Charlotte finally meets Draven.
Forgive the ending. I had a plan but then I got sick and now I’m scratching my head, wondering what the plan had been. I’ll figure it out.
Anyway, normal typos, etc.
The Dining Room
Lemoine delivered Charlotte to the dining room. The steward barely spoke to Charlotte and then only to order her about.
Hurry up, don’t run, and so on.
Lemoine arrived before Charlotte’s trunks had been delivered. She had no choice but to wear a left-over dress in the wardrobe and a tatty pair of old slippers. The deep amethyst dress fit her poorly. Too tight in the arms, Charlotte was unduly aware of how the seams strained when she lifted her arms. The shoes pinched her toes.
At least the color suited her complexion.
The dining room was smaller than Charlotte expected. Again, much like her rooms, the dining room had been decorated with dark wood and dark green anything else: paint, upholstery, and curtains. The space was almost intimate with a table for six in front of a cracking fire. Above the mantle was a sword. A chandelier sparkled above the table, lit by candles. Dishes and silverware gleamed in the light. Scones around the room gave the space a cozy glow, despite the broody decor.
Double doors flanked either side of the fireplace. Tied back, the falling snow was visible beyond the heavy green drapes. Snow piled against the glass.
They were alone. The table had been set but there was no indication that dinner was ready to be served. Odd.
“I see the dining room has earned window privileges,” Charlotte said, attempting to lighten the mood.
Lemoine was not impressed. “This is Master Draven’s private dining room. You should be honored, not flippant.”
“Don’t guests normally have drinks in the drawing room until dinner is served?”
“The Master requested that you be brought here, not to the drawing room,” Lemoine answered in a polite tone that no one could find fault with. The vicious and hollow smile on her face, however, pushed her from contrite to downright spiteful.
“Did Master Draven specify the time?” Charlotte asked, suspicious.
Lemoine waved a hand, dismissing Charlotte’s question. “I am very busy. I do not have time to ferry you about the Aerie. Sit and wait.”
Alright, enough was enough. The steward meant to humble or humiliate her, for reasons she could not fathom.
Charlotte pulled her shoulders back. “Forgive me, Madame Lemoine, did I say or do something to cause offense?”
“No. Why would you ask such a nonsense question?” She continued to smile and it vexed Charlotte.
It vexed her greatly.
“Since I’ve arrived, you’ve done nothing but criticize and snipe at me, and I’m genuinely baffled as to why. All I can think is that you’re an extraordinarily rude person,” Charlotte said.
Lemoine dropped the false smile. “Because you’re just like all the others, crawling up the mountain with your hands out begging.”
“I’m here at his invitation.”
“You don’t care about the Master or what he needs. You only care about what he can give you.”
Charlotte opened her mouth to protest but thought better of it. She did care about what she could get from Draven. She wanted history. “That seems a fair trade for all that I would give him.”
Lemoine snorted. “What you can give him is nothing special. Every dozen years or so he gets the idea in his head that he needs a companion and soon enough one of your lot scurries out of the wastes ready to trade yourself for trinkets.”
“I’m not interested in trinkets,” Charlotte said, doing her best to keep anger from seeping into her tone. “If I wanted trinkets, I have my late husband’s fortune to spend. I imagine the shops in Founding are much better stocked than whatever it is you have here.”
“Your kind never lasts. You’ll be gone soon enough.” The woman lifted her chin, like she scored a point in some absurd duel.
Charlotte drew on all her years of boarding school. As much as she loathed the lessons on social etiquette, it served her now. In her most cut-glass, clear voice she said, “Thank you, Madame Lemoine. I’ll wait here until dinner is served.”
The steward’s mouth was round, like she intended to continue berating Charlotte.
“That will be all,” Charlotte said, turning her back on Lemoine in the most absolute, well-mannered yet rude dismissal possible. She stood in front of the fire, studying the sword– the fabled Blackthorn?– until she heard Lemoine depart.
Fantastic. She had only just arrived, had zero allies, and one adversary.
Lemoine wasn’t wrong, though. Charlotte did want something from Draven. As noble as she believed her pursuit of knowledge to be, it was still her objective. She wasn’t here because she cared about the vampire. How absurd. And Draven knew that. His invitation had been for any person willing to spend a year as his bride. Anyone. No requirements other than to be willing. Surely he understood the kind of crowd that would attract.
Charlotte perched on the edge of the chair and waited, drumming her fingers on the table. And waited. She drifted to the fireplace again. If the sword was Blackthorn, it looked rather unimpressive with dull metal in need of a polish. She moved to the balcony doors, and pressed a hand to the cold glass. The snow obscured any vista the balcony might have to offer.
