As many of you know, I’ve been working on a WIP entitled Tears of Blood (Book 3 of The Blood Chronicles). Silly me, this is one of 4 WIPs that are brewing on my hard drive, each as individual as the next. This paranormal romance,though, has me particularly enthralled.
If you follow me on Facebook, many of you will know I’m a big fan of the silent screen. Actors such as Rudolph Valentino, Navarro, Mix, Arbuckle, The Gish Sisters, Fairbanks (both Jr. and Sr.) thrill me. Many of these famous actors faded from the lights of Hollywood into anonymity, or died untimely deaths. I saw a potential story brewing in the tales of many of these famous individuals, and Tears of Blood began to form in my mind.
I introduced Amado Gianni in Blood Moon (Book 2 of The Blood Chronicles). He came across as suave, with an age old charm that has long vanished from the young of today. Amado was recognized by our heroine as the silent screen actor that he had been, rumored to have died unexpectedly before the filming of his first talkie. Amado wasn’t just another character…he pulled at me, longing for his own tale.
I’ve been working at that tale with Tears of Blood. For your reading pleasure, I’ve attached an UNEDITED copy of the first chapter of the paranormal romance novel, which I hope to have released this coming Spring.
The music swelled about him, the mournful lament of the singer a haunting and popular tune that had become popular over the past six months. He found himself humming along to the song, the hint of the lyrics remaining on his lips as he paused in mid-stride. He stayed where he had stopped, remaining at the top of the staircase that led into the grand ballroom of the hotel, as his eyes scanning over the gathered crowd. Judiciously, he examined each figure below, sipping at the fluted glass of chilled champagne he held. Amado welcomed the coldness of the liquid, a welcome respite against the humid autumn night.
The crowd filled the ballroom, their bodies nearly crushing against one another, the scent of perfume nearly overwhelming. A pale cloud of cigarette smoke hovered over the gathering. He scowled, his gaze drifting over the various hues of dress that each of the assembled guests wore. Each mode of attire was vibrant and beguiling in their own right, stark reliefs of color against the numerous black or white jackets of their male escorts.
The young women wore the latest fashions of the year, feathered plumes dangling from shortly coiffed hairstyles, and with faces powdered nearly an ethereal shade of white. Bright eyes flashed, artificially long lashed until they resembled dark and luminous orbs. Nearly every single set of female lips resembled the petals of freshly bloomed carmine hued tulips, reminding him of the bee-stung lips of a young starlet currently gracing the silver screen. Pearly white shoulders glowed in the light of the overhead and brightly lit chandeliers. In his mind, each woman seemed to reach silently out to him. Those scandalously pale arms cloying begged him to do as he willed, if he should so desire. After all, the night’s festivities were in his honor, and each wished….no, more likely pleaded…. for his touch.
Amado frowned, taking another long sip of his sparkling champagne, displeased with the thought. Even though the party was held in his honor, celebrating his numerous achievements, he didn’t want to be in attendance. In truth, he wished he were at his home, out in the distant state on the West Coast.
He longed to be alone, away from this crowd of well-wishers and illusionary friends. He wanted nothing more than to brood in the darkness of his half finished estate, alone with his dark thoughts and his ever-darker depression.
Instead, Amado sighed and shook his head, his vision blurring for a scant second. The day had been eventful enough, and the last thing he desired was to be at the VanderLyn Hotel. Anywhere would have been preferable to this place, or the numerous joyful faces that laughed more uproariously the later the night became.
Hours ago, he had signed his name to papers meaning more to him than this event. In retrospect, Amado imagined he should be the one celebrating. He wasn’t that sort of man, and celebration was the furthest thought on his mind. Instead, he wanted nothing more than to toss the divorce papers burning a hole in his jacket pocket into the familiar warmth of his home’s fireplace. The heat, perhaps, would ward away the coldness seeping into his body. Tonight, he longed for warmth, and the opportunity to drink himself into an insensible oblivion.
