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Authors: TERESA MEDEIROS

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BOOK: The Vampire Who Loved Me
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His eyes narrowed. “You didn’t seem to give a flying fig about your reputation when you came strolling into that gambling hell just a short while ago.”

“No one knew me there. But the marquess
of Wallingford is a
very
powerful and influential man. Once he starts spreading the word that Viscount Trevelyan’s sister-in-law has been consorting with the viscount’s own brother, a shameless ne’er do well and a notorious libertine—”

“You forget bloodsucking fiend,” he interjected.

She continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “—there won’t be any wealthy viscounts or earls lining up to ask for my hand. Or any half dozen babes to keep me in the nursery.” She sighed, affecting the same air of tragic resignation she had once used to coax Caroline into buying her a pretty length of ribbon they couldn’t truly afford. “I suppose I’ll have no choice but to offer myself as a mistress to some man just like Wallingford. I’m sure he’ll be a cruel and exacting master, but perhaps in time, I can learn to please him.”

Julian crossed the room with stunning speed, seizing her by the hand. As he jerked her toward the door, he shot her a smoldering look over his shoulder. “I’m perfectly willing to answer to God for my sins, but I’ll be damned if I’ll allow you to be punished for a crime I
haven’t had the pleasure of committing tonight.”

 

As Julian plunged down the darkened stairwell, his grip on her hand unrelenting, Portia struggled to keep pace with him. Before they could reach the first landing, a loud thump sounded from below. He jerked to a halt, reaching back to steady her before she could slam into him. Over the panicked rasp of her breathing she heard the unmistakable clatter of booted feet on the stairs. They’d dallied too long. Their only escape route had been cut off.

Julian whirled around, all but dragging her back up the narrow winding staircase and past the door of his rented room. Up, up, up they went until they finally burst through a sagging wooden door and onto the roof.

A blast of icy air whipped the heavy coils of Portia’s hair from its pins, reminding her that she’d left her bonnet, pelisse, and all of her weapons in Julian’s room, leaving her at the mercy of both the elements and him. Yet instead of fear, a strange rush of exhilaration coursed through her veins.

A thin blanket of snow clung to the chimney pots and gables. Glittering flakes danced in the fitful moonlight, tossed about by the whims of the wind. Although she had sworn to him that she’d forsaken all of her childhood fancies, Portia could not help but feel as if she’d stumbled onto some enchanted fairy kingdom, both beautiful and dangerous.

When she was a child, she had believed such a kingdom would be ruled by a golden-haired prince who would rescue her from every threat. Yet here she was racing hand in hand through the night with a dark prince who was just as likely to bring destruction as deliverance.

They stumbled to a halt at the very edge of the roof. With the snow cloaking the grime and soot, the city stretched out before them like the frosted parapets of a vast castle, the next rooftop an impossible leap away.

The furious shouts and thunder of footsteps swelled. In a matter of seconds, Julian’s pursuers would be upon them.

Teetering in his arms on the edge of that yawning precipice, a nervous chuckle bubbled up in Portia’s throat. “For years Adrian has been hearing rumors about vampires who
possess the concentration to turn themselves into bats. It’s a pity you’re not one of them.”

As a helpless shiver wracked her, Julian drew her into his arms, using his body to shelter her from the wind. He smoothed her hair out of her eyes, his gaze fierce. “Tell them you came looking for me, but I was already gone. That I fled London to avoid Wallingford’s wrath and I’ll not trouble any of them again. Tell them you came here to convince me to come home. Because you knew how my estrangement from Adrian was affecting your sister and the rest of the family. You won’t be able to fool Adrian but Wallingford will believe you. You can be a very convincing little actress when you want to be.”

Portia opened her mouth to protest, then closed it, realizing there was no point. “But where will you go? How…” She trailed off, gesturing toward the starry expanse of the night sky.

The corner of his mouth quirked upward in a rueful smile. “Before Adrian destroyed him, Duvalier gave me one sound piece of advice. He told me I’d be a fool not to embrace my dark gifts.”

As if to share the darkest and most priceless
of those gifts, he bent his head to hers. There, with the snow and starlight swirling around them, with disaster bearing down upon them on booted feet, he kissed her.

This was no seductive foray artfully designed to maximize her pleasure. This time he took what
he
wanted, what
he
craved. His tongue swept through her mouth, claiming it, claiming
her,
with a passion and power that threatened to rip the soul right out of her. Even if she’d had a stake in one hand and a pistol in the other, she couldn’t have defended herself against such an onslaught of passion. Nor would she have wanted to.

