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Authors: Freda Warrington

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BOOK: A Dance in Blood Velvet
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Medium height and broad-hipped, Maud was beige from head to foot. Even her hair was the same beige as her cardigan, plain skirt and buttoned shoes. She was in her twenties, unmarried, almost pretty but for protruding blue eyes and overlarge teeth.

Holly wanted to like her. After all, it wasn’t Maud’s fault she lacked charm, a sense of humour or even natural tact. Everyone was different... Maud unfortunately came across as a flat-footed soul with a streak of cunning, someone who failed to rouse fondness in others and didn’t care. At this moment, however, Holly was perversely glad of her company.

“Oh, is that a Bible?” Maud exclaimed, reaching for the Book. “I love the Bible, don’t you? It’s such a comfort.”

Holly swept the Book out of her reach. It was a clammy lead weight against her stomach. “No, it’s one of Ben’s.” She hurried out with the volume and locked it in the study. When she came back, Maud was crying.

“Are you all right?” said Holly in astonishment.

“I had a feeling about your friends,” Maud said, sniffing loudly. “I knew something was wrong. I’m psychic, you know, terribly psychic.”

Holly bit her lip to stem inappropriate laughter. She gave Maud a handkerchief and watched her drying her false tears. Maud often expressed such claims. Although she had only the vaguest knowledge of the Neophytes, she was always angling to join. “I’m psychic, terribly psychic,” she would confide to the bookshop customers. And once she had turned to Holly and asked plaintively, “Why do people call me ‘Miss PTP?’”

“Thank you, Maud,” said Holly, “for helping to cheer me up.”

Maud looked at her, her face suddenly frozen. “You are peculiar, Mrs Grey. I don’t mean to offend, but you don’t always behave...”

“Oh, how should I behave?”

“Well, you shouldn’t laugh when people have died. And... if I had a husband like Mr Grey, I would
never
question his judgment.”

Holly’s mouth fell open. “Did Ben tell you to say that?”

“Of course not - but men know best, don’t they? Life is happier if we obey them, as we obey God. You look a bit like a witch with your cat, Mrs Grey. It might give some people the impression you aren’t altogether Christian, although I’m
sure
you are.”

“Well, that’s no one’s business but mine.” Holly spoke brusquely, too tired to be properly annoyed. “I assure you, there’s nothing amiss between my husband and me.”

Maud’s stern look softened. Another giggle, a quick dip of her head between her shoulders. “Oh, I know. I spoke out of turn.” Her tone became ingratiating. “I’m sorry.”

“Go back to work,” Holly said wearily. “Mr Grey needs you more than I do.”

As she saw Maud out, a flood of unease hit her. She couldn’t grasp the cause, and a moment later it was gone.

That evening, when Benedict came home, he went into his study and stood resting his hands on the Book’s cover, deep in thought. Holly watched him from the doorway in the dim red-gold light. She said, “Thank you for sending Maud. She was the soul of tact, as always.”

He winced. “Sorry. I felt bad about walking out when you were upset. Was she awful?”

“It’s all right. She made me laugh. Miss PTP.”

“I know she has her quirks, but she is a good worker. She’s envious of you.”

Holly was mildly shocked by this. “Why? Silly woman. Unless it’s because I’m married to magnificent
you
, and she isn’t.”

“Does that mean I’m forgiven?” he said, smiling. “Come here.”

“Move away from the Book first. I don’t like it.”

“It’s just an old book, darling.”

They hugged; she smelled the papery, leather scent of the shop on his waistcoat. Ordinary books, comforting. How warm and solid he felt.

Eventually he said, “I’m going to see Lancelyn tomorrow.”

A twinge of anxiety. “What will you say?”

“That’s what I’m working on. I’ll give him a chance to clear himself - but I won’t take anything less than the truth.”

“And will you return the Book?”

A pause. His lips narrowed. “Not yet,” he said grimly. “I haven’t finished with it.”

* * *

Katerina sat wrapped in blankets on a chaise longue, propped up by pillows. Her face, though still ghastly, was filling out into recognisable shapes, her hair acquiring a tawny sheen. Although she hadn’t spoken, her gaze roved the room, taking in everything.

Charlotte tried to accept her presence with grace.

Katerina had been Karl’s friend. For his sake, Charlotte should be happy to help, but unease gnawed at her. All she could think was that the sooner Katerina recovered, the sooner she could leave.

