This story takes place between chapters 22-29 of A Time of Demons and Destiny (click here to buy on Amazon or read on Kindle Unlimited). It is set from Lucas’s point of view during his courtship of Juniper St. James who he knew as Cat at the time. Spoilers for that book. Bon Appetit!Sami Valentine
February 24, 1893
The Cock’s Comb Pub
Lucas hid his dagger before he stepped into a corner pub in Whitechapel.
Young drunks and old streetwalkers swilled cheap beer at the scuffed bar counter. A few girls danced to an off-key piano in skirts that barely reached their stockinged knees. They gave him a wink, some with genuine interest. He was certainly the cleanest man who’d walked into the Cock’s Comb Pub in weeks. In a clerk’s simple suit, he looked too respectable for this place, but not so much that his presence would be memorable. It wouldn’t do for anyone to remember him when the constables came later.
He retrieved a farthing from the pockets of his old black wool coat, which had long ago faded to gray, and handed the coin to the barkeep. “A pint, mate.”
“Aye,” the barkeep mumbled as if he was as deep in his cups as his patrons.
Lucas sipped the bitter brew when it was presented. He’d tasted worse. His dead body didn’t accept solid food, but he was bloody grateful that alcohol was still on the menu.
At the end of the bar, four hooligans with curled mustaches and pomade in their hair toasted each other. Their gaudy suits were in eye-watering plaids of bright yellow, green, and red favored by the rough young men of slums who defied the somber dress code of their betters. An older man with fuzzy muttonchops growing from his cheeks leaned in whisper to them.
Lucas kept that set of oiled muttonchops in the corner of his eye. He’d followed the loathsome human here from the Boyd Street workhouse.
A gruff burst of laughter rose from the hooligans. One said, “So, that is what the redhead did with you? Wraxall, you randy dog.”
Another said, “Maybe I can find this girl.”
Lucas drank his beer, resisting the desire to crack the glass over that buffoon’s head. Wraxall would regret telling that story tonight. He’d learn a painful lesson soon.
The vampire didn’t understand why he had gone to Boyd Street earlier at sunset. He had risen, thinking of Cat, the intriguing redhead at the Mayfair Club, and her story. He hadn’t been so enamored with a human since Ioana in Romania years ago. As he searched the street for his latest meal, his feet had drifted to Whitechapel. He strolled into an alley behind the workhouse before he recognized he found it. There were over a hundred inmates within the building. Each one would be a perfect meal: alone, despondent, and too poor for the constables to care about their deaths.
The redhead poker dealer was a rose growing in a manure heap during her stay in this dismal institution.
Deeper in the alley, a grumpy-looking woman with beetled brows stood under a fire escape ladder. A tin badge on her chest was etched with the letter B. Her ink-stained fingers fumbled with a batted matchbook to light a cigarillo.
“Allow me,” he said, lighting his own match for her smoke before igniting his own. He put on the hang-dog look of a tired working man. “It was a long day for me. What about you, miss? You must be a staffer at this charity house, judging by your badge.”
“Y-yes.” She looked shocked at his attention. Her heartbeat quickened as he could smell her body’s growing reaction to him. Most women didn’t complain about meeting him without an introduction. He hadn’t realized that he was attractive when he was alive, too full of human insecurities to see it and carry himself better with his dress and posture. As a dead man, he exploited that strength.
She said, “I’m a secretary.”
He smiled as appealingly as he could. “Then you might be the right one for my questions. I’m a private detective and I was told a pretty redhead recently dwelled in this house. She left amid scandal if you can recall her.”
“Oh, her? I can’t say that I bought the tale that Mr. Wraxall sold to the administrators. She seemed on the verge of tears every day. Hardly a seductress. But she was asked to leave, anyway.” The secretary pointed to the mouth of the alley where a man walked past, his long facial hair blowing back in the breeze. She whispered, “That’s Wraxall.”
“Tell me more,” Lucas said. She had revealed everything he wanted to know as they smoked. His interest in the petty rumors surprised him. Maybe he wanted to confirm that Cat was truly honest. Immortal as he was, he still wasn’t the introspective type and didn’t pick at his intentions more. His inner demon told him to feed.
He had left the alley then, deciding to save his appetite for Wraxall as he tracked the man to the Cock’s Comb.
