Two delightfully dark tales of Gothic romance from Elizabeth Hunter and Grace Draven.
BENEATH A WANING MOON
In A VERY PROPER MONSTER, Josephine Shaw spends long nights filling the pages of her Gothic stories with the fantastic and the macabre, unaware that the suitor her father has arranged is one of the dark creatures she’s always dreamed. For Tom Dargin, courting an ailing spinster was only one duty in a long life of service to his sire. But after he meets the curious Miss Shaw, will Tom become the seducer or the seduced? Can a love fated to end in tragedy survive a looming grave?
In GASLIGHT HADES, Nathaniel Gordon walks two worlds—that of the living and the dead. Barely human, he's earned the reputation of a Bonekeeper, the scourge of grave robbers. He believes his old life over, until one dreary burial he meets the woman he once loved and almost married. Lenore Kenward stands at her father’s grave, begging the protection of the mysterious guardian, not knowing he is her lost love. Resolved to keep his distance, Nathaniel is forced to abandon his plan and accompany Lenore on a journey into the mouth of Hell where sea meets sky, and the abominations that exist beyond its barrier wait to destroy them.
BENEATH A WANING MOON
a duo of Gothic Romances
Grace Draven & Elizabeth Hunter
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
A VERY PROPER MONSTER
An Elemental World novella
For my writing friends
You know who you are
Girls are caterpillars when they live in the world, to be finally butterflies when the summer comes;
but in the meantime there are grubs and larvae…
each with their peculiar propensities,
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
My dearest Miss Tetley,
Enclosed you will find the final draft of Viviana Dioli’s “The Countess’s Dark Lover,” a story within which you will no doubt find numerous additional faults. Signorina Dioli turns an indifferent profile to you, her harsh editor. I’m afraid she simply cannot find it in her cold heart to remove the balcony scene and subsequent mortal fall. Gothic romance, my dear Miss Tetley, so rarely comes to a happy end. And after all, what would be your actions when pursued by the grim monster which Warwick was revealed to be?
As for your other inquiries, rest assured I am no better or worse than when last I wrote. If I am completely honest, Lenore, I seem to be in some terrible stasis. The physicians know I am not so foolish as to hope for a cure, nor am I morbid enough to welcome my inevitable end peacefully. Part of me wishes that the sanatoriums they continue to suggest were possible, but I cannot bear the thought of leaving Father alone, even if I am ill.
So I trudge on, writing my stories, traveling to take the sea air when possible, and worrying about Father. No doubt you’ve heard of his own failing health. I know he wrote to your dear parents only last week, and I do hope he was frank. He is not well.
I have no worries about his businesses, for he has spent the past few years affixing the most competent men in positions of authority. But my own failing health, combined with his inevitable retirement, means that he does worry about the continuance of his legacy. Shaw mills have employed hundreds, but the boat works are poised to be entirely more impressive than the mills. And you know, for your father has the same honorable bent, how much the well-being of those many men and women weighs on his mind.
Would that I were a healthy son!
But alas, then I would have been forced to turn my head to business instead of literature of questionable moral value, and the world would have been robbed of Miss Dioli’s and Mister Doyle’s brilliance. (You know, of course, that I speak in false pride, for my own wit does amuse me too much.)
While I wish my cousin were of a mind to manage the businesses in good temper, I fear he is not. Neville eyes my every discreet cough with a kind of manic glee. Or is it my own morbid fascination that finds his expression so? I confess I am not impartial, having never liked the boy. I like even less the man he has become.
I do believe Father will seek to sell if his health shows no sign of improving. There are more than a few eager speculators, but he will sell only to someone who sees the boat works as he does. Not only industry, but the realization of a dream. If he could find an honorable benefactor to carry on his legacy, I believe he would happily sell.
For now, my dear Lenore, think of me and the dark depths of madness I must plumb to write this next horrible tale. I do say living in Miss Dioli’s fanciful (if morbid) mind makes your friend a far pleasanter companion for poor Mrs. Porter. While Mr. Doyle’s terrible imagination provides more pennies per word, he does take a terrible toll on the household staff. There will be no living with me, I am afraid, until this next monster has been exorcized on the page.
Wish me happy ink stains, Miss Tetley. No doubt you will see the beginnings of horror, though not the ghastly results, within the next fortnight.
“THE MILLS AND THE BOAT works are both profitable,” Tom Dargin said. “The business
is well run, and his workers even like the man. Foremen have naught to say against him.”
Tom waited as Murphy read the report Declan had drafted. Tom didn’t want to rely on the numbers alone, but the report, combined with his own discreet inquiries about how Shaw ran his businesses, had led him to believe his sire was making the right move pursuing Shaw’s boat works.
“I like all of this,” Murphy said, raising his head. “The mills and the boat works
both profitable. So why are there rumors he’s looking to sell?”
