Immortal with a Kiss, page 1
Immortal With a Kiss
A Novel of Emma Andrews, Victorian Lady and Vampire Hunter
This book is dedicated to Kate Klemm.
With love and appreciation.
About the Author
Also by Jacqueline Lepore
About the Publisher
Love-sick Beauties lift their essenced brows,
Sigh to the Cyprian queen their secret vows,
Like watchful Hero feel their soft alarms,
And clasp their floating lovers in their arms.
—The Origin of Society, Erasmus Darwin (1803)
The play of light on a heaving sea is hypnotic. In Copenhagen, the water is like ink. It is cold and it is cruel, and it deserves all the brutal lore it has earned through the ages, of sea monsters and wild, ravaging storms. Even before Sebastian’s letter arrived, I had begun to feel more and more acutely how this sea separated me from home. Its slick, turbid waters whispered to me, a summons in every briny breath I took, every frigid sea spray I wiped from my brow. An ache began in my breast, a flicker of something not quite right in my world was just out of reach of consciousness, lurking on the fringes of my thoughts.
I was in Denmark late in that year of 1862 upon the permission of Dom Beauclaire, a French Benedictine monk and archivist who had become both a mentor and a friend when I’d fled to his monastery last spring. He’d helped me then, and so I turned to him when, with the conclusion of that nasty business in Avebury, I had felt the need to prepare myself, arm myself by seeking out knowledge. This quest brought me across the North Sea to a place where I might learn of matters that would mean the difference between life and death—and even that which was beyond death. For I had only just learned the terrifying and thrilling truth about myself and the very unorthodox life that was, it seemed, going to be in my future.
If what I am about to tell you strains credibility, then best put this book down and settle comfortably into a life of ordinary human things. But if you can believe in that which is outside science, reason, doctrine . . . even sense, then pay close attention to what it was I had recently come to learn. It was—is—my destiny to hunt and kill the undead. In Avebury, I had come to understand that I am Dhampir, a child of woe, a child of suffering—a vampire hunter. Something I did not at all feel equipped to undertake. I cannot imagine how one would.
And so I had fled to the familiar sanctuary of books to find an extensive, albeit haphazard, collection housed among the faded splendor of an old Oldenburg palace the monks had acquired for their peculiar abbey. Stacked in piles under murals of cherubs and noble depictions of Olympian gods, heaped upon shelves lined against walls decorated with chipped gold leaf, stuffed in every nook and cranny lay a collection dizzying in its breadth and depth of very unique, very special, very rare texts.
Here was housed the wisdom and folly of the ages, a veritable history of man’s ancient battle against the most powerful forms of evil. Books, scrolls, clay tablets from days beyond history’s reach, unbound manuscripts and journals penned in forgotten hands, all crisp with age and reeking with the vinegary scent of dust. Yet this was only part of the vast and secret network of archives maintained by the Vatican.
My twenty-fourth birthday came and went within these walls. It was soon after that a vague tension began to build. I ignored it as long as I could, stubbornly reading until my eyes ran with exhausted tears. My fingers, scored by razor-thin cuts from the aged pages, rifled greedily over vellum inked with ancient words. I pored over the information, filling my mind with as much as I could force myself to absorb.
The sense of urgency, of imminent purpose waiting, biding its time, grew deep and dense inside me as the darkness of winter hunkered low over the city. My impatience surged in increments like a cold tide, even as I was thinking, thinking—the words echoing like a far-off cry at the bottom of a well: Semper praesum. Always ready. It had become something of a motto of mine. Or perhaps it was a prayer. And so I read feverishly, knowing I must hurry . . .
For there was a storm coming. As the sky grayed and night encroached on daylight hours, I knew I was too far from home, too far from where I would be needed. I only hoped I would have enough time to make myself ready.
But fate does not wait for us to be ready. It does not ask us to be fully prepared. It requires only that we are willing.
The scrape of the monk’s footsteps, like sandpaper on the smooth marble surface of the palace’s long central hallway, was startling in the silence. From where I was seated—behind a raw wooden table I’d made my desk in what used to be a ladies’ sitting parlor—I saw his tonsured head bowed as he advanced to my doorway, his brown-garbed form dwarfed by the towering windows of the great hall. I think I knew even then that what I’d felt hurtling toward me had finally arrived.
I was going over a Greek translation at the time, and was feeling a sense of unease. Nausea rose against the back of my throat. I had come to learn that the undead sometimes posed as scholars to write false documents to mislead and misdirect hunters. I found I had some talent for detecting this and I sensed it strongly in this document, a boastful, fraudulent account of the purported powers of the Greek vampire known as the vrykolakas.
