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Authors: Berni Stevens

Dance Until Dawn

Dance Until Dawn
Berni Stevens
Choc Lit (2014)

Do you Believe in Love After Life? 

At twenty-five, West-End dancer, Ellie Wakefield should be having the time of her life. The only problem is, ever since waking up in a leaky cellar belonging to three-hundred-year-old vampire, Will Austen, she’s been very much dead. And to make matters worse, she’s since found that an aversion to blood and a fear of the dark aren’t very helpful—especially when you’re a fledgling vamp.

William James Austen has fallen hard. He’s spent the last year loving Ellie from afar and now he’s finally able to be truthful about who and what he is. As the most powerful and revered vampire in London, he’s used to getting what he wants.

But this time, Will might just have bitten off more than he can chew.

Copyright © 2014 Berni Stevens

First published in digital and print on demand format as
Fledgling
in 2011

Published 2014 by Choc Lit Limited

Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB, UK

www.choc-lit.com

The right of Berni Stevens to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-78189-134-6 (epub)

ISBN 978-1-78189-135-3 (mobi)

For Bob and Sam.

Acknowledgements

Dance until Dawn
has emerged like a phoenix from the embers of one short story and a novel. The main characters, Will and Ellie, are now a part of my family, and hopefully, are here to stay. We’ve grown stronger together, been on the Authonomy website together, and made it through the editing process – in various guises.

My love of vampire folklore must be mainly attributed to Bram Stoker’s
Dracula
, Sheridan Le Fanu’s
Carmilla
and Polidori’s
The Vampyre
. Since reading them, I’ve read everything I could find, featuring our fanged friends. In fact, I thought myself an ‘expert’ until I joined the Dracula Society. The Society is for fans of Gothic literature, film and theatre, and some of its members put me to shame with their knowledge of genre folklore and fiction. I’m grateful to the Society for its friendship and support.

Mostly I feel so privileged to be a Choc Liteer! Thanks to everyone in the wonderful Choc Lit team, especially the lovely Choc Lit authors who welcomed a lowly cover designer to the fold.

Huge thanks also go to my husband, Bob, and son, Sam, for believing I could write. You’re the best!

Prologue

Portland Hospital, London W1.

31 January

The only sound I could hear in the dark, quiet room was the gentle beep of the life support monitor. Elinor lay immobile and pale as death in the hospital bed, yet her exquisite face still looked perfect, framed with vibrant contrast by her glorious copper-coloured hair. Only the slight rise and fall of her chest showed that any life remained. How much of that life could be attributed to the machines in the room, I have no idea. Medical technology has moved ahead with incredible speed.

I remained in the shadows by the window, mesmerised by the sight of her – so fragile, so very still. How many times have I waited and watched for her outside the stage door? Hoping for a glimpse of her at least. I find it difficult to believe in this tragic turn of events.

For almost twelve months, I had watched Elinor dance on stage, admiring her energy and grace. I am almost ashamed to admit that I have become utterly infatuated with this girl. For me, the seduction of women is easy; it is rare my advances are rejected. This is not arrogance, merely a statement of fact. But for some reason this little dancer is different – I felt almost nervous to approach her, like a young inexperienced boy in the throes of a first crush.

After months of watching her from the shadows, I attended Glastonbury Festival because I knew she would be there. I watched her from afar, whilst enjoying the eclectic selection of music. Music appears to give her such joy. Against my better judgement, I even sat with her for a few wonderful, stolen moments. How long ago that feels now.

A few short weeks later, I happened to overhear a conversation at a party between some of Elinor’s friends, and I became determined to attend the event at all costs. She fills my thoughts. I could not have stayed away.

How could I have foreseen the dreadful accident, which has caused her to lie in this hospital bed, attached to tubes – tubes that apparently hold her precious life in the balance?

The sound of voices outside in the corridor forced my thoughts to return to the present. The door opened, and a large wedge of yellow light filtered into the room. Two men – presumably doctors – discussed Elinor without any emotion, almost as though she were some kind of scientific experiment. I had to force myself to stay still when all I wanted to do was kill them for their callousness. The main topic of their consultation seemed to be when to terminate her existence, when to actually unhook her from the machines that kept her alive. I knew it was time to intervene. A world without Elinor would be intolerable.

