The Dark Blood of Poppies by Freda Warrington: Exerpt and Giveaway

The Dark Blood of Poppies by Freda Warrington was reissued by Titan in October, and today I’ve not only got an excerpt of the book for you to read, but courtesy of Titan, I’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky US reader as well! Enjoy the excerpt, and be sure to enter to win using the internet at the bottom of the page. I’ll choose a winner on the 22nd!


CHAPTER FOUR
MOON IN VELVET

Charlotte?”

The familiar, light voice sent an eerie thrill through her. Charlotte saw Violette appear in the doorway, pale in a dress of beaded ivory silk.

Violette stepped into the firelight. Her dress sparkled but her face and arms were matte, like velvet-white petals. With her blackhair coiled under a bandeau, she held herself with all her natural balletic poise.

darkbloodCharlotte put her book aside and stood up. “Violette, this is a lovely surprise. How are you?”

“I…” The dancer fell silent and stared into the fire. Her posture was defensive, as if to fend off any kiss or touch of greeting. Charlotte had no idea how to broach the subject of Matthew’s death, or the complaints of the other vampires.

“I waited until Karl had gone out,” Violette said finally. “I need to see you alone. Do you mind?”

“Of course not! Please, sit down.”

“Thank you, but no.” Violette clasped her hands across her waist. “I can’t sit still. I should be helping the wardrobe mistress with the costumes for the tour, but…”

Charlotte, moving closer, was shocked by her pallor. “Have you fed tonight?”

“Not yet,” Violette said brusquely.

“Are you still finding it hard to hunt?” She spoke gently, but her heart sank. Violette looked desolate. Charlotte’s gaze was arrested by a pearly mark over her breastbone. “What’s that on your chest?”

“This?” Violette smiled without humour, and drew down the front of her dress to reveal a ragged scar between her breasts. “Isn’t it wonderful, how fast we heal? Last night it was almost through to my spine.”

“Who did this?” Rage electrified her. To think that some idiot had actually tried to kill Violette! “Was it John? I’ll tear him apart!”

“I think you would.” Violette walked away into the dark library. As Charlotte followed, she added, “Something happened.”

“Tell me.”

Violette paused by a table, lowering her head. “There was a girl called Ute,” she began softly. “One of my corps de ballet, gifted enough to become a soloist. She told me she had family problems. Her father was putting pressure on her to return home. He thought her place was to be a hausfrau, not a performer. She was so upset, poor angel, and she came to me for advice. Wise counsel.” The ballerina touched her breastbone as if the wound was sore. “I am responsible for all my dancers, especially the girls. Some of them are very young and I am everything to them: parent, teacher, guardian. Ute trusted me in her distress, and I… I hadn’t tasted blood for three days.”

“Oh, Violette,” Charlotte sighed.

“It was more than thirst. I wasn’t sympathetic, I was furious with her for giving in to a selfish old man. And all the time I was sucking her blood and swooning with pleasure, I loathed myself. This thing that takes over…”

“It’s hunger. If you’d drink when you feel the need, you wouldn’t become so desperate that you lose control.”

“No, it has a name. The demon that takes me over is Lilith.”

Charlotte said nothing. Pursuing this subject never achieved anything. Violette flexed her shaking hands.

“I become Lilith, yet I don’t know what she wants. I wish she’d let me in on the secret. I only know that she’s driven. Like me.”

“What happened to the girl?” Charlotte asked.

Violette moved towards a stained glass window at the far end of the room.

“Ute lived. I wasn’t crazed enough to kill her. Do you remember that other young woman I attacked, Benedict’s wife,
Holly? That my bite seemed to break her child-like dependence on her husband? Well, something changed in Ute too, but not for the better. She didn’t remember what I’d done, but she had nightmares. I watched her trying to sleep, her pale little face on the pillow…”

tasteofbloodandwineCharlotte recalled Rachel’s distress and agitation. Lilith’s judgment, it seemed, did not discriminate between vampires and mortals.

“But she stayed with the ballet?”

“Of course not,” Violette said with contempt. “She ran home to her father the next day. I can’t blame her. Who’d stay with a madwoman like me? But how could Lilith…” Her voice became anguished, “How could I do that to someone in my care?”

