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Authors: Michele Jaffe

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Lady Killer

BOOK: Lady Killer
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Lady Killer

Michele Jaffe

Copyright

Diversion Books
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016
www.DiversionBooks.com

Copyright © 2002 by Michele Jaffe
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

For more information, email
[email protected]

First Diversion Books edition January 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62681-191-1

More from Michele Jaffe

The Stargazer
The Water Nymph
Secret Admirer

For this volume there can be no better godmother than Susie Phillips, with whom I first learned to appreciate all the secrets a text can contain—and conceal. I can only hope that among its pages she will find some small measure of the pleasure that I have long been blessed with in her friendship.

The Vampire, also known as a Bloode-Sucker or fiend, comes originally from the Northern Countries. Contrary-wise to what others have said, he is often faire of complexion, and mayhap shows none of the fiend without. A man once had a vampire for a Friende a good many years before he discovered the truth of the matter, and then only when it was too late and he saw his wife dying of two pricks in her neck, and his friend with blood upon his lips.

Concerning the Vampire, t’are those who say he is e’en such a one as rises from the dead, but this is wrong, for the Vampire is a living being, and takes to his blood sucking so that he may prosper, and grow stronger, from others. For him, the blood is as food for us, and he must have it, lest he weaken and die. This is the cause that he shall be known to strike in a regular way, just as we must eat our victuals and drink ale at our regular times or we will perish. So that he will suck blood every day or every week, as he list, but regular like always or else he will bee sick unto death.

This noorishment he taketh only by night, being a creeture who loves the darkness, and thrives upon it. So that as the Moon, no longer young, waneth in her course and grow slimmer, even so the Vampire grows fatter, which is to say, more powerful. And on every such night as there is no Moon, when between her monthly courses she doth hide her face, on that night will the Vampire be at his most powerful. Woe awaits he who thinks he can strike the Vampire down on such a night, for he has the power of the Devil in him most strongly then, and will be invincible.

And I say ‘he’ but really there is also the other kind, the female or ‘she-vampire’ who is the same in every respect, save this one: that she is far more dangerous.

—From
A Compendium of Vampires and Other Fiends
, London: 1545

Prologue

I was getting hungry by the time she came in, but waiting is nothing new for me. I have spent the better part of my life waiting on women. Still, I held my breath when she opened the door. I didn’t want her to know I was there, not yet anyway. She liked surprises, I knew, because I had seen her two days earlier with that silver piece in her hand. She had stood in the stable yard and twirled around and hummed to herself in happiness at the surprise. I hoped she would hum for me, too. In fact, I was counting on it.

I waited until she had slipped out of her cloak and settled herself on that squalid mattress she called her bed before I entered. At first she pretended to be asleep, but when she finally looked up, I could see that she recognized me. I was delighted. It is always a pleasure to be recognized, to be seen as you long to be seen, especially when so much time has passed. I smiled broadly to show her how happy she had made me.

Silly, idiotic girl. She started screaming then, turning her head from side to side to appeal to the others, as if they would help her, as if they could feel pity. I almost fancied one of them had whispered to another that they thought my choice was unworthy, but when I turned around they were all still silently looking on as I had found them.

I owed them something, too. They brought her to me, they put her in my path, and I repaid them by letting them watch. An audience is a powerful stimulus. But I would not let them comment. You see, it was only for me to determine worthiness. Only I could make the selection, only I knew why. No one else could understand.

I explained that to her, explained what she was destined for. I wish you could have seen the expression on her face. It was better than I could have imagined, more beautiful than any word-sharping poet could ever describe. I was overtaken with emotion and I lifted her to my breast and held her tight.

I admit that I cried. Don’t look so surprised. What would you have done in my place? It was a beautiful, magical moment. I showered my tears over her, cleansing her, and then I followed them with my lips. I dried them with my mouth, kissing her cheek, her jaw bone, her chin. With each kiss I could feel her excitement growing, feel her pulse quickening. I felt as though I could see the blood throbbing just beneath the skin, just out of sight. I heard her voice then, calling to me, singing out to me, begging me for succor, for mercy, for release. I looked up once to memorize the dear expression on her face.

And then I sank my teeth into her neck.

God it was good to be back.

Chapter One

London: Friday, June 22nd 1590

It was no use. Clio Thornton had tried squinting, closing one eye, and glaring at the book lying open on the desk in front of her, but nothing made it look any better. The two rows of columns refused to add up to the same thing, or even anything, besides nothing. She was broke.

The squealing of door hinges interrupted her thoughts and she just had time to shove the ledger under her desk before a woman in a silver gown rushed into the room.

“Today is the day,” the woman trilled. Her steps were being dogged by a monkey in a dark blue velvet doublet with two gold medals pinned to it. “Don’t you dare say that word to me, Clio Thornton, that word you are always saying: impossible. I am completely sure. I, Princess Erika, have seen the portents in the bottom of the water jug.”

Princess Erika set the jug down firmly in the middle of Clio’s desk.

“Look for yourself,” she offered, and Clio leaned forward. The monkey, having taken up a post on Clio’s shoulder, looked also.

“It’s cracked,” Clio said. The monkey nodded.

