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Redemptor Per Sanguinem

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Her Majesty The Queen’s relationship with her Prime Minister was one of understanding, wit and the deepest mutual admiration.

Victoria’s feelings for William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne were strong and not entirely definable, she conceded. They were somewhat intemperate even, and she considered – yearned, let us say – that something might occur which would prompt them to take another course altogether. His reciprocated affection for her was irrefutable – and not entirely unnoticed – but it nurtured and sustained her through the stress of her regency, which, must be acknowledged, was considerable.

Victoria could not imagine a life without her Lord M, of that there was no doubt.

And so, when rumours began circulating that he would soon resign from public office, it sank the Queen into a despondency which would not be shaken.

‘Ma’am … perhaps you should try to engage in a diverting activity,’ tried Emma Portman one October morning. The Queen had been sitting staring absently ahead of her for some time. Her Majesty sighed deeply and turned to her Lady.

‘I have no inclination for anything.’

‘A walk? A game of cards? A song at the piano, perhaps?’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, I told you, I have not the will for any of it!’

Harriet Sutherland continued gently. ‘Ma’am, what troubles your thoughts? You seem so melancholy.’

The Queen’s shoulders huffed in despair. ‘Oh, you know! I wish Lord M to remain in position! I cannot abide the thought of anyone else as Prime Minister.’

‘Well … he has been intending to give up for some time. I believe politics no longer holds the charm it once did,’ suggested Harriet.

‘But what else will he do?’

‘Well, Ma’am … there are many options available to him,’ said Emma.

‘At Brocket Hall?’

Lady Portman attended to her embroidery but quirked an eyebrow as she answered. ‘And beyond. Perhaps he will travel.’

This prompted indignation from the Queen.

‘Oh, he mustn’t! I wish him to remain in England.’

‘He is a widely travelled man, Ma’am. He enjoys experiencing new ideas and cultures. He would never remain in one place for too long.’

‘Why? Is there not enough for him here?’ Her Majesty’s annoyance was palpable. ‘Why ever would he not stay?’

‘For various reasons … one imagines.’ After this, Emma Portman pursed her lips and became coy. Victoria sensed there was more to impart.

‘Tell me.’

When Her Majesty insisted, there was no point in diffidence.

‘Lord Melbourne is complex, Your Majesty,’ said Harriet Sutherland.

‘I am aware of that, all too well.’

Emma added, ‘Some say he is more complex that anyone could imagine.’

‘In what way?’

After a glance at Emma, Harriet took up the conversation but glanced around first as if what she was to say was of the greatest significance and most secretive. ‘Some say … and it is only rumour and silly gossip by a very few of his oldest servants … they say he is – how to put it? – ancient.’

Victoria tutted. She had had enough of Lord M’s age being a subject of contention. ‘He is not that old! I am tired of this insult!’

‘I do not mean in that way …’ Harriet’s voice dropped, and she imbued it with a pointed import that made Victoria lean into her. ‘They say he is much older than he appears.’

‘What?’

She continued. ‘Lord Melbourne barely ages. It is a curiosity, and the staff at Brocket Hall imparted to my lady’s maid once the conjecture as to why this is.’

‘And why he is so spry and mentally agile,’ added Lady Portman.

‘He certainly is,’ agreed the Queen.

‘And so very good looking.’

Victoria blushed. ‘Well, yes, there is that as well.’

Harriet shuffled closer yet to Her Majesty and whispered, ‘They say he has a secret, one so dark and sinister that if it were to be revealed …’ Her voice trailed off but her intense gaze left Victoria in no doubt of its incendiary nature.

‘But here we are discussing it!’

‘Well, it is only rumour, Ma’am, and it was only after much insistence on my part that I managed to get my maid to tell me at all – the staff at Brocket Hall insisted on her discretion. In any case, I cannot myself believe it as it is so ridiculous!’ Harriet tried to turn back to her sewing.

Emma Portman was not so inclined to let the matter drop. ‘But when Harriet told me, I did think there were some curious correlations to his behaviour. For instance, he returns to his family seat at Brocket Hall frequently, he rarely, if ever, ventures out in bright sunlight … he never attends church …’

Victoria was conflicted and intensely enthralled in equal measure. Her heart rate had quickened and she pulled in rapid breaths. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. I thought him simply tested by faith, as he is entitled to be.’

‘That may be it, but it is strange for a Prime Minister to be so bold in his refusal to even go inside the places.’

‘What is this business of him not wishing to go out in sunlight?’

