Chapter 1 : Bella
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“You’re not leaving again, are you?”
Bella rolled her eyes at Narcissa’s shrill tones. She hated being interrupted in her self-admiring reverie.
Narcissa pushed her way in front of the mirror. “It’s a good thing you’re dressed up and I caught you before you left. Mother expects you for tea. You know she wants you to meet some people from her club.”
“And what cousins will Mother be dragging in today?” Bella sighed. “You know I can’t sit still waiting. Besides, the cretins Mother brings round are absolutely pathetic. They’re boring. They’re ugly. They’re stupid.” She slipped her feet into a pair of dainty black stilettos. “I’m very familiar with the party line. But you know what? I don’t care. It’s always the same old shit. Blah, blah, blah.” She grabbed a cherry-colored wrap and headed for the door. “I’ve got better things to do with my time. I need to be entertained.”
“Mother’s going to be angry. You should appreciate all she does to make your life better. Would it hurt you to stay and meet her guests? She’s just trying to introduce you since you’re doing such a piss poor job of meeting the right people on your own.” Narcissa stalked after her sister. “If you keep this up, I’m going to find out what you’re doing, and if it’s something Mother wouldn’t like I’m going to tell.”
Bella turned so suddenly that Narcissa bumped into her and stumbled against the wall.
“YOU. SHUT. UP!”
Narcissa flinched as if she’d actually been slapped. Bella saw her sister check her wand hand and smiled. Narcissa had learned from experience that Bella didn’t hesitate to hex if she felt the urge.
“I will do what I want, when I want, and where I want, Cissy. I can take care of myself, and I can meet people just fine.” She stomped out the door and Disapparated.
Bella landed in a dirty back alley in Muggle London. She wobbled on her heels for a second. Her heart was pounding and her brain was racing. Narcissa got on her last damn nerve.
She should’ve left earlier. Then she might have avoided the argument. The more times they had it the higher the chances Narcissa might just follow up on her threat and find out where Bella went almost every day.
When had it become her responsibility to marry money and refill the dwindling family coffers? This was the 1970s for gods’ sake. The only people her mother was friends with anymore were from her social club, and Bella had made clear her opinion of them. What Bella didn’t want to admit was that she secretly watched the one they called the Dark Lord. While she found his self-title pretentious, she couldn’t help admiring the mayhem and power he wielded over everyone. She guessed she wouldn’t mind calling him Master. A slight smile played along her lips as she thought of herself subservient to this powerful wizard. Oh, the things they might teach each other. But enough of that fantasy. Other than that one person, Bella swore that the people Mother associated with were some of the worst in wizardkind or humankind for that matter. They had no sense of style or beauty despite their pureblood backgrounds. She realized this sad situation one afternoon when she wasn’t quick enough to get out of the house and then couldn’t leave without causing a major scene. While she loved to cause drama, that day, her mother had a grip on her wand and Bella wouldn’t put it past the woman to use the Imperious on her.
Damn it all. She needed a drink.
As she emerged from the alley, two street people standing on the sidewalk beside their cart of worldly belongings stared at her curiously.
“What the hell are you looking at?” she snarled as she straightened the wrap over her arm. With a brief hand motion, Bella sent the cart rolling into the street. A lampshade, a couple of oranges, and a black bowler hat scattered. The street people dodged cars, trying to catch the cart and drag it back to safety.
She stifled a cackle. “Bet that’s the last time they stare at their betters.” Bella glanced from side to side. Which way to go? She didn’t have a definite destination. She liked to mix up where she hung out. That way no one could track her. She took off to her right.
The truth was that Bella enjoyed slumming in Muggle London. If anyone were crazy enough to ask about her new passion she would have explained in a very bored, superior drawl that she was only making fun and laughing at those less fortunate. She would never admit that she took pleasure in wandering through the street markets, looking at the art, trying on the clothes, listening to the music, and sampling new drinks.
She loved the drinks. She had developed a taste for Muggle wine. It wasn’t as memorable as the elf-made varieties served in her mother’s home to company, but it did the trick. Wine calmed her nerves and made her thoughts stop racing. Song lyrics she heard during her wanderings came to mind. I Wanna Be Sedated. That’s exactly what she needed. It was hard to be a “Black princess.” Her parents, of the Noble and Ancient House of Black, had many expectations. She was to associate only with purebloods, marry into another wealthy pureblood family, and, of course, produce the obligatory pureblood brats. That was how she would fulfill her responsibility to keep their magical blood unpolluted. If her family ever found out what she was doing when she disappeared, there’d be hell to pay.
