Authors: Elizabeth Hunter,Grace Draven
Tags: #Gothic romance
“Josephine? What the bloody—”
She was silent when she leapt on him, knocking him off the chair and backward toward the fire. She reared away. No fire. Fire was bad.
He was starting to scream, and that wasn’t good. She put a hand over his mouth as she dragged him away from the fire.
“Shhhh,” she whispered. What a repulsive creature he was. He’d broken her dolls’ faces when he was a child. Cut chunks out of her long hair. And look how weak he was! Josie was dragging Neville about the room as if he were her new doll.
He fumbled for something in his jacket, but Josie stopped and dropped him, transfixed by the dust motes dancing in the air. Everything moved as if underwater. Neville’s voice was murky as he pulled something out of his pocket.
It was a gun. Pointed at her.
She laughed because she heard the thundering steps coming down the hall.
Silly Neville. What was he thinking to bring a gun into Tom’s house?
“I’m warning you, demon. Release my cousin. You have no power over—”
The chamber door crashed in and the gun began to swing toward it.
“Demons!” he screamed. “Unholy monsters! He was right! William was right. I’ll kill you all!”
“No,” she whispered. What if her stupid cousin shot Tom? He wasn’t allowed to do that.
Before she finished
thinking it, she had knocked Neville to the ground and batted the gun away.
“No!” she screamed, and then the anger and heat and hunger took her. She pulled his neck up and clamped her mouth over the hammering pulse in his neck. Josie drank deep, shaking Neville when he shouted, batting at his head when he tried to squirm away. Her prey fell still, and she drank.
She fed until the pull of her hunger lessened, then she let Neville’s body fall and sat back, still crouched over him when she caught the edge of her reflection in her dressing mirror. She cocked her head at the strange creature she saw.
A dark curtain of hair hung around her face. Her skin was pale, but luminous in a way she’d never noticed before. Strange green eyes went wide with delight at the curious creature in the mirror. Blood dripped down her chin, and her mouth hung open as the edge of sharp white fangs sparkled in the lamplight.
She reached up and touched them with wonder, then her eyes searched for Tom, who was standing motionless in the doorway wearing nothing but his trousers and a guarded expression. She smiled when she saw he had fangs too.
“Tom,” she said, lifting a dainty, blood-covered hand. “Look at me. Aren’t I the pretty monster?”
SHE couldn’t stop touching him, but Tom didn’t seem to object. He held her on his lap, though he’d ignored her wishes and donned a shirt. Josie kept pushing things and lifting them, enamored of her new strength.
“Tom?” she asked, lifting up her arm. “If I cut myself, will I bleed?”
“Yes. Don’t cut yourself.”
“I was just curious.” She pushed his shoulder and felt it give. “I’m so strong now.”
“I know you are.” His voice was everything. It was love and relief and laughter. It was the most seductive thing she’d ever heard in her life. She was hungry for so much more than blood, but Tom said they had to wait for Murphy.
“Are you laughing at me?” She stroked the creases around his eyes. He was so handsome. Well, not to everyone, for his scars and wrinkles would never make him handsome to the fools of the world. But he was the most handsome man in existence to her.
“Maybe a little,” he said softly. “I’m so happy. Are you happy? Are you content with this?”
“Tom, listen.” She put a hand on his chest, then she took the deepest breath she could, letting it out slowly as she smiled. “Grand. I feel grand.”
“So you’re not too angry with me?” Tom asked. “For not telling you the whole of it?”
Josie laughed. “I wouldn’t have believed you! Who would believe this? I’m not sure I truly believe it yet.”
She turned when she heard the door. She tensed until she saw it was Anne and Murphy. Her eyes filled with tears and she stood, holding her arms out to Murphy. “I love you,” she said. “So much. Both of you. Though mostly I love Tom.”
Murphy embraced her, then Anne.
“We love you too,” Anne said. “How are you feeling?”
“How about me?” Declan came in behind Anne. “Do you love me?”
Tom made a noise and Josie turned back to him.
“Was that a growl?” she asked. “Did you really growl?”
“Can we turn into great cats like in the book?” She tried not to bounce. “Is that why you can growl?”
“No. That’s just a story.”
Declan scoffed, “What books has she been reading?”
“You say it’s just a story,” Josie said. “But so were vampires until I became one. I’m a vampire…” She sank into the chair next to Tom. “How marvelous.”
“Boss, what are we going to do about Burke?” Declan asked Murphy while Tom stayed suspiciously silent, guarded eyes pointed at his sire.
Josie tried to stir up some guilt about her cousin, but she couldn’t seem to grab onto it properly. After all, Neville was odious. And he’d been about to shoot Tom.
“I’ll tell Beecham the truth, of a sort. The human invaded my home and was about to shoot one of my people. He won’t make a fuss. After all, it is evident from what Josie said that Beecham has been filling Burke’s head with stories. He won’t want that getting out, will he?”
“I told you, as far as the world is concerned, she’s dead. Josephine Shaw Murphy died two nights ago, and you’re going to bury her in a grave two nights hence.”
Josie gasped. “May I go? I’d love to go to my own funeral.”
The answer was a unanimous and choral “No.”
“We’re not telling Beecham then?” Declan said.
Murphy shook his head. “We can work this around to harm him. If I attack him now, we’ll lose too many people. Aggression creates enemies. I don’t need enemies, I need allies. In time, we’ll let it slip that Beecham was the one who told Neville Burke about us, leading the man here. The more conservative vampires in the city will shun him. They’ll start looking for a replacement.”
Josie smiled. “And that replacement will be you, of course. Mr. Murphy, you are an excellent plotter. Well done!”
“Thank you, Josephine.” Murphy smiled. “But I think you can call me Murphy now.”
