Angelique

Another tasty morsel from Tender Bites, coming this weekend from Amazon.  This is the only first-person story in the batch, told from the point of view of Amadeo, the hunky vampire in question.  He goes to Paris during the Terror to do murder in the streets and ends up discovering his soulmate . . .

Angelique

Paris 1792

 

Chaos breeds vampires as a plague breeds rats; one feeds off the other so efficiently that matters of cause and effect become mere questions of philosophy.  Commit enough mortals to the cause of carnage, and the vampires simply appear; like the rat, we cannot choose but to respond.  And rarely had rats and vampires alike smelled such a feast as could be nosed in the madness of Paris after La Revolution. 

I hadn’t intended to partake.  I had entered one of those tiresome stages in a vampire’s eternity when the whole world seemed a pointless cesspool.  Born in the cruel savagery of the ancient world, I had watched the progress of civilization make art of madness, order from chaos, grace from the random superstition of human faith.  But over the course of the last century, I had seen this beautiful new world ripped apart brick by brick by its so-called great minds.  I was not a fan of revolution, even in the name of justice.  What is justice to a predator?  Paris had once been the jewel of the world, the center of learning and culture, my favorite spot on earth, more dear to me even than Venice or Rome.  Now the streets ran with offal, and great stinking apes more thirsty for blood than any vampire held sway.  But my friends insisted the hunting was too good to resist, and so I came.  And it was there that I met my Angelique.

Angelique Dumont was the daughter of two of the most pinched-nose blue bloods in France.  On the night I first saw her, she already wore a red ribbon at her throat in bitter remembrance of a father and two brothers sent to the guillotine.  She, her mother, and a single plump cherub of a sister were defiantly established in a flat within sight of the palace of Tuileries.  Like most of what remained of the aristocracy, she passed her days making desperate plans to escape to England with the family fortune and her nights in desperate gaiety, pretending flight was the furthest thing from her mind.

The ballroom at the city palace was not so grand as the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, but it was dazzling nonetheless, lit by hundreds of flickering candles and packed from wall to wall.  So when the painted doll of a girl stumbled out into the midnight garden, her green eyes were as blind as an infant’s.  “Merde,” she swore, tripping on the hem of her gold-embroidered skirt as she dove gracelessly for the support of a nearby column.  Glancing back over her shoulder toward the ball, she didn’t see me in the shadows.  I watched in amusement, arms folded on my chest, as this delicate blossom of the uppermost crust vomited into a hedge.

“Too much wine, mam’selle?” I inquired politely, offering her my handkerchief.

She screamed another oath and straightened up so quickly her heavy powdered wig slipped precariously to one side.  But she collected herself quickly, giving her head a slight jerk that caused the wig to right itself as if by magic.  “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur,” she said as she turned around, smiling prettily. 

Then she saw my less-than-glittering attire.  The men she was accustomed to meeting in gardens wore jewel-encrusted silks and gold-embroidered velvet.  I would sooner have had a stake carved from the True Cross driven through my heart.  I was wearing leather and a servant’s broadcloth coat with my own hair pulled back in a simple ribbon.  I wouldn’t even pass for a footman.  “How did you get in here?” she grumbled, snatching the handkerchief from my hand and spitting the last of the sourness from her mouth into its plain linen folds.  “Go back to the stables where you belong.”

“Your gratitude warms my heart.”  Truth be told, her snobbery made me adore her at first sight.  She was all I could wish in a quarry, sleek and impudent as a vixen.  “No wonder votre famille is beloved by all in Paris.”

The color rose in her cheeks luridly enough to show pink through the heavy powder.  She raised her little hand to slap me, and I smiled, knowing when she struck me, I would take her.

But she did not strike.  “A thousand apologies, Monsieur Stableman,” she said, making a deep, graceful curtsey that must have been the envy of every royal ass-licker at court.  “I thank you for your kindness.”  She rose and turned away, leading me deeper into the garden, the last thing I expected.  And the one thing I have never been able to resist is a surprise. 

The Haunting of Goody Crum

So later this week, I’m releasing my first ever self-published e-book, Tender Bites.  It’s an anthology of vampire romance stories, some historical, some contemporary – kind of my private stock of vamp swoon.  As I’m doing the last little tweaks of pulling it together, I thought it might be fun to feature a snack-size nibble of each story here on the blogness, a sneaky-peek for my nears & dears. 