She didn’t need the steward to be her friend but if she were to last the year, she needed some sort of peace between them.
The door opened. Charlotte turned to find a man, approximately her age, shaking his head. Where Madame Lemoine had been cool polish, this man was unkempt. His face needed a shave, his hair a good brushing, and his black uniform needed to be ironed.
“I thought Megane would be up to her tricks. I see she abandoned you here,” he said, his friendly tone putting her at ease. “I’m Stringer, Lord Draven’s lieutenant.”
“Charlotte Wodehouse,” she replied, dipping her head in greeting. “Madame Lemoine and I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot.”
He shook his head. “It’s all wrong feet with that sour lemon.”
Charlotte snorted in amusement, then covered her mouth. “Forgive me. It’s rude to laugh at another’s expense.”
“Pretty and polite,” he said with a grin. “Don’t worry yourself. She’ll say worse to your face. We don’t have much use for society manners out here.”
“So I see,” she said. Despite the man’s rough delivery, she found him pleasant and agreeable. “Is it me in particular she objects to or is that just her natural disposition?”
His booming laugh echoed in the room. “She’s determined to dislike all of Lord Draven’s guests.”
Yes, she seemed to be one of many.
Charlotte smoothed down the front of her borrowed dress. “Do you have an idea when my things will be delivered to my rooms?”
His grin vanished. “They weren’t delivered? They’ve been inspected and cleared.”
“I’m afraid not.” She wanted to complain about the ill-fitting dress she found in the wardrobe that she was forced to wear but couldn’t think of a way to bring it up politely. Instead, she settled on, “It’s most inconvenient.”
“Why don’t you have a drink in the drawing room and I’ll sort out your luggage,” he said, showing her through the set of double doors at the far side of the room.
Stringer poured her a small glass of brandy and left with the promise to have her things delivered to her room. Before long, she was seated at the table.
Their host never arrived.
When servants delivered the bowls of soup, she hesitated to pick up her spoon. Should she wait?
No. If she was meant to wait, she’d still be in the drawing room.
At least the soup was warm. It was savory with vegetables and lentils. She wondered about the logistics of provisions for the fortress. They were perched on a mountain, so available pasture for farming and grazing animals was nil. The nearest town for trading was days away. How did Draven feed everyone? Was there a greenhouse hidden somewhere in the depths of the Aerie? Lentils would keep for ages, as would other dry goods. But other proteins? Did they hunt or was there a chicken coop hidden along with the greenhouse?
Building a fortress on top of a mountain and living there seemed immensely impractical. She read in the original settler accounts that they had machines which could create food from a raw protein mixture, as incredible as that sounded.
And a touch inedible.
Clearly the people who built the fortress were not concerned about how to feed a literal army.
Such thoughts kept her too busy to worry about the prickly sensation of being watched.
“This place is odd,” she said to no one in particular. A human voice, even her own, was better than listening to the wind howl.
She tried to formulate what it was exactly that bothered her. The lighting. The lack of windows in her room. The outright hostility. Her host snubbing her.
The candlelight reflected against the darkness outside the windows. She couldn’t see the snowstorm but occasionally a strong gust of wind rattled the glass. She was warm and safe–hopefully– while Luis and Miles were trudging down the mountain.
“They should have stayed,” she muttered.
The doors burst open and a tall, pale male strode through dressed in a finely tailored coat of deep wine. He exuded confidence bordering on arrogance.
Charlotte gasped. Him. The grumpy man who made her take his coat. Draven.
“The Aerie is very old,” Draven said. “We still have working technology from the original colonists. Electricity creates a low hum. That is the source of your unease.” He sat down at the head of the table and gave Charlotte a sharp toothed grin. “You’ll grow used to it.”
“You–” she started.
“Indeed, me,” he agreed, turning his attention away from her. He picked up a spoon but made no motion to eat his soup. Instead, he spoke with his gaze fixed on the spoon. “I trust your companions have already left.”
“Yes, they have.”
“Marechale has some sense, at least. They’d be stuck here all winter if they stayed the night, and no one wants that.” Draven gave her a smile which could only be described as toothy.
“Now they’re out in this storm.” The journey up had been miserable. She could only imagine the journey down would be miserable and dangerous.
“No offense, Miss Wodehouse, but I want them out of my territory as soon as possible. I’d throw them off the mountain if need be,” he said in a perfectly amiable tone, like they were discussing the weather. “Now, after you’ve finished your meal, we’ll discuss terms.”
