Read After Midnight Online

Authors: Colleen Faulkner

After Midnight (3 page)

"I agree."

"Because I'm a woman," Emily continued her well-rehearsed version of a suffragette's speech, "that does not mean that my eye is not as well trained, my hands not as steady."

"Most certainly."

"I employ this minor deception—" Emily continued.

"Emily—" Ruth tried to interrupt.

"No, I am
forced
to use this minor deception because—"

"Emily," Ruth repeated from across the table. "He's agreeing with you. You'd better shut up while you're ahead."

Emily glanced up to see Ruth's eyes twinkling with amusement, her wine glass poised at her lips.

Emily's gaze naturally reverted to her employer. She wasn't prepared for a man who agreed with her. She had no speech for that. "If… if you concur, then why—"

"I hired a male rather than a female for my own reasons." He sipped the wine that was the deep red purple of blood. "Good reasons."

Her eyes widened. "What? A woman shouldn't pursue a career, even if she is talented?" That argument she had heard, from her own father.

"I dinna say that."

"That I would be better off at home, an apron tied round my waist, and my husband's children at my feet?"

"I dinna say that either." Mr. Fraser spoke louder, more agitated.

"Or is it merely that I should not be traveling without a male protector, for surely—"

"Miss MacDougal!" The Laird of Fraser Castle rose from his chair, the heels of his hands pressing on the table. He leaned toward her, his masculinity frighteningly evident. "You speak of that which ye know nothing of."

She rose to lean across the table, not caring if it was an unlady-like gesture. She never was very lady-like to begin with. "Then tell me what I don't know. Why are you so angry?" Imitating his stance, she brought her face only inches from his. "Why don't you want me here?"

"Because it's not safe."

Emily laughed, but she was not amused. She was tired of the sexist manners and opinions of men. In two years the twentieth century would be upon them and she was determined to be a twentieth century woman, to lead the way for other women. She looked directly into his intelligent, but somehow haunted, eyes. "I assure I'm not afraid of you, nor your loping manservant."

Gordon Fraser drew back his sensual mouth. "It is not safe, Miss MacDougal, for you, nor your companion, because I am a vampire."

Ruth, who Emily had all but forgotten, burst into laughter.

Emily blinked, certain she had not heard what she thought she heard. "Pardon?"

He lifted his hands off the table and walked away. Emily remained standing.

"I don't want you here because I am a vampire, Miss MacDougal. I am one of the living dead." He turned to face her. "Surely a well-educated woman such as yourself knows what a vampire is."

"Count Dracula," Ruth whispered.

Emily flashed her friend a reprimanding glare to silence her. She would handle this. Emily was accustomed to eccentric men. Most of the gentlemen who employed her were outlandish in some manner or another, by reason of wealth or age or both. One of her English employers had bathed only in wine vinegar thinking it a youth elixir. Another, in California, had owned a pack of spaniels whom he called his children and who all dined at the dinner table along with him, each possessing his own Louis XIV chair. But this was the first client she had served who thought himself a vampire.

Emily clamped her hand on her mouth to keep from giggling. There was no need to be rude—after all, she was to be this man's guest, like it or not, for the next month. "A vampire, sir?"

"A vampire." He began to pace. "Not because I want to be, but because I was a victim." He brushed back his hair in a most tantalizing way. "I'm cursed."

Ruth, too, had covered her mouth to suppress another fit of giggles. She nodded to encourage Emily.

Emily returned her nod and sipped her wine. "Cursed, you say?"

"Aye." He paced, making grand gestures. "I can't believe I'm telling ye this, but I don't get many visitors."

Ruth leaned on the table, propping her chin on her hand, watching as if she were at a performance. "I can see why… you being a vampire, I mean. Not because you're not rich and handsome."

Gordon Fraser sighed. "It's so difficult for a man to keep something like this inside," he explained.

Emily would have laughed again at such words coming from a man, but there was a sincerity in his voice that tempered her.

"I didn't want to be a vampire," he continued. "I was a farmer's son. We were forced to raise arms against the English. I was on the battlefield, minding my own business, killing Englishmen, when I saw one of my fellow Highlanders fall."

Emily couldn't believe she was listening to this nonsense, and yet she couldn't
not
listen.

"I laid down my broadsword to drag him off the battlefield. In the fog and confusion of the battle I became disoriented. I left him to go back for my sword when suddenly he appeared before me. I struggled, but his strength was inhuman. He bit me and drew blood." Gordon brushed back his silky black hair to bare his neck. "Here."

Emily saw no mark… not that she was expecting teeth punctures or anything as silly as that. "He bit you?" She wondered what had gotten into her. If she was going to spend the next month in this lunatic's home, she certainly shouldn't be encouraging him.

"Aye." Gordon turned to face her, as if he thought she was being taken in by his ridiculous story. "He drank my blood. I died, and then I came back to life as a vampire myself."

Ruth helped herself to another glass of wine. "Bet that made you angry."

"Aye. I was very angry, I have to confess, so angry that I killed him. I'm not proud of the fact, but it's true."

"Then what did you do?" Ruth said. "Drink the blood of everyone else on the battlefield—Englishmen only of course," she conceded with the show of her palms.