Lucas finished his pint when the workhouse supervisor departed for the street. The vampire lurked at a distance behind his prey through the wandering pedestrians and the wagon horses. His hunger grew. An odd thought rose through his bloodlust. He would be a hero to the women of the Boyd Street for freeing them of this pest. He was a villain through and through, but the idea charmed him. It wouldn’t be the first time he killed a human that deserved it.
Wraxall sauntered onto a road known for its painted ladies that wasn’t far from Boyd Street. How many of the women here were expelled from that workhouse without a chance at mercy?
Lucas moved quickly, appearing at the human’s side as if by magic. He rested his arm over Wraxall’s shoulders. “Let’s have a chinwag.”
“I’m with the Franklin boys,” Lucas said, referencing the gang that ran a gambling house that Wraxall preferred.
“I don’t owe them.” Wraxall flinched as if he were expecting a beating anyway. The secretary had been right about his habits, after all.
Lucas tightened his arm until he had the human in a chokehold and directed him into a shadowy lane between the two tanneries. “Is that what you think?”
Two streetwalkers fled at the sight of them like startled pigeons. The city noises of carriage wheels and millions of heartbeats echoed against the brick tanneries. Wraxall’s cries was lost in the din. “Release me—”
Lucas struck, slamming Wraxall’s head into the wall with a pleasing crack. He dug his fangs into the man’s neck. His bite paralyzed his victim as the blood flowed down his throat. He felt almost righteous from the deed. He drank until Wraxall’s knees buckled and pulled back to laugh at the dumb mute stare on the man’s face. “We can’t have you dripping everywhere.”
Fear and blood loss froze Wraxall.
Lucas wrapped a scarf around the bite mark then dragged his staggering victim down the lane like he was escorting a drunk man home. “This isn’t over yet.”
Wraxall moaned, eyes were unfocused like his brain was addled. He didn’t even recognize the alley behind the workhouse when they entered it. “Where are we going?”
“Where you can be found, my good man. You like to gossip, don’t you? We want everyone to know your new reputation—killed for a gambling debt like a scoundrel.”
Lucas slipped his dagger out of his pocket as he tugged Wraxall’s back against his chest. He sliced the man’s throat, letting the blood spurt over the whitewashed side of the workhouse. “You should’ve been a gentleman to Cat.”
Wraxall died at his feet. The vampire strung him up on the fire escape ladder. It would be hours before anyone found the macabre display.
With a full belly and a sense of accomplishment, Lucas swaggered out of Whitechapel. This was a gift for a unique lady, but she couldn’t know it was from him. What else could he offer to start his courtship with Cat? She mentioned reading as a pastime. He could give her a book.
Mortal women preferred them to bodies.
February 28, 1893
The Mayfair Club
Next Tuesday, Lucas arrived at the tournament and scanned the gaming tables at the Mayfair Club for the redhead. She dealt a game to two men that he knew and one, Reginald Fitzroy, that he wished he didn’t.
Fitzroy was the kind of aristocrat that made one think the French were right about their guillotines. He slapped the green felt-covered table. “Hurry, girl. You’re the slowest dealer on the floor.”
Lucas slipped into a free chair at her table, determined to beat Fitzroy to see the big man fume about it. A few rounds later, he had to stop himself from breaking the other man’s arm for daring to try to slap Cat. For a woman who was said to cry daily at the workhouse, she had more poise than expected in the face of threats.
When the tournament ended, he lingered at her table until they were alone. He felt like a green lad when he looked at her. “Did you like my gift?”
Juniper gazed at him like he was wonderful. He knew she wasn’t thinking of anyone else but him. It made his dead heart clench. She bowed her head modestly. “Yes. Thank you.”
“Which of the Byron poems did you like best?” He could guess if she lied, but he was curious if she had read beyond the first poem. “I assume ‘She Walks in Beauty.’”
“That is pretty, but I was struck by ‘The Darkness,’” she said. It was a fascinating choice for a maiden her age and one of the last poems in the book. She must have read it cover to cover.
“Darkness had no need. Of aid from them—She was the Universe,” he recited the last line, then promised to see her soon. If he stayed with her, his demon would have demanded that he feast on the fetching creature. He departed to the main corridor.
