Home > Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(8)

Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(8)
Author: Elizabeth Hunter

Ben’s skin went cold, but he calmly shut the door and walked around to the passenger’s side. As he got in, he slid across the seat and put his arm around Chloe; his thumb gently brushed the shoulder where the bruises marred her skin.

“What happened?”

She looked up with wide eyes. “What?”

“Bruises on your shoulder.” He tried not to overreact. Maybe she was training with a new partner for a dance routine. Dance was physically demanding work and bruises happened.

“Oh.” She smiled. “It’s nothing. I nearly fell down the basement steps at the restaurant carrying too many dishes. One of the guys grabbed my shoulder and stopped me from falling. Probably saved my life. Must be from that.”

Too smooth. She hadn’t hesitated a moment giving the reason for the bruises because she knew they were there.

“Hope they don’t hurt,” he said, keeping his arm around her as the driver pulled into traffic.

“You know I bruise easily,” Chloe said. She stared out the window, but he could see her reflection as they passed under a streetlamp. Was her smile brittle? Forced? Did her eyes carry the sad and yet hopeful expression he remembered his mother wearing for most of his childhood?

Seven years ago, he would have been able to tell. Now he didn’t know.

Ben kept his arm around her.

He didn’t know. But he would.

 

 

3

 

 

“Are you bored?”

“No.” Chloe tapped her museum map against her bottom lip. “Are you not enjoying this?”

“I’m kind of bored.”

“How?” Chloe turned to him. “How can you be bored? You wanted to see this exhibit. The presentation is beautiful, and we haven’t even gotten to the Samson pieces yet. Calm down; you’re acting like a puppy that needs to pee.”

She turned back to the Magritte she’d been looking at, the two lovers’ kiss thwarted by the shrouds that covered their faces.

Masks and disguises. It seemed to be a theme for the evening. Ben had seen quite a few vampires mingling in the crowd, acting like humans to attract their prey. They were easy for Ben to spot, though he knew most humans would hardly look twice. He wandered to a clutch of them staring at a lean bronze sculpture of a man with extraordinarily long legs.

They reminded him of cats with their languid eyes and predatory manner, scanning the crowd like the predators they were.

Immortals were as vain as the average human, and some could be remarkably superficial. Just as they preferred to surround themselves with beautiful art, good music, and luxury, they also liked being surrounded by pretty people. They were attracted to the glittering and the beautiful. They were fascinated by art and science.

Ennui was an eternal complaint.

At any given gallery opening or gala, vampires would congregate. They’d look for the beautiful humans to feed from and use for sex. They’d keep any with interesting ideas or unusual talent close by to allay boredom.

Ben saw one trying to chat with Chloe.

“What perfume are you wearing?” the pale young immortal said. “I know I recognize it.”

“Really”—Chloe was trying to distract him—“I’m not wearing any perfume. I’m sure you must have me confused with someone else.”

“I don’t think so.” The vampire was hovering over her shoulder; tension radiated off Chloe. “Are you here with someone?”

She looked around and sighed in relief when she caught sight of Ben. “Hey.”

Ben walked up to the vampire, invading his personal space and muttering, “Hoc propter vos non est sanguis.” He said it low enough that the vampire heard him and paid attention. The vampire looked European, and Latin was still a lingua franca in the immortal world.

The young one narrowed his eyes and his fangs grew long behind his lips. “Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so,” Ben said. “But if you’re involved in rare books, you might know my uncle. He’s a collector on the West Coast.”

“Oh?”

“Giovanni Vecchio.”

The vampire grew paler and melted back into the crowd.

Chloe stared at him. “So that wasn’t weird at all.”

“What?” He put a hand at the small of her back and tried not to notice Chloe avoiding his touch. He stuck his hands in his pockets. “So which one was the artist you were raving about?”

Ben had been asking casual questions about Tom all night, and he could tell Chloe was annoyed. Maybe she thought he was jealous of her new boyfriend. Maybe she thought he was just being an ass. She knew Ben was competitive.

They walked into the next room, and an older woman who looked like a docent struck up a conversation with Chloe, asking about her dress. Ben wandered away after checking the immediate area for vampires. He strolled through two galleries of abstract sculpture until he came into a room that piqued his interest.

The canvases were large and boldly colored. The style was crisp and realistic. No still lifes with melting apples here. These canvases were bold landscapes and crowded scenes filled with figures. Looking closer, he glanced at the label.

Le Marché Nocturne.

Oil on canvas.

Emil Samson, 1933

Ben looked back to the painting. The Night Market. It was almost a bucolic scene. A village market bathed in a bright half-moon. Tidy stands selling fish and produce. Buyers wandering among stalls. But on closer inspection, the crowd was… macabre. A little girl ran with her arms held out in front of her; her mouth spread in a smile, but the child had no eyes. A woman led a donkey up the cobblestone street, the animal dripping blood from its mouth, its hooves leaving a red trail. A farmer weighed onions, and behind him, a demon tail flicked from beneath his apron.

Weird. And kind of awesome.

Samson. This was the artist Chloe had mentioned. Ben wasn’t familiar with him, but as he examined each painting, the crowd in the room grew thicker, the voices louder. This section was clearly an anticipated feature of the exhibit. He glanced at the program he’d been handed and flipped to the back page.

Emil Samson (1908-1943), celebrated Jewish painter of the surrealist school in Paris, was thought to be confined to a few surviving works and photographs of his paintings until this previously lost collection of early canvases was found and loaned anonymously last year.

Admired by his contemporaries, he was known for the insertion of the subconscious in otherwise ordinary scenes. His work, particularly his Labyrinth series, gained him international attention at an early age.

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