romance versus relics chapter 11
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Welcome to chapter eleven! You have seen the relics and a glimpse of the romance, but now it's time to delve a bit more deeply into the personal aspects of Nellie's life. Yes, there will be adventure, but there will also be more drama, along with a bit of mystery, in this chapter. Hopefully, you are up for that! Well, without further ado, I give you the next chapter in Nellie's life . . . .
"Thank you for coming so quickly, Mademoiselle Blye" the Special Merchant smiled. "The former groundskeeper of the Landgraab estate, Willard Leroo, kept a journal that, I believe, may contain first-hand information about the disappearance of Anastasia Necteaux. Please journey to the shack, located on the grounds of the Landgraab Chateau, and recover his journal for me."
Although Nellie was not too keen on going, yet again, to the Landgraab house, she was relieved to know it was only to the grounds keeper's shack. Besides, she was curious about Anastasia Necteaux as well.
Finding the journal was easy enough. It was in a chest just inside the door of the shack. Nellie grabbed it and took it to the Special Merchant.
"Blast! The journal is locked!" Francois complained. "It appears this won't be as easy as I first thought. Willard's daughter, Beatrice Bonnet, lives in Champs Les Sims. I'm confident she has a key to this journal. Speak to her to obtain the key. Telling her it will aid the town may convince her to help us."
Nellie took the address Francois Lambert handed her and was on her way.
"By giving you the key, I'll help the town?" Beatrice asked thoughtfully. "Of course I'll help you. Oh no! I'm not one to miss an opportunity either. I will need a favor first. My current collection of jewelry has gotten quite old. I need something new, something fresh! Go find two pieces of gold and bring them to me. Hurry along now if you want the key!"
Nellie already had one piece of gold in her bag, but she needed another, so she hurriedly found one. When she returned, there was a small crowd gathered around in front of the house.
Nellie had been unaware that Gustav Delven was a housemate to Beatrice and Colette Bonnet and was stunned to see him there. She nodded a brief greeting at the newcomers and handed the gold over to Beatrice. She became slightly uncomfortable as Gustav's gaze burned into her.
"This metal is of excellent quality!" Beatrice exclaimed happily. "You really do want this key, do you not? Just one more favor and you will have it." The woman's eyes gleamed as she gazed at Nellie. "A nice band is nothing without a fantastic jewel on top. Please, find an Amethyst and bring it to me. I will trade the key to my father's journal for the gem.
Nellie smiled and reached into her bag. She had found an almost perfect-quality Amethyst in the Secret Garden under the river. When she handed it to the older woman, her eyes sparkled greedily. "I absolutely love jewelry! I think this stone will be perfect!"
As Beatrice beamed over the gem, Nellie's skin tingled as Gustav continued to watch her with his intense gaze. She wanted to be done with her business quickly so that she could flee. Beatrice's voice broke her from her thoughts, "You can have the key to the journal, though I would appreciate it if Francois Lambert would return the key and the journal to me when finished with it."
Nellie snatched the key, thanked her, and then turned to go. "Nellie, wait" she heard Gustav call from behind her, but she pretended not to hear.
Gustav sighed sadly as he watched Nellie disappear from his sight. Frustration welled up inside him at all the missed opportunities to spend a bit of time with the woman. The longing to get closer to her nearly overwhelmed him and had been a source of agitation for weeks.
"Have your sights set on another one, I see" Colette remarked once their meddlesome neighbor, Claudette, had moved on down the street. Gustav said nothing and turned to go inside as the woman glared at his back. He was not going to get away from her so easily, however, so she followed quickly behind him, catching him just inside the door.
"Are you ever going to learn, Gustav?" she asked harshly. "You are always getting involved with these foreign women, and all it ever does is cause grief and heartache, for one or the both of you!" The woman's eyes flashed angry daggers at him when he remained silent. She sighed in annoyance. "Can you not leave well enough alone, this time?" she added quietly. "Can you not find a nice French woman with whom to settle down?"
Gustav's gaze finally met hers. "It will be different this time" he whispered hoarsely. "I will do things differently and make it right. You will see."