Charlotte Wodehouse, his latest bride, positively glowed with satisfaction from a warm meal. Perhaps it was the candlelight on her delicate complexion or the way she flushed when she recognized him from Sweetwater, but Draven felt himself charmed, which was unfortunate. He was certain that she was a mistake. She was far too curious about her surroundings and, frustratingly, far too polite to ask.
She’ll explore and that never ended well.
Better to get this over with as quickly as possible.
Draven gestured and the door opened. Lemione entered, carrying a wooden box. Smug satisfaction rolled off the woman as she set the box down on the table and opened the lid. Silver weapons designed to maim and kill his kind gleamed in the candlelight. Lemoine stood, her hands folded behind her back.
Colored drained from Charlotte’s face.
Draven dismissed Lemoine with a wave. Disappointment flashed across her face but she was a faithful servant and obeyed.
“Explain,” Draven said to his new bride. He stood from the table and slowly approached her. Her eyes grew wider with each step. Wind rattled the balcony doors.
“It’s… it’s not what you think,” she said, which was the worst possible response.
He stood before her, staring down at her.
She looked away, her hands twisting the cloth napkin in her lap.
“Oh? This is not a vampire hunting kit?” He placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face to look at him. Her pulse fluttered in her throat. “I invite you into my home in good faith and you bring weapons to destroy me?”
“They were a gift,” she whispered. “To keep me safe.”
“A gift?” He wanted to laugh. “What a terrible dilemma you faced: being rude by refusing a gift or being rude and bringing that gift into my home. If you wanted to kill me, I’m afraid you brought the wrong items.”
Draven removed the wooden stake. “This is useless,” he said, tossing it to the floor.
He picked up the silver dagger, examining it carefully. It was an elegant piece. “Now this would hurt but I heal faster than silver damages me.”
To demonstrate, he gripped the silver blade with his bare hand. The flesh burned and blistered with contact. Charlotte watched, her eyes wide with horror. The scent of burned flesh filled the room. Draven bared his teeth in a snarl, holding onto the blade for a few more seconds.
He pulled the blade away, displaying his injured palm. Red and blistered, the flesh repaired itself. It was a vulgar display, designed to frighten her.
Instead of cowering in fear, Charlotte leaned forward, intrigued. “Fascinating. What happens if the skin is broken? If you are stabbed?”
The audacity. He nearly approved. Well, who was he to deny a lady…
Draven leaned over Charlotte, close enough to catch the scent of her soap, and planted his hand on the table. He drove the dagger through his hand.
Charlotte jumped, her hands flying to her throat as she cried out in alarm.
With a grunt, Draven pulled the dagger free and tossed it aside on the table. She snatched his hand and pressed a cloth napkin to the wound. “Are you out of your mind?” she asked, wrapping his hand.
“That is not necessary. I do not bleed.”
He unwrapped his already healed hand. “I heal too quickly to bleed excessively.”
Intrigued, she pulled his hand close for inspection. She turned it over, running her fingers over the injury. The flesh was a pale pink but otherwise it was unmarred. “Fascinating. Do you heal so quickly because of your age?”
Yes, she was too curious for her own good.
Ignoring her question, Draven pulled his hand back. “The most useful item in your box of pain are the bullets. They alone will not kill me but they will be unpleasant. Place them carefully.” In theory, all six in his heart could damage his heart enough to kill him. His body would be unable to heal faster than the poison would be pumped through his veins. Alas, he had never cared to test that theory.
His eyes would be another good location. It wouldn’t kill him but he would be blinded, perhaps permanently. He wasn’t immortal, just very old. Decapitation or a similar massive trauma would end him, but he had no intention of sharing that information with his curious bride.
Charlotte frowned. “I barely know how to use that thing. You don’t have to worry about any assassination attempts.”
Draven wiped the dagger clean and placed it back in the box. “Keep your toys if they make you feel safe. It is no matter to me. Do not trouble yourself to thank me,” he added, just to see the color rise in her cheeks.
“I should thank you for searching through my possessions?” She straightened her spectacles. Light from the fireplace reflected on the lenses. He was overcome with the urge to remove the eyeglasses. As strongly as he wanted to bundle her up and keep her warm in Sweetwater Point, he now wanted to undress her, bit by bit.
He moved to the fireplace, putting the table between them. Needing to stay focused, he kept his gaze on the fire. “You should be thankful that I have security measures in place to keep all Aerie residents safe. It is dangerous company you keep.”
“Currently or do you refer to my friends? Or my late husband?”
He turned around. She had introduced herself as Mrs. Wodehouse but he hadn’t spent too much time thinking of the dead husband. “Mr. Wodehouse carried the mutation?”