The door closed behind them, and I became enveloped in darkness once more. The monitor’s lights blinked back at me as I walked towards her.

Chapter One

Awakening

I hate the dark. People always come and hurt me in the dark.

The old childhood fear flooded my body and, with fingers that trembled, I groped through the darkness for the bedside lamp. My hand met only empty air until it brushed against a clammy wall. Where had the lamp gone? The table? I blinked my eyes several times and waited as they gradually became more accustomed to the darkness. I could make out brick walls now, but no windows. Weird. The absence of windows meant no street lights could shine in through the curtains …
OK Ellie, wake yourself up, this has to be another one of your random, stupid dreams.

I screwed my eyes shut again, counted to ten and then opened them wide. Nope. Still the same unfamiliar four walls.
What the—?

I strained my ears as I listened for the normal sounds of Crouch End life on a—whatever day or night this was. Nothing. No cars. No sounds of people on their way home from clubs, with their laughter and conversation drifting up to my first floor window. Nothing at all.

What I could hear was a faint rhythmic sound; it sounded like the constant drip of water. A tap? Perhaps I hadn’t turned the bathroom tap off properly – or perhaps it’s the kitchen tap? Actually, almost every washer in the place must be past its sell-by date now. Not being the most handy person in the world is always a problem, and there’s no way I could pay a plumber his exorbitant hourly rate just to change a washer. Being between DIY-savvy boyfriends means there’s no one to call on for help either.

I looked around again. I could see the bleak room more or less in its entirety for the first time now. Still no window. Why? Also, how could I see almost perfectly in what appeared to be pitch darkness?

A cold stab of fear stirred in my stomach. I could see in the dark, this wasn’t my flat – or even my bed for that matter – and I had no recollection of my arrival here. Wherever the hell ‘here’ was.

I looked at the bed. It looked narrow and felt hard to the touch, even with the excuse for a mattress that covered it. There were no bedclothes, just a solitary pillow, which still bore the indent of my head. I didn’t feel convinced about being awake, so I pinched my arm – hard. It hurt – a lot. So … definitely awake then. I looked down at my grubby jeans and mud-covered trainers. Wait … I’d slept in my
clothes
?

The night just got worse. I looked up at the bare brick walls again.
Oh God, I must be in prison. I must have been really drunk, caused a scene somewhere and got myself arrested
. That seemed the only explanation. Totally out of character, but an explanation nevertheless. Except I’d never been arrested in my life – I’d never broken the law. Not even had a speeding ticket. I felt guilty if I picked an apple from someone’s tree, so a life of crime would not have been for me.
What the hell?

Did prison cells have windows? I wasn’t sure they did, but I’d never been in a cell – until maybe now. There were no windows for sure.

My mouth felt dry and parched, and I looked around again for any kind of table that might hold a glass of water. Surely even prisoners were allowed a drink? I ran my tongue over dry, cracked lips, as my eyes darted around the dark room. I hoped to find something that would give me some kind of reassurance. I wanted to know that I hadn’t been imprisoned – or worse –
kidnapped
. I felt so thirsty, really very thirsty. This thirst, like I’d never had before, suddenly became all-consuming in its ferocity.

I couldn’t even remember where I’d been for the last few days. It must have been one hell of a party, if it had been a party. I just hoped it had been worth it, although at that moment it appeared debatable.

A slight sound from a corner of the room made me jump violently, and in sudden panic I leapt from the bed. Somehow I found myself crouched in the opposite corner to the sound, with no recollection of ever getting there. A tall figure stood across the room, and I stared up into a pair of vaguely familiar green eyes. Although
why
they seemed familiar didn’t make any sense.

‘Good evening.’ His deep voice was almost gentle.

Speak nicely to the potential lunatic
. ‘Who the hell are you?’
Or not
. My own voice sounded hoarse as though it either hadn’t been used for a while, or I’d been screaming … a lot.

He didn’t answer.

This might not be good. If I had been put in some kind of a cell – and he was here too –really, this wasn’t good at all.