The window was violet, with winter trees traced in lead, and a moon of thick white glass caught in the branches. Violette was an inky-haired shadow against it. She turned and opened the window, and the scene outside was the same; the violet sky, the moon.

“They are out there,” said the dancer. “Humans. Prey. All I have to do is leap over the sill and find them.”

“Yes,” Charlotte said without inflexion. “That’s all.”

Violette’s hard white fingernails scraped the sill like a bird’s claws. She released a short breath. “But I can’t.”

“Why not?” Charlotte watched her guardedly, unable to bear her pain. She wanted to soothe Violette, but daren’t try. The dancer still terrified her.

“Always the same damned reason! This demon inside me…”

“Close the window,” said Charlotte.

“I’m not cold.”

“Close it anyway.”

“Do you think I’m about to start baying at the moon and growing hair on my palms?” Violette banged the window shut.

“Nothing would surprise me now.”

“But the moon influences everything, even us. Aren’t you more restless when it’s full? I don’t believe you haven’t noticed.”

“Just tell me, Charlotte, what am I to do? I swore that if ever I harmed one of my company, I’d find a way to destroy myself. It must be possible.” Abruptly she extended her left wrist, palm up, and sliced the tender flesh with a fingernail. A slit appeared, red as poppies.

Charlotte ran to her and prised her hands apart. “Don’t!”

They held each other’s gaze. Even so close, Violette was icy,remote, not human. She looked ready to attack Charlotte without a moment’s reflection. She’d certainly threatened to do so in the past.

Charlotte knew enough to dread the consequences. Lilith’s bite brought unwelcome transformation… perhaps even the death of her love for Karl.

Still, she held her ground.

“I’ve told you the answer. Stop trying to resist the thirst.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t simply give in to Lilith. I can’t feed on just anyone, Charlotte. I’m compelled to choose my victims. And choosing them is agony. So, whether I defy the hunger or not, it’s a fight that nearly kills me.”

Growing braver, Charlotte touched the scar that peeked above Violette’s neckline. “Why ask my advice when you won’t listen? This scar, who inflicted such an injury?”

A pause. “You know Pierre Lescaut?”

“Yes, I know Pierre.” Understatement.

“It was him.”

“What?” Charlotte was mortified. Pierre had been the only one to support her at the meeting. It didn’t make sense.

“You might have told me,” said Violette, “that a group of vampires came here complaining that you’d created a homicidal lunatic, and to discuss what should be done about me.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know how. I hoped it would blow over. I would have come to you tonight…”

“Well, you’re too late. Pierre reached me first. He suggested that, far from speaking in my defence, you supported them against me.”

“That’s a lie!” Charlotte didn’t want to argue, but mixed emotions got the better of her. “I was on your side, even after what they said about Matthew. Is it true? Did you kill him?”

Violette’s eyes betrayed no shame. Instead Charlotte saw Lilith’s soul burning behind the sapphire irises. She recoiled.

“It was a warning,” Violette said grimly. “No one threatens my ballet, no one.”

“And Pierre?” Charlotte almost lost her voice. Perhaps the dancer had slain him, too. Obnoxious as Pierre could be, she did not wish him dead. “What happened?”

As Violette related the story without emotion, Charlotte turned away and leaned on the table. Pierre’s behaviour left her incandescent – but Violette’s retaliation had been extreme.

Charlotte thought, Gods, what have I created?

“The worst thing,” Violette finished, barely above a whisper, “is that I felt nothing. I wasn’t angry or vengeful, I felt no pity or pleasure. I feasted on his blood, fought him and thrust him through the window, and I didn’t care about any of it.”

Charlotte was trying to form a response when Violette rushed at her. She was too shocked to defend herself as the dancer gripped her shoulders and slammed her back against a bookshelf. Tears glittered on Violette’s long black lashes. “Have you some magic formula to make me care about anything, dearest?”

Her mouth came down on Charlotte’s collarbone, burning. She tried to side-slip into the Crystal Ring, but Violette held her in place without effort. Charlotte closed her eyes, petrified. This is it, she thought. This is where she takes my blood and destroys my soul.

