Authors: Mia James
‘Sod this,’ she muttered, wiping her face. She grabbed the phone and scrolled down to “Fee” and pressed “Call”.
There was a long pause, and just as April was thinking about hanging up, she heard her best friend answer.
‘Sorry babe,’ said Fiona, ‘Just playing high-stakes poker on the net. Had two pair – didn’t want to miss the bet.’
April laughed and immediately felt better. The world could be falling apart and you could always rely on Fee to be thinking about something else.
‘How are you doing?’
‘Oh, about a mil and a half up. Loads of idiots in Slovenia who don’t know a flush from a straight. Not real money, unfortunately, but one of these days when someone lets me have a credit card, I’ll buy an island in the Caribbean and we can all move there.’
‘Knowing my luck, it’ll be full of zombies.’
‘Ah, do I detect my favourite vampire hunter is feeling a bit down?’
April smiled. ‘You could say that. Sometimes it all just feels a bit too ... much.’
Fee clucked her tongue. ‘That’s only a natural reaction, hon. It
all a bit too much. You’ve basically got the weight of the world on your shoulders – if you don’t sort this crap out, we’re all going to hell in a hand basket.’
‘Oh, thanks for the uplifting pep talk,’ said April, sarcastically.
‘Sorry, but if your best friend can’t tell you the truth, who can? It’s serious, babe. I really don’t need to tell you that. People keep trying to hurt you, and, unlike my game, the stakes are as real as it’s possible to get. But even so, you can’t let it overwhelm you; let’s be logical here. Start with what’s most important to you.’
April thought about it for a moment. ‘Gabriel,’ she said, blushing a little as she said it. ‘I – I’m worried about him, Fee.’
‘Worried? What about? I thought you were all loved-up together now.’
‘We are – at least I think we are. But he’s been acting strange. He couldn’t remember what happened at Sheldon’s house that night. I can’t put my finger on why it bothers me, but it’s odd.’
Fiona paused. ‘Well ... the night of the fire was traumatic for him too, you know. He got set on fire, then had to fight the head of a vampire clan. It’s a lot to deal with.’
‘Maybe, but I’m still desperate to get him out of this dark hole he’s in. I—I just want him back.’
‘Okay, let’s work out how to do that.’
April shook her head. ‘It all just seems so impossible, like I’m weighed down by everything.’
‘I know, I know. But just take it one step at a time. What’s the first thing you need to do? To get Gabriel back, I mean?’
April looked down, thinking about Gabriel, seeing his face. And to her surprise, she didn’t think of the sleek, polished Gabriel, the dashing young man in the dinner jacket at the Spring Fundraiser – she thought of him as he had been that morning, sitting at the top of Primrose Hill: ill, grey-skinned, in pain. That was the real Gabriel. Yes, though frail and sickly, at the same time he’d been so real, so alive, someone who could register pain and cold and the passing of the hours. And she knew she had to do everything she could to get him – the real Gabriel – back.
‘We need to find the King Vampire,’ she said finally. ‘I mean, that’s the only way we can release Gabe from this curse.’
‘Good,’ said Fiona. ‘Then at least we know what our goal is.’
‘But how do we ...’ began April.
‘It doesn’t matter how,’ said Fiona firmly. ‘You don’t need to have all the answers. Right now, Gabriel just needs to know that you’re fighting his corner and that you’re doing all you can to save his life. Okay, so it’s going to be difficult, but the best way to get him out of that hole is to show him the way, isn’t it?’
Suddenly April fell much better – having it all laid out in such a straightforward manner really did put it all in perspective. And only in speaking about it had she realised how worried she had been about Gabriel.
‘Thanks Fee,’ she said. ‘Seriously, thanks.’
April loved that, despite being separated by hundreds of miles, her best friend still knew her better than anyone and could cut straight to the heart of what she was feeling. More importantly, April could see that Fiona’s no-nonsense approach might answer some of the other things weighing heavily on her too. Find the King Vampire and there was a good chance she might find out who had killed her father. And if they could stop the King, they might stop the vampires once and for all.
