Read One Bite Per Night Online

Authors: Brooklyn Ann

One Bite Per Night

Copyright © 2014 by Brooklyn Ann

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Chris Cocozza

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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

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Dedicated to my mother, Karen Ann.

The finest painter and teacher I've ever known.

And to my grandmothers, Ruth and Sharon.

Your love and hugs are priceless.

And to my best friend, Rachel.

We have the best adventures.

One

1822

“I will be brave,” Lydia Price whispered to the portrait of her dead father.

Her voice held a faint tremor, though perhaps that was from the constant bobbing of the ship, carrying her away from her home and across the Atlantic to a grandmother she'd never met.

Lydia shifted on her bunk. Papa would be disappointed in her lack of confidence; an earl's daughter must be resolute. Now more than ever, she must live up to his faith in her.

Lydia sighed and sat up, gazing through the porthole at the endless span of whitecapped ocean. “I wish you were here with me, Papa. You and Mama.”

Taking a deep breath, she tried to soothe the worry gnawing at her belly. Her father had barely followed her mother to the grave when his solicitor arrived to read the will. Lydia was coldly informed that all of her father's assets were to go to her uncle, now the Earl of Morley, and she was to be packed off to England and delivered into her grandmother's care. Her grandmother, the dowager countess who'd disowned her son for marrying below his station. Would she welcome her granddaughter? Lydia had no idea. She hadn't received so much as a note from her.

The ship lurched again, and Lydia gripped the portrait's frame tighter. These maudlin thoughts would not do. Perhaps her grandmother wouldn't bear her any ill will for her father's defiance in marrying a merchant's daughter. If the dowager had misgivings over Lydia's common blood, they would be laid aside when Lydia proved she'd been raised as a proper lady. Her father had groomed her for the possibility of returning to England. She could dance, curtsy, make polite conversation, and handle a fan with grace.

She'd received several marriage offers when she made her debut in New Orleans, so there was no reason to believe she wouldn't have similar success when she made her London debut.

Perhaps
I'll become a countess as well.
If Lydia made a prestigious match, surely she and her father would be redeemed in Lady Morley's eyes.

Of course, there was just as good a chance she'd disgrace them all over again by falling in love with a commoner. Lydia had vowed to marry only for love, just as her parents had.

If
that
happens, I'll simply make a living from my work.
Her paintings had always fetched good sums at the annual charity auctions. Her landscape of the bayou alone had fetched five hundred dollars.


You
have
a
gift, sweetling
,” Papa had told her when she'd first picked up a brush and palette. “
Never
abandon
it.

He'd hired the best tutors and turned a room in their town house into an airy studio for her. She had mastered landscapes and was beginning to learn portraiture. One day, she hoped to paint like Sir Thomas Lawrence, president of the Royal Academy of Arts and the artist who first inspired her love of painting. Her father had sat for him before he left England. Lydia held that very portrait in her hands.

Looking into tawny eyes identical to hers, Lydia could almost imagine they were real. The wavy black hair, Roman nose, and strong, square jaw held the same vitality. She longed to be able to capture such detail, such life, to immortalize a person so their loved ones could look at their portraits and see life long after death. Every time her memory tormented her with her parents' faces, ravaged by yellow fever, Lydia had only to look upon Sir Lawrence's painting to banish the nightmarish images.

“Sir Thomas Lawrence is in London,” she whispered, carefully setting the painting aside. Apprehension gave way to excitement. “I
must
meet him.”

Three years ago, when the paper announced Lawrence's return to London and his subsequent knighthood and induction as president of the Royal Academy, Lydia had begged to go to England. She wanted to take lessons at the Academy. To train under such a master was a dream she'd nurtured since Papa had taken her to her first art gallery. She was determined to make that wish come true.

“Maybe next year,” her father would say with a smile.

That year had never come, until now. If only the circumstances weren't so tragic.

Lydia swallowed the lump in her throat. Once she was settled in London, she would implore her grandmother to enroll her in the Academy.