Stefan and the others are right. Violette is insane, a danger to us
all. Why have I tried to protect her?

She felt the pressure of fang tips – then a rush of air where the mouth had been. Karl was there, gripping Violette’s shoulder. His usually calm eyes were ablaze.

Karl hadn’t stopped her, Charlotte realised. Violette had stopped herself when she felt his presence in the room.

“Get your hands off me,” she said.

“When you let go of Charlotte,” he replied softly. “Do you wonder that you’ve made so many enemies?”

Charlotte held her breath, certain Violette would attack Karl instead. But the dancer lifted her hands and stepped lightly away.

“What’s the matter?” she said with venom. “It’s only what you’ve done repeatedly, even when she was an innocent human girl. The same violation, Karl. Do you think it’s worse for me to do it? Double standards, or jealousy?”

Trembling, Charlotte peeled herself away from the bookshelf.

“Violette, I think you should leave.”

The ballerina stayed where she was, glaring at Karl.

“This time, I stopped. But when the proper time comes, you won’t be able to stop me. No one will.”

“Do you imagine you can take Charlotte from me?” Karl’s expression turned shrewdly thoughtful but his eyes were auburn fire: a disturbing combination. Charlotte couldn’t bear their mutual hostility.

“What do you think?” Violette almost smiled.

“That you would try, not because you love her, but to defeat me,” Karl said levelly. “Am I right?”

“Don’t turn everything to yourself. You fear me, don’t you? I don’t know why. I only prey on the weak.”

“I know,” said Karl. “The legends say you take infants whose parents have neglected to leave an amulet in the cot with the magic names, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof.”

“And the words, ‘Out, Lilith.’ Don’t forget that.” Violette gave him a bitter look. She came back to Charlotte, rested both hands on her left shoulder, and kissed her cheek.

Charlotte tensed. Incredible to think that those gentle hands were capable of such violence. As a human, Violette had never hurt a soul.

“I’m sorry, my dear,” said the dancer, stroking her cheek. “I didn’t intend to harm you. That’s not why I – you understand, don’t you?”

Charlotte nodded, her throat thick. She understood. The desire for blood dressed up as love, lust, affection; anything but cruelty. Yet, in the end, it could only be cruel. She still adored Violette. After all, only love could make her friend’s behaviour such torment.

“We want to help you, but you’re impossible. Don’t you need any friends?”

“I need you,” Violette whispered. “Don’t desert me.”

Charlotte clasped her wrist. The self-inflicted wound had already healed. “We won’t.”

“I’d like you to come with us on our American tour.”

“Why?”

So lovely, Violette’s cloudy-crystal face; powerful, fragile, compelling. “I won’t survive without you.”

Charlotte knew Karl would not want to go. Aware of his gaze on her, she put Violette gently away from her and said, “We’ll talk about it. Now, for heaven’s sake, go and hunt. Find someone and take them. Don’t hesitate.”

“I think,” said Violette, “that I should do that.”

She vanished. The Crystal Ring received her with a faint hiss, like snow crystals vaporising. Charlotte was alone with Karl.

Shaken, she wanted to run into his arms, but a mixture of anger and shame held her back. She met his eyes, wondering, Does he think that Violette attacked me – or that I invited her embrace?

Karl only said, “Dearest, are you all right?”

“No, I’m not.” She made to sit down at the table, but he intercepted her. One hand went around her waist, the other
enfolded her head. She felt his long, delicate fingers sliding through her hair. Divine. She leaned her head into his shoulder, certain he was about to say, I told you so.

“I thought she’d be happier,” said Charlotte, “deciding to stay with the ballet.”

“Obviously she isn’t.”

“Oh, but it’s worse! Pierre sought her out last night, apparently to warn her we were conspiring against her. I don’t know why. He was just being Pierre, too clever for his own good. But he offended her, so she attacked him. They had a dreadful fight, but he came off the worst. So yes, before you say anything, everyone was right. She’s a threat. She feeds ruthlessly on other vampires.”

Karl was quiet, eyelids falling, his lashes forming dark crescents against his cheeks. “Pierre has a talent for doing precisely the wrong thing. Yet he survives. It is the sordid truth that some vampires prey
on others to establish their power. It’s our most tangible proof of superiority. Violette steals Pierre’s strength with his blood, rendering him subservient to her. That’s how Kristian controlled us.”

