Slayer, Book 1
Sarah wondered whether he was going to be there tonight. She’d heard he might be and she was filled with both trepidation at finally facing him and excitement at the unknown.
“Thank you, Josie.” Her abigail had just finished dressing her and arranging her hair, a process which had taken over an hour and the young servant certainly seemed pleased with the results. “You’re welcome, Miss Sarah and don’t you look lovely? Break hearts you will.”
Sarah looked at her reflection in the mirror. “I doubt that but thank you, Josie.” She supposed she was passably pretty and the abigail had made the best of her looks.
“I wish I were in your shoes, Miss.” Her enthusiasm was obvious and Sarah wished she felt the same. “It must be so exciting going to a ball and meeting the fine gentlemen.”
“Yes, I can hardly wait,” Sarah lied. If only Josie knew how much she wished she could switch places. Her life was complicated enough as it was, without becoming a debutante, too.
The abigail took one last look at her mistress, and Sarah heard her sigh in envy before she left the room so Sarah could be alone with her thoughts.
Instead of feeling giddy with excitement, she looked sadly at her reflection. “You would be shocked to know how I really felt, dear Josie.” Her abigail had such a romantic heart and thought Sarah’s life as a debutante would be wonderful – full of parties and social occasions and dancing with handsome gentlemen. The reality was going to be very different and she tried not to panic over what was to come.
“What a hideously restrictive garment for one thing.” She frowned at the light cream-colored silk gown she had on in distaste and plucked at the material with her hands-pulling the skirt out as far as it could go, before morosely watching it fall back into place. The dress and the corset she was wearing beneath severely limited her movements and she panged after the boys breeches and shirt she enjoyed wearing for her nocturnal work which give her so much more freedom to move in.
Tonight was her launch into society and Sarah was not looking forward to it. Her ambitious parents were obviously keen for her to find a good match. The pristine girl in the mirror had been bred for it. “But I really don’t see the point in finding myself a husband, rich, titled or otherwise.” It wasn’t as though she was going to be alive long enough to have a worthwhile marriage or children. How she wished she could take Josie into her confidence, but the fewer people that knew what she was or what she did, the better.
Moving her head from side to side and looking at the flawless skin on her cheeks, Sarah was grateful that the bruises from last night had faded by the time she awoke this morning. “I can hardly arrive at a ball with bruises or a black eye,” she said to her unblemished reflection. “So I wonder how I’m going to hide them in future.” She frowned, marring the perfect image in the mirror and sighed. “It’s going to be even more awkward hiding my bruises for daytime social events.”
Wasn’t her life as the Slayer complicated enough, for goodness sake, without becoming a debutante? The pretty docile girl in the mirror just wasn’t her and she dreaded having to dance with insipid gentlemen, who had nothing better to do with their time than think about how complicated their valet should tie their cravat. “God, it’s already difficult sneaking out of our town house at night-slaying and then sneaking back in the early hours of the morning” It was a wonder she had never been caught. “Now I will have to leave routs and balls in the early hours to patrol, and come back even later.”
Sleep, or the lack thereof, was going to become an issue. Chewing her lower lip—a habit her mother deplored—and deep in thought, Sarah idly wondered if she could be rude to potential suitors and get thrown out of Almack’s? It would certainly solve the issue of attending most of the social gatherings. “But no, that simply will not do.” She perfectly mimicked her haughty mother. She couldn’t bring disgrace on her parents by causing a scandal, no matter how frustrating they could be. She would just have to make do for now and if things became difficult she would have to discuss another course of action with Lydia, her Guardian.
As a Guardian, Lydia kept all the journals from previous Slayers and Guardians so that they could learn about previous encounters with demons and vampires – as well as any myths and legends. It helped Sarah prepare for what she had to fight against and it was how they knew a Master Vampire existed and that he was supposed to be here in London. Lydia had been informed by the Guardian’s Guild that the Master Vampire was part of society’s elite and as such he might attend the ball this evening.
Sarah’s thoughts about meeting a possible Master Vampire were interrupted by a knock on the door and her mother entering the room. “Come along, Sarah. The carriage is waiting outside.”
“Coming, Mother.” She spoke in the demure little voice that she needed to use with others and how she hated being so meek and mild, but it was necessary to hide her true self.
As they made their way downstairs and out to the waiting carriage, Sarah listened in growing dismay to all of the instructions her mother was giving her in a voice devoid of maternal warmth. “And remember, Sarah, we want you to snare a titled gentleman. We have such high hopes for you.” Sarah inwardly cringed as the older woman continued. “You’re passably pretty and you have a large enough dowry to receive the attentions from the men I have in mind. If you are in any doubt about who to encourage, you must seek my advice immediately.”
