Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tribes of the Vampire 3 ETERNALLY BOUND by Michelle M Pillow

Tribes of the Vampire



Michelle M. Pillow


Chapter One

Eastwich Manor, England, Spring 1896

Tatiana Sinclair smiled dreamily at the stars as she fitted her gloved hand into that of a groom’s. The scent of wildflowers was thick on the air, perfuming the night with their intoxicating fragrance. The wind rustled gently over the land, perfectly cool to the warmth of the late hour. It stirred heavily against the higher limbs of trees until the sound of the crashing leaves sang out. It was a perfect night.

The servant, Thomas, was dressed in the full livery of the Eastwich Manor staff. He lifted the back of his hand to help her down from her family’s brougham. The carriage shifted ever so slightly as she stepped onto the cobblestone drive. Tatiana barely paid the towheaded man any mind.

Thomas tried to smile at her, murmuring a greeting in his low youthful voice. “Welcome home, Miss Tatiana. How was your evening?”

Tatiana glanced briefly at him, frowned in his direction and waved him away. Thomas was two years older than her, but she still thought of him as a boy. He was handsome and polite, but that did not give him the right to address her. She would just have to speak to her father about having him replaced. It wouldn’t do for the servants to be seen addressing her so familiarly, as if they did it every day. Such a faux pas could kill her chances at a good marriage.

Well, Tatiana thought, feeling benevolent in her good mood. Her chin was proud, if not a little haughty, as her lips curled in contemplation. Perhaps, I should be lenient with him and only have him reprimanded. We did grow up together after all and tonight was such a lovely evening.

Tatiana’s pale green gown of expensive silk and Brussels lace tangled in the breeze. Her face again turned to the wide expanse of stars twinkling brilliantly in the dark blue of the night sky. The heavy weight of her white petticoats rippled ever so slightly, showing the toes of her dainty slippers. Her black curls were pinned up with the utmost care, adorned with green silk flowers. She was at the height of her youth, dressed in the height of fashion. She was beautiful, rich and knew it. She had many suitors vying for hand. Everything was perfect. Her life was going according to plan.

Thinking of it, Tatiana smiled to herself. If she managed it right, she could be married within a year’s time--or at the very least engaged. Suddenly, she noticed that her chaperone, a servant girl from the household, stood next to her waiting. Tatiana merely waved her to go along without her. The servant, whose dark eyes gave away the fact that she was exhausted, curtsied and rushed up the front steps to find her bed. Tatiana ignored her.

Lightly, she hiccupped. It had been a delightful evening of dinner à la russe. Tatiana blushed to remember how much of Lady Cottley’s ‘special’ punch she’dconsumed. Surely, if her father discovered the excess, she would be forbidden from ever going back.

Sighing as the carriage was led down the long drive to the distant stables, she made the short walk up the front stairs of her home. Eastwich Manor was a modest home compared to the large renovated castles and estates of the local nobility. Nevertheless, the estate was very well maintained.

The square corners of the manor’s stone walls were smooth, dotted with just the right amount of shrubs and flowers to make it stately and elegant without being overdone. Tall windows lifted up the sidewalls with dark blue draperies showing from the inside. Most were drawn closed, but a little crack of light shone out from one onto the front expanse of steps. It was a very fine home indeed. Whereas, her father wasn’t titled, his income was quite sufficient as to cause much envy with the neighbors and to earn her their respect.

Tatiana smiled a secretive smile. If she had anything to do with it, she would be titled soon enough. It was rumored that an Italian Count had let the old Glastonbury Castle not far from her very home. As a young girl, she’d been fascinated by the rundown pile of rocks surrounding the castle and had climbed over them often. The castle itself was in decent repair, though it desperately needed the care only a rich owner could give.

Lady Cottley had been aflutter with the news of it, claiming to have met the ‘young and altogether too handsome’ nobleman the other night. Their carriages had crossed a narrow pass in the country roads. She said that he was very well spoken, for a foreigner, and very dashing as he leaned out the carriage window to answer her greeting.

When Tatiana asked her to describe what the Count looked like, Lady Cottley couldn’t quite remember, except for the impression he was handsome enough to leave her lightheaded. The good lady was, however, sure the Count was in England searching for a wife. For, according to that same lady, there were a shortage of suitably marriageable women in Italy.

“Tatiana! Wait!”

Tatiana instantly froze on the bottom step leading to the front door. The very sound of her name expressed in such a way made her nervous. Recognizing the voice, she shivered, turning round to face her eldest and only sibling. Henry had not been available to escort her to the dinner service so she was dependent on a servant to be her chaperone. He’d claimed he was too ill to attend. It irked her that he would be out in such a condition, but Tatiana knew it was more than likely that he lied to get out of taking her.