Fingers itching to create once more, Lydia rose from her bunk and picked up her sketchbook and charcoals.

“I will be brave,” she repeated, sketching the ocean view through her cabin's porthole. “And I will become the finest painter in the world.”

***

Cornwall, 1822

Vincent Tremayne, Earl of Deveril and Lord Vampire of Cornwall, ran his tongue over long curved fangs as the blood thirst roared through his body.

Impatient to quell his hunger, he charged up the stone steps and out the secret passage from his chamber. Unlocking the door, he raced out into the corridor and nearly crashed headfirst into his butler.

“Good evening, my lord.” Aubert bowed. His pinched face was the only indicator of nervousness. “The Dowager Countess of Morley is here to speak with you regarding what she claims is an urgent matter. Since she has had to wait for quite some time, I took the liberty of placing her in the library and providing her with refreshments.”

Vincent suppressed a growl at the delay to his hunt. Who the hell did this woman think she was? He'd spent centuries cultivating the reputation of every incarnation of the Earl of Deveril as that of a reclusive madman. Yet this dowager had the gall to ignore the implied warning. As he stalked down the stone steps to the library, his stomach roiled in unholy hunger.

Morley
…the name niggled at his memory. Had he met this woman before?

He opened the heavy oak door with more force than was polite. His uninvited guest lifted prominent gray eyebrows beneath a jeweled lorgnette.

“Lord Deveril, it
is
a pleasure.”

Vincent favored her with a mocking bow as he concealed a bitter smile. A pale-faced maid lurked nervously behind the settee, apparently trying to make herself invisible. Damned if this dowager wasn't the ultimate virago. Her blood likely tasted of bile.

“My lady, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? It is a rare occasion when I receive callers.”

The hag sniffed with such violent derision that her yellow turban was nearly knocked askew. “I have come to speak of the ancient alliance between our families.”

“Alliance?” His brow rose as the woman's identity became clear.
Morley…How could I have forgotten?

Her thin lips pursed before she gave a brisk nod and held out an ancient scrap of parchment that Vincent hadn't seen since his mortal days. “Yes, the earldoms of Deveril and Morley have a documented alliance dating back to 1651.”

Vincent closed his eyes, remembering the blood, stench, and screams of the battlefield. He remembered Joseph Price, his comrade in arms. He remembered tearing his uniform to staunch the blood flowing from the man's shoulder. He remembered Joseph later returning the favor. Yes, he remembered the former Earl of Morley.


Let
there
always
be
friendship
between
our
families
,” Joseph had said when the war was over.

As his heavy eyelids lifted, Vincent beheld the sour countenance before him. Friendship did not seem to be a likely prospect with this descendant of his old friend.

Lady Morley continued, oblivious to his reverie. “The terms of the alliance include providing aid to the other's strongholds in the event of attack, vouching for one another's good character”—she paused and fixed him with an icy gaze—“and becoming guardian to the other's children in the event of death or incapacitation.”

At the latter, the dowager's steely gaze flickered momentarily, giving way to worry.

“I see.” He was afraid he did.

“My son, the former earl, and his wife perished of yellow fever in the Americas over a month ago. They left behind a daughter, who is being sent to me.” Her mouth twisted as if tasting something sour. “I request that you honor the alliance of your forebears and become her guardian.”

A
vampire
as
guardian
to
a
young
girl?
Vincent frowned. “Are you unable to care for her?”

The woman's eyes narrowed to slits. “Allow me to speak plainly, my lord. My son caused a horrid scandal when he ran off with…this girl's mother. It was all I could do to hold up my head. I will
not
have the offspring of such a mésalliance in my house.” She lifted her chin. “My true granddaughter will make her debut in Society this Season, and the presence of that…other one would bring back old gossip and harm my Georgiana's chances of making a successful match.”

Pity for this unknown orphaned descendant of his old friend pierced his conscience. Vincent forced his voice to remain level. “Look about, madam. I hardly think my home is suitable for a child.” He gestured at the gray stone walls and austere furnishings.

Lady Morley sniffed. “She is twenty…or somewhere thereabouts, hardly a child.”