“You can’t compare her to Kristian!”

“No. She is an anarchist, not a megalomaniac.”

“I suppose Pierre will come here complaining about the injustice,” she said tightly. “But you didn’t see the wound he gave her! I can’t forgive him.”

“Even if he acted in self-defence?”

“Are you defending him?”

“Not at all,” Karl said calmly. “But, liebling, Kristian’s bite was a crude demonstration of power. Violette’s bite is something more. That’s why I fear her. Anyone she touches is never the same afterwards.”

Karl could admit, “I fear her,” with unaffected honesty, and yet he had the steadiest nerves of anyone she knew. She loved his courage.

“Well, if she ever harmed you, Karl…” A chill flashed through her and she dug her fingernails into his arm.

“She won’t. She claims we can’t stop her – but Kristian also thought himself invincible.”

Memories made Charlotte catch her breath. Although Karl had loved Kristian, albeit in a twisted way, in the end he had slain him without pity.

“Swear you won’t hurt her!”

Her vehemence appeared to startle him. His eyes were solemn, questioning.

“Charlotte, how can I promise that? I know you love Violette, but you don’t imagine I would put her life before yours, before Ilona’s or Stefan’s? Liebe Gott, it doesn’t bear thinking about. If she placed you in danger, I’d defend you. I’d have no choice.”

“I know.” Charlotte felt a wave of emotion crest and fall away, but the dilemma remained. “I’d do the same if she tried to attack you. You know, dearest, don’t you? I set you above everyone else, whatever the cost.”

And it has proved expensive for you, beloved,” Karl said softly. “Almost more than conscience can afford.” He slid his fingers along her cheekbone. “I promise one thing: I will not harm her, as long as she leaves us in peace.”

“And if someone else threatens her?”

“Then I would try to protect her – if she needs anyone’s protection.”

Charlotte embraced him in relief. This was the best assurance she could hope for. He added, “Well, I suppose we should accompany her to America. I believe it’s safer not to let her out of our sight.”

“Oh, that will be wonderful,” she said, her heart lifting. “If only to get away from other vampires for a while! God, what else can happen?”

“Ah.” Karl smiled wryly, resting his hands on her hips. “Let me tell you about Simon.”

* * *

By the following night, Pierre had crawled down from the church roof and found a shrub-covered cleft between rocks in which to curl up with his suffering.

He was a victim of the unfortunate fact that, while a wellfed vampire would heal fast, one who’d been drained – as Pierre had – would find the process long and excruciating. Searing pain immobilised him, with no escape into unconsciousness.

Sometimes he hallucinated, and was glad when pain shocked him back to reality.

He hated Violette with passion. He must survive, if only for the pleasure of vengeance.

On the third night, despite his body’s agonised protests, hunger drove him from his refuge. He hunted successfully. First a sourfaced old woman, then a succulent pair of young lovers.

Pierre felt no better.

Blood seeped into his cells like sap through a spring flower, swelling each tiny sac with life and growth. He began to heal so fast that he felt his bones creaking as they fused.

But something was wrong. He remained dizzy and weak. He had terrifying fits in which he would claw at his own body,
choking for breath, trying desperately to escape something that wasn’t there.

He realised with disgust that these were attacks of fear.

Soon he recovered his ability to enter the Crystal Ring, only to be seized by vertigo that drove him back to Earth. An oppressive shadow hovered over him, watching. He was afraid to hunt, afraid to enter the vampire realm that was his natural element!

danceinbloodvelvetPierre was disgusted with himself.

He’d never sought help from anyone, but he needed it now. Habitually living between hotels and his victims’ houses, he had no home of his own. Where to go? Kristian, the dogmatic yet comforting father figure, was gone. He couldn’t go to Ilona or Karl in this state – the humiliation would be insufferable! Stefan, perhaps – but Karl would find out. And all Karl will say, thought Pierre, is that I brought this on myself! Sadist.

Kristian was gone, but his castle was still there. However bleak, it still bore a faint concept of “home”. Pierre began to head there, like a wounded animal going to ground.

