Publication date: August 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.
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The night air was filled with the scent of spring, the renewal of life, and a gentle rain brushed the budding leaves and flowers and tickled the thickening grass. It gathered in puddles on the paved roadway, creating a spiraling dance of countless rings, waves intersecting waves, bouncing about in rhythmic patterns.
Tarzan watched those rings as he glided past, his steps silent as those of a hunting cat, graceful as the antelope. He pulled his cloak back, that he might feel the rain gently brushing his skin, and his breathing was deep and exaggerated, basking in the smells of spring, an aroma that even the smells of the nearby city could not fully defeat.
He could not hold his solemn mood, though, despite the rings, despite the scents, for he heard the noise of the revelers, the unmistakable chatter of society, and he was reminded that he was far, far from home.
Trance broken, Tarzan continued his walk toward the vast and sprawling estate surrounded by the sweet smell of vineyards. He knew that this villa was the envy of the region, and that this region, the quiet outskirts of Paris, was the envy of many people all over the civilized world.
He simply didn't understand the sentiment. To him the villa, with its stucco walls and solid roof, was more a barrier than a shelter, a place to hide from the sun and stars, and he couldn't understand why any man would wish to shield himself from those delights. He didn't dwell on that thought, though, for it was not his place to judge. He was different; they, these men and women he had come to know as friends, were different from him.
"Pas plus tard," he said quietly. "Not much longer."
So entranced was he with the thought of going home that he was caught by surprise--a rare occurrence indeed!--when a hand landed firmly on his shoulder.
He spun immediately, dropping to a crouch, graceful, catlike, ready to defend. His sudden, fluid movement startled the man who had touched him.
"Pardon, monsieur," said the man, a gendarme, as he pulled his hand away and cautiously backed a step. "I did not mean to surprise you, but it is very late. Do you have business here?"
"Of course," he replied, relaxing and straightening, dropping his hands to his sides, palms up, in an unthreatening display. "I am staying there," he explained, pointing to the magnificent villa, "at the D'Arnot residence."
The gendarme eyed him curiously, even unconsciously moved his hand closer to the pistol holstered on his hip, a movement the wary Tarzan marked well. If, for some inexplicable reason, the gendarme went for the gun, he would catch the man's hand before it fully closed on the pistol. A shift in weight would pin the gendarme's hand to his hip, a subtle twist of his wrist would take the gun away. It was a simple move, really, one that these people, grown soft from city life, would stare at in amazement, a maneuver for which the vast majority of them would have no defense. But what then? the stranger in this world had to wonder. What might he do with a gendarme's pistol?
"Monsieur D'Arnot?" the gendarme asked, his voice thick with skepticism. "I know Monsieur D'Arnot. Who are you, sir?"
The stranger didn't blink, didn't flinch, at the gendarme's accusing tone, his sparkling eyes staring intently into those of the policeman.
"Tarzan," he replied. "Je suis Jean Tarzan."
The gendarme swallowed hard; he had heard the name.
The music, the laughter, the cheers and disappointed groans, assaulted Tarzan as he neared the door to D'Arnot's villa. The house was transformed this night, as it was once every month, into a casino. Paul D'Arnot was Tarzan's friend, as he seemed to be friend to everyone in Paris. More than that, D'Arnot was Tarzan's mentor in his introduction to society, and truly the man who had lived the majority of his life in the jungle could not have asked for a better instructor. For though he played by society's rules, D'Arnot was, Tarzan believed, of temperament similar to his own, a man of high standards and moral character, though those morals often turned on precepts foreign to Tarzan.
Tarzan's smile widened as he considered the dapper D'Arnot, a man he could not help but love, despite their obvious differences. Bolstered by that thought, he pushed open the door, handed his cloak to the attendant standing nearby, and walked into the light and the tumult.
He spotted D'Arnot almost immediately, a cane hooked over his arm, his dimpled smile, as usual, ear-to-ear. Paul D'Arnot was not a big man, standing just a few inches over five feet and weighing at least fifty pounds less than Tarzan's more than two-hundred-pound frame. His hair was yellow, but paling toward white, and longer than the cuts worn by most of the other gentlemen, though not nearly as long as Tarzan's thick and wavy brown hair. D'Arnot was closer to fifty than to forty, and his face showed the weathering of those years. But his smile and his eyes certainly did not. For all his exposure to society, Paul D'Arnot retained the enthusiasm and lust for life of a young man. Perhaps that was why Tarzan so loved his company.