‘Don’t men and women have separate cells anymore?’ I pressed myself against the wall as I stood up very slowly on legs that trembled.

‘Is that where you think you are?’ The cultured tones held a tinge of sarcasm.

‘Feel free to enlighten me.’

‘You are here because I brought you here.’

Oh crap. The nauseous fear in my stomach churned. Trust me to get myself trapped in some weirdo’s fantasy world.

‘You don’t have any right to keep me here.’ I tried to sound braver than I felt. He moved farther into the room and the nearer he came to me, the more terrified I felt that he would attack. But he merely stared down at me from his superior height, with no expression at all on his handsome face.

Now, I’m used to people who stare down at me. I’m a little over five-foot-three in height, so believe me, I’m not easily intimidated by tall people. But there appeared something
unsettling
about this man, for want of a better word. His very presence drew me to look at him, and his hypnotic gaze held my own, until I found it difficult to look away.

That he had been generously endowed in the looks department wasn’t in dispute, but there are some historians who claim the Marquis de Sade had been good-looking too. Didn’t stop him from hurting his victims though, did it?
Sadist
seemed a word that could easily be associated with this man, although I couldn’t say why exactly. I watched him from my corner, taking in his appearance properly.

He stood with hands on slim hips, which caused the black leather jacket to gape open and reveal a close-fitting white T-shirt over a lithe, muscular torso. I dropped my eyes, which didn’t help, because they were now on a level with snug blue jeans.

When I looked back up at his face, his lips curved slightly, as if he knew exactly why I had averted my gaze.

‘I have every right to keep you here,’ he said at last. ‘You belong to me now.’

‘I don’t know where you’re from, or who the hell you think you are,’ my voice shook with fear and anger, ‘but around here women pretty much choose where they want to be – and with whom. I choose not to be here and certainly not to be with you. So open the door and let me out.
Now
.’

He gave a short bark of laughter at that and sauntered closer.

‘Stay the hell away from me.’

‘Or what?’


Or
I’ll execute one of the best moves in women’s self-defence known to man.’

‘And arguably one of the most painful.’ He didn’t look that bothered.

‘The police will be looking for me,’ I tried a different tactic.

‘Somehow I seriously doubt that.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Correct me if I am wrong, but the police do not generally continue searching for a person who has been pronounced dead and buried.’

Warning bells jangled loudly in my head now. I’ve met some pretty weird people in my twenty-five years, many of them in the theatre, but he appeared to be the weirdest to date, and possibly the most dangerous.

I stared at him, trying to think of a reply. He stared back, his face expressionless. He could have been a waxwork for all the emotion he didn’t show. His pale skin stretched tautly over well-defined cheekbones and a straight, aristocratic nose. Glossy thick black hair, almost long enough to reach his broad shoulders, framed his face and dark eyebrows frowned above incredible green eyes that appeared to glow in the dark. His thick eyelashes would have made him look feminine were it not for the sheer masculinity of his features – eyelashes, incidentally, that most women would kill for.

But it was his eyes that drew me back to staring at him every time. They weren’t just green; they were like a cat’s eyes. Unblinking. Intrusive. Like a predator. I shivered. His full lips twitched into a slight smile as I stared at him. I decided to carry on pretending that I felt brave.
Buried? Dead and buried.

‘Buried? Yeah, because I just look so damn buried, don’t I?’ I waggled my fingers in front of my face, suddenly noticing the lack of rings. My fingers hadn’t been ringless for at least ten years, apart from performances of course. ‘Did you steal my jewellery?’

He gave me a mocking look. ‘Do I appear to be a jewel thief to you?’

‘What you
appear
to be, is some kind of perverted creep who’s drugged me, shut me up in a dungeon
and
stolen all my rings.’

He raised a dark brow. ‘Interesting.’

Well he might have found it all fascinating but I was just plain terrified.

‘So?’ Trying to brazen this out seemed a good idea. After all, if I kept him talking, maybe he would go off the idea of hurting and/or raping me. That’s what people did in films after all. Keep the lunatic talking for as long as possible, to give the police time to find them. Hysterical thoughts flitted at a frantic pace through my muddled brain.