He needed something to numb him, anything, to erase the past year from his life.
Wife numbers Two had waltzed out of the doors of his life, taking half of his fortune, as was to be expected. Fashionable starlet, Esmeralda Darlington, had been a repeat of his first debacle of a marriage. She had left him for another, far more influential source of income. What hit him even harder, more brutally, she had left him for another woman. A man he would have understood, competition rife in Hollywood and handsome male actors a dime a dozen, all inflicting their charm as easily as the rain that fell from the heavens.
The thought was a low blow that left him feeling his manhood had been personally assaulted. Esme had flaunted her new lover, the young starlet known as Claire Beaumont, on the busy streets of Los Angeles. The whispers about his failed marriage were harsh, but the commiseration was evident, as well. The famed and legendary lover of Hollywood’s silver screen had been scorned by his own wife, and humiliated.
Amado had to shake his head in disbelief, wondering where he had failed. Heaven knows he had tried to be the best of husbands, on both occasions, but his life was far from simple. He valued his job, his newly adopted country, and the dreams every immigrant held. As well, he held his marriage vows with the utmost sincerity, despite the temptation offered by numerous starlets. Regrettably, neither of his wives had demonstrated the same respect for him.
Amado knew there was a varied assortment of available females to comfort and mend his broken heart. If he had been another sort of man, he would have taken full advantage of the willing arms and eager lips seeking him out. Instead, he reminded himself, every woman below stairs reminding him their thoughts were similar to his last two wives. All the world’s females wanted the illusion presented by the charismatic persona of Armand Gerino. Women out there wanted the man that graced the silver screen, not the man that watched them with dark and hauntingly sad eyes.
None were capable of understanding he wasn’t the overly romantic, sensual, and dashing hero of the silver screen. Amado had to stifle his cynical chuckle of laughter, and the ironic twist of his lips, knowing the action would draw unwanted attention. Foolishly, he was desired, wanted, dreamed about as if he were the dashing hero of a fairy tale. He knew his screen persona for exactly what it was, as did his agent, twisted and corrupt.
Amado was the opposite of everything that should have been considered appropriate for the most delicate of feminine sensibilities. He wasn’t the tale and dashing Anglo male that rode into the sunset, the willing and delicate heroine at his side. Instead, he was a novelty to the public cinema houses. Amado Gianni, known as Armand Gerino to his adoring fans, was nothing more than an exotic foreign import.
Amado was a novelty of the silver screen.
He was dark complected, with eyes nearly as black as his hair. He stood a little over average height, lacking the towering grace of his Anglo counterparts. Amado acknowledged he wasn’t the massive, strong boned male that towered over his female lead. In retrospect, he was lightweight, lean, and moved with the simple grace of a ballroom dancer. He was a forbidden luxury that made the young flappers sigh with unrepentant ecstasy.
His first movie, produced three years ago, had been produced and released with baited breath. Portraying a morose Spanish Don, he had kidnapped the delicate flower of English womanhood, and an implied seduction and subsequent rape had been hinted. The mere thought should have caused outrage to echo throughout the cinema houses, the implied thought of his foreign hands touching such a delicate morsel of womanhood a noticeable taboo.
As expected, the newspapers had proclaimed their indignation and disbelief over the sinful outrage of the movie, but women had swooned at the premiere showing of Spanish Nights. The editors had hung their heads in disbelief when he had become an immediate and overnight sensation. For the few short decades that movies had been filmed in Hollywood, Armando Gerino had done what no other cinema actor had accomplished. He had stormed the silver screen with the abandon of a cyclone, bringing DCM Studios to the forefront of Hollywood production firms. Subsequently, Amado Gerino was catapulted into a world of luxury and adoration. Simple immigrant that he was far removed from the shores of his beloved Italy, dance instructor turned silent movie star, he should have been elated with his life.