“Ah, so she is ready to debut as well,” Vincent's voice was low and silky as the implications of the woman's panic became clear.
And ripe for the marriage market… Perhaps this won't be such a problem.

The dowager flinched at his words before straightening her spine back to its customary ramrod posture. “She is in mourning.”

“By the time the Season begins, she'll be nearly finished mourning,” he countered, enjoying her discomfort.

Though her laughter was scornful, the look in her eyes was uncertain.
The
Mad
Deveril
bringing
out
an
uncouth
American?
“You would launch her this year?”

“I did not say I would take her in,” Vincent countered, though his competitive nature relished the prospect of a challenge. “This residence is unsuitable for a young lady, and I daresay I am ill equipped to present a debutante.”

Lady Morley favored him with a petulant frown. “Then I shall have to find some other way to dispose of her…perhaps I may have her committed to an asylum.”

Vincent recoiled in disgust, but he kept his expression bland and noncommittal. Damn his sense of honor. He would have to take the girl. He'd made a vow to a friend. However, he would do everything in his power to see that Lady Morley would regret approaching him.

“Does she have a dowry?”

“Indeed she does.” Desperation tinged her voice. She knew the game was not yet won. “I will also supply a bank draft to cover a portion of her expenses.”

His eyes narrowed. “Double the dowry.”

Lady Morley quivered with indignation. She opened her mouth to deliver a scathing retort, but Vincent held up a hand, his patience at an end.

“I am willing to take this girl off your hands, but you must endeavor to give me the opportunity to see her off mine.” The words ended in a growl, bringing a terrified squeak from the maid in the corner.

After a few moments of apparently taxing mental debate, the dowager relented with a frigid nod and stood. “Very well. I shall send my solicitor with the proper documents straightaway.”

Suddenly the maid leaped forward. “No, my lady! You cannot do this! You cannot send a maiden into the clutches of the ‘Devil Earl'!”

The vampire grinned at her Cornish accent. As a local, no doubt her parents had frightened her into obedience with threats of the “Devil Earl.”

The dowager, however, was not amused. “I have had enough of your nonsense on this matter, Emma. You are dismissed from my employ.”

Emma's face paled further. “B-but, my lady—”

Lady Morley swept past her as if she did not exist. “I thank you for your assistance in this matter, my lord. The girl's ship is due to arrive in Plymouth on the sixteenth of February. Now, if you will excuse me, I am quite exhausted and must seek a decent inn at once.”

Jaw clenched, Vincent pulled the bell cord to summon the butler. “What is the girl's name?” he asked.

She clipped out, “Her name is Lydia Price. My solicitor will contact you with further information as to her arrival.”

Turning away from the dowager, he addressed the trembling Emma. “Miss Price will require a maid. If you would care to fulfill that situation, I'll double what Lady Morley paid you.” In a gentler tone, he added, “I am aware of the stories circulated about me, and I swear on my honor that no harm will come to you under my employ.” He was already taking one of the dowager's castaways, what was one more?

Dazedly, Emma curtsied. “Thank you, my lord.”

Lady Morley gaped and sputtered like a landed trout, and Vincent grinned at the small triumph of unsettling her so efficiently.

The butler arrived and gave the dowager a quizzical look before bowing. “Yes, my lord?”

“Aubert, please see Lady Morley out and ask Mrs. Hodgkin to prepare a room for Miss…?” He turned to the maid expectantly.

“Fiddock, my lord,” she murmured, staring at the hem of her homespun gown.

Aside from a slight twitch of his eyelid, Aubert appeared indifferent to this unusual request, although Vincent hadn't had a long-term guest during the butler's entire employ. “Yes, my lord.”

“Lady Morley, it was a
pleasure
.” His saccharine smile nearly revealed his fangs.

“If you think you can make a decent match for this American, then I'm afraid you will be sorely disappointed.”

“We shall see.”

She laughed a low, ugly cackle and retreated with such long strides, Aubert nearly stumbled in an effort to keep up.

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