‘I am not a lunatic,’ he said and my eyes widened with shock.

‘Did I say that aloud?’ More confused and incoherent thoughts hurtled around, and I shook my head hoping to clear it. I felt as though my brain had been removed altogether, and the space left behind had been stuffed with wet cotton wool, or bubble wrap, or something.

‘Unfortunately for you, I am able to pick up on your thoughts whether I wish to or not,’ he replied with nonchalance.

‘Well, stay the hell out of my head, you invasive bastard.’

His lips twitched again, and he sauntered to the far end of the bed. I twisted to keep him in my view and watched him warily. He ignored me, lowered his lean frame easily onto the bed and patted his jacket pockets before producing a rather battered pack of cigarettes. He lit one and with a creak of leather, leaned back on his elbows.

‘Now I know this is a nightmare,’ I said almost in relief. ‘Smoking? Who the hell smokes in a public place these days?’

‘As far as I am aware, this is not a public place.’

‘Well, I hate the smell of smoke, and I hate the idea of dying from passive smoking because of some selfish bastard who smoked all over me.’

He turned to look at me then. ‘Where were you when I said you were already dead and buried?’

I froze at his words. I had heard them but I didn’t understand them. I felt more and more as though I were somehow trapped in a horror movie, and destined to be turned into some kind of body suit. Although if memory served, most of the women in that particular movie were large and, being a professional dancer, I didn’t think there would be too much of my body to make up a suit. Certainly not one that would fit him anyway. I mentally cursed whoever had made me watch that DVD.

I watched him sitting on the bed, smoking. He hadn’t threatened me exactly, but he exuded an aura of deadly strength, which dissuaded me from any attempt to make a run for it. Assuming I could find a door of course. I looked around in the vain hope that I’d spot an escape route.

‘You must be a very sick person.’ He ignored me. Again.

He stood up in one swift, graceful movement, dropped his half-finished cigarette to the floor and ground it out with his heel. I ran to the opposite side of the room, and pressed myself against the wall again, my eyes wide and really afraid now. He walked towards me, very slowly, holding his hands up at waist level, palms out. ‘Do not be afraid, little fledgling.’

A searing pain tore through my stomach at that moment, and I wrapped my arms around myself as nauseous cramps took hold. My body trembled with a violence I couldn’t control and I sank to the damp floor.

‘What’s happening to me?’

‘Your body needs to adjust to the change.’

Casually he reached out as though to touch my face.

I jerked back from his hand. ‘Don’t touch me! Don’t
ever
touch me. I want to go home. Let me go home. You have no right to keep me here.’

He slowly raised both hands again, as though in surrender, but let his arms fall back to his sides as he stepped back away from me. He regarded me with a calm expression. ‘As your maker, I am afraid I have every right.’ His tone froze me again. ‘The last thing this city needs is a young renegade vampire running around, so you have to be contained.’

I closed my eyes as further spasms attacked my body. Then his words sank into my confused brain.

‘Vampire?’

‘That is what I said, yes.’

‘You really are insane.’

‘You could be forgiven for thinking so.’

I found myself thinking of the body suit again – I really shouldn’t watch horror films, I’m just not brave enough.

‘What are you going to do to me?’ I asked against my better judgement.

‘Now that really is the question is it not?’ he countered. ‘Several interesting ideas immediately spring to mind, but none I feel like sharing at present.’

I watched his face. There wasn’t even a flicker of emotion as he answered me, and I felt a chill of fear run through my body again. If this
was
a dream, now would be a really good time to wake up.

‘What is this place?’

‘It belongs to me.’

‘So you own a chain of dungeons?’

Amusement flickered briefly across his face as he moved slowly to the opposite end of the room, turning back when he reached the wall. He leaned back against the wall, almost mirroring my own position and sighed as he ran an elegant hand through his hair. For some reason, I suddenly wanted to run my own fingers through that silken mass of hair, and I pushed my hands behind my back, in case the urge took precedence over my more rational feelings.

‘Do you know any good plumbers?’ I asked, feeling better with him further away from me.

He raised a dark brow in question.

‘To stop whatever is causing that sound of water.’

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