“ARE you sure?”
Tom was talking again while she tried to seduce him. How irritating.
“I’m sure,” she said. “Kiss me.”
They’d fled to the safety of Tom’s bedchamber as soon as possible. He informed her they’d only be a few weeks in Dublin before he moved her someplace more secure with fewer humans and less temptation. He only needed to stay in Dublin long enough for her funeral and to appear properly grief stricken to anyone who might be watching.
Josie decided she wouldn’t mind being farther away from people. Even now, she could smell the lingering scent of blood filling the hallways, though all the mortal servants had fled to Murphy and Anne’s house next door. She wanted Tom to distract her. Also, she wanted to kiss him. As often as possible.
“I don’t mind,” she said again. “Kiss me.”
She groaned in pleasure when he stripped off her clothes. The feel of them, like anything to do with her senses, was rough and angry on her nerves. The lights were all doused, but she saw without effort. The room was cool and comfortable. And Tom…
He was temptation incarnate.
It had been a nonstop flood of information since she’d woken that night. Well, there had been the violent episode at the beginning, but that was already far from her mind. Someday, when she could think of something other than her own hunger, she might take the memory of Neville out and feel guilty.
But of course, she reminded herself, he
been about to shoot Tom.
Her husband clamped his mouth down on her neck, bracing himself between her thighs as he teased her body to violent arousal.
“I’m stronger,” she gasped. “You won’t have to be so careful anymore.”
“I know.” He nipped at her skin. “Josie, can I…”
“What? You can do anything you like, Tom. Always.”
“Be careful offering gifts like that.”
“What do you want?”
“To bite you.” He captured her mouth and teased her fangs, which were deliciously sensitive.
“To drink? From me? Is that… done?”
“Yes. And then you’d bite me.”
Oh, her body liked that idea very much.
“Oh, yes, please,” she said, writhing under him. “Now, in fact. Please do that now.”
“It’s a blood tie. A bond between us.”
“Silly man. Are you hesitating for me? We’re married already.”
He pulled back and looked into her eyes. “This is permanent, Josephine. Not anything that can be broken. Not even by the Church. If I take your blood and you take mine, we’ll live in each other forever.”
Josie stroked his cheek and smiled. “Like I said, silly man, we’re already wed. I promised to love you till I die.”
“You did die.”
“No.” She kissed him and scraped her fangs over the thick muscle of his neck. “I lived. And you are my life now. My very proper monster. I love you, Tom. Forever.”
He kissed her as he took her, and Josie felt her soul slip free. She tilted her head back and bared her throat to him. His fangs pressed and sank in, claiming her on the most elemental level as he drove them both closer to release. She held on to him until he pulled back, then he bared his own throat to her, and she tasted her lover’s blood, rich with the scent of sea and salt and whiskey. She was lost in him, and he in her.
TOM WOKE THAT NIGHT with a dream in his arms. His Josie, safe. Strong. Healthy. She was a revelation. She was
And far from resigned to her immortality. Josie seemed to rejoice in it. But then, if it was possible any human might be born to become a vampire, it would be his Josie. Her morbid imagination existing side by side with her humor and appreciation for life was unlike any other human he’d met. She reveled in the monstrous. She delighted in the macabre.
Keeping her away from her funeral was going to be a challenge.
Tom heard a knock at the door.
Leaving her in the bed they could now share, he walked silently to the sitting room. He smelled Anne on the other side of the hall door and cracked it open.
She held out several jars of fresh blood. “Fresh from the kitchens. Tomorrow she starts getting chilled. We’ve gone through the available staff.”
He waited, wanting to close the door but sensing she had more to say.
“He wasn’t being cruel, Tom.”
“So you say.”
“He loves you.”
“And I love her.”
She waited, lips pursed. “I know that. But he didn’t. Not till the end. Would you have done it? Would you have met the day if she’d died?”
He tilted his chin up, displaying the marks he’d not allowed her to heal. Her own claim on him, as she bore the scars from his first bite.
Anne nodded. “I see. She truly is your mate then.”
“It wasn’t a bluff. I don’t bluff. She’s it for me, Annie. Was from the moment I saw her, I think.”
Anne glanced over his shoulder. “It’s early yet. There’s no way of knowing how she’ll adapt. She could be mad, Tom.”
“She won’t be.” Tom was sure of it. A bit off at times? Maybe. But she had been in life too. Her genius was its own kind of madness, but her kindness had survived her death. “It’s no matter to me. I’ll love her anyway. Keep her safe. I promised to care for her as long as we live. I never made that kind of promise before her, and I don’t plan on breaking it.”
Lifting to her toes, she kissed his scarred cheek. “You’re a good man, Tom Dargin.”
“Maybe.” He shrugged. “All I know is I’m a better man for her.”
My dearest Lenore,
If you’re reading this letter, it’s because I have finally slipped into the dark night that has been beckoning for so long now. I hope Tom is the one delivering the news to you. I hope you have the fortune to meet the wonderful man who made the last months of my life so full of love and life. Be kind to him, dear friend, for I think he will not come to you unbruised.
He loves me. And I love him. Most desperately.
He is, and will remain, my truest hero. My most dashing knight. The most honorable of scoundrels.
Remember me, Lenore. Remember our happy days at school and our silly rambles around town. Remember my stories. I hope they continue to bring joy to you and my readers. I wish there were more to leave behind, but I suppose I’d need a hundred years or more to write all the stories crowding my imagination. Twenty-nine was never going to be enough.
I’ve left them to you, my dearest editor, to do with as you please. I wasn’t able to finish the grand story with the airships, but as you have a most excellent imagination, I know you will imagine a fine end for your favorite heroine. After all, I’ve given her your name.