‘His kind, they say, cannot tolerate it.’ Harriet’s eyes widened as if she were implying some well-known fact.

‘His … kind?’

Harriet’s voice dropped so low that Victoria had to lean right in to hear her. ‘The rumour, Ma’am, is that he is … the undead.’

Victoria’s breath was robbed from her. ‘I … the … what?’

‘The undead.’

The Queen stared unblinkingly at Harriet Sutherland, who continued, ‘Specifically, Ma’am … that he is a vampire.’

Vampire.

The word pierced her mind. She had read stories as a child, books Sir John Conroy had confiscated when he’d found her with them. She had heard the servants talking about shadows and dark figures … Vampire … she had heard that word before … But these were fictional imaginings, surely, feverish fancies dreamt up by over-zealous minds. Never were they ever thought to be real.

‘I … no, how ridiculous. That is impossible.’

‘Of course it is,’ said Emma before adding slyly, ‘but his valet is convinced, apparently.’

Victoria was remembering the tales; they were returning to her, creeping up the stairs of her mind and back into the forefront of her consciousness. ‘But, vampires … do they not … drink blood by …’

‘Biting their victims? Yes, Ma’am.’

‘Does Lord M do that?’

‘Well, if the rumours are true then I suppose he does!’ Harriet offered a little giggle to diffuse the tension. ‘Apparently his coachman often picks him up at night from near the slaughterhouse. Perhaps he sustains himself that way.’

Emma gave a little tut, as if suddenly regretting the conversation. ‘It is foolish gossip, that is all. There is no foundation in it. Tittle tattle, idle fantasies. Put it from your mind, Ma’am.’

The women fell silent. But the colour had returned to Victoria’s cheeks and the light once again caught her eyes.

Harriet Sutherland dared to ask, ‘Are you shocked, Ma’am?’

Victoria did not move her gaze from where she stared out at the hawthorn tree across the lawn. ‘No … no I am not. Not at all. I am curious.’

--xoOox--

When the Prime Minister arrived the next day, Victoria was on her feet awaiting him with unusual glee, even for her. He came in and kissed her hand as usual.

‘Lord M … how are you today?’

‘Very well, Ma’am.’

‘Good, I am pleased to hear it.’ She stood, lips quirked in a half smile, studying him intently.

‘And how are you?’ he added, a little unnerved by her intense scrutiny.

‘Very well. I had a good night’s sleep.’

‘As did I.’

‘At Brocket Hall?’

‘Yes, Ma’am. I find it most refreshing there. But I do have to deal with Peel later. He is proving most wearisome. It is practically November, and he has not yet had one day off. He has not had the decency to contract even a mild cold, let alone influenza!’

She laughed. He made her laugh like no other. How she adored him! Had these rumours made her devotion to him any less fervent? Far from it. The weight of the monarchy sat heavily with her much of the time, but never in his presence. With him, all was well. With him, all seemed right. Their laughter and conversation was a balm to her very soul. She stared at him. He wore the dark frock coat which brought out the green of his eyes. He smiled back, that teasing smile she craved so much. He looked unfeasibly handsome today, it almost took her breath away. He really was the most beautiful man she could imagine.

‘Shall we ride out?’ she suggested. ‘It is a fine day.’

The details of Victoria’s conversation with her ladies lingered in her mind. A little test, possibly.

He glanced outside. ‘Perhaps later, Ma’am.’

‘Why not now? It is beautiful. The sun shines so brightly.’

He frowned slightly, a little wrinkle appearing between his eyes which she wanted to run her fingers over. ‘Hmm … It is a little too warm.’

‘It is autumn, Lord M! It is hardly hot!’

‘All the same, I would prefer not to.’

She tilted her head to the side a little and observed, ‘You rarely ride out in bright sunshine, Lord M.’

‘Well … I don’t like the glare, Ma’am. It makes me squint … most unattractive.’

She laughed and noted him mark her laughter – he liked her laughing, she knew. ‘Oh, you silly! You could never be unattractive.’ She crossed to him and smiled up, restraining herself from throwing herself against him.

This magnificent man she adored so much – the rumours made him only more fascinating in her eyes. For now, it mattered not to her what he was – he was here now and he was perfect.

‘Shall we settle to the dispatches, Ma’am?’

She gave a sigh. ‘If we must.’

He smirked. ‘You know we must.’

She moved to her bureau and they attended to business with their usual efficiency. When they had finished she stood up and found herself so beguilingly close to him she could feel his warmth.

