In 1648 France, Simone Gireaux, a Young Blood vampire, is persuaded to help find the truth behind a Duchess’s murder. The Duke is lying about what really happened, and the handsome Jacque Fashette, the Duke’s vampire security chief, wants to know why. After being shot at, Simone and Fashette determine that the Marquis Philippe Desauvage, the Duchesse’s lover, is being framed for the murder. But by who, and why?
Simone foils an attempted assassination and with Fashette marked for the real death, it’s up to her to find a missing witness involved in the murder. Reunited by chance with Etienne, a soldier met during her first chaotic days as a vampire, they track down the missing man. He has all the answers, but one – Why? Simone’s discovery of the truth leads to tragedy, and happiness.
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An excerpt from Young Blood:
(France – 1642)
Simone Gireaux had grown fond of Alain Motessier during a respite from her survival travails. He was dead now. They had exchanged gifts at the end, for her, blood from his wrist, for him, relief from a laborious last few hours of life.
“You are an extraordinary woman, Simone. You will go far.” His last words, heavy on her mind.
She didn’t believe him. She felt lost and alone, and grief still sometimes gripped her gut and brought her to her knees. Nevertheless, it was time she moved on from the safety of Alain’s secluded cottage into a new world full of mortals. Her thoughts conflicted, she felt at once ready and terrified.
Immersed in memories of those she’d lost, Simone didn’t hear the drum of approaching horses until they rounded the corner a hundred yards behind her. She barely had time to duck out of sight behind a tight group of evergreens. Having lived on a farm many years with her husband and his family, and though little moonlight penetrated the thick canopy of trees, Simone recognized well-bred carriage horses when she saw them. No poor farmer owned those steeds.
The four horse team drew a large black and gilt carriage, a lone driver had his hands full hauling on the reins to keep the beasts under control. Their fearful rush as they rumbled past Simone brought the smell of excited horses and expensive perfume. Another odor caught her attention, one of unwashed men and gunpowder.
A rough voice ordered, “Ready. Now!”
Ahead, beyond a narrow spot in the road between huge boulders once part of the Vosge mountains that rose sharply to the East, a man limped onto the road, waving his arms. Spooked, the lead horses shied right while the second pair continued to run straight.
Simultaneously, from behind the rocks on both sides, men jammed logs into the rear wheels. Broken spokes sprayed into the surrounding forest as the wheels disintegrated.
As the carriage rear end landed with a jolt, sparks, rocks, and dust spewed into the air. Piercing screams from horses and women filled the night. Breaking free, the horses yanked the driver off his perch and galloped helter-skelter down the dark road. Before he could struggle to his feet, Fife, the road man, darted out and struck him down with a heavy branch.
The carriage tipped precariously finally stopping diagonally across the road. Rear end facing her, Simone could see both sides.
On the left side, two men wearing peasant boots, breeches, worn wool military coats, and carrying a lantern, swung open the door. Both men held pistols at the ready. Long knives hung from wide belts.
Seeing the military coats, an image of Etienne flashed before her eyes. But, no, he wouldn’t be doing this.
“Madam. Please step out.”
A woman’s voice dripped with haughtiness. “Imbecile. I can not step out. I am injured.”
“Allow me to help you, Madam.” He reached in and dragged out a bejeweled and bewigged lady and let her sprawl on the dirt. Cushioned in her finery, she uttered a cry more of indignity than pain.
Struggling to gain her feet, hampered by skirts and petticoats and a whalebone supported bodice that made it hard to breathe, her indignation came to the fore. “How dare you treat me like that. Do you know who I am?”
They did, but neither highwayman helped.
“Mai oui, Madam,” the leader said with exaggerated formality. “I know well who you are. You are the one with money and jewels. Give them to me.”
“I will not. Richard,” she yelled at a man still inside the broken carriage. “Shoot this… this highway man.”
On the right side, Anton, a young, unshaven, lank-haired, pretty boy, also carrying a newly lit lantern, impatiently opened that side’s door. Ignoring screams of protest from a young woman inside, he grabbed her leg and attempted to haul her out. For his trouble he received a shiny, brown leather boot in his face and many comparisons of his ancestry to certain unexpected animals.
