Read The Vampire Who Loved Me Online

Authors: TERESA MEDEIROS

The Vampire Who Loved Me (2 page)

BOOK: The Vampire Who Loved Me
4.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Julian suddenly stopped and swung around, his eyes narrowing. He turned his piercing dark gaze toward an ancient yew tree that squatted at the edge of the meadow a few yards away, its gnarled arms frosted with snow. His elegant nostrils twitched, then flared, as if he’d scented something particularly enticing. His lips drew back from his teeth and, for an elusive instant, there was something almost feral in his expression, something that made Cuthbert take a step away from him.

“What is it?” Cuthbert whispered. “Has the marquess doubled back to finish us off?”

Julian hesitated for a moment, then shook his head, the predatory glow in his eyes fading. “It’s nothing at all, I suppose. Just a ghost from my past.”

Giving the yew one last look through narrowed eyes, he continued across the meadow. As Cuthbert fell into step behind him, Julian launched into the chorus of “The Girl I Left Behind Me” in a baritone so pure it could have made the angels weep with envy.

 

The woman huddled behind the yew tree slumped against its broad trunk, her knees going weak. The notes of the song slowly faded, leaving her alone with the murmur of the falling snow and the unsteady throb of her heart in her ears. She couldn’t have said whether her heart was pounding with terror or excitement. She only knew she hadn’t felt this alive in almost six years.

She had slipped out of the house at dawn and instructed her driver to follow the marquess and his entourage to the park, torn between hoping the gossip was true and praying it wasn’t. But all it had taken was one peek around that tree and
she was once again a bright-eyed seventeen-year-old, basking in the first awkward flush of infatuation.

She had counted off each step the duelists took as if she was marking the final moments of her own life. When the marquess had turned, pistol at the ready, it had been all she could do not to leap out from behind the tree and scream a warning. When the pistol shot rang out and she watched the marquess’s opponent crumple to the ground, she had clutched her chest, certain her own heart had stopped.

But it had started beating again the moment he sat up, shaking the curling dark mane of hair from his face. Drunk with relief, she had forgotten her own danger until it was nearly too late.

She had been gazing after him, her heart in her eyes, when he had suddenly stopped and turned, his body taut with the tensile grace she remembered only too well.

She had ducked back behind the tree, holding her breath. Even with the sheltering trunk of the yew between them, she could feel his gaze penetrate her defenses, its probing caress leaving her as vulnerable as the kiss he had
brushed across her brow the last time they had met. Pressing her eyes tightly shut, she had touched one hand to the velvet choker that circled the slender column of her throat.

Then he was gone, his voice fading to an echo, then a memory. She slipped out from behind the tree. Fat snowflakes drifted from the sky, filling the scattering of footprints and the hollow where his body had lain. Soon there would be no proof that the misbegotten duel had ever taken place.

She almost pitied his sandy-haired companion for his ignorance. She’d had nearly six years to learn how to embrace the impossible, but she’d still had to bite back a stunned gasp when that lean form had risen from its grave of snow. If his companion’s hand hadn’t been stayed, she knew exactly what the man would have found. That plump finger would have wiggled its way through greatcoat, coat, waistcoat, and shirt, not stopping until it brushed the unblemished skin over a heart that should have been shattered by the marquess’s pistol ball.

Portia Cabot adjusted the veil on the sweeping brim of her hat, a faint smile curving her lush lips. She didn’t regret one moment of her
reckless jaunt. She had proved the rumors were more than just idle gossip.

Julian Kane had come home. And if the devil wanted his soul, then the old rascal would just have to beat her to it.

“Have you completely lost your wits?”

A more delicate soul might have quailed at having such a question directed at them—especially when uttered in a near roar by such an impressive specimen of a man—but Portia refused to take offense. After all, it wasn’t as if her brother-in-law made a regular habit of questioning her sanity. He’d only done it twice before. Once when she had cornered a hissing six-hundred-year-old vampire during the bassoon interlude at Lady Quattlebaum’s midsummer musicale, holding him at bay with a violin bow until Adrian could arrive with his cross
bow. And only last month when she’d turned down not one, but two, handsome, wealthy young noblemen eager to make her their bride.