‘Of course,’ said Fiona, ‘There are a few
problems with your plan.’
‘My plan?’ smiled April. ‘I thought it was your plan.’
‘Well, if it works, it was all me. If not ...’ Fiona didn’t need to finish that sentence. If it didn’t work, there was a good chance there wouldn’t be anyone left to take the blame. ‘Either way, we do have the small problem of tracking down a man who has remained hidden for centuries, and who is probably surrounded by some of the most bloodthirsty killers to ever walk the face of the earth. Could be a tricky one.’
‘Maybe not that tricky,’ said April thoughtfully. ‘I think I might have an idea.’
April hung up and walked over to the little dressing table. She pulled back her hair to look at the star birthmark behind her ear. She was a Fury, there was no point pretending otherwise. It was time to do like Fee – bet heavily. There wasn’t really an alternative.
April banged on the door yet again, her palm beginning to hurt now.
‘Come on, come on,’ she whispered to herself, stepping back and looking up at the windows above the little bookshop. There was no movement, no twitching curtains; it could just be a store room for all she knew. Maybe Jessica didn’t even live here. April didn’t actually know very much about Jessica. No, that wasn’t true: April knew Jessica was a vampire and that Gabriel had turned her; she also knew Jessica was some kind of witch who knew about secret potions and hidden subterranean libraries. And she knew Jessica would understand her urgent need to locate the Vampire King. The one thing she didn’t know about Jessica, was how she would react to being woken up at quarter to eight in the morning – if indeed she was even in the building.
Maybe she’ll turn me into a frog,
she thought, peering through the shop’s little window with its dangling “Closed” sign.
‘April?’ She whirled around to find Jessica standing there holding a takeaway coffee in one hand and a supermarket shopping bag in the other. ‘You know we don’t open until ten?’ she said with a slight smirk.
‘Oh, ah. Yes, but I thought you might be in.’ She gestured up towards the windows above the shop. ‘I thought you might live here.’
‘I do,’ said Jessica, stepping past her with a set of jangling keys. ‘Just been out for some breakfast stuff. Is there something urgent you wanted to see me about?’
She pushed the door open and April followed her in.
‘Not urgent really, I just wanted to ...’ Actually, now she was face-to-face with the woman, she wasn’t entirely sure what she did want. Redfearne’s Bookshop was only five minutes’ walk from grandfather’s house – if she was so desperate for these answers, why hadn’t she come before?
Because you’re frightened what you might find, dummy.
After all, here was Jessica, beautiful and sophisticated, the owner of a mysterious shop filled with weird skulls and books on magic – and who knew way more about April’s boyfriend than she did. It was enough to make the most confident teenager insecure.
Jessica was looking at her quizzically.
‘Ah, I’m actually living with my grandfather now, just around the corner,’ said April. ‘So I thought I’d pop in and say hello.’
Jessica nodded, but her smile said that she didn’t believe this for a moment. You didn’t come and hammer on someone’s door at eight AM if you just fancied a chat.
‘Do you have time for a cup of tea?’ she asked, gesturing towards the back of the shop. ‘Have a perch by my desk.’
April sat awkwardly, clutching her bag on her knee, silently rehearsing what she would say as Jessica clanked around in the shop’s back room. What
she going to say? “So Jessica, you know all about the vampires. Can you give me the address of the King?” or “Can you tell why my boyfriend’s acting weird?” What was the etiquette here? Could you even go up to your partner’s ex and start asking about his behaviour? April didn’t have much experience in this area, but she suspected not.
Jessica came back out and handed April her tea in a bone china mug illustrated with a storybook picture of a fairy, then sat down behind her desk which was piled high with letters and packages.
‘You don’t mind if I open the morning’s post as we chat, do you? Very dull, I know, but paying the bills is all part of keeping this place afloat.’
April watched as the woman began opening envelopes and arranging the contents – usually books, no big surprise there – into piles.
‘So how are you feeling?’
