Midnight Harvestby Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Midnight Harvest, Worsening military situations in Spain compel Saint-Germain to leave Europe; he and Roger travel to Boston, then Chicago, and finally to California, unaware that a paid assassin is following them. Saint-Germain visits the Pietragnelli winery and discovers how much the Great Depression has affected life in the USA;/i>… See more details below
In Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Midnight Harvest, Worsening military situations in Spain compel Saint-Germain to leave Europe; he and Roger travel to Boston, then Chicago, and finally to California, unaware that a paid assassin is following them. Saint-Germain visits the Pietragnelli winery and discovers how much the Great Depression has affected life in the USA; difficulties with Pietragnelli's neighbors escalate, becoming more violent and demanding to the point that Saint-Germain helps Carlo Pietragnelli take a stand against the culprits. He also reunites romantically with Rowena Saxon, now living in San Francisco.
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By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Warner AspectCopyright © 2003 Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOne of the shutters banged open, buffeted by the wind; it left a wedge of brilliant sunlight across the bed, making the sheet celestially luminous in the cool, shadowed room. On the bed, Saint-Germain moved out of the brightness, leaving Doña Isabel Inez Vedancho y Nuñez wrapped in the sheets. He rose and went to secure the shutter and looked out at the shining Atlantic edging the city of Cádiz. From here he had a view of the harbor, and he saw the clusters of soldiers near the warehouses and customs sheds, seemingly small as mice and as busy. In the bright, chilly winter sunlight they appeared preternaturally sharp and defined.
"Amor, come back to bed," murmured Doña Isabel. She rolled onto her back and stretched out her arm. Her face was still softened by the aftermath of passion and her dark auburn hair was a glorious tangle.
"In a moment," Saint-Germain said as he fastened the latch, restoring the dimness that had made their time together so private. Unlike the naked Doña Isabel, Saint-Germain was still dressed in slacks and an open silk shirt, though his feet were bare; he made his way across the lotus-patterned carpet, his movements measured, almost as if he were pacing out an ancient dance. "We still have an hour more before siesta is over. There is no reason to hurry."
"No, not to hurry, but I don't want to"-she let the sheet slide down her body, exposing more of her flesh-"neglect anything we might enjoy."
He smiled fleetingly. "Nor would I," he said softly.
"And I have no wish to waste this opportunity," said Doña Isabel, who was known as Isis to her friends for her love of all things Egyptian as well as the slightly exotic cast of her features. Her room reflected her taste with a pair of golden sphinxes flanking the door, a chair upholstered in appliqué linen that was a copy of a temple frieze at Luxor, and a small statue of a crowned Pharaoh on her nightstand-she called him Rameses, but Saint-Germain read his name in the cartouche as Khafre-as well as golden hieroglyphic motifs in her wallpaper. "It isn't just that siesta won't last forever: I have to attend a reception at the British Consul's residence this evening, and I'll need two hours to get ready. It's very formal-white-tie." She continued to watch him. "Will I see you there?"
"Very likely," said Saint-Germain. "But probably not until midnight; I doubt I'll appear at the beginning of the evening."
"You aren't going to attend the dinner, then, just the concert to follow," she said shrewdly; at thirty-two she considered herself very much a woman of the world, and in the last two months had become accustomed to Saint-Germain's eccentricities. "You don't like to have to avoid the food."
"A sad necessity, hermosa, or at least an exercise in forethought; you know how awkward it can be to have to account for such quirks," he said as he came back to the bed. "In any case, I prefer not to draw anyone's attention to it."
"It's probably for the best, though I would truly welcome your escort." She sighed, wrapping a stray tendril of hair around her finger. "I would be the envy of half the women there, I daresay, but I don't want tongues to wag about us."
"Nor I," he said, knowing his reticence was for vastly different reasons than hers. "So we must continue to be circumspect. And not simply because I do not dine as most others do." He sat on the edge of the bed and leaned over her, kissing her deeply and slowly, feeling her desire reawaken as her lips parted.