The meadows of Austria blended into those of Bavaria, Germany, the Rhineland. He wound his way through pine forests
by day, passed like a ghost through villages by night, oblivious to the charm of the old timbered houses around him.

Sometimes he ran. At others he fell and could not move. He forgot to feed, then wondered why he was so weak. His finely tailored clothes became crumpled and dirty. Anyone who saw him in daylight would stop and stare. A tramp or a lunatic, he must be, this white-faced creature with maniacal blue eyes.

This was Violette’s curse.

Reaching the Rhine, he followed the iron-grey flow north past the Lorelei, where banks rose steeply above the sinuous water. At last he saw Schloss Holdenstein, a cluster of brown turrets and tiled roofs standing desolate above the vineyards.

Afterwards, Pierre didn’t remember entering the castle. One moment he was staring up at its rain-drenched roofs. The next he was inside, lying face down on chill flagstones, arms outstretched, like a child clinging to an indifferent mother.

Cruel twist. Of all people who least deserved a mother’s love… For his first ever victim had been his mother.

“But it wasn’t my fault,” he moaned under his breath.

Something moved in the rushlit corridor. Looking up, Pierre saw soft black sandals, the hem of a dark robe. Standing over him was a monkish figure of medium height, with a cherubic face, cropped fair hair, pale grey eyes with pinpoint pupils.

“What has the storm blown in?” said the figure. “Have you come back to us, Pierre?”

“Cesare,” Pierre groaned. He had despised Cesare, Kristian’s lapdog, but in despair he reached up and tugged his hem. “You must help me.”

“Must we?” The bland face contemplated him. Pierre half expected a kick. Instead, to his amazement, Cesare bent down and helped him to his feet. “What brought you to this state, my friend?” He smelled of the castle, of dust, damp, nothingness. “Well, you’re safe now. We’ll look after you.”

Placing a tight, possessive arm around his shoulders, Cesare led him deep into the Schloss. Pierre wanted to pour out his story, if only he could control his chattering breath.

Along the corridor he saw another vampire he knew; a Cinderella figure with straight dark-gold hair and a broom in
her thin hands. Maria, another of Kristian’s brood. Others were gathering to witness Pierre’s arrival. It seemed only a few were left – the core of Kristian’s most devoted followers. They lingered in Schloss Holdenstein like a sect awaiting the Second Coming.

No one ever came here now. Pierre supposed his arrival was quite an event.

Things were hazy for a time. Vampires in umber robes moved around him. Someone brought him a human, a small creature that squawked and fought while Pierre fed. Luscious blood, washing away all pain. The body was removed before he even noticed whether it was male or female, adult or child. It didn’t matter.

When his head cleared, he was lying on a couch in a bare stone chamber lit by “aming torches. How familiar it was. There was the tall black chair on a dais where Kristian had sat to hold court. Cesare stood touching the chair, but didn’t occupy it. To do so would be sacrilege.

The other vampires, ten in all, stood grouped around Pierre. Bleached faces, drab robes, no spark of humour. Yet their attention pleased him. They could almost be courtiers, attending a sick monarch.

Pierre felt stronger. He was safe here, certain that Violette could not breach the thick walls. His fear hardened to anger – and now he had an expectant audience to play to.

“What happened to you?” said Cesare. “You were babbling until we fed you.”

“Babbling?” Pierre was affronted. He tried to sit up, but fell back onto the musty cracked leather. Then words started to tumble out. “There’s a new vampire, created only a few months ago, a madwoman called Violette. Long black hair, black like a raven. Loveliest creature you’ll ever see, but she’s crazy, she tried
to murder me…”

“Our father Kristian said that a woman’s outer beauty was a sign of inner depravity,” said Cesare. “It seems she has addled your mind.”

“Yes, she has,” Pierre said savagely. He stretched out a hand. “Look how I’m shaking. She did this to me!”

Horror overcame him and his head rolled back. Through a yellow mist he heard the murmur of concerned voices. When his sight cleared, Cesare was standing over him.