In this room, Paul D'Arnot provided an oasis for him, a fact driven home clearly to Tarzan as he moved across the crowded floor and felt the curious gazes following his every step. He carried himself differently than these people, and not just because he was taller than most or that he was lacking the softness a life of luxury had placed upon the bodies of the gentlemen. His ponytail certainly stood out in a room where most of the men wore their hair shortly and neatly cropped, but it was more the intensity of Tarzan's gaze, his darting, alert eyes, and the sheer grace of his stride, the natural perfection of his posture, his muscles moving in perfect fluidity, that set him apart.
He walked by one group of ladies who stared openly, even turning their heads to regard him from every possible angle as he passed. "A monkey," he heard a man standing with one of the women whisper, and that only made Tarzan smile all the more, for he, unlike the speaker, did not consider the words an insult.
"Ah, Jean!" D'Arnot exclaimed when he spotted Tarzan. He extended his hand for a warm shake and patted Tarzan on the shoulder. "I thought you would stay out all the night."
Tarzan didn't reply, but his look showed that to be a desirable suggestion.
"No matter," D'Arnot continued, "we will play until the dawn!"
Tarzan's smirk turned into a frown.
D'Arnot, hardly surprised, merely nodded in the direction of the ladies, who were still staring at Tarzan, to the obvious dismay of the impatient gentle-men standing near to them. "Much better than the jungle, eh, mon ami?"
"Different, D'Arnot," Tarzan replied, clearing his throat. "But sometimes very much the same."
D'Arnot gave a chuckle and offered a salute to the ladies, who finally turned away. "You fight civilization and your rightful title of Lord Greystoke with the tenacity of the wild animals you left behind in Africa," he said. "Why not just accept your position, mon ami, and marry the woman you love?"
It was a question that D'Arnot asked of Tarzan every day, and one that never failed to give the strong man pause. "There is always the possibility that you are right," he admitted.
"You see?" D'Arnot pressed.
"I do miss Jane," Tarzan said with all sincerity. "But I did right in telling her to go on with her life, for it is the life that she needs. She was raised in your society, a world too different from my own. I am not the right choice for her."
"Presumption," D'Arnot put in without hesitation. It was rare that he got Jean Tarzan to admit so much, so openly, and he sensed that the stubborn man might be vulnerable. D'Arnot wanted nothing more than for his dear friend to accept and enjoy this new and, in D'Arnot's estimation, far better life. "Have you bothered to inquire of Jane how she feels about it?"
Tarzan gave a great and tired sigh, his expression showing D'Arnot clearly that he had again reached a dead end for his hopeful reasoning.
"Ah, but you can take the man out of the jungle," D'Arnot replied with a sigh of his own.
Nikolas Rokoff's attempt to be charming ended abruptly as his companion, who was laughing and shaking with exaggerated movements over Rokoff's last witticism, splashed him with red wine.
The lady tittered and glided away, sweeping down the stairs of the balcony to the main floor of the ballroom, leaving Nikolas Rokoff red on his shirt and red in the face. His huge companion, Alexis Paulvitch, clumsily moved at him with a handkerchief, spouting apologies, and spilling even more wine with every jerky movement.
"Back! Back!" Rokoff growled at him, and though Paulvitch was easily a hundred pounds heavier than Rokoff and looked as if he could break Rokoff in two, there could be no doubt as to who dominated this relationship. Paulvitch was a massive man, thick-limbed and round in the torso, and with hardly any neck to speak of. Even his head, with light hair that was no more than tiny stubble, seemed to bulge with muscle. He looked out of sorts in his light gray suit, a gentleman's wrapping on a street brawler's frame. Rokoff, by comparison, was trim and quite dapper in his darker suit, a garment of perfect cut for his tall frame and solid shoulders. His hair was brown and neatly trimmed, and he fit well into the society crowd. Except for his eyes; those who looked closer at Nikolas Rokoff recognized an intensity in his dark eyes that hinted at danger. Most of D'Arnot's guests were jovial sorts, fortunate people living in luxury, but Rokoff's eyes seemed more the orbs of one who felt as if he had not gotten his due in life.
"I did not mean ..." Alexis Paulvitch stuttered. He moved for Rokoff again with the handkerchief and got promptly slapped away.
"Back," Rokoff said again, this time in low and calm threatening tones, and Paulvitch, like a beaten dog, slid away.
"You make of me a spectacle," Rokoff fumed, slapping futilely at the prominent stain. "How am I to conduct my business ..."