“Yes, Mother. Of course I will.” Sarah responded meekly enough but inside she was seething as she was helped up into the carriage. Now, could that please be an end to it? She didn’t want to hear all about the suitors her mother had in mind because she didn’t intend marrying any of them. Her mother was relentless though and by the time Sarah arrived at the ball, her head was beginning to throb.
Once past the receiving line, Sarah was grateful when her mother let her sit with her blonde friend, Lydia. Luckily her friend’s family was well connected enough to meet the approval of her mother and so the girls were left to chat while the two mothers joined a group of matrons.
Glancing around to make sure they couldn’t be overheard, Sarah was unable to restrain herself any longer. “What have you managed to find out, Lydia? Is he going to be here tonight?”
Her friend frowned with concern. “I’m not sure. I have checked through all of the journals and they only prophesize the return of a Master Vampire, called the “Dark One,” who will hunt the Slayer.”
The “Dark One”—what a ridiculous name—and it was frustrating that the journals only held cryptic clues most of the time. Fiddling with the fan in her lap, Sarah hid a grimace. “So, the journals weren’t much help then?” The thought of a vampire actively hunting her was a cause for concern. “What about the Guardian’s Guild?”
Lydia sighed. “They can only tell me what we already know from them – this Master Vampire is part of high society and therefore he’s likely to attend the same balls and social gatherings we do. I’ve been informed they would like him captured rather than killed, if possible. I presume they mean to observe him.”
Sarah nearly snapped her delicate fan with her Slayer strength and felt Lydia reach over to rescue it. “Let me have that.” She took the fan out of Sarah’s strong grip and laid it on the seat beside her. “Oh, oops,” Sarah remarked when she realized what she’d been doing. She’d never been told to capture a vampire before and the notion didn’t sit well with her. “Do we have any idea what he’s supposed to look like?” Even a vague description would be helpful.
Lydia sighed, looking across the dance floor in front of them. “I’m afraid not. He could be here now, couldn’t he?” And Sarah knew that she was watching for likely candidates amongst the dancers. She shivered, looking at the dancers too, and then perusing the different groups of people standing around talking. “My Slayer senses haven’t tingled yet, alerting me to a vampire’s presence, so I don’t think he’s here yet.”
“And we assume they will tingle if he does arrive, so we’d better do the debutante thing and dance with some gentlemen.” Lydia sounded resigned to her fate and looked glumly at her dance card. “I’ve got a Mr. Brindle next. Do you know him at all?”
Sarah didn’t. “No.”
The two girls saw a young man coming their way, accompanied by Lydia’s mother, “Ah, it appears he has come to collect his dance.”
Trying to muster some enthusiasm for the occasion, but failing miserably, Sarah sighed. “We have hours of this ahead of us yet.”
She waited while Lydia’s partner was introduced to them both and her friend was whisked away, and then she looked up in horror as her own mother introduced her to a gentleman for her to dance with. Oh, God, the matchmaking had begun. Smiling prettily at her partner, while inwardly she felt like grinding her teeth in helpless frustration, Sarah took his hand and went onto the dance floor with him. Had her mother really approved of this man as a potential suitor for her daughter? He was old enough to be her father and had cold gray eyes. In short, he gave her the creeps, and she would have to dissuade him from pursuing her somehow. She hid a smile. Maybe crushing his toes a few times during the dance would suffice.
Two hours later, Sarah was sat beside Lydia once more, feet tired and her jaw aching from smiling sweetly at her dance partners. “I’ve had enough of mundane conversation about the weather and I’m desperate to leave soon. Is it too early for me to plead a headache?”
“It is a bit,” remarked Lydia with a smile of understanding. “Besides, you haven’t danced with Lord Patterson yet and I feel that you really should. I don’t think I should be the only one to have my toes bruised by him.”
Sarah smothered a giggle. “Don’t. All of the gentlemen handpicked for us by our dear mothers are either, insipid, ancient or toe bruisers.”
Lydia looked at her friend’s dance card. “Indeed, and you have Lord Patterson next, so do make the most of it.”
“Did I not mention that headache I felt coming on?” Sarah smiled wickedly.
“Don’t you dare!” Lydia said, swatting her friend on the arm with her fan.
“Ow—I’m only teasing,” assured Sarah. “I will suffer a dance with toe bruising Lord Patterson – just for you.” Then she looked at her friend and became serious. “I do need to leave soon though, Lydia. I should patrol the cemeteries and slay at least a few of the undead tonight, and so far there has been no sign of this mysterious Dark One.”