‘Lord M …’ she murmured, giving him the full force of her gaze, her fingers tingling to touch. ‘What now?’

His eyes darted down to her collarbones then up along her neck and back to meet her stare. She offered him her most seductive smile. Oh, she felt a sudden rush of brazen wickedness! That curious stirring in her belly, which presented itself so often in his presence, began again, writhing and twisting to assert itself.

For a moment, she saw a look in his eyes, not his dutiful look of statesmanship this time, but another, a look she’d seen that night they’d danced at the Coronation Ball, the look she’d fed on once at the opera. For a time she thought he may indulge her, incline his head and meet her lips with his, but instead he drew in a shuddering breath and turned away. ‘As business is concluded, Ma’am, I could read to you, perhaps.’

Her disappointment was tempered by the excellence of his suggestion.

‘That is a splendid idea! I have just the book!’ She reached down to a drawer and pulled out a book she had been reading secretly for some time. ‘Sh! Don’t tell Mama or anyone that I am reading this. They would be most disgusted.’

She held it out to him. He frowned as he read the title. ‘Frankenstein.’

‘Indeed.’

‘Are you sure, Ma’am?’

‘Why should I not be?’

‘It seems quite curious for you to be reading this. This is a controversial title.’

‘What is controversial about it? I adore it. I pity the poor monster. It seeks only acceptance and love … as we all do.’

‘Indeed. Yet … this creature is a demon, surely.’

‘Is he? He strikes me as simply being misunderstood. In any case …’ She approached him again. ‘Is there not a little of the demon in all of us, Lord M?’

He averted his eyes. ‘Ma’am …’

‘Lord M … is there not? But it’s how we control it, how we use it which defines us.’

He swallowed hard and stared not at her eyes but at her lips, as if he were struggling with himself.

‘Read to me,’ she stated, not a request but a demand.

He met her eyes again, and once more she wondered if he would kiss her. She wanted it. She wanted it so much it burned. But instead he turned away, sat down, and opened the book at the page she had marked.

‘Chapter Nine.’ Melbourne cleared his throat and began. ‘Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear.’

Victoria listened as he read on, her senses drinking in his rich voice.

‘The blood flowed freely in my veins, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart which nothing could remove. Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more (I persuaded myself) was yet behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness and the love of virtue.’

She watched him carefully. He seemed to struggle with the text, but continued nonetheless.

‘I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures such as no language can describe.

This state of mind preyed upon my health, which had perhaps never entirely recovered from the first shock it had sustained. I shunned the face of man; all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation—deep, dark, deathlike solitude.’

At this he paused, and Victoria sensed his reluctance to continue.

‘You read beautifully, Lord M. I love you reading to me.’

He sighed a little. ‘This is not my usual sort of book, Ma’am. Give me Gilbert White any day.’

‘Perhaps you should read it properly. I enjoy it very much.’

‘Why, Ma’am?’

‘The same reason I gave you before. I like to explore the demon in all of us. If we can understand it, perhaps we can tame it.’

He sighed again and stood up. ‘I find I am not in the mood for reading, after all, I am sorry.’

‘Have I upset you, Lord M?’

He glanced from the window. ‘No, Ma’am, you could never upset me. Look, it has become overcast. The temperature will have cooled. Shall we ride out now?’

She stood and approached him and once more gave him the full force of her smile. He took it, she knew. His mouth ticked and his eyes shone.

‘Very well,’ she said.

--xoOox--

They rode out under a grey sky so different to earlier. But Lord M seemed content now. She looked at him as he rode. Those high cheekbones, the bright eyes. Were they part of his condition, of what he was? She laughed to herself. How foolish! She should not listen to gossip and rumour. It was ludicrous that she should even entertain the notion.

Victoria was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn’t notice the low hanging branch until it was too late. It scraped along her arm and tore right through her sleeves.

‘Ow!’ she exclaimed, pulling her horse up sharply.

‘Ma’am?’ he asked with immediate concern in his voice. Melbourne pulled about his horse and dismounted quickly by throwing his leg over its head.

He rushed over and helped her down. ‘What has happened?’

‘I brushed against that branch and it has sliced clean through my sleeves.’

‘Let me see.’

She held her arm out to him and he moved the torn material aside.

‘You have cut yourself, Ma’am.’

She looked down. Blood was seeping relentlessly from a nasty gash on the pale underside of her lower arm. ‘Oh, so I have. Dash it. It is bleeding awkwardly.’

‘Allow me, Ma’am.’