Delilah Byrnes waited for him outside the gambling room, leaning against the threshold. The blond in a blue gown was beguiling as any woman working in this brothel. He frowned to see her. She said, “So, this is where you’ve been. We barely see you at home, Lucas.”
“By design, I assure you,” he said, passing her.
She strolled beside him. “That doesn’t hurt my feelings, but maybe your sire might take offense.”
“She is too busy under your husband.”
Delilah laughed. “They have been like rabbits, haven’t they?”
He ground his back teeth. She was so vexing to argue with because the usual insults meant little to the proud harlot. “I’m hungry, so I’ll bid you good night.”
“Make your own lair if you must, but don’t forget where you came from.”
“How could I?” Lucas went to the attendant standing behind a Dutch door at a coat closet. He snatched his coat as soon as it was offered. Ignoring the vampiress following him, he left the club to hail a horse-drawn cab at the curb.
“Independence will taste sweet. Enjoy the taste,” Delilah said as a hansom cab rolled to a stop in front of them. She climbed into the passenger seat, stealing it for herself. “To the Scorpius Hotel,” she said to the driver.
Lucas chuckled at her cheekiness. It was as much approval as he would get from her. As the eldest of his vampire clan, the small endorsement meant more than most. This reprieve would last as long as it was convenient for her, he was sure. He meandered towards Crawford House. One day, he would rename the townhome that he’d inherited from his father. He had resented the place once, but it had become more of a sanctuary in death than when he was alive.
It was his hideaway whenever he was in London.
He leashed his demon as he entered the townhome, where a dozen human servants slept inside. Some had served him since before his father’s death. They were told he was his own son, returned from a lifetime abroad. Whether they believed, they kept their mouths shut about his looks. He was a strange breed among vampires. Most wouldn’t understand why he had persisted in his communications with his living relatives. He made excuses about how his trusted cousins managed the family fortune for him, but money had never driven him.
This home and its people were his private world away from the pell-mell mayhem behind the Dark Veil. He was the sole master here. The tranquility soothed the beast within him more than he would’ve confessed to his sire.
He felt like a different demon this London season. A restlessness had driven him from the Scorpius Hotel, where his vampiric family made their lair. He wearied of who he was around them. At the Mayfair Club, he carried himself as he wanted to be—free. Twenty years had passed since his death. He wasn’t a fledging anymore. It was time that he struck out on his own.
He wouldn’t fail this time as he had before in Romania.
Lucas crept into his library. Wouldn’t Cat love it? The odd notion made him smile. Yes, she would. This was the home where such a flower belonged. Perhaps he could invite her over to peruse his collection. He’d have to keep her hidden as his own delightful secret.
Tomorrow he would speak to her madam. Everyone in London had a price. What was the redhead’s?
March 7th, 1893
The Mayfair Club
Lucas danced with Cat under the string lights on the deck of the river cruise. Her green skirt flared as she twirled. A smart black cap perched over her forehead. Elaborate braids wrapped around her high coiffure as loose red curls spilled down her shoulders. He repressed his natural speed and agility as they waltzed. He could move quicker than the musicians by the dance floor could play. She still thought he was a normal man.
He didn’t know how to tell her he was a monster. The illusion felt too sweet to break.
Immortality hadn’t brought him patience. He wanted what he wanted as soon as he wanted it. Yet, he tamed his desire for her as much as he slowed his feet to match her pace. Instinct told him to savor their courtship. He had seen a vision of a new life in London where he was his own man with his own lair and his own lover. A life where he wouldn’t have to share his treasures with another.
He kissed her hand when the song ended. “You danced divinely, kitten.”
“How many times did I step on your feet?” Cat giggled at herself with a refreshing lack of pretension.
“A few,” he said. She was more honest than he was. He loved that about her.
“Let me catch my breath. Oh, look at that view,” she said, guiding them to the rail of the ship. The Thames reflected the city lights in dull streaks of yellow and orange. His eyes could see farther than hers to the dingy shore, where homeless mud pickers trawled for whatever rubbish drifted up in search of something to pawn. To a human, the darkness would have obscured the lesser sights of London. She was far prettier.
The cold breeze off the water made her lean against him for warmth. He removed his coat, wrapping it over her shoulders. “It looks better on you.”
“I’d look good in a suit.”