Lydia nodded. “True. But I’m sure you only need to make a quick sweep of the neighborhood for tonight. You need to get used to this change of routine and functioning on even less sleep than before.”
Sarah sighed. “I know. Life as a debutante is going to complicate things even further.” She glanced around to ensure they were not being overheard and leaned toward her friend. “For instance, I’m concerned how I’m going to conceal any bruises for daytime outings, but I’m sure we can find some sort of concealing powder for that eventuality. My healing powers normally work their wonders even after only a few hours of sleep.”
Lydia looked at her sympathetically. “Yes, we need to maintain a healthy balance between your role as the Slayer and your life as a debutante.” Then Sarah saw her cringe as someone approached. “We will have to attend enough social occasions to appease our matchmaking families, but you may be able to make excuses here and there so that you can catch up on sleep or have a full night’s slaying.”
Their conversation halted with the arrival of Lord Patterson and Sarah reluctantly took to the floor with him. It would appear that this lord was also an ogler of bosoms and Sarah couldn’t wait to finish this particular dance. And if a certain lord ended up with a few limbs missing, she couldn’t really be blamed, could she? After all, she would be doing women the world over a favor.
Looking away so that she didn’t have to watch Lord Patterson ogling her breasts, in between treading on her poor toes, Sarah wondered where this Master Vampire was. Why hadn’t he shown?
* * * *
She would be at the ball tonight. The Slayer.
Until now Dominic thought she was only a mythical creature that killed his kind, so imagine his fascination when he learned that she was only too real. The news had instigated his return to society. He had to see her for himself. He wanted to know if she was a ruthless killer, or whether she was flawed by human weaknesses. But most of all, he wanted a taste of her.
“What will your blood taste like, Slayer?” He wondered out loud, flicking a bit of lint off his jacket, as he prepared for the ball. “Will I be able to taste your Slayer power in it?” He couldn’t wait to find out and he was relishing a fight with her. Although, he was sure it wouldn’t last long because of how powerful he was. The chit didn’t stand a chance. Still, it would be an experience different to any other, would relieve his intense boredom, and surely her blood would taste unique? Aroused at the thought of the forthcoming intimacy he would have with the Slayer, of taking her into his deadly embrace and slowly drinking her blood, Dominic suddenly couldn’t wait to attend the ball. He called for his carriage and his servants jumped to obey him.
During the short carriage ride, Dominic’s thoughts turned once more to the Slayer. Tonight he intended to meet her and appraise his enemy. He certainly had no inclination to kill the chit at a ball – that would be in poor taste, and unlike other vampires, Dominic had his standards. He wanted the game to last a while, too. “I have come all the way back to London especially to meet you, Slayer.” She had better make his return worthwhile.
Arriving at Almack’s, Dominic descended his carriage unaided and made his way quickly into the hallowed halls. He had timed his arrival for maximum effect and Dominic reveled in the stares and whispers he received as he strolled into the crowded ballroom. One of the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s came up to him and he bowed a greeting. “Lady Jersey. You are looking as lovely as ever,” he drawled and was pleased to see her smiling at him. She never could resist a handsome rake and her approval would open doors to him again.
“Welcome, Lord Sandford.” She let her voice carry enough for onlookers to hear and know that Dominic had been accepted back into high society before she took his arm and turned him aside. “I never believed those dueling and gambling rumors about you and I owe you for helping my husband with a lucrative investment-but I need to know that you are going to behave tonight, my Lord.”
He looked down at her in amusement and gave her a wink. “Rest assured, my dear Lady Jersey. I shall behave myself. I may even look amongst your sweet little debutantes for a wife.”
Her eyes instantly held a calculating gleam. A reformed rake guaranteed the success of any occasion and she smiled at him. “Well, you have timed your return to society perfectly, my Lord. We have some notable beauties for you to consider this season.”
Nodding as if he would do that very thing, Dominic smiled at her. He had no intention of finding a wife, of course, but he needed to be able to attend Almack’s so he could look for the Slayer and in order to do that he required the sacred vouchers, which Lady Jersey could ensure he got.
Lady Jersey gave Dominic another smile before she left him and he saw her hurry over to the other Patronesses, no doubt to spread the word that he was looking for a wife. Had he done the right thing saying that? Now he would have every matchmaking mama throwing their daughters at him. He shrugged. He wouldn’t have to suffer it for long because he didn’t intend being in London for long.
Several of society’s elite came and talked to him. He made polite conversation while his eyes were constantly scanning the room for the Slayer. He finally found her on the dance floor with some clumsy young buck performing a quadrille. Her back was to him, but there was no denying her description—a tiny raven-haired girl.