The crack of light shining through the long front windows was dim so she couldn’t see him too clearly, except from the vague impression of his features and the shadowed outline of his slender body. She gasped, immediately forgetting her irritation with him. His dark blue frock coat was covered with splatters of thick mud. Stepping back down the steps, she made as if to go to him. Henry stumbled forward, jarring her as he impatiently grabbed her arm.

“Ow, Henry, stop,” Tatiana cried, trying to shake off the desperate clutch of his fingers. She swatted him lightly with her gloved hand. “You’re hurting me!”

Henry’s grip only tightened as she tried to escape, bruising her skin with its fierceness. She stumbled, slow to react, her mind numbed with liquor from the punch. Her brother’s dark eyes narrowed and he struggled for breath. Tatiana saw that the same strange substance also splattered the pale skin of his features. Up close, it did not appear to be mud. Curious, Tatiana lifted her fingers to his check, plucking a bit of matter off him with her white gloves. Whatever it was, it was hard.

“Whatever are you covered in, Henry?” Tatiana asked. He mumbled breathless, incoherent sentences. She couldn’t make out his words. Ignoring the pain he inflicted on her arm, she raised her gloved fingers to where the moonlight shone brightest to examine them. Her mouth fell open. It was blood.

Henry, seeing her impending look of horror, grasped her other arm in his palm, pulling her to him. Tatiana shivered as his fingers seized over her mouth, shushing her startled scream. She could smell the coppery scent of blood on his hand, felt the drying stickiness against her skin where he touched her face. Blood marred his jacket, streaking onto her pale green gown, hitting against her arms, as he held her tight to keep her quiet.

Gasping into her ear, he croaked in a low, hoarse tone that she’d never heard from him, “She’s dead.”

She! Tatiana’s renewed scream was muffled by his strong fingers. He pressed hard, cutting her teeth onto her inner lips. She tasted blood on her mouth and moaned weakly. She tried to answer him. Her wide desperate eyes studied his panicked face. She moaned in louder protest and he jerked her to an abrupt, rough silence.

“It’s not my fault!” Henry insisted with a hiss, almost wildly. He shook her harder in his desperation to convince her. His words turned to a plea. “Do you hear me, Tatiana? She refused me. It’s not my fault. She had no right, no right at all. I didn’t hurt her. She fell. She was a bloody strumpet giving it out to every man. She was nobody. I will not be ruined for this!”

“Henry.” Her voice was muffled through his parted fingers. Tatiana gasped, trying to peel her lips from his bloodied hand. She slowly shook loose of his tight hold to catch her breath and steady her racing heart. The strange, almost foreign smell of human blood--so curious and strong--slipped on her skin as she moved against him. It made her nauseous. A dark cloud threatened her already drunken brain and all she could think about was how this might ruin her chance at meeting the Italian Count, of gaining her title, of getting out of England and seeing the rest of the world.

As soon as she heard the words Italian and Count coming from Lady Cottley’s lips, she’d formed the perfect plan. The Count wanted a wife and she would make a perfect wife. Henry got to go away on a grand tour like the rest of the gentlemen with whom she’d grown up. She was expected to stay home, in England, forever. She wanted to travel, to see things, to meet people. She wanted to touch ancient ruins. In all her eighteen years, she never wanted anything more. Now, in Henry, she saw her dreams plummeting to the ground.

Tears entered her eyes. Now no one would ever want her after this. She was sister to a murderer! She would spend the rest of her days at Eastwich Manor as an unloved, unwanted spinster. Glancing at the stone walls of Eastwich, they did not seem so lovely to her anymore, or the house so large and welcoming and fine. It now looked like a prison.

“Tatiana!” Henry hissed, shaking her. “Are you listening to me?”

Tatiana blinked. She hadn’t been listening. Her mind had been racing frantically until she felt dizzy. Seeing she wasn’t going to scream, Henry dropped his hand from her face, leaving her cheek cold as the breeze hit the blood. With an insistent tug, he pulled her away from the front steps.

“Hurry!” Henry ordered, keeping her arm tight as he ran her around the side of the house. “We can’t let Thomas see us! If he knew what we did to his sister--”

“Alice?” Tatiana looked at Henry with renewed horror. She tried to stop, but his hand wouldn’t let her. The matter and blood covering him was her maid, Alice? Alice with the golden ringlet curls so like her brother Thomas? Alice with the laughing blue eyes who always teased her awake in the morning? Alice who had played with her endlessly on this very lawn since they were children?