Melbourne reached for his handkerchief and handed it to her. She pressed it to the wound, which was deeper than she had realised.

Melbourne turned away, and she assumed he was embarrassed by her disarray. Or perhaps he could not stand the sight of blood. Her uncle had been that way.

She giggled in surprise. ‘Oh, Lord M, it is only a little blood! These things happen. Don’t tell me you are squeamish.’

He turned a little back towards her, but did not look at her fully. ‘No, Ma’am … I am not.’

She tutted. ‘It is a deep wound. I have caught it in an awkward place.’

An odd tension had overcome him. ‘Do you think you can ride back, Ma’am?’

‘I imagine so, but I’d like this infernal bleeding to stop first. I can wrap your ‘kerchief around it but I fear it will not suffice.’

Red blood was oozing from the wound with relentless determination. It stung and annoyed her but mainly she wanted him to soothe her and stroke it. He remained turned away from her and she noticed a pronounced rise and fall of his back as he drew in breath. His silence confused yet intrigued her also.

‘Lord M, can anything be done to stop it?’

At this he turned and stared hard at her, almost making her gasp. At last he stepped into her, and slowly, as if trying to resist, took hold of her hand. At the first touch of his fingers her heart juddered in that way it did near him. She glanced at him but he was staring down at the wound with an intensity she found curious. Melbourne brought his other hand to her arm and held it, turning it a little so that he could study the wound carefully, it seemed. Every sense in her body was attuned to each of his fingers pressing into her flesh.

‘What can be done?’

He said nothing, but she noticed the lurch of his neck as he swallowed. The deep breaths he were drawing in were more pronounced than ever.

‘Lord M? What do you suggest?’

At this his eyes rose to hers, and her breath was stolen from her. The green of his eyes was no less intense, but there was a darkness to his gaze which unnerved her, and something else, flecked within the green – surely not? Red ... She was unable to look away. He had never stared at her quite like this before and she found herself intimidated, almost fearful, but, beyond that, it made him more stunning than ever.

‘Lord M …’ Her breath was ragged. The words of her ladies came back to her … the rumours …

The grip of his fingers grew stronger and then, without a word, he turned his attention back to her wound and the blood which had now run in a stream of crimson along her pale skin. He emitted a sound, halfway between a gasp and a moan. It was the strangest, most alluring thing.

She found any speech gone. Something had taken hold of him which she had no way of preventing. But more, she had no desire to prevent it.

Victoria watched transfixed as he stared in total absorption at the wound. Then, slowly, he lowered his head and closed his mouth around it.

She gasped in with the utter shock. Melbourne held her arm tightly, so tightly she found bruises the next day. His lips were open wide around it, and she felt it – his tongue, grazing over it, licking it. And then more – he sucked. He drew on the wound, sucking on the blood oozing from it.

The sight alone was bewitching, and the feel of his mouth on her intoxicating, but then the most extraordinary thing happened: a ripple inside her, a tingle and a prickle, as if her veins were enthralled to him, giving to him, pouring towards him. And it felt so very, very good, like those brief moments she inadvertently touched that secret place between her legs.

Her head fell back and she moaned. Still he continued, long deep sucks, drawing the blood from her.

And then, after her head started to swim and she wondered if she could remain upright, he drew off with a groan and turned away quickly. Victoria stumbled and reached quickly for the tree trunk to prevent herself from falling.

‘I … I …’

‘Are you alright?’ he stuttered, still not looking at her. ‘You should perhaps sit.’

‘What … what did you do?’

‘I stopped your bleeding.’

She glanced at her arm. The wound was now pale and was indeed no longer leaking blood. But it was damp with the wetness from his mouth. She reached up curiously and touched it.

‘But …’

‘I have heard it can be tried, Ma’am,’ he muttered as if in excuse. He seemed at odds, as if he was recovering from an injury himself.

‘I am a little dizzy,’ she said.

He threw his head up again, his breath coming fast, his back still turned. ‘Rest a while here.’

‘Did you ... did you suck it from me?’

‘Yes.’

‘A lot?’

‘Perhaps.’

‘Was that necessary?’

‘I did what was needed.’

Her mind was befuddled. She tried to make sense of it. ‘But … it felt …’

‘What?’

‘It felt … good. It felt so very good.’

At this he turned to her and stared down, his gaze as penetrating as before. ‘Did it?’

She nodded. ‘Yes.’

He paused then added, ‘It felt good to me too.’

‘But …’ She pushed herself to her feet and in her dizziness stumbled a little. He caught her and held her under the elbows. ‘Why was that?’