According to the author, there existed a breed of revenant that was not subject to the same limitations as the rest of the undead. I marveled at the lies as I read of communities where vampires lived out in the open, sunning themselves in exotic flower–draped grottos and drinking pomegranate juice, living among their prey like brothers. They were capable, this clever deceiver would have it, of casting both a reflection and a shadow. My stomach roiled precariously at the falsehoods, but there was something in the words, some boast, even a lurid triumph, that had made me forge on.
Upon the arrival of the young cleric, however, I pushed my task aside and struggled to compose myself. Even here, where the brothers knew what I was, I had been careful to remain guarded, retreating into a reflexive secretiveness. It was my habit in any case. Even before I knew about my peculiar destiny, I had been accustomed to hiding my . . . oddities. Having discovered the dark secret of my heritage, I was even more aware how important it was to guard a secret like mine, lest I find myself situated in the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum.
“Mistress,” the monk muttered. He was middle-aged, tonsured, rather undignified in his brown robe and shuffling boots. “This arrived for you this morning.”
I saw at once by the handwriting on the address that it was from Sebastian Dulwich, and my heart leaped with happiness. This man, my closest, dearest friend, had stood at my side and fought with me during my initiation into the world of undead.
I took the letter eagerly, but waited to break the seal and unfold the heavy
I examined it curiously. It was folded and sealed with a wax impression I did not recognize, and though there was no direction or address, I assumed it was also meant for me. I set it aside for the moment and focused upon the expansive, florid script that was Sebastian’s hand.
London is dreary, but I am frightfully busy what with soirees, balls and whatnot. I absolutely live for the delicious opportunities to watch the debauches of my peers firsthand. It is so droll to have to wade through the papers to find one’s daily dose of gossip, and so I dress in my finest—darling, you should see the gorgeous new coats I’ve had made!—and find what amusements I can as a spectator of bad behavior.
I am presently engaged in a very interesting intrigue with a groom from the mews, whom I like to dress up in gentleman’s clothing and present as my cousin from Yorkshire. The fellow is a crack at impersonating the gentry, accent and all. It has been a fine diversion, but not enough that I do not miss you sorely. At times, dear Emma, I am positively furious with you for refusing my invitation to join me in Town this season.
I am being a bore, but you must be used to that by now. So, then, how is Denmark? Have you met any ghosts? Any demented princes or waifish chits looking a bit damp? No doubt you are in your glory, up to your neck with books, an endeavor which confounds my brain, although I admit, I did enjoy the recommendation you gave me. Lord Byron is as dry a wit as myself and Don Juan a scoundrel I can adore.
Speaking of the great lover, have you had word from our Mr. Fox?
I paused, a little hitch catching in my chest. I had not, as it happened, had a single word since Valerian Fox and I had said our good-byes last spring. That had been five months ago. And I had found the separation much more difficult than I would ever have anticipated.
Ours was a rather complicated situation. What feelings he had for me, I was not at all certain. He’d saved my life more than once. More than that, he’d forsaken a chance to fulfill his most cherished wish, to destroy the evil vampire lord known to us as Marius, to do it. As to my feelings for him . . . I did not think about that much. At least, I tried not to.
No doubt you are anxious for word of our beloved Henrietta, Sebastian’s letter continued. What a dolt I am to delay the good news that she is flourishing.
My heart twisted in my chest, as if it literally leaped for joy. I adored my little cousin, for a sweeter child could not exist, and it was for precisely this reason of her pure spirit that she had been at the center of the evil events that had taken place in Avebury. It was on Henrietta’s behalf I had engaged in my first battle with a vampire. Before this, I had not even known such an evil truly existed. With Valerian Fox’s help, I had discovered my powers, and together, along with the aid of the warrior priest Father Luke and my dear Sebastian, we had prevented a terrible fate not only for my precious Henrietta but for many innocent lives.
The child appears to have no ill effects. She often asks for you, and in the most admiring of terms informed me when I was out in Wiltshire for a hunt that she intends to be tall and scholarly like you. Despite her love for you, I doubt my sister-in-law was pleased. You know how her mother feels about your bluestocking ways.
You are wondering about the letter enclosed. Something of a mystery, but you have not opened it yet, have you? You see how well I know you. You have patiently waded through all my drivel, for you are predictably ordered. It is part of why I love you, my dear Emma, and I am glad of it. I confess, my delay has been to give me time to warm up my pen, for I hardly know how I am to go about explaining the pages I have enclosed.
Lifting my gaze to the multipaned window, I drew in the breath I needed to brace myself. My eyes drifted to the glossy blackness of the sea that lay beyond the neglected terraced lawns of the old palace. I thought idly of the terrible coldness of the water, the kind that seizes a body into paralysis. One instant plunge into a rigor not unlike death.
A sense of inevitability sealed itself in my mind as I lowered my head and read on.