Unfortunately, every woman he encountered expected the intense dark eyes and seductive stare that sent the delicate heroine into an impassioned swoon. Little did any of them realize Armand Gerino was nothing more than an image, fabricated by a skilled agent and producer. Apparently, his wives had fallen into the same category as his fans, despite their own theatrical calling. Fellow starlets, they had been enthralled with capturing the attention of the latest heartthrob of Hollywood, the ardent Latin lover that was worth a fortune, and surrounded by mystique.
Once settled into married life, it didn’t take long for them to realize he was nothing more than Amado Gianni. He was the, son of an impoverished baker from Northern Sicily. He wasn’t anything else, despite the whispered tales that had been carefully woven by the tabloids. He was not the illegitimate son on some forsaken duke, nor was he an impoverished Italian count. Truthfully, Amado had arrived in America with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a strikingly handsome face.
Amado inhaled a long and deep breath, filling his lungs as he heard the twitters of laughter became gasps of awe and adoration below him. He longed to wince, realizing he had been recognized. He couldn’t control his grimace before he forced a complacent smile to his lips; years of theatrical training making him appear to welcome the attention. In reality, he wanted to ease into the concealing darkness, and avoid the over-bright and glittering eyes beneath him. Instead, effectively trained by the best coaches the studio had to offer, Amado deftly inclined his dark head and lifted his champagne flute in silent salute.
He was stifled, the stiff collar of his starched shirt biting into the flesh of his neck. He longed to run his finger under the tight fabric, but knew he couldn’t perform the simple action. Appearance meant everything in this burgeoning world of glamour, and tonight’s festivities were for him. Everyone, at the exorbitant price of one hundred and fifty dollars a plate, was present to honor Armand Gerino and his upcoming debut in the beginning of the latest craze to hit Hollywood. None cared about his ex-wives, nor were they concerned with his broken heart.
He was going to be the first heartthrob in the newest invention of the century….the talking movie. He wondered what their reactions would be if they discovered the illustrious Armand Gerino was nothing more than a poor immigrant that struggled to speak English, a man reliant on his sultry good looks and his graceful walk.
The entire thought made him shake his head in disgust, as he turned away. Amado closed his eyes for the briefest of moments, inhaling deeply at the smoky air, as he stepped into the long corridor behind him. The hall lighting seemed overly bright as he reopened his eyes, his expression intent. He had to escape, to vanish from the stifling crowd, before his scheduled appearance.
Purposely, Amado headed for the secluded patio he knew that existed on the fifth floor of the opulent hotel. Art Deco scones glowed brilliantly about him, casting shadows over lustrous antique furnishings and velvet draperies. The same light illuminated the gloss of his dark hair into a sheen resembling the color of night, and his equally dark eyes filled with a sadness he barely ever revealed. Potted palm fronds waved in the slight draft he created as he walked by, silent and beckoning fingers that appeared to long to pull him back to the crowd awaiting him.
Amado didn’t want to return.
He wanted to continue walking, to walk until he couldn’t walk anymore, to disappear in the anonymity the city had to offer.
The fame had been glorious. Consistent food had been a plus, as well as a home that he could call his own. Nevertheless, everything bit of glory came with a high price. Hollywood had taken much from him. His name, his identity, his privacy, and his very soul.
Amado wanted to walk away from it all, leaving every trace of Armand Gerino behind. He longed to return to the lush hills of Sicily, to the smell of baking bread and his father’s voice. He wanted to sip a slightly warm bottle of Chianti on a humid summer night. He missed hearing the carefree laughter of children as they ran up the streets of the ancient village where his family lived. He wanted to see the eyes of people he knew that looked at him for him, Amado Gianni. Those people, the inhabitants of his hometown, didn’t expect him to be anything more than who he truly was.
