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beauty forever

“You will explain again,” Erzsébet Bathory, clearly less than pleased, faced down her two ladies-in-waiting.

Kateline hesitated, but Jó Ilona spoke immediately in a clear voice. “There was a commotion last night, Your Highness. Several guards and servants report hearing sounds of a struggle, the voices of men and a girl, yet no one was found in the area it is agreed the noises came from.”

“And now two of my personal guard are missing?” It was less a question then a confirmation of what had already been reported. The two women nodded. “Yet we are not less in our number of female servants?”

“No, Highness.”

The Countess pursed her lips and turned from her ladies to a full length mirror, smoothing her skirts and her hair. “Then I am being asked to believe that either these guards have chosen to leave my service without cause, or,” she paused to frown and was inwardly pleased at the lack of wrinkles the action produced, “that somehow, there has come to be a girl in this castle who has the ability to eliminate them.”

Neither option was one she wanted to consider. Vampires were certainly not the most trustworthy of creatures, but there had been an agreement between the Countess and her guards for many years now; an agreement that she had followed through on to the letter. If these two had decided to disregard it now, it was possible others may follow in their stead and Erzsébet knew her hold on them was becoming tenuous, as the threat of Dracule became less and less menacing.

As for the girl, well, Countess Bathory had heard the rumours. Whether she believed them or not was another thing, but it was certainly not out of the realm of possibility, especially since her sorceress, Anna, could neither confirm nor deny that such a maiden could exist. Still, one little girl would be easier to deal with than a cadre of rebelling vampires.

She forced herself to relax and pivoted back around to face her ladies. “Have we any leads as to the identity of the girl?”

Both women hesitated this time and after a brief, shared look, Kateline spoke. “Judit reports there is a girl in the kitchens, still fairly new to the castle. Stronger than most and assigned to tend the fires during the night.”

Tapping a finger against her chin, Erzsébet considered this information thoroughly, barely suppressing a smile. “You will test this girl. Take her with you this evening when you attend to the disposals. If her strength truly is something to be admired, assign her to the dungeon and alert me immediately.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the two women murmured, heads bowed.

“That is all,” the Countess waved a hand dismissively and her ladies took their leave. In the meantime, Anna’s counsel would be required. There were plans to be made and Erzsébet hadn’t felt this excited in years.

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bathed in blood

February 2007

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