Had he been bellowing at her out of spite instead of concern, Portia might have been more alarmed. But she knew that Adrian could have adored her no more had she been born
his
sister instead of his wife’s.

It was that steadfast certainty that allowed her to serenely blink up at him from the wing-chair in front of the hearth as he paced the drawing room of his Mayfair mansion, scowling like an ogre and dragging his fingers through his honey-colored hair until it bristled like a lion’s mane.

He spun around on the heel of one polished boot and stabbed a finger in her direction. “You may be in danger of losing your mind, but I’m still in full possession of all of my faculties. And if you believe for one minute that I’m going to allow you to put yourself in such grave peril, then you’re sorely mistaken.”

“I don’t plan on putting myself in any peril at all,” she replied. “Now that I’ve found him, I simply want to have a civilized conversation with your brother.”

Her eldest sister Caroline rose from the brocaded sofa to slip her arm through her husband’s. With her belly just beginning to swell with their second child and her pale blond hair sleeked back into a crisp chignon, she should have resembled a placid Madonna. But the sparkle of humor and intelligence in her gray eyes made her look less than serene. “Adrian’s right, pet. It’s far too risky. Don’t you remember what happened the last time you tried to help him? You nearly died.”


He
nearly died,” Portia reminded her. “I saved him.”

Adrian and Caroline exchanged a glance, but Portia simply set her lips in a firm line. She had never told anyone exactly what had happened in that crypt nearly six years ago. And she had no intention of doing so now.

“I know you’ve spent many a sleepless night worrying about Julian,” Caroline said. “We
all
have. But you still have to think about the danger to yourself.”

“A little danger didn’t keep you away from Adrian when everybody believed
he
was a vampire.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, there was one
significant difference. And Julian may not even be the vampire you remember. He’s been gone for almost six years and we’ve heard absolutely nothing from him for over three of those years. Not a letter, not a word, not a whisper. He didn’t even contact us after we sent word that Eloisa had been born.” Caroline stole an indulgent look at the rosy-cheeked, honey-haired toddler who was cheerfully gnawing at the gold tassels on one of the sofa cushions. “Nor did he respond after Adrian wrote to inform him that their mother had finally succumbed to consumption in Italy. He and Adrian were once as close as two brothers could be. Why would he sever all ties to us if he hadn’t decided to turn his back on the search for his soul?”

“I don’t know,” Portia admitted. “But the only way to find out is to ask him.”

“And just why would he confide in you?” Adrian asked, cocking one tawny eyebrow. “Because he’s always had an eye for a pretty girl? Because there’s still some streak of sentimentality left in him after all of these years of living as a monster? Some spark of humanity?”

Portia held her tongue. There were no words to explain the bond she’d felt tugging at her
heart since their time in the crypt. Even if there had been, she knew they would just accuse her of clinging to a young girl’s romantic fancy.

Adrian dropped to one knee in front of the chair, bringing himself eye to eye with her. Portia’s parents had been killed in a carriage accident when she was only nine. After he and Caroline had wed, Adrian had eagerly welcomed her into their home, never once suggesting that they shuffle her off to some horrid relative like their lecherous cousin Cecil or their vapid Aunt Marietta.

He covered both of her hands with one of his own, his blue-green eyes darkened by worry. “I’m not completely blind. I know you’ve been hoarding weapons and secretly training to help me fight vampires for years. But this isn’t your battle, child. It’s mine.”

She tugged her hands from his. “I’m nearly three-and-twenty years old, Adrian. I’m no longer a child.”

“Then perhaps it’s time you listened to reason and stopped behaving like one.”

Portia would have much preferred bellowing to his measured, rational tones. She rose, drawing herself up to her full five-feet-two inches and
wishing for one of the elaborate hats she favored to add height to her stature. “Very well,” she said coolly. “If I’m going to stop behaving like a child, then I no longer require your permission or your approval to seek out your brother’s company.”