"What is the matter with you? You never listen to a word I say!" she screeched furiously, losing the last bit of her self-control. "It is the same, every time! You always say it will turn out differently, but it never does! One of these days, you will find yourself in a situation too disastrous from which to recover!" Colette stopped to catch her breath, and then opened her mouth to continue, but Gustav spoke up first.
"Just stay out this and mind your own business, Colette!" Gustav said in a dangerously quiet tone. "What I choose to do in my life should be of no concern to you." His eyes flashed angrily as his tone grew more threatening. "I desire to possess that woman and possess her, I will. She will eventually succumb to my charms, and then she will be mine. So help me, if you choose to interfere, I will make you sorry you did not mind your business and keep your nose where it belongs!"Colette was left, her mouth agape, watching his back as he stalked from the house, slamming the door behind him.
"Excellent, I can finally open this journal!" Francois exclaimed when Nellie handed him the key. He began to leaf through it, "Let me see here . . . fascinating! It seems there was quite a ruckus many years ago. At one point, some shady-looking men dragged someone into the chateau. The famous James Vaughan went in to save the person who . . . yes, turned out to be Anastasia Necteaux.
I found this key to the estate attached to one of the pages. Landgraab was the meticulous sort, which leads me to believe he kept notes on this incident. Head to the estate and see if you can find those notes. Be careful – Landgraab was paranoid. His whole house is filled with traps and security measures!"
Now you tell me! Nellie thought with a hint of wry amusement. She had already had many struggles where that house was concerned and now she had to go back? "I'll be careful" she assured him as he left her to take care of other business around town. Nellie sighed softly and then turned toward the middle of the room.
A sharp gasp escaped her lips and her eyes grew as big as saucers. Was what she was seeing actually real, or was she having some sort of crazy daydream? She rubbed her eyes and looked again. The vision was still there.
Nellie still could not believe her eyes, so she rubbed them again, but it did not change what she saw. He was really here! Her brow furrowed in confusion. What would Zhan be doing here in France, and why had he not told her he was coming during their last phone conversation? Nellie made her way toward him, still only half believing what she was seeing. She was afraid that once she drew near, Zhan's face would morph into that of a stranger.
Finally, when she was standing almost above him, she said, "Zhan?" Her voice had been barely above a whisper, but the man was immediately on his feet and Nellie felt herself wrapped in the warmth of his embrace.
As he pulled her body in close to his, he cried, "Nellie!" Zhan knew he would see his friend before leaving for home, but he had not expected to see her so soon. He was engulfed by joy and did not want to let her go. Often, he worried about her in her adventures and always felt great relief to see her and learn that she was safe. Finally, after several long moments, the pair pulled back from their tight embrace.
"Zhan" Nellie sighed breathlessly, "It's so great to see you! What . . . what are you doing here, in Champs Les Sims? Shouldn't you be minding the store?" As she gazed at her best friend, all the love she felt for him shone in her twinkling eyes.
Zhan laughed heartily. "Actually, I am minding the store . . . in a way. You see, the owner of the Food Farket decided to send a representative to France to negotiate a deal to begin importing Nectar and Pomelos into Shang Simla to be sold at the Market. Of course, I volunteered for the position, knowing that you were here!" He paused for a moment and then continued, "I have two days of meetings to attend, but then I have a free day all to myself for sightseeing!"
"That's wonderful, Zhan!" Nellie exclaimed happily. "I know a place that is almost as peaceful as Han's Orchard. Maybe we could meet there and hang out?" Zhan agreed and she gave him the address and directions, promising to meet and catch up in two day's time.
"See you soon, Zhan!" Nellie called over her shoulder as she headed to the door. It was late and she had to get some rest for her adventure tomorrow. She did not see Gustav Delven emerge from the bathroom.
Gustav had been so annoyed by Colette's outburst that he had stormed out of the house and walked aimlessly around town for a while. When he saw that Nellie was inside the book store talking with Francois, he had slipped past them and gone into the bathroom, unnoticed, hoping to have a chance to speak with her when she was done with the Special Merchant. Instead, he had remained hidden in the bathroom and listened in on the whole exchange between Nellie and Zhan. Who was this Chinese guy with whom Nellie seemed to be so enamored? Once Nellie had disappeared through the door, Gustav knew of only one way to find out. He moved toward Zhan and struck up a conversation.