Amado pushed his way through the doors that led out into the secluded patio, the darkness of the night surrounding him. He released a long sigh, moving to the edge of the enclosed garden, looking over the busy city street below. He inhaled the crispness of the night air deeply into his lungs, frowning at the bright lights. He exhaled slowly before he took a long drink of champagne, finishing the glass. Swallowing, he lifted his eyes upward, staring at the faint twinkling of lights far above. Beautiful stars, he thought, a slight smile pulling at his down turned lips.
The sudden sound of a deep male voice startled him. Amado pressed a surprised hand to his chest, stifling an uncomfortable chuckle of disbelief. He was not one to startle easily, but the uninvited intruder had done such to him. Releasing a reluctant exhalation, he turned to the man. A few feet from him stood a stranger, an individual he had not seen when he first entered the garden patio. He had presumed he was alone, not having seen nor heard another person.
Obviously, he had been mistaken.
The man was tall and broad shouldered, dressed in the latest style of crisp white linen. He didn’t wear the typical tuxedo that would have identified him as one of the guests at Amado’s fete. His mode of dress proclaimed him more of a resident of the hotel, apparently on a much-needed vacation. Even at the distance that separated him from the actor, his hair glistened a shimmering blond in the moonlight, almost golden with stunning white highlights. Amado blinked and, in that slight second of action, the man stood before him. He lifted his head, straightening his shoulders, realizing that barely an arms length separated them.
At the closeness, Amado could see the pallor of the stranger’s skin, and smell the slight perfume of the pomade he used to slick back his hair. To his male senses, he had to admit the man had the quality Hollywood strove for, the perfect Anglo charm and maleness found appealing by avid cinemagoers. A million thoughts shot through his active mind before settling on what he assumed to be the obvious, the reason why his moment of solitude had been interrupted.
“I don’t ‘ave the power to get you an audition.” Amado managed with a shade of his head, struggling to form the English words correctly. The words escaped him in a distorted stumble, heavily accented. The English language was a problem he still battled with, one that he wished he could correct.
Wearily, Amado closed his eyes as he set his empty champagne glass on the ledge. He opened his eyes as he heard the chuckle that fell from the other’s lips, recognizing the sarcasm evident in the tones.
“You are mistaken.” The stranger responded with a smirk, revealing startling straight and white teeth. “I am not seeking an audition, Gerino. The glamour of your Hollywood does not appeal to me.”
“I do apologize.” Amado felt a prickling of unease lift the fine hairs at the nape of his neck, and a chill tightened his flesh. “I believe you ‘ave me at a slight disadvantage.”
He knew he had mangled the pronunciation of the words.
The smile became tight, causing a deep dimple to form in the stranger’s cheek. He bowed slightly at the waist, his expression contrite. “I should be the one apologizing, my dear Gerino. My name is Dorian Balthazar.”
He straightened as he made the announcement. Amado waited for the customary action that so often followed, but the man didn’t extend his hand as he offered his name. Instead, he continued to stare at Amado with dark eyes that appeared fathomless in the night, their color indistinguishable. The feeling of unease grew, and Amado felt his stomach tighten. Something was peculiar about the stranger, this Dorian that stood before him with casual and elegant ease.
“How might I ‘elp you?” Amado managed. “Do you wish for an autograph?”
“No.” The chuckle increased, lacking all sense of humor. Dorian Balthazar’s shoulders shrugged beneath the lightweight of his jacket, his eyes narrowing as he looked over the Italian.
“The last thing I wish for is an autograph, Gerino. Your name or, rather, a facsimile thereof, is the last thing I desire. Instead, I want something far more precious from you.”
“I beg your pardon?” Amado was perplexed. He was hounded for autographs, ever since the appearance of his first movie. To have his signature ignored seemed absurd.
“The last thing I ask of you is an autograph, Gerino.” Dorian Balthazar shook his pale head, his dark eyes glittering in the moonlight with a chilling clarity. “I come to you bearing a gift, much as my namesake brought in the past.”