“Cuchon! Let go of me you son of a mad dog and an ass-faced monkey. Your brother sewer rats are better men than you!”
Fife joined him and with no small difficulty, they managed to extract her. Her blonde ringlets swatted Fife’s face as his arms wrapped around her waist, and lifted her feet off the ground, gaining some semblance of control.
Still smarting from her boot in his face, Anton, managed to avoid her flailing feet and backhanded her. He gripped her face and said, “I want more than jewels from you, Mademoiselle D’Aigle.”
Anton had grown up to be a copy of his father, a crude lout who beat his wife and hated everyone except his son. A soldier in his younger days, he had returned home with a limp and a disfiguring scar that turned him bitter and hard.
Anton learned from his father well enough. A chance to force himself on a beautiful aristocratic girl, the niece of a Duke, yet, was too good to pass up.
Anton glanced through the open carriage doors. “Come on,” he said to Fife, who was a follower not a leader. “Let Le Capitaine, do his business while we have some fun.”
They drug the protesting girl out of sight behind a long row of boulders stretching down slope through thick trees.
In her thirty-two years of existence before and after her death, Simone had learned to judge people as individuals, not as a group. She had no love for the aristocracy. They seemed spoiled, arrogant and silly. This made her choice between saving a snooty aristocrat from a few minutes of humiliation or a spirited young woman from ravishment an easy one.
Simone lifted her skirts and headed down through trees to the boulders’ end. Though more than two months had passed since she was accidentally changed into a vampire, she still had a bit of trouble coordinating her physical speed with her mental speed. Besides, dark is dark, and even a vampire must slow down a bit in a tangled, stygian wood.
She found them in a small level space. They already had the girl on the ground, pawing at her fine silk dress and numerous petticoats.
“Arretez!” Simone shouted, giving Anton no time to comply before sending him rolling up against a tree with a kick to his ribs.
If it had been a man attacking, Fife would have run away. But a woman? He wasn’t that much of a coward. Knife drawn, he stepped over the groggy woman and lunged at Simone. She whirled and struck his arm. His quick cry and crack of bone broke loud in the forest silence. She snatched up the knife and slashed him from shoulder to hip.
Simone knelt by the moaning girl. “Mademoiselle, you are safe now.” The perfume of blood leaking from her lip sent a thrill through Simone’s body. Hunger. It had been several days since she fed. With a finger she brought the fresh blood to her own lips. She purred deep in her throat as the thick liquid spread over her tongue.
A quick, angry exchange came from the other side of the carriage. A musket shot cut through the forest gloom. Simone thought she heard a small feminine cry, then, running footsteps and another musket shot.
“Oh, the Duke.”
“A Duke was in that carriage?” Simone had thought maybe a couple of bourgeois who had made some money and whose main purpose in life was to raise, or at least maintain their social standing. “What Duke?”
“Why, Richard Trantore, Duke du Chantel, chevalier, cousin of the Queen.”
“Mon Dieu.” Duke Trantore was well known as a soldier and one of the wealthiest men in France. He had interests in shipping, weapons manufacture, as well as owning the province of Chantel.
Simone might have felt intimidated being so close to royalty, but she had no time to think about that. Anton leaped at her, knife in hand.
Instinctively, she threw up an arm. It cost her a deep gash — it cost Anton his life.
They rolled together on the ground for a few seconds before Simone remembered she could not die and she possessed superior strength and speed if she would think for half a second and use it.
Blood scent from Anton brought out the full force of her hunger. She grasped his hand holding the knife, twisted it unmercifully and jammed the blade into his belly.
A push sent him sprawling two meters away. A leap landed her beside him. Of their own volition, her jaws opened inhumanly wide. Two fangs descended. In back of her mind she knew she should control herself in front of the girl, a mortal. She had no desire to give the local gendarmes a reason to hunt her. Her purpose of coming to the town was to learn how to coexist among mortals, not antagonize them.
But blood lust throbbed within her and would not be denied. She pushed his head to one side, exposing his neck. All she heard was his weakening pulse. Inches away from satisfying her hunger, a deep voice accustomed to being obeyed, ordered, “Hold, woman,” and in her head, Control your hunger, vampire.