"Ah, Comte," she whispered as he stretched out beside her. "I am so glad you have decided to spend this time with me, no matter how brief it may be. It is little enough to brighten my life. But if Ponce," she went on, making a moue of distaste at her husband's name, "insists on remaining in l'Argentina for years on end with that German mistress of his, he cannot expect me to pursue a nun's existence." She slipped her hand into his hair. "Not that Ponce ever treated me so well as you have done."
"I have done nothing that would compromise you," he reminded her as his lips grazed the rise of her small, pointed breasts.
"I don't think Ponce would agree," she said with a quick, delicious smile. "If the well-born ladies and gentlemen of Cádiz knew what you and I have been doing with our Friday afternoons, they would be shocked, and scandal would follow. I have no liking for being an object of defamation." She ran one finger along the edge of his jaw. "But at least you have done nothing that would truly disgrace me. Or endanger my marriage. What a perfect lover you are, Comte: attentive, insouciant, and incapable of impregnating me. And so very discreet-if there are rumors, I can still deny them believably. "
"No, I would not put you in any danger that can be avoided. Nor would I expose you to ostracism, if I could prevent it," he promised her as he did something quite wonderful to her nipples.
She sighed again, luxuriously, and arched her back. "That's ... that's ... keep doing that," she murmured.
He obeyed, and slowly began to work his way down her body, his touch finding new sources of arousal as he went. When he discovered some especially intense response, he lingered, expanding on her excitement until she was almost shivering with anticipation. He parted her legs and caressed the soft folds that were already moist.
"Not yet. Not yet," she said, her hands in his hair. "Make it last longer." She drew his head down to kiss his mouth, releasing him slowly.
"Very well," he said, and slowly worked his way up her body, still learning new ways to excite her. "If this is what you want."
Her smile was subtly feline, deeply satisfied. "Most lovers would be vexed with me," she said softly as he kissed her shoulder. "But you don't mind at all."
"Why should I? My enjoyment is commensurate with yours. The greater your fulfillment, the greater mine is." He supported himself on his elbow and looked down into her face. "Why would I deprive myself of the full release of your passion?"
She laughed low in her throat. "Of course."
Saint-Germain kissed her again. "Still, we should be careful." He began to stroke her body through the sheet.
She held on to his neck, keeping their faces close together. "It isn't just Ponce who worries you, is it?"
"No," Saint-Germain admitted.
"The soldiers trouble you; I see you watching them when you're out in public," she said, knowing she was right; she pressed herself against him in languorous abandon. "You think they're going to be more aggressive."
"I fear so," said Saint-Germain, and swept her hair back from her forehead and bent to kiss the arch of her brow. "Soldiers often are, particularly when there is tension in the country as there is now in Spain."
"Should I be worried, do you think?" Doña Isabel asked, some of her attention straying to what his hand was doing to her hip. She half-closed her eyes and allowed her senses to drift. "Do you reckon I'm in jeopardy?"
"Not yet, but in time you may be. My risks are more imminent. Our situations are not the same," Saint-Germain reminded her, and kissed her upper lip, and expanded the exploration of his expert fingers.
"You mean because I'm Spanish and you're in exile," she said, beginning to pant. "Oh, that's just ... lovely."
"Then enjoy it," he whispered, caressing the line of her thigh while he continued to elicit new bursts of pleasure from her awakened flesh.
"It's ..." She managed to open her eyes to look deeply into his. "Can you do more?"
He did not bother to answer her, putting all his attention on rousing her totally. He stroked her hip down to her knee through the fine linen, and pushed the sheet aside so that her pale olive body was wholly accessible to him. "You're glorious," he whispered, running his hand lingeringly along her flank and onto her hip, duplicating his last caress. He curled over her, moving with care as he shifted his position. Gently he kissed the back of her knee and began to work his way up her leg, maneuvering to the inside of it as he went. By the time he reached the apex of her thighs, she was trembling, and as he touched her clitoris with his tongue, she jerked and let out a little cry, anticipating the splendid paroxysms that were building within her. Slowly he slid his fingers into her, and as he felt the first muscular contraction, he moved so that he could reach the marvelous curve of her neck as she gave herself over to her gratification; the intensity of her orgasm shook them both, and for a long moment it was as if they had removed themselves from the world.