The words contained therein are from the journal of a Miss Victoria Markam, an unfortunate young lady whose path crossed mine at a Kensington fete. The night was a bore and my new toy was not with me, so I was rather in my cups, and found plain-faced Miss Markam wandering around quite foxed. Naturally, this amused me, and we together went on a little adventure to pilfer a fine whiskey from the library. She began to drink like a sailing man, became predictably loquacious, and I learned, much to my supreme lack of interest, that she was a teacher. But then she told me she was formerly employed at a prestigious girls’ school in the Lake District. She had fled in the midst of the Michaelmas term and vowed never to return. I assumed she’d committed some indiscretion and been let go, but as she began to speak of the events which precipitated her abrupt withdrawal from the teaching staff, I began to see her fear. She was truly terrified. I began to pay attention.
With some prompting, I elicited some rather bland accounts of shadows and noises about the place, subtle changes in the students and a veil of conspiracy. Mere schoolgirl mischief aimed at a despised teacher, I thought, and was inclined to dismiss my flash of interest until she mentioned the deaths in the village. After this spring, and, I fear, for the rest of my life, that will get my attention, be it proven to be nothing more dastardly than common influenza. I shamelessly plied the woman with more of the single malt whiskey, and pried at her defenses until she told me her dark secret.
The story is this: She had become aware of a group of students sneaking outdoors in the middle of the night. They had grown brazen and secretive, challenging her authority. She believed they were meeting local boys in the woods, and so one night she covertly followed them. The girls eluded her. As she was telling me this, I should add, she was as calm and sober as I unfortunately am now, though by rights she should have been intoxicated into oblivion for the amount of spirits she consumed.
As she tried to find her way home, she came upon what she described as a cache of corpses. “Human bodies cast about like discarded husks.” I quote her, for I remember it exactly. She spoke of how pale they were and I could not keep my mind from remembering the unnatural pallor of the victims we saw this spring. She mentioned bruising and cuts, and quite specifically told me that this damage was done about the neck, just under the ear. She believed they had been murdered, and all in the same manner.
I was pondering this shock when she delivered another. The Blackbriar School for girls, Emma darling—that was where she was employed, and I know you know the name well. Do you recall lamenting to me that your mother had attended this very school when she was a girl, and it had been your dearest wish to follow in her footsteps but your stepmother had forbidden it?
The mention of my mother landed in the center of my chest like the thump of a fist. I gasped out loud, my jaw jerking open. I had not been prepared for that. My beautiful tragic mother had haunted me all of my life, even more so now that I had learned the terrible truth about her. My hands began to tremble, making it necessary to lay Sebastian’s letter flat on the table as I read on.
So there I was, quite overset to realize I was distressingly sober, and I am afraid I made a dreadful decision, one for which I pray you not to despise me. I said, and I quote myself precisely, “I know of someone whose knowledge in these things may be helpful.” She grasped my hands so piteously that I was glad I had made the offer of aid.
Soon after, we were discovered. Miss Markam, being the sister of my hostess, was quickly borne away to her bedchamber to sleep off her indisposition. I, being a man, was looked upon with disapproval and left alone with the rest of the whiskey. Not long after, a maid found me and handed to me the enclosed papers which she informed me Miss Markam had torn from her journal and sent to me, with the intention of my making good on my offer of service.
I have not seen nor heard from her since that night, and for
So I give you these pages. I will tell you I did not read them and not because of any sense of honor or integrity—my Lord, you know me better than that. Quite simply, I am a coward. I will stay here in Town until Christmastide, when I will feast and be jolly with my new man, and I will think no more of this matter, for I have delivered this intelligence into your hands and my duty is done.
I smiled softly despite my troubled mind. Sebastian had a very amusing flourish, and I could imagine if he were here to speak these words, he would do so with gesticulating hands and a moue of disdain worthy of a king. He meant none of it, of course, as the forthcoming lines bore out.
But should you need me, and you have exhausted every other aid and imaginable resource, then I shall be of what little service my humble self can provide. You have but to call.
The reference to himself as humble won a dry chuckle from me, as I was sure Sebastian had intended it would. He signed the letter “With Affection” and then his loopy, bold signature.
So it was Sebastian who called me home.
I did not read the packet of Miss Markam’s journal. I placed it in my reticule and began to make arrangements to return to England. In the wake of Sebastian’s letter, my thoughts were not of the troubled teacher, or of the young women whose lives were in danger. My thoughts were selfish. Even as I knew I was being pulled by the thread spun by the Fates—those dispassionate witches in whose hands all destiny lies—I felt unprepared, unready. After all, I was no expert, not yet. Despite my experience in the spring and my present studies, I knew relatively little. I was only just discovering the nature and breadth of my talents, and how to use them.
Even more disturbing was that I had not been able to learn anything of the Dracula. In all of the archive, there was nothing save a few mentions and none of those instructive. So elusive was information on the being purported to be the most powerful vampire in existence—who had been somehow connected to the happenings in Avebury—I began to doubt he was anything more than legend.