Paulvitch paid no attention to Rokoff's typical tirade, his thoughts arrested by the sight of the pair entering the villa, an older gentleman with a beautiful young woman on his arm. The man's once-black hair was turning to gray, the skin about his handsome face was beginning to sag, but he held himself with perfect posture and did not appear decrepit in any way. The woman alongside him stole glances from every man she passed, and with good reason. Her dark brown hair was done up fashionably, tied in back with gem-studded ribbons that matched her lavender gown. Her bright eyes, normally light blue in hue, now seemed to reflect the color of that gown, and her smile was truly brilliant and truly infectious. Her features were classic French, angular yet gentle, and her skin was smooth and light golden, accented beautifully by a white silken scarf she wore draped over one shoulder.
Paulvitch dared to interrupt Rokoff, who was looking down again and patting his shirt, by dropping his huge hand on Rokoff's shoulder.
Rokoff glared up at him.
"Collette de Coude and her father have just arrived," Paulvitch explained, somewhat frantically.
Rokoff quieted immediately, his hungry gaze snapping down to the lower floor and locking on the pair. "Then it will be tonight," he said.
"You are sure that Count de Coude has it?"
Rokoff's glare fell over him once more. "If I were not sure, would I continue this foolish game?" he asked, his tone showing that he was fighting hard to control his anger. "And would I keep you beside me?"
Paulvitch focused his gaze on Collette de Coude and worked hard to ignore Rokoff. Every word Rokoff spoke to him was filled with disdain and contempt, though he could have lifted him up and squeezed the life out of him with hardly an effort.
But that Alexis Paulvitch would not do. Like the powerful dogs kept by the gentlemen back in their homeland of Russia, Paulvitch was the servant, and Nikolas Rokoff, the son of the tsar, the unquestionable master.
She wore too much of the fashionable face paint, and her scent came from a pretty bottle, but Tarzan could see the bone structure under that paint, and the light in her eyes was surely real. Also, he could smell her--not the perfume, but the woman--and the scent was far from unpleasant. She was beautiful, undeniably so, and Tarzan could only imagine how much more beautiful she would appear were she not trapped in this supposed "fashion."
Her escort was an elderly man, sharply dressed and holding himself so straight that his posture would rate an eleven on a scale of ten. Still, what he lacked in fluidity, he more than made up for with elegance, and his smile, unlike those of so many of D'Arnot's guests, seemed genuine.
"Bon soir, Henri!" D'Arnot exclaimed when he noticed the duo. "Comment allez-vous?"
"Tres bien, merci, Paul," the man responded kindly, sharing a warm smile and handshake with D'Arnot.
D'Arnot took the young woman's hand and kissed it, then turned to Tarzan. "Allow me to present Count Henri de Coude," he said, "and his charming daughter Collette."
The count gave a slight bow and extended his hand to Tarzan. The older man's grip was strong and sure, and Tarzan nodded his approval.
"Jean Tarzan," D'Arnot introduced him, and it was apparent by the brightening expression on Collette de Coude's face that she had heard the name before.
"My pleasure," Tarzan said to Count de Coude, eyeing his daughter all the while.
"But it is mine," Count de Coude said emphatically. "I have been looking forward to meeting you, sir. Paul has told me so much of your most fascinating past."
Collette gave a slight nod of assent, and a somewhat naughty smirk that caught Tarzan off guard. He was used to the titters and even leers of these society women, but somehow it was more intriguing, and more surprising, coming from this young woman. She offered him her hand, and he took it and brought it to his lips gently, his eyes locking with hers.
"I am a collector of African artifacts," Count de Coude went on, speaking to Tarzan. "A hobby I do hope to expand into a business venture in the very near future. Perhaps you and I might discuss this at length at a more convenient hour."
Tarzan gave a polite nod, though in truth he had no desire to be part of any business venture.
"Collette, ma petite," Count de Coude said, clearing his throat and exchanging a grin with D'Arnot, for it was obvious that there was some tingling electricity between the two younger people, "do show Monsieur Tarzan my latest acquisition."
Still locking Tarzan with her stare, Collette demurely slid the silken scarf from her delicate shoulders.
"I know very little about business," Tarzan began, a bit embarrassed by Collette's bold movement and trying hard not to be obvious. "And ..." The word was lost in his throat, and no others could get past the lump that suddenly materialized there. Collette's bare neck and shoulders were certainly beautifully formed, and the low cut of her dress invited any man's imagination, but Tarzan was not looking at her at all, not at her body, not at her sparkling eyes, but only at the six-sided amulet hanging about her neck, crystalline and glistening as if with an inner light of its own.