Simone snapped her head about ready to defend her mortal victim’s blood.
A man stood by the girl, who now sat up, watching Simone with unconcealed interest. A vampire. She felt it, smelt it, the slightly moldy odor of age, somehow familiar. He moved a step toward her. On her knees, she shuffled back. Then she recognized his face.
He’d been almost fifty when changed. Strong, handsome, with a square face featuring a generous mouth and deep eyes that, vampire or not, reflected the good and bad he’d seen and done.
He raised a thick eyebrow in recognition, bent a corner of his mouth in amusement. “And you.” Do not be afraid, she heard his voice say in her head.
She was afraid. Though he had saved her and a small settlement of mortals from real death, she did not trust him. All the vampires she’d met were evil, bloodthirsty monsters. Why should he be any different under his finely tailored clothes, haughty attitude, and handsome features?
It had been more than a month since they met for some brief, violent minutes. She’d spent that time caring for Alain Motessier, a retired officer of the King’s Army, and what she’d learned from him had not increased her trust in vampires.
“Trust no vampire, Simone.” Alain chuffed, spat into the fire burning in his hearth. “Actually, ma cher, trust neither vampire nor mortal until they have earned it.” He winked at her. “Even myself. I may succumb to my old ways and try to cut off your beautiful head as you sleep at midday.”
“I pray you will not attempt to do so, Monsieur. For I would be forced to defend myself and I suspect your blood may have aged past its prime.”
Though over seventy years old, his hearty laugh, though cut short by coughing fits, had not aged. It brought to mind her husband’s father, a large, florid, good-natured man always ready with a smile and a chuckle.
Simone still grieved the loss of her family, but now that she had accepted her new “life” and embraced it, she feared to lose the freedom it offered.
Simone glanced at the girl.
Glancing at Anton, slowly bleeding to death, and Fife, cowering against a rock and moaning over the visibly splintered bones of his broken arm, he said, “Tout est bien, mademoiselle. Margaux knows what we are.”
“Monsieur Fashette,” a voice called imperiously from the carriage.
Fashette shouted back that all was well and he would attend shortly. To Simone he said, “To help your memory, I am Jacque Fashette, chief of security for Duke Trantore. Thank you for what you have done for Margaux. You are a young blood. Do you still stay with Monsieur Motessier?”
Simone shook her head. “He is dead. Buried in a sunny glade.”
“Ah, I am sorry. He was a good man, though in the past he wanted to give me real death.”
“He spoke highly of you, Monsieur.”
Fashette smiled tightly and nodded acceptance. “Where do you go, Madame?”
Simone pointed toward the town not two kilometers down the road. “Le village. Je ne sais pas ou.”
“Ahh. I see.” He flipped a gold coin to her. “Go to the Hotel Marche de Nuit. Marie will look after you. I will come tomorrow night.” He pointed to the shawl the men ripped from Margaux. “Cover yourself. Blood on your clothes makes mortals ask questions you do not want to answer.”
He helped Margaux rise up. Held her hands. “Margaux, cher, I am most sorry, La Duchess est morte.”
Margaux gasped, her hands flew to cover her mouth. “Oh. The poor Duchess.”
Simone detected no particular sadness and little sympathy in her words. As if the passing happened to one she knew, but did not like.
Fashette wrapped her in his arms. “Come.” To Simone he said, “Feed on those two. The lake is deep just down there. I do not want to see them again.” He inclined his head to her. “Until tomorrow night.”
“And the others?” Simone asked.
Fashette froze. “Others?”
“The other two men.”
“There were two other men beside these?”
“She is right, Jacque,” Margaux said. “One called Le Capitaine, and one other.”
Fashette’s thoughtful stare shifted from Simone to Margaux and back. “Both of you, do not mention this fourth man. Three men only. Do you understand? Three only.”
Receiving affirmative answers he spoke to Simone, “At the inn, say only that the Duchess is dead. No details. Comprendre?”
“Oui, Monsieur Fashette.”
With a nod, he took up the lantern and guided Margaux through the trees to a growing commotion about the carriage.
Hesitant, Simone watched them go. Then, quietly as possible, she fed.