He smiled at the jape. A woman in trousers? She was funnier than he realized at their first meeting. “I’m sure you would. I’ll call my tailor if you like.”
“He can’t be that good. I have a theory about gorgeous—” she paused as if she realized that she might have insulted him.
“You have a theory?”
“It’s a simple one. You’ll laugh, but I suspect tailors aren’t as diligent when they know their client is perfectly handsome. No one will notice the fit if they’re looking at the face.”
“So, you find me perfectly handsome, then?”
She rolled her eyes affectionately, as if he were slow. “Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Yes,” he lied. He’d purposefully taken her to places where there weren’t mirrors to reveal his difference from her.
“Then you should know that you make the clothes look good and not the other way around.” She nodded discreetly to a pig-nosed bloke in a fine jacket across the dance floor who talked with a young buck of equal class in a similar suit. “They must be friends. Probably have the same tailor. See the differences in how their sleeves drape over their arms?”
The piggy faced one had the superior cut, as if the tailor tried his best to make up for what God had given his client. “Spot on.”
“I sewed a lot at the workhouse.”
Lucas held his smirk as he thought of Wraxall. He’d ensured that the rumors about his death were scandalous, to shred whatever reputation that the man had possessed. “That is your past. What is your future?”
“I don’t know,” she said, turning to stare at the water again. A worried furrow deepened between her delicate brows. She seemed annoyed that she didn’t know the answer.
“I suppose no one does. Our decisions make the future. Such as the decision to allow me to call on you again.” He had asked his question after each of their evenings together. His coin paid for her time, but he still waited for her to say no.
“Of course.” Leaning on her tip toes, she whispered in his ear. “You can kiss me in the carriage.”
When the boat returned to its dock, he made good on his promise. He left her breathless before they returned to the club so she could sleep. Her scent lingered in the closed coach when she left. Leaning back, he folded his arms behind his head. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow night to surprise her with another dinner.
He hadn’t had this much fun in London in years.
April 3rd, 1893
Lucas nuzzled his girl’s neck as they wrapped around each other in bed. He had thought he lost her when she fled the Mayfair Club weeks ago. She was where she belonged in Crawford House with him. It had taken some doing and some killing, but his new life in London had settled into domestic bliss. She still hadn’t the inkling of what he’d done to keep her from the streets.
A sudden awareness prodded him. Quinn Byrnes was in his lair.
Lucas growled, throwing the covers back, and darted into the hallway. He had to get the servants out before Quinn slaughtered them or they witnessed too much that could get back to his living relatives. As he trotted downstairs, he pointed to a maid in the front hall. “Tell the other servants to leave through the back, Myrna. At once!”
He rushed into the study to confront the big burly blond man who sat in Lucas’s favorite chair as if it were his. His lordly bearing was intolerably smug. Smirking, Quinn said, “What a lovely home you have.”
“You know the rules about another blood drinker’s lair.”
“As if that applies to blood family like us.” Quinn shook his head in a mocking rebuke. “You persist in this charade with these humans, pretending to be one of them. It’s pathetic. I thought I beat this out of you in Romania.”
Lucas’s fangs jutted from his gums, slicing the inside of his lip. His inner demon roared in anger. “Piss off. I’ll throw you out and you know Delilah will laugh to see it. She isn’t overly fond of her golden boy right now, as I recall.”
“She is miles away. Your courtesan is upstairs. I am loathed to be crude, but you know what will happen if you don’t return with me. Wasn’t Ioana in her bedroom when I twisted her neck?”
“In the parlor,” Lucas said. The confession slipped from him in a burst of regret. That dark night in Bucharest would repeat and he couldn’t beat his elder in a true fight. He never had. Oh, how he had tried before and was beaten into submission time and time again.
“If you vex me too much, I won’t be as gentle with this new one as I was with Ioana. Now, tell me I am welcome in your lair.”
“I welcome you,” Lucas said bitterly and looked up at the ceiling, willing Cat to stay in bed. He had tried to be free. He should have known it would be a fleeting mirage. If he did what Quinn wanted, she would live. He hoped… She wouldn’t be like Ioana. He might lose his independence, but he wouldn’t lose her.
Would she still want him?
He knew that before the night was over that Cat wouldn’t see him as a hero anymore. She’d see the villain that he’d always been. The illusion would shatter.
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