Julian groaned and she clung to the front of his waistcoat, answering that siren call with a deep-throated moan in a voice she no longer recognized as her own. That moan turned to one of helpless dismay as he dragged his mouth from hers and gently set her away from him.

Her eyes fluttered open just in time to see him turn and dive straight over the side of the roof. Before the scream caught in her throat could erupt, he had vanished into thin air. A dark shape went soaring past the roof, hurtling into the night sky. Portia stood there with her
mouth hanging open, watching as it wheeled in a graceful circle, then went flapping away toward the sickle-thin crescent of the moon.

Shaking off her shock, she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, “Don’t eat anyone!”

It might have been nothing more than a trick of the wind but she would have almost sworn she heard Julian’s rich baritone float back to her on a note ripe with laughter. “Don’t nag!”

Then the door behind her came crashing open and there was nothing left for her to do but turn around and face the torch-bearing mob and her brother-in-law’s thunderous brow.

“What do I have to do to keep you safe
from him? Lock you away in a convent? At least he wouldn’t be able to set foot on holy ground.” Adrian was once again wearing a fresh path in the elegant Aubusson carpet that ran the length of his drawing room. Judging from the shadows beneath his eyes and the fact that he still wore his rumpled trousers, shirt, and waistcoat from the night before, he didn’t appear to have slept so much as a wink since bringing Portia home.

“Perhaps we should see if Cousin Cecil is still in the market for a bride,” Caroline offered, referring to the toadlike lech who had once
offered to beat the spirit out of Portia with his fists.

Both Adrian and Portia turned to gape at her in horror. When she blinked innocently at them and added, “Or Aunt Marietta might be in need of a companion,” they realized she was only jesting. She sat on the brocaded sofa with Eloisa perched on her knee. The honey-haired toddler appeared to be in imminent danger of swallowing the wildly expensive pearls Adrian had given Caroline for their third anniversary.

Watery afternoon sunlight sifted through the tall arched windows of the spacious room. Portia had managed to postpone this discussion for several hours, first by feigning a swoon in the carriage on the way home, then by pleading tearful exhaustion when Adrian had delivered her to Caroline’s waiting arms. Unfortunately, her strategy had backfired. The delay had only given Adrian time to summon the rest of the family to witness her disgrace.

Portia’s other sister, Vivienne, sat in the leather wing-chair near the hearth, keeping one watchful eye on the four-year-old towheaded twins playing at wooden soldiers before the cozy fire. Not even giving birth to two budding hellions at
once had seemed to ruffle her legendary composure. According to family legend, when the midwife had handed her the second baby, she had simply murmured, “Oh, my! Would you look at that?” while her stoic husband had crumpled to the carpet in a dead faint.

Alastair Larkin, whom they all tended to address as simply “Larkin” in a nod to his former career as a constable, perched on the arm of his wife’s chair. Every few minutes, he would reach over to absently stroke her golden hair. Given his stern lips and hawk nose, there were some who might have wondered how such a plain man had managed to capture the heart of a beauty like Vivienne Cabot. Until they saw the way his shrewd brown eyes lit up every time he looked at her.

Portia had dressed for her dressing down in a somber green morning gown that she hoped would make her look suitably penitent. A matching velvet choker adorned her throat. She sat on her favorite ottoman with her hands folded demurely in her lap, watching Adrian resume his pacing.

“Julian is
my
brother,” he reminded her. “You
should have trusted me to take care of the situation, not gone off on some misbegotten mission of your own.”

“I did trust you to take care of the situation. That’s precisely what I was worried about.”

He swung around to face her. “Did you really believe I was going to stake my baby brother through the heart without so much as a polite by-your-leave?”

“Adrian…the children,” Caroline reminded him, touching a finger to her lips.

Shooting her a frustrated glance, Adrian strode over to the tasseled bellpull in the corner and gave it a hard yank. After what seemed like an eternity, their elderly butler Wilbury came shuffling into the drawing room. With his sunken cheeks, hunched back, and startling shock of white hair, he appeared to be at least 275 years old.

“Wilbury, my dear,” Caroline said, “would you mind taking the children and keeping them occupied for a bit?”

“’Twould be the high point of my golden years, my lady,” he replied with frigid politeness. “The culmination of a lifelong dream I had
nearly abandoned in favor of waiting peacefully for the Grim Reaper to come and relieve me of my earthly duties.”

Immune to his sarcasm, Caroline beamed fondly at him. “Thank you, Wilbury. I thought that’s what you would say.”