“Health,” Tom said. “That’s what some are speculating. He’s gettin’ on and his health isn’t what it was. That’s the rumor, anyway.”
Murphy frowned. “And no children?”
“A daughter,” Declan said. “Josephine Shaw. But she’s consumptive. Rarely seen out in society, not for the past five years. There’s a nephew, but they’re not close.”
“And a sick daughter means a son-in-law is hardly likely,” Murphy mused, rubbing his chin. “Has he said anything publicly?”
“No,” Tom said. “Though it seems pretty common knowledge among his foremen.”
“Beecham’s sniffing,” Declan said. “As are a few human investors.”
William Beecham, the vampire lord of Dublin, would be happy to pounce on the struggling company. They’d have to tread carefully.
“Has Shaw a manager?” Murphy asked.
“He did, but the man was hired away.” Tom tried not to let the smile touch his lips. “I believe by one of Hamilton’s works in Belfast.”
“That bloody woman,” Murphy said. “Why am I not surprised? At least it wasn’t Beecham. Buying with a manager installed would be a hell of a lot easier.”
“It would,” Tom said, “but I can see two or more of the men I talked to rising to the position if given the proper incentive. Shaw hired lads for brains, not just strong backs.”
“Smart,” Declan said. “What do you think, boss?”
Murphy tapped his pen for a moment, fiddling with the new watch fob his mate, Anne, had given him. Tom wished the woman were there that evening, but she was visiting a friend in Wicklow that week. Murphy always made up his mind more quickly when Anne was around.
“He won’t be going for money,” Murphy said. “Or at least not only money. He has no son. He won’t have any grandchildren. These businesses are his legacy.”
“Agreed,” Tom said. His sire could have acquired Shaw’s assets through mental manipulation like many of their kind did. It was a point of honor for Murphy that he didn’t and one of the reasons Tom had been so keen to join his former student in immortality.
It wasn’t as if Patrick Murphy needed the old pugilist at his side for fighting advice anymore. But Murphy could be a little too trusting in Tom’s opinion. He needed a bruiser at his back, and Tom had been happy to volunteer, even if it did mean having to feed on blood when the need arose.
He’d been a vampire for over thirty years, and all in all, it wasn’t that bad. He missed the sun, but if he was honest, he’d been living the last years of his human life at night, hustling through Dublin and even over to London with Murphy, trying to scrounge enough money with boxing matches to make it worth the blood.
Now the blood came from donors, and Murphy was the one in charge. At least, that’s what it looked like to outsiders. Murphy, Tom, and Declan presented themselves as brothers to mortal society. No one questioned their connection. In time they’d have to adjust, but for now it worked. Tom just had to remember to answer to “Mr. Murphy” on occasion.
“If Shaw is truly looking to sell, he will want someone who’ll invest more than money,” Tom said. “Someone who cares about the workers. That’s my take, anyway.”
“Agreed,” Declan said.
“No harm in calling on the man,” Murphy said. “We’ve already been introduced. Perhaps I come to him asking about improvements for my own millworks…”
Tom nodded. “Show him you’re the kind who cares. A boss willing to invest for the long term.”
Declan said, “Plus he might have something to help with the dust problem in Whitechurch.”
“True.” Murphy set his pen down. “Declan, write up a letter, will you? Ask Shaw for a meeting next week if he’s amenable. Let’s see if John Shaw is a man willing to work with creatures of the night.”
THE meeting had been six months coming, at least, and Tom had watched Shaw deteriorate in that time. The once-robust man had grown wan and pale as Tom and Murphy’s respect for the human grew stronger.
“You know,” Shaw said, “I spotted your intentions in our second meeting, Mr. Murphy.”
Murphy smiled. “And yet you kept meeting me.”
“It’s the same kind of tactic I would have used when I was young,” Shaw said with a drawn smile. “Of course I kept meeting with you.”
Shaw was a hell of a businessman, but Tom approved of the core of honor in the man. When he’d been human, he would have felt privileged to work for a man like John Robert Shaw.
“And so,” Murphy said more quietly, “we come to the sticking point. I want to buy the works, John. The mills and the boat works. You know that. What I need you to know is that it’s not just about the money to me. I respect what you’ve done. I’m no Englishman to see only the profit in them. I see what the boat works have the potential to do for Dublin. For the whole of Ireland. That’s important to me.”
“I know.” Shaw took a sip of his whiskey, and Tom noticed his hand trembling just a little. “I’ve made a study of you, young man. And while there are some… curious things rumored about you, I know a gentleman of good character when I see one. I like your wife. I like your brothers. You’re a man who understands family.”
Tom cocked his head. Shaw talked more than a little about family, which made the relative secrecy around his own something of a mystery. It was well-known he had a daughter, but Tom had never seen her. Neither had Murphy or Declan. She was a mystery. One that Tom Dargin couldn’t help but wonder about.