Bright and early the next morning, Nellie was inserting the keystone into place at the Landgraab house. It gained her entrance into a room she was unable to reach before. When she entered, she saw a group of statues arranged as if they were dancing. There was also a stereo in the room. From what she had learned, Admiral Landgraab had been a strange man. Perhaps his sense of humor was strange as well.
When she noticed a stereo in the room, she felt compelled to turn it on, because how could statues dance without music? As the music began filtering into the room, Nellie could hear the sounds of mechanisms shutting down nearby. There was an entrance to the room from the front of the house and she moved toward it. The traps in the hallway had been disarmed! Now Nellie knew what the writing on the plaque outside the library had meant. Music soothes the savage beast must mean that turning on stereos would disarm the traps! Nellie smiled and made her way toward the stairs. There were unexplored rooms she needed to see upstairs. She stopped to turn on the stereo near the library on the way past.
Once upstairs, Nellie found a room that had traps just on the other side of the door, so she could not gain access into the room. Before continuing onward, she went all the way back downstairs to the cellar to see if she had missed anything on her previous visit. Suddenly she desperately had to use the bathroom, so she used the one which was located just off the underground garden/nectar area. When she flushed the toilet, she heard more traps being disarmed. That Landgraab certainly was a tricky fellow!
Now she had access to the rooms upstairs which she could not enter on her previous visit. There were several floor panels that needed activating, which unlocked rooms with more floor panels.
Nellie could sense that she was getting very close to notes Francois Lambert had sent her here to retrieve. She truly hoped this would be her last journey to the Landgraab Chateau.
Nellie found it strange that, even though Landgraab had such deadly security measures in place, he would have left such precious gems lying around, but Nellie found quite a few and stuffed them into her bag for her troubles.
Nellie had one more floor panel to activate in order to be able to enter the final unexplored room in the upstairs portion of the house. She hoped desperately that she had taken the right direction in going up instead of down.
The final door was unlocked! Nellie went cautiously toward it, hoping there were no more traps to cross.
Just entering the room was punishment enough! She squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a moment, trying to wrap her mind around the color scheme. To her, it was hideous! The bright green chair railing did not go at all well with the blue wallpaper. Nellie opened her eyes and burst into a bout of wild giggles. "Landgraab, I think your interior decorator hated you!" she said aloud through fits of laughter.
Forcing her mind to think about the matter at hand, Nellie spied a chest, which she was sure contained what she sought and she went to it.
Nellie removed the notes from the chest and rushed them over to Francois Lambert. The man was overjoyed to have the notes in his hand and his face lit up with excitement as he spoke. "Incredible!" the Special Merchant exclaimed after quickly leafing through the notes. "According to Landgraab's documents, he was attempting to locate the tomb of Anastasia's ancestor, Jean Necteaux! Anastasia tricked him into sending men to the wrong location, and they were never seen again.
This explains Landgraab's sudden departure shortly after the kidnapping. He did not want anyone to find out. Well, the facts will soon be dispersed in my new book. I thank you again for your efforts!"
Nellie smiled, accepted her payment, and turned to walk away, but the Special Merchant had not finished with her yet. "Nellie, wait" he said and she turned back to face him. "There is one more thing I would like you to do for me, if you feel so inclined. I have a friend at The Nectary who could use the assistance of someone like you. It would be wonderful if you could go there and speak to Estelle Fouchier. She will explain to you exactly what she would like you to do."
The young woman felt she had nothing better to do, so why not? "Sure" she smiled. "I will head over there first thing in the morning!" Exploring the Landgraab house had taken up most of the day and Ellie realized she had not eaten since breakfast and now it was dinnertime, so she headed to the café and decided to try frog legs for the first time. She nearly choked on them when she heard a familiar voice behind her.
"Ah, see that you do, indeed, eat, Nellie Blye" Gustav Delven remarked in an almost seductive tone. Nellie coughed and sputtered as a frog leg seemed to become lodged in her throat. The last thing she had expected was for Gustav to sneak up on her during dinner. Unable to speak, Nellie remained quiet and the man continued, "You stood me up for our dinner date and I have not heard anything from you since. Am I so repulsive?"