Shuffling toward the hearth, the butler muttered beneath his breath, “I just love children, you know. I simply dote upon the overindulged little darlings with their grasping little hands and their sticky little fingers that foul up every freshly polished surface in the house.” As he leaned toward the hearth, the twins paused in their play to gape up at him. Baring his pointed, yellowing teeth in a grimace of a smile, he rasped, “Come now, lads. I’ll take you to the kitchen for some nice hot cocoa.”

Eyes widening in terror, the two boys leapt to their feet and ran shrieking from the room. Wilbury straightened as much as his hunched back would allow, rolling his eyes.

“Wilbuwy!” Eloisa crowed, scrambling down from her mother’s lap and toddling across the room. Wrapping her arms around one of the butler’s scrawny legs, she looked up and batted her long lashes at him. “Me want cocoa!”

With a long-suffering sigh, he scooped the plump child into his arms, every one of his ancient bones creaking in protest. She joyfully tugged on his misshapen ears as he carried her toward the door. His curdled expression never varied, but as he passed Portia he gave her a nearly imperceptible wink.

She bit back a smile, heartened to know she had at least one ally in this house. Wilbury had always been partial to Julian. After Duvalier had turned Julian into a vampire, Wilbury had been the only one to share the brothers’ dark secret, helping Adrian turn Julian’s crypt in the dungeon of their ancestral castle into a chamber fit for a prince. He had forever endeared himself to Portia by guarding the door of the mansion’s ballroom while she practiced wielding a stake and firing a crossbow instead of dancing and conjugating French verbs. He had also swept up the shards of the numerous vases and busts she had broken with only a mutter of reproach.

Adrian waited until his daughter was safely out of earshot before returning his attention to Portia. “I suppose I have only myself to blame. I should have known that no good would ever come of this infatuation of yours.”

“There’s no longer any need for you to worry about that,” Portia replied primly even as the memory of Julian’s kisses made both her throat and her lips tingle. “You were right all along. Julian is neither the man—or the vampire—I remembered.” She lowered her head, deliberately avoiding Caroline’s sharp-eyed gaze. Although she and Vivienne were closer in age, it was Caroline who had always been able to read her heart.

“What exactly did he say when you confronted him about the murders?” Larkin leaned forward, no longer able to keep his natural curiosity in check. “Did he deny any knowledge of them or did he confess?”

He had done neither, Portia remembered grimly. Which meant that he was deliberately hiding something. But who was he trying to protect? Himself? Or someone else?

Although she loathed lying to her family, she met Larkin’s clear-eyed gaze with one of her own. “I never had the chance to ask him. I’m afraid your impromptu little witch hunt interrupted my interrogation.”

Larkin settled back on the chair arm, his disappointment palpable. Vivienne patted his
knee and smiled at her little sister. “I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. The only thing that matters is that our Portia is back with us—safe and sound.”

“I’d like for her to stay that way,” Adrian countered. “But I can’t count on that as long as Julian is lurking about.”

“He told me he was leaving London,” Portia said softly. “That he wouldn’t…trouble any of us again.”

A shadow of grief passed over Adrian’s face, making her own heart clutch with regret. She had no way of knowing if Julian had spoken the truth or if his words had just been a clever ruse to throw them off of his scent. She hadn’t even dared to tell Adrian how he had made his escape, preferring to let them all believe he had used his superior strength to climb down one of the roof’s drain spouts. In all of their battles, none of them had ever encountered a vampire who could actually focus his power long enough to shape shift into a bat. If Adrian knew his brother possessed that rare gift, he might consider him even more of a threat.

Adrian surprised her by sinking down heavily on the edge of the ottoman and running a hand
over his unshaven jaw. “I know you probably think I’m overreacting, but when I saw you standing on the edge of that roof with your face so pale and your hair all atumble…”

“You believed the worst,” she finished for him.

He nodded. “I was afraid he’d drank from you again. That he’d come one step closer to killing you, or worse yet, stealing your soul.”

Knowing that it wasn’t her soul in jeopardy, but her heart, Portia looped an arm through his and gave it a squeeze. “I’m sorry I gave you such a fright. What I told Wallingford was partially true. I just wanted to bring him home. For you.” There was no guile in the gaze she swept over her family. “For all of us.”

Adrian stood, tugging her to her feet and pressing a gentle kiss to her brow. “Vivienne is right. For now the only thing that matters is that you’re home and safe. We’ll worry about the rest of it later.”

As he moved toward the door, Vivienne rose with a graceful swish of her skirts. “Come darling,” she told her husband. “We’d best go rescue the boys from Wilbury’s clutches before we find them in a cookpot somewhere.”

