Authors: Freda Warrington
A Taste of Blood Wine
A Dance in Blood Velvet
The Dark Blood of Poppies
The Dark Arts of Blood
Print edition ISBN: 9781781167106
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781167281
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: May 2015
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Freda Warrington asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. Copyright © 2015 Freda Warrington. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
For Mike with love: husband, best friend and guardian angel.
“May the road rise with you.”
lood was imperative.
The hot ruby fluid of life… Charlotte caught the scent and stopped mid-stride. Around her, a maze of lanes wound between timbered houses. Rain drizzled from the night sky, shrouding the meadows and mountains above the town. Although she had fed once tonight, the waft of salty, musky warmth arrested her.
She rarely scented blood in the open air, unless a human was injured.
There and gone. The miasma blew away on a rainy gust of air.
She sensed motes of human life inside the medieval houses of the Aldstadt, but the alleys were silent. This lull between one seasonal festival and the next felt uncannily quiet; the noisy parades of
, meant to drive out demons before Lent began, were over. The ritual herding of cattle up to the Alpine meadows was some weeks away. How eerie the town seemed when the drumming stopped and the hollow turnip lanterns went dark.
Although a passionate vampire, Charlotte wasn’t voracious. She loved to walk alone at night, savouring the life around her without wanting to devour every drop.
Now she sensed someone walking parallel with her, a street or two away… perhaps a trick of her too-vivid imagination. The impression lasted a few seconds, then – like the blood-scent – it vanished.
She reached the end of the lane where it opened on to the banks of Lake Lucerne. A few hundred yards away, the old wooden Chapel Bridge crossed the river Reuss, connecting the old and new sides of town. The water was black obsidian, full of wavering reflections from the town lights. Two men leaned on a railing with their backs to her. They shared the same slight, elegant build, blond hair and matching dark overcoats.
One of them turned and came to greet her with a smile.
“Well, my sweet friend,” he said, taking both her hands and kissing her cheek. “What a delightful coincidence. What brings you here?”
“Stefan,” she said, embracing him. They exchanged a light kiss on the lips. Stefan gave his usual flirtatious grin, as if to say,
Ah, if only
… “What brings me here? I could ask you the same. I felt too languid to stray far from home, but I thought you were in London, so…?”
He drew her under the eaves of a big hotel that faced the lake. Niklas followed. He was Stefan’s twin, identical except for his eyes – Stefan’s were blue, his pale gold – and for the fact that he never spoke. He only echoed Stefan’s actions, like a mime.
Charlotte kissed Niklas too. Although he didn’t react, she always acknowledged him because she knew this pleased Stefan.
“A pleasant night’s hunting?” he asked.
“I would never call it pleasant,” she said quietly, “but I would call it my own business.”
“You and Karl are so strange, still hunting separately after all this time. Eccentric.” Stefan’s white smile grew broader. “But we like you for that. Don’t we, Niklas?”
Niklas gave a faint smile. His eyes stayed unfocused.
The brothers had been vampires since the eighteenth century. Stefan still preferred the fashions of his own time, when circumstances allowed. Charlotte thought modern dress never looked right on them, but it was essential for camouflage. Her own taste was for silk and lace in subtle colours, but tonight she wore a black coat with an enveloping fur collar and a cloche hat that half-concealed her eyes.
Better for disappearing into darkness. For hiding stray blood splashes.
“Sometimes we hunt together,” she said. “But we never plan it, because… well, it can be unsettling. Almost too intense.”
“Ah.” Stefan’s eyes shone with wicked knowledge. “Of course. I can imagine.”
“I would prefer you not to imagine anything.” Charlotte tried to sound haughty, but he only smirked.
“Forgive me. However, as the world’s greatest proponent of pleasure, I can only state my view that the more…
a shared experience, the more cause for celebration, not shame.”
“And for discretion,” she said.
“Oh, I am all for anything secret, clandestine.” He slipped a friendly hand through her arm. “Are you on your way home?”
“No, my night isn’t over yet.” Charlotte fed sparingly, careful not to kill outright, but this meant she needed more than one victim. “Yours?”
Stefan shrugged. “You won’t spend the rest of this beautiful, wet evening wandering with us? Lucerne is the loveliest of towns in all seasons. Have you seen the Christmas parade, where Santa Claus has a terrifying demonic companion who goes around threatening to punish the bad children?”
“Yes, I’ve seen that.” She gave a small grimace. “They call him
, don’t they? Or
? I’m glad I didn’t grow up here. I should have been terrified.”
the demons,” he said. “Will you stroll with us?”
“I’d love to, but not until…”
“Other needs are satisfied. I understand. In that case, I’ll let you go on your merry way. But you always see through me, don’t you?”
“Usually,” she said, her eyes narrowing. “Why? Were you looking for me?”
“Guilty,” said Stefan. “We tried your chalet but no one was there. However, you were easy enough to find. Hardly fifty miles away, in one of your favourite towns… The lovely warm trace of you was like a sunlit cloud-trail through the Crystal Ring.”
“That’s a poetic way of admitting you were pursuing me.”
I can never be annoyed with Stefan
, she thought.
Not for long, at least
. He’d perfected the art of being a complete rogue, so charming that she couldn’t help but love him.
Also, he was one of the vampires who’d helped transform her. However difficult the memory, that created an eternal bond.
“We have news.”
“Oh, is something wrong?”
“Not at all. Niklas and I have taken a house beside Lake Lucerne. It’s beautiful.” He pointed across the water, where a scattering of distant lights gleamed. Mount Pilatus was a vast pale shadow in the night. “You can’t see from here, but it’s outside the town, near the water’s edge, like a fairytale chalet surrounded by forests and meadows… Why are you frowning?”
“It sounds idyllic,” she said, “but you know perfectly well Violette has opened her new ballet academy here.”