1781, French countryside
A full moon shone brightly, glowing against the darkness of the night sky. A lone rider pulled his horse to a stop at the top of a hill and looked up at the moon. He appreciated the full roundness of it and the way it glowed in its opulence as if it were a prized pearl settled in the sky, waiting for someone to pluck it from the darkness that surrounded it.
Closing his eyes, he took in a deep breath as his horse snorted and stamped a hoof. Upon opening his eyes, he glanced around at his surroundings. The wind whistled through the trees, rustling the leaves and swaying the branches.
Stories fluttered around the nearest town regarding vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters, but he didn’t believe in any of it. Not even the rumor that his own father was a vampire. The man was old and greying, but so were hundreds of other people in the world. The fact that his father enjoyed strutting about in an ankle-length cape merely indicated the man was eccentric…and stylish. All eyes turned when he made an entrance.
Reaching down, the young man patted his horse’s long, graceful neck, then gathered the reins. Squeezing his legs cued the horse to move forward at a canter. It was a pleasant night, neither too warm nor too cool, with a gentle breeze whispering through the darkness.
It did not escape his attention that a lynx kept pace with his horse, running a few yards away, beyond the path. The first time he saw a lynx was startling, but throughout the years, he’d never been attacked. It seemed more to him that the large cat was curious, or perhaps looking for a companion to run with by the light of the moon.
He was unsure if the lynxes in the area were drawn to the full moon, or if they were simply easier to see by moonlight. Perhaps they always prowled at the edge of darkness, mostly unseen. He wasn’t even certain if it was the same cat or several throughout the years. Although, he’d once been told they tended to be territorial.
The large cat disappeared by the time he arrived back at his father’s grand estate and the young man didn’t give it another thought as he walked his horse into the stable, dismounted and pulled off the saddle. Normally, a servant would put the horse away, but they were all asleep at this hour.
After his horse was bedded down, he slipped into the house via the servants’ entrance, which opened into the kitchen. He grabbed an apple from a bowl on the counter and ate it quickly.
His eyes were sharp and he was able to see his way around without the aid of a lantern or candle. It occurred to him that he may have certain traits in common with the lynx. He walked silently up the stone steps to the upstairs hallway. He heard voices; his parents were arguing. In Italian. When he was a small child, he had been told that his father was originally from Italy. Most of their servants only spoke French. He stopped in the hallway outside his parents’ door and listened, catching only a few wayward words here and there. It seemed that his parents were displeased with each other, but he couldn’t catch the details.
Suddenly, the door burst wide open and his father appeared. The man’s grey hair stood out against the black cape he wore. He enjoyed his title as Count DiNozzo, and felt the cape made others immediately aware of his status.
The young man’s mother appeared in the shadows behind his father. “No, you must not harm Anthony! I will not allow you to hurt my son.”
“Elaina, this does not concern you. Be gone. I will deal with him,” said the count as he turned toward the young man. “Tonight, you will come into your fate.”
Anthony eyed his father’s signet ring. As a boy, he was told it would one day be his, when he had suitably matured. The tears in his mother’s eyes confused him, as they focused on each other.
In a swift move, his father attacked him, biting him savagely on the neck, as the young man struggled to fight him off and free himself. The deeper the fangs sunk into his neck, the more his strength was usurped until he collapsed to the floor. Paralyzed with fear, he helplessly stared up at his father; his vision blurred. Blood dripped down his father’s chin, leaving droplets dotting the stone floor. Anthony realized the blood was his own. Lifting his arm toward his father, he asked, “Why?”
“It is your destiny. And mine.” His father’s smile was evil and slick. A sinister glint twinkled in his eye as he jabbed a knife into his son’s abdomen.
Anthony struggled to breathe as he cried out in agony, “I don’t understand.”
“There is no need for you to understand. Your life will soon fade into a memory, which will evaporate over time.”
The young man blinked as he stared up at his father. The grey hair was gone, and the lines were fading from his father’s face. “What is happening?” he whispered as it became more difficult to breathe. His father’s face was fading away. Then something happened. The expression suddenly changed. Shock. Pain. Confusion.
Count DiNozzo dropped to the floor with a heavy thud, a bloody stake protruding from his back. Behind her husband’s body, Elaina stood with a heavy hammer in her hands.
Shaking her head, she said, “I had to protect you, my son. You must understand; it was you or him. I could not allow him to murder my only child. You deserve to live. He has had more years than most. It was his time.” Kneeling beside her son, she opened a vial she’d pulled from her bodice and poured a milky elixir into his mouth. “Drink. It will heal you.”
She remained with him in the cold hallway, holding his head in her lap and stroking his hair. When he tried to converse, she silenced him, promising to tell him everything later, when his health had improved.
He felt the warmth of the elixir coursing through his veins as he watched coldness take over his father’s body. Paleness covered the older man like a blanket. The younger man could see the stake his mother had hammered into his father’s heart, hitting its mark perfectly. Who knew his mother could summon such strength?
Again the young man looked up at his mother. “I don’t understand.”
“You have heard the stories around town?” she began.
“A few,” he admitted weakly.
“Some of the tales are true. Your father is,” she paused, biting her lip, “was a vampire.”
“They don’t exist.”
