Near Cluj, Romania
2 December 1999
Clara opened her eyes to find herself in a room Dracula would have been proud of. She lay in a giant four-poster bed covered in satin and silk and velvet. The room was long, with tall windows on one side. Opposite was a fireplace, framed in stone, in front of it two overstuffed chairs. There was also a bookshelf and writing desk in the room. Deep reds and dark woods dominated.
Clara threw back the covers and stepped across the wood floor to one of the windows. She looked out over a narrow snow-covered lawn, and beyond it a forest of bare trees. She had seen the same scene in any of a thousand paintings of the Eastern European landscape.
Her mind ran over the events that had brought her there. She made Adam go to bed and get some rest. Sleep had been her intention as well when she heard a noise downstairs in the townhouse. She thought Arkady might have returned, or perhaps Greta had chosen to come in early. When she went downstairs, though she didn’t see anything. She was about to return to her room when she heard the noise again. This time it was distinct—a knock at the door. She knew better than to answer. A sense of dread crept over her as the knocking continued. She backed away. Her hand went to the crucifix around her neck, the one Arkady had given her.
The knocking continued as shadows moved in front of the windows. Clara was about to call for Adam when a gloved hand closed over her mouth, and a harsh voice whispered in her ear, “You should have been paying attention to the other door.”
After that she didn’t remember anything until she had awoken in the room. She tested all the windows. The sashes were nailed shut, and in any event, she was on an upper floor, too high to drop to the ground below.
Behind her the room’s only door opened. She turned to find a man standing in the doorway. He was dressed more for the nineteenth century than the twentieth, in a black waistcoat with a red cravat. A streak of white ran through his black hair, from the tip of his widow’s peak to behind his left ear. He moved like a wolf prowling, and Clara caught herself watching his muscles tensing and flexing underneath his clothes.
He gave a slight bow “Welcome, Dr. MacIntosh. I trust the accommodations are to your liking?”
Clara couldn’t place his accent. She knew only it wasn’t Eastern European. “Where am I? Who are you?”
“We’re in the middle of a forest,” the man answered with a lopsided smile, “in a manor house that dates back to the eighteenth century, once owned by Hungarian nobles.”
“That’s … that’s not what I meant,” she stammered, “and you didn’t answer my second question.”
He grinned again, baring his teeth. “Not now. All you need to know is that I’m your host.” He glanced at the ta-ble next to the bed. “I’ll see you’re brought something to eat. Please, try to enjoy your stay. You may as well. You’ll probably be here for a while.”
He left her, locking the door behind him.
The sun had just set when the door opened again. Clara sat in the bed with the blankets pulled around her. With the loss of the light, the temperature in the room plummeted. An older man entered and set a tray of food on the table next to the bed. Then he began to stack wood in the fireplace. He barely looked at her.
While the man set about preparing a fire, she forced herself to ignore the rich aroma wafting from the food despite her protesting stomach.
“Excuse me,” she said. “What’s your name? What is this place?”
The man didn’t answer. Clara tried again in German. Still she received no response. When the man left a fire roared in the fireplace, and the room gradually warmed. She turned her attention to the tray of food to discover some sort of meaty red stew and a hunk of crusty bread. Clara almost gagged on the first spoonful at the amount of paprika, but she forced herself to eat, and the second spoonful she found more tolerable. About halfway through she began to enjoy the stew.
After she finished eating, Clara walked to the window again. Outside the crescent moon hung low in the sky, just above the trees, and the stars shone brightly. Frost spider-webbed its way across the glass. Shadowy figures moved among the naked trees in the woods.
When she turned around, the man in the black waist-coat sat in one of the chairs next to the fireplace.
“Please, have a seat,” he said, motioning to the other chair.
“I don’t think I want to do that.” She did want to, though.
He was dressed much as before, except the cravat was gone, and the collar of his shirt was open. Her eyes traced the line of his collarbone to his broad chest. The light from the fire never quite reached his face. The shadows flickered and darted around him.
“Please,” he repeated. “We have much to discuss.”
He stood and walked towards her, his predator’s gait even more pronounced. “Really, now, you needn’t fear me. If we took some time to get to know one another, I’m sure you’d find we share quite a few of the same goals.”
He stood over her looking down, his face just inches from her. He smelled like cinnamon and sage, and even though something in the back of her head told her it ought not be, she could feel the heat coming off his body. She tried to back away, but there was nowhere to go. “I’m not going to hurt you. I want you to trust me.”
“That’s a little hard to do when I’m being held prisoner.”
He reached out and took her hand in his. “Only out of necessity. Maybe, soon we can alter that arrangement.”
Clara shivered as a wave of electricity passed through her body. Her heart fluttered, and her cheeks grew hot. “What do you mean? Where are Adam and Arkady? Did you do something to them?”
“I assure you they are alive and healthy, but you needn’t worry about them. They may have other worries at the moment.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “You could come to like it here.”
Her gaze shifted to the moonlit scene outside. “I doubt that.”
With his other hand he caressed her cheek. “Perhaps I’m rushing things. I should give you some time. I know you don’t understand everything now, but you will soon.”
And with that he backed out of the room and closed the door, leaving her alone again. Only she didn’t feel like she was alone.
Clara climbed back into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. As she drifted off to sleep, a wolf howled, and when she dreamt, she dreamt she was someone else, somewhere else, in a time long past. Wolves howled there, too, and shadows moved in the darkness more dangerous than the wolves by far.