‘After the fire,’ said Jessica. She inclined her head towards the shop. ‘My customers make sure I hear about everything even slightly unusual. I couldn’t have missed hearing about it if I’d tried.’ She blew on her tea. ‘They do have some strange theories about what happened.’
‘The wildest one was that it was a battle between opposing clans of vampires.’
April almost choked on her tea and Jessica laughed. ‘Don’t worry. I heard a rumour about dragons being kept in the dungeons at the Tower of London last week. The laws of averages mean that they’ll get it right once in a while.’
‘You knew?’ said April, her eyes wide.
Jessica shook her head. ‘No, not at all. I guessed Robert Sheldon might have another agenda beyond Ravenwood, but ... no, I had no idea that was going to happen to you – or to poor Annabel Holden.’
‘But if you thought something was happening with Mr Sheldon, why didn’t you say?’
Jessica slid a gold letter opener into another envelope and slit it open. ‘I have known – or rather, known of – Robert Sheldon for many years. He was always scheming, manoeuvring, always on the edge of something, but to be honest, I didn’t think he was dangerous. Or rather, no more dangerous than the rest of them. Clearly I was wrong.’
‘Did you know about Mr Sheldon through Isabelle?’
‘Isabelle?’ said Jessica, looking up.
‘Isabelle Davis. She went to Ravenwood, didn’t she? I thought she worked here too.’
Jessica gave a gentle laugh. ‘It’s funny how history seems to repeat itself over and over again. No, Isabelle didn’t work here, but she came to see me – or rather, she came to the shop asking about the
, as you did.’
April almost gasped. ‘So what did you tell her? Did you send her to the library as well?’
‘No,’ said Jessica, her expression turning serious. ‘Isabelle wasn’t like you. I told her I couldn’t help her and that she had to find it her own way.’
‘So why did you help me and not her?’
‘Because you were trying to help someone else; you were prepared to take a big risk in order to save someone you cared about and I thought that should be rewarded. And ...’ she paused. ‘I imagine that’s why you’ve come to see me again, isn’t it? To talk about Gabriel?’
‘Am I that transparent?’
Jessica smiled. ‘He’s the one thing we have in common, isn’t he?’
April looked down at the mug, absently examining the faded picture on the side. ‘It’s just that I’m worried about Gabe,’ she said. ‘He’s acting strange and ...’
‘You wanted to know whether it was normal, right? Is Gabriel being a vamp or is he just being a man?’
April gaped at her.
Could she read minds?
‘I know,’ said Jessica smiling thinly, ‘Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart, isn’t it – a psycho killer or a thick-headed idiot?’
She shuffled her letters into neater piles and smoothed them down on the desk. ‘Listen April, men are men whether they drink blood or not. All those love spells you read about in fairy tales –’ she shook her head ruefully, ‘– they don’t work, not on men anyway. They’re too self-absorbed by half.’ Then she looked up, her eyes meeting April’s. ‘Is he starting to get black-outs again?’
‘Yes! How did you ...?’
‘Never mind. How much time has he lost?’
‘He can’t remember much of the evening we went to Sheldon’s house – not the bit before I arrived, anyway.’ April had a sudden sick feeling in her stomach. ‘And now I think of it, he said he couldn’t remember much about the night Isabelle died, that night he saved me from the killer.’
Jessica looked at April for a long moment, then carefully put her letter opener down. ‘It’s happened before. Not for a long time – at least, not that I know of.’
From Jessica’s expression, April could tell this wasn’t good news.
‘What happened? I mean, the other times he forgot stuff?’
Jessica paused for a beat. ‘People died, April.’
April tried to draw a breath and found she couldn’t. ‘Do you think Gabriel was involved?’
‘Listen to me carefully, April,’ said Jessica, sitting forward. ‘I know you love Gabriel, but you have to understand who he is, what he is. He’s a vampire, he’s a born killer. Or at least he’s been turned into one and when he’s in the grip of the thirst, when he absolutely has to feed, nothing on earth should get in his way.’