“We can’t let him find out what we have done,” Henry insisted, running faster now that they were on the side lawn. “You know Thomas has a violent temper.”

“We?” Tatiana squeaked, her voice unable to come any louder. Her world spun and crashed with each surreal step he forced her to take.

Her legs stretched over the thick cushioned lawn, nearing the limits of her gown. The petticoats became heavier, tangling in her legs. Her corset was too unyielding against her lungs, making breathing hard. Her heart raced as she was yanked through the night. A slipper fell from her foot, but they did not stop. The full three courses of dinner, plus the entremets and dessert, waged a vicious war in her tight stomach. She would’ve fainted, if not for Henry’s insistent pull making her continue on.

“Henry,” she begged, her voice hoarse as she gulped for air. Her narrow eyes tried to see through the shadows. The moon wasn’t full and bright, so it offered little help.

Hearing her plea, Henry slowed, leading her into the shade of a large oak on the far side of the property.

“I … can … not … breathe,” she gasped. She dropped her hand, clutching at her stomach, trying to pull her corset to loosen it by small degrees. It didn’t do any good. The gown was fitted too tight. “Ladies … do not … run.”

Henry said nothing. He looked into the distance, standing silent and still. His hand trembled. Suddenly, she realized how scared her brother really was.

After a moment had passed with only her heavy breathing sounding between them, she again straightened and threw back her shoulders. Turning wide eyes up to her brother, she saw that he didn’t even look at her. Fearful, she demanded, “Please tell me this is a prank, Henry. Please, tell me you didn’t hurt Alice. Where is she? Is she hiding in the trees? Is she to jump out and scare me? Is that why we wait?”

Henry looked stunned at her words. Slowly, he looked down the front of his frock coat and flicked wearily at a chuck that clung to him. Tatiana flinched as it landed unintentionally on her gown. Looking herself over, she saw that the dress was ruined.

“We must go,” Henry stated, sniffing. He again reached for her, grabbing her arm.

“Where are you taking me?” Tatiana whimpered, scared of her brother. She never knew him capable of hurting anyone. Though, if truth be told, she didn’t really know him at all. They’d been closer as young children, but he’d been away for so long, first to school at Cambridge and then his grand tour. Now she hardly ever spoke to him, except in dutiful letters her father made her write. “What’s happening?”

“I need you to take care of it,” Henry said, matter-of-factly, like a lord directing his servants.

“Take care of what, Henry?” she asked in horror. Tears filled her eyes and the long line of her mouth stretched back, pulling against her teeth.

“I need you to clean it. You’re a woman, surely you know how,” Henry stated. He dragged her through the shrubs. The thorns tore at her skin, scratching her, ripping her delicate evening gown beyond repair. “No one can find out about this.”

“I’m not a servant--” she began, only to be cut off by his vicious jerk and hard glare.

“You will do as I say if you value your station in life!” His wild eyes grew all the more desperate. “Would you see our family ruined for the sake of a maid? Would you see me imprisoned? Father so shamed he’d be forced to do himself in? You abandoned, turned out in the streets to fend for yourself as an unfortunate?”

“But I did not do anything … that,” Tatiana protested, her voice growing somewhat louder. Henry growled, raising his fist as if to hit her. He hesitated and she knew he couldn’t strike. Lowering his trembling hand, he gathered her forward into his embrace and lovingly kissed her forehead.

“Please, help me, Tatiana,” Henry whispered into her dark hair. He rubbed his cheek reverently over her silky locks, dislodging the flowers adorning them. “It’s too late to take back. I don’t know what to do. I need you. You were always the practical one, so smart. Please, Tatiana, don’t abandon me now when I need you most!”

Something snapped in Tatiana’s brain at his plea for help. The shaking in her limbs subsided and her heart slowed. She swallowed. Her world became a dazed dream. Lightly, she blinked, steadying her swirling vision. She ignored the smell of blood filling her nose, as she knew that her brother was right. She had to protect her family.

Taking a deep, calm breath, she silently nodded. Henry was honorable most days and this indiscretion was just an unfortunately bad day. It was too late to take it back. She wouldn’t see her family ruined by the death of a mere servant girl. She hadn’t done anything wrong. She wasn’t going to do anything wrong--not really. She was just helping her brother clean up a mess, a minor indiscretion. All fine gentlemen were allowed their little indiscretions.

“Show me, Henry,” she answered, her tone flat, dutiful. “Let me see what it is you have done.”

1 comment(s):

I've read this story and love it. Fantastic.

By Blogger glenna day, at 7:48 PM  

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