“Her name is Violette?” Cesare’s pupils bored into Pierre’s. Beside him, another vampire leaned down. Pierre took a moment to recognise him as John. He had changed drastically since their last encounter. A medieval robe had replaced his modern clothes, and all his hair was gone – ripped out, it appeared, leaving his scalp a bald, livid mass of scars. Soul-sickness pulled his priestlike face into ugly lines.

“He’s talking about Lilith,” said John, before Pierre could ask what had happened to him.

At her name, dread transfigured Cesare’s face. Superstitious revulsion.

“Is it so?”

Pierre nodded mutely. “Has she been here?”

Cesare ignored the question and turned to the others. “Behold, the second one to come here complaining of Lilith!” he exclaimed.

“What does it mean?” said a slender male with yellow hair and black eyes.

“I don’t know yet. But now we have a purpose again. We must find out who she is.”

“John didn’t tell you?” said Pierre. “You’ve never heard of Violette Lenoir?”

They all looked blank. John shook his ravaged head. “The human persona she puts on is a mask. She is Lilith, the demon mother who must be destroyed before she consumes her own children.”

Pierre threw his hands up in exasperation. He liked the modern world. How he loathed all this medieval nonsense of gods and demons, how wretched that he needed the help of these fools!

“When did you last leave the castle, Cesare? If you live like hermits, it’s no wonder you know nothing. You haven’t a clue what goes on in the real world!”

“Of course we leave the castle,” Cesare said thinly. “We have to feed. But your so-called ‘real world’ is one of shadows. Kristian rightly taught us to shun it.”

“I remember. You only go out at night, like the ghosts of monks haunting graveyards. Very gothic. And do you sip only your victims’ life-auras, or have you lapsed from Kristian’s path? Do you steal a little taste of their blood?”

Cesare was thin-lipped. “Kristian was exceptional. Very few can match his high standards of austerity. Tell us of this female, Pierre.”

“She’s a famous dancer. If you ever went out, you would know. She became a vampire because Charlotte – Karl’s companion?”

“I believe I saw her once,” Cesare said dismissively.

“Charlotte became obsessed with her, and brought her into the Crystal Ring. But she came out of the initiation mad, convinced she’s Lilith. I don’t know her intentions, but I do know she’s crazy. She’s already killed two vampires and had a damned good attempt on me! You know who Lilith is?”

“As John said, the Mother of Vampires.” Another spasm clouded Cesare’s face. “Kristian spoke of Lilith as God’s instrument. Her dark thoughts spawned us, and she will reappear at the end of time to destroy us. To cast her own children into hell. Unless…”

The hush that followed his words was charged with fear – and, if Pierre was not mistaken, a bizarre, hungry excitement. He closed his eyes, wishing he’d gone to Ilona after all. Her ridicule would have been comforting compared to this. Cesare’s vehemence was shredding his last hold on sanity.

“Unless we can defeat her. That is our great test! And we can, if we hold true to our faith.”

“Kristian’s great purpose for us!” exclaimed the yellow-haired male, and the others all began talking at once, in a rushing murmur of joy as if everything had fallen into place.

Cesare clasped Pierre’s shoulder. “You can help us, Pierre. Show us where to find her.”

“No!” he cried. “No, I can’t. I’m ill. Just let me stay here. Please.”

“Vampires don’t suffer illness.”

Pierre loathed Cesare’s condescending tone, but he’d asked for it by coming here. I believe in nothing, he thought. I don’t care what this means, as long as I never see Violette again. I’ll do anything for Cesare, sell myself to a man I abhor, if it means gaining protection from the witch!

“The question is this,” Cesare went on. “Is Violette really Lilith, or is she insane? Either way, she must be dealt with. She’s committed heinous acts… Of course you can stay here, my dear friend. And I think that you are right.”

“About what?”

“That I’ve been cloistered here too long.” Cesare’s eyes were unfocussed, his dread of the unknown becoming a hard light of defiance. “It’s time I went out and re-acquainted myself with the world.”

__________

Charlotte and Karl still went their separate ways to seek blood, as if their mutual feast on the peasant woman had never happened. The incident went unmentioned. On her own after Violette’s visit, however, Charlotte delayed her hunt. Instead she travelled through the Crystal Ring to Vienna, in search of a friend.

