“But they never made it to his table, did they?” Tatiana clucked her tongue as if she actually cared about some ridiculous bottle of bubbles. “Shipwreck and all. Such a shame.”
“Where did you get them?” Svetla looked on the verge of bursting.
“The wreck was salvaged and about two thousand of the bottles were discovered. Ivan managed to obtain a few when they went to auction.” Actually, he bought all of them for an astonishing two hundred seventy-five thousand apiece, but she wasn’t about to tell Svetla that. The woman was jealous enough already.
Svetla just stared, somehow magically unable to speak.
Tatiana took the bottle from Kosmina and began easing the cork out. “Are you sure you won’t change your mind, Svetla? I would love for you to enjoy it with us.”
“I am hoping we can move beyond the difficulties we’ve had.”
Svetla nodded thoughtfully. “I am willing to try if you are.” She smiled. It looked almost genuine. “I would be glad to join you in a glass.”
“Wonderful.” With a loud pop, the cork released. Tatiana handed the bottle back to Kosmina to pour since only she knew which glass had been coated with a tincture of laudanum. Not too much, but just enough to help lower Svetla’s resistance to Tatiana’s powers of persuasion. If it added any strange taste, hopefully Svetla would just assume it was a side effect of the bottle’s time under water. The gilded filigree on the flutes also helped to hide any discoloration. All in all, a perfect plan. So far.
Kosmina handed them each a glass. Tatiana met the servant’s eyes for reassurance. She smiled slightly. “I hope you find it to your liking, my lady.”
“I’m sure I will.” She raised her glass. “To the future.” She looked directly at Svetla. “And new beginnings.”
“To new beginnings,” the vampiress repeated.
“To new beginnings,” Daci agreed.
Hades help her, this might actually work. She lifted the glass and sipped, tasting nothing but the champagne’s soft, creamy bubbles.
Kosmina opened the door to the gardens. “Enjoy your evening, my lady.”
Tatiana strolled through with Daci and Svetla on her heels.
Half of Svetla’s champagne was already gone. Greedy pig. “Daci, bring the bottle, will you? Shouldn’t let something so delicious go to waste.”
Daci nodded and ducked back inside. Tatiana continued on. “Do you have gardens like this in St. Petersburg? I saw very little of Grigor’s estate when I was there last.” Mostly because they’d kept her waiting outside the council chambers for so bloody long.
“Not quite this grand.” Svetla held out her glass for Daci to top it off. “Although we do have a skating pond in ours.” She drank a little more.
Tatiana swallowed another small mouthful. “Skating? How lovely.” If you were too stupid to find other ways to amuse yourself. She glanced back. A little farther from the house and she’d begin.
Daciana chimed in, the bottle swinging in one hand, her glass in the other. “I loved to skate when I was a girl. Did you learn as a child, Svetla?”
She finished a sip before answering. “In Russia, all children learn to skate early.” She blinked hard, then lifted her glass. “This is the best champagne I’ve ever had. I feel wonderful.”
“I’m so glad,” Tatiana lied. “I’d be happy to send a bottle home with you.”
Svetla stopped. “You would?”
“We’re starting on new ground, aren’t we? I think a gift between friends would be… a nice way to cement that.” Especially since Svetla wouldn’t be going home.
Svetla’s mouth curved oddly. A second later, she threw her arms around Tatiana. “I’ve been so cruel to you. I am sorry.”
Tatiana stopped herself just in time from thrusting Svetla away. She held still while the intoxicated Russian hugged her. “There, there. It’s all behind us now.”
Daci took both their glasses between her fingers, rolling her eyes and almost causing Tatiana to laugh. “Let’s sit on this bench and enjoy the night, shall we?”
Tatiana pried Svetla off her. “Brilliant idea.” They were far enough from the house now to be well away from any eavesdropping guests.
The three of them settled onto the bench, Svetla in the middle. She was on the verge of becoming maudlin, mumbling something about how hard it was to please Grigor and how she longed for other female friends. How much laudanum had Kosmina coated her glass with?
Tatiana patted her on the back. “You know what you should do?”
Svetla looked at her. “What?”
Tatiana peered deeply into the other woman’s eyes and laced power into her voice. “You should steal Lilith. Take her for your own.”
So Tatiana continued. “As everyone is preparing for daysleep, you will remain awake. You will sneak into the nursery and take her.”
“I will sneak into the nursery and take her,” Svetla repeated, her eyes round and glassy.
“If you are caught, you will claim Grigor charged you with committing the act. It was all his idea.”
“All his idea.”
Tatiana laid her hand over Svetla’s and smiled. “We are good friends, you and I. I would never do anything to hurt you. Which is why you won’t remember we’ve had this conversation.”
“I won’t remember.” Svetla had barely moved since Tatiana had begun.