“Didn’t they lock poor Wilbury in the cupboard the last time we left them alone with him?” Larkin asked.

“No, that was the time before. The last time he locked
them
in the broom closet,” she replied as they followed Adrian from the drawing room.

Only Caroline remained seated, gazing thoughtfully into the dancing flames of the fire. Portia was inching toward the door when her sister said, “Not so fast, pet.”

Portia widened her eyes in a look of studied innocence. “Did you say something?”

Caroline patted the sofa next to her, her smile equally innocent. “Why don’t you join me for a little chat?”

Portia reluctantly complied, sinking down on the sofa but maintaining her stony silence.

“You know,” Caroline said, toying with the monogrammed handkerchief in her lap, “I’ve been dying of curiosity, but in all these years I never once pressed you to tell me what happened in that crypt with Julian.”

Portia couldn’t quite hide her guilty start. She had assumed her sister was going to question her about the events of last night, not the events
of six years ago. “I always did admire your restraint. It was very unlike you.”

“I suppose it was easier for all of us to just pretend it had never happened, wasn’t it?” Caroline’s candid gray eyes searched her face. “But I never stopped wondering if Julian took more from you in that crypt than just your blood. If that might not explain your lingering feelings for him. Your obvious reluctance to marry.”

Portia could keep her voice deliberately light but she couldn’t stop the heavy rush of blood to her cheeks. She studied her own hands, wishing for a handkerchief to wring. “If that’s what you suspected, why didn’t you send for a physician to examine me?”

“Adrian suggested it, but I refused to subject you to such an indignity. In truth, we both believed you’d suffered enough at his brother’s hands.”

Before Portia could stop it, a brittle laugh bubbled from her lips. “I appreciate your concern, Caro, but I can assure you that no woman has ever suffered unduly at Julian Kane’s hands.”

“Even now?” Caroline countered, her gaze more probing than before.

Since she had no answer for that, Portia
simply rose and strode from the drawing room, her head held high and her secrets still her own.

 

Portia sat curled up in the window seat of her third-story bedchamber that night, watching the lights in the windows of the Georgian-style town houses that lined the other side of the Mayfair square wink out one by one. Just as a distant church bell tolled a single note, the last lamp in the square surrendered to the darkness, leaving her alone with the moon.

She pushed open the window, preferring the chill rush of air to the stifling warmth of the fire crackling on her brick hearth. Although carriages had carved muddy ruts through the broad cobbled streets below, snow still frosted the rooftops and the spindly arms of the tree branches, making them glow in the lambent light. A thin mist trailed ghostly fingers through the deserted streets.

She drew her woolen shawl tighter over her thin cotton night rail, her hungry gaze searching the night. The sleeping hush of the house made her feel as if she was the only one left awake in all the world. But she knew Julian was out there somewhere, a prisoner of the night
with all of its dangers and temptations. For all she knew, he might already be in the arms of another woman who could never be anything more to him than his next meal.

She touched a finger to the plump swell of her bottom lip, remembering the demanding pressure of his mouth on hers. How he had kissed her as if she was both his salvation and his doom. How he had wrapped her in his arms so tightly that even the furious lash of the wind couldn’t tear them apart.

But in the end, it had. She slowly lowered her hand. What if Julian’s kiss truly had been a kiss of farewell? What if he went back to wandering the world, exiled from everyone who had ever loved him? What if she never saw him again? Somehow that prospect was even more unbearable than it had been before. In time, she might even come to believe that those moments in his arms had been nothing more than a dream, the feverish delusion of a woman destined to spend her life yearning for a man she could never have.

The wind moaned through the trees overhanging the courtyard below, sending a shiver dancing over her flesh. She reached to draw the
window closed, but after a moment’s hesitation, edged it open even wider.

“Come home, Julian,” she whispered to the night. “Before it’s too late.”

 

Julian slipped through the window of Portia’s bedchamber, landing on the balls of his feet with the soundless grace of a cat. He should have been halfway to France by now, sailing across the Channel with a clueless Cuthbert in tow.

Instead he’d spent the day huddled in an abandoned warehouse in Charing Cross, waiting for the pale winter sun to set. He had crept out just after moonrise, dodging the crowded thoroughfares of Fleet Street and the Strand where one of Wallingford’s henchmen might still be lying in wait for him. Before he’d realized it, his aimless wandering had led him to the alley behind his brother’s mansion.

BOOK: The Vampire Who Loved Me
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