"No." He seemed quite insulted. "I did what I had to do. I came here to this island and made it my own.
I imprisoned myself here so that no other would come to harm because of me."

It was Emily's turn to chime in. She just couldn't resist. "So you're a vampire that does
not
drink blood."

"That's impossible," he stated flatly, almost painfully. "It's against our nature. And that is why you are in mortal danger, my dear Miss MacDougal."

Emily didn't believe in vampires. Not werewolves, nor mummies, or even witches with black cauldrons, but for the ones in the Shakespearean collection she had restored. But for a moment, one fleeting moment, she almost believed Gordon Fraser was a vampire. He appeared so sincere that she believed
he
believed he was a vampire.

Emily decided to play along, perhaps because she felt sorry for the self-imposed hermit, or perhaps because he was so damned attractive. "You fear you're going to bite me?" she asked. "That's why I'm in danger?"

"Aye," he exhaled. "Well, not immediate mortal danger." He began to pace again. "I have mostly been able to curtail my innate tendencies, but every century, on the eve of the anniversary of when I first became one of the undead, I must have human blood."

"Or what?" she whispered, feeling herself drawn in, against her will, to his delusion.

"Or I will die an agonizing death."

Emily felt herself shudder. Then she realized what he was saying… and how ridiculous it was. She smiled tenderly. "Mr. Fraser, I don't know who has filled your head with this nonsense, but you are not a vampire."

He strode toward her. "But I am. Ye must believe me. And ye must flee as soon as ye can."

She decided to play along, rather than argue. She
still wanted to lay her hands—her restorative touch—on the Gutenberg. "But the mail steamer won't be here for another month. Won't my companion and I be safe until then?"

He reached out his hand, as if he were going to touch her, then pulled away. "Aye." He went on with more confidence. "Aye, ye should be… ye
will be
. But you must go on the next steamer. My anniversary is but a month and a day from today." He returned to his seat at the head of the table, and Angus appeared toting covered plates.

Emily leaned back so that the manservant could serve her. Wondering if she should expect raw liver or worse, she was pleasantly surprised to see what he revealed beneath the cover. Apparently vampires not only drank the blood of humans, but also dined on poached fish, boiled new potatoes, and fresh green beans.

She returned her napkin to her lap. "Out of curiosity, Mr. Fraser, what had you intended to do with the man you thought you had hired?"

He passed her a wooden trencher of fresh bread. "To allow him to restore the Gutenberg, of course."

"And then?"

"Drink his blood."

Ruth picked up her fork with a shrug. "Of course."

"And when he did not return to the mainland?"

The Scottish laird took a bite of the fish. "A fishing boat accident." He shook his head. "Tragic."

Emily sampled the fish. The amazing thing was, Gordon Fraser didn't sound crazy, just what he said was crazy. "And how old are you… in vampire years?"

"The calendar is the same, I assure you," he said loftily. "Roughly six hundred."

Emily nearly dropped her fork. "Years?"

Ruth made a sound that distinctly resembled a snort of laughter.

"Aye." The Scotsman lifted the trencher. "Another bit of bread? Angus is a better baker than a fisherman."

Emily shook her head. "No, thank you." She grimaced. "So if every one hundred years you must take a life, the next one… in one month and one day will be your—"

"My sixth." He nodded. "Precisely."

Emily leaned toward her host, the vampire. "And what explanation did you offer for their deaths?"

"Fishing accident, of course."

"Of course," Ruth echoed.

"Because I am forced to partake only once every century," Gordon shrugged, "no mortals live to realize a man dies of a fishing accident off my island every one hundred years."

She smiled patronizingly, as fascinated by the man as by his delusion. "What of your manservant? Why have you not eaten him?"

Gordon grimaced. "Please, Miss MacDougal, we are dining." He took a swallow of water from a Venetian crystal goblet, as if to wash away the gruesome thought. "I am a vampire, not a cannibal. I do not
eat
my victims. I merely drink every drop of blood from their bodies."

"Phew." Ruth reached for the wine bottle again. "You had me frightened there for a minute, Gordy."

He flashed a handsome smile at Ruth. "You're very funny." He looked back at Emily. "Your friend is very funny."

"Thank you," Emily said, at a loss as how else to answer.

"You're welcome." He smiled again, but this time the smile was all for Emily. Then his expression changed to one of surprise. "As for your question, I could nay drink the blood of my manservant. Who would poach the fish?"

"Who indeed?" Emily cut a new potato in half and stabbed a piece into her mouth, still expecting to wake from this absurd dream at any moment. The potato was delicious and moist with a hint of the flavor of thyme.

"Well." Gordon wiped his mouth politely with his napkin and allowed Angus to remove his plate. "Since you're here, I suppose we should make the best of the situation."

Emily sat straighter in her chair, smiling. "You mean the Gutenberg?"

He pointed with one slender finger. "Wait until you see it, my dear."

If Emily hadn't known better, she would have thought the Scotsman was flirting with her. Not that she'd ever had much experience with that. She left all the cooing and eyelash batting to Ruth.

"Let me tell you how I obtained the masterpiece," he said.

She leaned forward, filled with excitement. She could tell by the sparkle in his dark eyes that he was as fascinated by the rare Bible as she was. At this moment she could have cared less if Gordon Fraser thought he was a vampire or President McKinley.

Chapter Three

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