Princess Erika, whose nation of sovereignty no one—including the princess—seemed to know, drew herself up to her full height and demanded, “Clio, what am I going to do with you? You call that cracked? That is a sign. A great sign. A very, very great sign. Today, this very morning, fortune comes knocking.”

Despite the state of her finances, Clio received this news with great calm. During the two years that they had been neighbors, Princess Erika’s prophesies had become legendary throughout London, because whatever she predicted could be counted on with certainty never to occur. In her career as a seer, Princess Erika had only once made a correct prediction, and that only by accident. Her reliability was held in great esteem by many—travelers had begun to frequent her rooms to receive her solemn assurance that they would die on their next voyage, and merchants sought her recommendations on which ventures she guaranteed to fail. But Princess Erika longed, more than anything, to be a true prophet, and she continued singing out her predictions, dauntless in the belief that if she just found the correct vessel for her portents, all would come out right.

This morning she had returned to the water jug, which explained her enthusiasm. Once, two years earlier, Princess Erika had looked in her water jug and correctly predicted that the heavens would shower diamonds over London. But since then—barring a wild prophesy about Clio’s future, which was more poetic than predictive—the jug had remained silent. Despite its past success, Clio was not optimistic about its results.

Which was why, when at that moment there was a knock on the main door of the house, she was so surprised that she nearly fell out of her chair, sending the ledger thumping to the ground and disturbing the monkey who had settled in for a nap.

For an instant, all time seemed to stand still and the two women just stared at one another in euphoric disbelief. Then Snug, a former, highly unsuccessful, liberator of others’ possessions, and now the head steward-gardener-cook-tinkerer-majordomo-housekeeper-fix-anything-man of Clio’s household, showed their guest into the study.

Many people had come to Clio for help during the years she had lived in London, but none of them appeared less like a harbinger of good fortune than the dark-haired boy who now entered. He looked as though he were not merely unfortunate but almost anti-fortunate, as if he had not smiled in years and had no plans to do so anytime soon.

Above all, he looked hungry. Without waiting for him to speak, Clio rose and began to move quickly in the direction of the kitchen. But she had not taken three steps when she felt the boy at her side, tugging insistently on her arm. Clio remembered reading about boys that if you showed weakness once, they would never respect you. Although this boy was as tall as she was, he was only half her age, which Clio felt gave her the clear upper hand, and she determined not to go anywhere with him until he yielded to her superior authority and ate something. But to everything she suggested—a piece of bread, a bowl of jam, even a little meat pie (which Toast, the blue-velvet-clad monkey, indicated he would be willing to consume by snapping his fingers and pirouetting)—the boy simply shook his head and pulled harder at the fabric of her gown.

It did not take Clio’s years of experience with people in trouble to realize that the boy was either unable or unwilling to speak. And that unless she went wherever he wanted to drag her, he was not going to leave off tormenting her sleeve until every thread on it gave way, which would not be long given that the gown was almost as old as the boy. With a sigh she persuaded him to come into the kitchen just long enough for her to stuff two meat pies into a cloth bag, thrust it into the boy’s hand, and set out at a run behind him, trailed by Toast.

The crowds grew thicker as they progressed down Knightrider Street, changing from dark-coated men of business to rowdier soldiers and sailors as they crossed Water Lane. Several people stopped to stare at the strange procession of boy-woman-monkey, but Clio did not notice, her mind completely taken up with wondering what this mad dash might mean. As they approached Alsatia—the quarter of London referred to by the respectable as Devil’s Keep, and by its denizens as Little Eden in honor of the number of houses of pleasure located there—she had the sudden, sickening thought that perhaps the boy was one of Captain Black’s minions, sent to waylay her. Just then the boy turned down an alley and stopped in a bare courtyard that fronted a tiny building, so small it looked like a child’s play house. He stood next to the door, trembling, as if afraid to enter.

“You keep our visitor company out here,” Clio instructed Toast, whose eyes never left the bag of meat pies in the boy’s hand. Assured that her young charge was going to be closely watched, Clio pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Her stomach rose into her throat and she had to steady herself against the cupboard next to the door as the sight and the stench hit her like an invisible punch. A hundred hands stretched out toward her, a hundred eyes stared unblinkingly at her above red-gash mouths. A severed ear lay on the table in front of her, next to a nose, a golden braid, and what looked like it could have been a face. There were only empty sockets where the eyes should have been, and a large swath of beige matter showed where the ribbon hair had yet to be sewn on.

The dolls hung in rows along three walls of the room, the hooks in the backs of their gowns making them lean forward, leering, grasping, casting crazy shadows across the planked floor, but it was not these that made her knees sway and the knot in her stomach tighten. Beneath a window against the far wall there was a mattress. And on the mattress, dangerously still, lay a girl.

Clio felt a spasm of sadness and horror when she registered that the girl was dead, and then stopped feeling anything at all as her mind took over. This was not the first mysterious death she had been involved in—her solution to the mystery of Ellis Wittington’s drowning two years earlier and her role in catching the notorious Butcher of Buckinghamshire that past April had earned her the two medals from the queen, which Toast now wore on his doublet—and she knew what to expect, but she never got over how clear her thoughts became in the face of tragedy.
Unnatural girl, thrives on the misery of others,
she heard her grandmother’s disapproving voice say in her head. She pushed it aside and turned back to the task at hand.

BOOK: Lady Killer
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