"A unique piece, is it not?" Count de Coude said proudly.
"How did you come by this particular amulet?" Tar- zan asked, and the sudden seriousness, even urgency, of his tone gave Count de Coude pause. He and Collette exchanged curious looks.
"Do you know it?" the older gentleman asked.
"I have knowledge of it, yes," Tarzan admitted, and again the count and his daughter looked at each other with surprise.
"Tell me, then," Count de Coude said. "You must tell me! What is its value?"
Tarzan shook his head. "Your meaning of 'value' and my own are not the same, I fear."
"Monetary value?" The count pressed. "Estimate a monetary value for it."
"Impossible," Tarzan replied. "It is impossible to place a monetary value on such a treasure. It can be considered priceless, in ways that you cannot imagine."
Count de Coude gave a chuckle. "Tell me, Paul, does your friend always speak in so cryptic a manner?" he said to D'Arnot, his tone less serious, for he was perceptive enough to understand that he would get little more information from Jean Tarzan at this time.
"Enough of business," Collette declared, taking her father's cue. She moved over and hooked her arm about Tarzan's. "I will take custody of this mysterious man while you two make your usual donations to the card game."
"Ah, but Jean," D'Arnot protested, "will you not be joining us?"
Tarzan's look was purely incredulous; D'Arnot had known him for a long time, and never once had he shown any interest in such games.
"Of course he will not," Collette announced. "Monsieur Tarzan is much too civilized for a game of cards. Roulette is the better choice for him."
Tarzan's expression didn't change, but it shifted from D'Arnot to Collette.
She, however, wasn't waiting for his assent. She tugged him along on her merry way.
"Perhaps you should never have educated her, Henri," D'Arnot said with a chuckle when the young couple had moved off.
"She is her mother's child," Count de Coude replied affectionately. "With a spirit that will not be held back."
"She does not know a woman's place," D'Arnot said, obviously kidding.
"Ah, but she does, I fear," Henri replied without hesitation. "And that place is not what you or I, or so many others, might believe it to be."
D'Arnot gave a laugh. He adored young Collette de Coude, particularly her irreverence toward society's attitudes. Intelligent and opinionated, and always willing to say what was on her mind, she was, by his estimation, many times more intriguing and interesting than the vast majority of society's women, who had been trained in their proper place. "Jean will find this night most interesting," he remarked, and Henri joined him in his laughter.
The two men walked off the other way, turning their attention to the strategies they would employ in their high-stakes card game.
Not far away, another pair of men observed the exchange, but they were not laughing.
"She is wearing the amulet," Paulvitch blurted, then looked around nervously to make sure that no one nearby had heard.
"De Coude is a fool," Rokoff replied, too intent on Collette's pendant to take note of Paulvitch's potential slip--a fact that made Paulvitch sigh with sincere relief. "He has no idea of its value or he would protect it with his very life. Who is this man with Collette? A bodyguard?"
"His name is Jean Tarzan, a guest of Paul D'Arnot's," Paulvitch replied. "They say he was found in the jungles of Africa. Does he mean anything to you?"
Rokoff spun on him with such intensity that the big man backed off a step. "Any man who entertains my fiancee means something to me, you fool!" Rokoff growled. He was also thinking that Tarzan's knowledge of Africa might prove a dangerous thing, for if he recognized that amulet and alerted Count de Coude to its significance ...
Paulvitch held up his huge hands in a placating manner, trying to defuse Rokoff. "But Nikolas," he blabbered, "the engagement has been canceled."
"It is not canceled until I say it is canceled," Rokoff countered. "And that, my stupid friend, will not happen as long as Collette de Coude wears the amulet. Watch them, and closely. I have other business to attend to. Hear their conversation, and if any mention is made of the amulet, alert me immediately." He spun on his heel and walked away, assuming an innocent smile as soon as he mingled among the other guests.
Paulvitch puffed and sighed, then made his covert way on the trail of Tarzan and Collette.
The spinning wheel was far from mesmerizing, as were the hands of the croupier, though the man's gestures were obviously designed to confuse the gamblers. Tarzan, though, kept his focus true to the wheel, measuring its spin and the gradually decreasing rotation of the ball.
"The numbers pay thirty-five to one," Collette explained. "Black or red pay even." She moved her pointing finger to the various boxes as she spoke, but that, too, could not distract Tarzan. "Then there are boxes and lines," she continued, "and other bets at different odds."