She found him quickly. He was on his way home, strolling alone through one of the public gardens. She went ahead, and waited under a tree. Tall and slim with thick grey hair, his face still leanly attractive at sixty, he had the melancholy, self-contained look she remembered.

Josef.

As he drew level, Charlotte stepped into his path. He stopped, raising a hand to his chest; for a moment, she thought the shock had stopped his heart. Then he breathed out and smiled. His grey eyes, behind black-rimmed spectacles, gleamed with wry pleasure.

He was in no danger from her. Josef was her only mortal friend.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I always startle you to death.”

“That’s uncomfortably close to the truth,” said Josef. “You never knock on my front door, like a normal visitor. But, my dear Charlotte…” He kissed her hand, then held it between his palms. “Such a sweet death I would welcome.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

“Maybe not, but let me dream. Then you frighten me less.” He tucked her hand through his arm, and they walked together. Light from the street wove green webs in the foliage.

“I never mean to alarm you, Josef, truly.”

“But you can’t help it. I still see you as the little daughter of my good friend, George Neville, yet here you are, a ghost…”

Josef knew what she was: an unholy creature in a human shell.

When they’d met by chance last year, he’d recognised her because she looked so like her mother: deep-lidded expressive eyes, sombre mouth, warm brown hair that turned to gold leaf in the light. Learning the truth about her had shocked him, naturally; that behind the veil of feminine softness, she now lived beyond death, watching humans with the radiant eyes of a goddess and the red tip of her tongue poised in hunger.

Josef had watched Charlotte end his sister’s life. Lisl had been desperately ill, dying, and he’d wanted her suffering to end. Charlotte knew the memory would never leave him. No haze of illusion shielded Josef from the horror of what Charlotte was.

And yet he murmured, “Men would give their souls to be haunted by such a dear and beautiful ghost.”

“They say vampires can’t befriend humans without causing disaster, but we keep trying. I’ve something to ask you, but your soul is safe, I promise.” They passed through an arbour of honeysuckle. The scent filled her head, making the world timeless for a lovely moment. “It’s a friend of mine.”

“Your vampire friend, Lilith? I remember.”

“I’m still worried. She’s so disturbed, I’m afraid she’ll harm herself.”

“Don’t vampires harm others? I don’t see what I can do.”

“But you know the mythology and how to interpret it. You’ve studied psychology.”

“Charlotte, after I moved from the science of physics to that of the mind, I worked as a psychoanalyst for a time, until I retired to nurse Lisl. Yes, I study and write, but I’ve had no practical experience for years.”

“You don’t forget, though. If you could observe her, perhaps talk to her if she’d permit it, you might gain some insight that would help.”

He halted, a light breeze blowing his coat and scarf. Lights through the bushes made a silver mosaic around him. “Charlotte, my friendship with you is one thing. But to give help to another of your kind… I don’t know.”

“I know it’s a lot to ask, but it means everything to me. I don’t know what else to do.” He was shaking his head, troubled. Out of desperation she added, “Josef… It’s Violette Lenoir.”

His head came up and he stared. “The Lenoir – the ballerina? You wouldn’t joke about such a thing, would you? Of course you wouldn’t.”

“It goes without saying that you mustn’t tell anyone.”

“Who would believe me? But I’ve seen her dance many times.” He waved vaguely in the direction of the theatres. “And now you tell me she’s –?”

“Disturbed. Unhappy,” Charlotte said quietly. “Perhaps this will help you to understand. What if I said that the ‘collective unconscious’ is perceived as a real place by vampires?”

“Is it?” He looked sceptical.

“Well, there is an otherworld that only we can enter. Some believe it’s the mind of God, and that we are his angels of punishment.”

“Do you?” Josef raised his thick grey eyebrows.

“No. I believe it’s the subconscious of mankind. I mean the massed electrical impulses of all their thought-waves and dreamwaves. Energy becomes matter and vice versa. This is a question of perception. Vampires perceive thought-impulses as matter, an ethereal double of this world; and I mean ether literally, as a medium through which we can move like fish through water…”

“Charlotte, stop,” he exclaimed. “This sounds almost scientific, but…”

“I was a scientist,” she said tightly. “I didn’t just make my father cups of tea and type his notes. I understood and participated in his work.”