Still unable to find her voice, Nellie said nothing, but she thought, oh, you are very far from repulsive! Her appetite suddenly gone, she stood.
Embarrassed, Nellie struggled to find the words she wanted to say as the silence grew thick between them. The fact that he was handsome, along with the addition of his sexy French accent, seemed to make butterflies form in the pit of her stomach. Her knees felt weak as well, however Nellie attributed most of her symptoms to her nervousness and her guilt at the way she had ditched their dinner date without so much as an explanation or an apology.
"I . . . I am truly sorry Monsieur . . . Gustav" she replied. Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper, and she swallowed hard to correct it before she turned to face him and continued, "My museum assignment turned out to be more involved than I had originally thought. I lost your number and . . ."
"It is alright, Nellie" Gustav crooned softly as he gently wrapped his warm fingers around her wrist. A jolt of electricity, scorching like liquid fire shot through Nellie's arm at his touch, which seemed to jump-start her heart into a wild frenzy of rapid, irregular beats. It made her head spin and she found it a bit more difficult to breathe.
What was the matter with her? How could the mere touch of this man, a man she barely knew, send such shivers down her spine, making her feel weak and slightly disoriented? She had only ever been with one other man, Ho Sung, and even though he had disappeared without warning, she was quite certain her heart belonged to him. Suddenly, she was angry with her body for so readily betraying her heart. "Perhaps we can have dinner together tomorrow night?" Gustav's voice reached her burning ears. "I could show you those sights I promised."
"I'm truly sorry, Gustav" Nellie replied when she found her voice. "I do have a previous engagement with an old friend who happens to be in town on business. Before that, I have a job to look into at The Nectary, so my whole day is filled up for tomorrow." Nellie was painfully aware of his finger tips gently brushing her wrist, and she found a way to tactfully disengage it from his hand. As she gazed into eyes, they seemed to be twinkling in amusement, as if the man knew the effect he was having on her.
"I am truly sorry for the other night, so perhaps some other time?" Nellie added, and then turned away. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow, so I really must go and get some sleep."
"Ah yes, you are a tough cookie, Nellie Blye" Gustav whispered to himself as he watched the woman walk away, "but I will conquer you . . . in time." He loved the way the pockets on the seat of her pants swayed up and down as she walked. It caused his pulse to quicken and filled him with a most intense, lustful desire, which resulted in a physical reminder that he was, indeed, a man. He wanted her in the worst way and he intended to have her. It had been a long time since a woman had filled him with such longing. His whole body ached for her to the point that he was losing sleep thinking of her. There was something about Nellie Blye that caused an all-consuming, burning need to be with her to consume his every waking thought, as well as his dreams. "I must have you!" he whispered huskily.
"It is nice to finally meet you, Mademoiselle Blye! I have heard nothing but great things about you." Estelle Fouchier smiled warmly. "I am trying to uncover some of the lost secrets of Nectar making; secrets that have been lost to us for centuries. It is a little known fact that the Nectary here in town is centuries old and that the cellars below date back to those times. There are some truly ancient bottles down there. If I had just one of these bottles, I could break down its ingredients and uncover so much about the lost art of Nectar making.
I need you to go to the cellar and find a bottle of Nectar that is at least five thousand years old. Back then, they used to store them in chests, so be sure to check any you find. Take this keystone. It should get you into some of the older sections of the cellars."
After going downstairs, Nellie found a diving pool. Of course she could not resist exploring it, so she dove into it. The only thing she found was a bottle of Nectar, but it was not the old one Estelle wanted, so she climbed out and moved ahead.
The plaque on the wall held no useful information. It said something about storing Nectar, so Nellie moved past it into a room behind a secret door.
The place to use the keystone was straight ahead, but Nellie stopped to look into a chest against the wall before entering. Immediately upon entering the room, Nellie spotted the chest she felt contained the desired bottle of Nectar.
There was Nectar everywhere, on shelves, and in another chest as well. Nellie took everything out of the chests and one of them even revealed a hidden door! Nellie quickly went back upstairs to tell Estelle of her discovery.