Over the past few days, Ilona had brought several victims to the house for Katerina. Rich drunks she’d picked up at theatres, innocent working men and women whom she had hypnotised or simply kidnapped. She delivered them with a kind of businesslike glee, watched Katerina drink each one dry, then casually helped Karl dispose of the corpses.

Karl supervised the process sombrely, showing neither regret nor pleasure. He never killed if he could help it; but if it could not be helped, he was capable of frightening ruthlessness. Katerina’s recovery was his single-minded pursuit.

Charlotte would have assisted the bloody process if they’d asked, but was immensely glad when they did not. Her duties were to bathe Katerina, to wash blood from her lips, to keep her comfortable and sit with her when Karl was absent. She did them all, but with a sense of wrongness that bordered on resentment.

Hour after hour Karl sat with Katerina, stroking her forehead, holding her hand, talking or reading to her.

Katerina was a brooding presence in the house. Suddenly all Karl’s attention was focused not on Charlotte but on her.
It won’t be forever,
Charlotte told herself. She wanted to please Karl by helping him nurse his poor sick friend; she wanted to share his joy at Katerina’s rebirth. But finding no joy in it herself, she felt guilty.

Often she went onto the balcony to escape the taut atmosphere of the house. She stood at the rail, poised above the dark-green cloak of forest, watching the great trio of mountains sparkling in the distance: the Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch. Once the spring thaw began it came quickly; the white meadows turned green, then to a riot of pink alpen roses, purple violets, blue gentians. Lake Thun and Lake Brienz unfroze and began to dance.

She thought,
Why is it one law for me, and another for Katerina? I am not allowed to take even a mouthful from a willing guest, yet he’s dragging people here for Katerina to kill outright! Of course, I know there’s no choice. She can’t hunt for herself. I’m being unreasonable... but all the same I hate it and I want her gone.

Why can’t I be gracious about a wretched, sick friend of Karl’s? Wouldn’t I do anything for him? Yes, anything.

It’s not forever.

With a soundless compression of the air, Ilona appeared beside her, stepping from the Crystal Ring. A slight, elegant figure with shingled mahogany hair: Karl’s beauty feminised.

“You look miserable,” Ilona said bluntly. “Have you quarrelled with Karl?”

“We don’t quarrel,” said Charlotte.

Ilona gave an acid smile. “That would be too human. But you can’t stand having that sick woman lying about the place, can you?” Ilona was brittle, venomous, unpredictably cruel. Karl had turned his daughter into a vampire because he’d been unable to bear the thought of her growing old. His motive had been love, but Ilona had hated him for it. She’d even killed Charlotte’s sister Fleur, just to hurt him. Yet there was a complicated affinity between her and Charlotte that neither could explain. Charlotte was not vengeful by nature. Settling the score with Ilona would border on hypocrisy, since Charlotte had chosen to join their dark clan. So they maintained a fragile truce. In her heart, she would never forgive Ilona for Fleur, but she pushed her rage and grief to a corner of her mind where it lay dormant.

For now.

“I wish it hadn’t happened,” Charlotte sighed. “But now she’s here I can’t expect Karl to turn her out for my sake. I shouldn’t even think it. I’m being selfish, but I can’t shake off the feeling.”

“Why should you? I’d feel the same, but I wouldn’t be so noble. While he’s out -” Ilona mimed an axe-blow.

“What are you talking about?”

“For heaven’s sake, why are you agonising about this? You’re jealous. It’s perfectly normal.”

“No!” Charlotte said, too vehemently. “I don’t wish her harm. I just wish she wasn’t here.”

“But you’ve every reason to be jealous.” Ilona spoke in a confiding tone. “Karl and Katerina were very close, you know.”

“How close?” Charlotte asked before she could stop herself.

“Ask him.” Ilona grinned. “No, don’t ask. Just watch them together.”

Charlotte knew what Ilona was doing, but fear rushed through her regardless. She suppressed it. “You’re trying to cause trouble,” she said calmly. “Don’t. It won’t work.”

Ilona shook her head. “Oh, Charlotte. You’re such a fool for love. God, you even have to fall in love with your victims before you can feed! It’s terribly sweet, and terribly... bloodless, if you’ll excuse the phrase. You’re missing so much!”

“I don’t think so.”

“You try so hard not to frighten them, let alone kill them. I’m amazed you don’t send a written apology afterwards! Karl is as bad. Seizing strangers so their faces don’t haunt him.”