Adrian straightened and gently seized her shoulders, the pleading note in his voice more unsettling than any roar. “Have you forgotten that four women have died in the last fortnight? That their bodies were drained of every last drop of blood, then left to rot in the alleys of Charing Cross and Whitechapel? I’ve spent the last five years driving nearly every vampire from the borders of this city. Do you believe in your heart that it could be pure happenstance that these murders took place just as Julian was rumored to have returned to London?”

She met his gaze squarely. “Do you believe in your heart that your own brother is capable of committing such atrocities?”

Adrian’s hands fell away from her, fisting helplessly at his sides. “I no longer know what he might be capable of. I no longer know him at all. But he is
my
brother. And
my
responsibility. If anyone is to confront him about these
murders, it will be me.” He exchanged another guarded look with Caroline. “I’ll go first thing in the morning.”

“In the morning?” Portia echoed. “While he slumbers? When he’s at his weakest and most vulnerable?”

Caroline made a small sound of distress, but Portia couldn’t seem to stop.

“I know
exactly
what happens to vampires when you come calling in the morning, Adrian. So which weapons will you take with you? The crucifix? The stakes? Your crossbow? You’ve dispatched many a savage fiend with that particular weapon. I suppose it was inevitable that Julian would someday feel its sting.”

Adrian touched his fingertips to the burgundy velvet choker that adorned her slender throat, the regret in his eyes making him look far older than his thirty-five years. “Better that he would feel my sting than that you—or any other woman—would feel his.”

As he strode from the room, Portia turned to Caroline, desperately hoping to find an ally in her sister. After all, hadn’t she once helped Caroline prove that Adrian wasn’t the villain everyone believed him to be?

But Caroline simply shook her head. “Oh, Portia, why must you make this more difficult for him than it already is? If Adrian hadn’t been forced to destroy Duvalier to protect me,” she said, referring to the ruthless vampire who had turned Julian into a vampire by sucking his soul out of him at the moment of his death, “then Julian might have retrieved his soul a long time ago. He never would have had to go searching for the vampire who sired Duvalier. Adrian fought so hard and so long to save his brother. How do you think he feels now, knowing that he may very well have failed? Knowing that innocent women may have suffered and died because of that failure?” She scooped her daughter into her arms and followed her husband from the room, shooting Portia one last reproachful look. Eloisa peered over her mother’s shoulder, her own big gray eyes bewildered.

Portia blew out a beleaguered sigh. She supposed it had been naïve of her to expect her family to open their arms and their hearts to welcome home the prodigal vampire. For all she knew, Julian might be every bit as lost as they feared him to be.

But some small corner of her heart rejected
that notion, refused to believe that the man who had once tweaked her nose and called her his “Bright Eyes” could have drained the life from those women and tossed them into the alley like so much rotting garbage.

She went to the window, drawing aside the heavy velvet drapes. The scant daylight was already beginning to fade, leaving the broad street bathed in the luminous glow of the snow. Although a few flakes still spun on the wind, the clouds had scattered, exposing the pale crescent of the rising moon. She glanced at the marble clock on the mantel, her sense of urgency growing. Julian’s time was running out and so was hers.

If she was going to prove them all wrong, she would have to do it before the sun came up and Adrian went in search of his brother—perhaps for the very last time.

 

At the moment Julian Kane didn’t mind being soulless nearly as much as he minded being sober. His stagger had steadied to a swagger and even that was being robbed of its usual grace by exhaustion and hunger.

He turned his coat pockets inside out only to find them woefully empty. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been so quick to abandon Cuthbert on the steps of his father’s Cavendish Square town house.

Cubby had been quietly casting up his accounts on the earl’s beloved azalea bushes when the old man had poked his head out of an upstairs window, his nightcap askew, and bellowed, “What have you done to my lad now, Kane? My Cuthbert was a good boy until he started running with the likes of you. Satan’s spawn!”

Julian had gently yielded Cubby’s floundering bulk to a footman before tipping his beaver hat to the earl. “And a good evening to you, too, my lord.”

