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Authors: Freda Warrington

The Dark Blood of Poppies

BOOK: The Dark Blood of Poppies
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ALSO BY FREDA WARRINGTON

and available from Titan Books

A Taste of Blood Wine

A Dance in Blood Velvet

COMING SOON

The Dark Arts of Blood

The Dark Blood of Poppies
Print edition ISBN: 9781781167076
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781167274

Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First edition: May 2014

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Freda Warrington asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. Copyright © 1995, 2014 Freda Warrington. All Rights Reserved.

“Sword of Light” copyright Horslips. Used by permission.

To receive advance information, news, competitions, and exclusive offers online, please sign up for the Titan newsletter on our website:
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No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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This book is dedicated to our friends,
the Warringtons in the USA:
Freda and Ralph, Danny and Alisa and their families,
with love and thanks.

CONTENTS

Cover

Also by Freda Warrington

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Prelude
Ireland, 1704

PART ONE

1. 1926: Cruel Angel

2. Friends and Strangers

3. The Claws of the Owl

4. Moon in Velvet

5. Angels Falling

6. Appeasement

7. House of Thorned Vines

8. Prayers and Confessions

9. Red Like the Rose

PART TWO

10. Sword of Light

11. Silver, Close as Gold

12. Shadow Dance

13. The Claret-coloured Veil

14. Firebird

15. Avatar

16. A Ghost Among Ghosts

PART THREE

17. Vampire in Black

18. Swallowed in the Mist

19. Death and the Maiden

20.
Hieros Gamos

21. The Chalice of Crystal Tears

22. White to Contagion, Prescient to Fire

Envoi
Flame to Ice

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Coming Soon from Titan Books

PRELUDE
IRELAND, 1704

O
n the night the vampires came, Sebastian Pierse was thinking of vengeance, grief and fire. Perhaps it was his anguish that drew the vampires to him. He gripped his injured right arm but hardly felt the pain, or the hot blood running from the gash to mingle with rain on the cobblestones. With sweat and rain running into his eyes, he put back his head and uttered a raw scream of desolation.

His cry rang off the walls and was swallowed in the downpour. The courtyard was the heart of the magnificent house he had built for his wife, Mary, but in darkness it was forbidding: a roofless prison.

Eight years he had worked to create the mansion beside the River Blackwater: the grandest house County Waterford had ever seen. He’d dreamed of taking Mary from their draughty tower house to the residence she deserved. The house was days from completion. And now he was going to burn it to the ground.

He’d planned to name it Mary Hall after her. Not now. They would never live here now.

Nothing left but to reduce the dream to literal ash.

Sebastian stared at rows of lightless windows above him. His overwrought mind played tricks; he saw shapes moving across the panes.
Who’s inside? Those damned shadows again!

What will it take
, he wondered savagely,
to set this place afire? An English army, Cromwell’s or William’s, adepts at gutting tower houses and castles – where are they when they’re needed? Can one man do this alone, with only peat and firewood to set the blaze?

Yes
, he told himself.
I’ll burn the place, whatever it takes
.

But he could barely move his arm. He was shivering. His shirt clung to him, linen and lace soaked with watered blood.

When Mary had told him the truth in the old house, that primitive stone pile, he felt no urge to punish her physically. Nor even to seek out her lover and take revenge with a sword-thrust. No, his first thought was the house, symbol of their future. But in a few words his wife had turned the future to winter.

The child isn’t yours, Sebastian
.

The sight of her haunted him: her long, wheaten skeins of hair, the curve of her belly under a white chemise, her face blanching as she confessed. Her hand had groped for a pair of scissors, as if to defend herself, even though he’d never once shown her violence. Instead he’d run out into the night, across the fields and woods of his estate, as if running could purge the grief of betrayal.

Shadows followed him, like shapes cut from the night. All his life he’d been self-contained, unemotional – until tonight. Tonight he’d gone insane.

He had tripped on a rock, gashing his forearm. The cut went to the bone but he didn’t care.

After all we did
, he thought,
to keep our property out of English hands
! His ancestors were Anglo-Normans: Catholics who’d come to Ireland in the twelfth century and intermarried with the locals until their English overlords saw them as indistinguishable from the native Irish. Yet Sebastian’s family had resisted all attempts to confiscate their lands.

My forefathers bested Elizabeth and Cromwell
, he thought.
God forgive me, I even turned Protestant to outwit William of Orange. So much effort and sacrifice – for nothing! But if I have no descendents to inherit this house, I’m damned if anyone else shall have it. Not Mary, not my brothers, not some accursed English nobleman
.

He swayed, his vision blurring. Now the shadows were moving around the courtyard walls.

They’d haunted him for years. In the corners of the tower house, flitting between trees when he rode to see his tenant farmers, even writhing on the freshly plastered walls inside the mansion after the artisans had gone home.

Sebastian planted his feet wide apart to keep his balance. His heart pounded. The eternal presence of the shadows had shaped him into a brooding introvert who showed his wife too little affection.

“You are never here!” Mary had cried. “Always on your farms, or cloistered with your architects and builders. No wonder I couldn’t get with child. I never see you!”

What defence was that against the sin of adultery?

Set the fire
, he thought.
Quickly, while I can still stand.

The black sky split open and the rain became a deluge. Cursing, he ran, his boots slipping on cobblestones, to a cellar door behind the kitchen. There were logs and kindling in the cellar, he knew.
Wait until the rain stops
, he thought, lifting a latch and stumbling down the steps.
Then I’ll do it. And with luck I’ll die in the blaze
.

Inside the darkness was absolute, but he knew the cellar’s shape: a chamber like a long, curved tunnel with recesses for storage. Racks were set ready for beer barrels and wine. Just a store-room… yet it held an atmosphere of intense menace, like an ancient torture chamber. Sebastian sank against a wall, cradling his right arm. All he could see was a patch of stormy sky outside.

Then someone shut the door.

Hinges creaked. The strip of grey gloom narrowed and vanished.

Sebastian scrambled to his feet. “Who’s there?” He spoke in English and again in Gaelic. No reply. He started forward, then heard a footstep.

He was trembling as much with rage as fear. How dare anyone interrupt his plan? And why had he been foolish enough to rush out without a sword or pistol?

His arm was very bad now. He’d lost feeling in his hand.

“Sebastian,” the intruder whispered. A woman’s voice, with an unknown accent.

“Who is it? Show yourself!”

He saw eyes in the dark, a faint gold aura… Then came a wash of candlelight, painting the walls ochre and throwing lurid shadows from the feet of three overwhelming figures.

Sebastian couldn’t breathe. In that annihilating moment, all human concerns fell away.

Standing before him was a magnificent golden man with extraordinary yellow eyes, like a cat. He shone.

“Sebastian.” His voice was beautiful yet metallic. “I am Simon. Don’t be afraid. We have come only for your blood and your being.”

In blinding terror, he
knew
. This was a fallen angel, Lucifer robed in glory. And for his sins, they were about to dispatch him to hell.

He crossed himself with his good hand. The golden man laughed. His gaze fastened on Sebastian’s bloodstained sleeve.

“What have you done to your arm?”

In panic Sebastian looked around and saw the other two behind him, trapping him in the centre of a triangle. One was an attenuated man with snow-white skin and hair. The third, who held a candle, was female. He’d never seen anyone like her, even in Dublin or London. Her skin was dark brown like a nut, her hair a long fall of blue-black silk.

BOOK: The Dark Blood of Poppies
11.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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