woman warrior was back.
Justine ... I have missed you so much. Please let me go with you.
The Indian woman smiled kindly and looked away. I cannot lead you to the path, you are not ready Wan'kieiyaka ... I will watch over you always Cantekiyapi and when the time comes, I will be right here waiting for you.
Alessandra screamed in her sleep. She quivered and opened her eyes as she felt a hand stroking her hair. Arianna, sitting next to her on the sofa, bent and kissed her. Alessandra sat up next to her, sweat dripping from her forehead and ran her fingers through her wet hair. She had laid down after Krista's departure to sort out her emotions and had fallen asleep. She wished the black crow could haunt her for eternity.
Cara Mia, I was passing by, and I heard you scream. Are those dreams coming back? You were doing so well for a long time. Arianna kissed her forehead.
I can't believe I fell asleep. I have so much to do. She detached herself from the embrace, looked at her watch and got up suddenly.
Shit! She ran to the phone and anxiously dialed a number.
Ms Petrovna, this is Alessandra Akhtar, I am so sorry. I ran behind schedule and I will be a few minutes late. She hung up and walked back to the sofa to put her shoes on, ignoring Arianna's puzzled look.
I am sorry Arianna, I have to go. I'll call you later.
Hold on! What's going on? Don't shut me out, I won't tolerate it!
I am following your orders my love. You wanted the Great Krista Petrovna as a valuable customer, now will be your chance. I'm meeting her for dinner at 8:00 and I need to get ready. Therefore, I must go and will speak to you later. Alessandra stated sarcastically.
Alessandra did not wait for an answer, instead, she walked out and, hailed a cab to drive her to her apartment in Greenwich Village. Once home, she opened the door and threw her briefcase and jacket on a chair. Absently, she removed her suit and silk tank top, dropping them to the floor, and unhooked her lace bra, then lowered her panties and dropped them in a heap near her discarded clothes. Glancing at the answering machine she noticed two messages awaiting her. With a tired sigh, she walked away as she was not in the mood to listen to them now. She entered her bathroom and turned the shower on.
Her apartment was small, but ravishing to the eye. The living room was decorated with Asian antiques, while photographs of one striking Native American woman in traditional garb covered her bedroom walls. She was majestic in her buckskin dress adorned with colorful beads patterns and fringes. Two eagle feathers were hanging from her long raven hair. A picture of that same woman standing next to an old battered old chevy truck was in a bronze frame on the night table. She was clad in a simple white tee-shirt, blue jeans, and cowboy boots. A bone and silver choker was around her neck and her shiny hair was pulled back in a single braid. Her smile was captivating.
Krista waited at the bar, sipping a martini. The bartender was trying to impress her. He was clad in black clothes, the usual uniform for a trendy place like this one. She smiled at him and flirted back, after all she was accustomed to these innocent games. One advantage about being a classical performer is being known only by a certain class of people. Although accustomed to being the center of attention, she was apprehensive.
What am I doing? Alessandra Akhtar was probably interested in only a business deal. her mind tried to reason. Yet, she could not forget the hide and seek game their eyes played during the party and the erotic tension that emerged during their afternoon meeting. The mind could lie but their bodies could not ignore the fire, she thought as she closed her eyes and let out a long sigh.
Alessandra entered the restaurant and scanned the room noticing Krista sitting at the bar involved in a conversation with the bartender as she laughed politely. She motioned the bar as a Maître d' approached her and strolled toward it confidently. Krista's hazel eyes lit up when the exotic woman arrived.
Ms Petrovna ... may I call you Krista, I am so sorry to be so late. It is not a habit of mine, I assure you. I hope you have not been waiting long. Alessandra sat next to Krista and smiled graciously.
Don't worry, I was in good hands. Krista gestured to the bartender. Would you like a drink?
I'll have the same. She pointed toward the martini, an indication to the bartender of her order, before he nodded and reluctantly walked away. Krista smiled and picked up her drink. Alessandra admired the long and delicate fingers gently holding the glass. Definitely a musician's hand. she thought. The bartender returned with the martini and stayed with them. Krista frowned in annoyance and wished for him to get lost, but he seemed clueless. He addressed Alessandra in a seductive tone of voice.
Are you in the classical business too?
I did unearth a few classical beauties in my lifetime. She replied graciously as Krista chuckled at the comment.
Are you an agent? the bartender glanced at her quizzically. One of hostesses came to lead them to their table before Alessandra could reply. She turned to him before leaving and winked at him mirthfully. On their way to the dining room, she noticed Kenji Sakura sitting in the cigar lounge. She felt her breath coming raw in her throat and wanted to confront him, but then decided against it. The hostess sat them in a corner booth under an elaborate exotic floral arrangement. The scent of white lilies and orchids was intoxicating.
Krista noticed the stress lines forming on Alessandra's brow and her troubled gaze. She covered Alessandra's hand with her own. Are you alright? She inquired concerned. The young archeologist nodded at her with open fondness and smiled dreamily.
They barely touched their food. Alessandra learned that Krista was born in Vienna, but had lived in London for most of her years. She was thirty four years old, had been married once to a famous German actor, but their marriage did not last as Krista would not give up her profession to become a full time wife and mother. Once the divorce was final five years ago, she moved back to her birthplace to concentrate on her career.