The slow chiming of her boudoir clock caught their attention. Doña Isabel was the first to move. "Siesta will be over in a quarter hour."
"Then I must go," said Saint-Germain, sliding to the edge of the bed, one hand still resting on the rise of her shoulder.
"I wish you didn't have to," she said, laying her hand over his as if to keep him with her a little longer.
"And I," he said, and bent to kiss her fingers before drawing his hand away; then he rose and sought out his shoes and socks, and sank into the Luxor-decorated chair to don them. "You have been most generous, Doña Isabel."
"Oh, Comte. How can you be so formal, after all this? Doña Isabel indeed! Call me Isis. Please. I really do prefer it." She was trying to banter now, but not quite succeeding. "I wish you could remain with me all afternoon."
"That would be lovely," he said, continuing to deal with his thick-soled shoes. "But the results would please neither of us."
"You mean my servants would notice?" She almost pouted at the thought.
"At the very least," he said, tying his laces.
She sighed, this time in resignation. "You're right, of course." She sat up, pulling the sheet over her as she did. "I should bathe and summon Solita to do my hair."
He rose and reached for his waistcoat of black superfine wool. "It wouldn't do for her to see me." He reached out and took her free hand, bending over it to kiss the back of her fingers. "I will look for you tonight, at midnight, at the British Consul's."
"I'll try not to count the hours," she said, watching him fasten the eighteen buttons on his waistcoat. "The next time will be the last, won't it?" She spoke before she realized she had given voice to her thoughts.
He paused in the act of pulling on his jacket. "Yes," he said, his voice low and still.
"Because any more than five times and I will be at risk to become like you," she said, hating herself for repeating his warning. "And the next time will be five."
"Yes," he said again.
"I cannot think that would be so dreadful," she said, trying to keep the plea out of her voice.
"But it would be demanding in a way you have already said you're unwilling to accept," said Saint-Germain, securing the Windsor knot on his burgundy silk tie. "It isn't something you can alter once you accept it."
"How do you do that?" Doña Isabel wondered.
"Do what?" Saint-Germain asked as he smoothed his hair.
"Dress without a mirror," she said. "I know you have no reflection, but even then-"
"That is the sum of it," said Saint-Germain, starting toward the door that led to the small patio off the bedroom. "I've had centuries of practice."
She gave a single, disbelieving laugh, then cocked her head. "Be sure you aren't watched."
"I will," he said.
"More centuries of practice?" she teased as he reached for the door-latch.
"Yes," he said, and slipped out the door into the windy afternoon. The patio snuggled into the shoulder of the hill; Saint-Germain was over the low fence and up the steep slope with remarkable strength and ease, his powerful, compact body moving swiftly along the rocky face, grateful now that his native earth in the soles of his shoes could keep the worst of the sun at bay. It took a little more than a minute to reach the roadway above, where his automobile was parked. Neatening his clothes, he climbed into his Minerva cabriolet and drove off down the hill he had just scaled. As he reached the bottom of the slope where three roads came together, he saw a small group of soldiers blocking the way; he frowned as a sergeant motioned him to pull over.
"Papers," said the sergeant as Saint-Germain came to a stop beside him.
"My passport," said Saint-Germain, pulling this from his inside breast-pocket. It was one of four he had, and at present he used it preferentially.
"Hungarian," said the sergeant as if finding damning evidence, and examining the leather cover before opening it. "You travel a great deal, Señor Ragoczy," he remarked as he thumbed through the stiff pages, looking at the various stamps and seals.
"Yes; I do," Saint-Germain agreed without mentioning that the sergeant had erred in calling him Señor instead of Comte.
"Do you make a long stay here in Cádiz?" The question was sharper than it needed to be, and it was accompanied by an accusing stare.