Collette paused, studied the intent gaze of Tarzan's handsome face, and realized that he was hardly listening to her. "You know this already, don't you?" she asked, giving his arm a shake.
"Know what?" Tarzan asked coyly.
"Of the game," Collette answered with a huff. "Of all the games. You know, though you may pretend otherwise."
"I know that this wheel is designed so that he"--he pointed to the croupier--"will win more than those who come to play against him."
"He is the house," Collette explained. "The house will usually make money. Otherwise, why would anyone ever set up a casino?"
"He will make money?" Tarzan echoed.
"From those who play," Tarzan reasoned, his tone showing that the simple logic was reason enough not to play against the house.
"You miss the point," Collette replied, stomping her foot in exasperation. "Yes, you will lose. Many times, you will lose. But you might win, and win big."
"But you must first have the money to lose."
Tarzan shrugged. "Then it seems to me that if you have a great deal of money, you can win a lot more of the same."
"That is gambling," said Collette.
Tarzan nodded, feigning interest. "And when would you stop?"
"When you lose enough--" She stopped as she considered her own words, the blatant illogic of gambling against the odds.
"Then why start?" Tarzan asked, too innocently.
Collette's eyes narrowed as she considered his superior pose. "Do you not gamble?" she asked. "Have you never?"
"For food," Tarzan admitted. "For life. For money? No. Money meant neither in the jungle."
"But you are no longer in the jungle," Collette reasoned. "Perhaps it is time that you were taught the pleasures of society." Smiling widely, so full of excitement, she handed him a couple of chips. "Play," she instructed. "I doubt that you will be disappointed."
Tarzan believed differently, but he took the chips out of politeness, then sent his focus back to the wheel. The speed had lessened considerably, making it easier to decipher.
Collette placed her chips on number twenty-six, an obvious mistake to perceptive Tarzan.
"Thirty," he corrected, putting down the chips she had given him.
"Twenty-six is my favorite number," she explained.
"Your age?" Tarzan asked, but he recanted immediately, remembering that he had been taught it was not polite to inquire of a woman about her age.
Collette only laughed, though, too intelligent to be insulted by such petty things.
"Thirty will win," Tarzan insisted.
Before Collette could begin to argue, the wheel slowed and the bouncing ball skipped from place to place before settling in the thirty slot. Collette watched wide-eyed as the croupier swept in the losing chips, hers included, and paid off Tarzan's bet. Then, with a burst of laughter and exuberance, she leaped up and gave Tarzan a kiss on the cheek. "Are you psychic?" she asked. "Will you next be shackled upside down in a tank of water, to escape certain drowning with the aid of your mystic powers?"
Tarzan's expression was purely incredulous.
"I have heard of such things," Collette declared. "There is a man in America who claims such extra-ordinary abilities. Do you have a sixth sense?"
"On special occasions only," Tarzan replied dryly.
Collette let it go at that. "Back to roulette," she said. She started to move away from Tarzan, but reversed herself and gave him another peck on the cheek. "Your presence here has not only affected every woman in the room, but has affected my luck with this wheel. I can feel it--"
Her conversation ended abruptly as Nikolas Rokoff grabbed her by the arm and spun her about to face him. Collette's smile disappeared immediately, especially when she regarded the hulking Paulvitch, hovering behind Nikolas.
"You look very lovely tonight," Rokoff said, his grasp turning gentle. Then he let go of Collette altogether and shifted his hand to stroke the amulet, a movement that Tarzan did not miss.
"Very unique," Rokoff said, his eyes shining as he regarded the pendant. "Like you, my dear."
Collette slid back a step, her expression sour, lips tight, as though she could find no response to the man's sudden appearance. Rokoff didn't pursue her, but rather turned his attention to Tarzan.
"I am Nikolas Rokoff," he said, not bothering to extend his hand. "Collette will be spending the rest of the evening with me."
Tarzan studied Collette's expression, noting that she was glancing about and suddenly uncomfortable, her smile having vanished. She obviously did not want to cause a scene, though, in the house of her friend.
"You are presuming far too much, Nikolas," she said quietly.
"Presuming?" Rokoff scoffed, moving closer to her. "There is our betrothal and other personal matters which we must discuss, my dear."
"You may have proposed marriage and a merger of our families as part of your African venture with my father," Collette scolded, her voice rising, "but you cannot command my affections. There is not, and never has been, any betrothal."
Tarzan was glad to see Collette back on firm footing, glad to see that she had overcome her initial uneasiness at the sight of the man. There was something special about Collette de Coude, he suspected, something strong and true.