She loved ancient art and in particular, Persian art, from the first Darius Dynasty. Upon hearing this, Alessandra explained that she had some knowledge of the era; however she was not an expert. Despite her lack of expertise, she offered to make an appointment with another consultant specializing in ancient Middle Eastern art to handle any potential transactions. Krista concealed her disappointment of not seeing her again.
Is the Tang Horse your first Chinese acquisition? she inquired.
No, I have various other pieces bought from your company. I own a lady of waiting and a groom from the same Dynasty. While in concert in Beijing last year, I went to an exhibition where I discovered a new passion for Chinese Art.
Is your collection recorded? Alessandra asked, her interest renewed. I could study it and provide you with recommendations towards future purchases.
I'll arrange to have a portfolio sent to your office.
In the meanwhile, I will have a CD containing our available eastern artifacts sent to you. They kept up a very professional conversation. Suddenly Alessandra's facial muscles tensed. Krista looked up and saw Arianna Di Montalvi approaching their table, accompanied by a distinguished older man and a teenager.
What a coincidence... Arianna started. I did know my assistant had a meeting with you tonight, but I was not aware it would be here. I hope she will be of help to you Krista. As I previously told you, she is my best employee and is priceless to me. The double innuendo didn't go unnoticed and Krista glanced at Alessandra who was nervously holding her espresso cup with two hands, her jade eyes narrowing with disdain. Unquestionably, something was going on between them. Arianna flashed a superior grin and introduced her companions.
Ms. Petrovna, this is my former husband, Graf Von Meinhard, who is also one of your biggest admirers and our son Carlo. She stated politely.
Krista didn't miss Arianna's predatory stare in Alessandra's direction. She smiled amiably as the marquis took her hand and lightly kissed it. He was a tall man in his late fifties with silver hair, and one could not ignore the great intellect hiding behind the steel gray eyes. Krista detected a certain loneliness enveloping Arianna's son, who seemed lost in another world. She felt a certain feeling of intrusion at that moment, but tried to dismiss her discomfort and managed to be cordial. After a shallow conversation, the countess and her escorts walked to their table leaving Alessandra livid.
Krista, I must go now, could we schedule another meeting? I'll drive you home. She immediately regretted her abruptness, but she had to get out of the place. They left the restaurant in silence. Krista felt uneasy and thought about getting a taxi, but she could not bring herself to leave this incredibly sensual woman. So rather than follow her instincts, she accepted the offered ride. They barely spoke as Alessandra drove away.
Alessandra continued kicking the door of Arianna's townhouse with her feet, her speech slurred and vision blurry as she released an incoherent slew of obscenities. A bottle of Stolichnaya® hung precariously in her grip as she struggled to right herself into an upright position. As an afterthought, the inebriated woman leaned against the wall, tilting her head back as she tipped the bottle, closed her eyes as the drops of the fiery liquid poured down her throat. After she swallowed the vodka, she opened her eyes, fought to focus her vision, then released a disgruntled mumble as she turned her attention back to the door. For a moment, she felt her world suddenly spin out of control. With a shake of her head, she returned her attention to the front door, the vodka did nothing to dispel her anger.
At her insistent knocking, James, the butler, opened the door and caught Alessandra before she landed on the floor. The tall, regal man crinkled his nose in displeasure as he was assaulted with the pungent order of liquor. With only a questioning arch of a brow, he took the half empty bottle from the woman's hand as he helped her in. Arianna's two bodyguards who were standing on each side of the door relaxed upon seeing her.
Ms. Akhtar, what happened? the concern registered in the butler's voice as he tried to hold her up.
WHERE is she? Her speech slurred as she stumbled into the foyer Where is the FUCKING b ?
She never finished her sentence as she freed herself from James' grasp and staggered up the stairs. Reaching Arianna's bedroom she hurled herself through the door. Concerned by the sudden intrusion, the countess jumped up and sat on the bed, her eyes widened in alarm.
What are you doing, Amore? Oh God! How much did you have to drink?
Alessandra stumbled onto the bed. She sat there in a drunken stupor and could no longer move. Arianna started to undress her.
I am here now, you can fuck me anyway you want She whispered. Do you know how much I hate you? I wish Justine was here I miss her so damn much. Alessandra released a sob as the futility of it all settled in.
Arianna ignored the last comment and held her tightly brushing her cheek against the soft shoulder and inhaled the sweet smell of her scent mingled with the odor of the vodka. The Italian woman to released a sigh of sadness. Alessandra had passed out against her. Arianna frowned slightly and lowered the inebriated woman down gently.
As she watched Alessandra's slow, even breaths, the countess moved to a nearby nightstand. She opened a golden box and removed a fresh Rothmans® from the container. Upon lightening it, the stately woman inhaled deeply, absently watching as the tip burned a deep red while the smoke filled her lungs. Once lit, she returned the lighter to the nightstand and moved near the edge of the bed. In silence, Arianna stood over Alessandra as she balanced the slender cigarette between two fingers. With a shake of her head, she absently watched the smoke from her cigarette slowly rising toward the ceiling.
The end of chapter 1
To be continued
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