‘I cannot tell you, Ma’am.’

‘You have … here …’ There was a streak of red at the corner of his mouth. She lifted a finger to wipe it off. He didn’t stop her. His mouth opened a little. His lips were a dark red and she realised it was from her blood. She drew the tip of her finger along them and his eyelids fluttered as she did so. ‘Did you drink the blood you sucked from me?’

‘Yes.’

She looked into him and she knew. It was true. She wanted his truth. She would take it and adore him even more.

‘Lord M …’ she said softly, almost inaudibly. ‘I have heard rumours … about you. About who you are … about what you are.’

He said nothing, but this time did not turn from her. ‘Have you, Ma’am?’

‘I have.’

‘And what is it that people say?’

‘That you are … different. That you are afflicted.’

He stifled a laugh, half in humour, half regret. ‘Afflicted … that is one way of putting it.’ He met her eyes. ‘And do you believe them?’

‘I think perhaps I do.’

‘You spoke of it yourself, Ma’am … the demon inside.’

‘It is true?’

He lowered his head and shook it, his expression one of deep confliction. ‘Ma’am … I do not wish to burden you with this. It is something I have lived with … for many, many years.’

‘How long?’

‘I cannot tell you. I must not tell you.’

‘Oh, but you must.’ She took a step up to him and her hands instinctively rose to his chest, which was strong and heated beneath her fingers. ‘I cannot have secrets between us. Lord Melbourne … tell me.’

He drew in a staggering breath, but then said quite plainly. ‘For 256 years, Ma’am.’

‘What?’ The shock hit her hard.

‘I was born, Ma’am, in 1560.’

The starkness of his sudden admission took her aback and she tried to make sense of it. ‘Lord M …! But how can that be … your mother was Elizabeth Lamb, your father the first Viscount Melbourne. I remember them when I was a child.’

‘People remember what is easiest for them. Elizabeth took me in at a time when I needed it. She knew of my affliction, as you call it, but I am not her son. It was easy enough to concoct a tale of belonging. People are easily convinced.’

Victoria stared up at him, trying to make sense of the revelation. ‘When people talked, I was not sure I believed them, and yet ...’

‘What exactly do they say about me?’

‘That you are … Oh, I cannot.’ She dropped her head. He held onto her arms and she was compelled to look up at him again.

‘Victoria … You know. Say it. Say what I am.’

She closed her eyes, but said the word. ‘You are … vampire.’

He barely paused, but ensured she was looking at him again before stating, ‘Yes.’

She half wanted to shake away the truth, but it somehow felt unnecessary. Her denial was almost a pretence. ‘But it cannot be. How?’

‘Your surprise is understandable. All I can say is that I had hoped to spare you discovering it.’

‘Why? Why spare me?’

‘Because … it is horrific.’

‘Is it?’

‘Ma’am? … Please.’

‘You do not seem horrific to me. You never have. Why should I not know the truth?’

It was his turn to look away. ‘But … the things I have done, Ma’am.’

She shuddered at the intensity of what he’d said. ‘What have you done?’

He closed his eyes. ‘Do not ask me that.’

‘Do you do it still?’

He did not answer.

‘But how? Why? I never knew such things were real, but when I look at you I know, I know it’s true,’ she continued.

‘Yes, it is true. I was killed in 1583. The only reason I am here today is because I am the undead … Nosferatu.’

She laughed. She couldn’t help herself. It was inconceivable. It was so extraordinary and inconceivable and ridiculous that she laughed. But she also laughed because she knew it to be true.

All those trivial things which had seemed so insignificant now made sense: the avoidance of sunlight, the need to retreat to the earth of his home, the frequenting of the slaughter house. And this. She glanced at her wound, the blood flow stopped by his relentless sucking.

‘You needed it,’ she stated plainly.

‘Yes, and I wanted it. It has not affected you, do not fear. I did not persist … and I did not pierce your skin.’

‘Pierce my skin …’ she repeated and wondered immediately how it would have felt if he had. It would have hurt dreadfully, no doubt, and yet still she was curious.  ‘But you do … to others?’

‘I have tried to sustain myself through the blood of beasts after slaughter.’

‘And that is sufficient?’

‘It is sufficient, but … it is not satisfying.’

The tingle was still there, pulsing through her relentlessly. Her breath was dragging. She asked, her gaze boldly turned his way. ‘Was my blood satisfying, Lord Melbourne?’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’ At this he met her eyes again and her desire almost upended her. His voice was deep with his own truth. ‘Your blood was exquisite.’