Amado stilled his wince. Balthazar was a name stepped in history, revered and respected by many as one of the wise men that had journeyed to the East, following the tale of a star. Somehow, he sensed that this man was different. Balthazar’s very appearance stated he did not bring a gift Amado would readily welcome. He remained silent though, unable to move as he continued to stare at the stranger.
“I do not believe what you have to offer me would be to my best interest.” He struggled to say with some defiance.
“Truly?” This was pronounced with an icy chuckle. “Are you aware of what is in store for you, my dear hero of Hollywood?”
The question left Amado speechless.
“Hollywood is a cruel mistress, my man.” Balthazar continued. “Have you not heard the whispers that are already brewing about the town?”
Against his better judgment, Amado found he was curious. “What rumors?”
“These wonderful new members of the production staff, the sound technicians, have their own list of plans.” Balthazar supplied. “There is a carefully contrived plan to destroy so many of the actors that are currently in Hollywood.”
“Why?” Amado was confused, troubled by the declaration this stranger had made. “We bring fame and jobs to the market!”
“Fame? Jobs?” Dorian laughed deep in his throat. “There is always the sin of jealousy, my man. You have what others do not, yes?”
The comment caused Amado to frown. He lifted a hand and pressed it to the breast pocket of his jacket, feeling the starched crispness of his divorce papers beneath. “I have nothing.”
The words escaped him so swiftly he couldn’t retract them.
Dorian smirked. “You have wealth, your looks, and your charm. Too many women swoon at the mere mention of your name. Don’t you believe there are men out there, in this ugly world that would love to contribute to your downfall?”
“I can assure you that there are some that would wish you dead.”
“A sound technician will manage this?” Amado dared to scoff.
“Very simply and legally.” Dorian soothed. “Speed up the sound track on this new device, and your reputation will be in shreds. Go ahead; release your latest movie, with the sound. Your voice will be sped up to the point that your fans will laugh their way out of the theater!”
Amado frowned darkly. To be made a laughing stock would destroy him, and his reputation. He would be in ruins, saddled with the shame of a voice that was not his, far worse than the broken English he currently spoke.
“You do not know this for truth.” He attempted.
“I have seen, and heard what evil lies in the heart of a mortal man.” Dorian whispered thickly. “I know of more evil than you could ever imagine. I am capable of concocting my own evil, when I so desire.”
The statement caused Amado to shudder with revulsion. He gathered that what Dorian Balthazar had spoken was not a boast, but the absolute truth.
“I wish to offer something to you, instead, Gerino. I believe I have an attribute you might find vastly entertaining.”
“What do you wish of me?” The words fell from Amado in a low and tremulous whisper.
“I invite you to join me, Amado.” Dorian whispered in a low and husky voice, further intensifying the unease that Amado felt. He shuddered, unable to control the action as the man leaned in close, inhaling the air about him.
Uncomfortable, Amado chuckled, feeling beads of sweat beginning to form on his upper lip. “I regret I must refuse your offer. I don’t know what you ‘ave ‘eard, but I am accustomed to female fans. Male fans do not appeal to me. I am a man that prefers the company of women, signore.”
All Amado could see, unable to pull his eyes away, was the dark eyes peering deep into his face. Some distant part of his mind whispered to pull away, to look elsewhere, anywhere beside this man’s eyes. He couldn’t. He felt frozen to the spot, every part of his body feeling lethargic and incapable of movement.
“Gerino, you are so deliciously amusing and delightfully foolish.”
The comment was followed by a rasping chuckle that was promptly cut short. “I do not desire you for the reasons you suppose.”
The comment was issued in the suavest of sneers, sounding more like a gentle chastise instead of the supposed insult. Amado attempted to straighten his shoulders, but found the action required too much effort. Instead, he found himself staring helplessly at the man that stood before him. “Then, what do you want me for.”
“Let’s just say that you have certain….attributes that I believe might benefit my associates and myself.”