His attention was caught, then, by the look that Rokoff gave him, an expression that the man from the African jungle had seen before, but on humans only and never on animals. It was an expression wrought of anger and embarrassment.
Rokoff put his lips near to Collette's ear. "You are dishonoring me by speaking of this matter in front of strangers," the Russian said quietly.
"Au contraire," Collette replied, and she shifted away. "Monsieur Tarzan is not a stranger."
"To me, he is," said Rokoff. "We will talk further, but in private." Again he grabbed Collette by the arm, and none too gently. Collette protested, but Rokoff ignored her and started pulling her away.
He hadn't gone a step before an impossibly strong, paralyzing grip latched onto his forearm, squeezing so tightly, and at just the right pressure points, that Rokoff could not even keep his fingers clenched. He looked at Tarzan, outraged and threatening, but Tarzan only squeezed harder, practically bringing Rokoff to his knees.
Paulvitch was in between them in an instant, reaching for Tarzan, but quicker than he could react, Tarzan's free hand snapped in between his reaching arms to clasp firmly onto his throat. Paulvitch slapped at Tarzan's forearm, grabbed his wrist and tried to twist it away with all of his considerable strength.
But Tarzan's muscles were locked and Paulvitch couldn't budge him.
Tarzan did let go of Rokoff then, sending him stumbling back a couple of steps. "Do you know who I am?" Rokoff protested.
"I believe you said that your name was Rokoff," Tarzan replied calmly. Paulvitch slipped down to one knee, his pudgy face turning a delicate shade of blue. Mercifully, Tarzan let him go. He fell to all fours, sputtering.
"Nikolas Rokoff!" Rokoff barked importantly. "Does the name mean nothing to you?"
Tarzan shook his head.
"Son of the Tsar of Russia!" Rokoff roared.
"Then I would presume you to be a gentleman," Tarzan replied calmly. He let his gaze drift from Rokoff to Paulvitch, the big man still down, on one knee now, and gasping for breath. With a smile to Rokoff, Tarzan offered Collette his arm and began to lead her away, the pair pointedly turning their backs on the fuming Russians.
Rokoff trembled with rage. He looked to Paulvitch, and the big man, embarrassed by the ease with which he had been humbled, needed little prodding. Up went Paulvitch with a bearlike roar, charging at the back of the departing Tarzan.
At that last moment Tarzan simply stepped aside, dragging one foot so that Paulvitch tripped headlong, stumbling awkwardly to crash into and overturn a poker table, sending cards and chips flying everywhere. Cries of surprise mingled with gasps of astonishment and sheer disgust, and with more than a few amused titters, particularly from the younger ladies. Count de Coude and Paul D'Arnot came rushing over.
"Arrtez!" Count de Coude said firmly to Rokoff. "This is a social gathering I invited you to, and not some waterfront bar. You and your man are embarrassing me with your conduct!"
"That man is drunk!" Rokoff retorted, pointing at Tarzan. "He offended me. He created this disturbance."
"I believe that the word across the channel is 'poppycock,'" D'Arnot interjected. "Jean Tarzan has never been drunk or offensive in his life!"
"Well, never drunk," Tarzan whispered. Collette giggled and stepped on his foot.
"Never, until now, then!" said Rokoff.
"It was you who provoked this incident, Nikolas," Collette interjected. "You and your bully. And not the first time you two have behaved so badly, I am sure!"
Rokoff started to reply, but Count de Coude, with his perfectly straight back and squared shoulders, stepped between him and Collette. "You were invited here as my guests," he scolded, "and your behavior is offensive and detestable." The count turned to D'Arnot. "You have my apologies, monsieur."
D'Arnot nodded his acceptance; not that he had ever blamed the good man.
"How dare you chastise me?" Rokoff exploded. "I am your future son-in-law."
Count de Coude's expression did not show any agreement with that remark.
"Are you prepared to lose your business ties with my father?" Rokoff argued, straightening his back and lifting his chin in an arrogant pose.
"Do you wish to sever the arrangement?" De Coude replied coolly.
"If it becomes a point of issue."
"If that is the price I must pay to keep my daughter and my self-respect, then so be it," the count replied. "We have nothing further to discuss, Monsieur Rokoff. I am confident that your carriage is waiting."
Rokoff met the count's indifferent look with an outright glare, a threatening look that he shifted over Tarzan. "You will regret your interference in my affairs," he said as a pair of butlers bracketed him and led him away.
"I regret ever having met you," Tarzan answered.
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