“Are you a vampire?” he asked, looking up into her green eyes; her face was framed by the blonde ringlets of her long hair.
She smiled down at him, her fingers still threading through his hair. “No, my love. I am a filii luna, a shapeshifter.”
“You can change into anything?”
“No. In my family, we appear as a member of the cat family.”
“A lynx? You’re the lynx?”
Her smile broadened as she nodded. “I wanted to watch out for you; protect you. I’ve always enjoyed our moonlit journeys.”
“Filii luna, that means children of the moon.”
“I am drawn to the moon, a child of the night, like a vampire. It is said that vampires are drawn to the filii luna and vice versa. As beings, we tend to find each other irresistible.”
“Are you immortal?”
“No. We live our lives and pass away. Vampires are believed to be immortal.”
“Is that why his hair turned dark when he drank my blood?” Suddenly, his eyes widened with panic. “Am I a vampire now?”
“We observed you growing up, Anthony, watching for signs of your true being; whether you were born a vampire or filii luna. I forbade your father from drinking your blood. The truth is, vampires can feed off the filii luna, and we will never become vampires. A child of a filii luna and a vampire can go either way. I have never seen you shift into a cat form. We will know soon if you have the vampire tendencies.”
“And if I do, I have to bite people and suck their blood?”
“To keep up your strength and vitality, you would need to feed on fresh blood at least once a month. But it doesn’t have to be human. You can feed on animals as well. And there is no need to worry yourself about it until we are certain.”
Anthony had pressed his hand against his knife wound, but now pulled it away and stared at the blood staining his skin. “Am I going to die?”
“The elixir will heal you. Give it time.”
“Why did father attack me?”
“He is known and aging. He wanted a new start. Mortals don’t live forever, so he has to hide the fact that he is not human. While vampires are immortal, they can be killed with a stake through their heart. They need to hide the fact that they are a vampire, lest the folks from the nearest town chase them down and do just that, drive a stake through their heart.”
The young man shook his head. “I didn’t even know.”
“He didn’t want you to know. He didn’t care if you were born a vampire or filii luna. He searches out wealthy men with money and power, then courts their daughter. He marries my kind and has children. When he has a son who becomes old enough, he kills them and takes on their identity. I didn’t want to lose you. I had to do what I did to save your life.”
“He was going to kill me?”
“And probably me, as I knew his secret.”
“The signet ring, he said it would be mine on my twenty-first birthday.”
Elaina lifted her son’s head from her lap and helped him to sit up. She then went to her husband’s corpse and pulled the ring from his finger. As she handed it to her son, she said, “It is yours now. He called it a ring of power, but I’m not sure why. I always thought it was merely a way vampires could recognize each other. Can you stand up?”
“Yes, I think so,” he said as he struggled to his feet.
Elaina helped him to his room and settled him into his bed, retrieving a cool, damp cloth to place across his forehead. “You must rest. I will return in the morning and we can talk some more. We will tell the servants that your father died of natural causes during the night.”
“Mother? You’re saying Father was going to kill me, then tell people that he was me? Has he done this before?”
Bowing her head, Elaina nodded. “Yes, he has told me as much,” Tears streaked down her cheek. “I just couldn’t allow him to take your life. I am so sorry.”
Anthony reached out to wipe her tear away. “Thank you. I am not ready to die.”
The next morning, Anthony’s health improved. Although, as the days passed, he became paler and weaker until his mother admitted she believed he was now a full-fledged vampire and would need to drink blood to retain his exuberance and vigor.
After his father died, people began to notice what a charming young man Anthony had become as he flirted with the young ladies of the town. As time passed, Anthony honed his vampire skills. At first, he found it repulsive to feed on living things, mostly small animals, draining their blood. He took care to do so at night when no one else was around.
The first time he tasted the blood of a servant girl, he got carried away. Once he began feeding, he was unable to stop as he lost himself in the warmth of her blood. Under the darkness of the night, he and his mother hauled her body out into a field. To protect him, his mother changed into her lynx-self and mauled the body so the girl’s family and the people of the town would believe she’d been killed by a wild animal.
He still enjoyed his moonlit rides and smiled as the lynx mirrored his journey, running freely in the darkness of night. They occasionally heard other nocturnal beings but pledged to protect each other, no matter what.
It wasn’t until his mother passed away six years later that Anthony decided to sell the monumental estate and use the proceeds to move to America and start a new life. He had followed the war between Great Britain and America. Now that it was over, and America had won her independence, he was certain there would be opportunities to be taken advantage of in the new country.
It was his intention to build a fine home in America, and then find a wife to fill the void of losing his mother. Before he left, he stood at her grave and grieved the loss. He regretted having to bury her beside her husband, his father. Over the years, he truly began to resent the man.
Once settled in his new country, Anthony learned and developed the art of seduction and persuasion. While he peddled himself off as a real estate mogul and art dealer, his wealth invariably came from the women he married.
Like his father before him, Anthony was drawn to women from the filii luna line of beings, and had learned to recognize them. And like his father before him, he’d taken to murdering his sons, only to drink their blood and take their place, their identities. It allowed him to live a variety of lives, relaxing in the wealth he obtained from his wives. He wasn’t beyond killing his wives as it suited him. Throughout the years, he never had any difficulty in charming another wife to his bed.