She believed him. She knew it. ‘When you sucked, when you drank from me … I felt that too … exquisite. Why is that?’

‘I do not know, Ma’am.’ But she felt he knew all too well. She took a pace towards him and forced him to respond.

‘I wish to know. Why does something which should be about pain, which could lead to death … feel so wonderful?’

He said eventually, ‘It is a connection, Ma’am. It is about sharing ... joining.’

‘I see …’ She did not entirely see, but she knew she wanted to.

He took a step back from her. ‘You will be missed at the castle. We should return now, Ma’am.’

‘Yes … I suppose we should,’ she sighed.

Silently, absorbing this new state between them, they mounted their horses and began the ride back.

As the castle came into view she asked boldly, ‘Is this the reason why you wish to resign?’

‘I cannot stay in one situation for too long, Ma’am. When you have lived as long as I have, you need frequent changes and challenges.’

‘Is being Prime Minister not challenge enough?’

He smirked. ‘I thought it would be, hence why I did it.’

She laughed. ‘Not everyone can achieve such a thing with the ease you did!’

‘Well, with great age also comes great experience, and I suppose, a modicum of charm and intelligence.’

She teased his arrogance. ‘But not modesty it would seem.’

He laughed and once again their easy relationship struck them both. She held his eyes and his smile and he returned it freely.

‘I had never thought to tell you,’ he said with a sigh. ‘I had hoped to protect you.’

‘From what?’

‘From the darkness of my true self.’

‘Are you so dark, Lord M?’

He offered a small, sad smile. ‘I hope not with you, Ma’am.’

‘And you think I have none of the dark in me? I did not choose to read Frankenstein on a whim, Lord M.’

He laughed a little. ‘You and I, Ma’am, despite our difference in age –’

‘More than I ever realised!’

‘Indeed … but, despite it all, we are so very similar, I have always thought.’

She met his eyes again and the connection between them struck her profoundly. ‘And you think it still?’

‘I do.’

‘As do I.’

‘I do not like having secrets between us. I am glad you know, Ma’am.’

‘So am I. Lord M, of one thing I am certain … no matter who you are, no matter what you are … I will never let you go.’ And with that she turned and cantered away ahead of him.

--xoOox--

Melbourne stared after her.

She knew. She accepted. His adoration of the woman sank ever deeper into his being.

But lingering on his tongue was the taste of her. That tang of her rich, red blood had swum around his senses from the first moment he had placed his mouth around her wound. He had known she had cut herself as soon as he pulled the horse round; the smell of her blood wound instantly into his nostrils and compelled him towards her. He had tried, but the lure of it was impossible to resist. Her blood, the blood he craved beyond all else, there before him for the taking. At the first taste of her he had known true pleasure, even from the little he had taken, sucked from her smooth, soft skin. He had kept his fangs hidden from her, but they had emerged, desperate for more. How easy it would have been, how delicious and perfect, to twine his arms around her and hold her captive, to tilt her head back the exact amount and expose that beautiful, pulsing neck to him. To lean down and sink into her pale, giving flesh.

It was only with the restraint that he had honed over the years, with the love he bore her, that he had not.

And it was not only her blood he craved, but her slight, giving body. Oh, she wanted him too, he knew; she made little attempt to hide it. He could have all of her and she would give herself willingly. The palace and the castle offered many hiding places and opportunities. How easy it would be to take her exactly as he wished, exactly as she wished, for he knew she would be as curious sexually as she was in all other matters. His cock had been lividly erect throughout the encounter in the wood, and once again he allowed himself a modicum of pride at his restraint. He had, after all, been born a gentleman all those years ago, and in many aspects hoped that he remained one. That was the conceit, anyway.

But the agony of holding back! How it had pained him!

He had not been entirely truthful. The animals from the slaughterhouse provided his daily sustenance, true, but the desire for living human blood was a constant cry which could not be entirely ignored. He had recently, and admirably he felt, restricted himself to the more villainous elements of society – the thief who had gone for his knife and would surely have stabbed Melbourne first; the lowlife he had found beating a child with his studded belt; the brothel mistress who chained the women who did not indulge the every hideous whim of their clients … He had had to. The craving was too great.

And now he had tasted her. Perfect, luminous, throbbing her.

As he watched her canter off from him, he dug his heels into his beast’s flanks and urged it into a gallop. He would catch her.

For having tasted her, he now, of course, would have to take more.