"Very intriguing" Estelle said thoughtfully. "As I said, many of those cellars are very ancient and almost no one ever goes down there. I am sure the cellars are filled with secrets, such as the one you have discovered. Nevertheless, I am quite interested in what you have found. Please . . . head back down there and see if you can learn anything more."
Nellie had been hoping that Estelle would say that. She was having a difficult time pushing last night's encounter with Gustav Delven out of her mind, so she was happy to have some interesting explorations ahead of her. Of course, she was looking forward to visiting with Zhan later in the day as well. She could tell him all about Monsieur Delven and his persistence in pursuing her. Maybe Zhan could give her some sound advice.
Back in the secret room, Nellie saw three holes and decided to inspect them. She allowed her mind to drift back to the recent events in her life, but then something happened that shocked her back into reality.
Suddenly she was screaming, "Oh my God!" Nellie had grabbed a hold of a nest of insects. She hated when that happened! After brushing them off, she boldly stuck her hand back into the hole and wrapped her fingers around something. When she pulled it out, she saw that it was a scroll of papers, which seemed to contain riddles. She had also activated a hidden switch.
All at once, a chill seemed to pass through Nellie's body and a voice seemed to whisper in her ear, "The three greatest possessions of the Pharaohs; stolen and never returned!" Her brow furrowed in confusion and thought, she took the scroll upstairs to Estelle.
Nellie handed Estelle the papers and told her where she found them, and then had to stifle a giggle at the woman's initial reaction. "Ick . . . I am not sure I would be sticking my hand into a hole in the wall, let alone three of them! Although, I am glad you did. These riddles must mean something, but I am not really sure what. It is definitely something to ponder."
The older woman seemed to become lost in thought for a few moments and then she exclaimed, "Oh I know!"
"Although I cannot help you decipher this riddle, I do have a hunch it is important. Please, you must help me!" Estelle paused for a moment as if to calm herself and collect her thoughts, and then went on, "Go speak with Francois Lambert. Monsieur Lambert has been doing extensive research on the history of the town and might have an idea what it means."
Nellie told the frantic woman that she would be more than happy to help, and then went in search of the Special Merchant.
She found him outside his home this time. When she handed him the papers, he laughed, "I have not heard a good riddle in quite some time, so your presence delights me!" He turned thoughtful and continued in a more serious tone, "Let me think a minute . . . Pharaohs, sparkles. It sounds to me like you may be searching for some kind of gems. I have a good friend in Egypt who is something of an amateur Egyptologist, and should e able to help you.
My friend has been studying insects of late. I highly suggest you collect some local insects to bring with you, just in case. I would say five Cerambryx Beetles would do just fine."
At first, Nellie was stunned and her jaw dropped open, but then she found her voice. "OK, now let me get this straight. Are you telling me that, in order to help Estelle Fouchier, I must first catch some bugs? Then, I have to pack them up, along with my belongings, and then take them to Egypt? All this is just to solve to a riddle?" She sighed, wondering what was wrong with using a phone, or even email.
The Special Merchant laughed heartily, "That is exactly what you must do, Nellie Blye. You are, after all, a great adventurer!"
Great, Nellie thought as she watched him walk away. Now she could not wait to see Zhan and tell him all about it!
"Oh my," Nellie gasped, "you startled me, Gustav!" She had been waiting for Zhan at the great fishing spot she had discovered, lost in thought about her sudden trip to Egypt when she had heard someone approach. Thinking it was her best friend, Zhan, she had turned to greet him, only to be shocked to see Gustav Delven instead. "What are you doing here?" she asked, puzzled. "My friend, Zhan, is supposed to meet me here. We are planning on spending the afternoon together and doing a bit of catching up!"
Again, the man's mere presence almost caused her to lose control of her facilities and she had to struggle to keep her concentration. Stop that! Her mind screamed angrily at her. He is only a man. Yes, he is attractive, but he is not the man of your dreams. Besides that, you hardly know him!