Narrowing his eyes speculatively, Dominic felt cheated. That was his initial reaction. How did such a tiny chit realistically expect to survive against the likes of him, Master or not? Suddenly it didn’t seem a challenge anymore and he felt disappointed. A quick kill wasn’t what he was after. He wanted a decent challenge and he wanted to play cat and mouse with the Slayer a little first. Letting his guard down for a second and watching with renewed interest as the Slayer’s head turned a tiny fraction, Dominic revised his opinion of her. The movement was imperceptible to others, but his vampiric sight noticed it and now he knew that some sort of vampire sense had alerted her to his presence. There’s my girl. He was pleased that the hunt was back on.
Dominic watched the Slayer finish her dance and disappear into the crowd of people. He had a brief glimpse of her face when she quickly turned to scan the room where he stood and he felt a thrill of anticipation.
“Looking for me, are you, Slayer?” He was impressed. She was a pretty little thing with violet eyes and he liked the fact that she was scanning the room for a vampire – a worthy adversary after all. He suddenly wanted to talk to her and discover more.
“Excuse me for a moment, ladies and gentleman. I’ve just seen somebody I really must speak to.” Dominic smoothly extracted himself from the group of people surrounding him. He followed the Slayer through the crowd and was delighted when he saw her disappear through some doors into the garden. “Want some fresh air do you, my sweet?” he muttered, narrowing his eyes. Didn’t the blasted girl know what dangers existed out there? Vampires weren’t the only thing she needed to look out for. Men liked to corner a sweet young thing on her own in a garden – she should be more careful of her virtue. Perhaps he should explain to her.
Dominic stepped outside and followed the girl down a path and deep into the garden. Amazingly he could sense no other humans out here making an illicit rendezvous. It was just he and the Slayer. She was safe, for now. Then he looked ahead and was shocked that he couldn’t see her anymore. The damn chit had vanished.
“Why are you following me?” a husky voice demanded from behind him. Dominic had to admire her. The girl had been aware of him following her the whole time and had double backed to surprise him. He slowly turned around and faced the Slayer, liking what he saw. She was even prettier close-up. Holding up his hands to indicate that she was in no danger from him when nothing could be further from the truth, Dominic smiled. “I saw you come out here and wanted to warn you that you shouldn’t enter a garden at night on your own like this.”
The raven-haired girl looked him over as if totally unimpressed by him. “I’m aware of the dangers,” she scoffed and Dominic’s lips twitched. It was tempting to uncloak himself again and see how the brazen chit reacted to a Master Vampire instead. “And I’m curious as to why you felt compelled to warn me. Who are you?” she asked rudely.
“The Marquis of Sandford, at your service.” He gave a mocking bow.
The chit merely blinked, before raising an eyebrow skeptically at him. “Well, my Lord. Thank you for your concern, but I came out for some fresh air and I wish to be alone,” she said, dismissing him.
Dominic couldn’t help liking her. She had guts and he wanted to talk a little more to see what other insults she would give him. He couldn’t let her go yet. He was enjoying the fact she had no idea what he really was. “Aren’t you going to tell me your name?” he asked when she was about to turn and walk away from him. “It seems only polite under the circumstances.”
“No.” She frowned when he laughed. “We haven’t been introduced by anyone and I don’t think…”
“Come now. Take pity on the gentleman who cared enough about your safety to warn you about the dangers of entering a secluded garden. Tell me your name.”
“Miss Susan Smythe,” came the prompt reply. “Happy?”
“I’ll have to be.” But he knew the girl had lied. No matter, he would discover her real name later.
She was about to turn from him again when he stepped closer and he enjoyed hearing her little gasp of astonishment. He also saw a fleeting flash of awareness in her eyes for him as an attractive male and it pleased him.
“You should be more careful of your reputation, Miss Smythe.” He stared at her mouth. Such plump, soft lips and they were begging for a kiss. Perhaps he should oblige.
Violet eyes widened as he leaned toward her. “I should?” she asked breathlessly, licking those plump lips nervously.
“Indeed you should. I mean, what if you were found being kissed? Your reputation would be in tatters.”
For a moment, she stared at his mouth and started to sway toward him, but then she stopped herself and glowered at him instead. “As I have no intention of being kissed by you or anyone else, it’s really not an issue, is it?” she snapped. “Now, move out of my way. You’re clearly a rake and if you try anything with me you will instantly regret it!”
Dominic liked how her indignation and anger made her breasts heave in her dress. He was still admiring the firm flesh when she pushed past him and hurried off back down the path. Smiling he let her go. For now.
The game had begun.