“Attributes.” Dorian repeated with slow and deliberate ease, one long finger tapping at the slight cleft in his chin. His eyes narrowed, the dark pupils appearing to grow with each passing second. “Pardon me, Gerino. I forget that your English might not be as I expect. Perhaps there is a simpler word for me to use.”
“My English?” Amado felt stupid, repeating the words that seemed to hang in the air and echo through his mind. “My English is not so bad that I cannot understand what you say. I ‘ave lived in this country long enough; I know what I ‘ear.”
His retort was greeted with a slight smirk. Again, he knew his pronunciation had not been perfect, but he had made his point. He was proud of the fact that he spoke the language. Amado had struggled at first, finding the words had never completely matched their spelling, but he had succeeded in making himself understood to his co-workers. He was still young and, with the assistance of his acting coach, he was confident he would accomplish mastering the tongue of his new country.
“Ah, dear Amado Gianni, poor little immigrant disguised in the facade of a masterful actor and lover.” Dorian mocked in his hauntingly smooth voice. “With your looks and that enticing little accent, you could bring many to our side. All you would have to do is employ the use of your charm, and your delicious accent, to have those unsuspecting darlings of humanity fall into your arms.”
Amado didn’t bother replying, realizing that this Dorian had made him feel on the edge of being something obscene. Defiantly, he lifted his chin, ignoring the stuttering beat of his heart as it sputtered in his chest. He had to get away from this stranger, and return to the safety of the overcrowded hotel ballroom. There would be safety in numbers, he assured himself. Besides, he was due to make an appearance, and he hoped his trusted staff would notice his absence.
Unfortunately, it appeared the moments were ticking by at a speed that defied reason. Amado felt the world begin to spin in a slow rotation about him, the sensation akin to the effects of a late night stupor after a Hollywood party, his numbed skin tingling. He remained where he stood, unable to move, nearly incapable of taking a breath, only the roar of his heart and the sound of Dorian’s voice filling his head.
“Come, Amado.” Dorian beseeched, nearing Amado’s frozen form. As he drew closer, Amado’s gaze was filled with the image of startling pale flesh, nearly classical in form. Vaguely, he thought the man was haunting beautiful, becoming lost in the depths of eyes that seemed to lack any color, save for an all-consuming blackness. “Join me.”
“Join?” Amado could barely speak, those dark eyes feeling capable of sucking the very capability to speak from him.
“Say it, Amado.” Dorian’s hands came up, the long and supple fingers resting on the actor’s shoulders. Amado shuddered, incapable of holding back the betraying sign of fear. He felt an unmentionable coldness seep through the material of his jacket. “Merely repeat the word.”
“The word?” He could barely speak, his tongue thick in his mouth.
“Tell me yes.” Dorian whispered, the icy coldness of his breath fanning over Amado’s heated skin. “I can grant you everything, if you do so. Join my ranks, and you won’t suffer the ridicule that will befall you.”
The offer was tempting, but some distant part of Amado’s mind screamed at him. He wanted to run, to leave this stranger behind, and forget the temptations of his seductive offer.
“Join my ranks, Gerino.” Dorian continued to whisper, his voice as soft and silky as the night. “I can promise you everything you desire. Life, beauty, youth, all the women that could ever love you, and eternity.”
The sound of his roaring heartbeat drowned the sound of the haunting voice out. Amado continued to stare into those fathomless eyes, an inner portion of his mind desperately screaming the word No! Not a word fell from his lips, and he felt the lethargy increase ten-fold. Seconds passed, perhaps minutes, only broken by the sound of laughter drifting up from the streets below.
The silent screen actor, his entire life spread before him, divorce papers still folded in his breast pocket, felt his knees begin to buckle. Dorian’s hands held him upright, a morbid chuckle escaping the man as he bent his head forward. His black hued eyes glowed with an eerie redness, flickering deep where the pupil should have been, as the man’s mouth opened wide.
A low groan of horror escaped Amado. He stared at the long canines that declared the man’s intent.
He was unable to scream, unable to run, damned to a world of the undead.