“The Haunting of Goody Crum” is probably the sweetest vampire story I’ve ever written.  Since it begins with the gruesome aftermath of a Native American raid on a Puritan settler’s cabin, that might sound kind of strange, but those of you who know me probably won’t be surprised.  Trust me, this vampire, Wil, has a soft, mushy center that shows up in a big way before the end.

North American Wilderness, 1757

The vampire smelled the fire as soon as he came out of the ground, cured pine logs  burned down to smoky embers under the unmistakable pig-stench of cooked or cooking human flesh.  He turned his face up to the wind like a wolf, his senses honing in on the smell as he moved silently through the trees.  The last tribe he had seen had been days ago – Pawnee, he thought, though he had chosen not to approach their fires.  Since returning to the forest from the more subtle wilds of Europe, this death spirit had preferred to do his talking in the dark.

He saw the clearing well before he entered it, but the sheer size of it made him stumble in amazement.  For more than half a mile ahead, every tree was gone, cut down to ankle-high stumps.  The fire smell was stronger, and even in the dark he could see a thick column of gray smoke rising from the other side of the blank space in the woods.

Then he smelled the living blood.  The scent called to him; the heartbeat pounded in his ears like a war drum, dancing through the frozen marrow of his bones.  He broke into a run.  This had become his favorite way to hunt this endless wilderness, running through the dark, scooping up his prey with no words passed, no pause for breath or prayer.  Sometimes he even took them into the sky in a hawk-like swoop, dropping their empty bodies back into the black woods far below as he flew, never looking into their faces.  Sometimes he stayed on the earth, praying over the dead in the native fashion, thanking them for the lives they had given up as if they’d had a choice.  It had begun as a joke, a mockery of his prey, the silent warriors who prided themselves on running as swift and silent as the deer they hunted.  But since his return from so-called civilization, he had begun to take it seriously, to crave the wild ceremony of the hunt almost as much as he did its crimson fruit.

The heartbeat was coming from the center of the burning stench.  As he drew closer, the smell of rot turned his stomach.  He stopped at the glowing embers that represented all that was left of what had been a fair-sized cabin, English or Français.  That explained the stumps, he thought.  The Europeans encroached further into the woods every year, but he had never encountered settlers so far inland before.  He was running out of places to hide.

But whoever had lived here wouldn’t be writing home for reinforcements any time soon.  The war party had made certain of that.  He found no sign of bodies in the wreck of the cabin itself, but the smell could not be denied.  Maybe they ate the settlers, he thought, dropping gracefully to a crouch as he moved around the edge of the fire, moving closer to the source of the rotten smell and the ever-beckoning heartbeat.  Some tribes had been known to turn cannibal for a good cause, and so much the better for him.  Demon he might be, but not even God could fault him for feeding himself on a cannibal left behind.

But the heart wasn’t native, and it wasn’t the heart of a warrior.  Another fire was burning itself out just at the edge of the trees behind the ruined cabin.  Strung over it was a gruesome bit of native art the vampire didn’t need to see any more closely to recognize.  As a human, he had been a Viking marauder; he had been a vampire for centuries since.   But what the red men could think of to do to the corpses of their enemies still never ceased to amaze him.  This man had been flayed and gutted, probably alive, before being strung up to roast.  Nothing was left of his hair or his face, but a few burned rags of clothing still clung to his half-consumed flesh and bloody bones. 

A living, breathing, sobbing woman was crouched on the ground nearby.  She was praying in English, snatches of the Our Father and bits of rubbish he didn’t recognize, the guttural singsong of the Puritans.  She seemed to be trying to tear up the sod with her fingers as she prayed.  Her back was turned to the horror over the fire, but the stench must have made her stomach roll.  Just take her, the vampire scolded himself.  What do you care if she’s praying?  She’s crazy, run mad with shock—to end her misery would be a kindness.  He lunged toward her without a sound, the wolf springing out of the darkness—

Then she looked up.

Check out the backlist!

I just finished making spiffy new pages for the two trilogies I wrote for Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster:  The Falconskeep Trilogy and Bound in Darkness.  Check’em out – there are links for each at the top of the page.  And if you haven’t read these yet (or like so many readers find yourself missing an installment), by all means, watch this space.  I’m going to be giving away paperbacks as part of a contest to promote the new e-book anthology, Tender Bites, I’ve got coming out later this week.

So I have a cover!

Here’s a sneaky peek at the cover of my upcoming anthology of vampire short stories – my hubby, Max Castle, did the layout & design, with some editorial assistance from my BFF & research goddess, Marcia Addison.  Pretty nifty, huh?