Gustav gazed into her eyes and replied softly, "I am afraid your friend is not coming." Nellie opened her mouth to ask how could he know such a thing, but the man spoke again as if reading her thoughts, "It really is a small world. You see, my family owns an interest in the Nectary, quite a large interest, in fact. I was just at the meeting your friend attended." Gustav paused to give Nellie time to register his last words, and then he went on. "I did not know he was your friend until the end" he lied. "The big wigs of the companies, the Nectary and the Shang Simla Food Market, decided that in order to get the ball rolling faster, Zhan Su needed to go back to China immediately. That is when he mentioned you. He was going to call, but then discovered his cell phone had died. I told him of our acquaintance and offered to inform you of his departure." Gustav smiled, "Perhaps I can take his place today? I brought some delicious Cherry Nectar!" Nellie, although disheartened, nodded her assent.
Nellie led him to where she had laid out a picnic lunch and they sat. She was deeply disappointed not to see Zhan. It was something she had been anticipating ever since she had learned he was in town. Although her desire to eat had left her, she immediately grabbed some food because with her mouth full, she would not be expected to make conservation. It would give her time to sort out her thoughts and stamp out the feelings of resentment she had toward Gustav for being here instead of Zhan. She did not want to kill the messenger. It was not his fault.
Gustav was feeling quite satisfied with the way things had turned out. It had been much easier to arrange than he had thought it would be. Now he had his chance to spend some time with the woman of his dreams. Instead of going for the food, he reached for a glass of Nectar first. Nellie decided to try one as well. After a couple of glasses, the tension lifted and, soon, the pair was in the midst of amicable conversation.
In the warm sunshine, with the potent Cherry Nectar coursing through her veins, Nellie began to relax and enjoy herself. Although she missed Zhan, she soon learned that being in the company of the suave, handsome Frenchman was not such a bad thing. He was a great conversationalist and was able to make her laugh, which put her very much at ease. At first, the conversation was on a non-personal level as Nellie told him of some her adventures and he told her stories about the history of Champs Les Sims and other happenings around the town.
As the Nectar made more of its effects known, however, Gustav began to speak more about the personal aspects of his life. Soon, Nellie learned that he was an avid lover of books and loved to hang out on the couch watching TV or reading. His clumsiness made an appearance, as well, in the form of a knocked-over glass of Nectar, which made them burst into an array of giggles as they scrambled out of the way of the oozing liquid.
"You see, Beatrice and Colette Bonnet are my cousins" he said softly. "I never knew my father, but my mother did the best she could to raise me on her own until the day she died. I was still a young boy with nowhere to go, so my aunt, Beatrice's and Colette's mother, took me into her home. She was my mother's sister." Nellie's heart went out to him as he spoke of the hardships of his youth. It had not been easy for him growing up without a father his whole life, and then having lost his mother at age eight must have been really tough for a child. Nellie could certainly empathize, since her childhood had been similar.
Gustav released a heavy sigh, rose, and began to pace back and forth anxiously as Nellie remained seated, feeling helpless.
"I deeply apologize, Nellie" he said, his voice trembling with emotion. "I should not have delved so deeply into my personal issues. It is just that you are such a good listener, I sort of allowed it to get away from me." He stopped and lowered his head. It seemed to Nellie that he had found something interesting on the ground in front of his feet, because he was silent for a long moment before adding, "I am truly sorry you missed your friend, Zhan. I am sure you would have been better off in his company than in mine."
The man seemed so sad, so dejected, at that moment that it made Nellie feel like reaching out to him, wrapping her arms around him a tight embrace, and telling him that everything would be alright. She watched as he turned his back on her and walked a few away. Nellie rose from her seated position to follow.
"Don't be silly!" she cried as she took several steps toward him. It took every ounce of willpower she possessed to stop herself from throwing her arms around him and holding him until his pain was gone. "Yes. I do miss Zhan, and I wish I had been able to spend some time with him today, but I have had a very nice time with you." Nellie was surprised to realize it was true and then wondered why she had wasted so much avoiding the situation for so long. "I . . . I'm actually very glad we have spent the afternoon together" she added quietly, almost shyly.
The corners of Gustav's mouth curled into a sly smile. His plan for spending time with the woman had worked out perfectly! He only wished she was not leaving for Egypt tomorrow. Gustav wanted to suggest his joining her, but he was learning to not push too hard where she was concerned. Now that he had his foot in the door, he wanted to do nothing to have it slammed closed on him. He knew that, soon, she would be exactly where he wanted her. Once he had embedded himself deeply into her heart, he would have her in his bed.