The old man had shaken his gnarled fist at him with such vigor that Julian had feared he was going to topple out the window and crack his fool skull.

Julian was shaking his head at the memory when his gloved fingers slipped through a hole in the silk lining of his coat pocket. He withdrew a single dull shilling and held it aloft.

“Adrian always did say I had the very luck of the devil,” he murmured.

But it was the devil who had been unlucky on this day, he thought ruefully. Had circumstances been different, the old goat would have been standing at the gates of Hell, tapping his cloven hoof with anticipation at the exact moment Wallingford had fired his pistol.

How odd that the moment had brought with it not the stench of brimstone, but a whiff of heaven. It wasn’t the first time he’d been haunted by that particular scent. The elusive fragrance had once stalked him down a narrow alley in Cairo, overpowering the exotic aromas of cumin and turmeric. It had wafted through the soot-stained window of a Paris garret, making his body burn with hunger. And on a rain-drenched battlefield in Burma while his nostrils were still choked with the smell of blood and smoke, he had scented it on the wind, the fragrance so dear and familiar it had made his gut clench with longing for a home he would never know.

It smelled nothing like the gardenia- and jasmine-drenched perfumes of the women who so frequently provided him with both solace
and sustenance. This was the sweet soap-and-rosemary smell of a young woman’s skin—innocence and allure mingled into an intoxicating brew. It was the scent of a girl’s silky dark curls brushing his cheek as she leaned across him to turn the pages of his pianoforte music before favoring him with a mischievous smile.

As he had so many times before, Julian forced himself to ruthlessly banish the image. Flipping the coin to the opposite hand, he sauntered through the falling night. He might not be able to afford more than a single hand of cards, but perhaps he could coax some pretty bit of muslin into taking pity on him.

Turning up the collar of his greatcoat to ward off the icy flecks of snow, he crossed the street and ducked into one of the Covent Garden gambling hells disreputable enough to welcome even the likes of him.

 

Julian did have the very luck of the devil. Less than two hours later, he was sitting behind a fat pile of winnings at the brag table. Employing a lethal mix of charm, guile, and skill, he’d managed to parlay that single shilling into a shimmering heap of coins and pound notes. It might
not be enough to stave off Wallingford and his threats of debtor’s prison for more than a day, but it was enough to ensure that he wouldn’t be spending the night alone.

Or hungry.

He gently rubbed the lower back of the dark-haired, sloe-eyed beauty perched on his knee, earning a jealous look from the golden-haired minx who had draped herself over his shoulders like an ermine stole. Every time he turned his head, he was nearly overcome by the stench of the cheap lavender water she had used to wash away the scent of the last gambler she had accompanied upstairs.

While the other three men at the table watched, unable to hide their hopeful expressions, his pale fingers flicked over the cards with negligent grace, fanning them out to reveal yet another winning hand.

One of the men groaned while another tossed down his cards in disgust. “Damn it all, Kane! Your luck is positively supernatural!”

“So they tell me,” Julian murmured as the men snatched up their beaver top hats and walking sticks and quit the table, leaving more than a week’s wages behind them.

Absently stroking the brunette’s rounded hip, Julian settled back in his chair and stretched out his long legs. Peering through the haze of cigar and cheroot smoke, he searched for his next victims. Most of the club’s patrons had exhausted their welcomes—and their credit—at the more reputable establishments like White’s and Boodle’s. A palpable air of desperation clung to them, similar to what Julian had witnessed in the hashish and opium dens of Istanbul and Bangkok. Their fingers twitched and their eyes gleamed as they waited for the next play. It shouldn’t prove too difficult to lure a pair of overextended merchants and the bastard son of some impoverished nobleman into his snare.

BOOK: The Vampire Who Loved Me
4.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Saving Sarah by Lacey Thorn
Dead Stop by Hilliard, D. Nathan
The Smartest Woman I Know by Beckerman, Ilene
Red Lotus by Catherine Airlie
Normalish by Margaret Lesh
Maude March on the Run! by Audrey Couloumbis