Stung, Charlotte said, “Is your way so superior?”

“God, no. It’s worse. It’s horrible,” Ilona said with relish. “Don’t you know? I like to seduce mine. No, I mean really seduce them, make them fall in love and drag me to their beds. Haven’t you discovered what fun that is?”

“I’ve no desire to. It would be repulsive.”

Ilona nudged her. “I only do it with attractive ones, darling. God, they’re such fools! If they please me, I’m kind; I keep them for a few months before I kill them.”

“And if they don’t please you?”

“I let them live.”

“Is that unkind?”

“Mutilated, most men find it intolerable. I feed from the part that has most displeased me, you see.”

Charlotte made a noise of revulsion in her throat.

“So squeamish?” Ilona laughed. “I despair of you. But don’t change, Charlotte; you’re so funny.”

No point in arguing with Ilona; it only made her worse.

Charlotte said, “What I don’t understand is why you are helping Karl. When I first knew him, he said you hadn’t spoken for years. You still act as if you loathe him at times. Why help Katerina now?”

“Because I’m enjoying myself,” Ilona replied. “He’s always been too fastidious to kill on his own doorstep. What fun, to bring victims here and see their blood staining his carpet, while he has no choice but to condone it.”

“Was Katerina your friend?”

“Never. I hated the bitch.”

“You hate everyone.”

“Not you, dear.” Ilona put an arm around Charlotte’s shoulders. “However, if Katerina comes between you and Karl, that will be even more amusing. They invented the word
schadenfreude
for me, didn’t you know?”

“I don’t believe a word you’re saying,” Charlotte murmured. She shrugged Ilona’s hand from her shoulder. One glance seemed to dissolve Ilona’s mockery. The humour bled from her face and voice.

“Aren’t you curious,” said Ilona, “to know how Katerina escaped from the
Weisskalt
? Something is happening. Did we imagine that we could kill Kristian without consequences?”

CHAPTER FOUR
THE EBONY GATE

T
he morning was fine, the cool air loud with birdsong. Benedict decided to walk rather than cycle to Lancelyn’s; the extra time would help him to collect his thoughts.

The small town, Ashvale, lay between the rugged, bracken-covered hills of Leicestershire in the east, the mining villages of South Derbyshire in the west. Ben’s cottage was off the main street, while Lancelyn lived downhill on the opposite side of town, in a large red-brick Victorian villa set in its own grounds.

There was little traffic about in Market Street; a few horse-drawn carts and delivery vans, cyclists, a crimson tram crossing the bottom of the road on its way to the station. Roofs shone under the ice-blue sky, trees were netted with faint veils of green. Ben enjoyed the stroll but his superficial confidence gave way to anxiety when he thought of confronting Lancelyn.

The truth was, Benedict didn’t know his brother well. Lancelyn was eighteen years older, and had left home before Ben was three. All Ben recalled was a faceless youth who’d had constant shouting matches with their parents. He remembered hiding in his room during the fights.

Why Lancelyn left, he didn’t find out for years. His parents refused to discuss their elder son. As far as his mother and father were concerned, Lancelyn was dead. It was only through tactless relatives that Ben knew he was still alive.

So to Ben, his older brother became a figure of mystery. His parents, strict and religious, discouraged his friendships with “rough” boys in the village, so Ben created an invisible playmate: Lancelyn.

In those days, they lived amid wild hills near the Peak District in Derbyshire. Their huge, eccentric folly of a house never felt like home to Ben. It was more like living in a cathedral. The rooms were of bare stone, cavernous and echoic, with huge stained-glass windows in every room. On the dullest day there was colour, while sunlight threw floods of ruby and emerald light over his father’s collected paraphernalia: brass candlesticks, incense burners, painted icons in starbursts of gold, crimson velvet cloths, paintings of the Madonna and saints. In later life, Benedict realised that his father had loved the trappings of religion as much as he loved God Himself.

This rare atmosphere of symbols and colours, of naked stone and lush rich cloths, permeated Ben in a strange way.

His father was a schoolmaster who always walked the two miles to school with his son. Ben lived for weekends, when he could venture out alone to explore. He loved the hills rising through the mist, their near-vertical flanks grazed by sure-footed sheep. Streams and waterfalls poured over rocks in the valley below the house. There were rumours of caves, too, although he never found them.

BOOK: A Dance in Blood Velvet
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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