Then there was the danger. Along with calming her nerves, the wine fueled her devil-may-care attitude. It was part of her rebellion. How she thumbed her nose at her family. She was having a hell of a good time, and she felt good. That’s all that was important. As long as she kept her wand handy, things would be all right.
Bella fit in amusingly well with the artsy crowd. She knew she was striking with her black clothing accented by bright colors. Sometimes she’d wear sunglasses and big hats. She even smoked cigars on occasion, having purchased a silver Zippo lighter with her astrology sign on it. She was never recognized here, worlds away from home.
After she strolled casually for several blocks, looking at the different stalls and never making eye contact, she noticed a small café/art gallery. The sign said Angel’s Crossing. No one would look for a Black in a shop that had ‘angel’ in the title. She wondered if they served wine. There was only one way to find out. She pushed through the door and made her way to the counter.
After securing a large glass of merlot, Bella found a seat at one of the many small, round tables. She sipped and looked around. There were a lot of paintings on display. Muggle stuff, obviously. Interesting to look at. The clientele were her kind of people, young attractive professionals. She’d flirt, they’d buy her drinks, and she’d toy with them for a while. She could hide here and calm her nerves. Bella swirled the wine in her glass and watched it slosh up the sides. A nice little nerve-calming potion served in an attractive glass. She stuck her nose in the air. The potion was dry with an earthy bouquet. She giggled to herself.
After a couple of glasses of the amazingly tasty merlot, a young woman in her mid-twenties sat down next to Bella. The café had become crowded as the evening went on. “Do you mind if I join you? There aren’t any other tables, and I don’t want to stand at the bar.” Without giving Bella a chance to answer, the woman gushed on. “I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the artist that owns this shop—Archangel—he’s supposed to be quite yummy. He’s from the States, you know. Rich, too. My friends told me all about him.”
The woman was too close for comfort. Bella didn’t like people barging into her personal space uninvited. And she especially didn’t like it if the reason had to do with meeting yet another idiot man, and a Yank at that. A crazy idea came into her head. Smiling seductively, Bella said “You don’t want to meet some fairy git. How great can he be if he has to call himself Archangel? Sounds like he’s trying to compensate for something. I know someone better you’d like to meet.” Bella moved closer.
The woman shifted in her seat warily. “You do?”
Bella threw both arms over the other woman’s shoulders. Grabbing her in a tight embrace, Bella pulled her close until they touched foreheads. “I sure do. Me.”
With that, she gave the woman a sloppy wet kiss. The stunned woman didn’t do anything for a few seconds. Then she jerked away and stood up, knocking her chair over. The glare on her face was harsh. Her cheeks reddened. She clearly didn’t enjoy the kiss or meeting Bella.
“Hmm, guess I was wrong. It wasn’t good for you?” The woman had splotches of Bella’s Cherry Tart lipstick on her mouth and was very likely tasting her merlot, as well.
Bella smiled and waggled her fingers to the woman’s retreating back.
None of the other café patrons raised an eyebrow.
Who said hanging out with Muggles wasn’t fun? She pulled a cigar and her favorite lighter out of her purse. Bella motioned for another drink and lit the cigar.
Gabe stepped out of his back office and stood in the doorway. He yawned and leisurely stretched his arms over his head to drum his fingers on the top of the doorframe. From his vantage point in the shadows he looked out at the crowd. Business was good. A slight commotion caused him to look toward one of the back tables. He watched as one woman grabbed another and planted what looked like a passionate kiss right on her mouth. The recipient of the kiss appeared offended and stomped out of the shop. The kisser sat back, nonchalantly smoking a cigar. Now that one was a looker. He wondered if she was only interested in women. She might be fun to paint.
He grinned. Mom was wrong. These Brits weren’t the “laced up too tight” people she warned him about. This was as good as a bar back home. Too bad a customer left, but c’est la vie. She hadn’t spent money on drinks or art. In the end, that’s what it was all about. Selling art, drinks, and making money.
Oh yeah, and proving his mother wrong.