“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to sound condescending. It’s hard to conceive of such a place, though.” He took her arm and they walked onwards.

“I know, but please suspend disbelief for me. I’m telling the truth. We call this otherworld the Crystal Ring, or Raqia.”

“Ah, I know that word!” said Josef. “A Hebrew word from the Bible, meaning firmament, or expanse, or heaven, or simply the sky… An appropriate word to borrow.”

“And Raqia creates vampires. If a human is taken there on the point of death by other vampires, he or she becomes a
vampire too.”

“Rebirth,” said Josef thoughtfully, “not from the energy of the real world but from that of the collective mind. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes. I’ve no proof. It’s what I feel to be true.”

“But then… Why vampires? Why not – oh, anything the human mind can conjure? Monsters, dream lovers, figures from
mythology? Archetypes, as we Jungians say.”

She laughed. “But we are monsters and dream lovers, Josef. And what is Lilith but a mythical figure? But we must be vampires, we couldn’t be anything else, because we represent the very extremity of human fears and hopes.”

“The fear of death and the hope of eternal life,” said Josef, nodding. “Yes, you are almost making sense!”

“Thank you,” she said wryly. “But you’ve left one out: fear of the dead coming back to life and feeding on the living. Isn’t that the deepest terror of all? The breaking of nature’s laws. We can’t be defined scientifically, because the laws of physics, chemistry and biology break down around us. We come from the lawless realm of dreams.”

Josef was quiet for a while. “So vampires have theories and theologies,” he said. “Amazing.”

“And we argue about them as much as humans do.”

He was fascinated now. She saw the glow in his face. “Let me propose a theory,” he said. “Archetypes are motifs that crop up everywhere. Lilith appears in every mythology under many names; a primordial image. It sounds as if Violette has absorbed an archetype that has particular resonance for her. It may be a complex – that is, a fragment of the psyche that’s broken away due to some past trauma.”

“I’d say she’s had her share of those,” Charlotte murmured.

“So if she thinks she’s wicked and destructive, she separates that part of herself and calls it Lilith?”

“Possibly. In the voices heard by the pathologically insane, the complex can take on a separate character. Does Lilith talk to her?”

“I don’t know.” The words pathologically insane reverberated. “She speaks of Lilith compelling her… But Josef, I’m convinced you could help her. We’re vampires, but we are still – well, human, in a way. If I can persuade her to speak to you. That’s the difficulty.”

“I’m not sure.” Josef looked at the ground. His hands were in his pockets, shoulders hunched. “I’m tempted. It would be fascinating. But if she won’t talk to me…”

“Surely you could learn something from observing her? Don’t turn me down “at! Wait, before you answer, here’s an enticement in return. The Ballet Janacek will be touring America soon. Karl and I are going. We’re patrons, of a sort. There’s a spare berth on the ship, so it would cost you nothing to come with us.”

His face softened, and he smiled. “Why would I want to go to America?”

“The tour opens in Boston.”

“Ah.” His eyebrows rose.

“I’ve seen photographs of your niece Roberta on your desk. You said she lives in Boston and that you haven’t seen her for years…?”

“Oh,” he said, moisture filling his eyes. “Oh, this is quite a bribe. My little Roberta. I called her Robyn, with a ‘why’, because she was always asking questions.”

“And wouldn’t she love to see her uncle?”

His face was tender, lined with old sorrows. “Extraordinary, that a vampire should care for the happiness of a mere mortal.”

She shrugged. “Most don’t. Yes, it’s a bribe, but please say yes.”

He tried to look grave, but couldn’t keep the joy from his expression. “Yes, I’ll come. Dear God, I am going to see my Robyn! Thank you.” He bent and kissed her cheek. A kiss of friendship– but the kiss lingered a moment too long. She had to suppress sudden, treacherous thirst.

Time to end the meeting before it went too far.

She knew that the words she’d spoken earlier had already come true. Vampires cannot befriend humans without causing disaster. Josef was in love with Charlotte, even though he knew they could never be together. But that was keeping him from finding someone else.

She had never taken his blood, never would. But still she was insidiously picking his soul apart.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Comments are closed