"My visa allows me a total of three years," Saint-Germain pointed out. "I have been here ten months, as you see."
"And you are staying at the Hotel della Luna Nueva," the sergeant remarked, pulling a residency slip from the back of the passport. "Very expensive, very private."
"It came well-recommended," said Saint-Germain in a tone that suggested his housing arrangements were his own business.
"Such a place, yes, I would think it would," said the sergeant, smiling mirthlessly, and, after a brief hesitation, handing the passport back to Saint-Germain. "If you move, you must notify the police."
"Yes. I am aware of that," said Saint-Germain, and moved to put the Minerva in gear.
The sergeant laid his hand on the door-handle. "Do not think you can move about unnoticed. We will be watching you, Señor. We are watching all foreigners in Spain." With that, he stepped back and motioned Saint-Germain to drive on.
Proceeding along the widening road toward the Calle del Sol, Saint-Germain had to fight down a sense of unease; the encounter with the soldiers troubled him, and he kept watch for similar groups of soldiers on the road, in case he should be singled out again. He reached the Plaza de los Pescadores without further incident, but he could not rid himself of the notion that he was being followed. Turning into the Avenida Fantasma, Saint-Germain shifted down into second gear, maneuvering along the steep, narrow street with deceptive nonchalance, for he was surreptitiously checking the windows and roofs of the buildings around him; approaching the entrance to the Hotel della Luna Nueva he finally spotted a man in uniform in the upper window of the three-story house just across from the wrought-iron gates standing open for hotel guests. He made the turn rather abruptly, the tires squealing on the cobblestones.
"Welcome back, Conde," said the doorman in Spanish as Saint-Germain pulled into the parking area. He hurried up to get the door for this illustrious gentleman.
"Thank you, Cornelio," said Saint-Germain in the same language, handing over twenty francs; he knew Cornelio Liebre preferred foreign coins to Spanish ones. "Is Rogerio in?"
"Yes, Conde. He is in your front suite." Cornelio stepped back to allow Saint-Germain to pass. "Or," he added conscientiously, "he was half-an-hour ago. He may have gone out the north door. I wouldn't have seen him."
The Hotel della Luna Nueva was a handsome building that had once been the mansion of a wealthy merchant who had profited from New World trade three hundred years before. The style was the restrained Spanish Baroque, four stories high, with three wings, one of them added in the last century when it was changed from a private residence into a hotel. Saint-Germain went up the five broad step and entered the lobby; he nodded at the manager as he turned toward the north wing where he had engaged three four-room suites for his use and one for his manservant, Rogerio. "Good afternoon, Señor Echevarria," he said.
"And to you, Comte," said Señor Hernando Echevarria, his French meticulous, with a politeness that bordered on the obsequious. He was perfectly attired and he supervised the lobby as his glorious fiefdom; it was a gracious and elegant place: the settees and chairs were upholstered in a damask of olive-green and turquoise, the carpet was a dull gold, the walls were a lighter olive-green than the furniture, and the pillars were the same dull gold as the carpet. Five large urns sprouted extravagant palms and two large vases contained cut flowers.
"Have you any messages for me?" Saint-Germain asked, looking toward the registration desk.
Excerpted from Midnight Harvest by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro Copyright © 2003 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's interests range from music--she composes and has studied seven different instruments as well as voice--to history, from horseback riding to needlepoint. Her writing is similarly wide-ranging; under her own name and pseudonyms, she has written everything from westerns to mysteries, from science fiction to nonfiction history.
Yarbro's critically-acclaimed historical horror novels featuring the Count Saint-Germain, including Hotel Transylvania, A Feast in Exile, Communion Blood, and Night Blooming, have a loyal readership. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has always lived in California and currently makes her home in the Berkeley area.
CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO has been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy, and the Bram Stoker Awards. She has been named a Grand Master of the World Horror Convention and a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild. In 2014, she was named Lifetime Achievement Winner of the World Fantasy Award. Author of many novels of horror, dark fantasy, mystery and more, including the St. Germain series, Yarbro lives in Berkeley, California.
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