“Mr. Chambers, actually. My late husband shared the same affliction as Miles. He, um, was Miles’s progenitor in that regard.” She played with the stem of the wineglass, rolling it between her thumb and index finger.
“I prefer to think of my vampirism as a medical condition rather than an affliction, though it certainly has been that in the past,” he said. He itched to know more about her late husband. Who was he? How did he die? He must have been put down by a hunter because Draven could not imagine fighting with anything less than his entire being to protect such a lovely anchor. Instead, he said, “You must be quite the expert.”
“Hardly,” she said. The pretty flush was back in her cheeks. “I know about anchors and their importance.”
“Well, let us discuss terms. I require an anchor, as my kind does. I’ve gone too long without. I ask for a year to determine compatibility.”
“Only a year?”
No one had ever lasted the full year. They couldn’t obey the rules. The few he had were simple but vital. He desperately hoped Charlotte could abide by the rules. Rather than share this knowledge, he said, “That will be sufficient. At the end of the year, you may leave or remain as my bride.”
“That’s a rather long engagement,” she murmured.
“Typically I give my prospective brides a week to think our bargain over before announcing the engagement. However, as you have pointed out, you are now here for the duration of the winter.”
“I don’t need a week. I knew that I would be here until the snow melted when I came up the mountain,” she said without hesitation.
“Your days are your own but your nights will belong to me.”
The color intensified in her face. Embarrassment? Excitement? Did her heart flutter with anticipation? He wanted to pull her close enough to hear the blood rushing in her veins. Feel the warmth of her. To taste her. His fangs itched. His nails extended. She was his prey, offered up so prettily for him…
Enough of that.
Draven clenched his fist, his nails slicing into the palm of his hand. He needed to stay focused. Rushing a bond would be as disastrous as not forging a bond at all.
“Will my duties include,” she paused, as if searching for the correct word, “feeding?”
“No. I have others for that task. I seek companionship, Mrs. Wodehouse. An anchor.”
“I assume you’ll want the full benefit of marital relations.” She held his gaze as she spoke but he could see the nervous bob of her throat as she swallowed.
“Not immediately, but yes. I won’t deny finding you attractive.”
“Good.” She sat up straighter in her chair. “Because if we are to be married, at least for a year, then I insist on claiming my marital rights.”
Draven turned away to hide his smile, not wanting to flash his fangs and cause Charlotte to rethink her position.
“I have told you what I want from this arrangement. Tell me what you want,” he said. His previous brides wanted basic necessities: regular food, shelter, and protection. They had been pleased by the simple luxuries of scented soaps, fine clothing, and soft bedding. He sensed that Charlotte cared not for those things.
“Are you the original Lord Draven?” she asked.
“The one and only.”
“I want information,” she said. “I’ll give you my nights. I’ll give you my body, but I want you to answer questions.”
“About what, specifically?”
“Well, everything. Your condition. Your experiences. What it was like arriving on the planet. I want to know about the original settlers. About Earth. Everything.”
“Only everything,” he said, his tone cold. What she asked for, it was too much. Too dangerous. But what could he do? Perhaps if he fed her bits and pieces, that would be enough to satisfy her curiosity and keep her safe. “Very well, but you must abide by my only rule. Do not enter the lower levels. You have free reign of the fortress, the library, the greenhouses, the storerooms, and so on. Whatever you desire, ask and it will be delivered. But do not, under any circumstance, enter the lower levels.”
Perhaps it was the candlelight reflecting on her glasses or the spark of curiosity in her eyes, but they glowed with excitement.
“I agree,” she said in a breathless voice.
He knew that was a lie.
Anger came over him like a veil of red fury. He grabbed her by the arm, knocking the chair over as he lifted her and pushed her to the wall. He had her throat in his grip. Her pulse raced and he wanted nothing more than to sink his fangs into her.
“You have told me nothing but half-truths tonight,” he growled. “That ends now.”
Let me know what you think!
5 thoughts on “Blackthorn Chapter Five”
I am thoroughly intrigued. I can’t wait to read more. Please continue. I’d love another chapter at least.. what a great gift you have!
C’MON NANCEY ALL OF US ARE HANGING INCLUDING CHARLOTTE.
I neeeeeeeed more!! 😭😭😭
So good, I would love more!
I am so loving Lemoine (I have the image of Mrs Danvers in my head that I cannot get out – sorry if you were going for that). Charlotte is just fabulous and I want the rest of it, ALL of it NOW!! Please? :-* xx
Oh, I was totally aiming for Mrs. Danvers.